Archive for April 2014

Quotable (Andy Stanley)

“Upgrade your performance by playing to your strengths and delegating your weaknesses.  This one decision will do more to enhance your productivity than anything else you do as a leader.” (Stanley, 2003)

Stanley, A. (2003). Next Generation Leader. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Publishers.



Most people are probably familiar with the children’s tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Goldilocks becomes lost in the woods, finds a seemingly empty house, and lets herself in.  Once inside, she begins to make herself at home to the comforts that she sees.  And then you know what happens:  one bowl of porridge is too hot, one is too cold, one is just right; one chair is too big, one is too small, one is just right; one bed is too hard, one is too soft, one is just right.  I have found a similar dilemma in the struggle with balancing personal leadership strengths and weaknesses, and in compensating for my weaknesses.

Early on in my leadership, I believed that the people around me needed to think that I had no weaknesses, otherwise my leadership would not succeed.  So I did everything I could to deny and cover up and to allow my strengths to so dominate, that people (so I thought) would not catch on to my weaknesses.  Like porridge that is too hot or a bed that is too hard, this sounds like compensating too much!  I was trying to over-compensate for my weaknesses by ignoring them, and trusting my strengths to cover them up. This may be an obvious statement: that didn’t work for very long.

Further along in my leadership development process, it seemed that my supervisors focused almost completely on my weaknesses, and not my strengths.  In my performance reviews, they would acknowledge what I was doing well, but quickly move on to a lengthy discussion of my weaknesses, focusing on the attention I needed to give to those weaknesses to improve and eliminate them.  I now believe this approach sounds like the other extreme, compensating too little.  I found myself under-compensating for my weaknesses by instead focusing all of my energy on improving them, to the detriment of my strengths.  Gordon MacDonald, in Ordering Your Private World, explains it this way: “I normally invested inordinately large amounts of time doing things I was not good at, while the tasks I should have been able to do with excellence and effectiveness were pre-empted.  I know many Christian leaders who feel that they spend up to 60 percent of their time (perhaps a lot more, actually) doing things at which they are second best.” (2003, p. 88)  The result will be, as Andy Stanley shared in The Next Generation Leader, that “the moment a leader steps away from his core competencies, his effectiveness as a leader diminishes.” (2003, p. 21)

So where do you find the balance of “just right”?  I found the best answer for me in Stanley’s book, when I read this: “Upgrade your performance by playing to your strengths and delegating your weaknesses.  This one decision will do more to enhance your productivity than anything else you do as a leader.” (p. 33) Within my own particular make-up, the idea of delegating areas where I was weak to someone who had that area as a strength was a novel and revolutionizing thought for me.  I realized that I did not and should not need to do everything; rather, I could and should rely on the strengths and skills of others.  I needed to focus on my strengths, doing what I could do best.  However, I also needed to self-analyze and identify my weaknesses (and takes steps to improve where it was practical and beneficial, but not at the expense of developing my strengths).  By strategically evaluating both myself and those around me, I could learn to appropriately compensate by putting my energy into those things that I would do well, and enabling and empowering others to do what they would do well.  In the process, others would grow and develop, I would be better at those areas on which I was focusing, and the organization and environment in which this took place would flourish.  It makes sense.

MacDonald, G. (2003). Ordering Your Private World (Revised ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Stanley, A. (2003). Next Generation Leader. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Publishers.


What Do You Think . . . was a defining moment in your leadership development?

One of the lessons I learned from J. Robert Clinton’s Leadership Emergence Theory is that there are “defining moments” that occur in the life of the leader.  These moments are pivotal moments in the leadership development process – a crucial lesson learned, a principle recognized, a change in behavior, and so on.  Can you identify any particular defining moments in your leadership development?  Please share them in the comment box below.

What is Leadership Emergence Theory?

J. Robert Clinton’s (1988, 1989) Leadership Emergence Theory is particularly meaningful to me, because it was the theoretical basis in my own research for my doctoral dissertation.  It is a model of leadership development that originated out of research of the formation of leadership in biblical leaders and in significant historical ministry figures, and so is specifically applicable to a Christian view of leadership.  Clinton describes this theory as the concept that “all of life is used by God to develop the capacity of a leader to influence” (1988, p. 9) including internal processes, external processes, and divine processes, both formal and informal.

Leadership Emergence Theory divides the leadership formation and emergence process into six stages, or phases, over the lifetime of the leader. The first, Phase I, is called the Sovereign Foundations phase. It is in this initial stage that God providentially works with the foundational items in the life of the leader-to-be in preparation for future leadership, beginning from birth. Phase II is the Inner Life Growth phase. In this stage, the emerging leader receives both informal and formal training, and there are four predominant means through which the training takes place:  imitation modeling, informal apprenticeships, mentoring, and academic study. Phase III is the Ministry Maturing phase. In this stage, emerging leaders serve in ministry as their prime focus, and get further training, and it is also during this phase that the discovery of giftedness takes place.  The following stage, Phase IV, is the Life Maturing phase, during which the emerging leader is able to identify and begin using his combination of gifts, training, and experience (called “gift-mix”) with effectiveness and impact, and learns to develop its use to its full potential. The pivotal stage is Phase V, the Convergence phase, in which the leader becomes most effective in his role as a leader and in his ministry, as his potential is maximized and exercised.  Unfortunately, only a few leaders ever experience this phase in their lifetime.  Even rarer is the final stage, Phase VI, or Afterglow.  This phase follows the active ministry of a leader by influencing a community based on a lifetime legacy of leadership.

There are three variables which are essential to the explanation and formation of this theory: the process variable, the time variable, and the response variable. The time variable refers to the previously defined phases of leadership development. The time spent in each of those phases can vary, and in some instances can overlap, from person to person. The response variable refers to the way in which the leader responds to people, processes, and events that God brings into the life of the leader. Often, the response directly affects the progression and spacing of the time variable. The process variable, however, is “the core variable around which the theory integrates” (1989, p. 29). This variable is defined as “critical spiritual incidents in the lives of leaders . . . sprinkled densely throughout their lives . . . [that] are often turning points in terms of leadership insights” (p. 29). “Processing is central to the theory. All leaders can point to critical incidents in their lives where God taught them something very important” (p. 25).

In addition to the three variables that affect the lifetime of development, there are also three concepts that are “foundational to understanding the analysis of a person’s life” (1988, p. 42): patterns, process items, and principles. Patterns “deal with the overall framework, or the big picture, of a life” (p. 42), and describe a repetitive cycle in leadership development that may involve “periods of time, combinations of process items, or combinations of identifiable concepts” (pp. 251-252). Process items “deal with the ways and means used by God to move a leader along in the overall pattern . . . those providential events, people, circumstances, special interventions, and inner-life lessons that can be God’s way of indicating leadership potential” (p. 42). Principles “deal with the identification of foundational truths within processes and patterns that have a wider application to leaders” (p. 42). In the emergence of a person’s leadership, these three items provide an understanding of the shaping of that leadership, and provide application to further personal leadership development and to the development of others.


Clinton, J. R. (1988). The Making of a Leader. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.

Clinton, J. R. (1989). Leadership Emergence Theory. Madison, WI: Printing Plus.



“He who answers a matter before he hears the facts—it is folly and shame to him.”  (Amplified Bible)

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” (The Message)

Proverbs 18:13


Scripture taken from the Amplified Bible. Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation, used by permission.

Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group

The Importance of Story

“Life, you’ll notice, is a story ” (Eldredge, 2004, p. 2).  This brief statement by John Eldredge, in the short book Epic, seems to have captured in six words the realization for me that my life is a story.  This was not always my perspective or viewpoint.  In fact, when I entered my journey in my doctoral leadership program, I believe I was quite strongly a “concrete sequential” thinker with a quantitative view of data and life.  Somewhere along the way, a series of circumstances, events, and reflective moments drew me to connect with the concept of “story,” and led me to much more of a qualitative understanding of life.  My personal growth had changed me to the point that I would now describe my perspective much like Eldredge did when he followed that six-word statement by saying, “Life doesn’t come to us like a math problem.  It comes to us the way that a story does, scene by scene.  You wake up.  What will happen next?  You don’t get to know – you have to enter in, take the journey as it comes.  The sun might be shining. There might be a tornado outside.  Your friends might call and invite you to go sailing.  You might lose your job.  Life unfolds like a drama.  Doesn’t it?  Each day has a beginning and an end.  There are all sorts of characters, all sorts of settings.  A year goes by like a chapter from a novel.  Sometimes it seems like a tragedy.  Sometimes like a comedy.  Most of it feels like a soap opera.  Whatever happens, it’s a story through and through.”  (pp. 2-3)

A natural outgrowth of recognizing the emergence of my own personal story was the understanding that “everyone has a story,” and so I transitioned from a recognizing the importance of my story to a recognizing the importance of story in others, and in leadership in general.  I see this now in the simple way that I will often ask questions of people I meet to draw out their stories, and look for connections between their stories and mine in order to build relationship in a way that will benefit and enhance the effectiveness of my leadership. This importance of understanding each person’s story is, for me, reflected in the research methodology of narrative inquiry.   I have learned from Clandinin and Connelly, in the book Narrative Inquiry (2000), that story, or narrative inquiry, is a very important component of research because it provides the context and history of a circumstance and an environment, which provides meaning to them.  Merriam (1998) describes it as “the meaning people have constructed, that is, how they make sense of their world and the experiences they have in the world” (p. 6).

Over time, I have come to see leadership as a process that occurs within a context.  It seems that many approaches to leadership focus on the attributes of the leader or the relationship between the leader and the followers, but I believe that it is also very necessary to take into account the context of that process.  This includes knowledge of the context/environment in which the leader and followers currently exist (present); knowledge of the organizational history (past); and organizational vision (future).  With this knowledge, the leader engages in the process that is a continuing cycle of analyzing past, present, and future in order to move people and organizations toward a desired growth, change, or direction.  In other words, the leader understands that the story of the organization and the stories of its people are necessary to understanding how to shape the organization, which means that story is critical for a leader to be effective as a change agent.  Therefore, in order for me to effectively make change within an organization, I must first understand its history, and to understand its history, I must hear stories.  I need to ask questions about the way things are done and why they are done in that way, build relationships with those around me, allowing me to best empower and encourage them.  I need to share the example of my own story, and listen to their stories.

So then the “plot” of my story, so to speak, is that I have learned the importance of story for leadership.  I have learned that knowing my own story is vital to understanding how I lead and why I lead the way I do.  I have learned the importance of knowing the story of the organization which I lead, which leads me to ask questions and listen before acting, in order to better understand and manage that organization.  I have learned the value of using story as a tool to effectively teach, mentor, motivate, and bring about change.  I have learned that everyone has a story, and each person’s story in turn impacts how that person constructs meaning from life, and therefore – in order for me to influence and develop my followers – I need to understand each person’s story.  As a leader, a teacher/mentor, and a change agent: story matters!


Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Eldredge, J. (2004). Epic:  The Story God is Telling. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.