Raymond L. Wheeler, DMin

Musings about leadership

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Don’t be a zombie: why teams are a challenge

20170114_blp516I hear it in almost every business I work with. I hear it in the classroom. It’s a collective groan and wave of murmuring when a team assignment is announced. It is that an implicit frustration that not everyone on the team will carry their own weight. It is the fear of team zombies.

Various definitions of the word zombie adequately describe the kind of person everyone hopes will not appear on the team. Zombie: the body of a dead person given the semblance of life but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.  A person whose behavior or responses are wooden, listless, or seemingly rote: automaton.[1]

Team zombies show up to meetings and avoid talking and contributing. They fail to execute their assigned responsibilities, reduce trust, and seem to effectively suck the intelligence of the team deflating the team to levels of both incompetence and mediocrity. Team zombies are the paragon of Lencioni’s team dysfunctions.

What drives a zombie to act like a will less mute unwilling to take responsibility or fulfill assignments? In my work with teams, I have found four common contributors that turn normal people into zombies or as I like to call it, the forces of “zombification.”

Intimidation. The cause of “zombification” to correct is the result of someone being placed on a team with those who they feel are superior in skill, experience, and insight.  It is the normal response of a novice.  This occurs in healthy organizations in which a novice is routinely given an opportunity to work above their pay grade and experience level with a team of highly competent people in order to expose the novice to greater complexity in problem analysis and solution finding.  I am encouraged when I see this kind of “zombification” occur because it is temporary and indicates that a person is in over their head and is learning to work with others who possess different and often greater experience and knowledge.  It is also usually self-correcting because working around highly experienced and gifted individuals draws the best out of even the most awkward novice. If you work in this kind of environment take notes and appreciate the fact you are in an exceptional organization.

Fear of reprisal.  Like intimidation, fear of reprisal is a “zombification” force that is rooted in the organizational culture. However, it is the diametric opposite of the kind of organizational culture that generates intimidation. Fear of reprisal results from having previously engaged critical thinking and innovation only to be shot down by others on the team or by the manager or owner because the idea challenged the status quo. Like intimidation this is frequently experienced in the novice who has joined an organization that acts far differently than they claimed. The novice has yet to discern what I call organizational double speak because they were blinded by the possibility of getting their first real paycheck so they didn’t pay attention to the clues they had all around them that the organization was a dysfunctional mess.

What are the clues of a dysfunctional organization? There are several to pay attention to: (1) use of passive verbs to define challenges e.g., sales are down. Sales or any other problem do not have a life of their own – the statement lacks causal information. (2) Hyper unanimity. People in great organizations share a similar vision but retain a unique personal perspective and even disagree at times. When I get around an organization that seems to have scripted answers to my questions rather than individual perspective I get suspicious. Typically there is a power broker behind the script that cracks the whip of fear. (3) Deflecting speech. When I ask questions that are deflected by the person in charge I also get suspicious. It usually indicates an organizational culture that lives in a manufactured reality – that reframe challenges so that a) no one is to blame or b) one singular cause is assigned to all failure.

Novices aren’t the only ones who experience dysfunctional organizational cultures. However, healthy novices get out. Unhealthy novices adapt and succumb to the practiced-identity-dissonance I describe below.

Conflict avoidance. This force of “zombification” is clearly inherent in dysfunctional organizations where conflict is viewed as detrimental to healthy interpersonal relationships. These kinds of organizations or departments exist as a co-dependent family system with defined roles and a key member who seems to dominate the emotional energies of the entire team. This person may not be the leader of the team but may hold the leader and the entire team captive to their emotional outbursts or threats.  This is also a characteristic force of “zombification” in novice leaders or team members who have yet to understand that conflict is often the key to greater innovation and insight simply because in a healthy team conflict can represent the first step toward clarity and honesty in communication. Think about the old team life-cycle adage: form, storm, norm, and perform.  Healthy conflict may be expressed in heightened emotions such as expressions of frustration or anger. Unhealthy conflict is expressed in belittling insults, and emotional shutdowns designed to dominate or suppress the opinions or participation of another.

Identity dissonance.  Identity dissonance is a force of “zombification” characterized by a lack of clarity about who the person is in their strengths, behavioral patterns, or knowledge base. Identity dissonance is characteristic of a person who is unaware of the significant contribution they can make.  Identity dissonance is expressed in two ways; practiced dissonance and unexplored dissonance.

Practiced dissonance occurs in those team members who exist in dysfunctional organizational cultures by keeping their head down and not making waves. These individuals do not have a clear grasp on their unique contribution, core skills, behavioral patterns, or unique gifts. They practice being zombies. They may complain about the repressive and toxic environment in which they work but they will never see the way their behavior passively condones the culture they say they hate. This kind of “zombification” is difficult to heal because it has become a protective excuse to avoid pain and a form of denial.

In contrast unexplored dissonance is a form of “zombification” that indicates a deep change is occurring in the person. It is, in the words of one of my mentors, a boundary time in development. This person faces uncertainty to the value of their contribution because they have engaged a position, or challenge, or period of development that calls for an expansion of their capacity. It is a temporary disorientation that ultimately finds resolution and with resolution a greater self-understanding, capacity to lead, and capability to contribute.

What is the conclusion then? I have said that internal (to the person) and external (corporate culture) forces exist that contribute to “zombification.” When analyzing your own hesitation to be a member of a team because the fear of “zombification” threatens to place inordinate responsibility and demands on your already precious time, I recommend a series of questions.

Is your hesitation rooted in the awareness that your organization is toxic? If so, why are you still there? Can you make a difference? (The answer to this depends on the power you have in the organization and the degree to which the organization is dysfunctional.) Who should you talk with to find a different organization to work for?

Is your hesitation rooted in the awareness that one of the forces of “zombification” have actually made their presence felt in your life and who can you talk to about it?

Is the “zombification” of one of your team members rooted in their being a novice? How can you mentor them to better performance?

Is your hesitation rooted in the fact you just don’t like being dependent on others to perform at your peak? Then check your arrogance. You have not succeeded alone up to this point. Is your avoidance of team participation actually a form of “zombification” in your own work behavior?

If you are stuck and you know you are a team zombie, find a coach or mentor and talk through how to become a contributor to the success of the team rather than a drain on the team’s performance. Work will be much more engaging and your interpersonal relationships much more fulfilling. Who wants to hang with zombies?

Finally, take responsibility to help the entire team raise their level of execution. If you refuse the force of “zombification” in your own life you can model for others how to do the same. But, don’t think you can model this from a posture of relational neutrality. You will have to talk about the subject and help others see how their behavior may, in fact, contribute to the very kind of work environment they hate. This doesn’t mean you must become a task master – it simply means you become a friend rather than a zombie.

[1] Source: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/zombie; Accessed 12 May 2017.


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Men and Women are Different – Learning to Mentor across Genders

Crossing the Gulf

She was a bright, intelligent, spiritually attune and confident young woman.  I recognized in grading her homework that she had few intellectual peers in the class.  However, she rarely contributed to the discussion – this class in the United States was a homogeneous group of undergraduate men and women.  I relaxed assuming that my cultural assumptions were mirrored in my students – the last thing I anticipated was an education in how my gender assumptions affected the class.

I called on her one day in a class discussion and asked if she had something to contribute…I knew she did.  She had a better grasp on the subject than anyone in the class and was bright enough to extrapolate and synthesize the subject to other areas of her experience and knowledge.

As I turned her direction to call on her I noticed (in hindsight – it did not register at the time) that her eyes pleaded with me to pass her by.  I zeroed in on her and asked her to respond to the question.  It was only then I realized the non-verbal queues I had ignored as I worked toward the question.  When I called on her she expressed a look of betrayal and hurt.  Before I could respond to either of these observations she leapt from her seat and ran from the classroom crying!  I was stupefied.

I caught up with her as she sat in the commons and asked if I could join her.  She politely agreed and seemed to expect my question.  She explained to me that in all her school years she had minimized her intellectual capabilities because she had learned through being rejected and ostracized by both her male and female peers that standing out as an intellectual woman equated to social suicide.  In calling on her I had revealed her intellectual capacity.  Her sense of vulnerability and exposure eclipsed the affirmation of her ability I had intended to communicate.  I apologized to her and reminded myself to be mindful of the power I wielded in the narrow environment of the classroom.

That day it became clear to me that to be unaware of one’s own cultural and gender assumptions runs the risk of damaging mentees and not empowering them.  It was possible to inadvertently leave my mentees marginalized and irrelevant to their context.  Without attending to the complexities of mentoring these unexpected results derail the best intention of the mentor.

Mentoring is a relational process and it requires first that mentors be at ease in social interaction.  In mentoring someone who knows something (the mentor), transfers that something (empowerment and resources such as wisdom, advice, information, emotional support, protection, linking to resources, career guidance, status) to someone else (the mentee) at a sensitive time so that it impacts development.[1]  Mentoring results in other tertiary benefits such as reduced employee turnover, a more attractive organization from the perspective of employee recruitment and increased organizational learning (the precursor of sustainability in processes and success).[2]

However, mentoring is also a kind of sacred archetype, a capacity to illuminate a role of often-hidden yet rare power in the drama of human development.[3]  It is the archetypical nature of mentoring that makes it so potentially damaging or helpful especially in cross gender interactions. The act of mentoring may be assigned significance far beyond the mere exchange of ideas or skills.

The encounter I had with this talented student represents one of the many challenges in mentoring.  Is it possible to effective mentor across gender lines?  Is it proper?  It is a necessity in many organizations – yet it is often a challenging arrangement for both the mentor and the mentee.

The necessity is clear.  Consider the observations of Elizabeth McManus writing about women in law firms.  Her observations apply to many of the organizations I have worked in or with over the years.

The reality is that “[w]omen who are not mentored are in fact less likely to advance…. [f]emale lawyers remain out of the loop of career development.”  They aren’t adequately educated in the organization’s unstated practices and politics.  They aren’t given enough challenging, high visibility assignments.  They aren’t included in social events that yield professional opportunities.  And they aren’t helped to acquire the legal and marketing skills that are central to advancement. This exclusion results in a negative cycle, where women who do not advance are more likely to leave law firms and “[t]heir disproportionate attrition then reduces the pool of mentors for lawyers of similar background, and perpetuates the assumptions that perpetuate the problem.”    The fewer women who are mentored, the fewer of them there are to rise to the top to act as mentors to new women associates.[4]

The same thing can be said of female staff members in churches, non-profit organizations and businesses.  Cross gender mentoring is often the only way women find the opportunity to engage the larger organizational and strategic challenges they need to develop as leaders.  Too often the lack of capable female leaders with in organizations is not the result of insufficient talent and ability but insufficient opportunity and sponsorship.

The profound benefit of mentoring means that its application toward every potential leader is a desirable aim to increase organizational depth and effectiveness.  In light of this benefit in the business context the loss of mentoring relationships because leaders do not know how to mentor across gender is unacceptable.  In a faith-based context such as a church or Christian organization (my own reference point is limited to the Christian tradition by experience and training) the lack of cross gender mentoring relationships is even more appalling.  It is clear in Genesis that the imago Dei invested in humankind requires the inclusion of both male and female if it is to be complete and undistorted.  Conversely a bias to either male or female perspectives diminishes and distorts our insight into the nature and character of God.  Historically and contemporarily the Church has often failed to support the development of women preferring to stay predominately male in imagery, language and governance.  The loss of the Church’s ability to speak to today’s complex world is due in part to this distorting bias in my opinion.

Successful cross-gender mentoring requires two categories of understanding.  First, understand how to create a safe mentoring environment as a mentor or as a mentee.  A good structure ensures that both the mentor and mentee understand the expectations of the mentoring relationships and understand the boundaries that make the relationship safe.  Second, understand how women differ from men in how they develop as leaders.

Establish a Safe Mentoring Relationship

Admittedly views of how men and women should relate in the workplace differ from one generation to the next and from one culture to the next. Any guidelines I offer will not fit in every situation.  However, it is precisely this diversity that necessitates making the ground rules of mentoring explicit and not implicit.  It is the job of the mentor to create a safe environment.

Start by identifying the assumptions that limit the effectiveness of cross gender mentoring relationships.  Emerging generations perceive cross-gender relationships to be more common.  However, the down side is that their sexual relationships are more open and pervasive.  This openness however does not end the potential for great personal pain and the attending awkwardness of trying to work with an “EX” or of trying to reset a friendship violated by miscues about sexuality – as popular television dramas such as Suits, Harry’s Law and others illustrate routinely.   The potential of ruined reputation and eclipsed advancement opportunity due to poorly framed sexual relationships is as alive as ever. How do mentors establish proper boundaries and so avoid violating the trust of their organizations, their mentees, their families or their colleagues?  How do they communicate the necessity of these boundaries to emerging leaders so they do not undermine their own advancement by poor interpersonal choices?

Assumed stereotypical roles. Behavior defined by assumptions and expectations about cross-gender relationships may cut anxiety but may not give opportunity to practice the kinds of behaviors needed to enhance leadership ability and capacity.  Why?  Most stereo typical roles are family based or marriage based. Neither of these models fit the global context of leadership well. Hence if stereotypical roles are used to define the relationship, the role modeling of effective leadership will not be effective.  There is little chance of discovering what it means to be female in a male dominated culture or what it means to work with women as powerful and effective leaders if limited stereotypical roles dominate the nature of the relationship.

When discussing gender differences it is more profitable to speak about how men and women develop and not how they should behave.  For example men tend to speak and hear in the language of status and independence while women speak and hear in the language of connection and intimacy (intimacy does not have sexual connotations – a queue that is sometimes misinterpreted by men).  Knowing these differences allows a mentor to frame questions, provide assignments and sometimes protect their mentees so that the unique way in which the mentee maximizes learning.

Emotional entanglements.  While there is tremendous potential in growth in friendships and emotional ties because of the differences in viewpoints of the genders there is also the potential for co-dependency where one or the other of persons depends on the other in an unhealthy way for affirmation and approval. Avoid co-dependency by maintaining broad exposure to learning opportunities and challenging assignments so that the mentee’s sense of affirmation results from the outcomes of their new learning in practice.

The natural intimacy of the mentoring relationship may also lead to the experience of sexual tensions.  Sexual tension is normal and where it is held in perspective it can generate higher levels of creativity.  The problem with sexual tension is not its existence but the potential stress it places on interpreting the non-verbal queues in a mentoring relationship.  Make the guidance of your interaction explicit and be quick to express concern if a boundary is crossed by either person in the mentoring relationship.  The relational aspect of mentoring is under much more stress in a cross-gender relationship. Feelings and the affect are often much more in focus than the cognitive aspect of learning – so exercise awareness.  The last thing a good mentoring relationship needs is to collapse in the accusations of or fear of sexual harassment.

Sexual entanglements.  A safe mentoring environment requires clear boundaries in the relationship so that sexual tension does not give way to sexual involvement. If sexual involvement develops in a mentoring relationship it does so to the detriment of mentoring and role modeling. Care must be taken about physical contact and expression of or recognition of sexuality. Avoid fantasizing.  Because mentors are typically in a place of power organizationally sexual entanglements create a double jeopardy of poor personal judgment and legal liability.  The greater loss generated by inappropriate dalliances occur when illicit sexual activity affirms unproductive gender stereotypes or loss of trust in authority figures.  The loss of trust has far-reaching implications for the organization’s ability to act as a legitimate and credible institution.

Public scrutiny.  Because people see and check cross-gender mentoring relationships such relationships must be seen as above-board and exemplary. What others think, though perhaps inaccurate, carries weight in shaping reputations and in the end leadership effectiveness and career advancement.  Leaders have an important social stewardship here. I will never forget the day my wife returned from one of her first public speaking engagements in our early marriage.  She accepted an invitation to speak to youth at a church-sponsored camp.  The first reports she filed via phone calls indicated that she was extremely effective, competent and engaging.  I was proud and admittedly a bit jealous.  However, when she returned home devastated.  After being rated as one of the best speakers (she was also published as an author at that point – years before I published anything I might add) she was told that she would never be invited back.  She was too beautiful!  It was that terrifyingly blunt. The director of the camp was distraction by her from his own sense of sexual propriety.

Clearly the organizational leaders should have overruled the director and encouraged him to deal with his own issues.  He was later removed for having sex with one of the campers. However, my wife’s reputation was never revisited.  She remained a pariah for no other reason than that she was a successful young woman who was a clearly gifted communicator and leader.   The leader’s stewardship is to protect emerging leaders from the pettiness of jealous or insecure onlookers.[5]

Familial scrutiny. Cross-gender relationship may also be a threat to one’s spouse. If a leader’s time commitments show an out of balance preference for work over home then jealousy and mistrust typically arise because work and career demands might be seen as having more priority than the family and spouse relationship. Married mentors must stay conscious of the impact of cross-gender mentoring on his/her family. This is true too of married mentees. Mentors and mentees who are single often face social pressure to marry in some parts of a western culture.  I have seen this pressure taint mentoring relationships to the point the value of the relationship was lost.  The needs of career and family are unique and the leader must respond to both with proper presence and engagement.

Peer resentment. Be aware of the fact that others in the organization also want to advance.  Solo women are often hesitant to enter consistent mentoring relationships for fear that she will have to choose between advancement and her peer relationships with other women. The mentor may be completely unaware of the stress created by the peer resentment directed at the mentee.[6]

Leaders sometimes reduce these issues because they have little bearing on the work environment in their minds. I suggest that leaders reduce these issues at their own peril. Ignoring social dynamics does not work out well in any workplace – this is especially true in a cross-cultural context in which social signals and assumptions may not be as easily accessed as in one’s own cultural context.

Understand Women Learn Differently

I assumed that my primarily male approach to learning i.e., competitive, disconnected from the subjective, complex and contextual was universal.  Instead I began to see that the young coed in my story viewed learning based on connectedness and community.  To her learning was intimately connected to the subjective – she wanted to know what others felt and experienced as part of the context of knowing. She worked in a collaborative environment to meet everyone’s needs and discover new ideas.  The way men and women approach learning and the way they develop is different.[7]

Men and women learn best when they are involved in diagnosing, planning, implementing and evaluating their learning – involve your mentees in self-evaluation (this is a central aspect of spiritual growth).  However men and women use different ways of knowing.[8]  The phases of growth men and women move through as they develop share commonalities in many ways and are much different in others. Men tend to develop a sense of morality around rights evoking the imagery of “blind justice” that relies on abstract laws and universal principles to mediate conflict or disputes.[9]

Women develop a morality of care and responsibility. Instead of pressing for blind impartiality women argue for understanding the context noting that the needs of the person cannot always be deduced from general rules.[10] Role of the mentor is to create and keep up a supportive environment that promotes conditions necessary for learning – this underscores the significance of defining the relationship clearly and of those mentor types (e.g., sponsorship) that work to protect the learning of the mentee. (See more at https://raywheeler.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/mentors-developing-highly-effective-leaders/ and http://maturitascafe.com/2012/03/26/the-gift-of-mentors-and-sponsors/). If the mentor refuses to engage this way of knowing when working with women the reciprocal benefit of the mentoring relationship is lost.

So what are the phases of development suggested by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule? What is their significance in mentoring women?

Silence: extreme denial of self-dependent on external authority for direction.

Catalyst: socialization characterized by social, economic, and educational deprivation. These women grow up in repressive contexts where they have no voice whatsoever.  These women develop language skills but do not cultivate capacity for representational thought.

These women lack confidence in their own ability to learn – even from their own experience – the capacity they do express is limited to immediate events versus past or future; to actual versus metaphorical or imaginary; concrete versus deduced or induced; specific versus generalize or contextual iced; to behaviors actually enacted versus values or motives. They feel passive, reactive and dependent thus assume blind obedience as a way to survive. They also hold extreme sex roles. Thinking for themselves violates their concept of what is proper – they experience a sense of extreme isolation.

Clearly a women in this phase of development is not a candidate for a leadership role however, mentors in business often engage these women in entry-level jobs and find training them is sometimes challenging. The simple act of learning to successfully execute a job can be a tremendous catalyst to growth.  Mentoring functions such as friendship, coaching, role modeling can be especially helpful in developing these women’s potential in the work place or service roles in church organizations.[11]

Received knowledge: listening to the voices of others.

Catalyst: parenthood is often a catalyst to this shift if a woman was not already in this phase of development.

Women in this phase highly value words and learn by listening – they hear in concrete and dualistic ways i.e., right and wrong without room for ambiguity – the idea of paradox is inconceivable the assumption being that contradictory ideas are a clear contradiction of fact. Hence greater weight is given the quantitative over against the qualitative.  Women in this phase rely on authority and the belief that there is only one truth. This perspective leaves women in this phase maladaptive for the complex and rapidly changing, pluralistic society we face today. When mentoring these women work toward providing clear guidelines on what is acceptable and unacceptable as well as how to handle ambiguous situations. Don’t expect them to make decisions where there is no clearly defined right answer. Be aware of the fact that women hold an either or perspective on truth they often worry that to develop their own powers is at the cost of others hence they hesitate to consider development seriously. Mentoring functions such as counseling, coaching, teaching, acceptance-confirmation and divine contact make a significant impact.

Subjective knowledge: the inner voice emerges often to the exclusion of other voices; it is the quest for self.

Catalyst: redefinition and application of new ways of knowing and learning.  Note: the shift toward this phase is often rooted in some crisis of trust in male authority must often based on sexual abuse or harassment (20-35% of women interviewed by Belenky et al experienced some form of sexual abuse or harassment).

This shift is a major developmental transition with repercussions on relationships, self-concept, self-esteem, self-assertion, and self-definition – it is a move toward greater autonomy and independence. Women approach this phase cautiously often feeling exhilaration and fear because taking this stand means taking a stand for herself that may leave her isolated from her social support leaving her feeling extremely lonely.

Subjectivist women distrust logic, analysis, abstraction, and language.  Following the discovery of personal authority is a reassessment of life circumstances and attributes (and whether these fit with a new sense of personal authority). Characteristically women redefined relationships around the quest to amass personal experience apart from the obligations (restrictions) of their past – courage and in some cases recklessness characterize this quest.

The dominant learning mode is one of inward listening and watching.  The end of this phase is characterized both in the discovery of one’s own voice and of the necessity of understanding others whose lives impinge on personal experience.  Mentoring relationships, especially cross-gender relationships may be tested in this phase for reliability and safety.  Maintaining a safe environment is critical.  Friendship and role modeling are critical in this phase.  A spiritual guide is particularly important in this phase as the person defines their sense of self and community in new ways.

Procedural knowledge – the voice of reason: procedural knowledge is characterized by an emphasis on rules, skills, and techniques inherent in analytical thinking.

Catalyst: it is inconclusive what leads to this development in some women while others do not enter this phase. It may be exposure to authority that is benign in a dictatorial sense while also knowledgeable.

The reasoning of this phase is more complex than what occurs in received or subjective knowledge. At this point in development a woman only exercises the capacity for independent thought i.e., outside the strictures of procedure, only at the request of authorities.  Mentoring in this phase of learning should include challenging assignments, acceptance-confirmation, coaching and training.

Procedural knowledge – separate and connected knowing: this phase is more than separation from and mastery over objects it infers (like the Greek word gnosis) intimacy and equality between self and object – implying personal acquaintance with an object.

Catalyst: this phase emerges from the need to understand the opinions of other people – particularly opinions that are personally obscure or alien.

Women in this phase develop a deep emotional intelligence. Whereas the separate self of the previous phase seeks reciprocity in relationships (considers others as it wishes to be considered) the connected self seeks to respond to others in their terms.  This phase builds on the subjectivist conviction that the most trustworthy knowledge is personal experience versus pronouncements of authorities – the emphasis in this phase is the development of rules (effective personal processes) to gain access to the knowledge of others. The procedures effect is to get out from behind one’s own eyes to adopt a different lens and see the world through the eyes of another.

The emphasis in the phase remains the procedure although those rules remain somewhat intuitive i.e., not fully codified by the person who is still experimenting and refining their approach.  Mentoring can focus on sponsorship, exposure and visibility as well as coaching, friendship, counseling and spiritual guide.

The conclusion to procedural knowing is that women who stay in these phases cannot be truly radical because their thinking is encapsulated within systems – they critique only within the standards of the system itself. Therefore mentoring that helps them see outside the system is helpful including such functions as protection, coaching, historical models and spiritual guide.

Constructed knowledge – integrating the voices: constructed knowledge is characterized in a sense of self-awareness i.e., of judgments, thought, moods, and desires.  Constructed knowledge begins as a quest to reclaim a sense of self by integrating intuitive knowledge with knowledge learned from others.

Catalyst: an attempt in this phase of development to integrate the fragmentation of self into the process of knowing. With this comes a larger ability to hold apparently contradictory insights in tension.

This phase of development takes the context of knowing seriously and recognizes that all knowledge is constructed and truth is a matter of the context in which it is embedded.  In other words the ability to know reality is partial limited and in need of humility and not arrogant and absolute assertion – compare the functions of propositional versus dialogical truth. c.f., 1 Corinthians 13.  Belenky et al offer an important insight for mentors;

In didactic talk, each participant may report experience, but there is no attempt among participants to join to arrive at some new understanding. “Really talking” requires careful listening; it implies a mutually shared agreement that together you are creating the best setting so that half-backed or emergent ideas can grow. “Real talk” reaches deep into the experience of each participant; it also draws on the analytical abilities of each.[12]

The moral decision-making of constructivist thinking seeks to understand conflict in the context of each person’s; needs, perspectives, and goals and not invoking a hierarchy of abstract principles. This does not imply that abstract principles are not considered but that an attempt is made to apply or contextualize these so that conflict ends in a win/win where ever possible.  Mentors should pay special attention to providing challenging assignments, sponsorship, protection and coaching as well as exposure and visibility.

In using this information as a mentoring guide it is important to note that the research did not set up but rather implied a development path through these phases.   Passage through theses phases of development is not linear rather people can retreat or temporize these phases.  It is significant that these phases are not age driven but circumstantially driven.   This is a significant insight for mentors working to create developmental environments in their organizations

Reinforce the Relationship with Clear Definition

It is important to define the nature of the relationship that you expect to have with your mentor or mentee.

Table 1: Define the Expectations[13]

Time Our meetings begin and end on timeWe will manage our time well and use agendas to keep us on trackWe will put interruptions asideWe will meet for a specific period then reassess how we are doing
Feedback We make regular feedback an expectation
Role Expectations Each of us actively participates in the relationshipWe will each keep a mentoring journal to reflect on our experiencesWe will honor each other’s expertise and experience
Communication Our communication is open, candid and directWe will respect our differences and learn from them
Stumbling blocks If we come up against a stumbling block, we will address it immediately and not wait until the next meeting
Confidentiality What does confidentiality mean in this relationship?What talk stays between the mentor and mentee?  What can be shared with others?What permissions must be gained before talking with anyone outside the mentoring relationship?
Closure When we have completed this mentoring cycle or in the event that our relationship doesn’t work out, we will have a closure conversation and use it as a learning opportunity.

Communicate Violations of your Boundaries

Putting a structure to mentoring relationships is only part of creating a safe and healthy relationship. The other part is feedback in the relationship in what I call formal and informal feedback.  Formal feedback consists of the direct purpose of the mentoring relationship e.g., skill acquisition, challenging assignments etc.  Informal feedback consists of the honesty and integrity of the interpersonal communication. Structure and formal feedback is important to make sure that the relationship possesses clear learning outcomes. However, structure and formal feedback does not end the potential for misunderstanding in relationship.  Therefore it is important to show how to discuss violations of the relationship.  What happens if the mentee or mentor violates the agreed upon boundaries?[14]  Informal feedback (as a mentor or mentee) when a boundary is violated needs to include the following:

  1. Let your mentoring partner know that he/she has crossed a boundary.
  2. Refer to the ground rules outlined in the mentoring agreement
  3. Describe the behaviors that clearly show how the boundary was crossed.
  4. Request that the behaviors stop
  5. If you mentoring partner acknowledges she/he crossed a boundary, let her/him know you appreciate the understanding
  6. If boundaries go unacknowledged and continue to be crossed, ask your mentoring partner to stop crossing the line.  If the behavior continues, insist that it be stopped.  And, if that fails, walk away from the relationship.


Mentoring across the gender divide possesses certain risks and yields significant insight not just in a theological or philosophical sense but in plain marketing and business sense as well. Companies who consistently develop women as well as men increase profitability and return on equity and return on invested capital.[15]

Thanks to my student that day in the classroom I am more attune to the skills and insights I need to develop the leaders emerging around me. How about you?

[1] J. Robert Clinton and Richard W. Clinton. The Mentor Handbook: Detailed Guidelines and Helps for Christian Mentors and Mentoree. (Pasadena, CA: Barnabas Press, 1991), 2-5.

[2] Tammy D. Allen, Lisa M. Finkelstein and Mark L. Poteet. Designing Workplace Mentoring Programs: An Evidence-Based Approach(Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. Kindle Edition, 2009).

[3] Laurent A. Daloz. Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999), xxiv.

[4] Elizabeth K. McManus. “Intimidation and the Culture of Avoidance: Gender Issues and Mentoring in Law Firm Practice” in Fordham Urban Law Journal (Volume 33, Issue 1, Article 7, 2005), 100-14.

[5] To my point about the inability of the church to engage current issues with vitality – my wife changed careers and has had a marvelously successful career as a financial planner to her clients great gain and the church’s great loss.  Her story is repeated in many of my female theology students who find that opportunities to serve are grossly restricted to stereotypical roles ill-suited to either their gifts or the needs of local communities.

[6] I find it very helpful to read blogs that give me an ongoing insight into the issues the emerging generation faces.  One particularly well written blog can be found at http://lostgenygirl.com/.

[7] Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule. Women’s Ways of Knowing: the Development of Self, Voice, and Mind (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1997).

[8] Zachary, 513 of 6664.

[9] Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule, 8.

[10] Ibid, 8.

[12] Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule, 144.

[13] Zachary, 3579 of 6664

[14] Zachary, 3710 of 6664

[15] A number of studies look at the corporate context and emerging women leaders and their impact on business results. See http://www.20-first.com/9-0-better-bottom-line.html for more information.



The Leadership Challenge – Why Mentors are Needed

Is it better to improve what exists or create what isn’t yet?[1]  Today’s context requires that a leader do both.  Leaders face the tension of living in the present and the future simultaneously.  In today’s world the rate of change often exceeds a leader’s ability to define change.  As one author points out change has changed.

Leaders today must own two important factors of success.  First is faith.  Faith summons us to live in the present as though the future were here now.  Without faith leaders tend to show the mediocrity that leads their organizations to live as though they were bound to the past than the future.  Even once great organizations find themselves irrelevant, powerless and more connected to the past than the future.  Their best people seem muddled and their leaders hamstrung.

Second, effective leaders all have mentors. If any leader in history seems to be exempt from the need of having a mentor it was Moses.  Moses had a face to face and daily relationship with God according to the scriptures. Who needs a mentor when one can check in with the Almighty?  The lesson seems to be that connection with God does not make independent super hero as much as it shapes authentic humanity that recognizes the interdependence of relationship that plays such a significant role in human development.

Moses and the children of Israel had experienced one of the greatest miracles of history in the Exodus from Egypt but when they landed in the wilderness they faced a problem, the success of the past would not carry them into the future unless they connected to the future than the past as their point of reference.  Moses ran smack into the limitations of leadership capacity on the one hand and the necessity for expanding his capacity as a leader on the other.

Mentors Play a Critical Role in Leadership Development

When entering a harbor ship Captains often use experienced “pilots” to guide their vessels safely to dock.  A pilot is familiar with the channel, hazards, currents and traffic the ship will face.  As great a leader Moses was he needed a pilot at one point – a mentor to help him understand his own blind spots and develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward.  Jethro served as Moses’ pilot or mentor.  Jethro “piloted” Moses through new leadership terrain (cf. Exodus 18).  Jethro modeled the tone as well as the content of an effective mentor.  The encounter between Jethro and Moses offer seven insights into an effective mentoring relationship.  Consider the following insights. How do these observations reflect the approach you take with mentees?  What insights can you glean to improve the effectiveness of your own mentoring?  I extracted the observations below from Exodus 18:1-27.  What tools did Jethro use to enhance Moses’ leadership capacity?


Jethro journeyed to the wilderness to meet Moses and Israel.  Principle: Effective mentoring occurs out of relationship.  Mentoring or consultations of any type do not take place or give help if engaged in as a backseat driver or detached prognosticator.  Mentors are often incarnations of divine assistance. The bottom line is a mentor knows you, initiates contact and identifies with your unique situational challenges and strengths.


Jethro heard of all that God had done.  Principle: Effective mentors are attentive to the needs of their mentees.  They act on what they hear or see.  Mentors have the ability to see the wider perspective of purpose and meaning.  Mentoring is not a one-size-fits-all approach but an approach that seeks exposure to the leader’s context, a larger frame of reference and sensitivity to the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is a personal and at times nearly an intimate interaction that identifies with the leader and empathize with their situation and personal victories and challenges.


“I your father-in-law Jethro; am coming to you.” Principle: Effective mentoring possesses and expresses a passion for leaders.  Jethro’s relationship to Moses resulted from the marriage of Moses to Jethro’s daughter.  If a mentor does his or her job well they will foremost act out of care and respect for leaders. Benevolence as a motivation helps reduce barriers to advice and understands that a foundation of honest communication and respect is an essential ingredient to building trust.


“Jethro said, ‘blessed be the Lord, who delivered you…’”  Principle: A mentor must not only see things to improve they must start with things to celebrate.  Note that up to this point Jethro had done nothing but see and understand the context, goals, past and present work Moses was involved in.  A significant part of any mentoring engagement or consultation takes place in celebrating the accomplishments and the passion from which the leader draws both courage and vision.  It reinforces the leader, demonstrates respect for what the leader has accomplished and sets the stage for the leader to express or recognize any boundaries to the development of their capacity as a leader as demanded by their situation.


“You will surely wear out; both yourself and these people…Now listen to me.  I will give you counsel.” Principle: The benefit of mentoring is introduced – Jethro’s observations based on his wider perspective and appreciation for the great work God was doing in Israel had two primary goals; that Moses successfully engage his task with energy and endurance and that the people embrace their changing destiny and situation with peace.  Jethro diagnosed and prescribed with sensitivity to the context and the insight of experience and intuition.  Warning: a double jeopardy exists in an overburdened leader – the leader and the people wear out.  This one-two punch guarantees that an organization will eventually suffer a collapse and if left untreated die.


Moses listened.  Principle: The best mentors in the world are worthless if a leader or leadership team is unwilling to listen to questions, direction and carry out a plan that applies the advice.  Mentoring and consultation is a partnership that culminates in new implementation and immediate follow-through.

Punctuated Time Frame

“Then Moses bade farewell to his father-in-law, and did all he said.”   Principle: Effective mentors know when to disengage from directive communication. When the mentee owns the implementation of a new concept mentoring is a success.  This is sometimes called “freezing change” – mentors know when change must be frozen and consolidated in action.  When Moses and Israel accepted the need for altering their leadership and followership behaviors they experienced a revitalized perspective.  This observation reinforces the reality that effective mentors own a clear sense of their own identity and do not engage leaders as trying to shore up their own sense of importance, value or influence.  This is not to say that mentoring is not rewarding but that mentors who work out of their own need for recognition ultimately attempt to suppress the important step toward differentiation and interdependence the mentee most make to be a healthy leader.


Jethro’s approach to Moses illustrates a mentoring framework that mentors today would do well to use. Notice that Jethro’s approach builds a foundation and then leverages Moses’ capabilities forward.  See Figure 1.

Figure 1: A Model Mentoring Approach

Figure 1 represents a model approach to mentoring that provides guidance to emerging and experienced mentors alike.  Try working through these steps in your next mentoring conversation and see how it impacts the readiness of the mentee to listen to advice.

Who are your mentors? Are you listening?  In what ways have you altered your behaviors as a leader?  Who do you mentor?  Do you know when to engage and when to disengage?  Do you exercise the discipline and skill of honest feedback? Do you celebrate your mentee’s successes with them in front of their followers?

In the next article I will offer a synthesis of this approach to mentoring and organizational development cycles.  I invite your comments – share your experience.

[1] Ken Blanchard and Terry Waghorn.  Mission Possible (San Francisco, CA: McGraw Hill, 1997),  xxi.


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Resilience – A Lesson on Leadership from Manufacturing

Resilience is a process of adapting in the face of difficulty, hardships, trauma, tragedy, or set backs.  Since I work in a manufacturing environment I often think about resilience.  For example the resilience of our foam or proprietary blow molded seat foundation. We design and test seating products to endure the stresses of routine use and support the comfort and durability that is the company quality brand. We go to great lengths to engineer our product to serve the unique demands of our market.

Product design and testing made me think about resilience as an adaptive response needed by leaders who face the stressors of routine activity. No one thinks about a chair failing.  A chair used week in and week out does not suddenly change in how it feels, how it performs and how it looks. Similarly no one thinks about a leader failing.  People expect leaders to be consistent week in and week out (i.e., compassionate, authoritative, certain, open, knowledgeable, inquisitive, courageous etc.).

Leaders unlike chairs actually experience stress inducing events and circumstances. Unlike chairs one cannot engineer leaders to be resilient and durable. The act of leading is more complex.  So, how are leaders tested and proven so that they grow in resilience?  Allow me to stretch my manufacturing analogy to illustrate my observations on leadership resilience.

Start with Purpose

When we think about new products the first question we ask is always how will a chair be used e.g., for a “3rd place”, a training room, a sanctuary – each application places different demands on a chair.  We look at design trends in facilities.  We look at aesthetic trends.  Why?  Manufacturing a top selling church or hospitality/banquet chair means it has to serve the customer’s purpose with distinction.

Developing resilience in leaders requires a similar intentionality.  Leaders who have a sense of purpose define the present based on where they are going in the future. Think about what you want your leadership life to look like in the future.  Imaging for a moment what it would feel like to experience that future – to be there and enjoying the outcomes. How do you feel – empowered, encouraged, confident, energized? Leaders always start at the future and work backwards.  This propensity to live “future forward” creates hope and a sense of purpose and lays a foundation for resilience.

Resilience doesn’t mean an absence of difficulty or emotional pain. Resilience develops in leaders who practice “future forward” thinking in the midst of difficulty and emotional pain and show a specific set of characteristics:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • A positive view of oneself and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities
  • Skills in communication and problem solving
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses
  • Accept that change is part of living.

Individuals or leaders who move through life without a sense of purpose typically share an opposite set of characteristics.

  • Lack the capacity to make realistic plans usually supplanting plans with “pipe dreams” that are disconnected from their context
  • Exhibit a victim mentality and lack of confidence offering the evidence of how life and circumstances have stolen their opportunity to make it big
  • No problem solving skills instead they shift responsibility for action to others
  • Demonstrate a lack of self-discipline as seen in impulsive actions and inappropriate and accentuated emotions (e.g., rage, fear, self-loathing)
  • See change as a threat to well being.

Great leaders like a great chair exhibit a structure in life that absorbs impact and returns to its design parameters.  For example, sit on a chair and stand up – the foam in the seat returns to its original shape after being compressed.  Great leaders show the same consistency in character – their sense of purpose helps them keep their emotional and intellectual shape as they live “future forward”.

Define the Cost

Once we understand the purpose of a church chair and determine a design that meets the use requirements and aesthetic sensibilities of the greatest number of customers we define the materials needed to manufacture the new church chair. The process of finding quality material at the best cost helps us decide whether future customers will be able to afford the price of the chair.

Jesus’ parable about the tower builder affirms the importance of cost awareness. (Luke 14:28-30)  Leaders recognize the cost of their actions and routinely reassess this cost.  What costs are associated with leadership decisions?  The costs of living “future forward” include more than financial costs. In a leadership context cost include factors such as:

  • Impact on relationships
  • Ethical challenges
  • Follower’s emotional capacity for change
  • Unexpected impact on facilities, regulations, and organizational structures

Even in successful leadership initiatives that propel an organization to a new level of prosperity and influence hidden costs arise because change has occurred.

The question we face in manufacturing is whether the value to the customer makes up for the cost of producing the product – the question of price.  If we design ingenious chairs but the associated costs cannot be offset by the value added to the customer the price would be too high.  If we design ingenious chairs and use substandard materials then the chairs fail in meeting their purpose.

Leaders routinely face similar dilemmas.  What is the best solution or direction for the organization and its people?  If grand plans use substandard processes and inadequate resources because a leader did not count the cost then resilience fails and the leader and the followers loose.

Our design process involves people from every function in the company as well as customer focus groups.  In order to understand purpose and cost we gather advice from as many sources as possible to expect as many potential problems as possible and see opportunity we would otherwise miss.

Leaders who count the cost are only as effective as the feedback they receive.  Make connections with family members, friends, and others who are important and who care about you and listen to you – listen to them.  Solicit their opinion.  This strengthens resilience by clarifying opportunity and identifying potential problems.

Be Persistent

Persistence is an outcome of resilience and a factor in developing resilience.  By persistence I do not mean meanness, spite, vindictiveness or ruthlessness.  I mean determination, perseverance, diligence and resolution.  Why must leaders exercise persistence?  Persistence is the practice that refines the leader’s vision and grows capacity for resilience.

Leadership vision is always incomplete.  This is one of the most important leadership principles affecting resilience.  The single greatest relational mistake leaders make is the assumption that they know best because they see a future or an opportunity clearly.  A leader may see a clear future. However the leader also must see the challenges, resistance, threats, opportunities and insights that have the potential of shaping or derailing a leader’s vision.  Leaders need to listen to feedback to gather intelligence about the path to the vision.

A leader’s level of resilience is a result of persisting in a purpose over time.  Persistence accepts help from others, looks for multiple break-out opportunities that set the stage for the future and spends very little time with entrenched opposition to the vision.  This does not mean leaders can ignore feedback. Leaders who persist recognize the difference between a naysayer (resister) and an early adapter or a neutral (who will ultimately contribute to the vision when they see it works) and choose to spend their relational currency strategically.

When we design a new product we persist in getting feedback all the way through the development process.  Persistence is like the actions of a great football running back like Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Terrell Davis, Tony Dorsett or Willie Gallimore.  Like running backs leaders bounce off tacklers, look for blockers, see the opportunities in the open field and always orient to the goal. Like a running back persistent leaders get up after being knocked down.  Persistent leaders look for new means when their planned strategy collapses. Persistent leaders listen for the encouragement of their team mates.  Leaders who exercise persistence are people who:

  • Meet obstacles as learning opportunities
  • Learn from set backs to refine communication and clarity
  • Ask questions to look for insights and correlations they did not see before
  • Interpret setbacks as an opportunity to test the validity of their strategy
  • Incorporate feedback into their tactical responses to new situations


Watching a leader under pressure says a lot about the leader’s future potential. Leaders who own a sense of purpose, exercise cost awareness and practice persistence are leaders whose resilience grows over time thus enlarging their capacity to deal with complexity, ambiguity, resistance, setbacks, and challenges.  More importantly leaders who are resilient see opportunities others miss because they keep looking and learning while others quit.

Resilience is a mindset that practices specific actions over time and adjusts those actions based on lessons learned along the way.  The combination of practice, learning and agility increases a leader’s resilience and enhances the value the leader brings to an organization.

How is your resilience?  Look at the factors I describe above (purpose, cost and persistence) if any of these are weak set aside some time to think about what you see in yourself.  Ask those closest to you for their input. Resilience is learned and is therefore a trait that can increase or decrease.

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Dad: the First Missional Leader I Knew Well

Hardly a day exhausts its wonders, challenges and opportunities that I don’t think of my dad.  I reflect on the lessons (implicit and explicit) he taught me about leadership. I often wish he was still here to talk with me about the lessons I have learned since his death and the insights I have gained from reflecting on his life.  I still find myself talking to him in my mind and at times I almost hear his response. Watching dad respond to his faith in Christ Jesus taught me to think of the church as a missional entity rather than an institution. Dad was a significant force in modeling this for me. Dad invested in me the propensity to go to research and empirical investigation to challenge my own assumptions then use that investigation as the ground for deeper theological reflection.  So, what did I learn from dad that has shaped my view of the church and its mission?

A missional church exercises curiosity and theological reflection. It was the 1960s and through a serious of events equal in absurdity to a Greek tragedy we had moved from the Missouri Lutheran church we attended to a different Lutheran church. The tragic part of the story is that the move was precipitated by a question I raised in Sunday school.  After hearing the story of Elijah, I wondered why similar miraculous events did not occur today. The question raised a ruckus my first grade mind did not comprehend.  After a lively discussion with the pastor in the hall outside the classroom dad motioned for me to join him. He gathered my brothers and mom and announced that we would find a new church. Dad’s action signaled that I had permission to ask questions and think critically about faith and more importantly that he was willing to defend my curiosity.  The willingness to think critically about faith and its application to the present is the beginning of renewal. Without curiosity history degrades to dead tradition and nothing more than an idealized myth detached from meaning in the present. The author of Hebrews admonishes us to exercise curiosity in theological reflection, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7)

A missional church uses the scripture as a starting point and a standard of action. The move to a different congregation was providential. Dad and mom started attending a class on Wednesday evenings. The class was a study through the Bible that familiarized dad with the scope of God’s work in history.  The class acted as a catalyst to new questions.  For example dad and other men found James 5:14, “Is any one among you afflicted – ill treated, suffering evil? He should call the in the church elders – the spiritual guides. And they should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord’s name.  And the prayer [that is] of faith will save him that is sick, and the Lord will restore him; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (AMP). “Why don’t we do this?” The question started a new time of prayer during which pastor Andy and these men did what was recommended. What’s more when they prayed for the sick some were healed and set free.  The results became catalytic to new exercises of prayer among the entire congregation. It is one thing to state belief it is quite another to act on that belief.

A missional church engages the community. Dad always had friends and we always had people over to the house.  Games, conversation and spirited discussions were part of our family heritage.  Dad’s investigation of the scripture and what it meant to be a Christian changed the tenor of the conversations. I was typically sent to bed before the real conversation started. However, I often snuck into the hallway off the living room to listen to the discussion. I listened to conversations with students and leaders from all over the world talk about their experience with God and their stories of transformation. We hosted evangelistic teams (each Easter week a dozen or more college men slept in our garage which was transformed to a dorm room each year), dad and mom loved their neighbors and simply engaged in conversation that often lead to discussions of faith.  Dad was not plastic in these discussions he was always just himself. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Luke 10:27) Being missional was not odd for dad; he simply loved his neighbors.

A missional church engages prayer like it makes a difference.  The Easter outreaches exposed dad to Bill Bright and the ministry of campus crusade.  I still remember the trek we took from Costa Mesa to Arrowhead (former headquarters of Campus Crusade). “What do you think about living here?” dad asked.  Hey the mountains were awesome I was fine with it. For the next several weeks every night after dinner dad cleared the dining room table after dinner and work on his application to Campus Crusade.  I watched him pray and struggle over the decision. I had no real grasp of the issues he wrestled with as he prayed about joining the staff of Campus Crusade. But something soaked in about involving prayer in my deepest personal decisions.  Praying for direction with an expectation of clarity was not an esoteric exercise thrown up against the wall of heaven’s doors with the hope it would stick.  Dad engaged a more deliberate process. Dad prayed like prayer made a difference in reality and in his decision process. The words of Jesus seemed clear. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Mat. 21:22)  Ultimately he determined that Campus Crusade was not the direction he needed to go.  Shortly after that we moved from Southern California to Southern Oregon.  Dad became a professor who influenced hundreds of students each year as they prepared for careers in engineering. Dad’s influence as a leader included international students, local organizations and clubs – even the yacht club.  Not only did dad show me the power of prayer but he demonstrated the reality of ministry in the work place.

A missional church does not take itself too seriously – but is clear about its mission. As I entered school and engaged school rules and bureaucracies dad pulled me aside one day for a father son chat.  “Ray, one thing you will learn about organizations is that rules are meant to be broken.” Dad wasn’t talking about living as though morality was passé.  Dad was clarifying the difference between effectiveness and mindless compliance. Simply put, organizations sometimes become their own worst enemies.  As an Air force officer dad experienced the difference between effectiveness and mindless compliance many times.  He respected those leaders who knew when bucking the system was appropriate.  “But, if you break the rules and get caught take responsibility and own your punishment.” This piece of advice was some of the best leadership advice I ever received.  The idea of taking responsibility for one’s actions is absent in practice at times within the church. If leaders in the church exercise as much clarity about their mission as they do clarity about the need to comply with their rules and regulations they might unleash a world changing revolution of faith. When the disciples reported the impact of their efforts Jesus reminded them about the important stuff, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Luke 10:20-21)  Recognizing the real priorities and accepting responsibility for one’s actions seems very much in line with being a child to whom God has entrusted a clear mission.

A missional church lives a lifestyle of repentance. I packed my wife and children into the car and drove to see dad.  I was well into my first pastorate and needed some time to talk with dad about the leadership issues I was going through.  I opened the refrigerator at dad’s and noticed something different. I could not put my finger on it at first.  I stared harder at the contents.  “Dad,” I called out, “where’s the beer?”  As I asked the question I realized that I had not seen a cigarette in dad’s mouth when I walked in.  “I quit smoking and drinking.” A head of foam and cigarette smoke were iconic symbols of dad to me.  Dad explained that smoking was killing him (something I had said to him for years) and God had asked him to stop.  What about the beer?  Well that too was gone for the moment so dad could focus on what God was saying to him.  Repentance is the other side of taking responsibility.  Repentance is both an admission of error and a change in behavior.  Dad modeled repentance in his usual engineering precision.  It was a simple case of realizing he was wrong and needed to make an adjustment. So, he did. Sometimes I find leaders are too invested in their persona to actually allow God to work on their person. Proverbs makes an amazing statement about repentance, “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.” (Pr. 1:23 – NIV)  Repentance is what dad was doing. In the months that followed I saw the impact of dad’s actions – he gained insight into God’s thoughts.

A missional church lives accountably to itself and the world around it. I loved going to breakfast with the men who were dad’s friends. Dad met with a small group of men to talk about faith, to pray for one another and to encourage one another. Those breakfast meetings amazed me.   I heard these men talk about their struggles, ask hard questions of one another, cry together, love one another, tease one another and laugh with one another. I learned the importance of being transparently accountable. These men talked about learning from their encounters with others at work, their wives, their colleagues.  They modeled what I call a transparent accountability because it extended to every venue in which they lived and worked. Sometimes I see accountability groups as little more than carefully choreographed posturing that has little to do with reality. When Paul instructed Timothy on what to look for in leaders he affirmed the importance of transparent accountability, “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (1 Tim. 3:7)   It turns out that the world around us can decide if we are legitimate in faith or not.  Too many Christian leaders act as though they are exempt from the verdict of relationships outside the church. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I miss my dad. He had a way of helping me get to the heart of things quickly. He taught me something about being missional. Today when I teach, coach, consult and encourage I think of dad. When I resigned my last congregation the first words out of dad’s mouth every time we visited was “when are you returning to full time ministry?”  I would always answer, “Dad, I never left I just changed jobs.” He would smile and the conversation would move on.  Who better to teach me what it means to be “full time” in serving Christ than my dad.  Missional churches understand that “full time” is not a job designation it is a relationship with Christ.  Jesus said it this way, “I am the light of the world. Whoever followme will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)  Thanks dad for helping me discover the light of life.


Three Critical Acts of Leadership

Why is the role of the leader important? Consider that all organizations depend on shared meanings and interpretations of reality to facilitate coordinated action. In dynamic Churches the definition of reality and call to shared action is the central role of the sermon. Equally important is how the leader carries him or herself relative to the core values of those who follow. In dynamic companies the definition of reality and call to shared action is often expressed in the communication of the president or CEO and his or her interactions with the employees and board relative to their core values.

For leaders who realize the power of shared meaning in an organization three things become essential:

• Leaders reframe situations demonstrating new perspectives that call others to action

• Leaders articulate and define what had previously remained implicit or unsaid

• Leaders consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom to suggest new directions

The social upheaval in Tunisia and the mirrored unrest in Egypt in 2011 and the current unrest in Syria demonstrate the power of these three actions and suggest that whoever frames reality or meaning wins the day. This is why entrenched power brokers who hide behind their privilege and/or power to maintain position by force always loose regardless of the context either political, commercial or religious.

Leaders are the kind of people to whom others are drawn – not because of their personalities but because they have:

• a dream,

• a vision,

• a set of intentions,

• an agenda,

• a frame of reference.

This is important to see. New leaders in many organizations or social settings often seem to arise from obscurity to prominence just at the right time or the wrong time depending on where one stands relative to change. But obscurity is usually another way of describing a lack of attention. When power brokers do not listen, do not pay attention they often do not see the opportunity for change nor those who inspire change until the status quo is thoroughly shaken.

Healthy, innovative, vibrant organizations (or churches or countries) are those that provide permission to leaders to leaders reframe situations demonstrating new perspectives that call others to action; articulate and define what had previously remained implicit or unsaid and consolidate or challenge prevailing wisdom to suggest new directions.

The real test of leadership however isn’t in the revolution/change.  The real test of leadership is in how change is consolidated to a new reality that is in fact different than the prior reality.  Some revolutions simply exchange personalities and processes yet do little to bring about significant change.  The only change is in who now controls the power and the privilege.

Who are the leaders in your organization? Are they recognized or unseen? Are they empowered or marginalized? Are they granted permission or shown the door? Are leaders a threat to your organization or do the leaders of your organization tend to attract the truly gifted and engaged into a synergy of innovation and vibrant execution? If your organization’s leaders don’t another group of leaders will.

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Finding a Mentor

How to Find a Mentor

Think back on the most significant help you have received in making you effective at work.  Did it come from a class?  Was it the result of a training seminar?  Was it an event?  Most likely you will respond like a large number of others.  The most significant shaping event that occurs in most of our lives is typically an encounter with another more experienced person who took the time to invest in our performance with an insight, word of encouragement or demonstration of a trick of the trade.  That person influenced your life informally – they were training “on the fly” or mentoring you. 

Mentoring occurs in most every organization. It is the “unofficial” training that occurs as employees provide each other with their perception of what makes the company tick, what its felt-values are; it’s consistent or inconsistent behavior and the “rules” of survival.  Such mentoring may be a powerful source for building employee engagement and identifying leaders or it may serve as the backdoor in a talent exodus. 

The point is that actively seeking out and engaging mentoring relationships provides a powerful platform for expanding one’s skills sets, deepening awareness of political interactions and enlarging awareness of market forces that impact daily decision making.  I am talking about finding a mentor. 

First: Define Mentoring

Mentoring is a powerful dynamic that is not always leveraged by emerging leaders.  In my coaching practice I often find young leaders too busy trying to prove themselves to listen to experienced leaders around them.  However, metaphorical hearing impairment is not the sole venue of inexperienced leaders.  Even experienced leaders fail to listen to younger leaders in areas they may find a little mentoring helpful e.g., using new technology.

The simple fact is that the most important learning tool any leader possesses is the ability to find and collect mentors who provide a variety of key inputs during times of decision, crises, and personal or professional transition periods and in the daily grind where experienced has found appropriate short-cuts to higher efficiency in task management.  I have found that mentors are particularly helpful in:

·         Investing the knowledge of key individuals into my workflow and decision-making processes. Such an investment of knowledge enhances or amplifies the practices that make me a more effective leader. 

·         Provides depth in my decision-making processes thus ensuring greater consistency to my company’s business objectives and values that contributes to the results that build rather than diminish momentum. 

·         Transmits the “how to” knowledge of the experience when I face situations that are new to me.  Since one of the most often cited reasons for high turnover rates in many industries is the lack of “how to do it” skills. Any relationship that accentuates practical knowledge possesses an immediate impact potential on both performance levels and feelings of employee engagement and satisfaction.

In today’s competitive business environment two things are critical to short and long term success.  First, because being a learning organization is a significant point of leverage in gaining a competitive advantage giving attention to the development of mentoring relationships with emerging leaders in your company is a way to accelerate execution of tactical and strategic goals.  Second, finding mentors is a way to position oneself for better advancement opportunities and expanding responsibility by both benefiting from others’ knowledge and the relationships that that serve as points of sponsorship. So what is a mentor?

A mentor is not a person who can do the work better than his followers; he is a person who can get his follower to do the work better than he can. (Fred Smith)

A mentor is an individual who influences others in possessing the ability to see potential in another person, tolerate mistakes, brashness, abrasiveness and the like to see that potential develop. (J. Robert Clinton)


Second: Understand Mentoring is not Monolithic

Mentoring itself is an expression of various developmental functions it is not a monolithic developmental exercise.  Mentoring is a holistic approach that recognizes workplace performance and behavior do not occur in a vacuum.  College students surveyed in July of 2001 ranked balancing work and personal life as the most significant value to career decisions. (Nan Hallock, “Customer Service Industry Incentives, Bonuses and Employee Retention.” A White Paper. Chicago, IL: International Customer Service Association, 2001.  Available at; www.icsa@sba.com.)

Mentoring includes development that focuses on personal life and development that focuses on career skills. Realize that career development cannot be separated from personal life.  Kathy Kram’s research of mentoring relationships at work revealed that;

Among the studies completed, a set of functions converges.  These functions can be summarized in two broad categories.  Career functions are those aspects of the relationship that enhance learning the ropes and preparing for advancement in the organization.  Psychosocial functions are those aspects of a relationship that enhance a sense of competence, clarity in identity, and effectiveness in a professional role. (Kathy Kram.  Mentoring at Work.  New York, NY: University Press of America, 1988, 22.)

Table 1 illustrates the primary functions of a variety of mentoring activities.  As you survey this list what functions could you see yourself operating in as you relate to the people who work around you?

Table 1: Mentor Functions Defined

Ministry (Career) Functions

Personal Development (Psychosocial) Functions

1.      Coaching – skills, insight to informal and political processes.

1.      Discipline – habits.

2.      Trainer – knowledge

2.      Role modeling – values

3.      Sponsorship – opportunity for advancement

3.      Acceptance and confirmation – self-differentiation in a relationship in which conflict is safe

4.      Protection – reduction of unnecessary risks or criticism

4.      Counseling – advice on personal concerns

5.      Exposure and visibility – preparation for greater responsibility

5.      Friendship – a sounding board, perspective

6.      Challenging assignments – development of technical or managerial skills

6.      Divine contact – guidance in decisions


Third: Recognize that No One Mentor will Do It All

It should be obvious that no one mentor cannot function in all 13 mentoring functions at the same time.  What does this mean?  It means an individual will have a variety of mentoring relationships over time each serving a different function in his or her life and developmental process.  Ideally these mentoring relationships enjoy a full constellation of age and life experience.  Mentors may be peers (people similar in age and life experience) or older more experienced individuals.  Kram’s research demonstrates that in the professional context it may be best to seek out a variety of mentors.  She notes,

Given the limitations of mentor relationships, the fact that they are relatively unavailable to most individuals in organizations, and their potential destructiveness in certain situations, it is risky to rely on one individual for all developmental functions.  Relationships with peers can also offer developmental functions, and individuals should develop a relationship constellation that consists of several relationships, each of which provides some career and/or psychosocial functions. (Kram 200)

The concept of a mentoring constellation is helpful to both mentors and mentees.  For mentors the constellation relieves them of having to be omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. Nothing makes me run faster from an individual who approaches me for mentoring than the feeling that they expect me to answer every issue of life.  Conversely nothing makes me drop a request for mentoring than seeing that the person I may consider approaching views themselves as the ultimate gateway to my future success or failure. 

Four: See Mentoring as a Continuum

Finding a mentor or mentee also involves seeing mentoring as a continuum (range or variety).  Direct personal interaction with a mentor is classified as an active mentor.  Indirect interaction with a mentor is classified as passive mentoring.  For example Abraham Lincoln serves as one of my indirect mentors in leadership and decision making strategies through his writing and memos written during the civil war.  I gain tremendous insight into how to correct subordinates, how to communicate in conflict and how to remove or place leaders in strategic positions.

Other mentors have direct influence.  For example Dr. J Robert Clinton of Fuller Theological Seminary is one of these for me.  He is an occasional mentor in my life.  We meet once or twice a year sometimes with gaps of years between meetings.  During these times I ask specific questions about leadership or personal development and we discuss his insights and experience as they apply to my situation.  The mentoring continuum is illustrated Figure 1.  The point is that mentors not only serve different functions in life they also exhibit a variety of levels in relationship.  Why is this important?  It helps set appropriate expectations about the degree of involvement to expect from a mentor and the type of outcomes that will emerge from the mentoring relationship. 

Table 2: Mentoring Continuum

Mentoring occurs along a continuum of involvement in terms of mentoring types and functions.  This categorizes mentor involvement into various types depending on the kind of empowerment, deliberateness, depth and awareness of the effort.

Active Mentoring


Occasional Mentoring


Passive mentoring











Challenging Assignments





Acceptance Confirmation

Spiritual Guide

Divine Contact


Role Modeling

Spiritual Guide

Divine Contact

In mentoring others, understanding this continuum is important in planning the kind of empowerment, deliberateness, depth and awareness of the input you intend to give to a Mentee.  For example, if you observe a team member in need of coaching, your time commitment and the nature of the empowerment you seek to provide is both more intense and more deliberate.  Plan to meet a specific need (deficiency) through specifically designed input (role play, simulations, instruction, exercises etc.).  This requires preparation and planning on your part.  Simultaneously however, your coaching efforts may be modeling good coaching for other Managers.  This does not require a deliberate approach or direct definition between you and the other Manager.  However, to the degree that you are aware of the developmental level and empowerment needs of the other Manager you can design your coaching efforts in a way that provides the maximum role modeling impact.

Five: Recognize the Stages of Building a Mentoring Relationship

So, how is the mentoring relationship established?  How does one find a mentor?  First, be aware that active mentoring is characterized by six stages of relationship development (the mentoring lifecycle).

  1. Attraction: a mutual respect or recognition of potential in another’s skills or abilities.  This usually occurs in a period of six months to a year when the relationship becomes important to both participants.  All active mentoring must begin with some degree of attraction to be effective.  Here in is the danger in assigned hierarchical mentoring relationships (such as assigned coaching or remedial training).  If no element of attraction exists then the relationship will simply be ignored at best or develop into an active or passive hostile resistance to the relationship.
  2. Initiation: approaching a mentor or mentee with a plan for development and a request for assistance.  I do not recommend open ended engagements.  Plan on a period of 3 to 6 month increments with a specific review of the results of the mentoring relationship at the end of each period.  This allows the mentor and the mentee to identify and celebrate progress and to adjust to changing situations and needs.  I have experienced mentoring relationships that last up to 5 years in 6 month increments.
  3. Cultivation: the relationship is defined in functional terms.  The objective of a mentoring relationship is that both individuals continue to benefit from the relationship.  When this occurs cultivating the interaction provides opportunities for more frequent and meaningful interaction.  At this point emotional bonds (loyalty, respect etc.) and intimacy (the degree of disclosure and openness) increase.  In cross gender mentoring relationships this stage introduces the greatest risk.  There is an inevitable sexual tension that arises in cross-gender relationships.  Recognizing this internally and defining clear boundaries to the conversation and location of meetings is essential.  Careers have been destroyed by unclear boundaries and naiveté in cross-gender relationships.  Two dynamics are important in cultivation:
    1. Responsiveness: determines whether reciprocity (give and take) exists in the relationship.
    2. Accountability: determines whether follow-through on insight and training will occur.  This definition must be mutual even if the empowerment is defined from a mentor who imposes a development plan aimed at improving productivity.  If a supervisor is utilizing a mentoring function in the course of bringing about remediation of poor performance the employee being mentored must demonstrate a willingness to respond to the coaching or training by practicing new behavior or changing work patterns from the ineffective to a new more effective pattern.
  4. Empowerment: outcomes in the mentoring process are defined.  The full impact of the mentoring process becomes evident.  The senior manager may develop a reputation as a key company mentor or effective trainer or desirable sponsor.  The Mentee experiences greater effectiveness and gathers respect by association with the mentor but also by virtue of his or her growing effectiveness and productivity.  Empowerment may be evidenced in as short a period as several weeks (as with skill development inherent in coaching and teaching functions) or may take months or years to become fully evident (as with sponsorship functions).
  5. Separation: may be a deliberate strategy for moving the mentoring relationship from an active to an occasional to a passive role or an involuntary event that significantly alters the structural role of the relationship.  It may also be initiated in the emotional experience of the relationship for example the Mentee may no longer want guidance but the opportunity to work autonomously.  The mentor must demonstrate the emotional intelligence and the awareness of the developmental level of his or her Mentee to respond positively to this change in the relationship.  Kram points to other possible causes, “Job rotation or promotion limits opportunities for continued interaction; career and psychosocial functions can no longer be provided.  Blocked opportunity creates resentment and hostility that disrupt positive interaction.” (Kram 49)
  6. Redefinition:  an indefinite period after the separation phase when the relationship ends or assumes a significantly different character.  This dynamic is the synthesis point with the concept of situational leadership.  The separation strategy is built on the development level evidenced in the behavior of the Mentee(s) as response is made in the mentoring relationship.

The presence or absence of these dynamics is one means of determining the type of mentoring relationship that exists.  Why is this important to understand?  To the degree that the mentor is deliberate in the definition and use of mentoring models their effectiveness in developing others increases.  The presence or absence of these dynamics also predicts the success of the mentoring relationship.  To the degree that the mentee is aware of all these dynamics the ability to identify appropriate mentors and establish positive relationships that become more productive over time exists.

Six: Don’t Sweat Rejection be Persistent

One last word on how to find a mentor; realize that two in ten leaders may appreciate or have the capability needed to be an effective mentor.  This means that two in ten will most probably turn you down.  Do not despair in rejection.  Press through the embarrassment of rejection to find the mentor that you need. Talk to your peers, expand beyond known networks.  Positive mentoring relationships not only enhance skill they contribute dynamically to a sense of personal identity and satisfaction.