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Have you ever seen the digital “Your Speed” signs alongside the road? The sign tells you how fast you are going as you drive past. Now, you have that information on your speedometer, but having it projected at you from a different angle allows you to receive the information in a unique way.  The sign is designed to help you alter your speed. By gathering information and presenting it in a relevant way, the assumption is that you will receive the information and respond with positive action.

Your Speed Signs

Most of us are more effective in life and leadership when we know where we stand and where we are going. It is the feedback along the way that helps us make the adjustments that assist us into living into who we are created to be. Feedback, even if it is information you already know, helps you alter your behavior in a positive way.

To fully develop a healthy self-awareness, it is important to understand how you are perceived by the people with whom you live, work, and associate on a daily basis. In a constructive and beneficial way, these people are “Your Speed” signs.

Your Response to Feedback

Bill George, in his book Discover Your Truth North, tells the story of Kroger CEO David Dillon. Dillon, in telling his experience regarding feedback, says, “Feedback helps you take the blinders off, face reality, and see yourself as you really are.” 

He admits that his natural reaction to feedback is defensiveness. He attributes this to how he copes with negative information.  Now, you and I know that it can be tough to hear negative things about ourselves. But Dillon makes a point to tell colleagues that he appreciates their input despite how it may make him feel. Just because something is uncomfortable, does not mean it’s wrong. It takes maturity to graciously accept feedback that you would rather not hear.

Receiving Feedback

To grow as an effective leader, you need others to help give you information from a different angle so you can receive it, reflect upon it, and respond to it in positive ways. To be truly self-aware you must know how your behavior affects others.

Now, how do you set up “Your Speed” signs? How do you solicit feedback and interpret it in a way that allows you to respond with positive action?

Mistakes We Make Around Feedback

One way to solicit information is to ask people with whom you work to give you anonymous written feedback. Although this will provide you with information upon which you can reflect and respond, it does two things that are not helpful.  

First, we tend to think that anonymity allows people to be more honest in their feedback. The reality is anonymity feeds the mistrust that creates a culture of fear. As a leader, you want to create a culture of trust through vulnerability and transparency. Anonymous information falls short of creating a culture of trust. 

Second, we tend to make anonymous information at the end of the process.  The purpose of the exercise is not to collect information but to help you become more the person and the leader you are created to be. 

The information is a means to an end, a tool to assist you in your self-awareness. The purpose is for you to receive feedback that helps you become more the person and the leader you are created to be.

Open and Honest Feedback

With that in mind, true feedback is best provided in open conversations with people who are honest in their offerings. The conversation is with trusted friends and colleagues who desire to support you and who want you to be the best human being as well the best leader you can be.   

So, a better way to solicit information is to ask three to five persons, who you trust, to help you. You want at least three people, preferably five, because you will receive more reliable feedback. 

It is one thing to receive feedback from one person, but it is another to receive the exact same feedback from three, four, or five different people. If a larger number of trusted friends and colleagues are telling you the same thing about your behavior, you are more likely to make a positive change.

Four Steps for Receiving Feedback

Here are four steps for getting feedback on how your behaviors are affecting others.

1. Ask for feedback.

This is your opportunity to gather information. Invite 3 to 5 people to assist you in becoming the best leader you can be.  These people are people who you trust, who have your best interest in mind, and who have a good understanding of you, your work style, and how you interact with others. They are people who care about you. Because of Your trust relationship, these people are people who will be honest with you.  

Tasha Eurich, in her book, Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think, writes, “Feedback from one person is a perspective; feedback from two people is a pattern; but feedback from three or more people is likely to be as close to a fact as you can get.”

You can either have them gather as a group or you can interact with each person individually. Just remember, the people you are inviting to offer feedback are trusted friends, colleagues, and family members who want you to succeed. People you trust and who will be honest with you. 

2. Gather your information. 

This is your opportunity to receive feedback. At this point, it is best to focus on a few things rather than everything. So, ask the following questions, one at a time. Give people time to think and to respond.

  • What am I currently doing well that demonstrates my skills as a leader?
  • What are examples of growth you have observed in me since we began working together?
  • What is one thing, if I did it at an improved level, that would have a positive impact on my leadership? 

At this point, your responsibility is to listen. Listen with your mind and heart for understanding.  Listen to receive the information. Take notes for your time of reflection. Give yourself permission not to defend yourself or to interrupt those giving feedback to clarify what you are hearing.  Remember, these people have your best interest in mind. Presume positive intent and stay neutral as you gather and receive the feedback.

3. Receive, reflect, and respond.

First, receive the feedback with grace. This information is for you and your improvement. This is your opportunity to grow in your self-awareness. Keep in mind you have asked trusted friends and colleagues to assist you. Each person cares for you and has your best interest in mind.  

Second, reflect upon the feedback you have received. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I learning about myself?
  • How do others perceive my work style?
  • How do others perceive my interaction with the people around me?”

Third, respond to the feedback you have received. Keep in mind the following:

  • This is not a time to be defensive, to shut down, or to dismiss what you are learning.
  • Take notes and remember what you are feeling when you receive the feedback.
  • Name the emotions you are experiencing. Be specific. It is important to name your feelings.
  • Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to be the person I want to be?”

4. Thank the people who have assisted you in gathering your feedback. 

Gratitude is important in developing self-awareness.

  • Share with them how the feedback has been helpful.
  • Share how you will use the feedback. What are one or two steps you plan to take?
  • If you are not ready to share specific steps, make a commitment to get back to each person at a later time.  Be specific regarding date and time.
  • Give each person permission to hold you accountable to your next steps. 

Set up Your Speed Sign

Growing in self-awareness is not easy.  There are no quick fixes. In fact, developing a healthy self-awareness is a lifetime process. By taking the risk to become vulnerable, by gathering feedback from others, indicates your desire to enter the process and become the leader God has created you to be.

This week, set up “Your Speed” sign?  What one step will you take to receive the feedback you need to become the person and leader for this time in history? 

When you want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Barry Burns. Check out our conversation in Episode 170 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Every day you face situations, circumstances, and people you cannot control. As a leader, because you cannot control these things, it is important that you understand and learn to control yourself. Your leadership depends upon it. Even though a lot of your effectiveness is determined by factors you cannot control, you can still control how you respond to them. 

This is why self-awareness is so important to leadership. You can not only improve your life but become the leader you are created to be by practicing self-awareness in your everyday life and situations. 

Here are three practices that will help you become a more self-aware leader. 

1.Focus upon the positive when in a negative situation. 

This might seem simplistic, but it is more than positive thinking. When you are fully aware of the negative situation or circumstance in which you find yourself, you then have the opportunity to decide how you will respond or how you can change the way you want to react. 

Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need help with an anger problem. You recognize that you do not like reacting before thinking and you don’t like the feelings you have after an expression of anger. You say to your trusted friend, “I have a quick temper, and it’s damaging my relationships.” 

Your friend says to you, “Show me your quick temper. Demonstrate it to me?”

What would you say? “Well, I can’t right now. It happens suddenly.” Or “I can’t right now, I don’t have the people around me who make me angry.” 

The question is “What is the problem?” If anger, uncontrollable anger was part of your true nature, it would be present all the time. Something that comes and goes is not a part of who you were created to be. Your emotions are not you, but they can gain control over you if you do not stop and reflect upon them and if you don’t begin to understand why you react the way you do.

Instead of focusing upon the negative, your anger, focus upon the people around you. Remember they are God’s children, just as you are God’s child. Each person has their own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Just as God, through Christ, loves you with your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, God loves the people who irritate you or pull your chain, or you get the point. Reflect upon how God loves you and responds to you.

This little added sense of self-awareness will not magically create a smile. It won’t keep you from getting angry, but it does provide you with the opportunity to respond in a more healthy and Christlike way. You can decide that being angry is not going to control your response. Once you become conscious of your emotion, it no longer has control over you.

2. Recognize who you are and the effect you have on the people around you.

You cannot control 100% of your life, but you can control how you react to the stuff you can’t control. To better react or respond to external circumstances, you must know and understand your preferences, resources, and feelings. 

Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need some advice with several situations you are facing. Some of them are personal and some of them are professional, but all are situations in which you need and want some help. 

So, you approach your trusted friend asking for advice. Your friend listens patiently. But when your friend tries to ask questions or offer some direction, you interrupt to interject your own thoughts, beliefs, solutions, not allowing your friend to finish many sentences. 

After a while, your friend offers you a cup of tea. When pouring the tea, your friend continues pouring after the cup is full, causing it to overflow.

You say, “Stop pouring. The cup is full.”

Your friend stops pouring and says, “Today, you are too full of your own opinions. You want my help, but you have no room in your own cup to receive my advice or direction.”

Too often, we hold unconscious beliefs and opinions that make us rigid and closed-minded to learning and to expanding our awareness of the people around us. Self-awareness is knowing your preferences, resources, and feelings and being open to learn new ways of looking at the situations and circumstances in which you are living and working.

Understanding who you are and how you affect others allows you to react differently to the people around you. It is with such understanding that you can decide whether something angers or irritates you.  Please know this is not always easy, but it has a big benefit to self-awareness. 

3. Learn your emotional triggers.

When you know what triggers your reactions you are better equipped to deal with negative emotions. 

This might be the most important aspect of self-awareness.

Let’s think of it this way. What do you do when you are angry, disappointed, or not taken seriously? Do you bottle up your emotions, keep them to yourself, pushing them deep inside, until you can’t hold them any longer? It is like holding a beach ball underwater. You can push it down beneath the surface and you can hold it there. But, without a lot of effort and energy, it usually forcefully pops back up to the surface. It is the same with suppressed emotions. The emotions surface at the most unlikely times and in inappropriate ways.

Have you ever reflected upon a reaction that was not appropriate? At the time, you might not have been fully aware of what was going on with your emotions. But afterward, you thought you could have handled the situation differently. You could have known what triggered your reaction and refocused your response.

It might seem silly, but you have had your feelings hurt. You feel bad about it. You want to reach out and react. Instead, you hold on to your hurt feelings and turn the event into something bigger and nastier than it really was.

If you are not self-aware, you might lash out and explode.  Your reaction only amplifies the negativity.  Emotions, especially when expressed negatively, tend to increase in heated situations.

When you know what triggers your emotions, you can learn to control your emotions.  When you are self-aware, you are able to stop your reaction and begin to respond in more appropriate ways.

When you start to rationally question your own emotions, you are much better prepared to get rid of the negativity inside:

  • Are you truly angry at the other person?
  • Are you reacting to your own insecurities and fears?
  • Why do you need to say hurtful things? 
  • What’s in it for you? 

Self-awareness helps you to ask these questions in difficult times. This can be very challenging, but by simply being aware of your emotions and what triggers your reaction, you can improve the quality of your life and your ability to lead with courage.

Who You Are Is How You Lead

At this point, you might feel like you are in a therapy session.  One reason you might feel this way is because it is so important to you as a person and as a leader. 

This is what I want you to do this week. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect upon the situations and circumstances of the day. Reflect upon one or two of the following (no particular order): 

  • The meetings you attended,
  • The people with whom you had interaction,
  • What you have said and done throughout the day.
  • Celebrate what has gone well.
  • Give God thanks for what you have learned.
  • What could have been done differently?
  • If I had been aware of my feelings, would I have said anything differently?
  • Have I offended anyone?
  •  Who do I need to contact to express appreciation for helping me become more who I am created to be?
  •  Who do I need to contact to ask forgiveness for my lack of self-awareness?

This exercise is a powerful way to develop a healthy self-awareness. As you develop the practice, you will add your own questions to better assist you in the process. Becoming more aware of who you are and how you respond or react will help inform your path towards self-awareness and growth.

I already know it is not an easy process. Sometimes it can be painful. But you will develop the most important quality needed in leaders today. Your positive impact will live on far after you have completed your work at this time in history. 

Remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Curnell Graham. He turns self-awareness inside out and invites you to focus on God-awareness. Check out Episode 168 – Self-Awareness as God-Awareness. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

When was the last time you were excited about your next meeting? Or you had members of your board excited about anything? Most of us think of meetings as necessary to get to what we want to accomplish. So, they become necessary hoops through which we jump to make progress or to succeed.

Too often, our meetings become energy-draining and monotonous.

Recent research conducted by Harvard University found that when leaders focus on building relationships, they create conditions that lead to higher levels of commitment as well as increased accountability, hope, and satisfaction.

In building relationships, you know that people are your business. Even though you have finance meetings, programs to develop, and buildings to maintain, your focus is upon people. With that in mind, relational leaders make a shift from administering procedures to ministering to people.

Let Go of Business as Usual

Think of it this way. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus asks his listeners, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9).  The people entrusted to your care are asking for bread. They are looking to you for trust, compassion, stability, and hope. They are looking to you to provide opportunities to grow in their faith. Too often what they find are invitations to attend meetings. 

Long parliamentary-ordered business-as-usual meetings. 

As a relational leader, it might be time to make a shift.

Make a Shift

So, take a moment to think about it. In what area can you make a shift? Just as an example, let’s take business meetings. How could you shift the focus of most meetings from procedure to people?

Let’s do it together. When people are your focus, everything you do, as a leader, is to assist the people entrusted to your care to become who God created them to be. 

So, shift your thinking and your action.

Let’s continue with our example of business meetings. Meetings are important and necessary. But I have always thought of meetings as a means to an end and not an end in themselves. So, how do you use what you have, meetings, to develop relationships, and to assist people to thrive with the gifts, talents, and strengths they have?

Stone-like or Bread-like?

Let’s start with the current reality. Too many meetings are “stone-like” meetings. They do not take into consideration the needs or aspirations of the people attending. 

They are repetitious, incomplete, and opinion-oriented. There is a rush to judgment, with decisions being made with inadequate information, little reflection time, and no prayerful discernment. Too many meetings are cut and dried, with the real decisions having already been made. 

The people involved feel like they have little power to act or lead. At best, they feel used and powerless. At worse, they feel marginalized and useless. I am sure my assessment is a little harsh, but you get the point.

Have your goal in mind. Shift the culture of the meetings from “stonelike” to “bread-like.” Bread like meetings are focused upon images of God and the people of God in relationship with one another. Provide time to prayerfully discern God’s leading and call. Integrate inspiration with procedure so the meeting will feel more like “worship” than “meeting.”

Offer Bread 

How do you get to your goal? The following four practices will assist you in shifting from offering stones to providing bread in your meetings.  Build your agenda around these four areas. They are not in any particular order and they don’t require the same amount of time.  Sometimes one practice might be more appropriate than at other times.  What is important is, you are focusing on the faith development of the people involved.

1. Stories or Story Telling

As you get started in the meeting, ask the people attending to share with one or two people where they have experienced God over the past 24 hours, the past week, or since the last meeting. Take time to acknowledge each story and pray for the person sharing. This will help people become more aware and sensitive to God’s presence in everyday and ordinary situations and circumstances. This also gives people the opportunity to share openly and freely about their experiences of Jesus and of God.

2. Reflection or Bible Study

Before the meeting, designate someone to read scripture and to make a comment upon it. The stories from scripture, when interwoven with the lives and stories of the people, produce a spiritual center and a missional focus. This provides an opportunity to reflect and discuss scripture without having a formal bible study.  This also provides a safe place for people to share openly and freely their images of God and of God’s love.

3. Decisions or Prayerful discernment

Just as you take time to pray for one another and for the concerns of one another, take the time to prayerfully discern the decisions to be made. Use a spiritual eye rather than a rational or deductive process. This brings prayer to the center of the meeting.  This also creates the understanding that decisions made by the group, on behalf of the community, are important. Everyone is affected by the decision.

4. Future Planning or Visioning

This provides an opportunity to look ahead, to anticipate the fulfillment of trends as well as the intervention of God.  Given the reality that a board can make only a few good decisions in a year, ask the question, “What is the most important decision that we have to make this year?” Pick two or three major decisions and develop a process for consideration that includes good communication, lead time, and prayer. 

Stories, Reflection, Decisions, and Planning

It takes a little time and not everyone will like the shifts, but given time, people will begin to experience that the agenda of each meeting is grouped into stories, reflections, decisions, and planning.  As the leader, you have shifted energy-draining meetings into faith development experiences. You begin to offer bread to all who are asking for bread. 

So, what one thing will you do to begin to make the shift from “stonelike” to “bread-like” meetings? Will you have a conversation with several trusted leaders? Or maybe, you will pray and seek a plan for making the shift? Will you share this blog with friends to gain new insight and direction?

I’m sure some of you will take a step in becoming a better relational leader.  I am also sure that some of you will smile and say the district superintendent doesn’t know my people or my context. You will be right about your superintendent, but not about yourself as a relational leader. 

This week, what one thing will you do to make the shift in your life to become a relational leader? What one thing will you do to improve your relationships? 

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Last week we talked about the four spaces you need to nurture relationships. This week, our conversation with Amy Graham focuses on nurturing the gifts God’s given you and others and what it can look like to be a relational leader. 

This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

Over the past two weeks, I have shared information about the challenges of navigating conflicting values and polarization. Last week we left off with “know your values, be honest about your context, and lead people toward your goal”. Sounds simple enough, but it is not as simple as it sounds. I asked you to reflect upon: Being vulnerable, developing self-control, being generous, and showing care. With that in mind, I want to focus on how best to navigate the challenges.  

Through a “Question and Answer” format, Sara Thomas and I want to offer some insights to help equip you to be the leader you have been created to be. We want to offer some guardrails to help you navigate the challenges (If you are joining this conversation with this blog, I encourage you to go back and read the two previous blogs, “Who You Are Is How You Lead” and “Who You Are Is How You Lead Part 2”). 

Question 1

Tim:  

Let’s get specific regarding being vulnerable. I have heard friends and colleagues say things like, “I’ve repeatedly been told by family members (and church members) that I’m wrong about wearing masks or about COVID-19. Some conversations have been hurtful. And if I’m honest, some words and insinuations come close to being hateful. You want me to be vulnerable with them?” Sara, what does it mean to be vulnerable within that context? 

Sara:

Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is agree to disagree. You may not be able to be vulnerable with your brother in law about politics or faith.  Can you practice vulnerability around your nieces and nephews? Your sibling? Parents? About work? The hobby you’re both learning?  

And one more thing, vulnerability isn’t bleeding all over people. That’s a medical emergency. Vulnerability is the emotion we feel during times of uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. Know this: vulnerability necessitates trust. To build trust necessitates vulnerability. Where one is lacking, neither will happen. My encouragement is this: practice naming when you feel vulnerable. That’s the first step. Then take a second step.  

As I coach leaders, I often see when we’re stuck, we’re trying to address the whole challenge. Instead, ask yourself, what CAN I do? What’s the baby step, first step, or starting point to get moving? Said differently, don’t try and run the marathon before you’ve run to the corner.

Question 2a

Tim:

I have heard leaders ask the question, “When is enough, enough? How much do I have to tolerate?” I get the feeling there are times we want to just let go and give people a piece of our minds, or to let them have it. Let’s take a current example of wearing masks inside the church building. What does it mean to “develop self-control?”

Sara:

Self-control is a fruit of the spirit. So, you’re not off base in encouraging it in leaders. And, as you encouraged leaders to remember, “who they are is how they lead” you pointed to values, goals, and current reality. Say more about mask-wearing because I feel like there is a question behind the question.  

Question 2b

Tim: Well, let’s take the person or group of persons who refuse to wear a mask.

Sara: Ok, that’s where I thought you were going. But I wanted to hear it from you. 

I don’t know that any of us can say, “I am going to have self-control” and it just happens. You have self-control because it’s tied to something that is important. When it comes to disagreements about masks, as silly as it seems to some, people are getting information from different places to inform their decisions. So, in one sense, it’s complex. In another sense, it’s a simple act of compassion and care. Self-control comes into play by asking yourself, is it worth fighting over where you get your information. Or is it more important to love and care for others? If it’s so important to you to be right and that takes priority over loving others, I’d invite you to ask yourself what is your primary value? Then, invite the person with whom you’re in conversation to do the same. Then, you’ll begin to understand what’s motivating the actions. Without that, you’re going to continue to test one another’s patience and at some point, someone will likely lose self-control.  

Question 3

Sara:

I remember saying to you, “What’s the most generous interpretation you can make of this situation?” It’s a question about one aspect of building trust. Several months later, you talked about making a decision to ask that question. Because we have lots of conversations, I don’t expect everything we talk about to be acted upon. What made you embrace the above question and begin to integrate it into how you lead?   

Tim:

As leaders, we often encounter people who disagree with us, who disappoint us, and who say one thing and do another. Our tendency is to go to the worst-case scenario. Because I was going to the worst place I could go, I asked myself the question, “Is this where I begin as a follower of Jesus?” I realized the worst-case scenario was NOT the best place to start. Instead, I chose to love people as Jesus loves me. That is where I wanted to begin. As annoying as the question seemed at one point, it’s where I start now.

Sara:

So, it was a conscious decision you made to ask the question, “What’s the most generous interpretation I can make?  

Tim:  

Yes. 

Sara:

Has that question been easy to answer in the midst of disagreements and disappointments?

Tim:  

Easy? No. 

Loving? Yes. 

It’s been a helpful way to reframe what I was initially thinking and to start in a more loving place with people. It is the way I took another step toward becoming the person and the leader God created me to be.

Sara:

What’s another way you show generosity? 

Tim:  

By care and compassion. 

Sara:

What do care, and compassion look like? 

Tim: 

One way it works for me is not to dehumanize people. I don’t want to make people my enemy. If I have a disagreement with someone, I want to have a face-to-face conversation with him or her. It is in the conversation that we can find common ground and at the very least connect as humans. What I have discovered is, there are times that the care and compassion I extend to others by listening ends up being care and compassion for myself. 

Sara:

How? 

Tim: 

Well, if I make a decision that the person I’m in disagreement with is a child of God, I’m choosing to love one of God’s children. To love that person as God has loved me. At the end of the day, if I’ve responded in love, then I know I have done what I can – whether or not that person ever agrees with me. By loving, I am not only being who God created me to be, but I am modeling unselfish compassion and care. 

Your Next Step: Who You Are is How You Lead

So, how are you doing? The question and answers offered above are intended to be a guide for you as you continue to lead during a time of conflict and confusion. Remember, be clear regarding your purpose in life and love others as God in Christ has loved you. Who you are is how you lead.

Let me remind you again, you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out the LeaderCast podcast and the show notes. This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about purpose. You’ll find resources and questions to guide you in living into your purpose. It’s one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021.

Who you are is how you lead. Let’s face the challenges of leadership together.  

Over the past several weeks you have been navigating the waters of conflicting values. Whether it has been the civil and political unrest, the numbers of people dying from COVID-19, or the displays of racism and white supremacy, the conflicts keep coming as angry waves in the midst of a storm. 

At best it is surreal and overwhelming.  At worst it is numbing and paralyzing.           

How do you care for people and lead during such upheaval and conflict? To answer that question, you must be clear regarding your values. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

Differentiate Yourself as a Jesus Follower

As a follower of Jesus, how do you differentiate yourself when you encounter people of different values?  To care for and lead the people entrusted to your care, you must know your values. Last week I asked you to look deep within to discover what values motivate you. 

To care for and lead the people entrusted to your care, you must be honest about your current reality. Last week I asked you to make an honest assessment of your current reality. To navigate the waters of conflicting values, you need to know yourself and know your context. This is where we stopped last week. 

So, let’s continue with naming another part of current reality. 

Know current reality. Be truthful about your context. 

Prolonged hatred leads to dehumanization. 

Dehumanization is the act of seeing a person as inferior, uncivilized, or less than human. This happens when feelings of hatred developed toward an individual become redirected toward the entire group that person belongs to.

When you see others as less than human, you rationalize violence, cruelty, and hate by comparing persons to animals. Individuals who would never murder another person find it easy to kill a “subhuman” enemy. Especially when you can shoot first and ask questions later.

When someone says “Black Lives Matter,” if you immediately want to dismiss it because you feel you are being left out or, even worse, you are elevating black persons to the same level you are, pause and check yourself.

What happened to “loving one another as I have loved you”? If you say, “Oh, that doesn’t mean everyone, only humans.” Once again, check yourself. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Harboring Hate, Feeling Powerless

Hatred leads to a desire for revenge or to take action against a perceived threat. Some people harbor hatred for others, become energized by it, and express it through violent acts. 

I have learned that such people feel powerless. 

Rather than facing their anxiety they project it negatively upon another person or group of persons. They attach themselves to someone who they perceive has power.  Then, all in the name of power, they blindly follow the dictates of that person. To say that hatred can have you do some crazy things is an understatement.

There is little self-awareness, vulnerability, or empathy. This is the one big mistake that people motivated by hatred make. 

The power is not in strength. The power is in vulnerability.  

After all, it is the vulnerable act of Jesus dying on a cross that saves us. The power is in the new life brought about through vulnerability. Who you are is how you lead. 

Know where you are going. 

This is your mission or goal. For the sake of this article:

  • Create, equip, and resource a community of Jesus followers where radical love is practiced in acts of kindness and compassion; a community of relationships where love transcends cultural and racial division. When talking about such community and relationships, G.K. Chesterton put it this way, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” 
  • Create, equip, and resources a community of Jesus followers where poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated; where racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of relationships to all people; where love and trust will be vulnerable in the midst of fear and hatred; and where there will be peaceful conflict resolution and reconciliation of adversaries.

Dr. Martin Luther King said it this way, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men (people).” 

That sounds like a lofty goal, but it is the description of the kingdom of God. Isn’t God’s love our goal? Know your values, be honest about your context, and lead people toward the goal. 

A Few Reminders

Be vulnerable.

You have a right to protect yourself and your family. You don’t have the right to take human life. As a citizen of this country, you can stand your ground. As a citizen of the human race, you do not have the right to take a human life. Who you are is how you lead.

Develop self-control

Don’t use hurtful harmful words but helpful words, the kind that build-up and do good to those who hear them. It matters what you say and how you say it. What is on the inside will find its way to the outside. Who you are is how you lead.

Be generous

As a leader, you will encounter people who disagree with you, who disappoint you, and who say one thing and do another. Be generous in your response to persons. Considering the situation. Are they doing the best they can? How can you assist persons in becoming who they were created to be? Who you are is how you lead.

Show care

As difficult as it is, love the people around you as you have been loved. Be creative and commit yourself to be a model of unselfish compassion and service. Who you are is how you lead. 

I’ll have more to say about the above themes next week. Until then, reflect on what I’ve shared above. Know that each theme has boundaries. Knowing who you are is about defining expectations. I’ve outlined some expectations of Christian leaders in this two-part series. Next week, I’ll share more about boundaries.  

An Invitation

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. If these expectations leave you recognizing you need support to lead in this way, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to come alongside you as you deepen your understanding of courageous, faithful leadership.

Another place to begin is by listening to the LeaderCast podcast.

This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about purpose. (See Episodes 159, 160, 161 and next week, episode 162). This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

Happy New Year!

I want to start with these words for this new year, “Who you are is how you lead.” 

You are now asking, “what does that mean?” Let’s think of this way. How often have you heard someone say about a person who is happy, joy filled, clicking on all cylinders, “She was born to do this” or “He was born to do that.” Those words are often spoken about persons who are being who they were created to be. They have a purpose in who they are and how they live, work, and play.   

Focus on Your Purpose

As you step into this new year, you have the opportunity to focus upon your purpose for living, loving, and leading. Why are you doing what you are doing? What is your purpose as a leader? As a parent? Or as a colleague? As a human being? 

Your purpose grows out of the essence of who you are. It is the natural flow of your strengths and talents as they are related to the people you serve and to the context in which you are living and working.  Too often people inhibit or ignore this flow, but it is always there. It is what you do because it is who you are. How it gets lived out depends on your ability to recognize it, claim it, and live into it.    

What is Your Purpose?

Contrary to what some people think, your purpose is not a list of accomplishments, education, experience, and skills you have gathered in your life. It is not a professional title, limited to your current job or assignment. Each of these things are important and might assist you in living out your purpose, but none of these things define who you are. 

Your purpose is who you were created to be. Paul came close to defining purpose in his letter to the Ephesians when he wrote, “we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives” (Ephesians 2:10 CEB).  You have been created for a purpose. 

In her book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Amy Sherman writes that purpose in leadership is significantly related to leader effectiveness. She points out that purpose is found in the center of God’s priorities, personal gifts and passions, and the world’s needs. 

What is a Leader’s Purpose?

With that in mind and using Brene Brown’s definition of leadership, your purpose, as a leader, is about taking responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and processes and then developing that potential. Living out your purpose and how it relates to the people you serve transforms the world. 

My purpose is to assist you in becoming the person you are created to be. Whether you are a leader, parent, preacher, or pastor, I find great joy and satisfaction is assisting you to use your strengths and talents in the context in which you are living and working. 

So, what is your purpose? I know someone, because of who he is, naturally finds ways to affirm and encourage the people around him. He actively engages in ways to help people live into their potential.  When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, he bought coffee mugs, with these words “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made” on the mugs and gave them out to the people whom he supervises. I am sure he was not trying to make a statement but was naturally offering himself in helping the people around him live into their full potential.  

So, what is your purpose? 

How are you living your purpose in relationship to the people around you and the context in which you live and work. Here are five reasons your purpose helps you become the leader you are created to be. 

Purpose motivates.

Many of us talk of what we do as our calling, as our vocation. What does that mean to you? Are you called to an institution, a business, a particular way of life, or to being who you are created to be?  These examples are not mutually exclusive, but it matters where you start. 

So, what if you lived your life, related to people, and led from being who you are created to be? Would your life, relationships, work be more creative, more satisfying, more impactful? When you pursue your work with purpose it becomes a reservoir of energy, joy, and well-being that keeps you moving forward when facing challenges and adversity. 

Purpose empowers.

Your purpose empowers you to strive for something bigger than yourself. It is not about a position in a hierarchy or about having power over people. It is about sharing and giving power to others. Just as your purpose is being who you were created to be, you assist others in becoming who they were created to be. In this way, purpose is bigger than you. It includes the people entrusted to your card.

Purpose makes you courageous and resilient.

It energizes you to take risks by facing your challenges and fears with stability and hope. It calls you to grow and to be more vulnerable, more courageous, and more resilient than you thought was possible. The ability to take risks is a key to effective leadership. It is required to lead into and through any situation. Having a bigger purpose is what motivates you to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. 

Purpose helps you engage others. 

When you live into your purpose and assist others to live into their purpose, you build engagement. People go the extra mile because their hearts, as well as their minds, are engaged. Effective leaders inspire action through a contagious sense of purpose. 

Purpose helps you navigate obstacles and uncertainty.

Your purpose allows you to be decisive and courageous and empathic and hopeful in service of a bigger cause. When you are living out of your purpose, you make a unique impact upon the lives of the people around you. You contribute to making the world better. It shows up in your decisions, how you face challenges, how you relate to others. However it shows up, when you identify your purpose, you are energized, and you are able to lead through whatever obstacles and uncertainty you face.   

Your Next Steps

So, as you step into this new year, here is what you do. Set aside 10 minutes to answer these questions and to do the following: 

Step 1

Answer these questions: What brings you joy in life? What do you enjoy doing that helps you come alive? What are the experiences that energize you at work, at home, in life?

Purpose comes from your heart, your intuition, and from your emotions. It moves you because you are one with who God created you to be, one with yourself, and one with the people around you.

You might have to take extra time to truly answer this question. But when you come to an understanding of your purpose, you will be blessed beyond measure.

Step 2

Take notes on your reflection. Make mental notes if you don’t write them down.

What are those experiences that energize you at work, at home, in life? Reflect upon the common themes. What are you doing? Who are you being? What strengths are you exercising? What do people seek you out for? What are the challenges you have faced? What inner resources have you developed to overcome those challenges? Who are you drawn to help? 

Step 3

What leadership legacy do you want to leave? What lasting impact do you want to make? In your family? In your work? In your life?

Reflect on and seriously consider what the ideal world would look like if you were in charge? How do you want your contributions to be remembered? A leader with purpose makes a world changing impact when he/she leads out of their purpose.

For me, a perfect world is where everyone is becoming who God created them to be in their relationships with one another. It is your sense of purpose that moves you from being a transactional leader to a transformational leader. 

Step 4

Now find a trusted friend or colleague and share with them your work. Invite them on the journey with you so you can become more the leader you have been created to be. 

Wow! That seems like a lot at the beginning of the year. But, wouldn’t it feel good to be in your sweet spot, where you are your most effective and are making your greatest impact, and at the same time living a joy filled life? It starts with becoming who you are created to be. The question is, what is your purpose? Only you know the answer.

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out our LeaderCast podcast. This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about purpose. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

A year ago, could you have imagined that you would be doing what you are doing today? What would you have thought if someone had said to you, “this time next year your main connection with people will be over Zoom or Skype or Facetime?” 

Think about it. 

Would you have laughed at the thought of working from home while your children were attending school in the next room? And how would you have felt if you had been told that you would not be worshipping in person through Lent, on Easter Sunday, or on Christmas Eve?

Nothing is Impossible with God

Could you have envisioned not gathering in groups, not feeding people in person, or not providing face to face care for people who were sick or dying? I know this might sound silly, but I am serious in saying it, “nothing is impossible with God.”

You have faced some seemingly impossible situations over the past year. You have developed and maintained relationships through technology. You have kept yourself, your family, and others safe and healthy through a deadly pandemic. No matter how bad things looked or how impossible they seemed, you found a way through. I will say it again, “nothing is impossible with God.”

What Really Matters

You have become more the person and leader you were created to be. You have found a way to achieve the things that really matter to you. In a season of volatility and change, when things seemed impossible and unobtainable, you have dug deep for new and fresh responses. In those moments, when you felt you did not know what to, something transformed the insurmountable into moments of grace. How can this be? How will this happen? Nothing is impossible with God. 

I know it is hard to believe. We are people who think we can take care of ourselves. We rely on our own resources, strength, and power to handle most things. We have convinced ourselves that the absence of conflict and struggle means we are in alignment with God. But have you ever stopped to say, when the phone rings or the letter comes, or the crisis is too big, “nothing is impossible with God?” 

Don’t You Ever Do That Again

I know it is difficult. There once was a pastor who was asked to visit an elderly woman who had been in bed for several weeks and was near death. When he arrived at her house, one of the caregivers led him to her bedside. They talked about her life, her family, her fears, and her hopes. As their time was coming to an end, being a caring pastor, he asked the woman if he could pray for her. She said, “Yes” and then added, “Ask God to let me get up and out of this bed and get back about my life.” The pastor knew she was too sick to ever get out of bed, but because he cared for her, he prayed. He gave thanks for her life and family and he asked God to touch her body, make her well, and let her be back about the life God had created for her. He finished the prayer with, “May God bless you.” As he turned to leave, she sat up in bed, put her legs over the side, placed her feet in her slippers and said, “Let me walk you to the door.” The pastor was flabbergasted. It was unbelievable. This woman, who had been in bed for weeks, sick and near death, was up, out of bed, and walking him to the door. When the pastor got to his car, he looked up to heaven and said to God, “Don’t you ever do that to me again.” 

Do You Believe?

I know it is difficult. But the question is, do you believe that nothing is impossible with God?  That phrase is found twice in the Bible. It appears once in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament. The circumstances are very similar, but different. In the Old Testament it’s found in Genesis 18. An old couple named Abraham and Sarah have no children. A messenger of God comes to their tent one day and says, “You’re going to have children. You’ll conceive and have a son, and from him will come a nation, and that nation will bless the world.” Because of her old age, Sarah laughed and said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” But she had the son. She named him Isaac, which means laughter, because it seemed so funny to her.

From Isaac came the nation we call Israel. Despite being enslaved, persecuted, murdered, ostracized, made fun of, unwelcome, the descendants of Isaac have given the world the basis for a moral and ethical society. The foundation of our own faith, “You should love the Lord your God with all your mind and heart and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” “You shall not kill; you shall not bear false witness against a neighbor; you shall not covet what your neighbor has. You shall not murder; you shall honor your marriage vows. Have no other God, have no idols, and remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” In those commandments, we have the basis for the whole Western world’s life together. It started when a messenger said to an old couple, “You’re going to have a baby and the world will be blessed.” 

Mary Heard it Too

The phrase is also found in Luke 1. The messenger came to Mary, a teenage girl in a little town in northern Israel. She is not married but promised by her family to a carpenter who lived there in Nazareth by the name of Joseph. Before they are married, the messenger says, “You’re going to have a child.” She says, “But I don’t have a husband!” Then the messenger says, “You’re going to have a child, and he will bless the world.” And Mary gave birth to a son and named him Jesus. 

In spite of the fact that he was mistreated, abandoned, made fun of, mocked, beaten, whipped, and executed, wherever he went, people’s hearts and lives were lifted. Even today, because of the impossible and improbable birth of Jesus, people are kind and generous. People who remember Jesus will repair their neighbor’s house when their own roof leaks. They’ll empty their pockets for other people’s children. They will turn the other cheek. They’ll go the second mile. They will even love their enemies. All because a messenger said, “You’re going to have a child and you’ll name him Jesus.” And Mary said, “I don’t understand it. How can this be?” And the messenger, and angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” 

What are you facing that seems insurmountable? If you are reading this you might be thinking, will we ever return to what we once knew? Will we ever worship together again? Will we ever sing together, shake one another’s hands, or hug one another again? 

Leading Into the Impossible

As a leader, you are caring for people who are facing impossible situations. They are asking you and themselves, “will I ever breathe again?” “Walk again?” “See my family again?” They are facing financial difficulties, or broken relationships, or unemployment, and are asking “How will I ever make it?

Let me remind you, if God can give a child to an old couple in a tent and change the world; if God can give a baby to a teenage girl and change the world, what will God do through you? I mean, why should you and I ever give up hope? Why would we ever doubt, or shrug our shoulders in despair? I have learned my lesson over the past year, and I hope you have too. “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Choosing to Offer Hope

Let’s stop and reflect for a moment. As you enter this new year, where can you offer hope and a belief for better days ahead? I’m not talking about positive thinking. I am asking you to give the gift of expectation. Look at the next year, roll up your sleeves, and begin to make it happen.

You have all it takes to see the possibilities in what seems impossible. Remember, the possibilities do not depend entirely upon you, your strength, resources, or desires.  The grace to face the insurmountable is a gift from God, for nothing is impossible with God. 

I had a friend who put it this way, “Write it over the door at your house. Write it on your mind. Write it across your heart. It will come in handy this new year. Nothing, absolutely nothing is impossible with God. 

Walking With You

One more thing. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader. 
Check out LeaderCast, a podcast designed to give insights and resources to courageous leaders. Who you are is how you lead. So, let’s face what is coming together.

Where are you experiencing joy in your leadership? You might think, that is a strange question. Do leadership and joy even go together? Why not? Joy is about being connected to meaning and purpose and to feelings of fulfillment and accomplishment. So, why wouldn’t joy and leadership be connected? 

There is no way to be a courageous and effective leader if you are not a happy leader. It is hard to be happy if you are tangled up in doing things that you don’t truly enjoy. Take leading through the past several months for example.

Where has leadership been a joy? 

It is not easy. In fact, for the most part, it has been discouraging. At the end of some days, you sighed as said to yourself, “I’m glad that is over,” and on other days you said, “I didn’t sign up for this.”  

There have been times when you did not have a clear vision of your purpose. Your mind was distracted by frustration and your heart covered in negativity. Yet, you have continued to move forward. 

Having joy in your work is not all about your satisfaction. As a leader, your joy affects the attitudes and motivations of the people entrusted to your care. It affects how you reach out and receive people, how you invite others to join you in the movement of God, how you practice your faith, and how you engage others in your community.

How to Bring Joy

It is easy for any leader, especially those in the church, to focus on what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. It is during this time of multiple pandemics and of chaos and confusion, you have the opportunity to refocus upon the meaning and purpose of leadership. 

How do you bring joy into the lives of the people who are tired, acting out of frustration, and ready to go back to the way things were?

Psalm 30 gives us insight into the source of joy needed for effective and courageous leadership. David writes, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent” (Psalm 30:11-12). 

David on Joy

When we meet David in this Psalm, he is no longer popular. He is facing opposition. He has lost his health and his emotional well-being.  He speaks of his soul being in Sheol, a dead place of deep darkness. He is weeping all night long. Today we might say he was depressed. It is like he is living in the midst of a pandemic, facing the opposition of racism, trying to make sense of family and work, and feels like he wants to give up. 

But there is one thing he has not lost: his praise of God. When he feels he can’t go on any longer, he turns to God in praise, 

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning

-Psalm 30:4-5

David is so caught up in praising God that his depressed situation becomes a demonstration of joy. You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.”

Joy-filled Leadership

Could it be that joy-filled leadership is rooted in praising God? I don’t know how you define it, but I think of praise as remembering God’s goodness and reciting God’s greatness.  What would happen, if in the midst of what you are facing right now at this moment, you stopped, remembered God’s goodness, and gave God thanks? What would happen, if in your leadership, you remembered God’s goodness, and acted in gratitude as you engaged and interacted with the people entrusted to you? 

Joy is built into the fabric of all creation. Genesis says that joy was first in line when God created everything. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…and God saw that it was good.”  The writer of Job says, The morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy.” Joy couldn’t watch God’s creation and keep silent. From the beginning, God intended joy to be fundamental in your life. If this is true, then it is time to lead with joy. 

Joy-filled Questions

So, let’s try something. The following questions are just for you and your reflection.  This is not a test but a reminder of the roots of your joy that feeds your leadership. Here are the questions:

When was the last time you…

  • gave God the gift of your laughter?
  • experienced the sheer beauty of God?
  • were amazed speechless in God’s presence?
  • prayed a song instead of singing it?
  • sang your prayer instead of praying it? 

Joy is energized by the praise of God. So, as you face the unprecedented demands of leadership, what have you lost? Have you lost your joy, or have you lost your sense of praise? Without praise, your joy at best, is incomplete. 

Five Behaviors for Joy-Filled Leaders

Because joy is rooted in praise and praise is directly related to God, then you will understand and focus upon these five behaviors:   

1. Strengths

Joy-filled leaders know their strengths.  

Although they do not ignore their weaknesses, they primarily focus upon their strengths and the strengths of the people entrusted to their care. Are people around you involved in ministry that match their abilities and interests? What would bring them joy in their work in and through your church? Know the strengths of people in your congregation and let them experience the joy of becoming who God has gifted them to be.

2. Health 

Joy-filled leaders know how to care for themselves as well as others. 

They know their limitations and understand that stress is a part of life. They give themselves time and space to replenish the energy needed to stay focused upon their goal and the health of the people entrusted to their care. Healthiness is contagious. I remember a children’s book titled, “How Full Is Your Bucket?” This little book lays out this concept of health very well. You can choose to fill other’s “buckets” with positive energy, or you can choose to take energy from their buckets. Your healthiness and the healthiness of others will fuel the joy needed to be effective in ministry.  

3. Presence

Joy-filled leaders are engaged in the lives of the people entrusted to them. 

They are authentic and hopeful as they assist others to be engaged with one another and with the community. One way to become more present or engaged is to ask, the people with whom you are in ministry, these questions: What do you like about the church? What needs to change?  What makes you proud about your church? What does it look like when we are at our best as a church? Being present by listening to others and by taking their responses seriously will bring a sense of joy to you and to them.

4. Relationships

Joy-filled leaders develop relationships with the people entrusted to them and the community in which they serve. 

At the same time, they are looking for the connections with the systems needed to help the people around them become all God has created them to be. People experience joy in their connection with others. So, developing trust and respect, in the midst of differences, provides a healthy environment for relationships.

5. Purpose

Joy-filled leaders know their purpose. 

Your sense of purpose is an important element of their resilience, happiness, and faithfulness. Because you are focused upon your purpose, you learn to adapt as you navigate the obstacles and barriers in the way of accomplishing your purpose. 

Plant Seeds of Joy

Where are you finding joy in your leadership? Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do, are in harmony.” 

So, where will you plant the seed of joy this week? Why not take a few minutes at the end of this day, reflect upon God’s goodness through the day, and then offer words of praise and thanksgiving? Then, tomorrow, invite someone, family member, friend, or colleague to reflect with you upon God’s goodness and together offer words of praise and thanksgiving. You cannot command joy, but you can plant praise. “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.” 

When Sara Thomas or I can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara and I are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.

When you think about leadership, what comes to mind? Trust? Compassion? Stability? Hope? Honestly, when I think of leadership, I think of you.

Over the past several months, you have discovered new ways of leading. Through the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, you have led people through protocols, live streaming, and Zoom meetings. You have learned to depend more and more upon the strengths and gifts of the people entrusted to your care. Whether you have liked it or not, you have done your best to respond with grace and compassion. 

Through the causes of the racial pandemic, you have learned more about the situations and circumstances of racist ideas and policies. You have discovered how these ideas and policies are intertwined with the systems and actions of everyday living. As painful as it is to confront the truth of racism, you have found your voice. You now yearn to speak up in the places you have been silent.   

Even in the midst of a political climate that is divisive, you have listened to opposing ideas, helped to keep people informed, and assisted in bringing people together. As time-consuming as it has been, you have worked to put your prayers into action, bringing hope and stability in the midst of complex and passionate conversations. You are to be commended. Thanks! 

The Most Important Characteristic of Leaders

As a leader, you have been a compassionate presence of stability as you have developed trust and offered hope. Trust, compassion, stability, and hope are the characteristics people look for in their leaders. 

These characteristics are, without a doubt, fundamental to good leadership. But there is one characteristic that is sometimes missing. I believe that the most important characteristic of leadership, especially in the times we are now living, is love. 

Yes, love. 

Love in Leadership

Now, I’m not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings centered on romance or friendship. Both romance and friendship are extremely important, but the kind of love I’m referring to is not centered on feelings. 

It is centered in action. It takes others seriously. It makes a place for relationships with people with whom we disagree. It is vulnerable and empathetic.  It listens without agendas and it works for the good of others even in the midst of misunderstanding. It provides a caring and safe place for people to become who God has created them to be. 

Love in Scripture

Paul described this love in his letter to the Corinthians: 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

-1 Corinthians 13 

Who is the Focus of Love?

These words are rooted in God’s action on our behalf.  The problem is, we have made love more about ourselves than about God’s action and more about our preferences than the people given to us to love. 

We have limited the use of love by making it more about sentimentality, pushing it in the direction of weddings, babies, family, and friends. Each is important, but this is not the love referred to by Paul.  When he wrote those words, he wasn’t at a wedding. Although his advice would be good for a couple of young lovers, he was not writing a romantic road map. He was upset. 

Paul’s Reminder on Love

He wrote those words in a letter to the Christians in a little Greek seaport in the middle of the first century. He had started the congregation there around the teachings of Jesus, and now he was hearing stories of bickering, broken relationships, and bad behavior. The members of the church had forgotten the values that he had brought to them. 

They were fighting, splitting into factions according to who baptized them. They were suing each other. Sleeping with each other’s spouses. Some of them were demanding special treatment regarding Holy Communion, while others were just getting drunk at fellowship dinners. Paul wrote this letter and sent it into the midst of their dysfunction. He wrote emphasizing the characteristics and actions of love. 

Echoes of Paul’s Frustrations

When you listen closely, you hear some of the same sounds in our world today. The sounds are coming from political leaders, as well as some people in our congregations. Sometimes it even sounds like the conversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table. The very situation that moved Paul to write to the church in Corinth sounds a lot like many of the situations and circumstances in which you have been leading. 

Paul wrote because the Christians in Corinth had forgotten that at the center of being a follower of Jesus is love. Paul offered them the only way he knew to redeem the mess they had gotten into. They had stopped loving one another, so he wrote about leading with love. 

To Lead with Love is to…

1. Know the love Paul is describing. 

Most languages have several words that capture the different dimensions of love. In the language of the New Testament, there are three frequently used words to describe love: Eros, philia, and agape. Eros is romantic or sexual love. Our English word erotic comes from Eros. This was not the word used by Paul in his letter. Philia is fraternal, brotherly, or family love. The city of Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love. As good as it is, this is not the word used by Paul in his letter. Finally, there is agape, which is love for others beyond ourselves. It is a sacrificial love that seeks the good and well-being of others, whether family, friend, stranger or enemy. This is the word used by Paul. 

2. Live with a firm commitment to act for the well-being of others.

It can be personal or political, individual or communal, intimate, or public. But it will never be segregated or shaped by personal preference. Because agape is rooted in God’s dream for each of us and for all creation, it is experienced and expressed in acts of care and compassion. Because its source is Jesus, it is the love that holds us together in the midst of disagreements, conflicts, and turmoil as well as the love that transforms us into the people God has created us to be.   

3. Model a life of humility.

You are patient and kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. You are not concerned about getting your way but are working to make a way for everyone. You are not irritable or resentful. You rejoice in the truth. You are authentic and transparent. You are focused upon people, listening for the purpose of developing relationships, without pushing agendas.

4. Help others stay grounded in the midst of the chaos that has invaded lives today. 

It is to stay decent in indecent times. When selfishness excludes, love makes room and includes.  When selfishness puts down, love lifts up. When selfishness hurts and harms, love helps and heals.  When selfishness enslaves, love sets free and liberates. 

Lead with Love

You might lead through a pandemic, keeping people safe and healthy, but if you don’t lead with love, you do nothing more than irritate the people entrusted to your care. 

You might find your voice to speak up in advocacy of others, but if you don’t lead with love, you create more racism and participate unknowingly in the ideas and policies that perpetuate discrimination.   

You might know the qualities of trust, compassion, stability, and hope, but if you don’t lead with love, you have missed the point of becoming who you were created to be. 

Lead with love. It will not be easy but you will get stronger with practice. 

When Sara Thomas or I can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara and I are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community

Do you remember those old-world maps in textbooks? They were created when a lot of the world was still unexplored. When the mapmakers reached the edge of what had been explored, they drew a line and showed dragons and monsters beyond it. This was their way of identifying uncharted territory. 

There is a story of a first century Roman commander who had to lead his troops beyond the line on the map and into “dragon” territory. He sent a messenger back to Rome with the message, “Send new orders! We have marched off the map!”

Have You Marched Off the Map?

As a leader, you might be feeling you have marched off the map. 

You are leading where you have not led before. The people entrusted to your care are looking for peace and security as you are looking for direction in the midst of change and chaos. You might very well be thinking, “Send new orders! We have marched off the map!”

I understand your anxiety.  I have been there several times over my ministry.  Whether it was in the uncertainty of leading a congregation through the anxiety and fear of 9/11 or in forming a new ministry team, experiencing the rockiness of new relationships and the storminess of change. When I was able to adapt to the changes and normalize the new ways of relating and living, I was able to be the leader I needed to be for that time and place.

The Messy Middle 

Brene Brown says, “The middle is messy but it is where the magic happens.” Friends, we are in the middle of converging pandemics. It is like you have entered a cave.  It is dark.  So dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.  You want to turn around and go back, but you are too far to turn around, but you are not close enough to the end to see the light.  You feel as if you are at the point of no return. You hear voices, conflicting voices, calling out advice, direction, opinions, hope, and despair. All you want is to get through and to the end of the cave. “Send new orders.  We have marched off the map.”

Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, we do not know how long it will last or how far we must go get to the end. We are six months into this weird way of living. Every day we experience attempts to go back to what we say is normal, whether it is with schools opening, work outside of home, looking for work, playing football, childcare, worshipping in the sanctuary, singing hymns, shaking hands, the list goes on.


In the Messiness, We Learn New Ways

The people around us are trying to override what we know we need to do to contain the virus. We are in the midst of some messiness. If we are not careful, we will make bad decisions because we lack the willpower to stay the course. 

We want things the way they were. Yet, it is in this messiness that we learn new ways, adapt to new situations, discover new relationships, and different ways of living. Regardless of how long it takes, there will be an end to the pandemic.  It is how we adapt and what we learn in the middle that is important today. “Send new orders. We have marched off the map.”

There is No Turning Back

Regarding the racial reckoning pandemic, there is no turning back. We don’t know what it will look like, but we do know that it is long overdue, and it is the right thing to do. It has taken us too long to name and recognize the pain and injustice of racism. 

It has taken us too long to admit our participation in the racist ideas and policies from which we benefit. We are in the midst of some messiness. 

If we are not careful, we will convince ourselves not to talk about our racism, not to not learn about our biases, not recognize our privilege, and again, do nothing about it. We want things the way they were.

Yet, to go back is not acceptable. How long we have yearned for and imagined love and justice. And how many times have we failed to make it a reality. It is messy and hard work, but it is necessary work.  In the messiness we will become the people God created us to be. “Send new orders. We have marched off the map.”  

We Are Resurrection People

We are experiencing the messiness in our own denomination. We don’t know what the future holds, yet the one thing we all have in common is the resurrection.

As people of the resurrection, people of hope, our life together does not depend upon agreement.  It depends upon love and forgiveness. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love.” 

The writer of 1 John wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. (1 John 3:1-2 CEB).  

Navigate Uncharted Territory

We are in the messiness of becoming who God has created us to be. We don’t know how we will turn out, but we do know that as God’s children, we will be far more wonderful than we can imagine. 

Even though you are in uncharted territory, there are some things that have not changed. You can depend upon these things to get you through to the end. Even though you might feel you need new orders, as a leader, you need the following:   

1. Trust in God

A deep and abiding faith that shapes your relationships, assumptions, attitudes, and actions. This trust has nothing to do with politics or positions on issues.  This trust is experienced and anchored in the love of God and is expressed and demonstrated in loving others, just as God in Christ has loved you.

2. Focus upon Purpose

A clear and intentional focus upon getting through the messiness. You might not know how long you are in this middle, but you do know there is an end to the messiness. Your focus upon purpose will allow you to adapt to what you can’t change and learn to change what you can.

3. Vulnerability

You have not been this way before.  To lead through the messiness, you will stumble and make mistakes. When that happens, you get back up, dust yourself off, and continue through to the end. Your trust in God and focus on purpose will keep you moving toward what God has is store for you.

4. Authentic Relationships

You are not alone in this messiness. You are surrounded by people who are not only depending upon you but who love you. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have your life enriched by the people God puts into your life. Each person has something to offer to you, as well you to them, to help you become more who God created you to be. So, join hands, lock arms (both strange images in a time of social distancing), and become a force of love and justice. Experience God’s love and acceptance in and through those relationships.

5. Generosity

This generosity is to love others as you have been loved. In these times of anxiety and stress, give people the benefit of the doubt, even if they are not doing the same to you.  You don’t love people because they love you.  You love because God loves you. Be as generous with people as God has been with you. 

You Will Persevere

No matter how messy life becomes, if you live into these five things, you will persevere to the end. So, what are your new orders? Keep going! Don’t give up! You are not alone! You are a beloved child of God. Keep going. God is not finished with you or your leadership. Don’t give up!

Sonya Renee Taylor writes, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalize greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”   

Don’t Give Up! Keep Going!

You might feel like you have marched off the map, but you are about to discover a whole new life of love and justice. Don’t give up! Keep going! Perfect love cast out fear! Don’t give up! 

Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you and your congregation in the midst of the messiness. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.