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.