Purpose in Leadership 2 Years Later

Blog, Dimitar Nikolov

Photo Credit: Blog, By Dimitar Nikolov, Flickr

This week marks a bit of an anniversary for Purpose in Leadership. I began blogging two years ago.

Two years later I’m taking in the same view of Skagit Valley I was the day I set up the blog site and posted my first reflection (see: Perspectives on Prosperity for Leadership).

Top Post Themes

It’s been a fun journey that has included 138 posts so far and provides a place to engage a number of key topics. Among the top themes engaged by visitors are:

Reflections & Next Steps

As most anniversaries, this one provides a time to celebrate and reflect.

I celebrate Purpose in Leadership a place to pull together thoughts on topics about which I care deeply. I celebrate a place to share insights with current and former students. I celebrate the opportunity to connect with a wider network of readers.

I am not a daily blogger, but one thing I’ve learned along the way is that blogging is work. Regular blogging takes intentionality, ongoing learning, and time. I have a great deal of respect for those who have been doing this for more years than I have been blogging.

Even thought it has been work, work takes on meaning when it is connected to what we love and when it provides value to others. I hope these labors have been a blessing to some of the readers who follow along regularly. We’ll see where the journey leads in the coming months and years!

What is Your Experience with Poverty?

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Photo Credit: Not so ninja., by digitalpimp., Flickr

Poverty is not a theme I take up frequently in this blog, but it is one that is important to our societies in general and to many individuals at a personal level.

In a previous post, I engaged the topic of Breaking the Cycle of Generational Poverty in the following manner:

While many people experience individual poverty in their lives due to the loss of a job or another tragedy, generational poverty emphasizes patterns where two or more generations continue in poverty within the family structure. Generational poverty is often characterized and reinforced by such causes as limited educational opportunities, poor health or ongoing battle with disease, and an inability to access resources such as land, finances, and information in the pursuit of a sustainable living.

Such a description helps to better understand the experience of poverty, which includes among other things a significant lack of choice. In his book Thriving in the City, T. Aaron Smith highlights this link between poverty and lack of choice.

Poverty and Lack of Choice

Smith notes, “The poor cannot simply will themselves into resources.” While this lack of resources does not guarantee that an individual will stay in poverty, it does guarantee that the poor most often face real and significant (not impossible) barriers along the way.

As I think about engaging such barriers, my personal focus is not primarily on the current political discourse or the role of government. Rather, the focus of my thinking here is on what individuals of faith, and leaders within faith communities, may do to engage such barriers inherent in the experience of poverty.

So what can persons of faith and leaders in faith communities do to help address such barriers?

A helpful place to start is following Jesus in both His heart for the poor and His desire to incarnate among the poor and disenfranchised of our world.

A Heart for the Poor

Consider Luke 4:18-19, a passage that arguably is the very mission statement of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus’ proclamation of good news to the poor arguably includes all of us as those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)—all of us who need Jesus to set us free from the bondage of sin. But I believe it also includes the literal poor. As I look at the way Jesus approached His earthly life, His words and approach to life demonstrated a heart for both the poor in spirit (all of us!) and the materially and physically poor. Jesus models a heart for the poor.

A Willingness to Live Among the Poor

Not only did Jesus model a heart for the poor, He also modeled a willingness to live among the poor. The very incarnation—Jesus breaking into our world to live among us—is the ultimate picture of this reality. But He also modeled this in specific ways in His seeking out the company of the disenfranchised and marginalized of society.

It is this later theme that takes up the focus of Smith’s book. Here’s the full title of this resource, Thriving in the City: A Guide for Sustainable Incarnational Ministry among the Urban Poor.

Grounding his reflections in the broader example of Jesus’ incarnation, Smith puts most of his energies into writing about practical examples of how living among the poor can help play a role in reducing some of the key barriers discussed above.

Regardless of where you choice to live, the book provides a helpful challenge to see and respond to God’s incarnational heart for the poor. Moving beyond important macro conversations of how multiple sectors can work together to provide economic answers to the challenges of poverty, resources like Smith’s book remind us that we each can choose small steps in helping to engage the needs of the poor through practical and sustainable steps.

What is Your Next Step in Leadership Training?

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Photo Credit: leadership, by nist6dh, Flickr

It is my pleasure to highlight leadership training resources that have just been published.

In partnership with the Logos Mobile Ed team at Faithlife, over the past couple years we have been working on a set of course offerings now available here — Mobile Ed: Ministry Leadership Bundle (4 courses)

As the demands of leadership grow in our day, the importance of thoughtful engagement with leadership training rises with it. Evidenced by the popularity of events such as the Global Leadership Summit, engaging effective leadership practices in the life of the church and beyond is timely and relevant.

Individual Courses or the Ministry Leadership Bundle

These Mobile Ed leadership courses may be accessed either as a bundle with discount, or by selecting individual course offerings. The four courses in this bundle are the following:

Over 40 Hours of Instructional Content Made Accessible

Averaging around 10 hours of instructional content in each course, the learning units in the courses are designed to provide relevant leadership content in an accessible manner. As a self-paced learning experience, each unique learning portion is captured in a video that ranges from about 5-10 minutes. This model allows learners to walk through a wealth of content in manageable learning segments.

Here is a quick overview of some of the themes captured in each course.

LD101 — Introducing Ministry Leadership (course available here)

  • Why leadership? Why Now?
  • Approaching Leadership from a Christian Perspective
  • Frameworks for Ministry Leadership
  • Self-Leadership
  • Leading Individuals
  • Leading Teams and Groups
  • Leading Churches and Organizations
  • Thoughts on Leading with Purpose

LD102 — The Ministry Leader and the Inner Life (course available here)

  • The Process of Spiritual Transformation and Essential Features of Self Leadership
  • Personal Formation: Life Story, Life Calling, Life Values, Life Motivation and Gifts, Spiritual Gifts, Life Passion, and Emotional Maturity
  • Spiritual Formation: Introduction to Spiritual Disciplines, Holistic Perspective, Eternal Perspective, Divine Perspective, and Joyful Perspective
  • Pursuing God through the Disciplines of the Mind, Heart, Action, and Community
  • Leadership and the Centered Life

LD201 — Leading Teams and Groups in Ministry (course available here)

  • Why Team Leadership?: Team Challenges and Benefits
  • Biblical and Theological Foundations for Decentralized Leadership
  • Team Leadership: Cultural Relevance
  • Team Leadership: Pragmatic Effectiveness
  • Servant Leadership and the Effectiveness of Teams
  • Healthy Teams: Driven by 5 Questions
  • Healthy Leadership: The Role of the Leader and Dimensions of Team Leadership
  • Healthy Team Contexts

LD202 — Communication and Organizational Leadership (course available here)

  • Class Focus and Rationale
  • The Leadership Communication Pyramid
  • Leadership Communication: Types, Models, and Elements of Communication
  • Leading Organizational Culture: The Elements of Culture and the Leader at the Intersection
  • Leading through Organizational Conflict
  • Leading Visionary Change

Come join me on this leadership training journey, now available through the Logos Mobile Ed Ministry Leadership Bundle.

How Do You Work in the 24/7 Culture?

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Photo Credit: Time, by JD, Flickr

The cover of a Harvard Business Review edition recently grabbed my attention — “Managing the 24/7 Workplace … ‘Always available’ cultures breed problems.”

Facing the “Always Available” Workplace

I’m not sure what your work environment looks like, but the reality of the 24/7 workplace is impacting an increasing number of sectors and an increasing number of employees. Reid and Ramarajan put it this way:

To satisfy those demands [of the high-intensity workplace], employees arrive early, stay late, pull all-nighters, work weekends, and remain tied to their electronic devices 24/7.

For a few, this is not necessarily problematic, even though it may not be healthy. These individuals may enjoy the fast-paced work environment that goes along with such a 24/7-type work culture. For others, the “always available” mode of work life grinds against the core of the work-life balance they desire.

While such work environments may be most closely associated with the always-on contexts of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, the nature of contemporary work tools expands this reality to most organizations. Regardless of the field within which you work, paying attention to how you manage always-available communication like email and smartphones is an issue that nearly every adult must manage in our age.

3 Hours of Your Day

One source indicates that in 2015 the average person in the US spent around 174 minutes on their mobile device per day. This is up from around 22 minutes in 2009.

While some of this dramatic increase is due to browsing social media outlets and watching great things like the latest #chewbaccamom video (time well-spent of course!), much of this usage is also symptomatic of our “always-available” work expectations.

While I’m definitely on the end of frequently checking email and working to respond to work needs in a timely manner, I’m seeking to be more intentional these days about being intentional with times to step away from work and always-available communication in a balanced manner.

Intentionality

Here are a two targeted scheduling practices I aspire to increasingly move toward in managing a productive and balanced work life:

  • Schedule 2-3 times a day for engaging and responding to email:

    Rather than approaching email in an “always-available” manner, I want to focus on meaningful and timely communication 2 or 3 times a day. For me, this will take effort. I have a pattern of almost habitual email checking throughout the day on my smartphone. While there are some up sides to this (timely responses being one), this pattern takes away from other important and focused work that needs to be accomplished.

  • Schedule regular time for focused work:

    While administrative tasks such as meetings and email communication are regular and important parts of most organizational settings, typically these administrative tasks don’t move the most important work projects forward. Finding blocks of time to meaningfully engage these items helps to insure that the most important work does not just get discussed, but also accomplished. This relates to a previous discussion I shared about prioritizing the “Big Rocks” in our lives. See this post on priorities here.

So how are you managing your work life in light of these 24/7 workplace tendencies? What are your strategies to both remain relevant for your organization and focused on reclaiming work-life balance?

Is Higher Education Worth It?

This post was just shared yesterday on my blog at Patheos. I’ll provide it here as my normal Monday post as well since it seems to be gaining significant attention.  …

Graduation season is upon us. I celebrated with a friend at his graduation last week. In the coming week my university begins its marathon of multiple commencement services. And, by the end of the month I will be completing a third graduate degree.

As I think about the importance of these events and the value of education in general, I’m reminded of several realities.

Education Is a Good Investment

First, education is a good investment of time and money. This is not the case for all people, but for most, education represents an investment that appreciates rather than decreases in value over time. In other words, it is more like investing in a house (that tends to appreciate in value) rather than investing in a car (that tends to depreciate in value).

Education Improves Earnings and Marketablity

Second, education tends to improve capacity for future earning and lower rates of unemployment. Again, this is not the case for all people, but generally speaking, earnings increase and unemployment rates decrease as higher levels of education are attained.

Here is a helpful table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that illustrates this point.

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Table Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm)

Education Provides More Effective Approaches to Work

Third, education enables us to do better what we already must do. In most cases, employment is a necessary part of life. It is the way people are able to make a living and provide for themselves and their family. This logic might not work for everyone, but for me it does. If I’m going to be engaged in a job, I want to do it well. Education  helps me to do the work I already need to do in a more effective manner.

Education Provides A Pathway for Lifelong Learning

Fourth, education provides a natural pathway for lifelong learning. I view learning as intrinsically valuable. I also believe we are hardwired and created by God as learners. While learning can happen independently, engaging in a structured learning process allows us to benefit from those who have gone before us in a particular field of knowledge.

In my particular field of leadership studies, I’m convinced that leadership involves a deep commitment to learning (see my previous thoughts on this here). But learning is not just the work of leaders. There is both intrinsic and utilitarian value in learning for any field. Formal education is not the only path by which lifelong learning can take place. However, it is a key pathway that has helped many people.


While there are certainly examples that would not support the above, these four benefits of higher education are true for most. As you celebrate with the graduates in your life this season, be reminded that their investments and labors have not been in vain.

The World’s Toughest Job

On Mother’s Day, I’m reminded that the work that matters most in life is often unpaid.

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Photo Credit: MOTHER, by the lost gallery, Flickr

At its core, work is what we do to contribute or add value to others. Hopefully this happens in the context of paid work for you, but any parent understands that mothers and fathers often engage in such unpaid work on a daily basis.

I love this video by American Greetings that captures to the beauty and importance of this work. Enjoy!

Priority #4: Purpose in Leadership and Meaning-Based Living

 

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I’m in a mini-series sharing my 4 Top Leadership Priorities. These priorities are central to what I teach others about leadership in classes, and these priorities inform how I want to lead personally.

In the past weeks I settled in on the first three priorities:

This week I will briefly engage the final priority — Priority #4: Purpose in Leadership and Meaning-Based Living.

Purpose Matters

Leaders must attend to many priorities in their work, but I argue that purpose needs to top this list of priorities. Others, such as Podolny, Khurana, and Besharov, have argued that leadership practitioners and scholars have lost sight of purpose due to a dominate focus on performance.

For leaders, performance does indeed need to be a focus. But alongside this, leaders and followers must also be able to contextualize the meaningfulness of this performance. That’s where purpose enters the discussion. Understanding purpose in leadership and work contributes to job satisfaction and an authentic belief that the work one does matters and is meaningful.

Beyond the Paycheck

Working for a paycheck is not insignificant. Work is a way to provide for many of the needs and wants we face in life. But as Eisenberg and Goodall put it, people also “want to feel that the work they do is worthwhile, rather than just a way to draw a paycheck…a transformation of its meaning—from drudgery to a source of personal significance and fulfillment.”

While purpose is important for leaders and followers alike, there is a special responsibility placed on leaders in this realm. As a leader, do you have a clear sense of not only what your organization needs to do (performance) but also why this needs to be done (purpose)?

Not Just a Good Idea

Having a sense of purpose—personally and organizationally—sounds good, but does it also bring about results?

I argue, and am seeing supported through research, that purpose also is connected to key organizational measures such as job satisfaction, leadership effectiveness, organizational commitment, and person-organization fit. For an introductory conversation around this research, see my post entitled Assessing Leadership — The Purpose in Leadership Inventory.

Leadership, Purpose, and You

Whether convinced of the importance of purpose through your own experience, or whether you are seeing the research-based evidence, it is time to bring the importance of purpose home to your life and leadership.

I encourage you to take some time in the coming week to think through the purpose that guides your life and work as a leader. I raise some questions for thinking about how to take the next steps with purpose in the following post: Leadership, Work, and the Priority of Purpose. Feel free to use these reflections and questions as you take these next steps in reflecting on purpose in your life and leadership.


In this series, I’ve laid out my top 4 leadership priorities. I hope they have been helpful, and I look forward to hearing what priorities you would add to the mix.

Here are the links to each of the posts in this series: