The Supremacy of Vision (part ten)
In the Garden, Jesus modeled visionary leadership, powerfully.
As scripture reveals, Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. Wrestling with his impending crucifixion, he demonstrates the final key distinction about vision: the leader subordinates her psychology to her vision.
Here’s what I mean:
This agony, we understand, was his natural human response to the anticipation not just of a dreadfully painful execution by crucifixion, but also some kind of separation from the Father [Mt 27:46] for a period of time.
Physiologically, sweating blood is called “hematidrosis”. When capillaries around the sweat glands rupture, and blood oozes through the sweat ducts. It occurs when a person is facing death or highly stressful events, having been seen in prisoners before execution and during the London Blitz.
Hematidrosis indicates just how powerful Jesus emotions were. Bible translators describe his prayer as fervent, urgent, earnest, anguished, and intense.
Fully human, Jesus possessed all his psychology. He experienced the full range of human emotions.
Just like you do.
We see him engaging deep, intense emotion—completely authentic and appropriate in light of what he’s facing. And, he didn’t just emote. He wrestled. He cried out: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” [Lk 22:42a]
It was not for show.
Real, honest, penetrating, intense emotions.
And, he chose to subordinate his emotions to his vision: the will of the Father. He suspended his human preference for emotional resolution (apprehensions comforted, fears assuaged, aloneness addressed, hurt salved, etc.) so that his great, world-changing, eternity-impacting vision could be accomplished.
He resolved: “…yet not my will, but yours be done.”
This is visionary leadership.
Dr. J. Robert Clinton’s team’s research of 1,300 biblical, historical, and contemporary Christian leaders has revealed patters—similarities—in the ways God develop leaders. One is that all leaders experience Leadership Backlash multiple times over their lifetimes. Leadership backlash occurs when leader and followers move to fulfill the vision they’ve agreed upon. Then, when unanticipated difficulties arise, followers turn against the leader, on whom they blame the setbacks.
In backlash, the leader’s psychology is activated. Depending on the leader’s spiritual maturity, those emotions either request, demand, or tantrum to be assuaged. Often isolated, alone, the leader either abandons the vision, or subordinates her psychology to it, like Jesus in the Garden.
This it the pursuit of God-authored vision against all odds, through all resistance—even our own. We have our psychology. But, no longer driven by it, we can marshal its potency to keep us moving toward vision’s fulfillment.
Like Jesus did.
The Supremacy of Vision part ten.docx
“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
It’s something we take for granted…
Until we find we’re losing it, or have gone blind altogether.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology 7,000,000 people go blind every year.
That’s seven million.
Imagine being unable to see.
In my work with pastors, churches, and systems across the US, I learned that many have a vision problem.
As society presses Christianity to the edges, many raised in Church in a very different era find themselves destabilized—unsteadied by the rapid secular ascent. Ministers are not immune. The chaplaincy model seems profoundly inadequate as parishioners die off and young and middle-aged adults evacuate the Church. Neighbors seem more disinterested than ever in our religious offerings…
Now, that’s the question.
The vision question.
What are you doing? What’s the reason you’re breathing? Why is your church in this community? What’s the difference you want to see it make?
It’s not arrogant to ask—and answer—this question. It’s essential!
“Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.”
If there’s no compelling reason to invest deeply, passionately, even dangerously—the courageous won’t stay. They’ll go find a cause to champion, a wrong to right, an injustice to surmount, a greater good to get done—and go after that.
Somehow between the church that Jesus founded and the mess we have today, pastors have assumed their job is to soothe, comfort, encourage, and appease religious folks.
Pastor, your job is to make mature Christ-like disciples of Jesus.
People who change the world—beginning with their hometowns and neighborhoods and workplaces and schools–like Jesus commissioned us to.
The quote: “Have a vision that can call you through the pain of transformation.” I learned at a character development training God used to change my life more than a decade ago. It acknowledges that transformation—change—induces pain.
You’ll choose to embrace that pain in pursuit of a vision so good, so important, so noble as to call you forward into that pain and through that pain to what waits on the other side.
Power of Vision 1.doc
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!
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.
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
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.
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
See, all my life I’d been training myself to put tasks above people.
As an extrovert, I’ve enjoyed being with people far more than being alone. For most of my adult life, I’ve used the people I’m with to get things done. Reduced them to a “means to an end.”
That’s produced two experiences in those I’m with. Practical help and committed encouragement to achieve what we want to accomplish and an uneasy awkwardness when we’ve just been together.
I befriended Sam, a successful and hilarious radio personality, hoping to introduce him to Christ. Soon, his very difficult marriage became the focus of our conversations. I slid into the role of “marriage advisor”. We spent hundreds of hours together over many months … Sam began to change, Suzi responded, their marriage improved.
When it did, I was at a loss.
We had nothing to talk about.
Tim and I planted a church together. Then we launched a business.
I loved it!
Tim became one of my best friends. We were together all the time, working on the church of the business. Both were new, exciting adventures with regular progress and limitless possibilities.
What Tim said almost 25 years ago I’ll never forget:
“Kirk, when I’m with you, I feel more like a project than a person.”
I didn’t understand what he meant. So, I hired a counselor and asked her. Years of very helpful therapy, intensive work in a character-development ministry, reflecting on Buber, and being supported by a wife and friends have brought transformation in my way of being with people.
And…there’s more coming.
Coaching Distinctions #89.docx
Maybe you’re committed to DO>HAVE>BE. After all, it’s what you know, how you keep life manageable, and the best way you’ve found to get people to accept you.
DO>HAVE>BE provides the opportunity to immerse yourself in constant activity without struggling with the existential question of why you’re alive.
As daughters and sons in whom God delights, who’ve been rescued from judgement to security in the Father’s love … the answer could be straightforward. For many Christians, apparently it’s not.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Not really. Ours was a productive home. I learned early that my value lay in productivity. DO good, DO helpful things, DO what’s right…and you’ll be valuable, virtuous, loved. Subtly and overtly, the message was reinforced a hundred ways.
I came to understand myself as a ‘productivity machine’ and to people as ‘a means to get things done’.
So, like my siblings, I was a bit of an achiever. At Harvard, I surrendered my strife-filled life to Christ, experienced surprising peace, joy, and love. To be unconditionally loved was rewarding and refreshing. Completely new.
Soon, though, I landed in a fundamentalist charismatic church. Suffocating legalism grew gradually. I compiled an ever-growing mountain of behavioral do’s and don’t. Desiring to please God who’d so graciously rescued me, I mustered the self-discipline honed in childhood, tucked in my chin, and ran toward the “high calling of God in Christ”. DO>HAVE>BE.
Along the path were achievements, accolades, esteem, and recognition.
I morphed into a ‘ministry machine’.
What about you?
And, as years passed isolation grew. So did insecurity, discouragement, exhaustion, fear.
Have you noticed?
After several excruciating setbacks—I consider them God’s severe mercy—I came to the end of my striving…again.
I’d been introduced to BE>DO>HAVE.
Unsettling initially, it provided a framework for seeing God’s Word—and myself—differently. It anchored my primary identity as God’s beloved child. A few workshops helped clarify my uniqueness. Recalling experiences of God’s particular pleasure (remember Eric Liddell?) I discovered specific ways of being that blossom to life. In these times, people experienced clarity, courage, and confidence to be who God had distinctively called them to.
A securely loved child of God, I get to champion leaders to live God’s special calling, all-in.
Leaders like you.
Not what we do, but who we are.
Coaching Distinctions #86.doc