Monday, August 27, 2012

Back To School - Days of Preparation

Summer is wrapping up and the school year has begun. The weather has been so great during June, July and August. I have been running and reading but my blogging has been put on hold during the warm days of summer.

This is the beginning of the second week of school for the students, but I have been reflecting on all the hard work of preparation that it takes to get ready for an academic year. As the Academic Dean, I think I am just as busy during the summer as I am during the school year. From the end of August to the end of May I am focused on the execution of the program, the putting out of major forest fires, collaboration with school administrators, evaluation of new initiatives, discernment of the spiritual tone of the system, and dialog with the various stakeholders of the institution. But during the summer, I am absorbed with planning for the upcoming new school calendar. From interviewing new teachers to professional development to teacher orientation many hours were spent in collaboration with HR and principals in selecting and in-servicing the faculty for 2012-13. 

I had the privilege of interviewing over 30 individuals this summer and met with some incredibly gifted people. God sent us some special men and women to be examples for our students. It was so encouraging to hear the testimonies of the candidates and how God was directing them into the teaching ministry. The people who sat across the table from me had spent years preparing for this opportunity - some had years of experience before coming to my school - some were looking for that first experience in a classroom of their own - and all were filled with excitement and enthusiasm for sharing their discipline with the next generation.

I came to the conclusion that nothing builds confidence like preparation. The more one studies the content of the subject to be taught, the more one feels ready to dialog and discuss the issues presented by the course of study (confidence regarding the material). The more one thinks through the flow of the classroom and the pedagogy to match one's academic goals, the more professional the lesson can unfold (confidence in the presentation). The more the teacher commits the lesson to the Lord in prayer, the more spirit-lead the teacher will be and the more transformational the class can be in the life of the student (confidence in the Lord). Cognitive, emotional, and spiritual plans are all important keys to effective instruction.

Time spent in preparation pays such great dividends in proclamation. The impact of one's instruction is in direct correlation to the depth of one's preparation. There is both a science to teaching and an art to teaching - both sides of the teaching coin need time devoted to preparation. Presentation without preparation lacks might be might be filled with funny might even be animated, but it will rarely be purposive.... it will rarely provide direction and guidance for will rarely be of substance... and it will rarely be transformational.

Lord, help me to prepare - help me to be ready - help me to spend time with You - help me mine for gold; discover wisdom and truth; walk the path of adventure; take the deep dive into the waters of knowledge. Help me be ready to give an answer that points my hearers toward You.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Failure Factor

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I love this verse. Not only does it encourage me to be strong and courageous but it also illuminates two of the biggest factors of falling short in these areas: fear and failure. The last blog explored the idea of fear; this post will touch on the concept of discouragement and failure.

Let me illustrate by sharing an example from baseball that I think portrays this barrier. Close your eyes and travel with me almost 100 years ago. First, to the year 1915 and one of the greatest baseball players to ever lace up some spikes, Ty Cobb. He was born in Narrows, Georgia in December 1886 and was called the Georgia Peach for much of his career. He played 22 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and was inducted in the inaugural group of Hall of Famers in 1936. He was credited with setting 90 Major League Baseball records including the highest career batting average (.366), season batting titles (11), most career hits (4,189 – not broken until 1985), most career stolen bases (892 – broken in 1977) and the record for the most stolen bases in a single season (96 – first broken in 1962 by Maury Wills with 104). It is this last record that intrigues me. Ninety-six stolen bases in one season is quite a feat.

Keeping that in mind, zoom ahead a few years to 1922. Max Carey was playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Carey was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in January 1890. His 20-year career as an outfielder, his membership with the 1925 World Series Champion Pirates, and his reputation as a speedster who regularly stole 40 bases a season earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1961.

In those early days of baseball Ty Cobb set the record of 96 stolen bases in a season. Max Carey was second with 51. Ty Cobb looks twice as good as Max. But let's look a little deeper. Cobb attempted to steal 134 times and was successful on 96 attempts for an incredible average of 71%. Carey, on the other hand, made 53 attempts to steal a base and slid to safely 51 times for a head-shaking 96% average. Cobb failed 58 times to Carey's 2. Cobb attempted to steal 81 more times than Carey. But the key to Cobb's legacy is that those 81 additional attempts produced 44 more stolen bases. Cobb risked failure 81 more times than his closest rival and history has declared him as one of the greatest base runners of all times.

Do not be discouraged – learn to conquer the failure factor. Don't stop trying if you experience difficulties. Perseverance, diligence, and persistence enabled Cobb to overcome the failure factor.

One more quick baseball example of rising above the failure factor. The same era of history brought onto the stage the greatest hitter of the early 1900s (and maybe of all times) the Sultan of Swat, the Great Bambino – Babe Ruth. He ended his career with a staggering 714 home runs – a record that stood until 1974. In 1920, Ruth's first year with the New York Yankees, he hit 54 home runs, the next year he smacked 59 homers and in 1927 he outdid himself propelling the ball over the fence 60 times in one season.

However, Babe Ruth also held another record for decades – the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs but he struck out 1,330 times. It never seemed to bother him when he was in a batting slump – he kept swinging the bat. His philosophy was summed up in the following statement attributed to him, “I realize that the law of averages will catch up if I just keep swinging. In fact, when I'm in a slump, I feel sorry for the pitcher because I know that sooner or later he's going to pay for it.” Never give up, do not be discouraged.

Failing is a part of leadership. Learning from failing is the cure to failure. Failure is giving up – not getting up. When we blow it, if we get up, dust off the dirt of the unsuccessful slide, learn from the mistake, and change our perspective, failing can result in improved strategy, greater wisdom in decision making, and renewed courage to try again. I imagine that these great baseball players of the past gained their confidence from within, a self confidence that relied upon their own skills. Joshua's secret is the complete opposite – “do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

If you find yourself discouraged today, pick up the bat and come to the plate. God has called his leaders to be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified (the fear factor); do not be discouraged (the failure factor) because God is with those whom He has called.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Fear Factor

The opening chapter of the book of Joshua is one of my favorite in the entire Bible. It is a chapter of hope and inspiration. Joshua must take over the leadership role from Moses. The greatest leader in the history of the Jewish people; the mediator who provided the 10 Commandments from God Himself; the human voice calling down the 10 plagues on the nation of Egypt; the leader at the parting of the Red Sea; and redeemer of the people out of the slavery in the land of the pyramids. How do you follow a leader like that? How do you fill the sandals of a legend? How do you take over after 40 years of Moses' impact?

God gently and yet firmly promises His hand of success to Joshua as the new leader stands firm on God's word. The first chapter records God's exhortation to Joshua to be strong and courageous three times in just four verses (1:6-9).

I especially like Joshua 1:9 because it implies two areas of struggle for Joshua. Both of which ring in my ears with the sounds of reality. This passage reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Notice the two factors that will attempt to rob the leader of strength and courage: the fear factor and the failure factor. This blog will explore the first factor....stay tuned for the failure factor in the days ahead.

The Fear Factor: do not be terrified. After 40 years of wandering, it is now time to enter the promised land and conquer the enemies that lie ahead. Joshua has been to the land (one of the original spies) and seen the giants up close and personal. After so many years of gathering manna it was now time to pick up weapons and claim the inheritance.

As I read this passage, the TV show, The Fear Factor, quickly came to mind. This reality show brought contestants together to face their fears head on. Each show was made up of three stunts. The first stunt was a physical stunt testing the fear of physical inadequacies (jumping from one building to another, holding on to a rope extended from a helicopter flying 50 feet above a lake). The second stunt was aimed more at the mental challenges of fear. Eating live bugs, or immersing one's entire body in disgusting or intimidating animals (in a tank with alligators, lying in a box filled with tarantulas). The last fear usually consisted of some extreme type of stunt seen in an action film involving heights, water and vehicles.

Scripture does not delineate Joshua's fears but I can think of at least three (just like the show) that would be good possibilities. First, the fear of human inability. Joshua was just a man following in the shadow of the great Moses. Did he have the talents needed to lead the people? Were his skills adequate to do the job? Second, the fear of doubt. Did Joshua really hear the call of God on his life? Maybe it was just some bad baloney (spoiled manna). Maybe someone younger should be taking charge. Were his ideas too old? Was his physical body able to keep up with the challenges ahead? Third, the fear of the plan. Will his plan really work? As the leader, he will have to make an incredible amount of decisions that will affect thousands if not millions of people. Was his plan strong enough to stand up against the enemies of the land?

The last part of Joshua 1:9 gives the assurance and solution to the Fear Factor. Joshua can be strong and courageous because of God's presence with the leader. “Do not be terrified....for the Lord your God will be with you...” Notice the little term for. Whenever I see it in the Bible I read it for the f(ollowing) o(bvious) r(eason). For is a term that prepares its readers to hear the reason for the previous declaration. Don't be afraid – why? For the following obvious reason – God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua was capable. His talents and skills were adequate. Why? Not because he possessed some superhuman power; not because he was smarter than the enemy; not because his armies were stronger than the giants of the land. Rather it was because God was going to be with him wherever he went.

Joshua's plan would be successful not because of his great strategic insight; not because of the projections and statistical analysis of a research team; not because superior planning (marching around a city seven times and then blowing trumpets is not included in the top ten military approaches). No, the plan will work because the Lord his God was going with him.

Joshua's call was real. Verse 9 begins. “Have I not commanded you?” This five word rhetorical question is so powerful.

Have I” - God, the Creator/Sustainer/Sovereign History Maker/Almighty One

not commanded” - no suggestion here; no guidelines; these are orders, God told him, He is requiring him to lead the people.

you” - not Caleb, not your best friend, not the priest – you. The call is personal, individual – it is just you and ME. And I will be with you wherever you go.

These are great words for leaders who are following after God. I would encourage any leader to read this first chapter in Joshua. Note the heart of the leader; pay attention to the requirement of obedience to God's word; and draw strength and courage from God's promises.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Basketball 101

I love basketball. I am a fan from the couch; and in my younger days I thoroughly enjoyed running up and down the court looking for the assist or setting up for my jump shot. I got more of a charge out of making a good pass than I did out of scoring points. Playing defense was like playing a chess match. My goal was to outguess the offensive player in order to intercept a pass, block a shot or steal the ball. I sure experienced my share of fouls, turnovers, and missed layups, but all-in-all the game of basketball is such a great team sport demanding total collaboration.

I grew up in West Virginia and I remember playing organized basketball on my school’s team. We had a group of talented players, but we never won the championship because we never really functioned as a team. We had two major stars (Randy and Curtis) – they were the best ball handlers, the best shooters, and the fastest players in the school. They also had the biggest egos, the greatest need to score the most points, and the deepest desire to be in the spotlight. Both of them were black holes – you could pass them the ball but once the ball went to them, it never came back out – they could be counted on to shoot the ball from any angle and any spot on the court. They were also the first to complain when another player missed a shot or made a mistake. Victory was always their crowning moment while defeat was always someone else’s mistake.

Our school did not lack for talent but they experienced a dearth of team players. Randy and Curtis held all the individual statistics and rode the crest of basketball stardom. But there were one or two other schools, with less talent but more cooperation, that beat us every year.

Effective organizations are very much the same way. Most often the competitive advantage that some companies have over others is not the level of talent, or the star CEO. It is rather the buy-in of the people and the shared vision they have toward a common goal. Teamwork within an organization is one of the keys to success. The star can often cause discontent and jealousy. A massive ego usually results in a decrease in the motivation of others. Hogging the praise and failing to share the ball with teammates, tends to turn unity into a group of silos – each employee looking out for number one.

One of the things I love about basketball is the need for all five players to perform as a unit. A rebound leads to a kick out pass which results in a fast break that ends in a great pass for a slam dunk. I so enjoy a half court offense that whips the ball around the perimeter, then inside, then back out for the open three-point shot. I have seen organizations function this way as well. Discussions bounce back and forth with a variety of opinions and perspective being shared then agreement is solidified which leads to great solidarity in the decision. I have seen team members yielding their personal agendas for the benefit of the company. I have watched effective leaders as they parcel out the praise to many for the roles played in the overall success of a project. Team is powerful when it works. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Leadership Collage

Leadership is the dynamic, interactive process of creating, communicating and transforming vision into reality. With this working definition in mind, leadership takes on the aura of metamorphosis – the changing of the present into a better tomorrow.....the moving forward with greater excellence.....the growing and maturing of innovation.

Let me suggest a few pictures of leadership that might help define the multifaceted layers of this abstract concept. Leadership gives direction like a compass. As an organization strives to find its way in the midst of a foggy forest, leadership can point the people to true north. A compass is not influenced by the opinion of others or the pressure of peers; it is based upon a constant reliance on the pull of absolute truth.

Leadership provides light within the shadows of doubt and the darkness of despair. Leadership is like a lighthouse projecting the bright beam of guidance to ships that need a sense of security. Illuminating the shore and the danger of the rocky coast, the lighthouse provides a warning of the unseen and shouts of clarity in the storms of uncertainty.

Effective leadership creates a culture of excellence. Leadership shapes the priorities and mission of the organization. Leadership is like the potter who fashions a lump of clay into a vessel of great value. Like the potter at the wheel, so a dynamic leader carefully forms and shapes the tasks, and the agenda, and the people, and the program of the organization. Leadership involves creativity and an eye for quality. The potter holds great power in his/her hands... the power to craft and the power to destroy... the power to shape or the power to crush. Effective leadership exercises the power of symmetry and balance.

Leadership takes people from the present into the future aligning them with a vision that yields great fruit. Leadership has destination at its core. Leadership is like a bridge. Having the opportunity to hike the Grand Canyon about a year ago, I was so impressed with the topography of the environment. At times the rugged cliffs were impassible if it were not for a bridge that spans the chasm allowing the hiker a safe path to follow. To traverse the Colorado River without a bridge would be treacherous at best and deadly without care. Leadership plays the role of a bridge allowing an organization to move from today to a better tomorrow.
Leadership also adds adventure and excitement to an organization. Leadership brings about change, challenges people to take a certain amount of risk, and provides the expertise for a safe arrival at the journey's end. Leadership is like a jet pilot. I have never touched a jet fighter, let alone flown with an air force pilot, but just watching the Thunderbirds from the ground takes my breath away. The speed, the accuracy, the precision, and the excitement of those jets flying in formation is thrilling to watch. Leadership has a way of offering that kind of adventure to a group of people. The more the organization trusts the leader, the faster the plane can fly. The greater the skill of the leader, the more accurate is the flight toward the destination, and the greater the commitment to the mission, the greater the thrill of the ride.

Finally, every significant organization has a final product, an end goal, a bull's eye of focus. Leadership needs to design a blueprint for success. Leadership is like an architect. A vision is not a nebulous blob or a fuzzy picture. Vision has clarity, focus, and definition. Leadership draws the floor plans...leadership creates the building... leadership constructs the infrastructure... leadership lays the foundation, raises the walls, places the rafters, plumbs, wires, paints and furnishes the rooms.

Leadership is quite difficult to define. Sometimes a word-picture paints an image that captures an aspect of leadership. And sometimes that picture resonates with meaning that helps clarify the abstract. If you have such a word-picture, I would love to hear from you.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Anatomy of Authentic Leadership Pt.2

In my last blog submission, the topic of integrity and authenticity was explored using the metaphor of the human body. The Bible utilizes this picture in the book of Proverbs as Solomon provides wisdom that is so relevant to today's leader. In part one of this two-part reflection, I gave some quick comments on the first two parts of the body mentioned by Solomon: the ears and the heart. Let's complete the picture by touching on the last three aspects of his anatomical portrait of leadership.

“Pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is a wellspring of life.
Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead. Fix your gaze directly before you.
Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” Proverbs 4:22 – 27.

Pay attention...listen closely – the ears! Above all else, guard your heart as a wellspring of life – the heart! Solomon continues, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” - the mouth.

Perversity is taking what is good and proper and turning it into something evil. I can think of nothing easier than using words to do just that; twisting the truth to say something that is misleading; exaggerating the facts until reality is not to be found (the little fish is all of a sudden a record catch); the sarcastic comment that turns excitement into criticism, announcements into argument, optimism into opposition. Corrupt talk manifests itself in so many different ways – lies, slander, gossip, teasing, bullying, intimidation, manipulation, rationalization, and even false flattery. Did you notice Solomon's intensity in his exhortation – keep this kind of talk far from your lips. Don't get close to it!

There are lots of diseases of the mouth from gingivitis to stomatitis to candidiasis to cheilitis to burning mouth syndrome to cancer, but Solomon warns of the spiritual disease that I have called Acid Tongue. Another disease that will corrupt the anatomy of authenticity. 

The eyes - “Let your eyes look straight ahead. Fix your gaze directly before you.” The disease of Wandering Eyes can cause spiritual blindness. Turing your eyes to the right or to the left takes your focus off the straight and narrow path. As we walk down through life, there are so many temptations that are calling our name. It is much like my experience at the Mercado in the Dominican Republic. The cross between a flea market and a carnival, the Mercado is filled with vendors and tourists all making deals for the best prices on the merchandise. Every price is subject to barter and every offer is open to a counter offer. Walking down the narrow aisle ways is an adventure in itself, Every vendor is calling out for your attention. Every booth is inviting you in to see the very best prices. Every shop owner is vying for your eyes. So it is in life, so it is in leadership. Many voices calling out wanting you to look their way.

This powerful verse in Proverbs reminds me of one of my favorite songs written by Helen H. Lemmel – not because of the melody as much as for the words, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Sandi Patti in her song, “Upon This Rock”, puts it this way: “When others see with earthly eye just what they want to see, you will see the things that never die; you will know and recognize by simple child-like faith the priceless truth that others will deny.”

The feet – four phrases of Solomon spell out four keys for the leader. First, “make level paths”- every authentic leader must make deep commitments to doing the right thing. The temptation to cut corners must be avoided to maintain integrity. Second, “take only ways that are firm”- a leader's decisions must be based on the universal truth of God's word. The world view of the leader must be the rock, the sounding board, the scale of justice that prevails in the board room, the office, and at home. Three, “do not serve” - straying to the left or to the right (first with the eyes and now with the feet) leads into disobedience, sin, and failure. Reputation takes a lifetime to build and only one foolish mistake to destroy. Four, “keep your foot from evil” - a leader must be aware of who he is and where he is going. I was out jogging the other day and I was just not paying attention to where I was going. The next thing I knew, I was ankle deep in the mud. The leader must run the race with a great sensitivity to where he is placing his feet. The spiritual disease of Crooked Feet can cause the leader to trip and fall, greatly impede his progress, or derail him off the narrow track.

The ears – the filter of advice and philosophy. The heart – the emotions of the leader. The mouth – the words that edify or destroy one's ministry. The eyes – the ability to focus on the mission and vision of life. The feet – the path of action that transforms a leader's vision into reality. Avoid the diseases and lead with authenticity and integrity.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Anatomy of Authentic Leadership

Most leaders desire to lead with integrity. I know of very few individuals that use their office of leadership to intentionally rob, cheat or slander others. And yet, despite good intentions, some leaders find themselves in the midst of compromise.... some make small choices that lead to other small choices that open the door to temptations that lead to destruction. How do leaders safeguard against moral and ethical failure? Having recently read a great book written by a wise monarch, this very question seemed to be at the core of his comments.

The writer uses the human body as an object lesson for protecting one's integrity. The monarch is King Solomon and the great book is Proverbs. Listen to his incredible advice:

Pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is a wellspring of life.
Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead. Fix your gaze directly before you.
Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right of the left; keep your foot from evil” Proverbs 4:22 – 27.

Notice in this charge how the total man is addressed. Failure can occur in so many ways and the battle for integrity can be fought on a diversity of fronts. Solomon mentions five parts of the body that must be readied for the war of ethics: the ear, the heart, the mouth, the eyes and the feet. These five key areas make up the anatomy of integrity. Let quickly look at each one.
The ear is the first mentioned because without the ear, no advice can be heard...without hearing there can be not application. “Pay attention...listen closely.” Sure sounds like a mom/dad correcting their child during those early years of life. Sounds a lot like a coach who is able to see a flaw in an athlete's game. Sounds like a teacher passionately communicating his/her love for reality. Notice that the exhortation is much more than just hearing the words; it is focusing, understanding, comprehending, wrapping one's mind around the depth of the ramifications of the attention...listen closely. As we strive for integrity in our leadership we must strive to avoid the dreaded disease called degenerating eustachian tubes or clogged ear – “he who has an ear, let him listen to what the Spirit says to the church” (Rev. 2:7).

Once those words make it into your ears, notice how they travel – “do not let them out of your sight” – they need to navigate to your eyes; “keep them within your heart” - they need to sink deep within the innermost part of your being. How important and powerful are these words of truth? They are life to those who find them (not just hear them but discover them, engage them, apply them) and they are health to the whole body.

The heart is of prime importance in the anatomy of integrity. Solomon highlights the priority of the heart by imploring his reader, “Above all else, guard your heart.” The seat of emotion and passion drives so much of life – compassion, love, gentleness, kindness, mercy all flow from the heart. And yet Jeremiah says that the heart of man is desperately wicked. And so, housed in the heart is also jealousy, lust, greed, and pride. And so top priority is to guard the heart, to protect the emotions and to propagate purity in the control center of our beings. When a life is guided by an unguarded heart, misaligned or wrong emotion begin to make choices that the intellect would never desire. Immoral and unethical decisions are often made when the emotions are in control and consequences are just not thought through.

The heart is described as the wellspring of life. When you consider the positive emotions found in man, (joy, peace, happiness, love, compassion, enthusiasm, humor, excitement, anticipation, fulfillment, curiosity, determination, etc.) it is easy to see how the heart is the source of life's satisfactions. Out of the heart flows one's zeal of life, the zest for the future, and the zip of the present. One of the nation's leading causes of death is heart disease (coronary heart disease (CHD) is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart) – so in leadership one of the greatest causes of failure is CHD (calcified heart disease) as the wellspring of life is replaced with attitudes and emotions of lust, evil, death and destruction.

Listen and pay attention with ears of faith! Make guarding the heart a priority! Next blog – we take a quick look at the final three aspects of the anatomy of integrity: the mouth, the eyes, and the feet.