Fluent Leadership

Leadership is a language. It is entirely about communication. To be fluent in a language is to be able to communicate effectively as a natural process, convey to others the intent of your words, and enabling the hearer to create action. The bad news is that many who are leaders have not yet acquired the fluency required to precisely convey their desires. This frustrates the direct report and hinders forward progression in the organization. The good news is that fluency can be obtained through practice and saturation.

Think about how a child learns. She surrounds herself with those who know more than she does and mimics their actions. When she sees how one does a specific task, she tries to mimic the action that accomplished it. Though her arms may not have the dexterity or agility of the one she watches, she tries none-the-less. When the parent speaks, though she does not completely understand what is being said, she tries to make the same noises as the parent. Eventually, she will acquire both the physical dexterity and the verbal articulation that she needs to become an articulate woman of action. This takes both time and countless hours of practice.

It is the same with the leader.

If you are new to leadership, you would do well to surround yourself with those who have been in leadership for some time. The more effective the “parent” the better. Begin to mimic the actions that you see in them and apply those actions to your life and organization. Begin to listen to their speech, their vocabulary, and mimic it. It may seem unusual at first, but that is how we learn. Before you know it, you will begin to see that you have become fluent in the language and proactivity of leadership. You will realize that over time you have become a bit of what you have mimicked. Isn’t that how it is with the Christian life? We mimic Christ as we become Christlike. Should it not be the same with leadership?

Perhaps you have been a leader for some time. If so, I have a question for you. Who is mimicking you? Are you mentoring another? Are you equipping the next generation of leader? Regardless of where you are at in your personal leadership journey, remember to surround yourself with godly examples of what you would like to become. Before you know it, what you saw in another someone else will see in you.

Dumbest Guy in the Room

As an organizational leader, it is really easy to create an environment in which you are always the smartest person in the room. The person “in the know.” Your direct reports look to you for vision and direction and they faithfully carry out the plan. In moments of uncertainty, they look to you and you render your decision. If not kept in check, this environment can unknowingly poison both your perspective of self and your future growth as a leader.

The strategic leader intentionally, and frequently surrounds self with people who are smarter than they are. They relish being “The Dumbest Person in the Room.” They understand that this is where growth happens, where new ideas are generated, and tolerances are stretched into new avenues of creative expression. These new insights tend to be elusive without this intentional process.

Don’t wait until the next time you need insight to find a mentor or coach. Furthermore, don’t find a mentor or coach that is specific to your field. They think like you do. Find someone different, an artist, a theologian, a thespian, an architect or doctor and meet with them regularly. The more unrelated to your life experience the further they will draw you from your box. Besides, it is a pleasant respite to not have all the answers.

And most importantly, remember, ignorance in this case truly can be bliss!

Here is a short video to make the point.

Passion and Uranium 238

Understanding why we should invest in first generation converts as future church leaders.

What!?
If this was your reaction to the title, put your thinking cap on and continue reading. This article was birthed from a conversation I had with a pastor friend of mine. There are people who add value to my life, and he is one.

Remember physics? You learned all sorts of information that left you scratching you head as you pondered Strong Force, Gravitation, Mass and various other weird and wonderful things. Personally, I needed an apple to fall on my head and wake me from my dreams of a distant tropical shore. One thing I do remember, however, is that the half-life of Uranium238 is about 4.5 billion years. After all these years I have finally found a use for what seemed then to be useless information.

Half Life Explained
A half-life is the fixed, invariable amount of time it takes for an original sample of a radioactive substance like uranium, radium or carbon-14 to break down (decay). This decay happens nucleus by nucleus. For instance, the half-life of Uranium238 is roughly 4.5 billion years, which means that at the end of 4.5 billion years, a one-pound block of the stuff will weigh only one-half pound. In another 4.5 billion years, it will weight in at one-quarter pound, and so on.

Have I Lost You?
Back to my conversation with my friend. We were sharing the immediate need for fearless Christians in our churches. The need to excite and mobilize Christ-Followers and the difficulties associated with stimulating the complacent. I shared with him that when I accepted Jesus I was transformed by His power. Fearless! That exuberance has not diminished in 22 years. I love Him, He is mine, and I am His. Something reminiscent of what Buber called the “I-Thou.”

I verbalized my concern; that I don’t see a “take-up-you-cross” kind of Christianity in our churches, except among the youth. I shared how I see many of them as fearless. They seek more than complacency from their relationship with Father. They want to change their world!

Moment of Insight
So he looks at me and says; “It’s not the young, it’s the first generation Christian.” BAM! He was right. It is that first generation Christian that is fearless and ready. They have not grown complacent due to familiarity. Their nuclei have not yet decayed. They have not reached their half-life, half of what they were, decaying by the moment.

Something happens when a life is transformed. Like a child growing up poor appreciates the gift of hard labor and moderate success while the child of abundance looks upon it with disdain. Such is the church. This leads me to ponder if the half-life of Christian passion is equal to one generation or if second generational Christians could ever understand what transformation means. Can the child of abundance identify with the child who knows nothing but need? This is why we must invest in those of the first generation.

Leadership Farming
Where do we go from here? Paul warns us in 1 Timothy 3:6 of the dangers of placing individuals in places of authority too soon, so I am not advocating taking leaders from the waters of baptism, handing them a towel, and saying “Let’s Go!” This is not a “time” thing, it is a “passion” thing. As leaders, we must, in a focused manner, spot those whom the Holy Spirit has transformed and excited, father them, and help to transform them into what God would have them to be. No small task, but the rewards will be huge.

Back to Uranium238
Everything dies: people, trees, metals, galaxies, and even atoms. Only one entity is eternal and He is the source of an eternal future. All that decays is slowly dying: people, trees, metals, galaxies and even Christian passion. It all has a half-life. I only wish the half-life of Christian passion matched that of Uranium238.

Leadership by Example

Once again, I was asked to write a short for STAR News, a magazine for Law Enforcement Personnel. Here it is…

Leading by example is nothing new. For thousands of years individuals have looked up to their superiors. When the example of integrity and excellence was present, they were inspired and challenged to be more than they themselves thought they could be. When it was not, the lack of example has led to frustration and even disdain for the superior. This interesting quote comes from Onasander, a Greek philosopher from the first century A.D., and shows that even 2000 years ago men wrestled with these very issues.

“Most men are distressed when placed under the command of ignoble individuals. For no one voluntarily puts up with submitting to a master or a leader who is inferior to himself.” (Onasander, The General 1.17)

My challenge to you is two-fold.

First, be an individual marked by excellence. It changes your environment as well as the people around you. The level of professionalism will rise and you will be responsible for it. Live a life of excellence in everything you do. Remember, Family, Faith, Country and Department. Each need true men and women of excellence to set the tone for tomorrow.

Second, be careful whom you allow to be your example. Our vehicles have backseats filled with individuals who failed this test. Even on the department, be wise. The example you follow sets the path for your future. There are so many quality men and women in our department who do it right! Find one, and learn from them. Excellence is learned, and while you are learning others will learn from you.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalmist (3000 years ago) states that God has led him into a life of excellence by witnessing the examples that had been set for him. God’s mercy and grace had led him to a life of being an example to others. With that, he is able to confidently say in Psalm 71:7:

“My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection.”

One final note: On this job and in life, everyone is a leader. If you started this article thinking that it only applies to your superiors you are wrong. You are a leader. All of us are. There are many people looking to you for quality decisions and a life of excellence. Read that again: There are many people looking to you for quality decisions and a life of excellence. Don’t let them down. Fulfill the roll.

Learn Up. Train Down.

There is a great scene in “We Were Soldiers” where Mel Gibson says; “Learn the job of the man above you and teach your job to the man below. We will be landing under fire gentlemen… Men will die.”

It has been said that the measure of a great leader is this, that in his or her absence, the organization will continue to function in precisely the same manner. For the leader, this is both honoring and terrifying.

I remember telling my leaders that if we get to the point where someone else can run this organization better than me, I will happily step aside. I said that because I believed (rightly so) that the organization was the most important thing. But, did I actually believe that I would step aside? Of that, I am not so convinced… It sounded like a dignified statement from me as their leader, but each time I said it I trembled inside.

It’s kind of the same as confidently saying that we could die for our faith or for our country. It is easy to say when the chances are slight that we will ever be tested in that manner. Each of us hopes that it is the truth, but we will never know unless put to the test.

Learning Up

Learning up is easy for many of us. In fact, we see it as preparation for promotion. Thinking back on a previous employment, I remember the moment I knew I would be moving into my next position, I made every effort to learn the job of my superior. I went with him to meetings, learned from him, asked him questions, and prepared to take his place. His allowing me to learn from him said more about his character than it did mine. I wonder if he ever hesitated to teach me when he knew I desired to replace him? I doubt it. He understood the second principle, Train Down.

Train Down

The transformational leader trains his direct reports to fill his shoes. A nominal leader avoids training others in intricacies of their position. The reason is most often a fear of being replaced or deemed unnecessary. However, when the transformational leader understands that the organization is the priority, he will allow others to learn what they need to learn to advance the missional causes of the whole. If this means that he becomes unnecessary, then so be it.

HOWEVER…

Most of the time, the resulting team-building and empowerment solidifies the leader in his position and further empowers him to lead the group or team. In other words, great value is found in that leader. When he actively trains to become replaceable, he becomes indispensable.

Lead Leaders

Stop leading followers and lead leaders.

Picking the right people is a tricky proposition. Many of us have handed the torch to another only to find it is a “beat stick” in their hands. Bringing harmony to a team that has been destroyed by a less-than-capable leader whom you appointed is far more difficult than getting the choice right in the first place.

Even the ancients understood this. This interesting quote comes from Onasander, a Greek philosopher from the first century A.D., and shows that even 2000 years ago men wrestled with these very issues.

“Most men are distressed when placed under the command of ignoble individuals. For no one voluntarily puts up with submitting to a master or a leader who is inferior to himself.” (Onasander, The General 1.17)
Many leaders, given such an experience, will digress back to leading followers instead of seeking a new capable leader to assist in leading the organization. Stop! You need people whom you trust to help you carry the load of transformational change. You can be a mentor. Taking time and investing in another has huge benefits for the future. The time invested in another capable leader will multiply your abilities to lead.

About Mentoring…

If mentoring sounds like a great idea, you still have to decide whether it’s right for you. The questions below should serve as a wake-up call as to your ability to lead other leaders as opposed to followers.

Do you get excited at the idea of sharing the knowledge and experience that has been given to you, or do you feel that you are incapable of imparting anything of value to another?

Do you enjoy encouraging and motivating people toward a goal and rejoice with them when it is accomplished, or do you make every effort to take the glory?

Are you comfortable challenging people to be better even if you know it may cause them discomfort, or would you rather accept sub-standard work and internalize your discontent?

Do you want to contribute to other people’s growth and success, or do you see it as a threat to your value in the organization?
Can you faithfully invest your time in mentoring your leaders, or are you so absorbed in meaningless tasks that you cannot give anything to anyone without feeling like you are falling behind?

Do you feel that building a leader is the most important focus of your efforts, or do you feel the daily tasks you accomplish are greater organizational contributions?

Can you visualize the future leader that you would like to mentor? Can you describe their qualities and their talents, or are you one that grows frustrated because you grab any warm body that seems willing?

I hope that these questions, coupled with the understanding of the importance of building leaders, helps you make the next positive step toward transformational change in your organization’s culture. Perhaps they will serve as a mirror that reflects the deficiency of your leadership. Regardless of whether this motivates, or infuriates, you are faced with your introspection and that’s a good thing. Knowledge truly is power.