Are you Looking at Leadership through Rose Colored Glasses?

Sometimes a book comes across my desk that catches my attention with a unique angle on leadership. My friend, Tom Harper, just wrote one. It’s called Through Colored Glasses–how great leaders reveal reality. It’s written as a leadership fable and quite insightful. I highly recommend it. I asked Tom if I could ask him some questions about the book and here are his answers.

What prompted you to write Through Colored Glasses?

Anyone who’s been a leader has observed how people misunderstand each other, withhold information, and manipulate others to get ahead. There’s a widespread lack of honesty in workplaces (including churches).

I wrote this book to give leaders a tool to fight this trend. The story’s main lessons center on how to wield the power of truth in the office – not just by being honest and transparent, but by utilizing concepts and techniques found in the Bible to pull truth out of people.

I believe if you understand and apply the biblical principles this story teaches, you’ll reveal reality all around you, every day. As a result, you’ll be a much more effective leader.

Explain the essence of the book reflected in the title.

You’ve probably heard the saying “he wears rose-colored glasses,” describing a person that’s always optimistic, even to the point of naiveté. It’s as if they ignore reality.

Through Colored Glasses describes how most of us see the world – through lenses that are anything but rosy. We’ve got a cloud of emotions, moods and thoughts coloring our views.

When we look at each other through those off-color lenses, what do we see? We tend to interpret each other’s words and actions according to our own biases, rather than trying to understand the other person from their point of view.

Why did you choose to use a fable as the core of the book?

For me, story has always been an effective teacher, whether it’s through leadership fables by Patrick Lencioni and Ken Blanchard, biographies, true-life dramas or even novels. Plus, I’m always intrigued when a conference speaker tells his or her personal story, sharing the hard lessons they’ve learned.

As I strategized this book project, I realized the most poignant and memorable way for me to teach what I’ve learned would be through a story that brings the concepts to life.

Many nonfiction books today could be half as lengthy, without losing any meat. With this in mind, I kept this book to 100 or so pages. You can read it on a plane trip. I tried to make it fast-moving all the way to the climax, where the main lessons come into focus.

You mention filters and facades we deal with. How does a leader discover unfiltered reality in the heart of another, and in himself or herself?

One way to improve our ability to understand what someone’s thinking is to get to know the person. As leaders, though, we can’t intimately know everyone under our care.

To remedy this, we can tap the Bible’s great wisdom for understanding the motivations behind people’s words and actions. It gives us cues to watch for. I’ll give you two examples.

First, Proverbs 15:13 says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” Simply assessing someone’s countenance can alert us there’s something significant going on behind the scenes, urging us to move forward with sensitivity.

Another example is listening for verbal signals. Two of my favorite verses on this are also from Proverbs:

  • “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin” (Prov. 10:8).
  • “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly” (Prov. 12:23).

In other words, you can gauge a person’s overall wisdom by how much they respect authority and use word economy. If someone constantly announces what they think, their overall judgment is questionable. Giving them greater responsibility probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

We can apply these verses to ourselves, of course. Listen to yourself in your next few conversations. At any point are you defensive, impatient or unusually verbose? At that moment, assess what’s going on in your heart.

When I listen to myself speak, I often hear internal struggles coming through. It reminds me to entrust my worries to God – he wants us to lean on him at all times, even as words are coming out of our mouths.

What is the biggest takeaway in your book for leaders?

After more than two decades of reading leadership books and holding them up to the Bible, I’m convinced that biblical principles undergird just about all the leadership best practices you’ll come across.

So, my #1 takeaway would simply be to read the Bible for yourself, and do what it says!

___

I recommend you add this book to your reading list. You can purchase it here on Amazon.

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12 Brainstorming Ideas that WILL Improve Team Creativity

Brainstorming can often improve creativity when you need many possible ideas. Consider these 12 suggestions the next time your team needs to generate solutions to a problem.

  1. Encourage debate, dissent, and healthy criticism of ideas. Healthy debate has shown to produce more ideas than the traditional, “don’t criticize any idea” mentality (Nemeth et al., 2004).  Set these rules beforehand, though, to keep the debate healthy and the ideas coming.
    • Don’t personally attack people.
    • Use such phrases like, “I have a different view,” “I see things differently,” or “What about this?”
    • Reiterate the other’s person’s viewpoint before offering your own.
    • Clarify the other person’s viewpoint first.
  2. Keep your creative teams diverse. Include new people and women and men.
  3. Make sure the brainstorming leader is affirming and not overbearing and that he doesn’t unintentionally drive his personal agenda.
  4. Create spaces in your office area that encourage frequent and spontaneous interactions.
  5. Don’t allow one person to dominate brainstorming sessions. Sometimes a ‘know-it-all’ can shut down creativity.
  6. Be observant of something called ‘social loafing,’ our tendency to feel less responsible for a project in a group than when doing a project alone. Some on your team may sit back and let the rest of the team generate the ideas. Guard against that. Studies with a rope tug-of-war showed that blindfolded people who believed they were pulling a rope alone pulled 18% harder than those who thought they were on a team (Karau & Hart, 1998). However, the more cohesive the group, the less social loafing.
  7. When beginning a creative session, the leader should acknowledge that everyone is on equal footing and that she wants everyone to feel that they can contribute.
  8. Before your brainstorming session, ask the team members to generate ideas on their own and to submit them in writing before the session.
  9. Be wary of too much group harmony in creative sessions. Artificial harmony that fosters a ‘too nice’ atmosphere can stifle appraisal of alternatives.
  10. When trying to solve a problem in a brainstorming session, challenge the group to present counterintuitive solutions (i.e., what’s obviously not the solution to the problem). This approach can foster even more creativity.
  11. Provide an incubation period to let ideas simmer. If you give the team a brain break and encourage daydreaming, when they come back to the problem, solutions often arise (Sio & Ormerod, 2009). Sometimes ideas come to us while doing something moderately taxing and daydreaming at the same time (i.e., taking a shower or walking on a treadmill). It’s called unconscious thought theory, UTT, (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006) that proposes that solutions to complex problems often come when we are intentionally not trying to solve them.
  12. When trying to solve problems, encourage your team to imagine themselves a year from now instead of imagining themselves tomorrow. Studies show that this time perspective fosters more creativity (Förster et al., 2004).

What has helped your brainstorming sessions be more productive?

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Reference notes

  • Nemeth, C.J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M. & Goncalo, J.A. (2004) The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34 (4), pp.365–374.
  • Karau, S.J. & Hart, J.W. (1998) Group cohesiveness and social loafing: Effects of a social interaction manipulation on individual motivation within groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2 (3), pp.185–191.
  • Sio, U.N. & Ormerod, T.C. (2009) Does incubation enhance problem solving? A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (1), pp.94–120.
  • Dijksterhuis, A. & Nordgren, L.F. (2006) A Theory of Unconscious Thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1 (2), pp.95–109.
  • Förster, J., Friedman, R.S. & Liberman, N. (2004) Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2), pp.177–189.

The 6 Biggest Leadership Gaps Pastors Face

In my research for my most third book on people pleasing pastors, I discovered 6 fundamental weaknesses or gaps that leaders in general and pastors in particular face in some degree. These are based on insight from a perspective on how we deal with our emotions called family systems. To which leadership gap do you tend to default?

GAP 1: EMOTIONAL REACTIVITY (low emotional restraint)

Description: The phrase emotional reactivity self-defines itself. It’s seen in pastors who either outwardly or inwardly emotionally react to others when under stress.

Metaphor: Porcupine

Characteristics: emotional outbursts, conflict, yelling, closed body language, relational distancing, triangling, sullenness, withdrawal

Biblical character with this gap: Moses showed reactivity several times. He killed an Egyptian (Ex 2.12) when he saw him beating a Hebrew. He reactively struck a rock out of frustration with the people instead of obeying God’s command to speak to it (Num 20.11). And he threw down the first set of  the 10 Commandments when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf (Ex 21.19)

GAP 2: LACK OF I-POSITION (low convictional stance)

Description: A pastor with this gap will stand on his convictions when he senses those around him would agree with him. When pressured to change his stand, however, he often gives in.

Metaphor: Jellyfish

Characteristics: fearful to take an opposing position with church influences like big givers or elders, lack of backbone, blaming others, holding others responsible for his happiness or his failures

Biblical character with this gap: Timothy. He probably faced this gap in his leadership early in his ministry life. We see this from inferences in the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy. Paul encouraged him to not let others look down on his youth (1 Tm 4.12). He also encouraged him to not be timid with others (2 Tm 1.7).

GAP 3: EMOTIONAL CUTOFF (low connectedness in relationally tense situations)

Description: A pastor with this gap will distance himself emotionally or physically from others when his emotional anxiety rises.

Metaphor: A box turtle that retreats into its shell when afraid

Characteristics: pouting, giving the silent treatment, physically distancing, isolation, switching churches often to avoid dealing with difficult relationships and emotions, rigid boundaries, ignoring others, stonewalling, passive aggressiveness  

Biblical character with this gap: The prodigal son and his brother. The prodigal son physically and emotionally cut himself off from his father when he left home after receiving his inheritance. After blowing his money and ending up feeding pigs, he returned home repentant. Yet when his older brother learned that their dad was throwing a ‘welcome home’ party, he emotionally cut himself off from them both by whining to his dad and then refusing to attend the party (Lk 15.11-32).

Absalom also models cutoff. After his stepbrother Amnon raped their stepsister Tamar, he emotionally cut himself off from Amnon as he plotted his murder. Two years later he murdered Amnon and then physically cut himself off from David’s presence for five years (2 Sm 13-14). Ultimately his bitter heart lead to his untimely death (2 Sm 18).

GAP 4: FUSION (low healthy independence)

Description: A pastor with this gap gets glommed and enmeshed with others because he gets overly emotionally involved with them. In a parallel way this is what happens to metals when they are melted together and they lose their individual distinctiveness. An Oscar Wilde quote captures the essence of fusion, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions. Their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”[1]

Metaphor: Suckerfish (a small fish also called a remora that attaches itself to large fish through its sucker-like organ near its mouth). Another great metaphor is the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg were creepy extra-terrestrials that would assimilate humans into their collective hive.

Characteristics: driven to create one big happy family, super inclusive, consensus driven, easily swayed by groupthink, herd mentality, taking responsibility for another’s reactions, sense of losing self in another, intense togetherness when anxiety rises, emotional temperature rises and falls based on the temperature of others, greases the church’s squeaky wheel

Biblical character with this gap: Aaron. Moses left him in charge when he went up on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God. Yet Aaron yielded to the people’s ‘herd mentality’ who were fearful that Moses would never return because he had been gone over a month. His enmeshment with the people prompted him to make the golden calf (Ex 32.1-4).

GAP 5: OVER-FUNCTIONING

Description: The pastor who over-functions is usually an over-achiever who takes ownership and responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of others, often trying to make up for the perceived deficiency in somebody else’s functioning.

Metaphor: Female worker bees. They do almost every task in a beehive while the male bees look on, present only to mate with the queen bee. The female worker bees literally work themselves to death when flowers bloom. They usually die within five weeks. They die alone, away from the colony they exhausted their lives for.

Characteristics: very hard worker, seldom asks for help, tries too much to help, assumes increasing responsibility for others, tells others what they need to feel/think/do, does for others what they should do for themselves, often demands agreement from others, can foster learned helplessness from others, often highly approval oriented

Biblical character with this gap: Moses. I don’t mean to pick on Moses again, but he was probably guilty of over-functioning when he tried to act as judge for all the disputes from the people (Ex 18). Fortunately he heeded the advice to delegate that his father-in-law Jethro suggested. Martha would be another example evidenced in her anxiety about preparing a meal for Jesus while Mary sat at His feet (Lk 10.38-42).

GAP 6: UNDER-FUNCTIONING

Description: Pastors with a gap of under-functioning seem always to need help but never seem to change. They don’t take appropriate responsibility and often want someone else to fix them.

Metaphor: Whipped puppy

Characteristics: highly dependent on looking to others to know what to do next, unnecessarily asks for advice, often passive, ask others to do what he should do for himself, easily sucked into groupthink, gives in most of the time

Biblical character with this gap: Saul. 1 Samuel 17 describes a pointed example of this gap. It describes the story when Goliath taunted Saul and his men. Saul should have taken responsibility and fought him. Instead, he gave the responsibility to the then shepherd boy David to fight him. Saul’s passivity was one of many kinks in his armor.

 I believe every pastor struggles with at least one of these gaps. Fortunately, God promises us that by His Holy Spirit we can rely on Him and He will fill those gaps. This verse encourages me when I struggle and I hope it does you.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet 1.3, NIV)

In my next blog I will suggest practical pointers in overcoming each gap.

What other leadership gaps have you seen in leaders?

Taken from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership (Inter-varsity Press, 2014, used with permission).

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[1] Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905).

Do You Have a Healthy Leader’s Brain? Take this Quiz and Find Out

God gave us an amazing three pound part of our body called the brain. And today, the brain is big. Books about the brain are flying off the shelves. Neuroscientists are studying the brain like never before. And millions of dollars are being spend on research. So how can we keep a healthy leader’s brain? Dr. David Rock and Dr. Daniel Siegal combed years of research to assimilate what they call the “Healthy Mind Platter,” seven activities that help people, including leaders, maximize that three-pound wonder. I’ve put my own spin on their findings and listed those seven activities below that when practiced, can help leaders maximize their effectiveness.

Leaders will keep their brains healthy when they make time for these activities. Both the Bible and brain science help us see their importance. Mentally check the ones you practice consistently.

  1. I take time to focus.
    • Brain science tells us that when we deeply focus (like when we plan or prepare a sermon), the brain makes deep connections.
    • Jesus challenged the crowds to think deeply about the cost of discipleship (Luke 14,25-33).
  2. I take time for fun.
    • Having fun allows for novelty and spontaneity which helps the brain make new connections.
    • Children were attracted to Jesus. Although we don’t have any direct Biblical references, I believe children saw Jesus as someone both approachable and fun to be with.
  3. I take time for family and friends.
    • Neuroscientists are learning that the brain is a social organ and when we build relationships it deepens our relational brain circuitry.
    • One of the hallmarks of Christianity is true community, spending time with others in deep relationships (Acts 4).
  4. I take time to exercise.
    • Brain research abounds about how exercise improves brain functioning.
    • The Scriptures tell us that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit which implies we should take care of them. Exercise is one way to do that (1 Cor. 6.18-19).
  5. I take time for stillness.
    • Researchers have found that when we quiet our inner world through meditation, we are able to regulate our emotions better and think more clearly.
    • Often Scripture tells us to be still before the Lord. When we reflect and meditate on Him and His Word, we not only draw close to him, but it keeps our brain healthy as well (Is 46.10).
  6. I take time to simply chill (down time).
    • When we allow our brains to be non-focused (mind wander or daydream) our creativity increases.
    • I doubt that Jesus held a non-stop theology class with His disciples. I imagine that at times he simple chilled out with His disciples with no specific goal in mind, except to enjoy each other and enjoy God’s creation.
  7. I take time for adequate sleep.
    • When we sleep our memories deepen and our brain recovers from the day’s stress.
    • I’m encouraged that when Jesus got tired, he slept, even in a storm (Mk 4.38).

How many of these practices do you consistently practice? Which one is toughest for you?

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Sticky Church Vision: a 4-step Process that Works

I’ve served in churches for over 35 years and I’m still learning how to craft a sticky church vision. In my current church I delivered our vision for my first year after being here for only three months. That may seem quick, but I sensed it was well received. In this post I explain the the four steps I incorporated that created greater involvement, buy in, and spiritual success.

Before I came to my new church, West Park Church in London, Ontario, I read extensively about how best to onboard (the term used when we transition to a new job). As a result, I created a six month learning agenda which essentially set my priorities for the first six months.

If you are new to your church or are considering a new church, I highly recommend the book The First 90 Days. It’s one of the best to help you navigate your first few months. You can also purchase an iPhone/android app that goes along with it.

Here are the four steps I took.

1. Wisely time the vision reveal.

I was a bit reluctant to share a big five year comprehensive vision. It would have been foolish to do so. Yet, it would have been equally foolish to wait until I thoroughly knew the church before casting a vision. So, after setting up multiple 1-1, group, and leadership listening sessions, I felt that I had sufficient knowledge to cast an intelligent one year vision to capture West Park’s current situation and reflect God’s plan for the church.

2. Collaborate extensively.

I received some wise counsel from a Canadian pastor the first week I arrived. I asked him for one bit of advice he’d offer me as an American pastor newly arriving in Canada. He wisely said, “Lead collaboratively. Many American pastors come here and fail because they try to lead with a heavy top down leadership style.” I took his advice and have built a close and great working relationship with our board. I have appraised them all along about what I’m learning and have often asked for their input. That collaborative mindset helped me craft that initial vision (and the ones that followed) that most closely aligns with reality and resulted in good buy-in from the board.

3. Sequence who you tell.

I intentionally rolled out the communication of the vision in this order.

  1. First the board heard it and approved it. It was not new to them because they had followed my learning the entire time.
  2. Then the staff heard it. They too, weren’t surprised as I had shared my learning along the way.
  3. Then a large group of our leaders heard it at a leadership gathering.
  4. Then the church heard it in a morning message.
  5. Finally, after my first 90 days I mailed out a progress report which repeated the vision for those who may have missed it on the Sunday I shared it.

4. Maximize the visual component.

Since one third of our brains are involved in visual processing, we hired an artist to translate the vision into a clear and compelling visual format. We visually reinforced the vision in several ways I’ve listed below.  I’ve include the logos the artist designed for us here.

unuque

  1. We incorporated it into my Sunday sermon presentation on the screen.
  2. We printed a bookmark that we gave to everyone as they left.
  3. We unveiled two large banners that we hung in the auditorium.
  4. We hung small posters of the vision in various places in the building and kept them there for the rest of the year.
  5. We posted the visuals on our web site.
  6. We incorporated the visuals into our bulletin on a regular basis.

These steps definitely paid off because four years later, we are a growing and vibrant multi-culture church.

If you are casting vision, whether or not you are new to your church, consider using these four steps to increase the buy-in for your vision.

What has helped you effectively cast vision?

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