Category Archives: Character

4 Priorities for a Spiritual Leader

I recently attended a conference for a portion of our staff that serve in the cities of America.  We are currently reorienting our vision around city transformation.  It was a rich time of honest interaction about change and our need to be better mobilizers of what God has called us to do.  In the midst of our time together one of my mentors and friends, David English, shared some very insightful priorities for every person attempting to successfully engage in the mission.  I thought they were quite profound and wanted to share them with you.

1. My character is more important than my competency.  I have commented on this principle many times.  Character is tantamount, no matter what our culture says.  We can tend to place greater emphasis on leadership competencies than on our integrity.  But competency will never cover for bad character.

2. My godliness is more important than my giftedness.  I am always concerned when I see young leaders rise in prominence based largely on their giftedness.  Usually this valued giftedness revolves around gifted communication-either of the vision or of the Scriptures.  But when this giftedness is not enveloped in a growing godliness it could set up for great fall of pride.

3. Who I am in Christ is more important than any scope of ministry I may have been given, any position I may have attained, or any task that I may perform.  Ultimately our true identity is in Christ.  It is so easy to base our identity on our scope of ministry, our title or position, or the monumental task before us.  But these are impostors and serve us poorly as building blocks of identity.  God is responsible for the breadth of our ministries.  We must see ourselves as recipients and transmitters of the grace of Christ.  Nothing more, nothing less.

4. Who I am is more important than what I do.  Being over doing is a cornerstone to making it to the finish line.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I have decided it is very hard to finish well as a leader for the cause of Christ.  It is easy to list those who have not.  It takes great determination and a view of self that realizes the importance of being over doing.

What are your thoughts on these four principles?  What else seems important to you as a leadership priority?

David has written much on the stages of a man’s life.  His insights are life changing.  If you would like to know more here is a web link.

5 for Leadership (8/10/12)

Today’s 5 will expose you to some new authors for me.  I have included a powerful leadership story, some great leadership principles, and some timely leadership quotes.  Enjoy.

Red Marbles and a Very Kind Leader  You must read this post.  I found it on the Teamwork and Leadership blog.  It is the story of personal leadership with influence and great generosity.  For me it highlights well that all leadership is influence and that generosity in leadership is often a forgotten component.

Overcoming The Fear of Asking  Are you an inquisitive leader?  If not, why not?  This is something I struggle with at times.  I either think that I am wasting someone else’s time or I fall into the trap that I don’t have time to be an asking leader.  This post from the Leadership Solutions blog provides some very practical reasons and practices for becoming a more inquisitive leader.

Leadership By Choice  I have often highlighted the Leading Blog for it’s quality content.  This offering is a simple four part evaluation to better determine if you are leading with great intentionality.  It is a brief summary of a book written by Eric Papp.  I think all four parts are critical and worthy of our reflection.

Can A Church Be Both Attractional and Missional?  This comes from Tony Morgan’s blog and is an interview with Dave Ferguson.  Dave and Alan Hirsch recently co-authored a book entitled On The Verge.  This is an insightful interview on this ongoing and very important topic.  It will give you a taste of the book.

Leadership Summit: Bill Hybels  The well known Willow Creek Leadership Summit is currently in progress.  I returned to Tony Morgan’s blog for this offering because he has been capturing some of the key principles and quotes from the summit for our digestion.  Here is Tony’s gleanings from Bill’s opening address.

There are the 5 for this week.  Lead well!

Why Greatness?

We are in the midst of the 2012 Olympics from London.  I love watching the Olympics.  The athletes and their feats are amazing and inspiring.  And every time these hallowed games roll around there is always the media discussion of greatness.  The chatter yesterday and today revolves around this question, “Is Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian of all time?”

What is greatness?  Merriam-Webster defines “greatness” by using other words such as largeness in size, remarkable in magnitude, and remarkable in skill.  There is no doubt that the exploits of athletes like Phelps and others competing in these games do appear larger than life.  Their skills are certainly remarkable in their magnitude.  I actually think there is something in all of us that longs for greatness.  As created beings we carry some of the attributes of our Creator.  Our longing for greatness is a reflection of his very nature.  But our longings are flawed.  They are flawed by our own inherent selfishness in search of significance.    So what is greatness really about?  Why should we ever seek to be great?

I believe the Bible speaks to this in a profound way.  There are many places in Scripture where we could find an answer, but I will highlight one verse that shows up early in the Biblical narrative.  Genesis 12 is about God choosing a man to enact His redemptive plan for the nations.  God had created mankind in Genesis 1 and 2 to be image bearers of His glory and stewards of His perfect creation.  But in Genesis 3 mankind chose a different course.  Sin entered the world and all of creation suffered the consequences.  The rest of the Bible is about God chasing relentlessly after people to draw them back into relationship with Himself.  In Genesis 12 Abram is given a covenant promise by God that he will somehow be used to enact this pursuit.  In the midst of this promise God also states that He will make Abram’s name great!  And that promise has come to pass.  Abraham (his name was changed by God later in Genesis) is revered by Christians, Muslims, and Jews.  Abraham’s name became large.  It became remarkable.  Abraham’s story lasts from Genesis 12-25 and is referenced in many more places within the biblical storyline.  But when God promised to make Abraham’s name great He also stated why He would make it great.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

Do you see the “so that?”  That is a purpose statement.  The purpose of Abraham’s greatness is blessing.  He was to be a blessing to others.  Can I suggest that this is the same purpose for all greatness?  All greatness under God’s economy is for the purpose of blessing others.

When anyone acquires greatness it can only proceed in one of two directions.  Either it will move toward self aggrandizement or it will move toward selfless blessing of others.  Even secular people get this at times.  They recognize that their greatness is a “blessing” in some way and they turn it toward the benefit of others.

Ultimately, the way in which Abraham was to be a blessing was in the heritage of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ we see God’s redemptive plan in fullness.  In Christ we have the ultimate blessing because He is the only sufficient sacrifice to correct our inherent selfishness.  For the Christ follower, greatness poured out in blessing to others should rightly point others to the ultimate blessing-Christ Himself.

Leader-do you aspire to greatness?  Why?  May what ever greatness you achieve be poured out in blessing to all within your sphere of influence.  Lead well!

6 Major Barriers to Finishing Well

As I have contemplated my own personal leadership over this past year-one aspect has stood out.  It is hard to finish well.  Think about it.  In almost any arena it is rare to see leaders who end their leadership lives with integrity and vibrancy. I am more convinced than ever that a leader will not finish well without great intentionality.  Part of that intentionality is understanding what could keep you from finishing well.  Below are six barriers to finishing well as identified by J. Robert Clinton.  Clinton is a Senior Professor of Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and has done extensive research on leadership formation and development.  Below the list are two links for further reading from Clinton.  I highly recommend him to you.

1. Finances-their use and abuse.  Leaders, particularly those who have power positions and make important decisions concerning finances, tend to use practices which may encourage incorrect handling of finances and eventually wrong use.  A character trait of greed is often rooted deep and eventually will cause impropriety with regard to finances.

2. Power-its abuse.  With leadership comes power-and the tendency to abuse it.  Leaders who rise to the top in a hierarchal system tend to assume privileges with their perceived status.  Frequently, these privileges include the abuse of power.

3. Pride-which leads to downfall.  Pride which is inappropriate and self centered can lead to a leader’s downfall.  There is a dynamic tension that must be maintained.  We must have a healthy respect for ourselves and yet we must recognize that we have nothing that was not given us by God.

4. Sex-illicit relationships.  Illicit sexual relationships have been a major cause of downfall for leaders in every culture in every era.

5. Family-critical issues.  Problems between spouses or between parents and children-or even between siblings-can be a major source of a leader’s downfall.  This aspect is often ignored, but always carries greater consequences.

6. Plateauing.  Leaders who are competent tend to plateau.  Their very strength becomes a weakness.  When leaders plateau they stop developing.  This can lead to the slow erosion of leadership vibrancy and competency.

Which of Clinton’s six barriers caught your attention?  What are your thoughts?

The Making of a Leader, by J. Robert Clinton

Finishing Well Factors-Enhancements and Barriers, by J. Robert Clinton

Leadership Is Like A Marathon: Part 2-The Start

This is the second in a series of comparing a marathon race to leadership.  As I mentioned yesterday, I have run ten marathons in my lifetime.  I have run Austin four times, Columbus once, Boston three times, Rome once and Florence once.  I have always been intrigued with some of the parallels between running and leading.  Today, we will take a look at the start.  Here are three ways in which the start of any marathon and leading are similar by principle.

1. You Can Get Out Too Fast.  This is the number one temptation with any marathon race.  This is especially true if it is your first race.  You have been preparing for this day for up to 18 weeks.  You are typically surrounded by thousands of other hyped up runners.  The atmosphere is electric because the end result is still unknown.  There is some guy on the public address system whose whole job is to get you pumped up for the race.  The adrenaline is readily flowing.  And there lies the problem.  I remember my first marathon, which was in Austin, Texas.  I covered my first mile in seven minutes flat.  I already knew that I was in deep trouble given my age, training regimen, and natural abilities.  I still had 25.2 miles to go.   Needless to say, the “wall” came quicker than I anticipated.

I always cringe a little bit when I see a young leader whose star rises quickly.  Usually they are naturally gifted in some way.  Often they are good public communicators.  But the character preparation has not been fully formed yet.  All of the accolades and early successes can go to their head pretty quickly.  You literally have to take a long view on leadership.  It really isn’t about how you start but about how you finish.  Many leaders go up like a rocket and come down like a rock.  Many are even viewed as successful in their leadership endeavors but their lives are a mess.  There is a marathon axiom that is relevant here-“slow is fast.”  Beginning with my 2nd marathon, I often passed the rabbits around mile 18.  In my mind I was thinking, “I will see you again.”  They simply got out too fast.  The leadership analogy would be if they out ran their character and maturity.  More than anything, this requires feedback from those that love you and care about you more than they care about the results.  You need people like this who can “slow you down” in your leadership.

2. You Can Forget To Replenish Your Resources.  The second mistake I made in my first marathon was to not hydrate until about the 4th water station.  Why should I slow down when I was doing so well?  They have water and sports drinks every mile-I’ll catch the next one.  That thinking came back to haunt me.  By the time you are actually thirsty it’s too late.  You have to anticipate your body’s needs-not wait until the warning signs.  You can’t skip a water station, even if you only take a sip.  Cramps are the natural result.  I have seen many a prepared runner have to bow out of the race due to cramps which often result from dehydration.

Leading is similar.  You can’t out lead your resources.  You have to stay fresh in your learning and character growth.  You have to anticipate your needs and not cut corners.  This is where a coach or mentor can come in handy.  You need training, experience, coaching, assessment, feedback-and rest.  You need someone around you that can keep you grounded in the midst of success and encouraged in the midst failure.  This part of leading never ends.  It can actually become more difficult the longer you lead-because the tendency is always towards isolation and self sufficiency.  The greatest need here is often refreshment in the form of true rest.  Rest provides an opportunity for evaluation and reflection.  This has the added advantage of keeping you on course.  The goal is not to burn out in your leadership pursuits.  You want to make it to the end.

3. You Can Pace Off The Wrong Person.  It’s easy to be judgmental at the starting line.  You look around and try and size yourself up against the other runners in the field.  You pick out the one who “looks” like a veteran runner.  The one who has all of the running accoutriments-water bottle, Gu packs, dry-fit running attire, etc.  And usually you pick the person who can actually sustain a seven minute pace for 26.2 miles.  And you are dead-before you ever get to your first mile.  The most efficient race I ever ran was in Columbus, Ohio.  They had pace groups throughout the race.  I picked my desired time and stuck with the group.  I finished exactly when I wanted and qualified for Boston.

Young leaders who are just getting started also need to pace well and pick the right models.  Don’t look for flashy.  Look for steady.  Pace off of leaders past and leaders present.  Thanks to the internet you can have models from near by and models from afar.  Read and study their lives.  Learn from their successes and mistakes.  Discern the leadership principle at work more than the particular leadership practice.  We were not meant to go it alone.  Leadership is isolating enough-determine to pace off of someone.  This is where leadership cohort groups can be really profitable.  This could be a small group of people with whom you check in regularly.  They are fellow leaders and learners.  But choose carefully.  Character always succeeds.

Near the end of his life the Apostle Paul said these words as he sought to encourage a younger leader, ” I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  May this be our goal.

Leadership Is Like A Marathon: Part 1-Preparation

Today I am beginning a five part series on how leadership and running a marathon share several of the same principles. To date, I have run ten marathons. That does not make me an expert. But it does give me enough experience to suggest some parallels worth considering. Over the next five days we will look at Preparation, The Start, The Proper Perspective, Hitting The Wall, and Making It To The Finish Line. Today I will focus on the Preparation stage.

Preparation is everything in desiring to complete a marathon. You can’t just wish your way to the finish line. You have to engage in a routine that will prepare your body and mind for the whole 26.2 miles. Most marathon trainings are between 16 and 18 weeks in length and include speed work, cross training, and distance running. One regimen alone will not ensure a good race. Let me say quickly too that equipment matters-a lot. It’s critical that you purchase running shoes to match your body and running style. It’s important that you wear the right clothing on race day. And you have to train your mind for both the known and the unexpected to make it to the end. Consistent running requires some learned skills. It helps greatly to know what a good stride looks like so that you can run efficiently and effectively.

Some people are more gifted runners. They are better overall athletes. I once stood at the starting line with a 72 year old man who was running his 54th marathon. That simply takes a certain kind of body to endure all those miles for so many years. But even the most gifted must train well to tap all of the potential that is within them.

The greatest temptation in marathon training is to cut corners. The truly gifted are the most susceptible. Early on you will want to run only three days a week or shorten your long runs by a few miles. Your legs are going to hurt. The key is faithfulness. You need to follow a designed training program that values balance and your experience level. It helps to do those once a week long runs with a friend. A 16 mile training run can get pretty boring by week nine.

As a leader it helps to know who you are. An assessment of your gifts, abilities and natural leadership acumen can be helpful in having your maximum impact. In leading, you mainly learn by doing with feedback. There are no shortcuts in leadership preparation. Again, the naturally gifted leader will be tempted to short circuit the process. Learning to be a good leader requires preparation. Look for opportunities to lead. It is best if the initial opportunities are small in nature and scope. This is where you see if others also believe you can lead. If people are recognizing your leadership abilities then determine to design a plan. Read a lot, ask for regular feedback, seek out a mentor, and be wary of proclaimed success. Expect to fail. You can learn far more from your failures than your successes. Create your own emerging leader cohort. Like marathon training it makes sense to learn to lead in community with others. Take advantage of formal leadership training-take advantage of informal leadership trying. Actually, you are never fully prepared for the next leadership setting or situation. Leadership preparation is a lifelong process. You need to take a marathon perspective on leading. Again, faithfulness is the key. Stay faithful to the leadership responsibilities you have now. Don’t always be looking to the next opportunity. Faithfulness will help to build character and character is what will help you make it to the end. There are no short cuts to character. Every marathon I have ever ran ultimately took it’s toll on some would be finishers. We all know of spiritual leaders who did not finish well.

The Apostle Paul communicated a powerful perspective when he compared the Christian life to running in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

5 for Leadership

Here is a fresh 5 for the third week of June.

4 Reasons They Don’t Want to Learn . . . and 5 Suggestions  If you are not already following Ron Edmondson on a regular basis-you should.  Ron provides some great insight about how to approach non-learners.  These insights can apply to a leader at any level-includeing the parent!

1001 Mid-course Corrections  I have highlighted Jesse Lyn Stoner before.  I really enjoy her posts because they are so relevant and practical.  This one is no different.  In this post she highlights the reality of change in the midst of pursuing your vision that will require some mid-course corrections.  This post includes a brief 2 minute video.  She concludes the post with some excellent evaluative questions.

Leadership Caffeine-Look To Workplace Partnership to Support Growth  This post comes from Art Petty.  This is a great post on the value of peer level partnerships for personal growth.  I find that personal growth and development is an area that is all too often neglected in the life of a leader.  Art offers some great “do’s” and “don’ts” for building these kinds of beneficial relationships.

Authentic Leadership Development: You Past, Present and Future  This is by Dan McCarthy on his blog Great Leadership.  I like this post because I like how Dan especially highlights the value of one’s leadership journey.  Dan takes a holistic look at how your past influences your present leadership and your future leadership.  He also highlights being over doing.  Take a look.

The Revealing Power of Fear  I will conclude this post with some thoughts from Dan Rockwell.  He hits on a topic that I think on often-leading from a foundation of fear.  I am finding that this is a common leadership disease.  Dan offers some very good insight about how to move away from this impostor.  He also provides some very good evaluative questions for discerning and dealing with fear.

There are the 5 for this week.  Lead well!