Tag Archives: Leadership

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.

Every Leader Wears a Target

The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon.
Nehemiah 4:17 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey I’ve learned that when set yourself up to lead almost any effort, no matter how noble your intent, you will always encounter opposition. Parents trying to lead their family well will experience opposition from children, so-called experts, other parents telling them they’re doing it wrong, or the grandparents telling them they’re screwing up the kids. Teachers leading a classroom have to wear emotional body armor against the slings and arrows they get from all sides. Every preacher on Sunday morning, no matter how true his or her message, has at least a few congregation members who will serve up roast pastor for their Sunday dinner. The greater the task being led, the more virulent the opposition will be.

patton george bailey w text

In this life, God has not led me on roads where I have been called upon to take on monumental leadership roles. I have never been Patton called on to lead armies in saving the free world from Hitler’s minions. I have always been George Bailey fighting the relatively silly skirmishes of Bedford Falls. Still, I am always amazed at how universally this paradigm holds true. People are people. Stand in a position of leadership and you wear a target on your chest.

So it was that Nehemiah and the people building the walls of Jerusalem encountered opposition from their neighbors and enemies in today’s chapter. Their enemies did not want the wall rebuilt. They did not want Judah to rebuild its regional power. They wanted the walls and gates to remain in heaps of rubble. And so, with the threat of their work being attacked, the laborers had to build the wall with one hand, and had to be prepared to defend their work with the other.

I love that word picture as I wear my relatively minor mantels of leadership. I have to be prepared for opposition as I lead any kind of task. Of course, I’ve also learned that not all opposition or criticism is malicious or divisive. Quite often it is criticism that makes me aware of my blind spots and helps me shore up areas of need. Wise King Solomon said, “The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy.” Word. I’ve discovered that wisdom is often required to discern the difference between constructive criticism and opposition of ill intent. I’m still learning.

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Flexibly Staying the Course

And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous; for thus the Lord will do to all the enemies against whom you fight.”
Joshua 10:25 (NRSV)

Just the other night Wendy and I were with some friends and we recounted a period of time when we all worshiped together in the same church service. During this particular period of time the leaders loved having a catch phrase or motto that would be touted as the theme of whatever new initiative happened to spring into the leaders’ heads. There would be banners and bookmarks and an official launch of the great new theme. And, it would last for a mere few weeks until the next great theme came a long. There was a lot of laughter around the table as we recounted a number of themes and catch phrases that had been raised and then abandoned shortly thereafter when the next “it” theme came along.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating to find Joshua still clinging to the word God had given him back in the first chapter. “Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or discouraged.” We’re ten chapters and several battles (both won and lost) into the story. Joshua’s theme, however, has not changed with the winds of war or shifting sands of the landscape. In fact, Joshua makes a point of ensuring that  the theme is not forgotten. He takes the opportunity of victory to call the nation together and remind them to keep focused on that which God had said to him from the beginning.

Today I’m thinking about the challenge of staying the course amidst a culture of social media, news media, web content and trending topics that reduce our attention spans to mere moments. As a leader in family, business, church and community I’m thinking about my role in helping groups and individuals remain focused on vision, values, goals, and objectives. Like Joshua, I want to hold course to the vision, even while I remain flexible in adapting to ever-changing circumstances around me.

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“Then, Get on With It”

[Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:18 (NRSV)

In the final chapter of John’s biography of Jesus, he wraps up a few loose ends. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, we’d left Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest as the cock was crowing. Peter, as Jesus predicted, denied he was associated with Jesus three times.

One can only imagine the shame that Peter felt. He had not only been one of the twelve followers Jesus called to be disciples, but he had also been part of Jesus’ inner circle along with James and John. Peter was a recognized leader of the group and even Jesus had indicated that Peter was to play a crucial role in Jesus’ plan.

How fascinating to find Peter back home, back in his boat, and back to his old trade. I can imagine the conversation among Jesus’ followers. “What do we do now?” they ask behind locked doors of Jerusalem. Peter is supposed to be leading. Peter is supposed to be taking of the keys of God’s kingdom and unlocking hearts. But shame hovers over Peter’s own heart and mind like a black wall cloud.

“I’m a failure,” I hear Peter whispering to himself. “I blew it,” he mutters, “Just like Jesus knew I would. Some leader I am. I disqualified myself. ” Peter looks at the others. They’ll never follow him now, anyway, he muses. “Pick another leader from among yourselves,” he says to them. “I’m going home. Back to Galilee. Back to my boat and my nets.” Peter throws in the towel.

But Jesus wasn’t finished with Peter. The risen Jesus follows to Galilee and meets Peter right where he is. This is also right where it all started. This is the same place Jesus first encountered the brash fisherman and called him to follow.

Three times Jesus asks Peter the same question, “Do you love me?”

Three times Peter answers, “Yes.”

Three affirmations of love trump three denials. Love conquers. Love beats shame. Love wins.

This morning I’m thinking about my own shame and feelings of failure and inadequacy. I’m thinking about my own feelings of being disqualified from what Jesus has called me to do. When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” I hear the question in my own heart.

“Yes,” my heart whispers in response. “You know I do.”

“Then, get on with it,” I hear God’s Spirit answer back.

Time to start my day.

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Shocking Events Then and Now

“In those days, when there was no king in Israel….”
Judges 19:1a (NRSV)

The story in today’s chapter is one of those really challenging ones. It’s hard for a 21st century reader to wrap our heads around the every day realities of life in Judea 3,000 years ago. Life was brutal.  Life expectancy was short. Societal systems were infantile in comparison to the present. And still, there are important themes the author is trying communicate.

The past two chapters have begun with the phrase “In those days, when there was no king in Israel….” That’s not random comment. It speaks directly to why this story is being told. This period of the Judges was one in which there was no system of strong central leadership. The further we get into this period of time, the more the people began to clamor for Israel to have a king of their own. The story of that political transition is told in the the book of Samuel.

The shocking and violent story of the Levite and the gang-raped woman became an event that sparked societal upheaval and unrest. In the same way that events in Ferguson, MO sparked intense societal reaction over the past year and a half, so the events of today’s chapter will be like the pebble that unleashes an avalanche.

The author knows that this is shocking, gut wrenching reading. It still shocks us today to imagine the brutal events as we read. That was the point of telling this story. “Do you see how bad things had gotten?” the story asks us. “Do you understand how evil and violent we become when lawlessness reigns?”

I find myself pulled in two different directions as I ponder the story in today’s chapter. I’m grateful to live in a time and society that is, by comparison, far better than the one described in Judges. I live in a place where law and order offer the opportunity to live a long, full life in relative peace and safety.

As the same time, the shocking events described and the societal firestorm it sparks are ancient reminders to me of very current realities. The more things change the more they stay the same. As “advanced” as our society has evolved, we continue to deal with core human problems of hatred, rage, prejudice, violence, sexual violence,  misogyny, gang mentality, greed, and et cetera, and et cetera. Events similar to those we read about today were front page news from India just a short time ago.

The people in the book of Judges would grow to call for a king to make things better. People today are calling for a new president to make things better. Strong leadership can make things better for society, but it can’t change the human condition that lies at the very core of the societal problems. For that, I need a Savior and the transformation of heart, spirit and life that happens in relationship with Him.

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The Challenge of Leadership Change

Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.
Judges 12:7 (NRSV)

A leader sometimes needs time to find traction, and a quick succession of leaders creates difficulty for the team, or people, being led. I have observed this in different organizations from athletic teams to business to government and civic groups.

Take a step back and look at the list of Judges and the “year of rest” during their period of leadership so far:

Othniel (40)
Ehud (80)
Shamgar (?)
Deborah & Barak (40)
Gideon (40)
Tola (23)
Jair (22)
Jepthah (6)
Ibzan (7)
Elon (10)
Abdon (8)

The tenures of leadership are getting smaller. Unrest is growing, and it won’t be long before the people are crying out for a new form a government. All the city-states around them had strong central leadership in the form of a monarchy. Israel will be clamoring for that as well. God predicted this (Deut 17:14-15) and it will come to pass.

This morning I’m thinking about leadership and it’s relationship to the people and organizations under their influence. Time is required in developing a successful leadership and organizations. When there are rapid changes in leadership marked by short tenures, the organization struggles to find traction and constancy of purpose. The system learns to function on its own, believing/knowing that new leadership will not last and the chaos of change is futile. Dysfunction grows.

In an age in which changes in technology and culture are happening at a faster rate than any other time in history, I believe we will struggle. We will struggle the time required for the development of strong, capable leadership. We will struggle if/when leadership changes become more rapid.

God, help me to lead well, follow well, and adapt to unprecedented levels of change.

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featured image Create Learning via Flickr