Tag Archives: Leadership

Preparing for Leadership Change

Moses told the Israelites all that the Lord commanded him.
Numbers 29:40 (NIV)

For almost a quarter century my vocation has afforded me the opportunity to work with a number of businesses of all shapes and sizes around the globe. I’ve worked with small, family owned firms and giant global corporations. Finance, retail, telecommunications, insurance, manufacturing, and you name it. It continues to be a fascinating journey.

One of the observations I’ve made along my tenure is that every company’s culture flows out of the executive suite. Even in publicly traded companies and global conglomerates I observe that the leader’s personality, values, and priorities ripple through the organization. Positively or negatively, employees become acclimated to this corporate culture. It becomes the culture they know and are used to working within. When there is a change in leadership, there is always a wave of anxiety that courses through the company.

The transfer of leadership can be a tenuous and troubling period for any group of people. This is especially true with charismatic, larger-than-life leaders who build large organizations over a long period of time. Perhaps no one in the history of humanity fits that description better than Moses.

One of the realities that made me scratch my head when I first began reading God’s Message as a young person was the repetition. In the past few chapters of the book of Numbers we have a repetition of the description of prescribed feast days and festivals that God has given through Moses which were already described in the book of Leviticus. Why repeat it all over again?

As we near the end of Numbers Moses is nearing the end of his tenure as Patriarch and leader of the Hebrew tribes. He led their rescue from slavery in Egypt. He led them out of Egypt. He led them to Sinai where God prescribed through Moses the law, rituals, and traditions that gave their fledgling nation identity, organization, and order. He has been leading them through the wilderness to the land God had promised. He is old and a transfer of leadership is about to begin. Joshua will soon take the mantle of leadership. Believe me when I tell you that anxiety is rippling through the Hebrew nation. Even Moses, arguably the greatest leader in history, has got to be feeling it himself.

Are they ready? Is Joshua ready? How are they going to manage? Are they going to be okay? Will they succeed without me?

And what to good leaders do when they’re transferring leadership of the organization they’ve loved and served? They prepare the team for the transition.

And how do you prepare an organization for the leadership change? You remind them of the things that are important to remember.

While Numbers is right next to Leviticus in the Bible, it was written many years apart at completely different times and occasions. In today’s chapter, Moses is reminding Joshua and the nation of the things that are important for them to remember by repeating for them the outline of prescribed sacrifices, festivals, and feast days.

This morning I’m mulling over some transitions I’ve recently experienced and am experiencing in my own personal world. As a leader I want to be mindful of how my personality, values, and priorities affect the people under my leadership and the organizational culture that results. I want it to be positive. Likewise, I’m reminded this morning that good leaders prepare the people they serve, as best they can, for transitions of leadership. That includes reminding people of the important things they need to remember.

A Good Follower

The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.
Numbers 17:8 (NIV)

Years ago I was part of a team that had a leadership issue. Our appointed leader was a lightning rod who attracted a host of unnecessary concerns and distractions. Along with many other members, I could tell our team wasn’t functioning well. Our leader was an appointee, so there was no recourse other than to issue a complaint with the organizational authorities, but it appeared they fell on deaf ears.

As a member of the team, I came to a personal crossroads. I knew that becoming a part of the unceasing undercurrent of grumbling, complaining, and back-biting as not going to be profitable for myself or the team as a whole. Like it or not, this was our appointed leader. I could choose out and leave the team, or I could participate to the best of my ability, keep my mouth shut, and to support the team by doing my best not to be an active part of the dissension.

Grumbling. Whispers. Complaints.

If you’ve participated in any kind of human group, you likely have an example that you, yourself, have experienced. There is a spirit of unrest within the group; An undercurrent of disunity against the leadership or the status quo. In our chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers it’s been a theme now among the Hebrew tribes since they left Egypt. God has appointed a system and there is grumbling about the system.

Members of 11 tribes are grumbling that Aaron and the Levites are  the only ones who can serve in the Tabernacle. The Levites are grumbling that they can’t own property like all the other tribes. Certain Levites are grumbling that Moses, Aaron, and Miriam being the only appointed prophets. There’s already been a rebellion. The unrest is growing, and threatening to spill over into division.

In today’s chapter, God prompts Moses to gather a staff from the leader of each of the tribes. They place the walking sticks in the holy place of the traveling temple tent. The next day Aaron’s staff (representing the Levite tribe) had sprouted, bloomed flowers, and produced almonds. God was giving his unquestioned support to his appointed priest and system, and attempting to silence the grumbling.

Last week I found my meditation focused on the qualities of leadership. This morning, at the beginning of a new week, I find myself thinking about the role of being a good follower and member of the team, group, or organization. In a representative system where leaders are elected, I have the opportunity of making a change by supporting an opposition candidate to the incumbent and voting in a new leader at the next regular election. In an organization with appointed leadership I have far more limited options.

Along life’ s journey I’ve come to understand the wisdom of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.” Once complaints are registered with authority and that authority chooses to support the incumbent leader, then I am typically left with three options. I can leave the organization (if that’s  even an option). I can continue to participate in grumbling, complaining and stirring up dissension. I can keep my mouth shut and press on, doing the best I can in the circumstances.

My experience is that leaders come and go in all organizations. Poor leaders will typically implode or move on. To quote REO Speedwagon, sometimes there’s wisdom in simply “riding the storm out.”

If I want what is best for the team or organization as a whole, then being a good follower often means actively choosing not to participate in destructive grumbling despite the self-centric satisfaction derived from doing so.

Facing Opposition

Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council.
Numbers 16:1-2 (NIV)

Every leader of an organization, whether it be politics, business, community, church, or non-profit, will face opposition. It is, I’m afraid, simply part of the  territory.

In today’s chapter, Moses and his brother Aaron face yet another round of opposition to their leadership. They’ve already faced multiple waves of criticism, experienced sharp drops of popularity, and had to address multiple acts of defiance. Now, a Levite and three men from the tribe of Dan were ring-leaders of a 250 person rebellion. Their beef was that Moses and Aaron sat a lone at the top of the religious system. They wanted a piece of the power. “We’re all holy,” they argued. “Why is it only the two of you alone get to enter the Lord’s presence and speak for the Lord?” 

I’ve found it very common for leaders to face opposition from members of the group who envy all of the benefits of leadership. I also have found that these individuals often ignore the very real responsibilities and burdens that come along with that leadership. I’ve also observed that where there are a few passionate opposition leaders, you will soon find a growing group of supporters that they will have stirred up in order to support their own feelings and desires.

We later find that part of the opposition wasn’t just about power and control, but about material possessions. The Levites weren’t allowed to own property. God intended for them to take care of the temple and to be provided for through the temple and the offerings and sacrifices of the other tribes. Those opposed to Moses and Aaron’s leadership eventually reveal that what they want is the ability to own property like everyone else.

I’ve observed that opposition is often rooted in others’ appetites for power/control, money, or both.

I also observe this morning a couple of important lessons from Moses’ response to this latest round of opposition:

  • Moses didn’t ignore the opposition. Moses acknowledged the opposition and even allowed for a test of their opposition. He confronted Korah the Levite directly. He attempted to speak with the leaders of the opposition from Dan, but they wouldn’t speak to him. Opposition rarely just goes away and it often refuses direct communication. Left unchecked, opposition typically grows to become a larger and larger issue. Good leaders rise to the challenge and find ways to address opposition. There are many and diverse ways of addressing it, but I have learned (in some cases through failure, I confess) that it needs to be addressed.
  • Moses differentiated between opposition and the whole.  Rather than stepping back and accepting God’s anger to burn against the entire assembly, Moses’ pled for the consequences to be confined to those responsible. It’s easy from a position of leadership to perceive that the opposition is greater than it really is. Trying to remain objective and place responsibility and consequences where they are due can be critical to future success.
  • Moses continued to exhibit love and compassion for those under his leadership. At the end of the chapter we find Moses pleading with Aaron to make atonement for the entire assembly before a plague gets too far out of hand. It is easy when frustrated by opposition and the weariness of leadership to stop caring. Moses continued to exhibit deep concern for the people, despite the never-ending headaches they caused him.

This morning I’m thinking about my own experiences and qualities as a leader. I’ve had my share of successes along the way, but I’ve also failed at every one of the three leadership qualities I observed in Moses this morning. Specific situations, individuals, and circumstances come to mind. As I ponder these failures it humbly brings a final thought on leadership to mind: I can’t let failure stop me from trying. Learning from failure is perhaps the most critical lesson any leader can embrace.

As I get ready to start my day, a familiar quote from Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Leadership and Rabble Cravings

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!
Numbers 11:4 (NIV)

Throughout my life journey I’ve had the privilege of serving in numerous leadership positions from small groups to decent sized organizations. Leading others can be both a joy and a curse and it is almost always a challenge. When you step into the spotlight of leadership you immediately become an easy target.

This morning as I started reading the chapter I immediately laughed to myself. We just read at the end of yesterday’s chapter that the Hebrew tribes had finally embarked on their journey through the wilderness to the promised land.  We’re only four verses into journey and people are complaining. Not only are there complaints, but I found it humorous that the author describes the complainers as “rabble” driven by their “cravings.”

Complaints are part of the territory for any leader. Sometimes the complaints are well-founded and point to critical needs that need to be contemplated and addressed by leadership. There are also complaints that arise from disgruntled members whose focus is less about the vision, mission, or good of the whole and more about their individual felt needs and self-centric perceptions. When you’re busy trying to lead a major group effort, these grumblers can be maddeningly frustrating to manage. They drove Moses to such madness that he asked God to kill him rather than have to deal with them. Even God’s reply sounds like an exasperated parent dealing with whining children:

“Tell the people, Consecrate yourselves. Get ready for tomorrow when you’re going to eat meat. You’ve been whining to God, ‘We want meat; give us meat. We had a better life in Egypt.’ God has heard your whining and he’s going to give you meat. You’re going to eat meat. And it’s not just for a day that you’ll eat meat, and not two days, or five or ten or twenty, but for a whole month. You’re going to eat meat until it’s coming out your nostrils. You’re going to be so sick of meat that you’ll throw up at the mere mention of it.”

I’m reminded of whiners and complainers I’ve had the opportunity to manage over the years. I confess that the word “rabble” seems an apt moniker in some cases. In every case, however, I have to recognize that they were/are not evil individuals or bad people. I think today’s chapter is a great object lesson in the fact that whiners and complainers are often individuals discomforted by their own felt needs. These poorly managed inner cravings get expressed as tantrum-like complaints and childish demands that steal leaders’ time, energy, and attention away from more important matters.

This morning I’m encouraged by the truth that Moses, and it appears even God Himself, can reach a point of exasperation. I’m reminded that more than once Jesus expressed exasperation (i.e. “How long shall I put up with you?” Lk 9:41). When I as a leader experience craving-driven whines I am in good company.

I’m also reminded this morning that listening to and addressing complaints is part of every leader’s job description. It comes with the territory and being a good leader means managing complaints, including the craving-driven whines of self-centered rabble. Jesus said if you want to be a good leader you have to be a good servant, even to those can be frustrating and distracting.

God, grant me wisdom, patience and grace in the positions of leadership to which I have been called. Help me to serve well, love well, and lead well – even in my periods of utter exasperation.

featured photo courtesy of Tamara via Flickr

Swagger, Success & the Soul Effect

They conspired against [King Amaziah] in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish, but they sent men after him to Lachish and killed him there.
2 Kings 14:19 (NIV)

Football season has begun. Wendy and I listened to the wild Iowa State vs. Iowa game on our way home from the lake on Sunday. Last night we donned our Vikings regalia for the first time this year and enjoyed watching the purple people eaters win one over Saints before falling asleep to the Broncos and Chargers game.

As casual fans who don’t follow football closely during the off-season, Wendy and I spend the first couple of weeks of the fall trying to keep track of who went where to play with whom and which coach went where to coach for whom. It seems like every year is a large game of musical chairs. It was so odd last night for Wendy and me to see our long-time star, Adrian Peterson, wearing a Saints uniform.

One of the harsh realities of sports in our culture is that you’d better win or else. Coaches have very little tolerance for players who don’t perform, and teams have very little patience for coaches who don’t consistently bring home victories. If you read social media you’ll find that fans have zero patience for either coaches or players as soon as the losses begin to mount.

In this morning’s chapter King Amaziah of Judah, who seems to have been as full of himself as many prima donna athletes today, pressed for a military campaign against King Jehoash and his nation’s heated rivals to the north in Israel. King Jehoash returned Amaziah’s challenge with a message that sports culture today would call “talking smack.” Jehoash gives Amaziah the chance to back down, but Amaziah would have none of it. Game on. King Amaziah and Judah are humiliated in defeat. The wall of Jerusalem is breached and the treasures of Solomon’s Temple are stolen as plunder.

The very next thing we learn about Amaziah is that his own people conspired against him. When Amaziah skipped town (hoping to be a free agent, perhaps?) they went after him and “permanently terminated his contract.” We don’t like losers.

This morning I’m thinking about our culture’s obsession with success and with winning. I could have used business as a similar parallel. There are certainly institutional churches who have similar expectations of success from their pastors. Yet the path that Jesus prescribes for me, His follower, has a distinctly different trajectory to it:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

I understand that having a job in sports, business, or elsewhere in our success-obsessed culture means delivering wins and exceeding expectations. I wonder, however, what effect this corporately has on our souls over time. In the ceaseless pursuit of worldly success, it’s easy to forfeit, or simply lose, our spiritual center. Amaziah had didn’t have to taunt Israel. He didn’t have to pursue expanding his kingdom. He could have focused on contentedly serving his own people to become a king they would honor and respect.

Mentors, Mantles, and the Mayhem of Transition

[Elisha] picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
2 Kings 2:13-15 (NRSV)

Transitions are never easy. Along life’s journey I am constantly finding comfort in the status quo. What “has been” seems safe and secure in the “now.” Change skews the equilibrium. Anxiety bubbles to the surface. What “will be” suddenly seems uncertain because the “now” is no longer what “has been.” Anxiety quickly morphs into fear. I try to maintain the outward appearance of stability despite the fact my spirit is reeling like a drunken sailor. Fear subtly begins to leak out of my sub-conscious into the open in all sorts of unexpected (and often unhealthy) ways as my spirit searches for ways to cope with uncertainty.

In my work I often find myself on-site with clients amidst the whirlwinds of change. Corporate acquisitions, changes in leadership, changes in technology, changes in team, and changes in jobs are all realities that my clients struggle with in their workplace. There are even companies I know for whom the destabilizing effects of change become the status quo. I get to witness the internal and external effects of the ceaseless churn on individuals in my coaching sessions and conversations.

There are many layers of meaning in the events described in today’s chapter. I could write a weeks worth of blog posts (or more) peeling back and exploring every one of them. The main theme of today’s chapter, however, is transition. It is an event that our culture regularly references without realizing the source. When the great prophet Elijah is whisked up to heaven in a fiery tornado,  his “mantle” falls to the ground. Mantle refers to a loose cloak worn over clothes. His protégé prophet, Elisha, “takes up the mantle” of leadership from his mentor, Elijah. Elisha picks up his mentor’s discarded mantle and immediately uses the mantle to perform the same miracle Elijah had just performed with it before his dramatic exit. The act confirms to the team of prophets witnessing all of this that there has suddenly been a huge transition in the executive ranks of the prophetic organization. The corporation of prophets suddenly finds themselves with a new CEO.

What’s fascinating is that the first act among the corporation of prophets is sub-conscious anxiety oozing out into well-cloaked organizational action:

“Let’s appoint a committee to go look for Elijah. We saw him whisked up in a whirlwind, but no one saw him land. We need to verify that he is really gone.” (Because finding Elijah and returning to the comfortable status quo would feel much better than the anxiety I’m feeling about Elisha running things!)

Elisha warns that the actions are a waste of time and resources, but the search committee is adamant to the point exasperating the new leader. Fear does funny things to people.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions. I’ve been through many of them professionally and personally on this life journey. I’ve come to recognize the familiar, internal pangs of anxiety and fear that accompany these abrupt changes of course. They don’t necessarily get easier, but I’d like to hope that I’ve matured in how I respond to them inside and out. I’ve come to understand that what “has been” never completely passes away. It simply becomes the foundation on what “will be” is going to be built. I simply have to hold the tension of “now” with faith in what I believe to be true no matter what was, what is, or what is to come: I can trust that God’s got this.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Isaiah 41:10

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

featured image: detail from the St. John’s Bible

Three Heroes: Winston Churchill

I was recently challenged by a friend to embark on this exercise that they’d been working on as part of an identity statement they were developing for a class. Quite simply, you pick three people who are “heroes” or individuals you greatly admire. It can be almost anyone, but should be someone famous and someone you don’t know personally. For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, it was asked that He be excluded from this particular exercise.

I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, and it lends itself to a a good blogging challenge. There were a handful of finalists but I finally narrowed it down to three. As it happens, I have photos of these gentlemen taped on the front of my old, worn, paperback Bible (see the featured image of this post).

Today… it’s Winston Churchill.

The more I’ve learned about Churchill over the years, the more I’ve come to appreciate and admire him. Here are a few of the reasons off the top of my head:

Churchill steadfastly held to what he believed to be right. After World War I, when the nations were high on the notion that it was “the war to end all wars,” a young Churchill believed that greatest deterrent to another war was Britain’s strong defense. When the Chamberlain administration was bent on appeasing Hitler and holding that the upstart German dictator didn’t pose a threat to Britain, it was Churchill who was willing to be the loudest, loneliest voice of warning. Churchill reminds me of the strength and character required to stand firm for what you know is right.

Churchill understood, perhaps better than any 20th statesman, the power of words and oratory. He was a master at crafting a speech and delivering it for powerful and memorable effect. During the dark days of World War II when frightened Britons huddled in the dark of night as German bombers rained terror from the skies, it was Churchill’s words that shored up their resolve and inspired their courageous defiance. I am sometimes complimented for my speaking abilities, but Churchill reminds me how much I have yet to learn (and the inspiration to keep working at it).

Churchill was an artist. When he wasn’t changing the course of human history and saving the free world from tyranny, he was outside in nature, in front of a canvas, with a brush in his hand. He reminds me that one can make a living at business or politics while still making a life with art.

churchill painting bw

Churchill struggled. He didn’t have a particularly happy childhood or home life. He had financial struggles. He had major, public failures. He was the object of ridicule and scorn. And, he never let it stop him.

Churchill enjoyed life. The biographies I’ve read of the statesman make it clear that he enjoyed  good company, good cigars, good Scotch, and good discourse. I would love to have enjoyed a long meal, good drink, and an after dinner stogie with the man as we discussed a plethora of topics.

In the person of Winston Churchill I find a cocktail of character, conviction, creativity, leadership, communication, and life. It is a mix that I would love to emulate in my own journey.