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.

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.

Priority #2: Transformational Leadership and Organizational Transformation

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Photo Credit: Butterfly, by David Yu, Flickr

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.

Last week I settled in on the first priority: Servant Leadership and Follower Focus. This week I’ll settle in on the second priority: Transformational Leadership and Organizational Transformation.

A Commitment to Transformation

Complementing the follower-focus of servant leadership, transformational leadership is about creating broad and intrinsic ownership of the organization’s mission by leaders and followers alike. Such ownership happens as leaders and followers together mutually value and commit to transformation.

Although this commitment to transformation has significant organizational implications, I argue, particularly from a biblical perspective, that transformation of teams and organizations finds its roots in individual and personal transformation. If I want to lead an organization in a transformational journey, I must being willing to engage a process of transformation myself.

Presenting a vision for personal and spiritual transformation, Paul in the Bible wrote:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

Much can be said about this verse and the surrounding arguments in 2 Corinthians, but the main point I want to make is that a commitment to personal transformation into Christ-like character is a deeply biblical and Christian concept. From such personal transformation springs forth transformation and other levels of life and leadership.

A Commitment to Transformation
is a Commitment to Ongoing Growth

At both the individual and organizational level, a commitment to transformation and change really comes down to a commitment to ongoing growth. While other forms of leadership may be content with a status-quo approach to maintain at minimal levels, transformational leadership is about raising one another’s aspirations—leaders and followers alike—to higher levels of impact and opportunity to serve.

There certainly are appropriate cautions that could be raised at this point. Focusing on growth toward higher levels of impact and opportunity to serve could be more about vain ambition than it is about the priority of serving others discussed in the last post. This is why beginning with personal transformation before organizational transformation is so important. We need to pay attention to the motives behind a desire for greater impact and service.

However, if we are actively paying attention and guarding against the negative dimensions of ambition, the pursuit of growth personally and organizationally often leads to significant health—both personally and organizationally. Pursuing transformation and change is really about maintaining on open posture towards growth. It is about maintaining a commitment to ongoing and life-long learning.

Creating Owners of the Organizational Mission

As a formal discipline of study, transformational leadership emphasizes need for leaders and followers alike to own the organizational mission. Other forms of may be content with autocrats dictating to others what needs to be done, but transformational leadership at its core is about engaging leaders and followers in what they want to do, not just what they have to do.

Transactional and autocratic forms of leadership are primarily based on a leader-follower exchange that incentivizes followers through extrinsic motivators. In contrast, transformational leadership is based on a leader-follower engagement that motivates followers intrinsically. Transformational leadership is about engaging followers in such a way that leaders and followers are mutually committed to the organization’s mission and are willing to undergo transformational change with organizational goals in view.

Francis Yammarino puts is this way:

“The transformational leader arouses heightened awareness and interests in the group or organization, increases confidence, and moves followers gradually from concerns for existence to concerns for achievement and growth.”

Rather than lining up willing renters in the cause of the organization’s vital mission, transformational leadership is all about lining up willing owners of the organization’s mission. People become owners of the mission because the mission itself becomes something that is intrinsically motivating. When this shift from extrinsic incentivizing to intrinsic motivation takes place for leaders and followers, organizational members move from a spirit renting to a spirit of owning.

If you want to help develop owners of the organizational mission, draw on the wisdom of transformational leadership theory. This will provide a foundation from which you may engage in the journey of ongoing growth and transformation in service of your organization’s important mission.

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In my next post, I’ll turn my attention to the third leadership priority: Team Leadership and a Collaborative Orientation.

#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

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.

Leading Emotional Culture in Organizations

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Photo Credit: Emotion, by Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr

I’m in a mini-series engaging the importance of organizational culture.

I began by engaging Why Organizational Culture Matters (“Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”). In that post, I engaged the questions…

  • What Is Organizational Culture? And,
  • Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?

Based on answers to these questions I concluded that leaders must focus on both smart strategy AND healthy culture in their leadership work.

Next, I presented a case for Engaging the Emotional Side of Organizational Culture, and discussed the following:

  • Why emotional culture matters for organizations, and
  • What leaders can do to positive create and shape a healthy emotional culture.

At the end of that post I noted recommendations from Barsade and O’Neill — three key steps in this process:

  1. “Harness what people already feel”
  2. “Model the emotions you want to cultivate”
  3. “Get people to fake it till they feel it”

At this point I want to take some time to provide additional reflections around these points and encourage you regarding how you can positively shape the emotional culture of your team or organization.

Here are reflections on each of these steps.

What Can Leaders Do about It?

“Harness What People Already Feel”

Because organizational members are already experiencing and exhibiting, this also means that many are likely already exhibiting the desired emotional culture. The key from a leadership and managerial perspective is to “catch” these individuals doing the right thing.

On this point, Ken Blanchard argues that one of the most effective managerial practices is to focus on what employees are doing well—catching them doing the right thing. This practice can be applied to nurturing healthy emotional culture.  One example from the Barsade and O’Neill article was a “kudos board” used in an ICU hospital unit. It was board used to celebrate how the hospital staff embodied the desired emotional culture in their unit and organization.

“Model the Emotions You Want to Cultivate”

In addition to harnessing what people already feel, leaders and managers modeling the emotions they want to cultivate is also vital. Barsade and O’Neill provide the following managerial example:

If you regularly walk into a room smiling with high energy, you’re much more likely to create a culture of joy than if you wear a neutral expression. Your employees will smile back and start to mean it.”

“Get People to Fake It Till They Feel It”

Authenticity is important. But it is important to not only express present feelings, but to nurture other positive and healthy feelings that are productive for employees, customers, organizational constituents, and the organization as a whole. I see the authentic way of talking about this is around the language of aspirational emotional culture.

It is okay to recognize the gap between where individuals are presently and intentionally or strategically working toward the aspirational reality. Both spontaneous and strategic emotional expression is meaningful and valuable.

In many ways, this is what emotional intelligence is all about—the appraisal and expression of emotion. Emotional intelligence begins with recognizing what is happening at the emotional level in ourselves and others, and then responding to and out of these emotions in ways that are healthy and productive.

Social psychologists support the idea that conformity to group emotional expression norms is a common reality in life. Such conformity to emotional norms benefits both the individual and the organization. Based on these realities, Barsade and Olivia O’Neill recommend approaching emotional expression through what they call deep acting. In contrast to surface acting, deep acting may be used in developing long-term solutions: “with this technique, people make a focused effort to feel a certain way, and then suddenly they do.”

Emotional Cultures Do Not Improve
without Focus at All Levels

The above strategies are practical recommendations for how to proactively create and shape a healthy organizational culture in your organization, division, or team. Consistent with the above, it is important to emphasize that no organizational level is exempt from this work—especially top level management and leadership.

On this point, Barsade and O’Neill note:

Just like other aspects of organizational culture, emotional culture should be supported at all levels of the organization. The role of top management is to drive it. …it’s up to senior leaders to establish which emotions will help the organization thrive, model those emotions, and reward others for doing the same.”

Healthy Emotional Culture and You

As with most leadership endeavors, the best place to start is looking in the mirror and seeing what positive steps you can take to influence others around you. Here are a few questions to trigger your thoughts on this topic:

  • As you consider the insights on nurturing a healthy emotional culture in your organization, what can you do in the coming days, weeks, and months to make progress on your organization’s emotional culture?
  • Are there emotions you can express even tomorrow (e.g., nurturing joy through regular smiles)?
  • Are there systems you can set up that provide opportunity for individuals and organizations to better pay attention to the emotional climate and culture in your organization?

For some, this work will be natural and easy. For others, this will be hard work. In either case, healthy organizational culture includes healthy emotional culture. Take time to prioritize the emotional health of your organization’s culture in the coming days.