Monday, May 17, 2010

Chapter 11 – Visionary Leadership

There's a lot about this book that I love. I'm realizing that one of the things that I love about it is that it is written, ostensibly, by a non-Christian. Before you cry foul and claim that the Program Director has lost his mind, hear me out.

We recognize and proclaim that it's only by God's unending Grace and His Merciful guidance that we are able to do what we do. We know that His example of servant leadership, set by His Son, is the best (and only!) example we can follow…

BUT, there are times when seeing things from a non-Christian perspective allows us to gain some crucial insight we might miss from inside the bubble of Christian culture. I think that this chapter is one of those times.

"A good team is far more than a group of people committed to a common goal." (108)

A group of people can be committed to a common goal and get there without really having a vision. For example, recently, my friends and I had the common goal of going to a Twins game. We didn't have a vision for the evening, or really even a plan for how it would all work out, but we made it to the game on time and had a great evening. In other words, we achieved our goal. BUT, other than the few hours of fun and some memories that will last for a while, there was little else that came out of our evening.

This summer, we can reach the common goal of serving our partners while developing character in the team members. I'm confident that all of our teams this summer will reach that goal. The question is, will it matter?

Vision asks the question: "how will the world look differently for us having accomplished our ministry?" In other words, if we are 100% successful in achieving our vision for this summer, what will it look like?

Read the following quote from CTI's Summer Program Vision:

"Ideally, each young person will leave the summer program with a more missional mindset, and will return home to impact their churches and communities through their deepening character and continuing desire to embrace ministry and discipleship as lifelong commitments."

Reflection Question #1: How will you emphasize the idea of being more than just a group of people committed to a common goal? How will you help make CTI's vision for our summer program happen?

One of the key assets I look for in leaders is their ability to communicate clearly.

Graham points out that a crucial part of visionary leadership is not just coming up with a clear vision, but also communicating it concisely.

Think back to fulltime training last August. You may not realize this, but Chris and I (as well as the other trainers) were constantly stating and restating the vision of the program for you. We'd say it in different ways and through different voices, but the vision always remained the same.



We obviously have a vision for the entire summer program, but you'll need to work to come up with your vision for the people you're impacting this summer. Once you have the vision, the challenge then becomes communicating it ways that are understandable, memorable, and implementable.

Here in the office, we've boiled our vision down to two main statements:

"Supporting global mission and ministry through the impact of music"

…and…

"Developing Christian leadership and character in young musicians"

They hang on our office walls. They reside at the bottom of our letterhead. They permeate all that we do.


Reflection Question #2: What communication barriers/struggles will you need to overcome as a leader? How will you communicate your vision to those you lead?

In my mind, the world's expert on visionary leadership is Andy Stanley. I'd like to share a few thoughts from his book, Visioneering, as a way to round out this week's post.

Everybody ends up somewhere in life. You can get there on purpose.

This statement is another way of saying what Graham said in the quote I highlighted above. This summer, go forward with a purpose.

Visioneering requires patience, investigation, and planning. Visioneering requires faith in God's ability to work behind the scenes. Confidence that he will orchestrate what he has originated.

Visionary leadership doesn't happen by accident. Stanley highlights here the need for both planning (we have to do our part) and faith (we have to trust that God's going to do His part).

Things won't always work out the way you expect them to. Be careful not to confuse your plans with God's vision. Remember, plans are often revised. Don't be afraid to alter your strategy as circumstances around you change.

In other words, the vision never changes… but, the way you accomplish it might change. Things will happen (equipment failures, travel issues, team member problems) and you will have to react, but always ask yourself the question: is this fulfilling our vision?

At the end of Chapter 11 in Outdoor Leadership, Graham points out that anyone can develop and communicate a vision. He mentions that some people may struggle, and he advocates for practicing on yourself before you implement this strategy with a group.

Reflection #3: Come up with a small/simple vision for yourself as a way of practicing. Share with us both your vision and how you intend to achieve it. Get used to asking yourself the question: is this vision-fulfilling behavior?


 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chapter 8: Taking responsibility

Read chapter 8 before reading this blog post.

"… not only about your duties and obligations… it's about taking full charge of your impact on other people…"

This chapter seems to assert that the impact our leadership has on those around us is important enough to qualify as an "added benefit." For us though, this concept is much closer to "mission critical." Our leadership is all about impacting other people. We may therefore need to give Graham's words a little more weight than he gives them himself.

On page 79, for example, he uses a story to illustrate how a leader might not ever see much of the impact their leadership has on the rest of someone's life. This "you never know" possibility is a kind of side-benefit for Graham's purposes, but it's central to the vision for us: "developing Christian leadership and character in young musicians."

You may not see some of the results of taking responsibility for your leadership, but we fully expect God to use your leadership in the CTI-specific experience to impact areas of our team member's lives that won't even show up on the radar this summer. Bottom line: don't underestimate the importance of such opportunities when they don't seem relevant to the moment. Investing in people will always be relevant to our mission, even if doing so doesn't seem to contribute towards the success of any immediate objective.

Add your own comments to this point as reflection question #1

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"Leadership is a contract, and you're responsible for honoring your end of it."

If we're all really honest, I think we'd admit that this isn't the first place our mind goes when we think about leadership. There's always a temptation to let that entitlement bug creep in and convince us that leadership is, first and foremost, a status that we've earned by putting in our time and good behavior, or a privilege and authority that we deserve because of our depth of experience in a particular area.

It's a sober reminder to me to read sentences like "People expect you to lead, and in return, give you the authority to do so." Leadership is, at least in part, something that is given to us by those we lead. We should therefore take particular note of our obligations in this transaction.

Graham lists them as:

  1. The safety and well-being of participants;
  2. Helping the group reach its goals;
  3. Helping create a quality experience;
  4. Meeting certain legal requirements.


We don't need to spend any time on that last one (but, for your peace of mind, we do employ the kind of waivers described in the book.) As far as the safety and well-being of our participants goes, we're very diligent about this in our tour preparation. You also need to apply your common sense, of course, if you're leading a team, and it would be wise of you to help your co-leader understand this part of the "leadership contract" through your meetings with them as they will serve as your "competent person at the other end."

Let's take a deeper look at the middle two points: "Helping the group achieve its goals" and "Helping create a quality experience."

Reflection question #2: Recalling the definition of leadership that we highlighted in week 1: "Leadership is the capacity to move others towards goals shared with you, with a focus and competency they would not achieve on their own", what goals do you think your leadership should help whatever group you are leading to achieve?

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The third point, "helping create a quality experience", is the most critical one in my mind. This involves taking responsibility for making the quality of the experience as high as possible for those we lead, as Graham has noted.

He highlighted a few "basic responsibilities for making a trip 'fun'. I found two to be noteworthy for our purposes: building and maintaining positive relationships inside the team, and being a coach as well as a leader. I interpreted this last one not to mean that we should try to pass on our "superior" knowledge or ability in any situation the team encounters (which would be the definition of teaching, not coaching,) but that we should constantly be on the lookout for ways that our team members can test and improve their abilities and skills.

To me this means things like challenging people to refine their testimonies (and to actually give them,) to lead a devotion, to step out and engage people after a concert, to interact with the "unlovelables" in the culture, to "greenline", and in other ways within the bounds of common sense, to not sacrifice the learning opportunities that might result in less "effectiveness" in outward ministry.

I am confident that all of you will embrace this responsibility fully. The hardest part of helping to create a positive experience is not knowing how to begin... it is understanding where our responsibility ends, and learning to be okay with that. The following quote from Robert Birkby ranks as one of my top 5 excerpts from this book:

"Leaders can inspire, teach, entertain, and in many other ways shape the framework upon which an adventure can unfold. Within that framework, however, group members must bear much of the responsibility for the quality of their own experiences. Leaders offer opportunities, but then it is up to those they are leading to make of those opportunities what they will. The choice of having a fantastic experience instead of a disappointing failure is often a matter of perception, both at the moment it is occurring and in hindsight, but the choice is definitely there for each group member to make."


I include this quote as a point of encouragement. It largely speaks for itself. While your responsibilities as a team leader do include measurables like presenting the vision to the team, providing them with direction and encouragement, and serving our partners and their needs while ensuring the safety and health of the team, your internal responsibility is largely to cultivate an environment in which team members are presented with opportunities for spiritual and personal growth. What they do, or don't do, with those opportunities, is outside the scope of your responsibility, because it is outside of your control. And it should be.

We cannot force people to choose the things we think (or even know) are in their best interest. There is, of course, an obvious spiritual parallel here, because this is exactly how God "leads" us. And as surely as it breaks His heart when we choose the ways that He does not want us to choose, it will break yours when your team members do likewise. And yet God may still use the outcome of their choices to form them in the image of His son.

It is understandable that we in leadership often accept too much of the blame for any dissatisfaction among the people we lead, because we understand that we bear much responsible for the quality of their experience. Don't lose sight of the fact that they also bear responsibility for it. And remember that when one person chooses poorly, you still have an obligation to lead the rest of the team. Don't allow the poor choices of a few to derail your focus on giving everyone else the opportunity to choose well.

Add your own comments to this point (if you'd like) as reflection question #3

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There were a few other good points in this chapter that I opted not to dig into. If you have anything to share on one of the three points below, please do so as reflection question #4,

-Pp 76-77: Your thoughts, feelings and behaviors affect the world around you (taking responsibility for the emotional spillover from one part of your life into another.)


-P. 82: Don't stand on your authority for the sole purpose of getting your way. (Why? It inhibits the growth of others!)

-Pp. 82-83: Being a good follower. Serving as a model for the supportive "followership" you appreciate when you are in charge.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Week 4 – Caring Leadership


 

Please read Chapter 7 before reading the rest of this post.


 


 

Caring: the willingness to put yourself in another's shoes, to feel compassion, to accept another's well-being as a priority of your own.


 

I have to admit that this chapter of Graham's book is one of the more exciting ones for me to read and react to. I think that this is an area of leadership that many people look past. In my opinion, it's nearly impossible to overestimate the importance of caring leadership.


 

One of my biggest "soapboxes" about leadership is the idea that you have get your followers to trust you. Graham draws a direct correlation between caring and trust.


 

One of the most humbling experiences I've ever had as a CTI team leader came after my second fulltime team was done touring together. We were back in Willmar during Spring Partnership Drive, taking advantage of one of our days off by playing a fairly intense game of ultimate frisbee. Ruth (who weighs next-to-nothing and doesn't have the best physical fitness habits) was playing and giving it her all, but she was obviously reeling from the heat and over-exertion. Before we knew it, she passed out right there on the field. Then it happened: she called out for me. Not her mom, not her teammates, but me….her team leader. I had to fight back tears as she told the paramedics that she didn't want to go to the hospital unless I was allowed to go with her.


 

She didn't want me next to her because of my abilities to navigate a team through customs or my experience with life on the road. She wanted me next to her because I had proven to her that she could trust me.

To me, that's what caring leadership is all about.


 

Reflection #1 – Recall an instance when one of the following happened to you: a.) You trusted a leader because of their demonstrated care for you, or b.) Someone you were leading trusted you based on your ability to prove to them that their well-being was a priority of yours.


 

Graham lists (on pages 68-69) several behaviors that make up caring leadership:


 

  • Being vulnerable
  • Listening
  • Putting caring into action
  • Following through
  • Letting go of judgments
  • Caring for beginners
  • Correcting with caring
  • Acknowledging others for their strengths and contributions – especially those whose strengths and contributions may be few.
  • Caring for yourself


 

Go back and read his detailed thoughts on each of these points.


 

Reflection #2 - Which of these behaviors come naturally to you? Which ones do you struggle with? How can you help yourself grow in the challenging areas?


 


 

In the quoted text from Lou Whittaker found on page 69, we read his strategy for delivering bad news to someone: namely, don't surprise them with it.


 

An underlying point in this account is the fact that most people are their own toughest critics. It must be some result of the Fall that we are harder on ourselves that other people are on us.


 

The point is this: often "caring leadership" means giving someone the opportunity and encouragement to evaluate their own situation when a hard choice presents itself. Maybe you'll find yourself in a situation where a team member needs to be confronted about some destructive behavior during training, or maybe you'll need to decide whether or not someone should perform at a concert based on their physical health, etc., but the fact remains that all of us have the potential to be forced to have some difficult conversations this summer with team members. In these types of situations it's often best to let the individual make their own evaluation.


 

Fictitious Example:

You're leading a team overseas this summer and Johnny is your male vocalist. He's a team player in every possible way. He's the first to volunteer to serve and he does it without a single complaint. He carries gear, washes dishes, sings his heart out (and voice for that matter), talks with anyone he can find after the concert and does his best to check on his teammates regularly to see how they're doing. He's the model team member, except for the fact that his go-get-em behavior often prevents others on the team from stepping out of their comfort zone, because Johnny does everything. You also begin to notice that he's wearing down about halfway through the tour and you think that it might be a good idea for him to let some of his teammates help out once in a while. However, Johnny shows no signs of slowing down, so the situation needs to be addressed.


 

You have two ways to handle the situation:


 

  1. You forbid Johnny from doing anything that is not absolutely necessary, so that he can rest up, get better and allow his teammates to grow.
  2. You ask Johnny what he feels would be best for the team: for him to continue in his current trend or for him to take a few steps back, preserve his health for the rest of the tour and allow his teammates to grow.


 

The results are the same in both cases for the rest of the team.


 

Reflection #3 – Which option is better? Why? Why not? What are the dangers associated with each option?


 

Graham closes this chapter with a quote from Pete Petzoldt. To me, this quote is a very succinct way to summarize the entirety of the idea of caring leadership.


 

Reflection #4 – What points from Petzoldt's quote do you agree with? What points do you disagree with?


 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Positional Leadership week 3

This week, we'll be reading and discussing chapter 4 - Leadership style.

If you haven't already done so, please read it now, before reading the following post.

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This week I'd like to focus on a few points that Graham makes, but I want us to take some of his words a little further and deeper than he does.

In the secular leadership environment that he is coaching people for, "compensating" for weaknesses is good management advice. But Christ calls us to a greater degree of wholeness than merely compensating for our weaknesses. In fact, He tells us that these weaknesses are the areas where His strength is made perfect.

This chapter offers lots of practical reasoning behind the advantages and disadvantages of various character traits, and I think its all essentially good information. But we have an edge on the secular leadership world here, because we already understand and accept the fact that we are broken, imperfect people. In recognizing this fact, we are able to use our weaknesses as strengths by clearing the way for the author and perfecter of our faith to come in and make complete that which cannot possibly be complete without Him.

In my mind, there is no point to leadership if, in the end, it does not point towards the One in whose name we lead or advance His purposes. And since making us complete is among His purposes, it follows that there is something much more mission-fulfilling to be done with our weaknesses than merely compensating for them. We can actually use them to enhance His glory… and that is the end we lead in support of! So rejoice in your weaknesses!

We have not been made complete on our own. But through the body of Christ, the Church, He has made us complete, and equipped us for every task He has set before us. Each of our weaknesses is offset by a strength in another. As a leader, one of the constant battles I fight is the temptation to think of myself as self-sufficient.

So, back to the point… I agree that it is important to identify both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in our leadership "styles," but we must be very careful that we don't use this discussion of "style" to justify our actions or shortcomings ("that's just who I am – deal with it!") Scripture clearly teaches that our knowledge of Christ should transform us (see Colossians 3, Romans 12, and countless other passages.)

Even without the spiritual perspective, Graham identifies that some styles are inappropriate, regardless of how "authentic" they are for us (I noticed particularly that sarcasm was on his list, and I must admit that I cringed a little bit.) For us, this list could be expanded to include any style that doesn't reflect Christ in us. And, as drawn as we are to the idea of "authenticity," it's worth mentioning that it is not inauthentic to "suppress" these parts about ourselves and instead seek to grow – this is what Christ calls us to do, and it's what we're calling our team members to do. (We could insert an entire tangent about fruit of the spirit here.)

While we're here, let's give a little press to this concept of authenticity. Authenticity is tested and defined by those around us. No matter how strongly you believe it, you can't objectively declare yourself to be authentic. (In fact, chances are good that the louder you shout about how authentic you are, the more people are going to stop their ears against your shouting.)

I wasn't really impressed with the value of the metaphor exercise where you ask someone else what kind of animal they are when they're leading, but I do think it's critical that we not assess ourselves in a vacuum. We need the input of people who can tell us straight up where our perceptions of ourselves are not aligning with how others perceive us. Enter one Biblical way to "compensate" for our weaknesses: listening to the wise council of others.

The last thing I want to highlight here is this thing Graham defines as the Pucker Factor. I find this to be a mostly practical discussion of something that tends to happen intuitively. But the one very interesting thing to me about the Pucker Factor (which is somewhat annoyingly described as an absolute equation) is the illustration that it can actually remain low if group competence is high enough.

This is interesting to me because it would be an indication of a great leadership success. If you find yourself in a challenging situation in which your group recognizes the gravity and employs their ability to avert it, you'll find yourself among people who have been liberated to do what's needed in the best possible way... and you'll be the one who has liberated them.

Now, I'm obviously not advising that you use a potentially dangerous situation as an opportunity to observe what your team is capable of. You clearly have to know that information before you're in a situation where you need to know it, and you need to be prepared to intervene in high PF situations. Knowing whether or not you will need to intervene will depend on how well you have gotten to know your team, and to what degree you have empowered them in low PF situations.

My chief complaint about this chapter is that it seems to place a high value on self-sufficiency. I think this is a trap, not only for us as leaders, but for us as Christ-followers. I believe the better path to leadership success for our purposes involves exploiting every opportunity to empower others. Doing so provides the opportunity for those we lead to be formed more in Christ's image, and this is at the core of our mission, coequal with serving our partners.

I encourage you all, as you discover your leadership style and its associated strengths and weaknesses, to take particular note of the weaknesses, and "compensate" for them by empowering others.

I have no specific reflection questions this week. In your group discussions, I want you all to share your thoughts from the chapter, or on what I've written. If you're stumped for material, consider sharing some of what you believe your strengths and weakness are, and allow the community to share back with you whether or not your assessment of yourself lines up with what others see as your strengths and weaknesses.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Positional Leadership Week 2 - Priorities?

This week’s reading assignment: Chapter 2 of Outdoor Leadership.


If you’ve yet to read chapter 2 from Graham’s book do it now, before you read the following post.


“…You’re leading because it fits with the priorities you’ve set for your life.” (17)


I don’t think that we evaluate ourselves as much as we should. It’s painful at times. Other times it leads to pride. I’d often rather just live in denial than acknowledge the truth about myself.


We don’t have that luxury as leaders. We must constantly be striving to improve ourselves and self-evaluation is a necessary step in that process.


On the wall in my office (directly in my line of sight) I have CTI’s vision broken down into the two essential statements we use as our “marketing” statements:


- supporting global mission and ministry through the impact of music


- developing Christian leadership and character in young musicians


They hang there so I can constantly evaluate whether or not what I am doing is vision-fulfilling. In other words, those statements are there so that I can remind myself of why I do what I do.


Graham points out that we should know why we lead. We must constantly evaluate our motivation.


“The most important aspect of leadership is having a reason for leading beyond investing in your own ego.” Sharon Wood (as quoted by Graham on page 16).


For me leading is about investing in other leaders and inspiring others. I could live for days on the high that comes from seeing someone I’m leading succeed at something I’ve inspired them to do.


Reflection #1 – Why do you lead? What priorities for your life cause you tend toward natural leadership (because you all do)?



Graham points out (and I agree with him) that leadership can be lonely. There are no two ways about that. You’ll work harder, sleep less and worry about more stuff than anyone you're leading, which is natural. Summer leadership (because it is leadership by a community, rather than an individual) is easier in this regard (than fulltime team leadership) but there are still times that you will feel as though no one else understands, that no one else has to make the sacrifices that you have to make, etc.


That’s why it’s important to have a community of leaders. We can pray for, support and encourage one another in more specific ways that people who have never been in leadership can do.


What’s important here is to not let that dangerous little thing called entitlement start to creep into your mindset. Graham points out that leadership gives you a chance to be of service to your team, and you should view the burdens you carry (which result from being a leader and are often the cause of the loneliness he mentions) as an opportunity to serve those you are leading.


Reflection #2 – Do you anticipate loneliness being a struggle for you? If it is, what measures can you take to combat that loneliness?



“One good way to measure the effectiveness of leaders is to measure their impact on those they lead.” (19)


Our success as leaders does not depend on the success (perceived) of those we lead. Rather, it depends on how much of a difference we have made in the lives of those we lead.



And the best way to impact people, according to Graham, is to believe in them.


I often get pegged as an eternal optimist, which is fine by me. I come by it honestly. Give me a situation and I’ll spin it until I find the positive (remember what I mentioned above about denial?) side of things. It also manifests itself in a sometimes na├»ve belief in people. I think that’s why inspiring others is so important to me…it flows, as Graham puts it, “…from a gut belief in the positive potential of people” (19).


Re-read Graham’s story about Frank on pages 19-20.


Reflection #3 – Do you find Graham’s measure of a leader’s effectiveness (based on their impact on those that they lead) to be liberating or intimidating? Why?


Do you tend to naturally believe in people, or will you have to work to overcome preconceptions in order to believe in those you lead?


How will you foster an attitude of belief in one another (similar to what Graham recounts in his story about Frank) amongst the people you lead?



Do you have any personal experience in inspiring this kind of belief in a team? If so, share your strategies.



“It’s inevitable that some leadership challenges will come upon you unexpectedly, while others will suddenly become far more difficult than you bargained for. When that happens, don’t waste time wondering why – it’s not a mistake that you’re there” (21).


Never was this dynamic more true to me than when I led CTI’s Team Mexico in 2007. By that time in my CTI career, I was a well-seasoned (insert cynical retort here) team leader: I had already led two fulltime teams and been overseas three times as a leader (once to a Latin American culture, Bolivia). My co-leader was someone (Gretchen) I knew well and trusted implicitly, and I didn’t even have to focus on music learning (because I was not supposed to have an assigned musical role on the team). By all accounts, I had it made. But then we lost a team member during training (well we didn’t lose him, he left of his own volition). Then we had to send another team member home a week into our tour for medical reasons, which had been my decision to make.


I didn’t have time or energy to question whether or not I was the right person for the job, or why this was happening to me. I just had to trust my instincts and know that the Lord had me exactly where He wanted me.


As Christian leaders we have the added bonus of knowing that we have been placed in leadership by the Lord’s will. Graham notes that we should trust our “inner reserves” (21), but for us it goes deeper than that. We should trust Christ in us, forming us more and more into His image. Then, as Graham says, you can “do what you have to do” (21).


Reflection #4 – Share an instance when you faced unexpected challenges as a leader. Did you question your place as a leader? If so, how did you overcome those questions? If not, what comfort did you draw on to avoid this insecurity?


Monday, April 12, 2010

Positional Leadership week 1

Week #1 assignment
- Read the Preface and Chapter 1: What is Leadership? in the packet you received before you left for this tour. You are encouraged to highlight, underline, or take notes on the content to aid in your team discussion later in the week.
- AFTER you read the content and make your own observations, come back to this blog and read the thoughts I’ve written out below.  You will discuss the reflection questions with your team at the end of the week.

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“I’ve watched leaders succeed, and I’ve watched us fail. The question has always been: what makes the difference?” (from the preface)

Trying to answer this question is really what the next few weeks are going to be about for us.
I think we can all look back at our own previous leadership experiences and identify times of failure. (I hope we can find success stories too!)

In looking at a few of my own leadership moments that I’d rather not remember, I observe that my failures have rarely been due to technical incompetence, or not being “expert enough” in whatever I’m leading towards. No, the common thread for me seems to be right where Graham defines it: shortcomings in the “so-called ‘soft-edged’ skills like developing trust, communicating with sensitivity, balancing intellect with intuition, and inspiring” those I have lead. I’m struck by his observation that developing these skills “tests your spirit as well as your mind, and challenges your ability to form positive relationships with those you lead.” Prophetic.

Reflection question #1: Think through some of your own past leadership experiences and see if this principle is true for you as well. Be ready to share some of your observations in your team discussion time.

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“Leadership is the capacity to move others towards goals shared with you, with a focus and competency they would not achieve on their own.” (from chapter 1)


In Chapter 1 we’re presented with a number of statements about leadership and leaders which pit common assumptions against a more complete view:
- It’s not just giving directions – it’s liberating people to do what’s needed in the best possible way
- It’s not a set of rules to be followed, but an ability to build relationships
- Good leaders don’t depend on position for their authority – they depend on earning trust
- Good leaders don’t mandate good performance from those they lead – they inspire it.

Directions, rules, position and mandate vs. liberating, building relationships, earning trust and inspiring.

Reflection question #2:  Is your current definition of leadership impacted at all by these statements? Also, what might you add to the list of expectations presented on page 11? Or which of the ones he lists stand out most to you?

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“Good leadership is often decisive in why some trips succeed and others fail.” (from chapter 1)

Graham makes this repeated distinction between what he calls “soft-edged” and “hard-edged” skills. He asserts that we spend most of our time and energy learning or teaching the hard-edged technical stuff and neglect the soft-edged skills.

I articulate this point in a slightly different way – perhaps you’ve heard me say that there’s a difference between leadership and management? I would also say that leadership is different from teaching. Now, leadership does involve both teaching and managing… but these two aspects deal with the specifics of a particular leadership environment, and I’d say the soft-edged stuff is transferable between all leadership environments. Competence at the specific skills you’ll be managing or teaching is therefore secondary to the principles of leadership, because good leadership will enhance and bring out the competencies of those around us.

Reflection question #3: How concerned / stressed are you about the specifics of being in leadership this summer? Are you able to let that go for now and concentrate on the soft-edged aspects, or are those other concerns presenting an obstacle for you right now?

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“Every time I head out with another leader, I learn something new.” (from the preface)

This point is a really challenging one for us, because we can all get a bit competitive when we're among other leaders.  This can result in some pretty significant power plays. The challenge is in recognizing that there is tremendous blessing to be had for ourselves and for whatever cause we lead towards if we will humble ourselves enough to learn from the leaders around us. And learning from other leaders doesn’t just mean observing their methods from the standpoint of a peer – it means submitting to them and following them.

Quick example: I went backpacking with Max Hering a few years back.  I’ve been Max’s superior in every context I have known him in. He’s been a summer team member, a fulltime team member, a summer volunteer, a summer leader, and an intern for CTI… and he’s been my subordinate in every one of those roles. Now, I’m not a slouch when it comes to the outdoors, but I can’t hold a candle to Max. We never spoke about it directly, but there was a clear and natural understanding that he was the leader on this trip. It felt a little weird at times, but submitting to his leadership and focusing my own leadership abilities on being a good follower contributed to a fantastic experience for both of us. It’s quite clear to me that the amount of respect we each have for the other is what made the difference.

Remember this:
- A good leader has the capacity to be the best kind of follower.
- Conversely, a good follower has the capacity to be the best kind of leader.

If leadership is “moving others towards goals shared with you” then why should we be prohibited from exhibiting good leadership as followers? Did you catch that one little line in the avalanche beacon story: “The rest of us hadn’t helped much as followers”? The more you understand about leadership, the more you should be expected to contribute towards the common goal, regardless of whether or not you are the leader specifically appointed for the moment.

Reflection question #4: How will you allow what you are learning about leadership impact how you live now as a follower?  And, though you will be a leader in some capacity this summer, you will also be modeling followership for our summer program participants - so what do you need to do in order to develop the respect that you'll need to have with your fellow leaders in order for this experience to be a success?

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Phase 2

Up to this point, our leadership development blogs have focused on non-positional leadership – the kind we all have the capacity for, regardless of whether or not we are the leader assigned to the specific moment.  We’ve talked most specifically about recognizing the everyday influence we have and using it for God’s honor and glory.

This week we are going to begin talking about leadership in a positional context.  As we continue our discussion through the leadership development blog, we want you to begin to think about your influence in more specific terms.  We want you to now consider the very specific influence you will have in the lives of our summer team members.  Accordingly, our upcoming discussions about leadership will be based on the assumption that you will be leading a specific group of people.

Some of you will be leading ministry teams this summer.  Others of you will be leading training teams.  Some of you will be staffing those training teams.  But you will all be leaders in our summer program, because you will all have influence in the lives of these summer team members.  Do not take yourself out of the game by refusing to think of yourself as a positional leader.  This discussion continues to apply to all of you.

During your Spring tour, we will be basing our leadership discussions on excerpts from a book by John Graham called Outdoor Leadership.  The relevant chapters are attached.  I want to share a few words about this book and why we’re reading it.

I discovered it and read it for the first time in 2004, a year after leading the last of my 5 CTI teams.  I was stunned by how much sense it made for our exact application, and wished I had read it before leading those teams!  In retrospect, I’m not sure I would have know what I should have been paying attention to if I had read it before being a CTI team leader, but I can definitely draw those things out now.  So Paul and I want to help you gain the benefit of the wisdom Graham has to offer by helping you filter the information he presents through the lens of the CTI-specific leadership experience.

The book uses the context of leading outdoor adventure groups as an opportunity to discuss some leadership principles, so almost all of the examples that Graham uses come from some sort of outdoor adventure setting.  Though the context is specific, the principles are not – they are transferable to almost any aspect of life in which one is called upon to lead.

Having said that, I also want to highlight some relevant similarities between leading outdoor adventure teams and what we do here at CTI.  The most notable one to me is that in both cases, one of the primary objectives of the leader is to “shape the framework upon which an adventure can unfold” for the participants.  In other words, in the outdoors or in CTI, leadership is all about helping our team members have the kind of experience they signed up for (regardless of whether or not they understood what they were signing up for.)  Another of my favorite quotes from the book says “Good leaders not only care for those they lead, they also see any trip or event as an opportunity to help people learn and grow.”

So here are our expectations of you:
  1. Beginning on Monday, April 12, we will have a weekly reading assignment out of the book for you. 
  2. Your reading assignment for the week will be posted on the blog.  Each week, Paul or I will post a blog entry telling you what to read, and asking a few questions about the content for you to consider.
  3. At the end of each week, you will get together as teams and discuss the content and the questions in the same way that you did during winter tour.
Your first assignment will be to read the Preface and Chapter 1: What is Leadership?  You can expect the discussion starter post to be up by the end of Monday.