#9 … Top Posts from 2015 — Remembering A Life Well-Lived

 

C. Mervin Russell

In a previous post I shared some observations on my top blogs posts from 2015 [link]. 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 #9 post from 2015 was …

A Life Well-Lived:
Remembering My Grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell

My grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell, passed away at 93 years of age in January of 2015. On the heels of our family’s memorial service remember Grandpa’s life, I wanted to take some time to think about what his life meant to me and so many others.

These reflections led me to reflect on a passage from the Bible in Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith
.”

Grandpa Russell’s life was indeed a life well-lived. Grandpa’s life was a gift to me. And, based on the number of individuals that took time to engage with this post, there are many others who were blessed by him as well — both directly and indirectly.

I invite you to join me, one year later, in reflecting again on a life well lived, and then considering how his life may be an example for us in the days ahead.

Here’s a link to the Purpose in Leadership #9 post from 2015:

A Life Well-Lived:
Remembering My Grandfather, Dr. Charles Mervin Russell

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Servant leadership is a good idea. The core of servant leadership is about leaders placing follower needs at the highest priority level. Most would agree this is a good idea. The question many do raise, however, is whether or not this good idea is also effective?

Thankfully social science research methods can help us. One of the benefits of social science research is its capacity to confirm the utility or effectiveness of practices that are inherently valid philosophically or biblically.

Good Ideas that Work

For instance we do not need research to inform us that humility is important for individuals and leaders; this is an argument that may be made practically, philosophically and biblically. The validity and importance of humility may be argued apart from research. However, research can come alongside logic and experience to confirm the utility or effectiveness of an idea like humility. This is what was found by Jim Collins in his research on Level Five Leaders. Not only is leader humility ethically-good and biblically-consistent as an idea—an argument that may be made biblically, philosophically, and practically—Jim Collins found through research that leader humility is also effective.

Servant Leadership: An Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

A similar argument may be made for understanding servant leadership. The importance and validity of servant-oriented leadership practices can be argued ethically, morally, philosophically, practically, and biblically apart from questions of its utility and effectiveness. However, it is powerful when leadership practices that are ethically-good and biblically-consistent are also found to be effective.

While servant leadership is a good and values-based model of leadership practice—and this alone is enough for leaders to utilize servant leadership practices—it is also helpful to know that servant leadership is effective. And indeed it is. Servant leadership is not only a good idea. It works.

9 Effective Leadership Practices

So what characterizes servant leadership? What leader behaviors are consistent with servant leadership practice?

Here are 9 core leadership practices that I’ve identified as not only good ideas, but also as effective.

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

In the coming weeks, I’ll unpack each of these practices and provide reflections both on why they are important and how leaders may use them to effectively guide their followers.

For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

How to Pray for Your Work

the prayer continued, Flickr

the prayer continued, Flickr

Do you pray? Do you pray about and for your work?

For some, your work may be in a church, school, or organization where prayer is encouraged. For others, your work may be in a place where prayer is simply for personal and private expression.

Regardless of your work context, it is important for us to remember that we are not alone in our work. God cares about you. God cares about the challenges you face in your work.

I’d like to provide some brief reflections on prayer and work

Prayer for Work

First, it is important to recognize that the Bible encourages us to pray for our work. Consider for a moment the example of Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90:16-17. In these verses, both the work of God and our work is addressed. Moses prays:

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

This is a verse I frequently return to as I begin and go throughout my work days. As I put my hands to the work of my day, I want to be mindful of where God is at work (“Let your work be shown to your servant”), and I want to ask for God’s favor and presence to bless, guide, and establish my work (“let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands”).

A friend of mine who served as the director of a major international airport would often use his commute time at the start his day to pray about his work. He looked to verses such as James 1:5 to guide him:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

If you are like most people, you have concerns and challenges in your work. The Bible invites you to bring these concerns and challenges to the Lord in prayer. Ask for God to give you wisdom for the work of your day. Ask to be mindful of His presence with you in your work. Ask for his guidance and favor to establish and make successful the work of your hands.

Why Prayer for Your Work Matters

As you bring your work and your prayer together, here are some final thoughts on why prayer matters:

  • Prayer reminds us that we are not alone
  • Prayer provides a place for us to bring our worries and concerns
  • Prayer reminds us that while our work matters, our work is not the final word (God is at work even when we are not … see my previous reflections on this theme here)
  • Prayer provides a moment of pause to reflect on core needs and what matters most in our work and in our life
  • Prayer helps to align our will and desire with the will and desire of God
  • Prayer helps to align the resources of heaven with the needs of this world

Enjoy the journey of praying in and for your work. God cares about you. God cares about your work. He wants to hear what’s on your heart and mind in prayer.

Whether for the first time or the thousandth time, share your heart and thoughts with God in prayer. No special words are required. Share with Him what you are thinking in your own words. Ask for his guidance and direction where you are confused. Bring your concerns and challenges to God in prayer.

We Are All in This Together — Reflections on the National Prayer Breakfast

Ethiopia: Innocent Prayers of a Young Child, By Steve Evans, Flickr

Ethiopia: Innocent Prayers of a Young Child, By Steve Evans, Flickr

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 63rd National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. The National Prayer Breakfast has a long history representing the important role that faith plays in American life. Engaging the breadth of the United States, delegates were present from all 50 states.

Global Presence

But the National Prayer Breakfast is not limited to delegates from the United States. Representatives were present from 130 nations. This group of nearly 5,000 gathered together with members of Congress and President Barack Obama to do something quite unique in public life in our day—to reflect together on the person of Jesus of Nazareth and His teaching and also to ask God’s blessing and favor in the affairs of our world.

Diverse Sectors

In addition to representation from around the globe, the composition of the group also drew upon a diversity of sectors. Flourishing societies are built upon a foundation of multiple sectors working together in productive and meaningful ways. Key sectors in the United States are government, the market economy, and private/voluntary organizations.

A healthy and balancing relationship among government, market economy, and private sectors is vital for our future vitality and health as a society, and I’m reminded afresh that we are all in this together. The National Prayer Breakfast provides a place to come together from these multiple sectors to reflect on how Jesus and His teaching shape the manner in which we engage our work in each of these areas of society. Additionally, the National Prayer Breakfast represents a unique context in which people build relationships and pursue pathways for serving the people of our nation and world as we ask for God’s favor in this vital journey together.

The Experience

The experience of the National Prayer Breakfast is unlike any I’ve had previously. We heard from a wide range of speakers including President Obama, world-champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip, former Mayor and Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, and many others. We heard written remarks shared from voices as diverse as Pope Francis and King Abdullah of Jordon. And I had the opportunity to share personal interactions with a unique and wide range of individuals such as Manny Pacquiao’s friend and pastor, actor Stephen Baldwin, a best-selling author, and an elected official from my home state.

Perhaps the most meaningful personal interaction was with Doug Coe, the man who sought out President Eisenhower over 60 years ago to paint a vision for leaders around the world praying together around a focus on the person of Jesus and His teachings. Doug’s vision, persistence, and trust in Jesus has led to 63 national prayer breakfast gatherings and pointing thousands of lives around the world to gather in the name of Jesus even though coming from a wide range of religious, political, and national backgrounds.

From Global to Local

Although it was amazing to hear from and interact with such a unique group of people in this global gathering, the key takeaway for me was sharing this experience with individuals from my home state and home city. The experience was deeply meaningful and was a call to pursue, foster, and engage in deeper relationship with my neighbors around the person of Jesus Christ. This provides great hope for our region as we engage very real challenges and pray, work, and collaborate together toward the aim of serving and blessing the world in Jesus’ name.

A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine … it also increases productivity!

Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

– Proverbs 17:22

In a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, the title of a sidebar mini-article caught my attention … “Start Your Next Meeting with a Joke.”

In the highlighted research, teams with at least one person in a good mood were more than twice as likely to solve a puzzle as teams whose members were all in neutral moods. The article explains, “people in good moods are more likely to share knowledge and seek information from others, which cues the rest of the group to follow suit.”

As noted above, Proverbs 17:22 reads:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Not only is a joyful heart good medicine at the individual level, joy is also contagious. And, according to researcher Kyle Emich, this positive spirit also leads to greater productivity in teams. In other words, joy is not only pleasant, it is also productive.

What are you bringing to your team today? Are you bringing a negative or neutral mood, or are you bringing joy and positivity?

You Are Not Alone — Interdependence and Dependence in Leadership

Steering Wheel from a Vessel, Wilderness Kev, Flickr

Photo Credit: Steering Wheel from a Vessel, by Wilderness Kev, Flickr

How do you begin your day as a leader? I recently heard a friend share his leadership challenge of “waking up with the steering wheel in his hands.” Perhaps you can identify with this metaphor.

As leaders, it is all too easy to mentally and emotionally dive into our daily to-do list the moment we wake up. This level of all-in leadership engagement often continues throughout the workday and beyond. While understandable, such engagement can adversely effect us on multiple levels — our personal well-being, our interpersonal availability, and our team/organizational productivity.

In light of this challenge, we need to be intentional in finding time for pause, perspective, and refreshment in our day-to-day leadership responsibilities. I plan to write on several pathways for this intentionality in future posts, but I begin with this point — Remember You are Not Alone

Awareness of Our Finitude

Leaders are often wired toward independence … toward going it alone in the task of leadership. Thankfully, the practical nature of human limitation reminds us that we cannot do it all on our own. Leaders are reminded daily that there are only 24 hours with which to work. Leaders are reminded daily that our bodies need food to eat and the rest of sleep. Our finitude reminds us that going it alone is neither practical nor beneficial within the context of leadership.

You Are Not Able to Do it Alone”

Moses faced such limitations multiple times in his life and leadership. At one point, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro stepped in and challenged Moses’ independent approach to leading: “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).

Thousands of years later, leaders are still battling this reality Moses faced. So how can we work against this tendency? A quick answer to this is we need to remember that we are not alone.

Interdependence and Dependence

First, as with Moses, we have other people within our communities with whom we are able to partner in meeting the goals that matter to our organizations. As with Moses, we need to learn healthy interdependency in our leadership. We rise to greet the day with a community of people who are likely much more willing to partner with us than we think. We rise to family, friends, and associates with whom we may link arms and work toward the goals that matter most to our organizations.

For some communities, cultivating this interdependency means that leaders need to equip and empower volunteers. For other communities, this means equipping and empowering staff and coworkers with whom we serve on a common mission. As with Moses, we need to resist our tendency to go it alone. We must look for authentic partners with whom we may work and serve.

Second, as with Moses, we may rise to greet the day with a heavenly father who is ready to lead and guide us. As with Moses, we may learn our healthy dependency on God in life and leadership. Although leaders have a tendency to “wake up with the steering wheel in their hands,” leaders who are mindful of God’s presence recognize that they are not alone even when no one else is around.

On this point of remembering God’s presence, I appreciate a prayer of St. Patrick. Here are some excerpts from this prayer:

I arise today through the strength of heaven….

I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me….

Christ shield me today against wounding.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me….

I arise today
through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation”

Though sometimes drawn toward independence, leaders need to remind themselves early in the day that they are not alone.

  • I arise and awake to a God who is ready to “pilot me,” “uphold me,” and “guide me” through the demands of my day.
  • I arise to a day where there are opportunities to partner with others in work that matters.
  • I arise, and I remember that I am not alone in my leadership journey.

3 Reasons God Cares about Your Work

Work, Wacky Toyo Boy Borj, Flickr

Photo Credit: Work, Wacky Toyo Boy Borj, Flickr

Adding Value to the Lives of Others

Work takes many forms. At its core, work is anything that we do to add value to the lives of others. In contrast to this, play and recreation tend to be things focused on adding value to our own lives.

Sometimes we add value to the lives of others on the job when we are compensated in one form or another for our work. Other times, we add value to the lives of others through volunteer service or through the work we do for our family and friends.

Practicing the Presence of God in Our Work

As I was engaged in this last type of work (cleaning up dishes at home this weekend), my mind was draw to Brother Lawrence and his focus on “practicing the presence of God” in all of life and work. Here’s a link to some of his reflections (The Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life).

One of the prayers attributed to Brother Lawrence emphasizes 3 reasons that God cares about your work. Here’s my summary of these 3 reasons:

1.  God Wants to Mold You in Your Work

First, God cares about your work because God wants to mold you and shape you through your work. He wants to form and change you through serving others and adding value to their lives. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

“Lord of all pots and pans and things…
make me a saint by getting meals,
and washing up the plates.”

Through our work, God molds our character and values. Through our work, we are developed not only professionally but also personally. God uses work for our professional, personal, and spiritual formation. He uses work to change us for the better.

2.  God Wants to Meet You in Your Work

Second, God cares about your work because God cares about you. For many Christians, there is a tendency to separate our lives of weekend worship from weekday work. But God is not interested in just meeting you on Sunday morning (or whenever you gather for worship). God wants to meet you on Monday morning as well. He wants to meet with you and have you recognize His presence with you in your work. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

Warm all the kitchen with Thy Love,
and light it with Thy peace;
forgive me all my worrying,
and make my grumbling cease
.”

You can join Brother Lawrence in asking God to Warm all the kitchen / office / garage / home / school / shop / etc. with His Love, and light it with His peace. Ask God for wisdom on the job (James 1:5). Talk with him about the opportunities and challenges you face. When worried or anxious about something you are facing, offer this emotion up to the Lord and invite Him to replace this with His peace (Philippians 4:6-7). Look for God to meet you in your work.

3.  God Wants to Minister through You in Your Work

Finally, God cares about your work because God wants to minister through you to others. Work is one of the main pathways we add value to the lives of those around us. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

Thou who didst love to give men food,
in room, or by the sea,
accept the service that I do,
I do it unto Thee. Amen.”

As Brother Lawrence notes, Jesus not only met people’s spiritual needs, but He also met physical needs for food. We serve similar needs for one another through our work. God not only cares about you as a worker, He cares about the work you do. And, the work we do for others, particularly those with the greatest need, Christ views as service to Him also (Mathew 25:40).

God not only cares about chefs, He cares about the food we eat. He not only cares about dentists, but He cares about dentistry and the care of our teeth. He not only cares about plumbers, but also cares about access to water and a sanitary environment in which we can live. God uses your work to add value to the lives of others and to meet the needs of others. In our service to others, we are also serving Christ.

__________________

Your work matters to God. Through it he wants to mold you, meet you, and minister through you. Are you keeping your eyes, ears, and spirit open to God in the midst of your work?