Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mistakes and Learning from Jesus

I hope you make mistakes, learn from them, and strive to lead like Jesus.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” —Winston Churchill (1874–1965).

I recently read a blog from one of my favorite companies called Bonobos. Bonobos is a US company that manufactures great pants and polos (the standard in dress for me). Andy Dunn, the CEO of Bonobos, recently blogged about two mistakes the company plans to make only once. They over-advertised and over-promoted the product. He vowed to only make those mistakes once.

What a great challenge - Learn from mistakes (don't stop there) and take action.

Thomas Edison was interviewed by a young reporter who boldly asked Edison if he felt like a failure. Perplexed, Edison replied, "Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp." And shortly after that, and over 10,000 attempts, Edison invented the light bulb.

Seth Godin, a thought-leader maverick, bolstered this point by writing, "the problem is that you can't have good ideas unless you're willing to generate a lot of bad ones."

I struggle with failure. I hate it. I never like loosing any game whether it's Candyland or football. Consequently, I do not attempt something if I fear that I will fail. One attitude that has transformed my anxiety is called self-differentiation. Self-differentiation enables a person to not become entangled with the anxious reaction usually accompanied by a failure (or loss). Here is a short essay on the concept and how it applies to church leadership.

John Maxwell in his book Failing Forward said, "When you fall down, pick up something [learn a lesson from the failure] while you are down there."

Here are the mistakes from 2009 that I plan only making once.

1. Heed the warning label. In January, I was prescribed Transderm Scop as a precaution for motion sickness before traveling in Israel. The warning read, "Some patients report dizziness after using patch for more than 3 days." I wore the patch for 14 days (insert laughter). And although I did not get sick in Israel, I was dizzy for two weeks after the trip. The lesson learned is to heed the warning label on prescriptions. Warning signs are important.

2. Be yourself and allow people to see you grow. Do you try to prove you are better than you are? I do. When we serve that constant pressure to prove to somebody that we are a good leader or a spiritual person or an able writer, then the spotlight is on us. That same pressure also sets us up to try too hard, get in the flesh, and do dumb things. Worst of all, it keeps us leading out of our insecurities instead of true humility. The lesson learned is about daily growth and authenticity.

3. Fail. I did not ask enough questions in 2009. I only gave only obvious solutions to problems.

It is easy to associate personal feelings with your questions or suggestions. Stop living under the self imposed pressure that you should have all the answers to every problem. Share the responsibility with someone you trust.

Jesus told his self-conscious, poor, and doubting apostles that just as the Father sent him so he sends them into the world (Jn 17:18; 20:21). Jesus entrusted them with greatest of all commissions (Matt. 28). Supposedly, I am to Lead like Jesus. I am learning. At times however, I cannot entrust people beyond menial office tasks. Jesus challenges and stretches me to not self-promote and self-protect, which are the leading motivations dominating most leadership landscapes.

There is a better way to lead. Whether you are a single mom parenting your child, a navy soldier overseeing a cadre, a friend who is risking image to befriend another not in your circle, or a teacher stimulating the minds of eight graders, Jesus' way of leadership is servanthood.

I hope you make mistakes, learn from them, and strive to lead like Jesus.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Embracing a Maverick - "You can be my wing man anytime."

I have some trepidation with writing anything on the topic of leadership because I rarely feel that I have anything to say. However, something formative happens when topics that have been studied become tangible experiences. For example, a friend of mine was recently accused of an action contrary to their character. The effect of being falsely accused renewed their conviction of careful speech especially in regards to ones character.

Over the years in church leadership, I have worked with several mavericks (although I haven't worked with John McCain). The word maverick is defined by Wikipedia as “an unbranded range animal”, “One who does not abide by rules” or “one who creates or uses unconventional and/or controversial ideas or practices”. The word originates from Samuel Maverick who was considered independent minded after he refused to brand his cattle in the tradition fashion.

Mid-pack mavericks, who are typically not the senior leaders and lead from the middle of the organizational flow chart, often cause friction with other more passive leaders. Mavericks can cause friction in any organization because of their outlaw ideas which challenge the status quo. Some display the "challenge the status quo" badge proudly for all to see and recognize. If a maverick is unaware or immature, their style could result in termination or worse - isolation. Other mavericks demonstrate health and balance; knowing when to challenge and when to suspend their thought-style of leadership.

I wonder if some leaders (like me) do to mavericks what zoos do to animals. We cage the maverick until he or she is broken of their will to lead. Let me first admit that I am guilty of marginalizing mavericks and not embracing them. However, I have come to realize that mavericks are a gift to organization. You need them. Ask yourself, have I made it impossible for bright go-getters to live within the organization?

The humorous thing to me is that I have never known a maverick who needed to be convinced that he or she has something to offer their organization. Mavericks (how should say it) do not struggle for opinions. Mavericks often struggle with insecurity like most people. This means that their passion is not often pure but tainted with anger or a fear of being treated as insignificant. A good hard look in the mirror at our own faults will result in a deeper understand of humanity and has led me to embrace those with different styles of leadership. A good leader does not have to be the smartest, the most creative, or a necessarily a maverick. A good leader is involved with something they believe in. A good leader paints a picture of what could happen and goes there. When I reread the previous sentence, how can anyone not understand why a maverick is valuable to an organization.

"When we become too preoccupied with policy, procedure, and the fine-tuning of conformity to organizational standards, in effect, we have squeezed out some of our most gifted people.” – Hans Finzel, “The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make

Mavericks are essential in every organization. Giving them the accountability, encouragement and opportunity to contribute makes all the difference.

Accountability - Mavericks need honest leaders and friends. Leaders must thoughtfully set boundaries for mavericks like who makes the final decision, when it is appropriate to challenge (i.e. all meetings are not equal opportunities), and the process for expressing their thoughts. It is helpful to utilize the "dead dog" parenting technique which says, "never tell a child (or maverick) to do something a 'dead dog' could do." For example, it is not empowering to say, "don't challenge our decision." If a dead dog can obey your guidance then you are not leading effectively.

The thought-leader maverick has responsibilities as well. First, it is necessary for the maverick to care not just for their ideas but for the goals of the organization. Second, mavericks need to earn the right to be heard. For example, mavericks should qualify their thoughts with phrases like "I'm not an expert" or "I'm new here" if either their expertise or expereince is limited. Finally, I believe it is important for mavericks to be good listeners. Being a successful listener requires attention to the speaker and asking great questions.

Encouragement - First, put them in charge of something they can really own and measure achievement. Second, listen to their ideas and give them time to grow. Finally, stoke their mind's creativity with spontaneity. For example, let them work on their own if they wish or assign a vital research and development project to them accomplish.

Whether you are dealing with a "maverick" or a "goose" (sorry for the Top Gun lingo), lead by respecting others and treat them the way you yourself would like to be treated.

Philo of Alexandria said "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

Jesus of Nazareth said, "In everything, therefore, treat people that same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

I hope as encouragement and accountability work in tandem in your leadership, it will help you as it has helped me. Of course, leadership is a journey through which we learn about ourselves and see the full capacity of the human soul at work. Keep learning. Stay humble. Look Upward to Jesus.


When God Goes to Starbucks

When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics

Paul Copan recently wrote a great book on apologetics.

More than ever, tough questions from friends and neighbors naturally arise in relaxed conversations. In the relationships that I’m nurturing with seekers, more often than not, I end up having conversations about faith in neutral non-threatening locations. It is outside of the church building when tough questions are posed. Many of these emerge as slogans we are all familiar with:

Aren't people born gay?

When is lying biblically acceptable?

Aren't the Bible's holy wars just like Islamic Jihad?

Paul Copan, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, has provided a resource for answering questions like these in a casual way. He offers readers solid and caring responses to these concerns. Each chapter provides a biblical stance with exemplary thoroughness and points for countering the questions believers are faced with today. He expertly unmasks the problematic "personal autonomy" philosophy that makes "sweeping relativistic claims, but then tacks on absolute, inviolable standards at the end." Copan's skillful approach to apologetics provides ample information on hot-topic themes, but some readers may not be up to the challenge of slowly digesting his thought-provoking, weighty explanations.

Copan realizes that it isn't about winning an argument. And all of this is to be done with gentleness and respect. Personally, I appreciated his emphasis in the introduction, "And when we are talking with people in pain or when people just want to tell their stories, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak (10-11).