Tag Archives: leadership

The Where of Leadership

I have taken many courses on leadership. Most of these learning experiences focused on the “how” questions – how to navigate conflict, how to plan, and how to inspire others. None of those courses ever had anything to say about the “Where” of leadership.

The “where” is a significant factor in the leadership task. The places we do life don’t merely contain the important conversations and interactions, they shape them.

When I was a Cadet at West Point I had the privilege of learning leadership from Army officers who served as professors but had decades of experience leading soldiers in the real world. When I think about the importance of “where” in the leader task, two very different conversations with two very different professors come to mind.

One older Colonel, the head of my department, always met with me in his office. He sat in a leather, high-back swivel chair behind a large, oak desk. He insisted that I stand while he addressed me. Needless to say my predominant emotion in those interactions was fear. The space, a cold professional, controlled environment, marked by intimidating furniture and an intimidating personality behind the desk, shaped the conversations that happened there.

The same week I stood fearfully in the Colonel’s office another professor, an Infantry Captain who taught military history, invited me to lunch. He wanted to talk about my recent paper, which as I remember, wasn’t very good. He took me to the officers club, bought my lunch and we sat at a table and talked. The shared experience of a meal, sitting eye to eye created the possibility for a different sort of conversation. The Captain had much more influence with me than the Colonel.

Sometimes the swivel chair and the desk is the appropriate space for particular conversations with people we lead.

More often the lunch table is a more productive leadership space.

How intentionally have you thought about the “where” of your leadership? How do the spaces you choose to have conversations, make decisions and plan shape your work and your relationships?

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The King’s Dinner

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The rebellion was total. All that could go wrong had. It was a cataclysmic revolt of epic proportions. Destruction and chaos ordered the day as each man, woman and child did what was right in their own eyes. They rejected the King, his rule, his love and his future. The future was theirs and nothing would stop them.

Nothing except death of course. They spent their lives in pursuit of their pleasures, comforts and ambitions. And they succeeded, at least for a while. But the rot set in. Each day their bodies, minds and even the world around them decayed just a little more. Sickness, famine, war and pain defined their lives. They were absolutely without hope in the world. And the worst part was that they didn’t even realize it.

In desperation they tried to use their minds to devise a way out. They tried to make peace, to eliminate disease, to comfort themselves, but no matter how great the effort they always failed. Their efforts stood small and useless next to the gargantuan beast of death the rebellion required.

But the King was good. And the King had a plan.

He would go behind enemy lines. He would invade the world He made. He would gather a people to defy the rebellion. They would call him Father and He would call them Sons and Daughters. For years and years He sent messengers ahead of the invasion to warn the people. Mostly they didn’t listen. Mostly they kept going their own way. They kept dying. A few kept waiting.

Then in the cover of night the invader King came. They didn’t recognize Him even though He walked among them. He didn’t seem like a King. He was poor. He wasn’t handsome. He didn’t seem powerful. He didn’t seem relevant.

But then he began doing strange things – not things a King would do, but things that gave hope. He took away some of the sickness and even some of the death. He feared nothing. He loved his friends fiercely. He defied what they understood about the way the world works – walking on the water, calming a raging storm, turning water into wine. They either hated him or loved him. The way he lived made them decide one way or the other. He made outrageous statements that no one really understood like “I am the Creator God.” and “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Those that hated him – the people of rebellion – wanted to kill him and he knew it. Those who loved him waited for him to make a move, to take power, to act like the King.

The story of the King, the rebellion, the rescue comes to a climax at a place we least expect it – over dinner. The King Jesus calls his friends to celebrate the Passover meal, a meal that calls those loyal to the King to remember his promise – that he had saved his people from death once before and that he would do it again, this time forever.

As his friends recline at the table and prepare to eat the air is tense. This is the moment he will announce his rule. This is the moment he will take power. This is the moment they have all been waiting for. The King will rule and they, the faithful friends will be at the center of power. They will be respected. They will matter in the world.

“And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

The friends around the table were confused. Gentile women, those who mattered the least, those with the least amount of power, those furthest from the King washed feet. But here was the King stripped down to a towel, kneeling on the floor, scrubbing the dirt from the bottom of his friends’ feet. One of the friends, Peter, the loudest and most leader-like among them responded, first with a question, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” and then with a statement, “You will never wash my feet.” He simply could not accept the reality of a King who acted like a slave. This did not fit into his understanding of the way the King would take power. This did not meet his expectations for a future where he was powerful and important.

Jesus answers Peter saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” And in this statement the King Jesus reveals the plan to save the world, the plan to save his friends, the plan to save us. Unless he washes us we have no share with him. Unless we lay down our right to live by our own set of rules, to do what is right in our own eyes then we have no future. Unless we let the King serve us we will die. Unless we let the King cleanse us we have no hope, no future, no life.

Here is the offer before us tonight: the King has invaded. The King has spoken. “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” What will you do with these words? How will you respond. Will you politely nod and go on about your way? Will you reject this reality completely? Or will you remove your pride, stretch out your feet and let the King of Glory wash you? And if He has washed you are you prepared to go and do likewise?

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Leadership Takes Time

time photoTime is a precious gift. We all have the same amount of it each day. Some of us have more days than others. All of our days are numbered. There is nothing that any of us can do to acquire more time. You can’t work harder to earn more hours or more days. You don’t get more because you are American or white or rich. Time is your most precious commodity.

You will spend your time on what is truly important to you. The way that you fill up your calendar will inevitably reflect what you believe is valuable. Leaders ought to value people because leadership is the art of providing purpose, direction and motivation to human beings.

The very best leaders understand this value proposition and consequently spend time on the people they lead. Sometimes we like to say, “I will make time for this person or activity”. In reality you cannot make time, you can only spend it. We should say, “I choose to spend time on this person or this activity”. And when you choose to spend time on the people you lead you choose to lead well.

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Want Joy? Try Risk.

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The table was full of half eaten Italian food. We bantered back and forth, the small talk masking a torrent of anxious thought. She smiled and fidgeted with her silverware. I pulled on my bow-tie, shaking it side to side while downing copious amounts of lemon infused water. The small velvety box pressing against my side from it’s hiding place in my jacket sent waves of nervous energy quaking through my young body. Beads of sweat collected on my brow as I contemplated “the question” that pulsated in my thoughts.

The story is a beautiful memory for me, because on that night I took a big risk and asked Janet to marry me. The risk really wasn’t that she would say no. We had been ring shopping and talking marriage for some time, as people young and in love have a way of doing. I suppose that something could have gone wrong, but the truth is she knew I was going to ask and I knew that she would say yes.

No, the real risk was a choice to make this union the defining human relationship of our lives. It was a magnificent leap into the unknown years ahead, with a person I was really only beginning to know. The risk was to choose this companion for this greatest of journeys, one in which we would know ecstasy, joy, happiness, sorrow, pain, misery, uncertainty and ultimately death. It was either a youthful blunder into a terrible trap or the most fortuitous discovery and subsequent decision we ever made.

As I think about that night and that decision to leap into life together, I am overcome with gratitude. I’m grateful that I saw, and not because of my excellent vision mind you, the opportunity before me. It was a risk for sure, but even more so it was a chance to bet it all on the hope of future joy.

I meet so many people who are looking for joy but are unwilling or unable to take risks. These are people who suffer from the “What If” disease. “What if it doesn’t work out?”, “What if something better comes along?” “What if I lose control?”. The anxiousness of their thoughts so clouds their ability to see opportunity for joy when it’s lying right in front of them.

A few days ago I was reading the Bible where Jesus is trying to explain what life is like when God is the most important relationship you have. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his friends this:

 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Jesus is saying that something magical and mysterious happens when you see the reality of the kingdom of heaven. When you see what is really happening in the world for the first time, when you first suspect that the world is a place made by a good God and that this God is in charge of everything, your priorities begin to shift. When you first realize that this God, who sees you for who you are, is in fact speaking to you saying , “Stop trying to live for yourself by your own rules. Lay down your life, your preferences, your ideas about how things should go and follow me instead.” what is important in life gets turned upside down. When you understand and absorb and take into the core of your being that this God wants to give you life, not just for a few years but forever, you will never be the same. Jesus says when a person suddenly realizes all of this truth about himself, the world and God, everything changes. He says discovering it is like finding a hidden treasure. The man who truly finds the great treasure of life, which is life in through and with Jesus, will abandon every other pursuit to recklessly bet it all on this one relationship.

What strikes me about this story that Jesus tells is that the man who sees the treasure must take a great risk to keep the treasure. He must make that treasure, that truth about God and the world the most central reality of his life. He is defined by the fact that he found that treasure.

But my favorite part of Jesus’ line is “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has”. You see this man who sees the unbelievable treasure of life with God realizes that real joy requires real risk.

My life has been so rich because I took a huge risk and asked Janet to marry me. She is an amazing partner on this journey and I am blessed by our life together. But there is a joy bigger than marriage. It is a joy that comes when you risk everything and put your hope in Jesus. It will cost you everything and you will gain more than you can ever comprehend.

Here’s to a life of risk and joy.

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The Significance of Story

We become characters in the stories we tell ourselves. This is the power of narrative.

The most powerful story ever told, the one that tells us who we really are, who God really is and where everything in the world is going, is the story of Jesus. We call this story the Gospel.

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Unfortunately most of us choose to give less worthy stories greater authority in our lives. Why?

When I think about this question for myself I conclude that essentially I am an unintentional advocate for unworthy stories. I gravitate towards those narratives that are the easiest to hear and resonate with the most shallow aspect of my desires.

We know that we are made for something significant. That’s the energy behind our quest. We desperately want to know how to become “somebody” in the world. We thirst to know how to find happiness and peace.

We also watch a lot of television. The stories that stream into our consciousness tell all kinds of things about success and happiness and peace. These stories tell us that if we are smarter, have more money and have more power then we can buy things that make us comfortable, that people will respect us, and we will have the kind of life that we always dreamed of.

When we allow ourselves to be exposed to these kinds of narratives we are drawn in because in some way we imagine ourselves in the story. We identify with a particular character with a particular set of difficulties, dreams or personality.

Here’s the hard truth.

These characters are not real people and the stories they tell are incomplete. These popular narratives are sometimes even dangerous because they lay out a false version of reality where we (or the character that represents us) are the center of a small universe. In this universe we get what we want, we are comfortable and powerful and all of our problems get worked out in 60 minutes or less.

The story that informs every other story, the story of Jesus, points us to a different way. Jesus says that the only way you can find meaning is to recognize that you are not the center of the universe. He says things like, if you want to be first you have to be last. He says that true happiness comes from recognizing your own weakness. He says that if you pursue him with all of your heart, with every ounce of your energy then the rest of your story will line up the way that it is supposed to.

Here’s the amazing truth.

You are valuable. God made you with his own hands. He rescued you by sending His own Son to die in your place. This is the story that tells you who you are. This is the story that you should tell yourself when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed at night. May we become the characters in God’s story that He designed us to be.

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