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The Journey of Everyday Leadership

Connection and Leadership

Some leadership characteristics never change.  The need for vision casting, strategic planning, and motivation are a few among many.

At this Christmas season, I am thinking of a leadership characteristic that marks the very God of Christmas—connection. Emmanuel is God connecting. Amazing.

In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter says God is not willing that any should perish (be disconnected).  John, the Apostle remarks, “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved (connected) through him.” (John 3:16)

I suppose God, in his Trinitarian-self, could have been content to dwell in perfect divine unity. But God chose to connect. Furthermore, connecting with God is essential.

Yet, connecting with God should involve connecting with what God loves, should it not?  How can we say we love God and hate (not connect) with our brother? It’s not possible. The good news is that love connected God with people, and persons with persons.

Henry Cloud, in his book, The Power of the Other presents an intriguing case for connecting as the essence of leadership. He asked 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.

Leaders in the first grid (disconnected) are frustrating to be around. Cloud suggests followers often feel unheard, misunderstood, and unable to have an impact. We all know the feeling. It promotes work arounds with the boss and side conversations with followers. More than that, it produces work place drag. Energy goes down along with productivity.

Granted, some leadership tasks are carried alone. The phrase “It’s lonely at the top” is born out of such leadership demands. But leaders must guard against self-imposed isolation.  It is not healthy and does not serve the greater good.

Cloud poses a deep question as a test for connection; “Do you have someplace where you can be 100 percent honest and vulnerable as to what you are going through in your leadership role , where you can totally be honest about struggles, conflicts, needs , weaknesses, etc.?”

So ask yourself, how well are you connected? Because of God’s love expressed at Christmas, we are never alone from his Divine presence. Emmanuel affirms that. But who else knows you?

We’ll look at the other three grids in future blog posts.

 

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

Giving and Receiving

On a recent Tuesday in November, amidst a hectic semester, something unexpected assaulted my week. I enjoy cycling, and a complication from a crash 18 months back surfaced out of nowhere.

Pain ravaged my hip, eventually driving me to crutches and altering my world for several weeks. Even as I write, the cause has yet to be identified.

As I leader, I prefer to live somewhat independently, avoid “burdening” others, and take care of my responsibilities. Yet, on that November day, all of these ideals came crashing down.

Classes were cancelled, deadlines missed, and I struggled just to eek by.

When hobbling into my “Self-Leadership” class one afternoon on 3 legs, I happened to notice a student’s textbook on the desk (one I’ve quoted before) entitle Leading With a Limp. The irony clanged like a gong.

I whispered a simple prayer, What are you up to right now, God?

Although His answer is still being revealed, I suspect God may be reminding me of my dependence on Him for every breath, every step, every task. That life and leadership is not only about giving, but also receiving.

The fact that Jesus put Himself at the mercy of others always strikes me as unusual.

To the woman at the well, he said “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). About another who poured perfume on his feet, he said “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).

It seems that Christ, although He came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28), also understood the humility of receiving.

So, in recent weeks when a colleague has offered to cover one of my responsibilities, I’ve tried to say “yes, thank you.” When a group of students has offered to pray, I’ve said, “yes, I need that.” When my wife has offered to put the garbage out, I’ve said “thank you, that is so helpful!”

Which is easier for you – to give or to receive? How difficult is it for you to put yourself at another’s mercy? Where might you need to graciously receive, rather than solely give?

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

Powerless Communication

The research is in. Powerless communication prevails.

Give and TakeYes. You read that correctly. Adam Grant (Give and Take, 2014: 126-154) makes the compelling case that powerful communication (especially in day-to-day interactions) turns out to be far less effective than powerless communication. We imagine that strong, confident, and assertive language wins the day. But not so. It’s a twist that many of us would not expect.

Here’s how it works.

Research suggests that we have two basic pathways to influence: dominance and prestige. On the one hand, we establish dominance (and gain a level of influence) by projecting power. We speak forcefully, raise our voices with conviction, and use dominating body language. It’s powerful communication. A great many leadership programs concern themselves with such power-talk, power-language, and image-building.

On the other hand, prestige functions differently. Unlike dominance which can only be experienced by one person or very few people in a given setting, prestige can be poured out equally and endlessly to everyone. It does not rely on forceful language but on vulnerability and approachability; what some might consider powerless communication.

Furthermore, since 1966 psychologists have studied “the pratfall effect” which concludes that when an average person is self-deprecating or clumsy, it hurts them; but when an expert does the same, it makes them more human and more believable. We can be too polished and too exact!

Finally, powerful communicators may fall victim to another trap identified by James Pennebaker in 1997: “The more you talk, the more you think you have learned about the group.” Ever met someone who does all the talking and then declares it was a great meeting? The irony, of course, is that nobody learns about others by doing all the talking. To the contrary, powerless communicators hand the floor to others and learn about them and from them. And in this act of generous listening, they offer prestige and gain prestige. Speaking over others may dominate the conversation, but it hardly breaks the surface.

All of this seems a little counter-intuitive. We expect the strongest leaders to exude polish, appear flawless, and carry the conversation. But most people, most of the time, respond far more warmly and with far greater commitment to powerless communication; not sloppy, incoherent, ill-prepared, apologetic presentations, but leaders who project vulnerability, approachability, sensitivity, authenticity, and a good listening ear.

The humility to which Christ called His followers (and those who would lead under His Lordship) merely underscores His eternal wisdom.

What kind of communicator will you be today, with your spouse, your kids, or your colleagues?

Friday Quote

On this Veterans Day, let us remember the service of our veterans, and let us renew our national promise to fulfill our sacred obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Dan Lipinski

Thank you, Veterans for your sacrificial service.

Grief, Loss, and Leadership

Good leaders communicate in season and out. The right word can inspire and motivate. More importantly, the right word can connect people in times of grief and loss, though many leaders find words of comfort the most difficult to express.

Wilfred Bockelman offers help for us all in his short book entitled “Finding the Right Words: Offering Care and Comfort When You Don’t Know What to Say.

He presents four principles to guide us through meaningful leadership care-giving.

First, even when you don’t know what to say, go to the person who has had the tragedy. In other words, presence matters. Of course, some people may want to be left alone. Bockelman says it’s better to go and say, “I don’t know what to say,” than not to go because you fear saying the wrong thing. Not knowing what to say actually means you are feeling the pain of the persons loss at a deep level. Even if a person wants to be left alone, letting them know you are feeling their pain helps to bridge a connection.

Second, make it as easy as possible for the person(s) suffering the loss to say whatever they want to say. In other words, don’t over talk to fill in the silent spaces. Listen with your head and with your heart for things said and unsaid. We call this making space for another’s grief. This skill requires a leader to be fully present.

Third, don’t promise anything you can’t deliver or fulfill. This may sound self-explanatory. Bockelman says be specific when offering help. Such as, “I know you have a lot on your mind. Would you like me to take the laundry home and do it for you?” Another phrase might be: “Are there any errands I can run for you, like getting groceries or taking the kids to soccer practice?”

Last, be prepared to follow through after the shock of the tragedy fades. Immediate support is usually a first thought for most care-givers. However, making a commitment for six months or a year out to provide help shows the leader’s extra care for a person in pain.

Bockelman provides a useful guide for communication during painful losses. A leader does not need to be a “natural” during times of crisis. They only need to communicate clearly that one person’s loss is worth the leader’s best effort in communicating care.

Take a focused moment to prepare yourself to engage the losses your followers are facing. The Apostle Paul admonished leaders to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. How are you doing with this leadership principle?

 

Dennis Nichols is Lead Faculty for the Master of Arts in Leadership at William Jessup University

Leaders Who Stand

Today, Christians around the world celebrate the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

On this day in 1517, German priest and theologian Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of his church, challenging the religious systems of his time. This audacious act provoked controversy that would split churches, bring revivals and ultimately transform history.

While we could talk about Luther’s theology (I’m not the guy to lead this discussion), or address the benefits and woes of denominationalism, let’s instead explore Luther’s decision to take this very risky stand.

What kind of leader summons this kind of courage?

I suspect Luther acted not out of desire to start a movement, but because staying quiet would have compromised his integrity. As the old adage emphasizes – “silence is tacit approval.”

Stephen Carter, in his book Integrity (1996), suggests that integrity requires 3 things of the leader. Leaders must:

  1. Discern what is right and wrong – Luther saw a great disconnect between scriptural teaching and church practice. This proved especially problematic in an era where only priests had access to biblical texts.
  2. Act on what they believe, even at personal cost – Luther, after refusing to recant his beliefs, was excommunicated from his beloved Catholic church by Pope Leo X on January 3, 1521.
  3. Say openly that they are acting on their understanding of right and wrong – After Luther’s removal, when ordered to defend himself at the Diet of Worms, he stood strong under immense pressure, saying…

“I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Taking a stand involves great risk. Like Luther, leaders do well to pursue counsel, pray earnestly and seek to honor God-given authority. Certain moments, however, require the great courage to stand.

And occasionally, such valor changes history.

Ask yourself today: Do I, as a leader seek God’s Word, His Spirit, and godly counsel in ethical decision making? Are there any areas where I currently need to take a stand for truth?

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

Humor & Leadership

Kevin Cashman (Leadership From the Inside Out, 2008) surprised me. Tucked deep inside his seminal work on leadership, he tackled a topic I have rarely heard anyone else raise. Quoting Daniel Pink, he writes: “Play is emerging from the shadows of frivolousness and assuming a place in the spotlight….” (p.189)

LaughterLeadership is a serious matter, but we can take it too seriously. We can easily over-rate our own significance or the importance of the project at hand. For a season of my own life I embraced a leadership goal to develop gravitas; an authority that comes with intensity and seriousness. I would have benefited if somebody had written this blog for me then.

I think about Ron Hewitt. He was tall, large, and loud. He laughed hard, hugged people tightly, and carried crowds into fits of giggles and guffaws. He loved widely and was widely loved. And he brought energy into every room that he entered, even when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Some people thought that Ron’s humor (and God’s answer to prayer) helped his short-term healing. He was one of 42 men diagnosed with the same disease, at the same time, at the same hospital clinic. Forty-one of them passed away within 12 months. Ron lived a further 6 years. But the gift of his humor should not really be measured in months or years, but leadership and influence.

Looking back at Ron’s life, and reading Cashman’s comments, has made me pause and ponder.

Intensity drains; levity rejuvenates. Solemnity depresses; laughter lightens. Gravitas makes a helpful side-dish, but not a great meal. Teams (even marriages and families) that are constantly serious, lose their energy. When we lack humor and lightness with each other, when everything is altogether too formal, leadership suffers.

There are, of course, a great many things to take seriously; mission, strategy, contracts, and threats. But if Cashman is correct, then humor and leadership might be a great topic for deeper consideration (and plenty of application).

We may achieve far more (in most instances) with a smile than a scold. How might you inject more humor and warmth into your leadership today?

David Timms is Dean of the School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University

 

Friday Quote

University of Houston research professor Brene Brown has over the past few years soared in popularity because of her groundbreaking work in the areas of vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brene is the author of several New York Times No. 1 bestselling books.

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

“Lord, help us to listen to our lives today, to embrace all that is happening as the training ground for your image to be formed in us and through us. For your glory.  Amen.”

Leadership Hoarders

I was 15 years old and still innocent about how life can go sideways at times. My family was invited to dinner at the home of a friend whose wife was quite ill.

She suffered from what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes as a hoarding disorder. Otherwise gentle and kind, she could be absolutely unbendable about moving or discarding anything in the home. So, their home was literally stacked to the ceiling with old cans, plastic wrap, newspapers, and more. You name it, she kept it.

Dianna Booher makes a similar analogy in her book Communicate like a Leader. In it, she briefly addresses the tendency of some leaders to hoard.

She writes: “Somewhere between elementary age and the workplace some people decide to hide their light, their creativity, insights, passion, along with information…that would help another do their job better. Instead, they adopt an ‘every person or department for himself/herself’ attitude.” They hoard.

“Leaders,” Booher says, “hoard information for various reasons.” It may be to punish others, to feel smarter than others, or to control a situation. We may hoard credit, opportunities, or status. Sometimes we hoard because we honestly do not know what others need to know. Other times we don’t share because we think no one cares. In any case, hoarding hurts everyone.

Leaders may need similar checks and balances as those with the mental disorder.

What strategies may be helpful for a leader who hoards? Based on Mayo Clinic ideas, we could say:

  1. Resist the urge to use information as power. Empowering others enhances the entire team.
  2. Let others have a voice. Indeed, give someone information privately that they may share with the group. It increases the group’s value of that person.
  3. Give to others more of who you are as a person rather seeking a reputation as the smart one.

Leaders have relatively few secrets that cannot be shared with others. Practicing generosity, including generosity with information is good modeling and good leadership.

How might you serve others around you by giving away information for the sake of the team today?

 

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