Change :: Leading is Change

I am fascinated by the ways and reasons we resist change. We don’t just resist changes that are big and scary, we resist change on every level. We laugh at Einstein’s definition of insanity while pretending we don’t live by it every day, “doing what we have always done, expecting different results.” Leader face this resistance constantly. At the same time, leaders often miss the subtle ways they stand in the way, too.

Last week, something hit me afresh: Even leaders who seek to help the people or organizations they lead take new ground—aka: make productive and profound change—are tempted to limit the changes they are willing to lead to those within the boundaries of their own comfort zone. To say it another way, it is easy to ask other people to make major change as long as that change is contained within the realm of what we are already comfortable with. In other words, even as we call for bold change in others we are being careful to avoid the implications of those changes in ourselves.

However, leading is about change. Leaders look at where they are now and where they need to be. They admit that it is not possible to get somewhere new doing what they have always done. Great leaders are willing to go back to the drawing board to unlearn, relearn, and become students of whole new disciplines and skills. They are willing to put it all on the line for the sake of what needs to be achieved. They literally, “walk naked into the land of the unknown.” (Robert Quinn, Deep Change.)

Leading is change, it is not about polishing the status quo. Therefore, to be a leader of change I have to allow change to begin in me.

But here’s the deal. Change is destabilizing and risky. You cannot guarantee a return on your “investment” of change until you are all in with no way of going back. Change is an act of faith to trust your best wisdom and intentions. But there are no guarantees. It is possible to pay the price of change and not achieve what you hope for. So, given the facts that change is risky, that people resist change, that change leads to loss and destabilizes an organization, it is no wonder that courageous appropriate leadership is so rare. There are lots of reasons to play it safe.

However, we will never get where we need to go by staying where we are. (How’s that for a brilliant quotable quote.)

Time for a little personal inventory:

  • What is the new territory you long for with your team or organization? What do you dream of achieving?
  • What actions, decisions, or new growth have you been putting off?
  • What risks will you have to take to start leading toward that new future?
  • and the most important question: Who do you know who could help you discover and develop the new skills or disciplines you will need to lead at a new level?

    The Easiest Way to Avoid Change

    It is December 30th and that means we are in the red-zone for the annual “get your life together” rhetoric calling for New Year’s resolutions to fuel personal growth. But, what do you do if you don’t buy into this annual opportunity for a fresh start? What if you would rather avoid another attempt at change and the potential disappointment that comes with it? What if you like things just the way they are?

    If you’d rather avoid the risk of change, this is your lucky day!

    I would like to let you in on a secret. It is the easiest way to avoid change with the least amount of effort. In fact, by simply mastering the well-timed use of two words, you can indefinitely avoid the unpleasant risk and hard work of change on a personal level or even thwart an initiative for change in any group you are part of.

    The secret?  Learn to use these two magic words:  not yet.
    Here’s how it works.

    Imagine you have or let’s say you “know someone” who has a few pounds to lose. By simply saying, “I really need to lose some weight, it is really important, but not yet. I have this holiday to get through or that trip to take first.

    Perhaps you need to get your financial house in order. If so, try this one: “I am working on a plan for how to do it, but with all the Christmas bills now is not the time, at least not yet.”

    Or, maybe, you need to make a few changes at work or you are facing some other challenge that will require courageous change.  Look yourself (or anyone else that matters) in the eye. Affirm the need for change, but in sobering tones finish your sentence with, “but the timing just isn’t right. I’ll need to make the change soon, but not yet.”

    The secret power of this little phrase is nowhere more transcendent than in a group setting, let’s say at your church. Picture the scene, some leader suggests changing a program or tradition you find personally meaningful all in the name of greater impact on other people in your community. Sure, maybe at some point in time it would be a good idea, but not yet.

    Instead of suffering in silence, this is a perfect time to speak up and wax eloquently on why this proposal is a fantastic idea. But, before anyone can shout amen, continue right on and in the most sensitive manner point out to the group that considering all the current challenges at hand, now is not the time.  “It is clearly a great idea, but not yet!”  Pontificate that before diving into the disconcerting waters of change on something so important, it would be good to do more study, more preparation, more shoring up some of the core programs and practices that already need attention. Thank those that have offered the proposal. It is a good idea, but not yet.

    Before you know it, by your skillful use of the non-taxing strategy of “not yet” you will have postponed change indefinitely. You will have avoided all risk. You will have been able to maintain status quo. What could be more comfortable?

    I know that “they say” if something needs to be done, there is no time like the present. And, I know thatin the Bible James warns us about walking away without making any changes after looking in the mirror and seeing exactly what needs to be done. Even the book of Hebrews says, ‘today if you hear the Lord’s voice, do not harden your hearts…” But certainly all these people understand that now is not the time to seize the day and make those changes that have been nagging at you for some time.  They are good ideas, but not yet.

    Unless of course change is actually needed.

    Calling & Courage

    How big is the wake behind your “boat?” Do you cut through the waters of life without leaving a mark, or do the waves of your wake reverberate in people long after you are gone? The 5 “C’s” of Leadership Capacity are qualities that translate into the breadth and depth of a leader’s influence: aka. the wake behind “your boat.”

    Ignored, any of the five will neutralize your wake, minimizing the mark you make on the world around you. I have already written on the first two qualities — Character and Competency — now it is time look at the heavy lifting that comes through Calling and Courage. (This is the 3rd in a 4 part series of essays.)

    CALLING:: Lack of Calling
    For the past twelve years I have worked with men and women to help them sharpen and then live in alignment with a clear sense of calling. Calling is my way of talking about the deep seated desire in all of us to make a redemptive difference in the world. It describes our passion for meeting needs — for participating creatively in shaping the world we long for.  Calling is not a synonym for our vocational assignment, but our vocation should provide practical ways we are empowered to live out our calling.

    Let me frame it through the words of Os Guinness. Every one of us is surrounded by people with agendas and expections for us. Every day, every leader stands before a crowd of faces that long to be pleased. They form a seductive presence that makes it easy to live for the applause of the crowd rather than before the “Audience of One.” Becoming clear about your calling, makes it easier to live before the one whose opinion matters. Calling gives me a grid for sorting through the options I run into every day.

    What are you called to do with your life?
    Some questions that might help you probe your sense of calling:

    • What group of people or obvious needs do you long to touch?
    • What are you doing when you feel that your life is making a difference?
    • What are you really good at?
    • What are some ways you would love to redeem parts of the broken world around you?
    • What could you build, shape, create that would improve life for others?
    • What is one tangible action you could take this week that would align with your best understanding of your ‘calling’
 ?

    COURAGE ::
    Nothing sabotages the impact of a leader like the lack of courage. Courage means choosing to do the hard good when the easy evil is right at hand. Courage is about staying the course when things are rough. Courage means placing your personal comfort below the needs of others and needs of the moment. Courage touches everything a leader does.

    Think about courage in relationship to calling. We can be frightfully clear about our calling, but without courage we will fail to say ‘no’ to the requests of persuasive people. Without courage we will avoid the hard work of change — failing to align our behavior with our calling. It takes courage to say yes less often and no more often. Living out your calling, means disappointing people who “really needed us,” in order to do the things we were made to do.

    Or what about conflict? It is impossible to lead without conflict. You will cause it or it will find you, but either way, when leaders lead, stuff happens. Courage is the well leaders drink from when they must wade into issues of conflict. And, maybe one of the most important transactions during conflict, other “leaders in fringe” will gauge your leadership horsepower by watching the way you respond to conflict. If you avoid it, others will know that there is a lack of leadership in your organization. Worse, they will know that when conflict arises involving them, there will be no one watching their back. Over time emerging leaders will drift away… leaders need leaders to follow.

    Courage is not arrogance, however. It does not treat people or decisions callously. Courage brings perspective rather than arrogant insensitivity. Arrogance is actually insecurity in action. Courage usually flows from deep understanding that what is at stake is far bigger than me and how you feel about me. Courage shows up in a willingness to act, to stay the course, even when doing so requires a high price.

    So, how is the courage quotient in your life these days?

    • Are you saying No when you should or saying yes because it is easier?
    • Are you dealing with conflict or hoping it goes away?
    • Do the people you serve see an example of what it looks like to have enough courage to take big risks on behalf of those people and needs that will not serve you in return?

    PERSONAL NOTE: My apologies for the delay in this installment of this essays. I will post the final piece on Community in just a few days.

    Five C’s of High Capacity Leaders

    In a world that crowds after the illusion of simple formulas, what I am about to say might venture too close to that black hole. However, my conviction is that the five attributes below represent the journey of a leader’s life long development. As a matter of fact, our quest for quick-fix, simple leadership formulas is actually what derails us from the depth of this developmental journey.

    The extent to which a man or woman has cultivated all five dimensions of his or her life, is the measure by which they will find the influence of their life growing exponentially. By the same token, every dimension that is missing or stunted  sabotages the scope of that influence.

    I have taught on four of these five dimensions for some time, perhaps even beginning to take for granted that everyone already “gets it.” But this past week in a conversation with a very sharp woman leader I discovered that I have also come to understand the fifth dimension. So, whether this serves as a review of the familiar or as fresh thinking I hope it serves you.

    I also make the assumption that you live with a God-given desire to live a life of influence — to make a mark that cannot be easily erased. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the shape of the following in your life:

    CHARACTER :: Influence flows out of who you are more than what you do. Character is more than force of will or consistency. It is that unique combination of who you are when no one is looking and the formation of your soul through intimacy with Christ.

    COMPETENCY :: At the same time, leaders need to have skills. In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their skills that they might lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.

    CALLING :: Leaders are surrounded by those with an agenda, expectation, or demand for them. Yet, leaders of influence are those live before the Audience of One rather than for the applause of the crowd. They do so because they understand and align their behavior with a clear sense of calling and contribution.

    COURAGE :: Unfortunately, the crowd won’t like it. Therefore, leaders must be people of courage. You cannot lead without conflict, even when you are doing the right thing in the right way. And, you cannot wade toward or through that conflict without courage. Without courage, you will dodge the hard stuff.

    COMMUNITY :: Leaders don’t live or lead in isolation. While leading is often an isolating experience, leaders seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others. They create safe places of community for others by the way they pursue it themselves.

    So, if you were to give yourself a grade of ‘A’ to ‘F’ on each of the five, what would your report card look like today?

    MORE TO COME:
    I am going to post an essay on each of these five every few days over the next couple weeks. I’d invite you to absorb them one at a time. Post a thought or two about how you are learning work on each dimension.

    After I have completed the series,  I’ll post it as one downloadable .pdf and add some group reflection questions so that you might use it as a resource with those who lead beside you.

    Book of the Year

    Of all the books I read last year, Just Courage stands out as book of the year for me. It is inspiring, provocative, prophetic and although only 132 pages, it has gotten under my skin like no book I have read in a long time.  Here is a sample glimpse into Gary’s point:

    “At the end of the day we thought our Christian life would be more than this—-somehow larger, more significant, more vivid, more glorious. But it’s not. Driving to church on Sunday feels a bit like Ground Hog Day, the movie where Bill Murray’s character is forced to pathetically relive exactly the same day over and over again.”
    (p. 25-26)

    “The idea that there is nothing beyond our personal spiritual development isn’t meant to be satisfying—-for our rescue is not the ultimate destination; it is the indispensible means by which God works out his plan to rescue the world.”  (p. 29)

    Just Courage makes a powerful case for God’s call to his people to engage in the work of justice. And, not just for the redemptive impact on those struggling with injustice, but for how responding to this call is liberating for Christians as well.  “God specifically uses the work of justice as the pathway for liberating us from the Christian cul-de-sac of triviality and small fears.” (p. 39)

    Haugen’s book fits on a larger page that God has been writing in my life. It is a call to all of us who follow Christ to move outside the walls of ecclesiastical safety and into the lives of people touched by the brokenness of our world. It is a call to follow Jesus in the world he was motivated to reach. It is an invitation to participate in the redemptive work that God is all about.

    I could go on, but what I would love is for you to get a copy, read it, and drop me a note with your thoughts. Let’s have a dialog.  {Click the image of the book and go straight to Amazon to order it.}
    [P.S. I’ll post thoughts on the two runner-up books in next week.]

    The Little Thing that Changes Everything: Courage

    I have a theory: courage is the sinew that connects our thinking to our behavior.  It’s not good intentions that get things done, it is courage. We can talk the right talk, we can understand key issues, and we can have all manner of good ideas, but without courage we won’t act on them. 

    Two days ago, my wife, Margaret, and I were part of an organized “century ride” on California’s central coast. (1oo mile ride in one day on a bicycle.) Unfortunately, her batteries were a little low. She’d been sick a week earlier and after a couple hectic encounters with traffic motivation to continue was waning. At the turn around point, she felt a bit unsettled and would have preferred to stop.  However, she made a conscious choice to override her emotions at the moment and continue the ride. It was raw courage. There is no other word for it. It moved me, and it reminded me how much courage it takes to choose to continue when the initial thrill of adventure wears thin.

    Every time a leader or an organization attempts change, they face moments it would be far easier to stop moving forward. Every time you or I try to change our ways or accomplish something worthwhile we hit the point where the initial thrill of the project is over and the strength of our courage is tested. When those you lead are pushing back against your because of the price tag of change, it takes courage to continue moving forward. When you are stepping into the unknown, courage is what keeps you from turning back to what was familiar and ‘safe.’

    I became convinced long ago that leaders of influence exhibit four qualities that set them apart. They have a clear sense of Calling (passion, direction, etc.) They possess the Competencies demanded by a complex and challenging world. They have Character that runs deep, making them the people others can trust when the chips are down. And the fourth, they demonstrate that often overlooked quality, Courage.

    While competency and character are familiar territory, the demand for courage might be the most often overlooked. Without courage you won’t pull the trigger when the going gets tough.  Without courage you will sabotage your capacity for influence by choosing the easy road. Without courage, it is easy to give up halfway.

    You can have all the insight and ideas imaginable, but when the going get’s tough, what’s in your head won’t translate into behavior unless you also have courage. There is always an easier way out.

    Courage is an amazing thing. It inspires others. And it is the fuel that gets things done. I watched Margaret make a courageous choice to keep going last Saturday and watched her ride strong through the finish line because of it.

    I hope I can live as courageously this week.