Back in 1985 evangelist, teacher, and leader, John Stott, gave four messages to the staff of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Quito, Ecuador. Thankfully Inter Varsity Press recently published these messages in a 95 page book titled The Problems of Christian Leadership.
As a reader of many of the Stott’s books I wasted no time in picking this one up and diving in. I was not disappointed. Stott address four common problems, or challenges, Christian leaders face in their work –
The Problem of Discouragement
The Problem of Self-Discipline
The Problem of Relationships
The Problem of Youth
Though I must admit, before I started the book, I wondered if these four problems were still the most pressing challenges facing Christian leaders today. But as I read and reflected on my leadership experience as well as those of others, I realized these issues are as real today as they were 30 years ago.
But the best part of Stott’s teaching isn’t just identifying these seemingly timeless problems it’s in the wisdom and practical advice he brings to each. The book is simply a leadership guide for tackling each of these four problems. For example, the reminder in the chapter titled The Problem of Self-Discipline, of the importance in making regular time away from daily work for prayer, reflection, and tasks requiring quiet and focus caused me to act. I’ve now blocked out a day a month in my calendar to make this focused time a reality.
So, if you’re looking for or in need of a solid, practical and inspiring book on authentic leadership, read The Problems of Christian Leadership. You’ll be blessed with 300 pages worth of insight and inspiration packed into a 95 page book.
If successful leaders manage things and lead people and never confuse the two, then it’s absolutely critical that leaders effectively manage the resources entrusted to their stewardship. At the core of good management is planning. This is why at SpringHill we like to remind ourselves to “plan your work then work your plan”.
Plan Your Work:
So what does planning your work look like? It always starts at the highest level (answering the 6 Key Questions) then works down to the actual steps and tasks necessary to accomplish a goal, project or a dream. At SpringHill after we’ve affirmed the answers to the 6 Key Questions we build a 3 year plan (that’s updated annually). We followed the 3 year plan with a 1 year, seasonal (quarterly), monthly and weekly goals and plans which have ever-increasing detail.
For individual planning, whether it’s work or personal, it can and should follow the same logic of breaking down long-term goals into annual, seasonal, monthly, weekly and even daily tasks and goals. For work plans we encourage our staff to align their plans and goals with the plans and goals of their team and the organization.
Work Your Plan:
However we always need to remember that the only reason to plan is to accomplish a goal or dream. So it’s absolutely critical to break down goals and plans into actionable steps so we can answer the question “what’s important right now?” When we answer this question then we’re ready to work our plan so it becomes a reality.
I also like to remind to myself and our team that we should spend most of our time working our plan. Because, at the end of the day, we’re not interested in being good at just dreaming big (anyone can do that), but being good at making big dreams a reality.
In January, SpringHill held its first ever Leadership conference in Chicago where SpringHill leaders from around the organization met together for three days of learning, encouragement, team building and fun. As part of the conference I gave a talk titled “Leading the SpringHill Way” where I shared thirteen maxims that capture what it means to lead at SpringHill. So over the next several of posts I’ll summarize each of these thirteen maxims in hopes that you’ll find a nugget or two to use in your own leadership context.
I began my talk with this maxim – “you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.” This maxim is foundational because it captures the two sides of a leader’s job at SpringHill – managing and leading. It also makes it clear that it’s imperative not to confuse the two.
Management is about controlling, planning, and manipulating things to the organization’s advantage. If we’re to be effective leaders we need to management valuable resources such as time, money, processes, and systems. In other words we’re to control, plan, and manipulate these things for the benefit of the organization.
Now leadership is about inspiring, encouraging, developing and enabling people to make their maximum contribution to the success of the organization. It’s much more about encouraging their hearts and challenging their minds than it is getting all you can from them. A great leader knows and understands their people and tailors their leadership to them as individuals. It’s this relational context that distinguishes leadership from management.
Now the key for leaders is to make sure they don’t confuse who and what they’re leading and managing. You see you can’t lead things. You can try but all you’ll do is waste those valuable resources. On the other hand you shouldn’t manage people. People aren’t to be controlled, planned or manipulated. You can try but in the end you’ll never see people perform their best.
So great leaders always remember – you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.
The maxim “singing out of the same hymnal” reflects a foundational reality for a choir whose goal is to perform at their very best – every member needs to focused on the same music and be willing to perform their part so that the whole choir is successful
So when a member of the choir decides to sing from a different hymnal, the music not only sounds bad but the whole choir (and audience) suffers.
In other kinds of organizations, people who sing from a different hymnal – have their own agenda and do their own thing – are as disruptive as any out of step choir member can be. And because of this disruption, at least in healthy organizations, people who sing from a different hymnal eventually lose their jobs. The reason is, in the long run, no leader can tolerate having employees not align with the organization.
So what is the “hymnal” of a healthy organization? It’s their mission, values, vision, strategy, goals and priorities. In addition a good organizational hymnal also defines the roles and responsibilities for each person in the choir. So when a person is singing from the right hymnal they’re agreeing with and working towards these ends and within these parameters. When they’re singing from a different hymnal it means they’re working from and towards a different vision, strategy, values and goals then the rest of the organization, all of which can be extremely painful.
So the real question is why in the world would any person want to work in an organization but not sing from the organization’s hymnal? It can be just as frustrating to the individual as it is to the rest of the choir.
So if you’re currently singing from the wrong hymnal in your organization, you have a choice to make – either pick up the right one and start singing or find a new choir. But please, make a choice. If you don’t, sooner later someone will make it for you.
Have you ever watched someone’s job and life unravel because their work seems to overtake them? The root cause is usually one of two kinds of unhealthiness – organizational or personal.
To avoid becoming a victim when working in an unhealthy organization a person needs to decide whether to stay and try to rise above the unhealthiness or go and get away from it. If a person stays, they’ll need to be in a place where they can protect themselves, assuring they don’t become a victim. Typically this isn’t a good long-term strategy because organizational health is contagious and at some point a person will catch the same disease affecting the organization. So the best option is to move on.
But when the cause of an unraveling career and life is the person’s own unhealthiness then they’re at risk of losing their job. You see, unhealthy people typically do not take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and actions. They begin to blame others, including their employer, for their messy life. When this happens a person becomes a victim, and since people don’t like to work with victims, they slowly lose their influence in the organization and ultimately lose their jobs.
And the reason people don’t like to work with victims is because they’re either a downer to be around or they begin to act like a martyr. Martyrs find self-worth by believing their sacrificing more for the organization than anyone else. They believe their sacrifice gives them a special dispensation to do and say what they want to people they perceived to be less committed (which is pretty much everyone else). Sometimes victims and martyrs will rally together against all the perceived injustices done to them which only alienate them further from the rest of the organization.
So don’t let yourself become a victim, take responsibility for your life and career, and you’ll never leave an organization because of someone else’s decision.
when doing a benchmarking visit of another camp I asked one of their senior people “do you ever visit other camps?” I was hoping to return the favor and offer him the opportunity to come to SpringHill so we could share with him what we’re doing. His answer was shockingly honest – “why would I want to do that?” You see this leader believed that he and his camp had already arrived. And when you’ve arrived why would you be interested in learning anything more?
In this series of posts about the seven attitudes and behaviors that can cause you to lose your job the fifth attitude “believing you’ve already arrived” can be the slowest way out. Slow because this attitude in and of itself typically isn’t enough to cause someone to lose their job especially if they are performing to expected levels.
But the problem is, over the long run, a person who believes they’ve already arrived will stop learning and growing. And learning and growing is essential because the world continues to change. As a result a person who quits learning, and loses what I call professional curiosity, will soon fall behind and will ultimately not be able to perform as expected.
The worst part of this attitude is that it can spread in an organization. And once it spreads, an organization can become complacent and be at risk of becoming irrelevant. As a matter of fact, unless this attitude changes, it’s only a matter of time before the leader and the organization finds itself in dire straits.
So, if you want to keep your job and continue to making a difference in the world, never allow yourself to believe you’ve arrived. Continue to be professionally curious, it will serve you and your team well today and into the future.
As I wrote in my last post, not actively listening to others will eventually lead to a person failing in their job. One of the major reasons is that a person who doesn’t listen or attempt to understand others will ultimately end up mistreating people.
Why is this true? Because not actively listening to others means we won’t truly know and understand a person’s motives, thinking or perspective. Without listening it’s impossible to understand who they are and where they’ve come from as people. When this happens it’s easy to slip into thinking of people as “cogs”, “parts” or “resources” and not as individuals.
Now take a moment to think about how we treat things such as cogs, parts, and resources. Don’t we use, leverage, manage, drain, control, and abuse them if it advances our agenda? Such behavior and attitudes may be ethically acceptable for inanimate objects but they are clearly wrong when it comes to people. Treating people as things is simply mistreatment of people.
And mistreat of people is obviously unacceptable for those who want to make an enduring and positive impact on both the lives of others and the world.
So to avoid slipping into this pattern of seeing and treating people as things we need to lead through relationships because relationships requires listening and listening leads to understanding. And when we understand others we’ll treat them for who they truly are – people created by and in the image of God.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is the fifth of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The opposite of this habit is simply not listening to others. And not listening to others is the third of seven behaviors that often causes a person to lose their job at organizations like SpringHill.
Not listening to others, like the other 6 behaviors that lead to people losing their jobs, is rooted in arrogance or its sister self-righteousness. Because when a person believes they know more than anyone else they conclude there’s nothing to learn from others.
Now not listening to others usually takes on one of two different forms.
The first is when a person does all the talking (because if you know everything there is to know then you assume everyone else will want to hear what you have to say). Doing all the talking and assuming that others want to know what you think is the epitome of self-centeredness and the opposite of being other-focused.
The second form of not listening is simply not asking questions or taking the initiative to seek out what others know or have to say. Real listening, listening that actively seeks to understand another person requires asking good and meaningful questions. Asking questions also keeps us humble and from slipping out of reality and into self-delusion.
Think about it, have you ever had a conversation or a relationship with someone where they did all the talking or never asked your thoughts or sought to get to know you? For me the message is the other person doesn’t believe I have anything of value to contribute. Or even worst, I begin to wonder if I have any value personally in their eyes. Either way, not listening to others slowly but surely erodes a relationship, and wearing out a relationship will always lead to wearing out one’s welcome in an organization.
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