Leadership Archive, 2023
10/23 A House of Mirrors:
Pastors, professional Christian counselors, and other types of Christian life coaches and mentors, have varying degrees of success in helping others actualize genuine, permanent personal transformation. Why the variegated results from leader to leader? There are several reasons. However, one of the most consequential that I will focus on in this commentary is, the world the sufferer lives in, and who controls that world.
Those wanting and needing personal transformation rarely live in their own world. They are often pieces of furniture in someone else's world, a world the someone else controls overtly or passive-aggressively or an alternating blend of both. Thus, guiding a sufferer into personal transformation will have a low ceiling with limited results if the sufferer's world is not equally and also addressed. A person's spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and behavioral issues are simply cogs in a bigger machine that is their total personal world. A machine run, almost always, by someone that is not them.
Addressing the larger context of their life, however, often negatively provokes the overlord that controls that context. The potential blowback from controlling figures behind the curtain is one reason some leaders address only the individual, while nonchalantly steering clear of the larger regime the individual lives under. In doing so, the leader saves his/her own skin from persecution, often aggressive demonically-empowered persecution. However, the leader has, in a sense, scammed the sufferer. The sufferer is wanting and needing personal transformation, and is beseeching the shepherd for help, but the shepherd responds by giving help that is incomplete or unaware, at best, scared and preoccupied with self-survival, at worst. If you are a cowardly leader preoccupied with self-survival, you do not deserve the high responsibility of shepherding others. Jesus referred to these scared, self-survival, me-first leaders in John 10:12,13 (ESV): He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
For those of you who truly care about the misery and vexation of sufferers who come to you for help--no matter what the blowback might be from possessive overlords and self-appointed guardians around them--here are a few strategic and tactical insights to pray through and work into your shepherding. The following is not comprehensive.
Understand, truly understand, the sufferer's world is a house of crooked mirrors. The overlord has control only if the sufferer sees himself/herself wrongly in the broken mirrors the overlord has established. The overlord regularly reminds the sufferer, overtly or passive-aggressively, why the sufferer needs him/her, why the sufferer cannot be genuinely independent, why the sufferer cannot think for themselves, why the sufferer cannot do this or that, and so on. The overlord is an architect, an architect of mirrors that make the sufferer see only what he/she wants them to see--about themselves, about the world of possibilities beyond, about God, about anything. Of course the overlord would never say this. They use noble words and artificially-sweet gestures to dress the pig in a tuxedo. But a pig, even in a tuxedo, cannot resist mud. Threaten the overlord's wittle kingdom, threaten their narcissist supply, and watch that noble, sweet exterior thrash, convulse, and return to its vomit in the mud.
You, the transformational instructor, must realize, in a deeply empathic way, that this machiavellian hellscape is the everyday reality of the sufferer. If you are going to guide sufferers into genuine, permanent personal transformation, you will have to build a new house of mirrors around them. Mirrors that are not crooked, mirrors that do not clip their wings, but mirrors that enlighten them to see all the God-given treasures and potentials buried inside them. The overlord does not want them to see these identity diamonds, or, to pursue them independently of their own management and surveillance.
Jesus said He bought the whole field, full of dirt and weeds and thorns and field mice, for the treasure of great price hidden in that field (Mt 13:44). If you are going to help sufferers that are ready for major personal changes, you will have to declare to them, explain to them, show them, inspire them (and trust the Holy Spirit to confirm your words) of the great treasures and potentials hidden inside them. They need to hear powerful, true, Biblical, identity-empowering narratives about themselves (and about life in general) that break the spell of the codependent narratives the overlord keeps jackhammering or slow-dripping into their head. The overlord normalized crazy to them, so you will have to re-crazify crazy (call out, point out, and detail abuse structures) and normalize healthy (renew their minds with Biblical paradigms for living). You cannot control the sufferer's response (or the overlord's demons), but you can be a faithful witness and give them the best chance at genuine, permanent transformation.
You will be surprised, incredibly surprised, at how many sufferers say Yes to major transformations when you have the anointed fearlessness to demolish the crooked mirrors around them, set up by abusive petit-dictators as a high thing against the knowledge of God (2Co 10:4,5), when you care about the sheep enough to lay down your life for them, when you set them before the Mirror of God's Word (Jms 1:23-25) so they can see, perhaps for the very first time, what Jesus sees: a great, great treasure buried and suppressed in a dirty, weedy, thorny, vermin-infested field.
8/25 On Overalls:
The first, most important, most urgent job of a leader is to get the "overalls" right. Nothing else can be quite right or meaningful or effective or successful if the overalls are not right. Scripture calls it foundations or cornerstones. Socrates called it first principles. Business executives call it the big ideas. In this brief primer I will focus on three overalls: the overall vision, the overall philosophy, and the overall culture.
The overall vision is the true ultimate goal. Some leaders are way too general or theoretical with their vision. Some leaders have no vision at all, they focus on immediate goals and activities. A specific vision, a meaty and tasty big-picture goal, on the other hand, gives the groupmind something to imaginate and play with mentally, and as they do, start to feel in their passions, and as they do, start to act and behave towards the vision. A specific vision is both a harvest and a seed.
Since college football is starting back up, ponder this example. Two different college football teams have two different visions: (1) have a winning season versus (2) win the national championship.
Ponder the different tones and triggers. Have a winning season? Does that mean going 6-5 or 10-1? One player might sense that means 6-5, triggering a level of effort and preparation commensurate to 6-5, while another player might sense that means 10-1, triggering a level of effort and preparation commensurate to 10-1. As a man thinks within himself so he is, Proverbs 23:7 (NASB) soberingly reminds. "Have a winning season" is too murky, fragmenting the groupmind.
Win the national championship? Well, 99%, if not 100%, of the players in that locker room know exactly what that means, at least in terms of effort, preparation, detail, accountability, etc.
The overall philosophy is the general approach to how the vision is going to be actualized. If a football team's overall vision is to win the national championship, the overall philosophy would be their offensive approach and defensive approach. Offensively, if they have smaller linemen, perhaps they play a no-huddle, hurry-up, fast tempo offense to wear out the giants on defense. If they have three wide receivers over six feet tall, perhaps they play a pro style, air attack offense. The big idea on offense and the big idea on defense is the team's overall philosophy.
The overall culture is the attitudes, habits, and must-dos of the group. What would the team culture of a national championship contender be? Showing up early, leaving late, neurotic excellence in the details, never being satisfied, pushing personal limits, severe and swift accountability, etc. It would seem every college team or professional team has such a culture, considering the dizzying amount of resources and attention invested, however, on-the-field results always betray the culture in the locker room, weight room, practice field, and cafeteria. A team that regularly commits silly penalties, concentration errors, sloppy execution, begins sluggishly, finishes sluggishly, loses big leads, etc. is a team with an inferior overall culture. The coaches are not modeling and enforcing champion-level attitudes, habits, and must-dos, or not doing so enough.
It is upon the bedrock layers of vision, philosophy, and culture that practical procedures and activities are established. All these elements have to be congruent and synchronized like an efficient machine. This is true of coaches leading teams, parents leading families, pastors leading churches, executives leading companies, and any other type of group with a leader and a destination percolating in the groupmind.
1/30 On Mature Listening:
You are not a good leader if you are not a good listener. Your knowledge and know-how validate your ability, but your listening validates your humanity, and in the long run, people do not respond to ability they respond to humanity. They follow and trust longterm those they feel connected to at a level deeper than goals, projects, to-dos, finish lines, and bottom lines. Even the most aloof, ambitious, seemingly unfeeling person follows or allies with a leader that can contact, prod, prompt, validate, and draw out their deeper humanity. Of the many ways this can be done, listening is #1.
For starters, grow out of sippy cup listening. Do not steal another person's sharing moment, barging in before they can even finish their thought or feeling or story or explanation. Do not kneejerk-react to what people say; delay your words stoically and browse around in the Spirit for a wise, reality-creating response. Do not listen with the excitement of someone reading a recipe or getting a prostate exam, giving required attention but also trying to go to a happy place. Do not rehearse in your mind what you are going to reply while someone else is talking, instead of actually listening and entering the truest reality of their words first. You are not leading well or at all if you are too selfish, too controlling, too scared, too skittish, too tired, too hungry, too grouchy, too sad, too busy, too whatever, to listen well with your whole being.
Mature listening, altruistic listening, prosocial listening, reality-creating listening, means listening with our whole being, heart first. Heart-first listening means having the empathy, a noticeable existential compassion, for this person in front of you, inspiring you to actually, really, truly, genuinely care about the reality coming out of their mouth. A person who listens with their head first (analytically), or needs first (selfishly), or goals first (ambitionally), or problem-solving first (actionally), has already failed the most basic test of leadership: actually caring about those you lead. Even in fast-paced, goal-oriented, organizational environments leaders can still be heart-first listeners. That certainly does not mean every conversation is therapeutic or warm-fuzzy or personal, not at all. It means leading with a human touch in all things, with an undercurrent of empathic humanity, especially in listening moments. Leaders who do this well are transformational, incredibly powerful in social dynamics, and engender deep loyalty. Leaders who do not do this well are transactional; their (leadership) days are numbered, their results are short-lived and fragile, and their alliances are also short-lived and fragile.
Mature listening is sacrificial (the lower self has no place whatsoever), intuitive (sensing what is and is not being said, followed by creative discovery questions), fortudinous (listening with a strong stomach, not skittish or hypersensitive), and therapeutic (comforting and validating). To say it in capsule form, mature listening is entering another person's reality and emerging with them to co-create. This is, without a doubt, the highest form of listening--especially for leaders. It is universes higher than listening simply for information or simply for what is relevant to your needs or interests. It is listening because we care about someone enough to enter their reality, understand and empathize with that reality, and through dialogue emerge with them to co-create a better or greater reality.
"But that takes time and energy and a lot of patience," you might say.
This is precisely why so few leaders are truly great. So few are great listeners.
10/17/22 On Finish Lines in Mentoring:
In mentoring, there is a time to challenge the mentee towards development, and, there is a time to impart the feeling that they have crossed a minor or major finish line and accomplished something. Mentees need both.
Leaders of all kinds tend to overdo the challenging part. They instruct, admonish, correct, critique, coach, inspire, and generally push for more and more development, sometimes losing conscientiousness that the human soul needs occasional finish lines. It needs to feel that it is hitting targets, making noticeable progress, and that developmental modules are really working. Finish lines, in turn, excite and inspire even more dedication to make even more progress and reach major life-changing or organization-changing finish lines.
A mentor can balance developmental pushes and finish line celebrations in a few ways. The simplest, most immediate way is through comments and conversation--the culture-creators in every relationship. When fitting and timely, the mentor needs to make celebratory comments about any progress or finish lines crossed. And, for goodness sake, do not negate the celebration moment by snarking, "But you still need to do better in this or that." Celebratory comments, with zero critique, will make the mentee's soul glow with satisfaction, and almost always open a deeper conversation where you can further detail and harp on their progress. Jesus was masterful at celebrating, in commentary and conversation, finish lines crossed by His disciples. See Luke 10:17-24 for an example. Notice also, how often the Lord ordains celebrations throughout redemptive history. We forget, or fail to understand, the potency and leverage of custom-fitted celebrations in personal or organizational development.
The bigger the finish line, however, the bigger the celebration needs to be, beyond comments and conversation. The possibilities are endless here, so be thoughtful and celebrate every victory on the level it deserves. You can really crush the soul of a mentee by not going the extra mile to celebrate a finish line that is significant. On the other hand, a well-timed celebration can add to a person's or organization's momentum towards more and even greater finish lines.
Resist the temptation to overcoach. Even the Lord does not overcoach. He said in Isaiah 57:16 (CEV): My people, I won't stay angry and keep on accusing you. After all, I am your Creator. I don't want you to give up in complete despair.
The ISV words it like this: For I won't accuse forever, nor will I always be angry; for then the human spirit would grow faint before me--even the souls that I have created.
As a leader who probably has further, wider, and deeper vision than those you lead, you will be tempted to address all that you see, i.e., you will overcoach, leading to their despair and faintness. Triage your developmental pushes. Time your developmental pushes. This means you will need to be exceedingly listenful, thoughtful, and prayerful in every moment with your mentee(s). Stay out of your autopilot personality type responses. Patiently discern every moment. If you can administrate and balance developmental coaching and finish line celebrations well, you can see accelerated and sustained progress in the individuals or organizations you mentor.