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Leadership Archive, 2023

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.
    Imagine that.
    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.


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