Leadership in Christian Perspective

Those who have been following this blog for a while understand that my sweet spot is thinking and writing about effective leadership practice from a Christian perspective. This includes engaging both what contemporary research and theory have to say about leadership practice, and bringing this theory and research into conversation with faith-based reflection.

Because of this interest—along with my desire to see people engaging their leadership with purpose and effectiveness—I partnered up with Mark Strauss and Baker Academic to write Leadership in Christian Perspective: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Practices for Servant Leaders.

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In the book, we share 9 practices for empowering leadership. These research-based practices are organize these around three-parts to the book:

  1. Beginning with Authentic and Purposeful Leaders
  2. Understanding the Priority of People
  3. Navigating toward Effectiveness

Here’s want a couple people are saying about the book:

Our fast-moving, chaotic culture demands more of leaders than ever before. In this well-researched book, Justin Irving and Mark Strauss provide deep insight with a helpful framework for anyone who values people and aspires to lead their organization through significant change.” – Ken Cochrum, vice president of Global Digital Strategies, Cru

In Leadership in Christian Perspective, Irving and Strauss intentionally set out on a daunting task to deliver a fully integrated and biblically rooted perspective on Christian leadership. They are thorough and effective in their examination of leadership constructs and carefully highlight the biblical case for each of them. The genius of their work is found in the integration of models and what then emerges. Empowerment becomes the thread that connects them all. Jesus Christ remains the greatest leadership role model, and without question their mission for this work is accomplished. I highly recommend this book to all Christian leaders!” – Tami Heim, president and CEO, Christian Leadership Alliance

If you’re interested in hearing us talk a bit about the book and its main emphases, Mark Strauss and I had a conversation with Bethel’s Peter Vogt on this podcast.

Whether serving as a Christian leader in business, the church, or some other sector, the book is written for you. Take a look in order to better understand how to effectively lead in a manner consistent with biblical foundations and Christian principles.

Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I took a bit of time at the beginning of the year to check in on which posts have been the most interesting to readers of Purpose in Leadership the past five years (2014-2018). Two main observations stand out as I consider the Top 10 from this season.

First, the discussion I offer on what the differences are between groups and teams is by far the most viewed post.  This post was viewed well over 5 times more than any other post on the blog in this time period. Understanding the importance of groups and teams, and how they differ, is so important for organizational leaders. I’m glad others have found this helpful.

Second, there continues to be significant interest in the intersection between leadership and communication. Two of the top five posts focus on the types and levels of leadership communication. I often say to students, “Although you can be an effective communicator without being an effective leader, effective communication is foundational to effective leadership.” Others seem to get this as well—effective communication is essential to effective leadership practice.

So here are the Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership. I hope some of these will be an encouragement to you as you reflect on your own leadership practice.

#1.    Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

#2.    5 Types of Leadership Communication

#3.    9 Effective Leadership Practices

#4.    Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

#5.    7 Levels of Leadership Communication

#6.    Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

#7.    Tolstoy on Leadership

#8.    Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

#9.    Let Your Life Speak — How to Understand Your Vocational Call

#10.  37 Barriers to Change

If you found one of these particularly helpful, please share your thoughts below.

The Myth of Perfection

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Photo Credit: church_up.jpg, by Elyktra, Flickr

I saw a great quote on a wall while visiting a business in Dallas this week:

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” – Mark Twain

I love this quote. Although I can’t speak to whether or not this is actually something Mark Twain wrote, the heart of its message captures so many important themes.

However, perfection—even delayed perfection—really is just a myth.

This side of eternity, whether we are thinking about growth and improvement individually, as a team, or as an organization, if we are waiting for perfection, we will always be waiting. Rather than waiting for something—perfection in this life—that will not come in the pursuit of excellence, we rather need to work toward ongoing growth.

Remember, excellence and perfection are not the same thing. If we are striving for excellence, growth, and improvement, the best path forward is not waiting for some unattainable moment of perfection, but rather starting the journey and then learning and growing along the way.

Another way of talking about this dynamic is to contrast linear growth and iterative growth.

Linear Growth

Traditional wisdom invites those starting a work project or large journey to engage in a process of extensive planning. The goal in this linear mindset is to do all of the planning for the project up front. Those involved with this first step must foresee all possible needs, opportunities, and obstacles, and then solidify a plan before proceeding.

Linear Growth

Image Credit: Abigail J. Irving

After this “perfect” plan is in place, it is time to move on to the second step—executing on the plan.

Iterative Growth

Experience has a way of revealing the limits in such a linear model. Once a plan is executed, reality begins to confront and challenge our plans. John Steinbeck pointed to this in his novel Of Mice and Men—the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

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Image Credit: Abigail J. Irving

In contrast to linear models of growth, many fields—like software development and design—are now emphasizing the power of iterative processes. Rather than one discrete step of planning followed by another discrete step of implementation, an iterative approach embraces a path of ongoing improvement. The process of planning and implementing is repeated again and again as ongoing learning takes place, continually informing planning and improved practice in an ongoing manner.

As you consider your own process of personal growth, and as you consider growth as a team or organization, don’t put all of your proverbial eggs in the basket of a single plan. Instead, lean into iterative learning. Make a plan; implement the plan; learn from this implementation; adjust your plan; implement this learning; and continue this cycle of learning in an ongoing plan of growth and improvement.

Since perfection is ultimately a myth, learn to embrace the reality that “continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.

I’d love to read some of your reflections; take a moment to share them below.

People First Leadership: Remembering Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines

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Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

This past week, Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher passed away today at the age of 87.

Kelleher left quite an impression on both the airline industry and on those who worked with him. One of Southwest Airline’s achievements has been 46 years of consecutive profitability due to its approach to steady and responsible growth on behalf of its employees and customers.

The drive for Kelleher and Southwest was not merely financial. It was about people. The airline is known for its commitment to affordable travel for its customers, friendly customer service, and employee-centered servant leadership practices.

Kelleher’s business vision for the company evidenced his deep commitment to caring for employees. When asked on one occasion what Kelleher’s vision was for the company over the next ten years, he replied, “My vision is to keep Southwest Airlines job-secure for our people.” Through the time of Kelleher’s passing, Southwest Airlines has never been in bankruptcy or had a layoff of employees—an amazing claim for the turbulent airline industry.

In a statement posted on Southwest’s website regarding Kelleher’s passing, current Chairman and CEO, Gary Kelly, noted the following about Kelleher’s people-first approach to life and business:

“He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives.”

Kelleher provided a model of servant leadership and valuing people. Mark Strauss and I included a bit about Kelleher’s leadership in our upcoming book. Here’s a look at some of this reflection:

“Although most business executives see the general value of their employees, not all executives prioritize people as individuals. Herb Kelleher sought to do to this at Southwest for people at every level of the organization—whether fellow executives or those in line jobs as baggage handlers and mechanics.

At one of the company’s famous spirit parties, surrounded by hundreds of people circling Herb for attention, [Colleen] Barrett tells the story of Herb intently talking with a Southwest mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—a long conversation by CEO standards. Barrett writes:

‘Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear … that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him.’”

As you think through your own leadership, what cues might you take from Herb Kelleher? Share your thoughts below.

Reflective Leadership

Photo Credit: Reflection, By Susanne Nilsson, Flickr

It’s January 1st as I write this reflection.

I took about three hours yesterday to reflect again on what I want to prioritize in the year to come. I don’t think there is anything inherently important about the transition from December 31 to January 1, but this moment in our calendars provides space to pause and hit reset on the things that matter in our lives.

I note elsewhere that I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions (see “Rethinking Resolutions). I am, however, a fan of using this season as a time to reflect and prioritize (or perhaps re-prioritize is a better term…returning to what has already been prioritized in our lives previously).

As I look back on the past two years, one of the items that has slipped more than I would like is the prioritization of reflection. There are practical reasons for this, so I’m not overly focused on “beating myself” up for the past. This is more about the future than the past.

The past two years have been full of wonderful opportunities—increased administrative leadership needs at my institution and the privilege of working on a book project that is scheduled for release in the summer of 2019. While I’m grateful for these opportunities, they did take away from a pattern of intentional reflection in my life and leadership. One evidence of this is the break from actively posting on this platform.

As I look to the year ahead, there are many new opportunities to which I’m looking forward. One of these is reprioritizing reflective leadership.

Perhaps a new emphasis on reflective leadership will be of help for you as well.

Here’s a sample from my upcoming book written with Mark Strauss. It captures some of the heart behind what I’ve raised above regarding the need for reflection in life and leadership:

Schedule Time to Rest and Reflect

While effective leadership includes honest self-evaluation, nurturing a rhythm of self-awareness and evaluation is difficult without a simple feature: time to reflect.

Do you intentionally create time in your schedule to think and reflect? In our day of continual connection to the world around us through technology, it is increasingly difficult for leaders to find time and space for deep reflection. Consider the ready access people have to you through smartphones, text messaging, a regular flow of emails, and meetings that are scheduled for us on shared calendars. While technology creates efficiencies in our work, this same technology also fills our lives in such a way that intentional reflection can be difficult.

On top of technology in the work environment, consider how technology in our personal lives also can work against time alone for reflection. For example, while there are many ways social media has the capacity to enrich our lives, social media also adds to already full schedules in ways that work against a reflective approach to life.

These realities mean that leaders need to be intentional in finding time and space in their lives to think and reflect. On this point, John Baldoni notes that organizations need leaders who first know themselves—leaders who “have an inner compass that points them in the right direction.” According to Baldoni, clarifying these dimensions of the inner life “begins with sound thinking—with taking time to think before we do.”

For Christians, time for reflection does not need to be an isolated activity. Through the practices of Sabbath and prayer, we are reminded that we are not alone in our work as leaders. Taking time for rest and prayer is a declaration of our trust in and dependency on God. Timothy Keller and Kathrine Leary Alsdorf remind us that the practice of Sabbath is an act of trust, a reminder that God is at work even in the midst of our rest, and that ultimately, God is there—we are not alone in our work.  As we recognize that we are not alone in our work, we also may receive the invitation to seek out wisdom from God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). In our times of rest and reflection, we are able to not only lean into our own thoughts and convictions but we are also able to lean into God’s wisdom.

So, are you making time to think and reflect in your life? Are you taking time for Sabbath rest and prayer? For those who have full calendars and high demands in their roles, this often means there is a need for scheduling time on their calendars for this important work. Remember, being busy does not always translate into being productive. As Keller and Leary-Alsdorf remind us, “a deeply rested people are far more productive.” Sometimes pulling back from the intense pace of work is just the answer we need to the most demanding questions and challenges we face. Take time to rest, think, reflect, pray, and nurture a regular pattern of self-evaluation. Consider when this specifically will take place. When will it take place in the week ahead? When will it take place next month?

May you engage the year ahead with deep reflection on the things that matter most to you!

Take a moment to share your reflections and priorities below.

Leadership … What’s Love Got to Do with It?

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Photo Credit: Love, Midtown, New York City, NY, by Thomas R. Stegelmann, Flickr

In 1984, when I was launching into my pre-teen years, Tina Turner released her classic song, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”

I’m sure just about anyone growing up in the 80’s can hear the chorus in their head right now…

 

 

Oh what’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken.”

In some circles, this philosophy likely governs the work of leadership as well—keep love and emotion out of it.

Leadership … What’s Love Got to Do with It?

While Turner’s song was both fun and popular, I’d argue that it’s really bad leadership advice. Those engaged in the study and practice of leadership may not immediately think of love when they think of leadership,  but I’d argue that the best leaders know how to love well in their leadership work.

Hired Hearts

Providing helpful perspective on the relationship between leadership and love, Bruce Winston argues that leaders need to see followers as hired hearts instead of hired hands. As hired hearts, followers, just like leaders, are whole individuals that are motivated by authentic consideration and care.

On this point, Kathleen Patterson argues that in contrast to fear-based approaches to leadership, love in leadership creates an atmosphere where respect, trust, and dignity are fostered.

A Range of Loves

Now when we speak of love for followers, this love, of course, needs to be distinguished from the classic form of love we consider on Valentine’s Day. For instance, when I say “I love you,” this means different things depending on the one to whom I speak it. The love I have for my wife is different that the love I have for my children. Similarly, love for friends, extended family members, neighbors, and coworkers is also different. Love is different in each of these relational contexts, but is nevertheless important and meaningful.

One of my favorite authors from the 20th century is C.S. Lewis. In his book The Four Loves, Lewis engages such distinctions in love by contrasting four Greek words for love: storgē (family bond love), philía (friendship bond love), erōs (erotic bond love), and agápē (unconditional bond love). While love for one’s spouse should encompasses all four of these loves in its highest form, love for friends and coworkers is more limited, though still rightly called love.

Agape Love & Leadership

For leaders, perhaps the most helpful of Lewis’ four loves is the agape form of love. Speaking of such love around the term agapao love, Bruce Winston notes that agapáo love means to love in a social or moral sense and that “this Greek word refers to a moral love, doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.”

That’s a helpful way to understand leader love. Doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Servant leadership commitments clarify this a step further by asking whether leaders are considering the needs of followers and empowering them in their work of serving the needs of others.

This is why Kathleen Patterson believes that servant leadership is based on love at its core and that “true leadership is based on love.” With a primary commitment to followers, servant leaders drive their organizations’ missions forward toward success as they commit first to caring for (loving) their followers.

Loving Us along the Way

One of my colleagues, Mark McCloskey, argues that followers bring three core questions to their leaders. These questions often are not verbalized, but the degree to which followers have answers to these questions drives commitment and performance.

  1. Do you know where you’re going?
  2. Can you get us there?
  3. Will you love us along the way?

Clear vision and leadership capacity are at the core of the first two questions. The third question speaks more to the character and values guiding the leader. Followers want to know that not only will things get done, but that they will also experience loving leadership along the way.

What’s Love Got to Do with It? – Everything!

So, back to our question: What’s Love Got to Do with Leadership? When leadership is done well, I argue that love is at the core of that leadership practice. It is done with the good of followers in mind (doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons), and it’s done in the right manner (loving people along the way).

Leader Love and You

Whether leadership love is a foreign concept or an intuitive practice for you, I encourage you to take some time this week to think through how love is shaping your leadership practice. How are you engaging your followers with consideration and care? How are you serving your followers as they aim to serve others? How are you caring for and loving your followers along the way in carrying out your organization’s mission?

#7 … Top Posts from 2015 — 37 Barriers to Change

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Photo Credit: Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015. In the coming weeks I will be taking time both to share new content and to share some of the top viewed posts from the past year.

The #7 post from 2015 was …

37 Barriers to Change

Change is an unavoidable reality in organizational life. Like death and taxes, change is part of life whether we like it or not. As a normal part of life in organizations, leaders must understand well but common barriers to change and how to effectively negotiate these barriers.

Continuity & Change

One of the key thought leaders on managerial theory in the 20th century was Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker regularly emphasized the importance balancing continuity and change in thriving organizations.

Organizational leaders have the responsibility of guiding their organizations in such a way that communities both benefit from time-tested practice (continuity) as well as creativity and innovation (change).

Facing Barriers to Change

Because change is a reality leaders must engage, it is vital that leaders understand not only their goals in a change process, but also the forces that are working against change.

In this top post from 2015, I present 37 barriers to change that leaders regularly face. Take some time to familiarize yourself with these key barriers.

Here’s a link to the Purpose in Leadership #7 post from 2015:

37 Barriers to Change