Friday, November 13, 2009

The Strong-Willed Leader

I just read this article and thought is was great, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Strong-Willed Leader
There is a difference between a surrendered will and a weak will.
John Ortberg | posted 9/21/2009

A side note to Meachem's account is his insistence that Jackson's formidable will and mind were shaped in surprising degree by his faith. Jackson attended church services for three to four hours growing up. Public prayers in his Presbyterian church could last over twenty minutes; longer than many Presbyterian sermons nowadays. As a grown man, Jackson said he read three chapters of Scripture every day.Jon Meachem's Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion, begins with a quintessential Jackson quote: "I was born for a storm, and calm does not suit me." (He includes another that is pure Teddy Roosevelt: "The darker the night, the bolder the lion.") He recounts how Jackson was beaten, scarred, and nearly killed as a fourteen year old boy for refusing to blacken the boots of a British officer.

When reading this I thought of Jim Collins' famous description of the highest level of leadership. The truly transformational leaders differ in almost every imaginable respect except for two common denominators: they have a deep sense of humility, and an indomitable will. In church leadership, a good deal gets written about the importance and virtue of humility, but not nearly so much gets written about the need for an indomitable will.

We are a little distrustful of the whole notion of will in leaders. Willfulness comes pretty close to the essence of sin. And perhaps the highest prayer ever recorded is an expression of surrender: "Not my will, but yours be done."

However, there is a fundamental difference between a surrendered will and a weak will.

The Strong-Willed LeaderJesus' surrendered his will. That meant he placed it in submission to his Father, to the mission his father gave him, and to the service of sacrificial love. But that did not mean he was weak-willed. To the contrary, it required a tremendous exertion of moral courage to defy power and authorities and influences that tugged on him from all sides trying to divert him from his calling.

An indomitable will is not the same as sheer stubbornness (being Swedish, this is something of an inherited trait.) Stubbornness lacks precisely the humility that makes learning possible, and gives conviction the flexibility needed to achieve ultimate goals. It is not egoism, which seeks to gain control for the gratification of the self.

At its heart, an indomitable will involves a sense of commitment; a binding of oneself to a task or a cause or a value so intensely that mere external forces are not allowed to sway or deter. At its best, in the words of Gerald May, it involves not willfulness but willingness—a giving of my will in the service of a greater mission.

So if you're involved in church leadership, ask yourself this question: How often have people close to you encouraged you to develop an indomitable will?

I have two main sources for this encouragement. One is a little group of old friends (or an old group of little friends) whom I've known far longer than I've worked at a church. Because they are not part of the church, they have no particular agenda other than wanting to call out the best in me. They are particularly situated to see where I am tempted to be discouraged or cave in to pressure rather than to persevere in the service of good. They strengthen my will.

The other source is God. When I am alone with him, the forces that drain my will are diminished of their strength. My choosing is both purified and strengthened. Amazingly, the One who demands the most surrender of my will is the One who wants and makes my will to be its strongest and best.

John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Leadership 101: Leaders Disappoint

Good leaders make tough decisions

If you are over anyone, in any kind of leadership position, then you will be faced with making hard decisions that could be unsettling for others. Parents are constantly faced with making life changing choices for their families that their kids may not like. Leaders in businesses have to decide what the best profitable venture is for their companies that their employees may disagree with, and ministry leaders often make daunting decisions on the direction of the church that some members don’t care for. But decisions have to be made and the reality is that decisions invite disagreement.

This was true recently when I was explaining some uncomfortable changes within our ministry to other leaders of our church. My lead pastor encouraged me by saying, “Leadership is disappointing people at a pace they can tolerate.” Wow, that explained it all.

It is impossible to please everyone

The first time I realized that I can’t please everyone was nine years ago. I was an intern with a growing para-church ministry and I was assigned to lead a small group of students. Over time, our group tripled in size. With a larger group, came good problems like running out of room for all the students, and bad problems like less participation because of the higher number of students. Because of the growth we were having, I came up with a plan of multiplying the groups. We needed smaller groups to disciple these students. We took months to cast vision and prepare everyone for the new structure. It was a hard change and there were a few students that were really upset. We had countless meetings with these students and parents. They insisted that we were making the wrong choices and it was going to destroy the ministry. Throughout this, I was having some real doubts if we were making the right decisions. I went to my supervisor and asked him what I should do. Out of his wisdom, he never answered that question but said one thing, “You are a leader that makes decisions. It is impossible to make a decision that benefits one hundred percent of your followers.” I decided to push through and complete our goal of multiplying our group. Thankfully, it worked. Our groups not only continued to grow, we multiplied other groups. The best thing was that students started responding to God.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “To lead is to make decisions. To make decisions is to alienate some.” This is true with every type of leadership. You can’t help disappointing someone in the circle you influence sometime in your life.

Bad leaders make no decisions

Sometimes, leaders who have been through a bad experience or have little experience in decision making gravitate towards the popular vote. They may live in fear of others opinions and are overly cautious of making decisions. This type of leader will wait for the last possible moment to choose the “right” decision. Often times, they will let others make decisions for them because they are overwhelmed by fear. On the extreme, some leaders desperately try not to “rock the boat” by making the unpopular decision. They often focus their attention on the group of people who are giving negative feedback for the thumbs up approval. This unknowingly hog-ties their hands to making quick and accurate decisions.

Once, a mentor told me that at any given time in your leadership, there will always be five percent of your followers that will like you and agree with you no matter what you do. Then on the other side, there will always be five percent that will dislike you and disagree with you no matter what you do. The middle ninety percent of the people doesn’t care less what you do until it affects them. A leader’s goal is to sway the ninety percent of the people to think like the five percent that agree with you and rarely focus on the five percent that dislike you.

Courage in the midst of extreme decisions

Decisions invite disagreement and I have found that the tougher the decision, the harder the criticisms or negativity will be. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to lead people. Don’t ever fall into the trap of shutting out criticism or shutting down negative comments even if it cuts you right to the heart. People can be insensitive to your hard work or demoralizing, rude and immature in they way they give you feedback. Every disagreement presents the opportunity to sharpen your vision and possibly tweak the decisions you’ve made.

And if all else fails, learn to laugh it off and move on to the next decision that awaits…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leadership 101: The blame game

Leadership is about learning what works and what doesn’t. Once you find out what doesn’t work, the really smart leaders will do everything in their power to make sure they don’t ever do it again. A really smart leader would also want everyone around them not to make the same mistakes because it lowers productivity and group conductivity (the natural energy in a group) within your working environment.

Blame is one of those things that doesn't work.

The only good that comes from blaming in a problem is to guard your ego. Personal insecurities can strangle healthy teams and vibrant working environments. Using blame will break teams up, crash enthusiasm, and undermine confidence with the people you are leading. Blaming others will cause people who are following you to have an, “only look out for themselves” attitude because they feel like you are only looking out for your ego. Often, leaders will waste time blaming others, or equipment, or even the problem instead of pulling the team together and finding a solution to the problem.

The best of the blame game.

If leaders aren’t careful, they can find themselves passing blame around like a hot potato. This one time when I was a Banquet and Catering Manager, I got caught up in the blame game. It was my first management experience and something went wrong. We had a wedding and afterwards the mother of the bride told us that tablecloths were the wrong color. This sounds small, but something like this could ruin our reputation in the high class wedding industry. The secret is in the details! So I got all the leaders together to see what went wrong. I foolishly ask, “So, what went wrong?” The banquet supervisor said, “It wasn’t my fault, I didn’t do the set-up! (blaming others)” Then, the set-up crew leader spoke up, “I just do what the set-up sheet told me to do! (blaming equipment)” The banquet coordinator who does the sheets explained, “It wasn’t me, the mom is color blind! (blaming the problem)” We went around and around for more than an hour without the problem being solved. I left that meeting with two valuable lessons. First, I should have asked, “How can we fix this?” instead of, “What went wrong?” Which says to my team, “Ok, who’s at fault?” The second thing I learned is I should have stopped the blame when it started. It took months for our team to recover from mistrust and hurt feelings.

Don’t blame the problem, fix the problem.

Often times, I see young and inexperienced leaders fall into the trap of blaming everything in the world they can think of instead of working on the solution to the problem. Don’t waste valuable time fixing the blame on something or someone. Spend all of your time working on a solution to the problem. When a mistake happens, acknowledge it, and then help others find the solution to change it so it doesn’t happen again. Only the best leaders know when to say, “I messed up!” Learn how to keep short accounts of other’s mistakes and they will most likely do the same for you.