Leadership Archive, 2021
4/13 On Meaning Maps, Lower & Higher Stories:
To help someone truly and permanently change, what we might call depth transformation, you must first discern and pinpoint their meaning map. This map is their internal value architecture that pushes them toward the same types of people, the same types of situations, the same types of behaviors. For example, a person who craves meaning in power or control will repeatedly tune in to other individuals who seem to have high degrees of environmental or emotional control (a form of coveting), or, they seek out (consciously or unconsciously) situations in which they appear strong and regal and got-it-all-together. A person who craves meaning in taking care of others will repeatedly scan the environment for victims, the needy, the weak, dependents, minors, i.e., those who will need them. A person who craves meaning in acceptance and group identity will repeatedly conform and agree to ongoing social martyrdom, i.e., the sacrifice of individuality.
These are only a few of the more obvious examples of one road driving towards an emotional destination on a person’s meaning map. That map, however, has multiple roads with multiple destinations, making most people complex contradictions of winding, crisscrossing roads, each with its own feelgood endpoint. To help someone in personal metamorphosis, therefore, you will have to pinpoint and intentionally disrupt their meaning map with Spirit-empowered truth on God’s values. A clashing of swords must happen. Their spearhead values (those 2-3 big ones shaping their entire life) must be desecrated, exposed for its futility and idolatry, exposed for its nagging inability to deliver the life they imagine. And, on the heels of you desecrating their lower story you must articulate a higher story. You must hold up a new meaning map with new destinations based on promise land theology in God’s Word--a diligent daily relationship with Him and the teleological nature of that relationship towards good and expected ends (Jer 29:11, Heb 4:1-11). In the language of Isaiah 62:10, we must clear out the stumblingstones (their lower story) and raise a banner over them (a higher and better story, God's).
We are not dependent on words alone, anointed as they may be, to help people with metamorphosis. God Himself—working in the lives of those He has queued for depth transformation—brings about providential circumstances that disrupt, desecrate, and negatively expose a person’s meaning map, usually with some degree of pain or embarrassment if they have resisted His earlier overtures to transformation. It is there, in the disillusioned valley of the lower stories they tried to live out, that our anointed explanations can facilitate practical transformations. We see, then, transformational ministry is the Lord co-opting us before and after He has judged a person’s idolatrous meaning map. It is us putting language to His destabilizing activity with anointed counsel, teaching, correction, instruction, and prayer.
Many (most) people are open and supple to major changes only when their lower stories have disillusioned them, have been exposed as an inferior form of living, have been proven to be unsustainable longterm. Job 36:15 (NASB) says, He rescues the afflicted in their misery, and opens their ears in time of oppression. Elihu says here that God grants a special revelatory blessing during times of pain. He "opens their ears". He speaks with louder volume and more specificity when our wrongly-built value structure comes back to bite us. One reason for this is, most people are simply more open to Him and personal metamorphosis during those times.
You are not laboring alone, nor are you laboring with words only, in bringing major change to people’s lives. If you are a diligent intercessor and stay very close the presence of the Lord daily, He will move in your social biome in significant ways to destabilize and disillusion those individuals setting their meaning maps above His, those playacting like their lower stories are actually higher stories. When He does, recognize it, draw near to those individuals in love and boldness, and add your transformational voice to the lifechanging window.
3/8 On Renaissance, Italian vs Northern:
The Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance highlight for leaders the struggle to balance equally-important, yet seemingly competing, values in a group or organization. The balance and multidimensionality is not easy, and yet the healthiest and greatest leaders develop the elastic aptitudes necessary to do it well and do it well consistently.
The Italian rebirth zeroed in on pragmatic, effective leadership, captured most strikingly (and sometimes disturbingly) in Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince. The Northern rebirth zeroed in on just, fair, cooperative, and functional societies, i.e. social reform and idealism, captured in Thomas More's Utopia. Both books are extreme and feel hyperbolic, however, the core ideas illuminate the timeless paradoxes and balancing acts leaders and groups face. How much organizational success depends on the personality, pragmatic abilities, and reality-creations of the leader, and how much depends on leadership with a lighter touch that can nurture or facilitate just, fair, cooperative, and functional group dynamics? The former is leader-focused, the latter is group-focused. The former requires a leader with visceral strength and realism, the latter requires a leader with community-building finesse and sophistication.
The truth is, there are seasons and moments for both. This situation today might call for leadership strength and starkly pragmatic decision-making, while that situation tomorrow might call for a lighter, more faciliatory presence that gives the group space to interact, collaborate, problem-solve, and coalesce. The greatest leadership tragedies and group failures come not from selfless healthy leaders who can read the moment and stay agile in the best interest of all involved, but from self-serving unhealthy leaders who entrench themselves in extreme Machiavellian realism (Hitler) or extreme utopian idealism (Stalin) to their own end and the end of their group.
1/21 On Proactive & Reactive Realms of Leadership:
Leadership is both a proactive and reactive endeavor, and a skilled leader will move gracefully and creatively between both realms. Leaders are often lectured (and rightly so) to lead with vision and deliberate activity, and yet, the reality on the ground is that life and people occasionally present threats and opportunities that demand attention. Some threats are simply too big or too defining to ignore or intentionally postpone, and similarly, some unexpected opportunities are simply too promising. With deep and creative wisdom the skilled leader can repurpose the threat or opportunity and reinsert it back into the proactive vision. The threat does not have to be a frustrating distraction; the opportunity does not have to mean a new overall direction.
A leader who is entrenched at the goal-oriented extreme will undermine or sabotage his/her own influence by failing to account for real life's vicissitudes and idiosyncrasies. Granted, this type of end-product tunnel vision is easy to narrow into. It is easier to fossilize oneself in routines and processes that require less and less improvisation and creative critical thinking. Skilled leadership will always be a controlled vacillation between working aggressively on a purpose and working adaptively to repurpose threats and opportunities. To use a traffic metaphor, we could say one realm is linear and one realm is a detour, with the destination remaining the same.
Staying flexible means self-awareness and being present in every moment. Resist drifting off into goal-oriented lala land, such that you miss shifting variables in front of you that could have strategic consequences.
Do not overschedule and overbusy yourself. It is almost impossible to be creatively strategic if your mind and body are waterboarded with to-do's.
Set aside time everyday, sometimes more than once, to be alone for deep prayer mixed with deep contemplation. 2Timothy 2:7 (NIV): Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Upper-tier faculties like surgical discernment, truly unique creativity, and winning moves most often illuminate in quiet, unrushed, spiritual solitude.
12/4/20 On Sharpening & Polishing the Blade:
In the ancient world, bladesmiths sharpened and polished a dull or rough blade into a flashy, mirror-finished, whistling sharp, battle-ready sword using stones such as a whetstone, waterstone, oilstone, and/or diamond sharpening stone. A fine metal file might also be used, hence the illustration in Proverbs 27:17, "as iron sharpens iron". The bladesmiths achieved this finish by attentively and patiently grinding down the sword's edges until its sharpness was maximal--able to whistle and shave off arm hair.
This is an illuminating parable for those of us in communicational ministry in the ekklesia. God's grinding down of our dull and rough edges, if we cooperate with Him, will produce rhemas--sharp two-edged swords. It is those dull and rough edges that cause you to misread Bible verses and misread the Holy Spirit. Think about it: if any part of your personality, your attitudinal-behavioral complex, is dull or rough, you will read those dullnesses and roughnesses into Scripture and into the Spirit. They will taint, mix, and misinterpret information from both. Let God grind those down as only He can and suddenly you become remarkably clear and sharp, and rhemas become remarkably clear and sharp. Suddenly, constantly, Isaiah 49:2 will be true of you (NASB): He has made my mouth like a sharp sword... Suddenly, constantly, you will take (perceive) the sword of the Spirit, which is the word (rhema) of God (Eph 6:17).
You do not need more words and you do not need more emotional words. Scripture ridicules and judges verbal diarrhea, saying "a fool multiplies words" (Ecc 10:14) and "a fool's voice is known by his many words" (5:3 NKJV) and "in the multitude of words sin is not lacking" (Pr 10:19 NKJV). Scripture also warns against trying too hard with your words through overdone emotion, melodrama, and histrionics. This is nothing more than having a dull and rough blade, and therefore, needing more force to achieve the desired interpersonal effect. Ecclesiastes 10:10 (NASB) describes this, saying, "If the axe [or sword] is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength."
You do not need more words or more emotional words, you need sharper and clearer words. Become a blade that has been sharpened and polished, and is constantly sharpened and polished. Give patient attention and cooperation to God grinding down where you are dull and rough.
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