Tag Archives: Personality

The Trickle-Down Effect of Leadership

This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there….”
Jeremiah 22:1 (NIV)

I’ve been mulling around the idea of writing a book. For almost 25 years I’ve made a career eavesdropping on conversations between companies and their customers (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.”), and I’ve learned a number of lessons about both business and life in the process.

One of the interesting lessons I’ve learned about business is that a company’s front-line customer service operation typically reflects the personality and values of the person sitting in the CEO’s office. If the CEO values customer service as a differentiator in driving customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention, then I will usually see a Customer Service team focused and empowered to deliver a consistently excellent service experience. If, however, the CEO views Customer Service as simply a nagging expense and drain on the bottom line, the Customer Service department usually resembles a cut-throat, bunker environment where only the strong survive.

The lesson? Leadership has a trickle-down effect on the team that often goes unrecognized, unappreciated, and unaddressed.

As I make my way through the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s anthology of prophetic messages, I as a reader have to recognize a shift in the structure of the anthology, and remember the context of today’s chapter. Up to this point, the editors who put together Jeremiah’s works had ordered things chronologically. Then in the 21st chapter we reach a climax in the story as the Babylonian army besieges Jerusalem just as Jeremiah had prophesied. Now, the editors shift to arranging Jer’s message’s topically. They begin with a series of messages addressed to the leaders whom Jeremiah holds responsible for the disastrous state of affairs. He begins at the top of the food chain: the King and royal family of Judah.

Today’s chapter is a scathing rebuke of the royal family. He lets them know that God is essentially removing them from office. Exile and captivity in Babylon will be their fate. They will never return or reign over their city, their nation, or their people again. The Chairman of the Board is cleaning house.

This morning as I embark on a long business trip, I am quietly thinking about my own leadership and responsibility for my company. The trickle-down lesson of leadership that I’ve observed in other companies is true of my own. As the old saying goes, “When I point my finger, there are three pointing back at me.”

How does my role as leader in family, in community, in church, and in business impact those who are under my organizational and systemic leadership? How do the positives and negatives of my personality impact the various systems I lead? I certainly don’t have all the answers. I have learned from experience, however, that I had better pay attention, give consideration, and make wise decisions in this regard. It’s critical both for my success as a leader, but also for the success and well-being of my company and all my teammates.

 

Order and Freedom

But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey I have been a part of worship with many different traditions. I was raised in a very liturgical Methodist church, meaning that every part of the service was very structured around ancient traditions. There was a lot of repetition and it was largely the same service every week with minor differences to account for different seasons of the traditional church year. I get how repetitive religious practices lose all power of their metaphorical meaning when a) no one remembers why we’re doing it in the first place and b) there’s no Spirit connection between the repetitive words/actions and the spirits of those worshipping.

At the other end of the spectrum I spent some time in the Quaker tradition (also known as the Society of Friends) which developed out of reacting to all the liturgical structure of the traditional church. In a traditional Quaker service (even their anti-liturgy style becomes its own form of “tradition”) there is little or no structure. Everyone sits in a circle and is quiet (they call it “centering”) until someone feels moved by the Spirit to speak or to sing or to do whatever. Anyone can do so and can say pretty much whatever it is they want to say. The original intent was that everyone would wait for Holy Spirit to prompt them and to be loving and mindful of everyone else in the group. It’s a beautiful idea, but eventually things were so unstructured that there were problems with things in many Quaker churches becoming what would be described by some as a chaotic free-for-all.

I have come to understand that we as human beings like and need a certain amount of structure and order. I think this is part of us being made “in the image” of our Creator. If you stop to think about it, everything in creation has a certain detailed structure and order to it. This is the way God made it. Even the seemingly chaotic tangle of bare tree branches is actually an orderly visual fractal. At the same time, you can get so lost in the order that you, as we say, “lose the forest for the trees.” I’ve come to believe that corporate worship is another example of truth being found at the point of tension between the extremes.

Along my chapter-a-day journey through Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth, I find there is no doubt that their local gathering was rapidly moving along the disordered chaos side of the spectrum. Paul points this out multiple times. There had been a breakdown to the point that Paul even says their weekly gatherings to worship were doing “more harm than good” (11:17).

In context, I find today’s chapter to be about Paul trying to reestablish some order and structure to the chaos in Corinthian worship. He’s trying to pull them back from their chaotic free-for-alls. Paul hints that they’d come to resemble a pagan food orgy (11:20-22), and the chapter reads like an instruction manual for bring some semblance of structure and order to the Corinthian gatherings. He sums it up by saying “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

This morning I’m thinking about differences, even in our human personalities. Some of us tend toward the side of “free spirit” in which we go with the flow. As such, it’s easy for us to get little accomplished and to create chaos around ourselves that becomes counterproductive. Some of us tend toward the side of detail and order. As such, it’s easy for us to major on the minors and to create rigidity that becomes counterproductive.

In the quiet this morning I once again find myself seeking balance: freedom with ordered structure; order with room for movement of Spirit and expression.

Relationship and Maturity

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity….
Hebrews 6:1a (NIV)

The other night Wendy and I were having a conversation with friends. I can’t even remember the entire context of the conversation as it flowed across many subjects and meandered down several tributaries of thought. At one point, however, I remember Wendy making the observation regarding how our relationship has matured over the years we’ve been married. I remember quietly chewing on that fact for a while.

Wendy and I have a great relationship, and we continue to enjoy a wonderful marriage. It has, nevertheless, changed over the years. We’ve pushed into understanding and appreciating one another’s unique and contrasting personality types. On the Enneagram I’m a Type 4 (Individualist) and she’s a very opposite Type 8 (Challenger). [cue: sparks flying..it can be one of the most volatile combinations] You don’t simply skate through life and relationship with such differences and remain unchanged. It forces growth. This is especially true when you journey down the paths of blended family, teenage daughters, infertility, live-in siblings, and house building. And those things are on top of traversing the normal marriage builders of finances, sex, and the management of life’s every day stresses.

The other day I wrote about some of the misconceptions I had about God and spirituality as I grew up. One of those misperceptions was that spiritual life is a compartmentalized part of life, confined to a few hours at church on Sunday along with scattered nods of attention during the week like sporadic prayers or quiet times. Jesus came, however, to make possible our relationship with God. It’s a relationship, in fact, that God likens time and time again to a marriage. Mature marriage relationships in which intimacy and oneness develop don’t happen in an environment of compartmentalization.

In today’s chapter, the author of the letter to Hebrew believers addresses those who have flirted with a relationship with Christ. They have “tasted” of marital relationship as a couple riding the bliss of infatuation into experimental living together while keeping entire parts of themselves compartmentalized and self-centered. The author urges them to push towards a relationship that matures only in a committed 24/7/365 journey with all of its shared peaks and valleys.

This morning I’m again thankful for Wendy, for our marriage with all of its moments of unheralded creativity and, yes, occasional volatility. I’m thankful for the maturing of relationship and what it teaches me about myself, Wendy, and God who is both Life and Love. I am reminded of the necessity to press on and into maturity of relationship, and not be seduced and deluded into spiritual, relational stagnation and compartmentalization.

 

To Tell the Truth

source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr
source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr

“as long as I have life within me,
    the breath of God in my nostrils,
my lips will not say anything wicked,
    and my tongue will not utter lies.”
Job 27:3-4 (NIV)

I am what is known in general and colloquial psychological terms as a pleaser. It’s always been my nature to desire relational peace with others and to want others to “be pleased” with me. Like all personality bents, being a pleaser has both its strengths and corollary struggles. On the plus side, I tend to be amiable and easy to get along with. I’m not usually given to strong public reaction, rather holding my emotions in check until I can process and thoughtfully respond. I’m generally diplomatic and tend to be sensitive to all sides in a conflict. The downside is that I will sometimes stuff my emotions until they begin eating away at my soul like corrosive acid. I respond to others in the way that will make them happy rather than responding in a way that is true in expressing what I really think, feel, and believe. Throughout my life journey I have been guilty of suppressing and submitting my own thoughts, will, and emotions to the thoughts, will, and emotions of others in order to please and placate. For the record, that that never turns out well¹.

Interestingly enough, I am married to a woman who lies at the opposite end of the personality spectrum. “Holding emotions in check” and “suppressing strong reactions” are not apt descriptors for Wendy, but “emotionally expressive” and “forthright honesty” definitely hit the mark. This, of course, makes for some really interesting conversational choreography when it comes to conflict in our house, but we’ve learned a few steps from one another which has ultimately made us better relational dance partners.

So it is that I really appreciated reading Job’s honesty in today’s chapter. Job reveals the same qualities that I admire and appreciate in Wendy. He will not suppress, submit his thoughts and emotions to please or placate his wife or three friends. He is compelled to be honest and true in expressing his thought and emotion, realizing that it would actually be wicked of him to be dishonest about his anger and frustration with God. It would be a lie to plead guilty to some heinous sin that precipitated his suffering. It would be untrue to say that he’s okay with his lot when he honestly feels that his suffering and circumstances are utterly unjust.

This morning I’m realizing that, if I were in Job’s sandals, I would be tempted just to say to my friends, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks for setting me straight, guys.” I admire Job’s honesty. It challenges me. I appreciate his willingness to tell the truth about what he really thinks and feels, even though it’s not what the others want to hear. That’s a trait that this pleaser has been striving to develop over time.

I think I’ve made progress. I’ve got a good coach! 🙂

 

¹See exhibit A: the divorce decree.

Solitude Loving Extravert

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Morning quiet at the lake (Photo credit: Tom Vander Well)

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.
Luke 4:42 (NIV)

When our daughters were in high school our family took the Myers-Briggs personality inventory together. We then spent a few hours with my friend, who is a marriage and family therapist, talking about the results. It was fascinating, not only to see each others results (I’m an ENFP), but also to understand our perceptions of one another. I remember that Madison was shocked to discover that I was an extrovert, and I was shocked that she would think I was an introvert.

“But every morning,” she explained, “you get up and spend time alone in quiet.” Based on that daily observation, she assumed that I was introverted. I’ve learned that extraversion and introversion are really about personal energy rather than being particularly social or shy. As an extrovert, I get energized by being around people and social situations. In fact, just the other week I shared with Wendy that being alone together at the lake for days on end had my personal energy tank on reserve. Spending a few hours at the pool around a crowd of people helped fill me up.

The truth is, my time of solitude each morning is not about recharging my personal batteries (in fact, it often causes me to miss out on much needed sleep) as much as it’s about keeping myself centered and finding balance. My entire day feels off-kilter when I miss my time of quiet to read, think, write, and have conversations of spirit with God. Sleeping in, for me, has always been accompanied with the grief of missing my time of solitude.

This morning’s chapter reminds me that Jesus liked his morning solitude, too. This morning, as I type this post in the early morning quiet of my hotel room, I am taking selfish pleasure in this trivial connection; Jesus and I have a mutual appreciation and understanding of morning solitude.

Learning to Please

Celebrating Wendy's Birthday with the VLs at the Lyric Opera
Celebrating Wendy’s Birthday with the VLs at the Lyric Opera

…and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:10 (NIV)

In many ways, Wendy and I are the epitome of the adage “opposites attract.” Several months ago, prompted by Taylor, our entire family took the Enneagram personality test on-line. Since that time we’ve often found ourselves in family conversations about how we are alike and how we are different. According to the test (and validated by loved ones) I am a #4 (Individualist) and Wendy is a #8 (Challenger).

While visiting a few weeks ago Taylor mentioned that someone had told her that 4s and 8s “should never get married” to which Taylor laughed thinking of Wendy and me. The truth is, there are challenges with almost any mixture of people and personality types. Part of being married is learning where there are gaps of communication, expectation and choosing to meet the other where they are at.

The first year of marriage, I made the mistake of being thought-less and inconsiderate about Wendy’s birthday. In my family, birthdays are never a big deal – but I’ve learned with my wife and with my friends that others view birthdays as a much bigger deal than I do. I’ve had to regularly retrain my thinking to realize how important it is for others in my life. I’ve learned that it pleases Wendy when I’m prepared for the birthday-Christmas-wedding anniversary trifecta that descends on us every December 21-31.

I was struck this morning by the little verse (above) that’s crammed into a chapter filled with meaty teaching about life and relationships. Having been reminded of my need to be more considerate of what pleases other key relationships in my life, I am now reminded to apply the same principle to God. How often am I thoughtless and inconsiderate of what pleases God? If I am motivated to change my thought patterns and behaviors in a way that shows love in a way pleasing to my wife and friends, wouldn’t I also be willing to learn what pleases my Creator?

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An Audience of One

audience of oneObviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

In the wee hours of this morning I was up praying for and responding to an e-mail from my daughter. Earlier this week she and her husband crafted a well articulated blog post about the journey of relational and behavioral they have been struggling through in the past three years. As happens whenever you offer up intimate details of your life for public consumption you are bound to receive diverse reactions and responses. The kids have been struggling through some particularly negative, personal feedback.

I thought of them as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to those following Jesus in Galatia. In the early years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were all sorts of quarrels and schisms between the growing number of believers around the known world. Paul was a fiercely independent person and I get the impression that he had a very strong, fiery personality. Because Paul was not one of the original group of disciples, because he had once hunted down and executed Jesus’ followers, and because he didn’t not easily fit into the organizational structure of the emerging group of believers, there was a lot of controversy surrounding him and his work to share the good news of Jesus with the Roman provinces in Greece and southern Europe.

In today’s chapter, Paul makes it clear that he is doing what God had called him to do. He did not seek nor solicit anyone’s permission. He did not beg anyone’s leave. He had an audience of one, and that was God alone. He did not care what anyone thought about him or his work. He was not answering to them nor responsible for their reactions to him. He was not out to please people. He was working to please God by being obedient to walk the path he’d been given.

Unlike Paul, God gave me the personality of a people pleaser. I want people to like me. It makes me uncomfortable when people take issue with me, my words, or my actions. Yet, I have learned along the journey to accept the criticism, harsh words, and negative reactions that sometimes come with public speaking, blogging, and performing. I can’t keep people from judging me, criticizing me, or condemning me. What I can do is continue to walk the path God has laid before me, step-by-step, to the best of my ability, and to keep my focus on the audience of One who ultimately is the only One who counts.

My daughter shared with me some of the outpouring of people who have been touched, encouraged, moved and motivated by their blog post. People who thought they were alone in their own pain now have someone with whom they can identify. Opportunities are opening for them to help others through the painful struggle of their own brokenness. Despite the criticism of a few, many are benefitting from their courageous honesty, openness, and transparency. They have no need to waste emotional energy on unimportant criticism and the judgment of others. They need that energy to be channeled in love, grace and encouragement towards the precious ones who are coming out of the wood work to say, “Help. Me too.”