Archive for January, 2016

I beg you to lead a life worthy
of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love. –Ephesians 4:1-2

Recently I became aware that I was, once again, trapped in a need – this time, it was a need to be right. I was not even close to leading a life worthy of my call. I was not willing to listen to the other’s heart and soul. After all, I was right.

How many of us are taught early in life to form and defend our own opinions without seeking to understand? How many of us end up learning how to debate and debunk or defend or deny rather than listen deeply to what emerges or resides in the other’s heart and soul?

How many of us, over and over again, become mired in the quick sand that Deborah Tannen calls ‘the argument culture’? (An Aside: Gentle reader you might check out her book: ‘The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words’) This argument culture is one we are all familiar with – and, I have a hunch, that many of us have embraced. This argument culture recreates the mayhem of the current radio and television talk shows that proliferate our airways as it emerges within our families, our workplaces, our places of worship, and personal conversations.

The argument culture quickly emerges in pro-life vs. pro-choice gatherings; it quickly emerges when ‘gun-rights’ is the topic; it quickly emerges when certain political figures names are mentioned – the list, as we know, could go on and on. A common refrain from all sides is: ‘How can those _______people believe that stuff?’ We are fueled by impatience, surety and ‘righteousness’ and so we are not interested in searching and seeking to listen in order to understand the other (when I am ‘sure’ I have no need to listen; there is no motivation to do so). We are not even close to having the patience for ‘bearing with one another’ (Ephesians 4:2).

I do not have to agree with you in order to ‘bear with you’ out of love and patience. Do I care enough about you – as a human being, or for Christians as a Child of God – in order to take the time to listen patiently in order to understand? It seems we fear ‘understanding’ the other – why might this be so? What is the threat that accompanies ‘understanding’? What might happen to me or the other if I, rooted in love and patience, seek to listen in order to understand? For me, what would have happened had I set aside my need to be ‘right’ and embraced instead a need to listen rooted in compassion in order to understand?

As I hold this question, I am reminded of the following: Do to no one what you yourself dislike! (Tobit 4:15)

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Human challenges (think, organizations, communities, nations, etc.) require adapting, innovating, and creating that goes beyond what is necessary in order to survive. For example, one challenge we humans face is to identify and then begin to close the gap between what we espouse, what we enact, and reality. Consider this, a school might espouse that ‘we are student-centered’ and discern that a significant number of decisions are not student-centered or that a reality exists that the school must pay attention to and in doing so it moves the school away from being student-centered. State and National standardized tests too often move the school’s focus from being student-centered to becoming ‘test-centered.’

There can also be a gap between what we espouse and what we value (value = a principle that is intrinsically desirable; value comes from the Latin root ‘volere: to be of worth’). Thus adaptive, innovative and creative work involves both an assessment of reality and a clarification of our values, especially of our ‘core values.’ Our individual, relational and communal core values are the three or four values that to the best of our ability we seek to never compromise (these core values can be virtue-related (think, integrity, compassion, mercy) or they can be vice-related (think greed, coercion, manipulation).

To further challenge us, assessing ‘reality’ is not always easy; it is often rooted more in subjectivity than objectivity. Because an individual, a relationship and a community (organization, institution, government, nation, etc.) embraces a variety of values (and some of these core values might well be in conflict with other core values), we censor reality looking for information that confirms and affirms ‘our reality’ (our current candidates seeking to become the next President demonstrate this quite well). ‘Truth’ depends significantly on who cares about what and upon what a person, a relationship or a community views as ‘real.’ For example, our culture is rooted in ‘freedom of and for the individual’ while there are Asian cultures who are rooted in ‘shared responsibility’ so that the ‘collective’ rather than the individual is primary.

Because all social systems involve a mix of values (and more significantly a mix of ‘core values’) conflict is a given when it comes to adaptive, innovative and creative endeavors. Two powerful conflicts are ‘needs conflicts’ and ‘values conflicts.’ People with competing ‘needs’ and ‘values’ engage one another as they encounter a shared situation and do so from their own point of view. This ‘engagement’ can involve collaboration, compromise, competition or conflict.

As we in our country well know, at the extreme the conflict of ‘needs’ and ‘values’ can turn into violence. Our own Civil War confirmed this for us as it changed the meaning of ‘union’ and of ‘individual freedom.’

Some realities will threaten the very existence of an organization (or a family or a society) if they are not discerned and named and engaged early enough. This process involves both ‘value-clarifying/affirming’ and ‘reality-testing.’ Any person, relationship or organization that has attempted to do this knows how challenging it is when it comes to clarifying/affirming values and naming/testing reality.

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This morning we will continue to briefly explore a few of the relationships that the leader and the led are entrusted with; relationships they are the stewards of.

Faithfulness-Effectiveness: Traditionally, leadership (that is, the lead-led relationship) have focused on ‘being efficient’ (doing the things right) and on ‘being effective’ (doing the right things right). There is another concept that they are stewards of, one that is seldom directly addressed – ‘Being Faithful.’ A guiding question might help: ‘What must leadership be faithful to even though leadership might not be efficient nor effective?’ Each leader-led relationship is charged with answering (which is more than ‘responding’ to) this question. Here are some answers I have heard during the thirty years I have asked this question: No matter what, we must make a profit! The bottom line is the only line! The customer is always right! No matter what, we will never compromise our integrity! No matter what, there are core values we will never compromise! We will do no harm to our customers! Gentle reader, you might recall that when I was in England a number of years ago I saw Mother Theresa being interviewed by a young BBC reporter. Her response to a question about ‘being effective’ more than caught my attention. She said: ‘Young man, I am not called to be effective, I am called to be faithful.’ Her response continues to give me pause.

Loyalty-Commitment: Since the mid-1960s the poster child for ‘loyalty’ has been Adolf Eichmann and his verbal defense: ‘I was just doing my job.’ I have learned to embrace a concept that, for me, is potentially healthier than just ‘being loyal’ does. For me, ‘loyalty AND commitment’ are integral complements. ‘Loyalty’ involves a ‘faithful adherence to a person, an organization or a cause.’ ‘Commitment’ involves a pledge and covenant rooted in trust and dedicated to the well-being of a relationship, an organization, or a cause. For me, commitment is an antidote to ‘blind loyalty.’ If I am committed to the well-being of a relationship, organization, or cause (for example) I care enough to challenge, to question, and to even ‘disobey’ if I believe that dis-ease is afoot (especially if moral or ethical dis-ease is afoot).

Civility-Values: There are a number of definitions for ‘Civility.’ Here is one that resonates with me: Common courtesy rooted in benevolence. A ‘Value’ is a quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself. For me the ‘Civility-Values’ dyad is important. I can ‘value’ vice just as easily as I can value ‘virtue.’ I can value ‘greed’ just as easily as I can value ‘integrity.’ When I add ‘Civility’ to ‘Value’ I am more likely to move toward ‘virtue’ than I am toward ‘vice.’ Moreover, as a culture, we are becoming more and more ‘uncivil’ – just listen to our elected officials and the current folks who are seeking to become our next president. We espouse to be a ‘civil society’ and the gap between what we espouse and what we enact seems to be growing. Faithful-Effective leadership embraces, I think, this powerful dyad: Civility-Values.

I invite you, gentle reader, to spend some time reflecting upon one or more of these five dyads (there is also a great deal written about each of these so if you learn by reading you will not have difficulty finding good material to read and ponder). I have also found that engaging one or more others in a searching conversation while focusing on one or more of these dyads can be intellectually stimulating and challenging.

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The concept of leadership as an art continues to have staying power; as far as I know, the original book focusing on the topic was published in 1987 (the first time I read the phrase: ‘Leadership is an Art’ was in 1968). As I have noted in other postings, for me, leadership is a by-product of the relationship between the leader and those who freely choose to follow. Both the leader and those who freely choose to follow are charged with serving the highest priority needs of one another. They are also charged with being good stewards of their relationship. There are many relationships that they are entrusted with, this morning I will invite us to briefly explore five of these: Person-Community, Mercy-Justice, Faithfulness-Effectiveness, Loyalty-Commitment, and Civility-Values.

Person-Community: There are times when leadership is presented with a dilemma: In this case, does leadership choose for the Person or for the Community? This choice becomes particularly challenging when both choices are ‘right choices’ or when both choices will result in ‘harm.’ A question to hold: Is it possible to dissolve the dilemma; to make it ‘go away’? In 1990 I was a thought-partner to a professional organization. Literally, overnight they lost 25% of their business.

The question that leadership was holding was: How can we humanely lay off 10% of our work force? To keep the 10% would mean that the organization would be harmed and to lay folks off would mean that the folks laid off and their families would be harmed. I offered the leadership a different question to hold: ‘How can we continue and guarantee that we won’t have to lay anyone off?’ The leadership (in this case a leadership team of 12) found a way of responding to my question so that no one had to be laid off. The organization more than survived; they thrived for they also found ways of avoiding having 25% of their business tied to one area.

As leadership knows, there are many instances where a choice between ‘Person-Community’ exists; most of these are not ‘harm-harm’ choices they are ‘right-right’ choices. In a particular case it is both ‘right’ to choose in favor of the person and it is ‘right’ to choose in favor of the community (think organization, institution, foundation, business, school, etc.). The ‘art’ of leadership involves deciding which ‘right’ to choose.

Mercy-Justice: When does leadership choose ‘Mercy’ and when does leadership choose ‘Justice’? This choice can provide the leadership with another dilemma. In 1988 I had a phone call from a person who was an editor of a newspaper. He was faced with a ‘Mercy-Justice’ dilemma. He said that if he chose ‘Mercy’ then 50% of the staff would be upset and if he chose ‘Justice’ then the other 50% would be upset. He could ‘see’ both sides and he believed that both ‘Mercy’ and ‘Justice’ were the right choices. We spent some time in conversation. Then we each spent some time reflecting. Two days later we spoke again. A ‘third way’ had emerged for the Editor. After we conversed about the ‘third way’ he decided to implement it. A few days later he called me again and said that the ‘third way’ had dissolved the dilemma and BOTH ‘Mercy’ and ‘Justice’ were served. My experience continues to affirm that the wisdom of the collective – the leadership – is greater than the smartest person in the room.

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Ethics are not necessarily to do with being law-abiding. I am very interested in the moral path, doing the right thing. –Kate Atkinson

Consider that ‘ethics’ is simply: the rules of conduct as recognized by a particular group. We up the ante when we add ‘morals’ to ‘ethics.’ Morals involve conforming to the rules of right AND virtuous conduct. Given the ethics of a group, one can act ethically and immorally at the same time. Frequently in our culture ‘ethics’ is equated with ‘following the law’ – and as we know, one can follow the law (i.e. act ethically) while engaging in immoral behavior (think ‘segregation’ for example).

Leaders are fed, nurtured and sustained by a number of major tap roots. Here are a few of them: Core Values, Core Beliefs, Core Guiding Principles, Core Deep Tacit Assumptions, Core Attitudes and a Core Philosophy that is supported by the leader’s ethics-morals. I label these ‘Core’ because to the best of the ability of the leader they will never be compromised. They are also ‘Core’ in the sense that they are ‘Core’ to the very being of the person and they will remain core long after the person ceases to be a designated leader.

I spent 2015 working with a number of leaders and I will have the privilege of working with these leaders again this year. During our year-end review I invited each of them to hold a few questions. Here is one: As a Leader: To whom do I answer? For me, this is an ethical-moral question.

I believe that one of the most sacred relationships among people is the relationship between the leader and the led. The relationship is central because the very essence of leadership involves this relationship; leadership is the by-product of this relationship. The relationship depends to an extraordinary degree on the clear, and clearly expressed, ‘Core Values’ of the leader as ‘seen’ through the eye of the follower(s). The leader ‘espouses’ certain ethical-moral values and the follower(s) confirms or disconfirms to what extent these values are ‘lived-values.’

With the tsunami of change washing over us each day there are, it seems, new realities often fathered by technology that challenge the leader and the lead each day. Add to this that many organizations – again as a result of technology – continue to become more and more complex and hence relationships are also becoming more complex (think of the time a person spends trying to figure out what a person’s text message or tweet really means).

Add to this the reality that more and more today the leader follows the lead of the follower almost as much as the follower follows the lead of the leader. Both play both roles. It is no wonder that there is also, then, a growing tension between ‘words’ and ‘behavior’ – there has been and will continue to be a gap between our words and our actions (at minimum because we are imperfect beings).

The follower ‘understands’ the leader’s vision, values, trust-worthiness, and commitments through observing the leader’s behavior not by listening to his or her words. Research continues to confirm that the follower takes as ‘real’ the non-verbal expressions of a leader and not the leader’s words. The leader’s ‘voice’ is essential AND it can be meaningless without confirming action/behavior. I do believe that most leaders know what is ‘right’ (that is, what is both ethical and moral) and that most seek to ‘do what is right.’ They strive to demonstrate congruency between what they espouse to be ‘right’ and their actions that confirm what they espouse as ‘right.’

When it comes to ethical-moral actions, a leader is called to be ‘efficient’ (doing something right), ‘effective’ (doing the right thing) and ‘faithful’ (to act with integrity at all times). The leader can be ‘ethical’ when it comes to all three of these and still be immoral. This is why it is crucial for the leader to develop a major tap root that is an ‘ethical-moral’ tap root and not just an ethical tap root.

I leave us with this quotation – a quotation for leaders, yes, AND a quotation, it seems, for all of us:

“Why is your HOW message today more timely than ever?
All progress now depends on How. We have entered the Era of Behavior. Of course our behavior has always mattered, but in today’s world, it matters more than ever and in ways it never has before. We live in a more connected and interdependent world. Yet we tend to speak about the world in amoral terms. The single most profound implication of an increasingly interconnected world is that it has rendered us ethically, if not morally, interdependent.” ― Dov Seidman

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