Listening

It usually takes me a few weeks to recover from a three-week assignment with the Army – 13 hour days for 21 days can wreak havoc on your mental state. There are several great take a ways from each of these exercises that I do. As I write my last reference to it, I want to focus on the people and leadership styles that I’ve witnessed or observed. There is an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we might listen twice as much as we speak. This reminds me of people who interrupt others because they have the answer before someone even finishes asking the question. The use of the phrase “right, right” seems to have infiltrated our society today.

People don’t seem to want to let you finish what you are saying and this phrase apparently gives them permission to cut you off by agreeing with you – twice no less. Everything, and I mean everything, is available in short bursts or precisely when you want it. Twitter lets people share their thoughts in 140 or less characters. Virtual assistants on smart phones get you information which saves you the effort of having to “Google it”. We are loosing our ability to listen – really listen. We need to take the time to look people in the eye and listen to what they are saying. Don’t focus on what you’re going to say next or make assumptions about what they are trying to say or jump to the end because you think faster than they do. Listen, smile, pay attention and really hear what they are saying.

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

God’s people just didn’t get it when he was writing this. In fact, many today still don’t get it. God was saying, “I know what they will need before they ask and I will always listen.” This is one of His great promises – speak to me and I will listen. It’s important to note, He didn’t say “I will fix it” or “I will answer you right away” but He WILL listen.

It’s often hard for us to separate listening from answering. God’s time frame is different than ours. God wants to hear from His children, He knows what is on our hearts but He wants to hear what is on your mind. Tell Him what you are thinking in prayer. God will meet your basic needs; that’s Him answering before we call. He wants to hear ALL of our worries, concerns, appreciations, thanks and our needs. He will order things in our lives according to His will, not ours. If you think He isn’t answering, perhaps you are not being patient enough or you simply don’t see the answers/solutions present in your life. God hears it all, it’s usually us who fail recognize His work.

 

Mother’s Day

I debated about doing a piece on Mother’s Day; the day that Hallmark made. Before anyone takes offense, I feel the same about Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. While my wife and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, we do recognize the other two days for each other. It always seems that the spouses take these days more seriously than the children do, until at least the time they are old enough to really know better and to shop for themselves. Lisa and I have been blessed with two awesome mothers of our own. They not only like each other but they like their in-law kids too. I’m certain that I speak for both of us when I say; they treat us like their own kids. My mom gained another daughter and Lisa’s mom gained another son – it is better than I ever could have dreamed of. The quote from James reminded me of what a mother is, not only to her kids but also to her spouse as well. I originally planned to use this quote to talk about leaders in an organization and how, if they used these traits, they can truly lead and encourage others to follow. As you read this, compare the actions of a good parent to those of a good leader and you will see that they are one in the same.

A mother’s wisdom is pure and genuine, honest and full of love. No matter what happens, a child (regardless of age) will always seek a mother’s comfort. A mother is peace-loving and considerate. She’s the one who always broke up the fights between brothers and sisters while seeking a solution that worked for everyone. Mothers taught us to share and taught us how to take care of someone who was hurt. A mother is submissive to the needs of the family, full of mercy and kind words (good fruit). Mothers showed us how to sacrifice and put others needs before our own. They deflected blame when we messed up and led the cheering crowd when we did well. Mothers never picked favorites (even though I know I am my mom’s favorite) and when they held your hand and looked into your eyes, you knew they meant everything they said. Great leaders, like all mothers, know how to do these things too. Mothers have earned a day just for themselves but they deserve it throughout the year, not just in May.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

The irony of this message is that its about Mother’s Day but it is based on the gifts that we have received from our Father in Heaven. This verse is a great reminder of how we are to act toward everyone. The wisdom from heaven was given to us through the writings of the bible. As you read/study the bible, you will see in the New Testament that each lesson shows us God’s pure way in the life of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus then showed us His peace-making ability, how he was considerate to others; even those that opposed Him, submissive to the law of the land, demonstrated His mercy, goodness, impartiality and above all, His sincerity. Use these principles to live your life in all situations, which will please God. And, your Mom too.

“Group work”

I’m currently working on an assignment for the Army and I’ve been witnessing a variety of teamwork examples; both positive and negative. According to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, a group is defined as “a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship” and a team is defined as “a number of persons associated together in work or activity”. I’ve always been fascinated by the study of teamwork and leadership and I once found an interesting quote. According to Sharon Feltham, “Calling a collection of people a team and rallying them to the cause does not make them a team. A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to: a common purpose, a set of performance goals and a common approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”.

A group however, contains people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a leader’s goal. “A group supports the leader’s goals and the leader-dominated approach to goal attainment. Leadership is predominantly held by one person rather than the shared, fluid leadership of a team.” What this tells us is that in a group, the dominant viewpoint is represented; in a team, multiple, diverse viewpoints are represented. Decisions in a group are made by voting or implied agreement; decisions on a team are typically made by consensus. I believe this illustrates that people tend to use these terms interchangeably. Next time you join a work “team” make sure you understand who’s goals you are working to achieve.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

Remain in Jesus as He remains in you. Our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the strength to move through our lives here on earth. God loves us and has charted a course in our lives but we cannot do it alone! As the branch, we cannot bear fruit on our own; we must remain in the vine that is Jesus.

It sounds simple but the fact is that we need help to remain in the Word of God and strengthen our faith and understanding of the salvation given to us through God’s grace. The vine – Jesus, instructed us to worship with each other and to grow in our faith. He suggested that we form groups focused on a dominant viewpoint and not a team and its multiple viewpoints. We gather in a group to worship God, hear His word and receive the forgiveness of our sins through Christ our Lord and Savior. At times, we will support another branch when they need it and that branch will support us when we need it. No matter the situation, we must remain in the vine.

Examples

Leading by example is sometimes easier said than done. Do as I say not as I do is far easier to proclaim than watch my every move and see how I do it. As I read about the millennial workforce, they don’t want that either. I don’t think any of us ever did but for those of us who learned from an autocratic leader, this was commonplace. Today, we see people get promoted into a leadership position and then have to change everything they are in order to get the job done. All too often we’ve seen the guy who comes in late to meetings or is not always prepared get promoted and then suddenly they expect people to “tow the line” when they are in charge.

How are you in your day-to-day actions? We all falter but are you more disruptive than you are helpful at work? Leaders have the responsibility to watch everything they do because they never really know the impact of their actions for some time. This is where being significant is more important than being successful. Significance is what you are to others, successful is what you are to yourself.

“He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mark 4:26-27.

Spread the word! I’ve often heard that said but these verses from Mark really add new meaning. We scatter seed every day in our lives as Christians. We come into contact with people and can affect them simply through verbal and non-verbal communication. Our attitude tells a lot about what lies deep within us but it is our actions that tell the rest of the story.

We can scatter seeds that flourish or we can scatter seeds that result in weeds but make no mistake, we are always scattering seeds. No matter what we do or say, the seeds that we scatter will grow. Jesus told us to spread the word. God has given us the instructions, through His word in the bible, to “go and make disciples of all men”. The message is clear, scatter the seeds and they will sprout and grow. We won’t know how but we can be assured that they will. Following Easter and the good news of salvation, we should have no trouble scattering the seeds of eternal life.

Hospitality

I often wonder what would happen if everything that I did was recorded. The good and the bad being recorded – holy cow! On a related note, have you ever thought about why you do the things that you do? I watch our son open the car door for his girl friend and wonder where he learned that. We have been holding open doors for women since he was little and I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. We even extend that courtesy to our elders – no questions asked. For whatever reason, we never extended that to the car door but he picked it up. Its nice to see that in today’s world. No one really notices and often times we never hear a thank you when we hold the door but we do it anyway.

I also find myself never walking in front of a woman that is in “our group” or with me. I won’t let my wife walk behind me (if she isn’t next to me) so I often assume the caboose position in group settings. I know in some cultures that a man should be in that dominant position out front but I don’t believe that is the case – for me anyway. I have no reason for thinking or acting this way. No teaching or example from my childhood would instill this deep feeling within me. If I had to guess, it goes back to my leadership beliefs that the leader eats last, those lead before those leading or simply put – putting others before your self. I think it is the Rotary International organization who’s motto is “Service Before Self”. It has been my guiding leadership principle, which shapes me even as I walk through doors. What do people see when they watch you?

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

I pondered this verse for several weeks before I used it in a post. It was easy to write about “Service Before Self” in the opening but what biblical significance does this play? We all know the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. So I get the “show hospitality to strangers” concept but I struggled to find a relatable paragraph about some deep concept that God is trying to teach here. I’m not sure that I’ve found it because this verse really stands on its own.

Jesus said “what you do for the least of these you also do for me.” My take away is that this verse is reminding us of this. If we show hospitality to strangers we may be showing it to an angel and we all know where angels come from. I was reminded of the song by Joan Osborne – “One of Us” that asks the question; What if God was one of us? If the hospitality that we show is really to an angel, then isn’t that an extension of God? In the end, God may be one of us just not in the form we expected. So, does hospitality matter?

Ready to do Good

Being a good follower is an important characteristic of being a good leader. We must learn to follow before we lead. The notion of us following someone often depends upon whom we are following. If we don’t respect our supervisor or the company owner, it is hard to follow them. Conversely, if we believe in the person then we have little trouble following them. However, following does not mean that we do it blindly. We have to obey the rules established by our employer, the city or town we live in and those of our federal government. While we don’t always agree, we are obedient for no other reason than to maintain order within our society. Being a follower has responsibilities too. We shouldn’t accept someone because they are in a position of authority or because someone else has elevated them to a leadership position. The proof is often in their words and actions. Look carefully at whom you choose to follow. The bottom-line is that we are all followers at some point in our careers or lives but it is more of a role rather than a position we hold.

Those who are better followers are generally tapped to become the next leader when the opportunity arises. These are typically the people that others trust because they follow direction or take orders and get along with their peers. These are the traits that people look for in their leaders. Google the word “followership” and you will find thousands of resources; look for one that sings to your heart. Today, it is easy to fall blindly behind someone because they are popular or because they represent a group that you belong to. Ensure that you are following them because they represent the values and beliefs that you hold.

“Remind the people to be subject to rules and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good…” Titus 3:1

The verse today should sing to your heart as well. The 10 commandments tell us to be obedient to our government leaders. Jesus Christ even told the Pharoses to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. He was teaching us to be obedient. Titus then reminds us to be subject to rules and authorities and then be ready to do what is good. God is reminding us to be good followers; be a living example of Christian living. Are you ready to do whatever is good?

I’m sure that if someone asks us for help, we’ll be there. Most of us rarely look for ways to help; it is easier to react to a call for help then it is to generate support for one. There are a lot of people who need our help, especially at this time of the year as we approach Fall and the start of yet another holiday season. Whether you lead or follow, be ready to do good. Consider becoming a leader, this might be your opportunity. Martin Luther was credited with saying, “God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does”. As the U.S. enters the final eight weeks of our Presidential Election season, we must remain focused on being ready to do whatever is good and focus less on blind obedience.

Presence

Do the people you lead feel your presence? Are you a leader in title but not in your actions? I worked for a Fire Chief who was so demanding that when I was assigned to be the Acting Chief, I had to constantly ask myself, “what would he do?” and then do it that way so that I wouldn’t disappoint him when he returned. Many years later, when I was a Fire Chief, I asked myself, “what would he do” and then I did the opposite because our leadership styles were different. His presence was not positive. As a leader, people can feel your presence in a positive or a negative way. A positive presence usually comes from the feeling of empowerment and the confidence to know that you will support them.

What things have a presence in your life? There are so many things that compete for our attention these days that it may be hard to determine what is truly important any more. As parents, we need to be present in our kids lives – not a spectator but a presence in their lives. As a leader, we need to be present (not just physically) at work to instill confidence in our employees and as a employee, we need too need to be mentally present at work. Distractions are everywhere so we must make conscious decisions to be present in the things we do. Think about the various roles you have in your life­ – spouse, parent, friend, employee, leader, coach, mentor, etc. Are you present in your roles? When we aren’t present because we’re distracted by our phone or we let something else take our attention, we might just be sending the message that we don’t care.

“I will put my dwelling place among you… I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” Leviticus 26:11-12

Do you feel God’s presence in your life? It can be hard to feel it some times, especially when things aren’t going the way we want them to. It would easy to imagine God getting distracted by all of the problems in this world and that He might ignore our little problems. This is NOT the case or even possible! The Leviticus verses are telling us that God intends to dwell with us, walk among us and be our God. It’s saying “God will lead you through it all, get used to Him because He’s not leaving, He’ll live and walk with you and will never leave your side. God will be there for the good and the bad times, you can count on Him – He is your God.

We are His people today because we believe; we see His actions daily and feel His presence. You might wonder where God is when you feel overwhelmed but if you stop and concentrate, you can feel God’s presence. He is in each word of the bible just as He is in your thoughts and on your heart. You need to simply concentrate and let God be present. As I mentioned before, we can be easily distracted or have our thoughts consumed by other things but God is never distracted. He is with us all of time and it us who need to let Him in. Close your eyes, clear your mind and open your heart; God will embrace you.

A Vision of the Future

I’ve recently been doing some work for an organization that has lost its bearings. Most organizations or should I say, most employees want to know what direction they are headed in. This is becoming increasingly important for manages to understand about Millennial Generation employees. They believe in the higher purpose of an organization and tend to turn away from “because I said so” leadership styles. Creating a vision is the single most effective way to get people to buy into any proposed change or altered direction. Employees can lose sight of and will need to be reminded of, an organization’s core values and purpose.

Organizational leaders need to construct an envisioned future that describes what the organization stands for now, what the future looks like and how it will get there. The biggest key to successful visioning is sharing the plan with everyone in the organization. Setting goals and objectives that describe the milestones along the way will help turn a wish into a reality. Employees should participate in such a way to help re-define the benchmarks because they have a unique perspective within the organization. Communication throughout the entire process is the best way to keep the vision in front of everyone. If leaders tell people where they are headed and then get out of the way to let them work toward achieving that goal, amazing success can be achieved.

“…He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10

The Old Testament is the visioning process of the bible. God gave us a look into what He could do and what He wanted for us. God spoke through angels and in some cases; He spoke directly to ordinary people telling about His vision. God even went so far as to get out of the way and let us work. Of course, we know what we did along the way and failed to meet expectations. If we were employees, God would have fired us! Like a great Father, He never quit or gave up on us.

God sent us a Son to save the world. Jesus continued to set the vision of “everlasting life” and reminded us of the promises of God our Father. Some people have a hard time reading the Old Testament. When you read it now, read it like a vision of what was to come and as a description of the power that God possess. He was able to overcome armies, flood the earth and cast famines to ultimately overcome Satan. We have a simple responsibility now; stay connected to Him through faith in Jesus Christ as our one and only savior. The goal is simple – everlasting life. The vision is beautifully described throughout the bible, be sure to take the time to find where.

Where is your Heart?

I figured that I needed to get back to focusing on leadership for a few posts. Last week, I touched on personal leadership and being a leader even when you never intended to be. As the formal leader at work, do people know how and where to find you? Do they refer to you as approachable and accessible? Many people in “leadership” positions have an open door policy but their door is often found closed or worse yet; the door is open but the mind is closed. There is an old management theory called the “Seagull Theory of Management”. It is when the leader flies in, leaves droppings everywhere and then flies out. I hope that this doesn’t describe you or at least not how your people do.

There are a lot distractions in today’s working environment: e-mail, cell phones, instant messaging and last minute demands. We work in what I call the microwave world – everything is ready in less than two minutes. Leaders need to take a few minutes to examine how these distractions are affecting their relationships with the people who count on them. The main purpose of leadership, as opposed to management, is to motivate and encourage others toward a common goal. In order to achieve this, we must spend time with our people, find out what their needs are and provide them a vision that they can see. We can’t do any of this if we aren’t accessible.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

God knows we are easily distracted; look how long it took for Eve to get distracted/tempted from the one rule they had “Don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden”? God set in our minds and hearts that we will find Him when we seek Him with all of our heart. This isn’t a “microwave” solution: fast and when we want it. The lesson here is that we need to become immersed in God’s word, seek him with all of our heart; not just a minute or two and only when we need Him.

Spend time with God, everyday. If you are like everyone who receives e-mails, you’ll read 15 minutes of “funny” e-mails, check the stories on CNN.com or spend an hour looking at the feed on Facebook or Twitter. Are you devoting that much time to seeking the Lord with all your heart? God is always accessible to hear your prayers, accept your thanks, receive your praise and forgive your sins. God can be that old friend who you tell all of your secrets to but like your dearest of friends, it doesn’t happen overnight. God has done so much for us and He just asks for us get close to Him and to seek Him with all your heart.

Always a Leader

Diligent is defined as “Characterized by care and perseverance in carrying out tasks”. How can we live diligently? We can start by paying attention. Pay attention to the details of our work; generally don’t let things fall through the cracks. All kinds of people are looking up to us in our lives for guidance, information, instruction, and for friendship. The communities that we live in depend on all of us paying attention to the details: while driving, interacting with each other and maintaining an orderly society. Rules and laws provide the structure of a society that allows billions of people to live together.

Diligence also requires accountability; you must ensure you are meeting your obligations. We are responsible for each other and accountable to one another for our actions. Too often we see people going through life paying attention to only themselves and what they are doing. In the firehouse we used to call these types of people “one way”. They had only one way of thinking and it was all about their needs. We are all leaders in our lives no matter our position. As parents, we lead our families, as adults we lead children, as Christians we lead through our example. Regardless of your place of life you are a leader, so provide leadership diligently.

“If a man’s gift is … leadership, let him govern diligently…” Romans 12:6, 8

As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, if we are to lead, we must do it diligently. We must pay attention to the small things; the devil is in the details. It is easy to obey the straight forward commandments like not stealing or killing but what about the “details” of the others like not being jealous of what others have or putting other activities before worship with God, especially during football season.

Who is keeping you accountable for what is happening in your life? Confess your sin, give it to the Lord, repent and turn toward God. The good news is that Jesus took it all upon himself on the cross for us. Be diligent in your daily study and time with the Lord, it will make leading much easier. We often do not seek Christian leadership roles in our lives. Whether you have chosen it or not, God has chosen you to be an example for others. Do you carry out your Christian duties with care and perseverance? You don’t have to be the designated leader to have people follow you, but you do have to be aware that people will follow you, good and bad, so why not be better prepared? You’ll be rewarded in many ways.