The Journey of Everyday Leadership


January 2018

Conveyor Belt Leadership

The American education system is fundamentally broken.

Authors Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (Most Likely to Succeed, 2015) provide a compelling portrait of the American educational landscape, and it’s not pretty. They Most Likely To Succeedargue, rather convincingly, that our educational system was designed in 1893 “to educate large numbers of immigrants and refugees from farms for basic citizenship and for jobs in a growing industrial economy” (25). The system has not undergone any fundamental change in the past 130 years, despite the major shifts to an information economy and now an innovation economy.

In short, we’re still teaching students how to meet standardized expectations (factory-line stuff) and how to perform rote (and repetitive) tasks. And in the midst of this, we have successfully stifled creativity and quenched innovation.

The great irony, of course, is that Wagner and Dintersmith’s blunt analysis will require great creativity and innovation to change the monolithic K-12 and higher education juggernaut. The system is inherently designed to stay stuck.

As I’ve been reading Most Likely to Succeed, it occurs to me that many of us in leadership do the same thing. We design systems that favor stability, predictability, and consistency. We create workplace policies and practices (and even family environments) that help us maintain control and keep all things steady. The cost? The incalculable loss of creativity and innovation.

Our aversion to risk, whether in churches or businesses, makes us resistant to new initiatives and untried pathways. When failure is not permissible, innovation is rarely possible. When we over-commit ourselves financially our risk tolerance diminishes dramatically. In the home, creativity may require both mess and flexibility; more than tired parents can sometimes bear.

The outcome?

The suppression of innovation can only lead us backwards. It makes us fit only for rote tasks. It stymies real growth and progress. It makes us managers, not leaders; responders, not initiators.

One of the well-researched and well-established pillars of transformational leadership is “intellectual stimulation” (creativity and innovation). Scholars and practitioners alike have known for forty years that creativity and innovation lie close to the heart of the strongest leadership. “Business as usual” was a great motto for the industrial age, but it will not suffice in the twenty-first century.

How are you encouraging and releasing creativity and innovation in your children, workplace, church, or favorite organization? List three ways you’ll promote innovation this week, and try it out. But know this, it may take both time and effort to re-ignite the creativity (in both ourselves and others) that has been all but stamped out.

Friday Quote

Continuing our theme of connecting, look for someone you might love unconditionally today. They are everywhere!

“The people who help us grow toward true self offer unconditional love, neither judging us to be deficient nor trying to force us to change but accepting us exactly as we are. And yet this unconditional love does not lead us to rest on our laurels. Instead, it surrounds us with a charged force field that makes us want to grow from the inside out – a force field that is safe enough to take the risks and endure the failures that growth requires.”

Parker J. Palmer (2009). “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life”, p.60,

Bad Connections

In his book The Power of the Other, Henry Cloud presents an intriguing case for “connecting” as the essence of leadership. He asks leaders to evaluate their leadership connections in terms of four grids: 1) disconnected; 2) in a bad connection; 3) in a pseudo-connection; or 4) truly connected to others.

overcoming-2127669_1280Leaders in the first grid (disconnected) are frustrating to be around. Their followers often feel unheard, misunderstood, and unable to have an impact. The second grid (bad connection) is not necessarily a connection with a bad or abusive person, though this does happen. It is a pull towards a person who makes us feel not good enough, defective, or inadequate. This person or persons, Cloud asserts, have come to have power over us; a power to make us feel bad, and to function even worse. It could be just about anyone. A boss, a friend, or even a family member.

This “bad connection” usually manifests in “high expectations, perfectionism, unreasonable demands, a critical spirit, withholding of praise, shame, guilt, and put downs.” It drains our leadership energy, well-being, focus, and passion.

Recently, I experienced two separate situations with people caught in a bad connection. Leaders playing this game are in an approval-seeking entanglement.

What’s ironic is that a “bad connection” does not always require an actual person. It can be our own inner critical voice. It may appear as a voice from our childhood, or a time during our formative years. What was implanted becomes an unreal, shaming expectation. Telling people who are caught in this vicious cycle to stop, is not the answer.

So what is the good news? It is relationship. It is the power of something from the outside that heals the patterns on the inside.

Henry Cloud wrote The Power of the Other because human experience has revealed the pattern. Relationships matter. They have the capacity to hurt…and to heal. Cloud affirms, “When you get the power of the other on your side, you can surpass whatever limit you are currently experiencing or will ever experience in the future.”

What bad connection do you live with?  Or better yet, what bad connection might you help resolve for someone else? 

Dennis Nichols is the Lead Faculty for the Master of Arts in Leadership degree at William Jessup University and teaches in the School of Christian Leadership


The Big Picture

Happy New Year from Jessup Leadership!

This week, people across the world commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Certainly, King influenced significant change in the civil rights climate in the United States. Before his death, he prayed this simple, yet profound prayer:

King relentlessly pursued this greater purpose, holding to an unwavering belief in its merit, yet without certainty he would see it fulfilled. Leadership author Jim Collins calls this Level 5 Leadership.

In his book Good to Great, Collins says that it’s not enough for leaders to be highly capable, contribute to teams, manage competently, and lead effectively toward a compelling vision. Top-notch leaders embody a fifth component of leadership: they build enduring greatness through commitment to a vision far greater than themselves.

Further, Collins suggests that leaders accomplish this final step through the paradoxical combination of personal humility, coupled with steadfast resolve to pursue this greater good.

Truly great leaders forge ahead toward larger-than-life goals, without certainty they will see them come to full fruition. This reminds me of the biblical account of the men and women of faith in Hebrews 11.

In the middle of highlighting the impressive resumes of people like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, and David, the writer of Hebrews says something especially troubling for leaders:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…”

(Heb. 11:13)

Abraham never saw his descendants number the stars in the sky. David never saw the Messiah who would rise from his lineage. Dr. King’s life was stolen long before he saw racial equality.

This raises these questions: Are you and I willing to exemplify this kind of leadership humility, pursuing goals far greater than us, even if we never see them fully accomplished? What is one big-picture goal that is worthy of your pursuit today?

Daniel Gluck serves as Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Jessup, and Lead Faculty for the B.A. in Christian Leadership program.

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