Too Busy

Many leaders, sooner or later, bemoan how busy they are. Stephen Covey, who died this week after a long and productive life, wrote a leadership classic long ago in 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is one of those rare books that is withstanding the test of time plus has served as the inspiration of a multitude of other self help leadership books which have a number in their titles. An invaluable thesis within Covey’s book is that leaders need to be busy doing highly important work and not fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent.

Just in case you’re too busy to read the book here is a simplified explanation of Covey’s thesis.

Leaders must take all of the tasks which they perform and place them within one of four quadrants. The quadrants sit on a High Importance/Low Importance and High Urgency/Low Urgency axis. He argues that leaders too often are focused on matters which today are Highly Urgent but for the long term health and vitality of the organization they lead prove to be of Low Importance. As leaders are able to focus on matters of High Importance the number of urgent problems that appear on their doorstep actually decline.

Today is a good day to give thanks for a leader like Covey who could articulate such a simple yet highly important discernment tool for leaders around the world. If you are too busy you really need to pick up a copy of the book and put the thesis to work for yourself. – BB

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Bosons and Leadership

Everything I know about physics I’ve learned from Sheldon Cooper, Howard Wolowitz, Leonard Hofstadter and Rajesh Koothrappali who are characters on the TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory”. You can deduce from this confession that I’m not a science guy and never, ever in any time or space will I be a leader in the field of physics.

Yesterday in Cern it was announced that real life physicists had finally discovered the Higgs boson. Christopher Llewelyn-Smith, Lyn Evans, Herwig Schopper, Luciano Maiani, and Robert Aymard apparently spent a lifetime searching for the “God particle”. They believed it was there, it just took awhile to find it. Peter Higgs, for whom the boson was named following his 1964 paper on the topic, seemed surprised when told of the find, “I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge.”

Let me get this straight. You wrote and published a scientific thesis in 1964 and nearly 50 years later you are surprised this universe super glue was found. Talk about your needle in a hay stack.

The leadership lessons which Higgs teaches in all of this is that leaders sometimes have to be incredibly patient, dogmatically focused on the task at hand and if success comes be surprised then celebrate with family.

So if you’re having a tough day and you think the sky is falling you can relax because the Higgs boson is apparently holding the sky in place. Therefore, you can be patient and focused as you lead.  – BB

 

Painting the Future

This is a painting by the artist Magritte which I was first introduced to by Stuart Murray Williams and which I now steal regularly!  It is a picture that all leaders would find worth pondering.  Here are some questions to help you reflect on your own role as a prophetic, entrepreneurial or creative leader:

  • What is the artist doing?
  • What does the egg represent for you – a person, a community, an initiative,  a congregation, a vision, a network or something else?
  • What is your role as the artist?
  • What if you are the egg?  Who is the artist – a parent, a mentor, a friend, someone who believes in you… God?
  • Who has seen and drawn out your potential?
  • Is there more to be realised?

Ponder…reflect…give thanks…imagine…pray…do something…

JK

Leaders get to say NO

Leaders get to say “No”. I don’t like to use this tool very often but this week I find myself with no other alternative.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I let the disciple, the leader in training learn from their mistakes. The leadership lessons we learn from our mistakes stay with us for the rest of our lives. I justify this stance by realizing that I know a lot but I don’t know everything. So when a disciple presents an idea or a direction which makes me pause but they are passionate and believe in the concept I’m willing to let them run with the idea. I like to encourage as it builds confidence in the disciple. Mind you I’m constantly monitoring the progress and outcomes.

Even as I write this post I recognize my hesitancy to deal with the “No”. When a colleague, friend or disciple is engaging in poor judgment or manipulative behaviour to accomplish a task it is my job to say “No”. If others are being discouraged or the organization is put in harm’s way by the disciple’s misplaced exuberance it is my job to say “Stop”.

I do my utmost to a.) Check my frustration at the door because I do want to salvage the relationship with the disciple if at all possible and b.) Measure my words so that I’m not scolding the disciple but instead giving them new insight into their actions.

 Too often I procrastinate hoping and praying that the disciple will figure it out on their own…BUT in the end I still have to say “No”. It’s what leaders get to do.

People are Watching, Wash Feet

This post was inspired by JE’s post “Leaders of the Towel and Basin”

I grew up in a faith community that practised what Jesus did with his disciples in John 13. Twice a year, Good Friday and Thanksgiving, we washed each others’ feet. Since leaving home as a young adult this Anabaptist ‘sacrament’ lost much of its meaning for me. As a pastor and a Christian of the Mennonite tradition I avoided the washing feet thing at every turn.

Then I visited Burma.

In the back waters of that nation I spent a week teaching and preaching an Anabaptist understanding of the Gospel to a Bible College student body and faculty. At the end of the week I spoke at their convocation service. Over 500 people gathered on a warm February Sunday afternoon to celebrate the 14 students who were graduating with their Bachelor of Theology degrees.

With input from the President of the school I decided I would dust off the Anabaptist ‘sacrament’ which I had grown to loathe. Nancy, my wife and fellow teacher, and I proceeded to wash the feet of these students. I was unprepared for the rush of family and friends who came forward to take pictures.

One of the faculty summed up the people’s curiosity around foot washing. “We have taught the importance of John 13 to our students but no one ever dared to think that a wealthy, educated, leader from the west would ever wash the feet of one of my people. We look up to you. We are your servants. That you would wash our feet is amazing to me.” 

Read JE’s post. Then, as a leader, go out and serve those who least expect it. You too may be as surprised as I was.

People are watching; wash feet! – BB

Imitate Me?

People follow leaders.  One of the greatest accolades a leader can have is when someone says ‘I did what I thought you would do’.  To hear this is indeed very humbling yet it also adds weight to the burden of responsibility leaders have to be good role models.

The pioneering church planter and former disciple-hater and murderer Paul was not afraid to urge people to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4 v 16), yet he must have been abundantly aware that there was much in his former life he didn’t want people to imitate and he must have been aware that in his old life he himself had caused much pain and suffering in peoples’ lives.  The only way Paul and the disciples could have journeyed on from this is is in the arms of forgiveness which Paul first experienced on the road to Damascus.

Forgiveness is a precious gift and characteristic we leaders can model as we choose to acknowledge our own failings and the pain we may have caused others and ask for forgiveness.  It is also something we can model as we daily make choices to forgive those who have let us down and as we forgive ourselves for not always being the people we seek in our hearts to be.

Who knows, maybe one day someone will say that they forgave a person because they knew that’s what we would do…?  JK

Jesus liked A.P.E.s

Recently I noticed first hand a leadership reality which Alan Hirsch, an Australian Missiologist, teaches. “At the beginning of a religious organizations life the Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists are large and in charge and by the time the organization matures and plateaus the Pastors and Teachers have taken over the management positions. The ‘APE’s’ have either moved on or have been ostracized.”

I had the privilege of meeting with the National Executive of a 15 year old Christian non-denominational organization in Burma two weeks ago. It was a room full of passionate, fervent, God fearing, fearless, tireless, and generous to a fault men and women. The majority were self-proclaimed Evangelists with a couple of Pastors thrown in for some balance.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this room of large yet healthy egos would not be tolerated in the North American church circles where I typically move as a leader. At best these Evangelists would be gently ignored and at worst be treated with disdain and derision.

They taught me a valuable lesson. If I as a leader want to see new things begin or old ways truly renewed then I have to be able to identify the “APE’s” in the crowd, disciple them and then let them loose on the world.

This is what Jesus managed to do. Peter, ‘the Rock’; James and John, ‘Sons of Thunder’; Judas; were not gentle shrinking violets. I realize anew that Jesus chose leaders with large personalities who after three years of being discipled were going to be instrumental in starting a new thing; a large sustainable, life giving God thing.

It is an example worth following today. – BB

Leaders Define Reality

“…although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result…”

~ Genesis 50.20

Leadership does not always have a happy ending.  Sometimes, the price of leadership is that our brothers leave us for dead or sell us out, just as Joseph’s brothers did.  No matter how hard we try to make sense of it, the stink of betrayal hovers around our soul, and sticks around for a long time.  Simply put, there are times and occasions when being a leader will result in taking a hit.  Our instinct is hold back in those moments – to soften the blows and do whatever is expedient to lessen the impact of our leadership.  In those moments, self-doubt can reign and our leadership wavers.

Joseph’s story has often been read to us as the story of an arrogant young man who got his come-uppance, then when he hit bottom learned to “turn it over to God” and receive his just rewards.  However, maybe another way to read the story is of a young leader who told the truth and let that truth take him on a journey.  Not always an easy journey and certainly not a pain-free journey, but Joseph’s life is testimony to a leader who tells the truth. 

Max Dupree once defined leadership as “the ability to define reality”.  Defining reality is telling the truth.  It isn’t easy, nor is it for the faint of heart.  At some point in your life and ministry, defining reality will cost you – guaranteed.  Nevertheless, it is in defining reality, in telling the truth, that God does good and ushers in a new result.  Don’t hold back.  Go ahead and define reality.  Tell the truth.  God will do good. – JW

GPS Leadership

With a bone crunching weariness I slipped the car into park and shut off the engine with a satisfied sigh. The 4 day 1500 km road trip to Montreal & Ottawa to check in with 6 leaders and their new churches was now in my rear view mirror. The challenges I listened to from these men and women were numerous: not enough resources to meet the overwhelming needs of their communities; not enough leaders in their faith community to share the load; good leaders leaving to find work in another city; immigrants trying to understand Canadian culture. I must also say that the joys that breathe life into their long days are plentiful enough to keep them at their tasks with confident smiles on their faces.

All I can do is listen attentively to these anabaptist leaders and pray that the few words I choose to share will bring encouragement to their spirit.

At times I fantasize about what it would be like to hand these leaders a road map with all the twists and turns, breath taking peaks and soul sucking valleys already mapped out. In my car I managed to navigate these two world class cities without taking one wrong turn. Even where all signage is in French I didn’t get lost, not once. Although there were a few times when my GPS quietly, non-anxiously said “recalculating”.

Leaders don’t get to have detailed road maps or a GPS. Instead perhaps the best we have to offer the leaders in our sphere of influence is a listening, understanding ear and a heartfelt non-anxious word of encouragement. It’s what leaders and I suppose the GPS get to do. – BCB

Liberating Leadership

As someone who has been following the Occupy movement with some intrigue I have been pondering Brian’s last post about leaderless movements.  I have visited the St Paul’s Occupy site twice recently and today I visited their newest site in London, the Bank of Ideas – a disused property owned by one of the banks recently bailed out by the British tax payer.

On each visit I have been warmly welcomed and included in discussions and even decision-making processes.  To begin with it has sometimes felt awkward not knowing who to go to for information but this has forced me to speak to one of the first people I have encountered to acknowledge my inexperience and humbly ask to glean their knowledge of the situation.  On each occasion I have received helpful, warm and empowering information.

In an age when I hardly need to be dependent on anyone for help (because my phone tells me everything I need to know!) it is actually quite liberating to rediscover this character of my humanity.

Having a visible, active, all-knowing leader may give us a sense of security but it may not always be the type of leadership that empowers and releases the most people.  Could hidden leadership which pushes others forward and enables them to discover their own talents be a strength rather than a weakness?

JK

Bank of Ideas

Bank of Ideas