Vocational Discernment — It’s about WE, not ME

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I enjoyed time at a conference on the intersection of faith and work earlier this month (see: Karam Forum).

One of the themes that arose multiple times was the importance of community in flourishing economies and in the lives of flourishing individuals. The concept of human flourishing is about growth and development. The best flourishing, however, does not happen in isolation—it happens within the context of a community where we are able to use our gifts, skills, and abilities in service of others.

It is tempting to think of our careers, jobs, and vocations through an individualistic lens, though. Consider such questions:

  • What do I want to do with my life?
  • What type of work do I most enjoy?
  • What are my passions, interests, and desires?
  • How can my passions, interests, and desired be most fulfilled in the context of my work?

These are not bad questions, they are simply incomplete. Vocation is not primarily about “I”, “my”, and “me.” Vocation—the most fulfilling and meaningful forms of vocational stewardship—is more about “we” than “me.”

Certainly, we need to reflect on vocation from a personal perspective, but the most fulfilling forms of vocational stewardship that lead to human flourishing involve deep reflection on how our work will serve others, not just ourselves. Tom Nelson referred to this as the “we-ness” of our work.

When vocation is primarily about me—what will be most enjoyable to me or what will most quickly build my wealth—work becomes merely functional and utilitarian.

We work is about we—how I can use my gifts and skills to contribute to the benefit of others—work becomes fulfilling and infused with great meaning.

In their book Practicing the King’s Economy, Rhodes, Holt and Fikkert remind us that “Every road to the economy of the kingdom runs through the creation of community.” Our work and vocation do not find their meaning and fulfillment in isolation. Vocation becomes rewarding when we consider how we utilize who we are and what we are able to do in service of others. In diverse expressions of work, we find the most fulfillment in our vocation when we see how our work connects to and meaningfully serves others.

How will your unique gifts, skills, and abilities in this life best contribute to the flourishing of both your own life and to the lives of others? The best vocational choices in life come when we thinking about “we” rather than just thinking about “me” in the context of our work.

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What are your thoughts on vocational discernment? Take a moment to share your perspectives below.

Leadership Communication: Reflections on Dr. King’s Example

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Photo Credit: MLK Memorial, by Thad Zajdowicz, Flickr

Last week I noted how leadership communication has been a topic of significant interest among Purpose in Leadership readers. Leaders who care about their message must learn the art and practice of effective leadership communication.

While there are there many positive examples of leadership communicators in history, one of the most powerful visionary communicators of the twentieth century was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In an upcoming book that will be published this summer, I take some time to unpack leadership communication practices by looking at the example of Dr. King.

Dr. King was clear on his core message. He also was able to draw on this core message when needed, and speak about what mattered most to him in an extemporaneous manner. While he delivered as many as 450 speeches a year at some points, King was able to return to his core message in powerful ways.

Dr. King also knew how to blend both powerful logic and compelling passion that engaged hearts and minds alike. Using a rhetorical pattern of repetition in communication known as anaphora, King engaged his audiences in both memorable and moving ways. Though certainly not limited to Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, consider the use of anaphora in this speech: “One hundred years later,” “Now is the time,” “We can never be satisfied,” “With this faith,” “Let freedom ring,” and, of course, “I have a dream.” Such repetition helped to bring King’s compelling message to a place of memorability.

Dr. King also used visionary and imaginative language as a key communication tool. Consider such powerful language such as: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” and “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Dr. King’s language awoke the imagination of his hearers to “see” through his visionary word pictures.

Also embedded in these and other speeches by King is the power of vision and word pictures. As King cast a vision for equality and justice to diverse audiences, he intentionally used language that was visual in nature. His language awoke the imagination to “see” this arc of the moral universe. His language awoke the imagination to “see” freedom ringing across the United States from the Northeast, to the West Coast, to the Deep South. His language awoke the imagination to “see” sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners sitting down together at the table of brotherhood. His language awoke the imagination to “see” little black boys and black girls joining hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers

Here’s a glimpse of how we wrap up this section reflecting on Dr. King as an effective leadership communicator in our forthcoming book:

This is the power of leaders using visionary language. Through their language, leaders help people to see and envision what a preferred future can look like. King used visionary language and rhetorical devices—his language engaged the whole person. King used personal authenticity—people knew he was an owner rather than a renter of the vision he was casting. And King used a message that was clear and focused—people knew what King stood for and how they could join him in this vital work of moving toward equality and justice.

While such a powerful model of communication is not something many, or any, can fully replicate, King’s model of communicating with clarity should inspire current and aspiring leaders. Be clear on your message. Embody your message with personal authenticity. And learn tools of language and speech that can bring your message to life.

As you think about the intersection of leadership and communication, what observations and insights do you have? Take a moment to 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.

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?

Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload

 

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Photo Credit: collaboration, by Jennifer Leonard, Flickr

I’m a fan of teamwork. Team leadership was an area of focus for me in my Ph.D. dissertation research entitled Servant Leadership and Team Effectiveness. See some of my positive affirmations of teams in the following posts:

While teams have many benefits, there are challenges associated with teams as well. See a previous post in which I highlight and discuss the following 6 Challenges of Teams (subtitle…Removing the “I’s” from Your Team):

  • Ingrown
  • Indecision
  • Inaction
  • Inefficiency
  • Inequity
  • Inconsideration

Collaborative Overload

In a recent HBR article, Cross, Rebele, and Grant take up another important challenge in an article entitled “Collaborative Overload: Too Much Teamwork Exhausts Employees and Saps Productivity.”

In their article they provide several important cautions surrounding team member exhaustion, and in so doing remind us to not overload on a good thing. The core of the identified problem in the article is expressed in the following manner:

Although the benefits of collaboration are well documented, the costs often go unrecognized. When demands for collaboration run too high or aren’t spread evenly through the organization, workflow bottlenecks and employee burnout result.”

Cross, Rebele, and Grant go on to recommend solutions to this problem that are focused on better managing collaboration through efficient organizational and team practices. This is good advice.

Authentic Collaboration

As I engaged their work, I also began to think of another solution that I’ll label “Authentic Collaboration.”

From my experience with teams, groups, and committees, the problem is not too much collaboration, but rather too much of the wrong type of collaboration.  Let me explain.

When participants in a collaborative process are playing a role on the team, group, or committee that is authentic and meaningful, this type of collaboration tends to be energizing. When participation is inauthentic and merely procedural, this type of collaboration tends to be energy draining and feel like wasted time.

Meaningful Participation

Often from positive motivations, leaders and administrators tend to draw people into a collaborative experience because these leaders and administrators need a representative from diverse divisions or interests in their organizations.

When this practice is about wanting to authentically hear voices from these unique perspectives, this can lead to meaningful and authentic collaboration. However, when this practice is simply about wanting to placate an organizational perspective or voice, and the voice at the table is not authentically desired by leadership, this can lead to unproductive and inauthentic collaboration.

Again, I would argue collaboration is not the problem, but rather the wrong type of collaboration. When people are invited to the table of collaboration, the invitation needs to be authentic. Help people to be good stewards of their time by facilitating meaningful participation for all involved on the team, group, or committee.

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What has been your experience with collaboration? What problems and challenges have you faced? How have you engaged these problems and found meaningful solutions? Take a moment to share your experience below.

The Power of Vision, Part 5

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Photo Credit: Visions of Color, by Joe Dyndale, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series focused on the power of vision. Here’s a snapshot of where we’ve been in the series:

  • In Part 1, I began by providing the following definition of vision: vision is a picture of a preferred future. Further, I described the major work of leaders as communicating this picture of a preferred future in a manner that is compelling and unifying.
  • In Part 2, I engaged the capacity of vision to provide passion, motivation, direction, and purpose for life and leadership.
  • In Part 3, I engaged how leaders can help to make vision stick by casting the vision well, celebrating the vision well, and living the vision well.
  • In Part 4, I engaged how leaders can identify their burning passion and compelling vision.

This week, I’d like to provide a final encouragement as you consider the vision you are meant to pursue in the year ahead.

Looking to Your Future

As I write this post, New Year’s Day is just around the corner. In many ways, the start of a new year provides an opportunity for us to do what we should be regularly doing throughout the year—looking to the future and planning in light of it.

As you look out the future, what is the picture of a preferred future both for you and your organization?

First, what does this preferred future look like both personally and professionally?

  • Personally: What is your personal vision … for you, your family, and your community in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead?
  • Professionally: What is your professional or organizational vision … for you and the community you serve in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead?

Second, what does this future look like at different points along the way on the journey toward your preferred future?

  • What does it look like weeks in the future?
  • What does it look like months in the future?
  • What does it look like years in the future?

Developing a Strategy for Visionary Planning

Weekly Carve out 15 minutes at the beginning of each week in order to prioritize your schedule and insure you are working toward your preferred future.
Monthly Carve out 2 hours to evaluate the previous month and then plan for the coming month in light of your visionary priorities.
Quarterly Carve out a day (workday length) in order to evaluate progress in light of your personal and professional vision. Use this evaluation to make adjustments for the coming 2-3 months.
Annually Carve out a 1-2 day retreat (getting away to a hotel, cabin, or retreat center) where you can have focused time not only evaluating the past year, but also reevaluating your overall visionary priorities. This is an annual time to insure that the direction of your life and leadership is moving toward a preferred future in light of the things that matter most in life.
Seasonally (each 5-7 years) Carve out a week or more every 5-7 years for a season of deep rest, refreshment, and renewal. This is not about simply taking a vacation—something that likely happens every year—but rather taking a genuine sabbatical from the normal routines of life. Some professions may allow for this seasonal time to be multiple months of rest, refreshment, and renewal. For other professions and work contexts, this seasonal time may be limited to a typical vacation week. In either case, find a path for intentional reflection on the trajectory of your life and leadership.

Have you seen tangible progress toward major visionary dreams you had 5 to 7 years earlier (degrees you wanted to complete, job changes you wanted to pursue, organizational goals you wanted to accomplish, etc.)?

As you look out into the next 5 to 7 years of your life and leadership, what are your major visionary priorities for the years ahead? What course corrections need to be made now to help navigate toward this preferred future? How can you adjust your schedule, budget, and general pace of life to make space for prioritizing movement toward this preferred future?

Engaging major life questions like this takes time and space for rest, renewal, and reflection. Take time not only for vacation and recreation, but also for sabbatical in order to tackle such visionary reflection and dreaming in your life.

 Vision: the Tool for Leading from the Front

Whether thinking of vision personally, professionally, or organizationally, vision is a powerful tool for your life and leadership.

Engaging the power of vision in leadership, Burt Nanus shares these thoughtful insights:

Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead from the front.
Effective leaders don’t push or production their followers. They don’t boss them around or manipulate them. They are out front showing the way. The vision allows leaders to inspire, attract, align, and energize their followers—to empower them by encouraging them to become part of a common enterprise dedicated to achieving the vision.

Rather than simply using push and production techniques, as leaders we need to learn to lead from the front. Vision provides the essential tool for moving from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. Vision provides the path for painting a picture of a hopeful future that motives us personally and others organizationally. As Nanus notes, “Vision is the main tool leaders use to lead from the front.”

Taking Your Next Visionary Steps

As you look to your future, the key is to pay attention and make changes based on this visionary reflection. In the week ahead, I encourage you to take some time to pay attention to your preferred future (your vision), and begin to take steps toward this preferred future in practical, tangible, and meaningful ways.

God’s best to each of you as you make strides toward the things that matter most in your life.


Here are all of the post links for this series: