Friday, December 22, 2006

learning about leading II

The lesses and mores on the subject of leadership continue...

It involves less strategic thinking than I expected
Those five year 'blueprints' of the future in which goals and objectives are endlessly described with dotted 'i's and crossed 't's haven't featured as much as I thought they would. Sure, there are Business Plans, Staffing Plans etc that project into the future. But leadership seems to be more intuitive than I realised. It seems to be more about befriending change and complexity, reading the ebb and flow of the times, and then together with others trying to respond as best we can at the time. Sometimes I wonder if the intuitive stuff is the action in the picture while the strategic stuff is more the frame that holds the picture together...

It involves more power than I expected
My experience of leadership was very limited prior to coming into this role. Very early on I got very scared by how my comments as a principal to a church about a student was so influential in their future. This is a biggie! In today's world 'power' has replaced 'truth' as the currency of concern. People are very sensitive to abuses of power and displays of power and so they should be. So I resolved to reflect deeply on how one depowers leadership while still exerting influence. Max DuPree's 'leading without power' phrase provided the spark. The biblical imagery of servant and shepherd and steward and sage helps. Sharing information as early and as fully and as written as possible helps. Finding ways to acknowledge God as the leader with all others as his sub-contractors helps. Honour what has gone before helps. Spreading leadership and delegating well helps. Trimming down what is compulsory (or removing it all together) to a bare minimum sure helps. That is a few ideas on de-powering, maybe you have some others?

It involves less victory than I expected
I am trying to alternate my 'more' and 'less' words :) What this one really is about is failure. We all know that the real learning comes in the failure. It is true! But I have been surprised how much it can stick around and how hard it is to name it and move on from it. When the good times roll, a whole lot of people are involved in making that success happen and it is so important to acknowledge that and 'forward' credit onto the ones who actually made it happen and celebrate as a group. Plus trumpeting success in the Kiwi context is counterproductive. However, talking with other leaders, it seems that absorbing the failure, the criticism, and the disappointment comes with the territory of leadership. These aren't 'forwarded' in that same sense. They are processed more personally and in other ways. This is where 2 Corinthians becomes precious, experiencing God's grace amidst the weakness. But it still makes leading to be more uphill than I expected with a little less of the adrenalin and enthusiasm and joy associated with savouring victory.

It involves more coaching than I expected
This industry has grown, hasn't it? Supervisors, mentors, spiritual directors, coaches ... Sometimes I wonder if they can usurp the function which God wants to play in our lives - does it say "Cast all your anxiety on your mentor" in 1 Peter 5:7? I don't think so!? Nevertheless each one has their place. The one I've valued the most is the coach. People who believe in me enough to show me how to do it and then prevail with me while I learn to do it. It is both humbling and energising for me.

It involves less gifting than I expected
We can get carried away by leading being a function solely of things like personality, charisma, genes, style, mana, or gifts... I am surprised just how much of leading isn't these things. It is far more about moulding better character and learning new skills while being obedient to the call of God to lead. Leading seems to start with the art of building trust. It operates a bit like a bank. You make deposits. You make withdrawals. You get in trouble when you withdraw stuff that has not been deposited. And the healthy deposits with the best returns are character issues. The New Testament is full of this (I Thess2; Gal 5:22-26; Eph 4-5...) as it uses a clothing image to urge us to take-off stuff and put-on other stuff: like humility, perseverance, self-control, forgiveness, love, kindness etc. I am learning that the effectiveness of my leading is directly related to the presence or absence of these character-istics growing in my life.

A final comment. Some months ago I posted a comment on 'the gospel of community?' in which I wondered aloud whether 'community' was becoming its own gospel today. Just get community going and lives will be transformed and the mission of God will be accomplished.
I also wonder whether leadership is becoming its own gospel. Is its importance being overstated today? Just get effective leadership in place at every level and lives will be transformed and the mission of God will be accomplished...

nice chatting


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

learning about leading I

The summer break is just days away. I am reading heaps of stuff on leadership in preparation for a DMin course on Leadership in March. And I am about to step into my 10th year as Principal of Carey Baptist College. So I find myself in a pensive, reflective mode just at the moment. I thought I'd post some of this stuff. With the help of a whole heap of people I've been learning a few things about leadership along the way...

It involves less vision than I expected
Is 'visionary leadership' a bit over-rated today - particularly if 'the leader' is expected to come up with that vision? I've enjoyed developing specific processes whereby vision is drawn out of those being led - staff and students and the wider constituency, in particular - and then seeing my role to be to bring these ideas together and basically run with their vision wherever possible. Afterall staff tend to be leaders in their own right and tertiary students are not children anymore and can have heaps of experience.
I've been surprised how little need there has been for me to be a visionary leader.

It involves more courage than I expected
I am more timid by disposition and this does not help. It is interesting how often I have asked a group of people who pray for me to pray specifically for courage. Maybe it as we face those to whom we are accountable - church leaders and/or government agencies. Maybe it is 'holding my nerve' through times of change. Maybe it is those times when I care enough to confront. Maybe it is just when I lose hope and lose sight of the gracious hand of God being on the college. Or maybe it is something as mundane as the marketing of the college. It is easy for marketing to be motivated by a fear of what others are doing. Carey has been more minimalist. Get staffing right. Get programmes right. Entrust yourself to a grapevine...
I've been surprised how much courage is involved in being a leader.

It involves less stress than I expected
Yes, there are times when a panic inhabits my gut and I feel stressed. But I expected this. However hearing John Sturt (at a "Sharpening the Saw" seminar - couldn't find it on the web) define the difference between stress and burn-out has proved to be a defining moment for me. Maybe I can post that list separately sometime. I had tended to see myself as easily stressed - as did others - when in fact my vulnerability is much more with burn-out which is more a function of emotion. The Bill Hybels' tape on "Surviving Leadership" ( was also helpful. In it he speaks of the 'emotional gauge on the dashboard of our lives' and how it can sit on empty, rather than full. Because my diagnosis of what is going on inside is now more accurate I think the 'medication I pick up from the chemist' is more appropriate too. It is about learning how to refuel and replenish more than it is about finding how to de-stress. [I have also found Medicine Man Chief by Renier Greef to be useful here.]
I've been surprised how little stress there has been as a leader (but plenty of threat of burn-out instead!)

It involves more wisdom than I expected
Let me explain. By 'more' , I really mean 'wider'. It is not just in the Bible and in the Christian tradition where wisdom is found. While I rest my life on those truths I have been surprised how much wisdom is found elsewhere. Three examples will suffice.
(a) From Peter Blake on the secret of winning the America's Cup ... 'spreading leadership throughout the organisation'. Brilliant! Find ways to draw people into the responsibilities of leadership and thereby draw out their leadership capacities - and watch them grow and contribute. (b) From Wilson Whineray, former captain of the All Blacks, when I finally asked him a question at the 55min mark of a 60min flight early in my time as Principal. 'What is the key to being an effective leader?' ... lengthy pause ... 'Surrounding yourself with good people' Brilliant! Find people who each do things better than you can do - and then rest secure in the knowledge of that fact and celebrate it. (c) From the title of a Max Dupree best-seller - 'leading without power'. Brilliant! Finding the ways to be influential without displays of power.
Again and again I find such wisdom in so-called 'secular' sources - a wisdom, rather ironically, that is desperately needed within the Christian community today.
I've been surprised by how wide the sources are from which wisdom can come.

Enuf for now. I have a few other 'mores' and 'lesses' to share later.

nice chatting


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

taking the weather with you

These bush fires in Australia have got me thinking about the weather...

But I need to reveal my hand a bit at the start. My teenage years were based in New Delhi where I have sat inside - with the only activity being the beating of my heart - and watched the sweat drop off my face and into my cereal. That is hot! My training years were spent in Chicago where I once walked to the library and was blinded by the cold. Yes - the moisture in my eyes froze and I could not see, groping my way along the path. That is cold!

But despite living in places with such extreme temperatures the place where I've heard the most moaning about the weather is where the climate is most temperate ... New Zealand. We are obsessed with it. [I know, I know - I haven't lived in the UK!]. By the way, I have heard gasps in church services in NZ when I introduce myself as having pastored a church in Invercargill - gasps that clearly communicate "you did what?! You cannot be serious?!"

This moaning sparks four pretty random responses in me - and maybe some more in you!

It raises the issue of contentment. It speaks of the relative luxury of our living conditions if such a temperate climate can attract so much complaint and obsession. Don't we have anything bigger to moan about? Much of the time for many the answer is 'no'. Doesn't that say something?

It raises the issue of obedience. I have grown weary of getting seriously annoyed with students (and others) who watch the weather map more than listen to God when it comes to discerning the will of God. I just don't spark up like I used to. How can I say that Jesus is Lord of my life if I say to Jesus that there are some areas of his world where his people live where I just cannot go? What utter rubbish! oops - I'm sparking-up again...

It raises the issue of gratitude. While An Inconvenient Truth was not entirely convincing for me ... [I found it too Gore-centric to be compelling and there was an elephant-in-that-lecture-room that if it was exposed, the impact of Gore's movie would be severely restricted. I am talking about greed. People don't like you raising that issue with them - and yet if you addressed greed I wonder how it would impact the issues he raises?] ... but I am grateful for his perspective on climate change. When I look at the bushfires and when I look at the extensive parts of the world dying for water, it makes me grateful for the relative wetness of New Zealand. We have what so many long for. We should be much more thankful for rain and ample water. It is one of our luxuries. Interesting to note that the writer of the Psalms longed for rain like we long for the sun. Keep that in mind as you read...

It raises the issue of community. The harshness of a climate can bond people together and give them stories to tell of adventure and survival. I won't be guilty of overstating it - but watching Chicagoans anticipate and experience winter is fascinating. I wonder what we miss out on because of our temperate climes?

nice chatting