The Heart to Lead
Francis Frangipane asks in The Three Battlegrounds: “Is your love growing and becoming softer, brighter, more daring, and more visible? Or is it becoming more discriminating, more calculating, less vulnerable and less available? This is a very important issue, for your Christianity is only as real as your love is. A measurable decrease in your ability to love is evidence that a stronghold of cold love is developing within you…”
Paul, with all that was at stake in Corinth, governed his own heart so that it stayed open wide, and his affections so that they were not withheld from them. [2 Cor 6:11-13] So rigorously and openly did he give his heart that he was able to call them to reciprocate—his leverage coming from his having gone first!
He called them to a “fair exchange” of affections.
I wonder if, on those occasions when I have been stunned by the absence of affection I’ve encountered, it actually represented a “fair exchange” of the stinginess-of-affection that I’d sown into the relationship.
I too have trained myself to keep my heart carefully cloistered away where it can’t be hurt. Not much. Yet, this protection comes at a great price.
As humans, let alone Christ-followers, we were made for love.
Built to access and share affection readily, easily, generously.
Like little kids do.
Living with and among imperfect human beings, I’ve been hurt and I’ve seen others get hurt.
In the movies and on TV we see characters that give the appearance of being deeply satisfied, fully alive, and relationally connected without the risk of hurt and heartache that love requires.
I once taught myself to live that way.
Denying what I was, and what I was made for… ‘till Christ captured my heart and taught me a new way: a risky way, a vulnerable, dangerous way. Since then, there’s been an accordion-like opening and closing, expanding and compressing of the affections my heart was meant to exude.
This past decade I’ve been intentionally entering the rigor to open my heart wide and to war against the regular impulse to withhold my affection from those I influence. Imperfectly and purposefully I’m giving myself to this dangerous and delightful way of life. Calling others to engage in a “fair exchange” of affection.
What might God do among those you lead, if you were to give up trying to keep your heart “safe”?
What if you trusted God and opened your heart wide to those you lead?
Leveraging your love with them.
The Truth about Trust (part three)
Thus far, we’ve considered two distinctions about trust that I found surprising…and true. One’s that people really never earn our trust.
We bestow it.
At some level, every human is un-trustworthy. We pretend that those we trust are thoroughly reliable beings who keep promises unfailingly. Because of our experience with them, our love for them, and what they do for us, we choose to overlook their discrepancies.
We chalk it up to human frailty.
Not all the time, thankfully.
And, some more than others. Much more. Some people play fast and loose with the truth. The Bible calls them “deceivers”. We call them criminals and politicians.
They lie for a living.
The rest of us operate in a “zone of reliability” in which we either occasionally or regularly break our word. Usually, small commitments:
“I’ll be home by 7:00.”
“We’ll visit your mother next month.”
”You look good in those jeans.”
What I’ve found to be helpful for me and for those I coach is this:
Solomon, considered the wisest person on Earth implores: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” [Prov 3:5-6]
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” [Deut 7:9]
“In you our fathers trusted; They trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were delivered; In you they trusted and were not disappointed.” [Psa 22:4-5]
“What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all!” [Rom 3:3-4a]
“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” [2 Thes 3:3]
Funny, we who are Christian often behave as if trusting God is the last thing we ever do.
Crazy isn’t it?
We trust ourselves. We trust people. We trust our experience. We trust our ability to figure things out…
All the while, our God who has pledged himself to be faithful, to meet our needs, to watch out for God’s own is waiting to act on our behalf. To be revealed for who God is.
My invitation is to trust God to protect, heal, repair, recover, restore even when people turn out to be…well…human.
The Truth about Trust part three.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
Principle #1- Focus on you
There may be no more important life skill than successfully handling conflict.
For a leader, it’s essential that you govern yourself in conflict. More than anything else, this can affect how you’ll keep good, healthy people on your team. And, every leader knows that the best determinant of the quality of what your organization gets done is the caliber of the people you have around you.
If you’re in Christian ministry, as I am, you’re very familiar with conflict. You may be a person with an abnormally robust commitment to harmony, yet conflict seems to dog your path. See, like it or not, conflict is a staple in the Christian diet. Why? Because it’s in conflict that we get to do our best ministry! There are a few things Jesus claims to have given his disciples; one of them is the ministry of reconciliation [2 Cor 5:18].
The thing about reconciliation is it’s only needed where there is conflict, enmity, discord, and strife. So, if you’re a Christian, conflict is as normal as a kitchen is to a chef.
Let that sink in a little.
Conflict for the Christian is as normal as the operating room is to a surgeon. It is where we get to do what we do!
For the next several weeks, we’ll look at principles and practices that will serve you well in conflict. Let’s get started.
Principle #1: For once, focus on you. Good leaders are great at setting up the people around them to win, and stepping back just as the spotlight comes on and confetti fills the air. Your ministry leaders get the lion’s share of your focus and attention; you make sure they’re recognized, appreciated, and honored. Yet, when you’re embroiled in a conflict, this is a time to lock your focus on yourself.
This flies in the face of our natural tendency to fixate on the role the other person has had in creating or embellishing the conflict you both are in. It takes almost no effort to uncover the contribution another has had to a mess you and they are in. Recognizing your contribution to the breakdown, articulating it honestly, and owning your part (and just your part) is much more challenging for most of us. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you’re in conflict with anyone, you have a contribution!
Years ago, I was in a conflict with a couple with whom I worked. From my perspective, I’d been victimized by an avalanche of unwarranted distrust. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed the selfless and faithful ways I’d served them. Then a friend challenged me to discover how I had planted the seeds of distrust in this relationship [based on Gal 6:7]. To my surprise, I remembered that even before joining the ministry I had judged them as un-trustworthy! This I compounded by repeatedly ignoring the Lord’s urging to initiate relationship with one of them. My contribution: at minimum, I’d entered the relationship distrusting them and I allowed the distance between two of us to grow unabated.
Your contribution may be something you’ve said or done. It may be a judgment you’ve had about that person or a less-than-charitable attitude you’ve indulged.
Your judgments and attitudes always find a way to leak out.
People can tell when you judge them—even when you’ve never mentioned it! Your contribution might’ve been something you left undone, something you failed to do, something you might have done, but didn’t.
Allow yourself to consider how your attitudes, actions, or inactions have contributed to the breakdown. This will prepare you for principle # 2, next time.
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
Like many exquisite things, this beauty has a price. Rents are challenging enough in winter quadruple to astronomical heights in summer.
Last night I met the landlords where we’ll live this summer. David and Juliette seem to be lovely people. He’s from London and she’s from the Seychelles. He’s a retired real estate developer. They “summer” in Rhode Island and hope to visit friends in the UK before fall.
That is all I know about them. In a thirty-minute encounter with two remarkable, unique, and talented people who’re created in God’s image—that’s all I know about them.
I wasted the exchange in a “IT-IT” relationship.
I was “tenant” and they “landlord”. We covered the pertinent details about rent and keys and utilities and parking and trash day. But, I failed to encounter them.
Lewis says that in every encounter with every person we hasten them to one end or the other. And I cannot tell you where this couple stands regarding the Savior. I didn’t bring it up!
As an “IT”, I hastened to conclude the meeting. I’d planned the evening, and had already decided there wasn’t room for an “I-THOU” encounter.
What if God wanted me to represent him to them?
What if God intended that we pray together?
What if God desired that we become friends?
As “tenant” these considerations don’t surface. But as “child of God” they do.
My being with Juliette and David is an opportunity for Heaven to come to Earth. For Christ’s goodness to touch two lives beneficially like he has mine.
It may have nothing to do with “religion” and everything to do with love.
An “I-THOU” encounter allows that we move each other. Each life is altered, impacted, changed. Not just in our thinking, but in reality changed.
How much greater is the possible reciprocity among people to call, draw out, impact, move, and be moved by each other?
I and THOU.
Coaching Distinctions #88.docx
Talk at length with just about anyone and you’re likely to hear about a relationship that’s difficult, painful, or unsatisfying in some way. The common view is that we are “passengers” in relationships driven by forces we can’t influence…or that are controlled by someone else.
For the last six segments we’ve been examining the reality that each of us “architects” our relationships. Because you do, you can re-architect it at any time.
When the Bible introduces the Apostle Paul he’s “Saul” a bloodthirsty oppressor of the Church, feared by believers and heralded by the Jews. Acts 9 – 14 chronicles the amazing “re-architecture” of Paul’s relationship with both.
In the Old Testament, we meet Esther, an orphaned Jewish slave known only for her good looks and lovely figure. [Est 2:7] Winning his favor in an elaborate beauty contest, Esther becomes King Xerxes’ wife.
Xerxes ruled more than 100 provinces from India to Egypt. At the insistence of Mordecai, the relative who raised her, Esther keeps her ethnicity a secret. The text is largely silent about Esther’s role as Queen. But everything suggests that it was limited to keeping herself fit, looking good, and being available to the King when called.
She was not consulted by the King nor did she participate in affairs of state. No doubt her relationship with the King was heavily influenced by law, political precedent, and deeply entrenched customs. And, the whole time, she was a co-architect in their relationship.
At one point, induced by Haman, (an elite official who despises Mordecai for his allegiance to Yahweh), Xerxes decreed that all the Jews in the realm be annihilated. [Est 3:13] Mordecai asks Esther to intervene with the King to overturn the decree. Here’s the thing, it’s illegal to approach the King without being summoned—punishable by death. [Est 4:11] She’s forbidden from involvement in the legislative process and most certainly mustn’t resist any of the King’s rulings.
In a series of bold, unprecedented steps, Esther secures an invitation to Xerxes’ throne room, holds private banquets for Xerxes and Haman, and requests that he spare her life and that of Jews–her people.
Not only does Xerxes save the Jewish people, he orders that Haman meet the fate he’d planned for Mordecai.
Re-architecting your marriage likely won’t require you risk to your life, and yet the opportunity to bring “life” from “death” quite possibly awaits.
You’re an architect. Go for it.
Coaching Distinctions #82.doc
You might be in one now.
Perhaps you’re invested in an alliance that’s veered from the path or the purpose that originally drew you to it. Possibly it began as a way to make a contribution to the Kingdom of God or to do good for others. Somehow, things changed. The emphasis now is self preservation or personal gratification or simply avoiding the truth that the endeavor has failed to do what you intended … and no one’s had the courage or integrity to speak the truth.
Or maybe a friendship once had desirable virtues that brought life to each of you. In time though, that which you admired has been subsumed by dynamics that are far less ideal. You may be toiling to minimize the effects of compromises to your values that have become a fairly regular expression of the relationship you now share.
Another possibility is that you entered a relationship by meeting a need for someone else. Maybe she or he was in a rough patch, and you provided a friendly face, a listening ear, or a sympathetic shoulder. As the intensity of their troubles abated, you stayed stuck in that care-giving role—a role no longer as necessary as it once was—rendering your connections oddly awkward.
It could be your marriage. Perhaps each of you took the plunge for what you hoped you’d get. Then, when the marriage took more hard work from you than you expected to give, your heart went out of it. The one who once commandeered your affections is no longer someone you even like very much.
Like all sensible people, you leapt into the new opportunity for some benefit you anticipated. In some cases, it began well, then faded. In others, if you’re honest, what you’d hoped never materialized—even early on. Or, you were pigeonholed in a role that’s not needed. Most commonly the endeavor failed to provide quick, easy benefits without any determined investment on your part, and someone’s become disillusioned.
Not so, my friend!
Here’s a surprise: YOU are the architect of all your relationships!
And, because you are, you can re-architect every relationship you’re in.
Coaching Distinctions #76.doc