Leadership in a Culture of Cowardice (part fourteen)
In this blog, we’re considering the fourth of nine traits of healthy leadership:
Stand, as an exemplar, in the sabotage and backlash that must come.
When confronted by opposition, this kind of leader will be swift to embrace the reality of God’s sovereign control and grasp the security provided by God’s unconditional love. She then leans into resistance with a posture of confident curiosity. “God has this!” she might remind herself while stepping toward those who, unnerved by fear, have turned against her.
A leader’s humility creates the opening to presence herself so resourcefully amid conflict.
In John Chapter 7, Jesus is teaching in the temple courts. When those who hear him speak begin to gush with affirmation, applauding his brilliance, he rebuffs them.
Jesus’ response: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth…”
The leader recognizes that he is not powerful enough to have caused the upset nor the circumstances that many say upset them. Aware that each person connected to the disappointment has a contribution, he faces small temptation to assume he’s solely responsible for the unwelcomed turn of events. He has grounded himself in the understanding that he is not significant enough to have produced the organization’s successes … nor its failures all by himself.
Yes, he has a part.
His colleagues have a part.
The system has a part.
And, factors beyond everyone’s control have also contributed to the outcome.
Rather than encouraging carelessness, the leader’s decision to interpret life this way empowers responsibility to one another and to the ministry’s mission and goals.
Scapegoating, so common in an anxious, immature culture is antithetical to the stand of the leader and the developing ethos of the organization. Even when the less-mature succumb to its pull, the leader is not provoked to respond in kind.
Keeping in mind how consequential it is to shift the culture of any church, the leader has developed stamina to live into Paul’s charge in 1 Cor 16:13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong…”.
I find stunning the King James Version’s ancient rendering: “Quit ye like men.”
A Culture of Cowardice (part two)
- Courageous leadership is, by nature, decisive.
And, the Latin root of decisive means “to cut”. But, it is not nice to cut anything away, to cut anything off, to cut anything out—even a toxic presence – like a parasite – that survives by sucking the life out of those who are healthy.
To lead with heart is to stand for what’s best, simply because it is best—even when unpopular. Even when it provokes opposition from misguided stakeholders within the Church…draining its vitality.
- Courageous leadership, by nature, is clear.
Such a leader is unapologetically clear about who she is, the difference she is committed to make in the world, her values and priorities.
The clearer you are as a leader, the clearer people around you will become.
And, therein lies the problem. As pastors, we don’t always like what that clarity reveals. As you become more and more clear as a leader, more and more people will decide they’re not “up” for going where you’re going. Stay foggy and many will stick around, wandering in impotent ambiguity.
But, those who get behind a leader who is clear will be a powerful force for good—the good to which that leader’s been called.
- Courageous leadership, by nature, is disruptive.
Courageous leaders routinely disrupt dysfunction. They regularly challenge their own preference for comfort—and that of those they lead.
Many interpret their leadership as crisis-inducing.
Edwin Friedman notes that crises are normative in leaders’ lives. These crises come from two sources: those that just arise, imposed upon the leader from forces outside that leader’s control and crises that are initiated by the leader doing exactly what she should be doing. Jesus did this all the time. But, notice the reluctance of anyone in church leadership to lead in a way that invites a crisis for long-standing church members.
As a leadership coach and consultant to pastors, my life’s work is to champion Christian influencers to find their hearts and to fully re-engage them in this great, important struggle to stir the Church from its slumber.
There is no altogether “nice” way to do this.
Just five verses into his story, Jonah is asleep below decks, aboard a ship imperiled in a brutal storm. The terrified captain races below, stunned to find Jonah asleep — in so critical a moment. Waking Jonah, he demands: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” [Jon1:6]
Get this, folks: it was not a follower of Yahweh who stirred Jonah from slumber—calling him to take action with God lest the “community” they were part of be plunged to ruin.
Look around you.
Is not the community around your church caught in a destructive storm?
A moral, ethical, and spiritual hurricane that wills to destroy the fabric of American society? Don’t you see the storm buffeting the Christian faith—driving it to the very edges of the culture?
To awaken the Church, her leaders must first rouse themselves.
Then, embracing the opportunity provided by this life, they can stand clearly, decisively, and disruptively to awaken their churches to enter the glorious and dangerous fight for the redemption of the community around them.
What else would a Christ-follower do?
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The Truth about Trust (part four)
I’ve asserted that trust can’t be earned—though that’s clearly what most of us have believed. As humans, limited and fallible, we can’t be forever trustworthy (i.e. “worthy of trust”) in every turn and situation.
Some of us work hard to limit our promises to those we’re confident we can keep, to own up as soon as we discover we can’t, and to live as our word—as much as humanly possible. Friends who live this way I eagerly trust.
When they stumble, I’m quick to offer forgiveness, restoration.
Swiftly bestowing trust.
And, to these I bestow trust as well.
Believing they’re capable of living honorably, even if they’ve seldom done so, up ‘till now.
And when I need a ride to the airport at five am, I’m not going to call my more mercurial friends.
That’d be dumb.
Dozens of experiences have taught me what I’ve can expect and from whom. And, when I’m surprised, I try to rapidly bestow trust again…with wisdom.
Years ago a friend at church managed a real estate investment that, for years, had performed impressively. I invested. In a few months, I heard he’d moved to Kansas City. No notice. No forwarding address. Oh, and his email and phone were no longer working…
I’d been had.
I learned that I can trust that man to deceive and steal.
Invest with him again?
That’d be dumb.
And, God, as promised, was faithful to me, providing financially in other ways—while teaching me a great lesson.
This is my conviction: God is fully capable of providing for you and me, healing, comforting, and restoring in the aftermath of loss and betrayal.
My buddy’s wife had an affair. She repented. He forgave. Right away, he bestowed trust while he trusted God to heal his broken heart.
Then, it happened again.
He forgave again. This time, owning his contribution to what wasn’t working in the marriage. They forgave each other. It was powerful. Years have passed and they’re stronger than ever.
As I write this, a legal situation with potentially monumental consequences looms. The outcome unknowable.
So, I trust.
Trust God. The legal team. My financial partners (legal fees are immense). Our intercessors. The justice system. And many who’re standing with Annie and me.
I trust God.
“God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” [I Thes 5:24 NLT]
Because of that, I can trust you, and you, and you, and you.
I choose to.
I bestow trust.
Unless you’re that guy in Kansas City.
The Truth about Trust part four.docx
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The Truth about Trust (part two)
Years ago I participated in a ministry that conducts potent character development workshops. Life-changing transformations happen over the course of a weekend. It was a privilege to host or help lead almost thirty workshops across the country.
Invariably, people came because of disappointment with their most important relationships. As each workshop unfolded a familiar pattern recurred:
People had been hurt.
Hurt by parents, an ex, a boss, roommate, business partner, or lover.
They pulled back.
They pulled back further.
Each time, more cautious.
Hiding the heart, hoping to protect it from harm.
Rendering them lonely, isolated, distant from those they love…
And, here’s the rub. Distrusting others may well be “wise” on one hand, but it leaves us empty on the other.
See, we’re all in relationship with human beings.
And humans fail.
Sometimes, even the best of us are selfish.
Because we’re human, we get tired.
We play safe. We play small.
We miss opportunities to live big, generous, courageous, God-honoring lives…
And, when we do, those we love are left holding the bag.
If they do what so many do, they’ll pull back from life, from others. They’ll withhold trust.
And, this leaves them lonely, isolated, and distant from those they say they love.
While I’m sure it seems callous, you can trust this: people will fail you.
Will you “turtle” as a way to protect your precious little tail, and feet, and head?
Safe, in your shell.
Safe and alone.
Will you withhold trust from everyone, or just men, women, people in authority?
God has made you, not just a “conqueror”, but a “more than conqueror” through Christ. [Rom 8:31-37]
That’s God’s doing.
God intends you and I to be so secure, so confident in Jesus Christ, that nothing dissuades us.
Imagine being un-discourageable…
No matter who fails you. No matter how often others drop the ball.
You are clear and confident in your Savior…and connected to people, open, trusting, and vulnerable.
The Truth about Trust part two.docx
While there is much for a Christian leader to learn when in conflict — today’s principle will keep you from falling into conflict, much of the time.
So, if you’d prefer to minimize your participation in conflicts from now on, listen up!
As with each of the articles in this series, this principle will make a lot of sense to you… and I bet you rarely apply it. And you do this to your own relational and leadership peril.
Principle #8- Who gets to choose?
Who decides your decisions?
Who determines your attitudes: whether and when you forgive, when and why you finally get off some offense or other?
The answer is ridiculously apparent: You do.
“So what?” you say.
Here’s what: most of your conflicts erupt when you forget this simple, obvious reality:
You don’t get to choose anybody else’s choices.
You never have and you never will.
And yet, in your most challenging relationships, you behave as if you do.
Think about it.
You imagine that you choose how much your daughter is online. How much your wife spends on shoes. How and when your son does his homework. Right? You say: “We have strict guidelines in our home about how much time Sophia gets to be online. Susan has a strict budget—including shoes. Ben knows he has to do all his homework before TV.” And, you think that because these things are true, that Sophia, and Susan, and Ben are not deciding every single day whether and to what extent they live within these carefully-defined parameters?
I assert that they choose. Every time. Just like you did when you were a kid.
Their choice is always theirs—just as your choices are yours.
Most of your conflicts erupt when you forget that you only get to choose your choices. An autonomous human being does what every single human being does every single moment of every single day: she chooses. And you go berserk because you think somehow you’re entitled to choose other people’s choices. Don’t you?
Think about it.
God, who is omnipotent, who knows everything, who is eternal and sovereign set it up that way. We get to choose all our choices. And, sometimes (maybe much of the time) God weeps over the choices we make.
Consider just how different your life could be if you lived as if everyone around you makes their own decisions—every time. Imagine your life when you no longer manipulate, press, challenge, shame, and guilt others. Imagine never again being “so disappointed” in the decisions of those near you.
Imagine the impact on those you love.
Consider how they might live when out from under the crushing weight of your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.
What if you trusted people to make their own decisions and to live into whatever reality those decisions open up and close down for them?
You could sorrow with them, without being ashamed. The confidence you display in those near you might invite them to make great choices—surprising both you and them!
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Scenario A: Think about a time when you were in an argument with someone … and you thought you knew what you two were arguing about. At least you know what you were arguing about. As the two of you launched salvo after salvo, gradually it dawned on you that you were either arguing with a completely crazy person—or, whatever it is your adversary was angry about, it wasn’t what you thought it was.
Scenario B: You made a blunder that by all accounts was relatively benign. But, the reaction it triggered in someone else was orders of magnitude greater than you expected. Once again, you’re tempted to conclude that the offended party is institutionally insane. What else could account for the over-the-top reaction?
Scenario C: A friend asks you about one facet of an issue you both know you’ve been struggling with. You intend to give a focused, factual answer and before you know it, your emotions are so powerfully engaged that the two of you are stunned. While you try to collect yourself, an awkwardness permeates the mood. Now you’re wondering if you are the crazy one…
This principle will invite you to interrupt your natural press to resolve your conflicts hastily, or to simply shrug your shoulders and assume you’ve wandered into the psychiatric ward of the local community health clinic.
When you encounter a response that seems inappropriate in its intensity, I invite you to ask: what could this really be about?
Stay curious enough, long enough to find out what is really in play.
If you fail to do this, you will miss your friend and you will miss the opportunity to bring Christ’s ministry of reconciliation to this situation, as well. As rational human beings, we all do some pretty irrational-seeming things.
One of them is this:
We attach meaning to things, to words, and to events that transcend the things themselves.
Think about it.
Let’s say that as a child you heard over and over that you were a poor student, slower than your siblings intellectually. Maybe the words “stupid” or “dumb” were used in reference to you.
Decades later, you are an accomplished sales executive, and you’re in one of those 360° performance appraisals. A peer points out that you were slow in adopting a new reporting procedure… and you flush, become agitated, and a smoldering fury begins to blaze in your bosom. You’re only vaguely aware of what incited the reaction, but your reaction seems both valid and surprising at the same time.
As a human, you’ve attached meaning to your intellectual prowess, borne in your childhood experiences, that transcends your true intellectual attributes.
When you heard the word “slow” it represented something other than the speed with which you implemented the new reporting procedure.
Subconsciously, you applied “slow” to you.
And, since you interpreted the feedback as an indictment on your intelligence, you went nuts… in a professional way.
We’ll expand on this next time.
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We’re examining why it’s important to be a learner when embroiled in a conflict. The principle: “leader, know thyself!”
Suspend the very natural impulse to get out of this—quick. Challenge yourself to learn as much as you can, and to model a way to respond to conflict.
If you’re like me, you have an Achilles heel in this area. As a child and teenager, I was about as likely as anyone to occasionally do bone-headed things. I was probably as vulnerable as the next teenage boy to forget something I’d said I’d do, to impulsively leap before thinking things through, and for failing to consider who else might be impacted by something I did or left undone.
Rarely, if ever, did I intend evil or harm toward anyone, and when I learned of my mistake, I did what I could to repair the breach.
Yet, one of our family dynamics was that it was assumed that I meant to hurt or embarrass or slight another. That my motives were malicious, evil, cruel. So regularly and forcefully were my motives impugned that I became unsure of them, myself. I developed a hyper-sensitivity to accusations about my heart and intention.
To this day, I’m vulnerable here. When we disagree over tactics, over ideas, over differing ways to accomplish things, I’m fine. But, when you accuse me of intending evil, of purposing to hurt someone, of premeditated unkindness… my auto-pilot switches on:
My heart races.
My mental mechanisms seize up.
Instantly, I’m 11 years old again and I’m caught: the cruel, malevolence of my heart has been exposed and I didn’t even know it! In this condition, I’m lousy in a conflict! Fight and flight appear irresistible.
Because I’ve studied my vulnerabilities (with the help of great coaching and counseling), I’m able to get altitude in real time … when it counts most.
I’m able to coach myself in the moment, interrupt my emotional machinery, and return to the here-and-now:
How about you?
What are your unique vulnerabilities? What are the recurring themes in your conflicts—especially of those where you behave least maturely?
You’ll be well served to chronicle these and to plan in advance how you’ll handle yourself when these buttons get pushed. You, and those who love you, will be glad you did!
Being in Conflict 6.docx
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Last time I introduced the idea that you’re enormous advantaged, as a leader, when you’re honestly aware of your vulnerabilities. Ignorant of them, you undermine your own effectiveness.
Well, the other conflicts—those you never become aware of–are far more dangerous. They’re the “sleeper cells” of terrorist activity hidden in the seemingly benign ordinaryness of your life and ministry.
In these conflicts, those you offend just move on, usually taking friends and family with them. So, you’re perpetually re-building your team, your staff, your leadership core, your congregation.
Rather than seeing conflict as an opening for intimacy and learning, you push back. Maybe, like most, you think that conflict means something is wrong… with you, with it, or with them.
Allow yourself to consider that conflicts are an inevitable and necessary part of every honest, committed relationship. It is impossible for you to know enough to not need other people: their ideas, perceptions, feedback, and experiences.
What if their disagreeing with you does not diminish you at all? Could it actually serve you? Could it serve whatever it is that the two of you are endeavoring to do?
In this blog, I’ll introduce a second area, regarding conflict, where it’s supremely important to know yourself.
How have you trained yourself to respond when you’re in conflict? What are your patterns, when it’s “on”?
As humans, were predisposed to either fight or flight. Some leaders do both!
What’s the problem with flight or fight?
When you’re fleeing or fighting, you’re not learning. And, if you’re not learning about the conflict you’re in, about it’s genesis, about your part in its escalation, and about the clues you’ve missed along the way—you’re setting yourself up to repeat this over and over.
So, when the impulse is to escape or to dominate in order to be right, my invitation is to get inquisitive. Imagine a crime scene investigator who interprets every case as something “bad”, something to do away with as quickly as possible… something to ignore (flight), or to conquer (fight) with great haste.
How many cases would actually get solved? How much real justice would get done?
Being in Conflict 5.docx
Football season is here! Annie and I love to cheer for perennially great teams, like the Crimson Tide and pathetic teams like the Boilermakers. Many practices, disciplines, and perspectives distinguish the teams that succeed on the gridiron from those who seem to find a way to lose Saturday after Saturday.
Where are we vulnerable? What’s our Achilles heel? How can this opponent take advantage of our weaknesses, quirks, and vulnerabilities?
Like any ball club, you have vulnerabilities, susceptibilities, and blind spots, too.
Think about the last major conflict you were in… or the last several contentious situations that had something to do with you.
What made you a target?
Do people experience you as impulsive?
What complaints do people have about you, when your relationship with them has broken down?
Do you even know?
If you don’t know, you’d be smart to seek out some honest feedback – right away! Ask your siblings, your spouse, co-workers (but not your subordinates), and anyone you’ve offended, ever. Ask them how they experience you?
What is the impact you have on others that you’re largely unaware of?
Years ago, a dear friend gave me a great gift.
We’d planted a church and started a business together at the same time.
Tim told me he “felt more like a project than a person” when he was with me. And, I was completely unaware that I impacted people that way. Tim’s honest feedback launched me into an intentional process of seeking help, engaging a therapist, requesting feedback, self-awareness, undergoing character coaching, and self-discovery that’s ongoing.
Along the way I learned that I’ve often been experienced as detached, unaware of my emotions, and blind to the distress and sadness of others… even those closest to me.
Twenty years of counseling, coaching, character-development work, and fearless accountability commitments have brought growth and satisfying fruitfulness. Yet, I still miss the impact I sometimes have on others. My failure to attend to my impact has landed me in hot water with a number of folks on several occasions. This, for me, has been an Achilles heel.
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Ever met a powerfully influential person who’s great in conflict?
They’re a rare breed, They’ve intentionally developed the discipline and rigor to govern themselves when they’d prefer to react, explode, shut down, counter-attack, or evaporate.
Christian leaders can benefit greatly from skillfully navigating situations of conflict. We’ve already pointed out that conflict is common to the Christian experience. The ministry of reconciliation, to which every believer is called, demands that it be so.
How can you become great at being in conflict?
Think about a transmission…
With your car in drive, you’re “in gear” ready to move. In this posture you’re ready to attack your adversary… or to flee the scene.
Putting your car in reverse is like being poised to back-pedal. To load all the blame on yourself. In this posture, you cave in to escape the discomfort that being in conflict represents to you.
Most of us have trained ourselves to throw ourselves into “drive” or “reverse” when controversy arises. Postured in this way you are prematurely predisposed to action, when learning will serve you far better.
There will be a time to take action, but this isn’t it. Not yet.
How often have you been burned by assuming you understood a conflicted situation and reacted too swiftly or too harshly?
If you’ve left a wake of broken relationships in your past, I guarantee you’ve done this.
Repeatedly. Maybe habitually.
A car in neutral isn’t going anywhere. Not yet.
When you get yourself to neutral, you’re resisting the impulse to move.
Switzerland considers itself a neutral country. That means that in a conflict they’re not taking sides. They’ve declared it up front. They have no dog in the fight, no horse in the race, no pugilist in the ring.
In neutral, you’re postured the same way.
Here’s where it gets tricky. In conflict, a healthy person will immediately side with herself.
The unhealthy person might automatically knee-jerk to side with his accuser. Sounds odd, but it happens.
The problem is that as soon as you lock in on one outcome your humanity begins to narrow your focus.
As it does, you lose objectivity.
You begin collecting evidence in support of the side you’re pulling for. And, you find evidence to oppose the other side.
This evidence collection is not impartial. Your humanity causes you to ignore, to minimize, to actually not see evidence that contradicts your cherished position.
It’s not that you’re dishonest; your desire to be “right” trumps your objectivity.
You can test this the next time you watch a sporting event involving a favorite team. You’ll identify un-flagged fouls against your team, and scarcely notice those against their opponent!
Getting to neutral means choosing to embrace AMBIGUITY. Entering into the discomfort of not deciding who’s right and wrong—even when you are the one “on trial”.
Getting to neutral allows you to stay curious, to return to a learning posture.
And, in any conflict, learning is the key to an honorable, rewarding resolution.
Being in Conflict 3.docx