Lasting strategies for Rising Leaders
David C. Cook, 2010, 255 pp. ISBN 978-1-4347-6749-3
Roger Parrott is the president of Belhaven College. He says, we live in a quick-fix, immediate-impact, short-view world. But we serve a longview God. (9)
Today’s rising leaders have inherited a quick-results culture. They have been indoctrinated to believe immediate gains trump long-term consequences. But “…genuine transformation is gained through envisioning the longview implications of every leadership action.” (11) When we aim for the longview, we develop a whole different class of skills, relationships and priorities to guide us for a lifetime of leadership. (15) We must internalize the longview way to lead, live, work, and relate to each other. (17)
1. Lead as if You’ll Be There Forever
“The most public firings of CEOs seem to nearly always reflect a pattern of cheers for that leader through a relatively short period of repeated quarterly reports and then a startling discovery by the board of serious foundational issues gone awry. But these same boards have demanded, rewarded, and praised immediate success at all costs.” (24) “The commitment to lead with a longview will transform how you approach leadership more so than any other shift you could make.” (25) “Every leader’s responsibility is to fulfill a calling rather than gratify immediate desires.” (27) And that long-range view must extend all the way into eternity.
2. Deflate Your Ego to Expand Your Influence
Ego expresses character issues ranging from selfishness to inferiority. Ego must be purposefully eradicated. Your authenticity is much more effective than your ego in motivating those you serve. The ego-inflated leader may live flamboyantly, inflate vision, act invincible, ignore critics, crave adrenaline, exaggerate actions, become sensitive, attract groupies, demand appreciation, require empathy, listen poorly, crave competition, control obsessively, and/or ignore boundaries.
Alternatively statesmen redirect attention outward. They are always learning, drawing out new perspective, information and ideas. If you struggle with ego issues, deal with them by working to keep quiet and listen, by seeking balance through self examination, and by confronting the sin of pride.
3. Applause Lasts for a Moment, but Leadership Is for a Lifetime
Christian leaders need to get past the need for recognition. A core quality of leadership is to give away the credit and shoulder the bad news yourself. Giving others credit never hurts a leader in the long run but hoarding the credit always does. Showing gratitude is key to fostering contentment in the workplace and happiness in the other areas of life.
Train your vision to notice opportunities to give others credit. Be genuine and credible. Be personal and use a variety of methods—a telephone call or email, a chat in the hall, a short handwritten note. Pray for and with a person you appreciate in a way that fits their comfort zone. Be sure that it isn’t self-serving. Avoid giving credit in ways that obligate others to you.
Bear the burden of the bad news. Tell others about it directly, truthfully (without underplaying, spinning, or discounting the challenge), and discreetly (where you must correct someone).
4. Vulnerability May Get You in, but Humility Keeps You There
Don’t be too vulnerable. Exposing your struggles to demonstrate vulnerability diminishes you and raises questions about your leadership. “Leaders who purposefully expose their liabilities limit their sphere of influence….” (64) Establish humility without offering vulnerability. Perhaps the most important characteristic in a top leader is a teachable spirit, willingness to learn from those around him. Leaders who have stopped learning from coworkers have passed their peak of effectiveness.
5. Renewal: The Energy Drink of Lasting Leadership
When you have problem issues with people, don’t hide behind a policy: deal with the individual. When you develop policies, make sure the people who will be affected are involved and that the policy actually serves your good employees. Imagine in advance what new issues a policy will create and commit to live by the policy yourself.
6. The Bookends of a Leader’s Character: Evaluation and Accountability
When evaluation is used like a hammer, it is ineffective, discouraging, and depleting. It must be more than a check-off item on a to-do list. It “should produce something to change, something to celebrate, something to learn, and something to earn.” (104) “An unused evaluation process is a lot like a shadow—hovering in the background and serving no meaningful purpose.” If you wait to use it until you need it, it’s too late.
Evaluation should be a scheduled, systematic process with a formal evaluation annually and a less formal insight exchange quarterly. It should be flexible, to fit the person being evaluated, rather than a fixed set of categories with numbers. It should be two-way, including discussion of how the boss and other team members can be more helpful to the person being evaluated. Issues demanding attention should be addressed specifically with benchmarks for change. Overall, evaluations should bring constructive change, building up the individual and organization rather than tearing them down.
Accountability requires a desire to be accountable. Without it, we tend to drift toward mediocrity. Lack of accountability is the cause of downfall of many ministry leaders, especially when they begin to feel they are above it.
7. Preempting the Stickiest Challenge of Long-Term Leadership
Conflicts of interest are likely to arise in any ministry. Some people are knowingly or unknowingly, likely to personally benefit, or to influence or manipulate your organization. Don’t hesitate. Acknowledge it and nip it in the bud. Anticipate and investigate potential situations. Ask some questions. Would it be awkward to explain this? Would it make alternative options more difficult in the future? Am I making a choice because of personal benefit?
It is easier to identify the possibility than to take action. Leaders are optimists who tend to assume it will all work out OK. They ignore the issue because of the short-term benefits or the complexity of the situation. They delay because it may not become a difficulty or because it requires additional effort to address the issue.
Transparency is the key. “Whenever relationships are hidden, unspoken, or guarded they will become a problem, while difficulty is usually avoided if issues are fully disclosed, accountable, and discussed.” (132) Follow up the conversation with a written summary to ensure understanding and expectations. Include two bankers and two lawyers on the board. They are paid to anticipate problems. Write a conflict-of-interest policy statement. (Parrott includes an example.)
8. Planning Will Drain the Life from Your Ministry Plan
Parrott recommends against a comprehensive 10-year plan. In order to satisfy every constituency it becomes a huge combination of everything and marginalizes your core ministry strengths. Instead, develop a systematic operating plan and a separate “opportunity agenda” that tracks new initiatives not projected in the operational plan. God often provides serendipitous opportunities that cannot be predicted.
The most significant things that happen to most organizations aren’t planned. Your plan is built on a set of assumptions about an unpredictable future. You can only see a year or two down the road. Outcomes invariably fall short of a comprehensive plan and those who prepared it have often moved on.
Keep your focus on your core strengths. Set aside resources for responding quickly to opportunities. Develop a team capable of handling opportunity. Do the planning at the level closest to the challenges and opportunities. Dream more and plan less. Spend more time dreaming, praying, and listening to what God wants for you.
9. Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon and in the Rearview Mirror
The essential gift necessary for leadership is the ability to look over the horizon. Looking over the horizon and in the rearview mirror means “a leadership lifestyle of looking back to remember, reflect, recover, and resolve, while watching ahead to anticipate, avoid, assure, and adjust.” (155)
Looking back will help you avoid the crashes of the past, learn from your successes, and remember God’s care. You can seek insight from the past, learning from painful experiences, reflecting on relationship patterns and missed opportunities. You can also determine what ministry initiatives to eliminate, an important step often neglected.
Looking ahead, we can anticipate problems and solutions, envision several steps in advance the likely chain reaction of outcomes, discover what to avoid, assure others of what is likely to happen, and make adjustments in the course to stay on track.
“We have about one-third of our energy to push toward the task of going forward, one-third to put toward maintaining balance in life, and one-third of our energy that is in reserve for the occasional times when the other two-thirds demand too much strength. Thus, if a person is facing a time of exceptionally heavy focus at work, the extra energy needed will come from the middle third of the maintenance supply until that gets drawn down so far that the final third of energy reserve must be tapped. Or if there is a crisis in one’s family, health, or spiritual life, energy gets pulled from the job until there is not any more to siphon, and the reserve must once again be accessed.” “But we can only go so long without refilling the reserve until our health, disposition, and circumstances begin to suffer.” (159, 60)
10. Shepherding a Vision Without Scaring Away the Flock
“Leadership is pushing out the boundaries and securing the territory. As leaders, we must take our followers with us—not just explore on our own, leaving them behind to cheer our adventures.” (170) “Good leaders must envision, probe, and then explore new opportunities.” “But…they always return to inspire, lead, and equip others who can follow them and fully utilize the leader’s advances.” (171) “The longview leader must shepherd others toward the best future. The vision must be communicated passionately and understandably. Then the way forward must be laid realistically and personally.” (174) Intermediate objectives and steps must be established and pursued.
“A great idea is not enough to convince people to join you until they are shown how it impacts them specifically.” (183) Share ideas with critics before decisions are made because the decision can be improved by their understanding before the directions are set in stone. Bring critics into the circle early rather than attempting to shut them out. There is usually something useful to be learned from even the most unfair, unreasonable, and unfounded criticisms. (184)
Communicate your vision with your heart, with a trustworthy and loving spirit, sharing openly, consistently, respectfully, protectively, and simply. With transparency encourage a generous give-and-take. Respect each viewpoint and provide space for individuals to work through their issues. Protect core ministry values and make it clear you are doing so. Clarify your ideas so simply that people can take them home and explain them to their family.
11. Good Ideas Stand Up to the Light of Day
“Big, fresh ideas are exciting to leaders, but they must also have the humility to offer up their ideas for scrutiny.” (194) This protects the organization from their oversights and creates a safe place for the best ideas to flourish. Leaders must welcome rather than fear the scrutiny of their ideas.
Some questions to ask about your exciting ideas. Have I jettisoned my possessiveness so that now it is ‘our’ idea instead of my idea? We can’t examine it fairly while we are clutching it tightly. Has the emotion dissipated? We can’t examine it clearly while our emotions blur our perspective. Has the implementation been detailed and shown it to be feasible? Have the logjams been cleared or do we need to wait longer rather than force a solution? Is my intuition confirmed by others who can judge when it feels right?
“If an idea is worthy, it will withstand scrutiny, but if it can’t stand up to the light of evaluation, there is no way it can stand the test of time.” (208)
12. Creating a Longview Culture
“The most distinctive corporate cultures can be summarized in a single word: Starbucks is mellow; Disney is happy; McDonald’s is consistent; Wal-Mart is inexpensive; Google is experimental; Volvo is safe; Apple is innovative; Southwest is fun.” (216)
Organizational culture is the fusing and interplay of values, traditions, style, priorities, energy, worldview, attitudes, and assumptions. It is more often inherently understood and informally passed on rather than articulated and promoted. It is as much about emotion and attitude as it is about facts and decisions.” (216-17)
“The most critical investment a leader can make in a ministry is to build a healthy organizational culture.” (218) “It can be done, but it is accomplished only with skill, wisdom, courage, determination, humility, and prayer.” (218)
To change the culture, work within the existing culture until you can send clear signals that you appreciate and respect it. Recognize its strengths and uphold them publicly. Plan to take plenty of time—years. Demonstrate agreement with core values and foundational commitments of the organization. Articulate shared values. Honor traditions and symbols.
Model what you expect and don’t tolerate what you won’t. This is a pivotal step. Leaders will tend to get the behaviors they model but the behaviors will become ingrained through what the leader tolerates. Hire the right people and require them to behave in a way consistent with organization values. “Modeling excellence publicly while accepting something else privately will produce an outcome that follows the lowest standard of the two.” (226) Celebrate successes. Explain anticipated organizational culture changes. Address the challenge; respond with a call to an organizational shift; and share a specific implementation plan including specific actions to fix what is broken. Infuse a small highly effective and influential team who can carry the standard and commit to sustain the culture shift over the long term. Go and visit models of the characteristics you desire to incorporate. See how they do it. Take a pause before you start a second round of culture changes.
13. Catching the Wind of God
“I am convinced one of the core problems of evangelical leaders is that too often we’ve stopped trying to catch the wind of God in our sails because we’ve become fairly effective at creating our own independent power to get God’s work done.” (237) “…we will miss catching the wind of God when our motors are revved rather than our sails mended.” (237) “Are you building a sailboat that will catch the wind of God, or are you only fine-tuning the engine on your powerboat so that you can keep going no matter which way the wind is blowing? The powerboat framework is antithetical to the longview.” (237)
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