Archive for July 2014

Words to Go By

As an educator and school administrator, I have participated in many school-year-ending activities, including graduations. One of the interesting things about graduations is that – like many endings – it is also a beginning, which is why they are also called commencements (the dictionary definition of “commencement” is “a beginning or start”). During these times of celebration, there are often speeches and recognitions given that serve to remind the audience of where these students have come from and to challenge the students in their future direction. These speeches could be considered as words that motivate, inspire, and direct as young people go out into the world – or, words to (literally) go by.

Many years ago, when I was asked to deliver a commencement address at a graduation ceremony, it was this idea that prompted me to think of examples in Scripture that might qualify as commencement speeches. I started looking for stories that showed someone giving or receiving some kind of “send-off,” a speech or challenge that provided motivation and direction to that individual as he prepared to begin a journey of life or ministry. There were three that came to my mind. All three describe events in which God spoke to a person, speaking words that give us an important lesson, as the person was being sent out by God. It seems that God was giving words to go by.

The first example is that of Adam, who could be said to be the father of mankind. He, along with Eve, had brought sin into world, and now they were being sent out of the garden. However, God still had a plan unfolding and wanted to bless them, so before sending them out, He issued a challenge (or perhaps a directive) in Genesis 1:28 when He said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” God provided Adam and Eve with a calling to care for His creation, and to be a manager and leader over the earth. As a faithful follower of Jesus, these words to go by are for us a call to do what God calls us to do, and do it well.

The second example is that of Abram (his name had not yet been changed to Abraham), who could be said to be the father of Israel. God knew the role that Abraham was going to play in the founding of His nation, so spoke to Abraham before sending him out on his mission. Genesis 12:1 tells us that God directed Abraham when He told him, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” God provided Abraham with a calling to embark on a mission as one chosen by God to represent Him, even without knowing the outcome or ultimate destination (he only knew that God would show him at the right time). Again, as a faithful follower of Jesus, these words to go by for us are a call to go where God sends us to go, and be His ambassador.

The third example is that of Jesus, who could be said to be the father of Christianity. Jesus had not yet begun His ministry, and until this point people only knew – by way of John the Baptist – that the Messiah was coming. Jesus approached John the Baptist while he was baptizing people, and John immediately recognized the Savior. Jesus was then baptized by John, officially initiating His ministry, and at that point God spoke from heaven and said, in Mark 1:11, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God provided Jesus with words of encouragement to begin His ministry, knowing the rejection and pain He would experience. Once more, as a faithful follower of Jesus, these words to go by for us are a call to be who God made us to be, and live to please Him.

Regardless of where you are serving or in what capacity you lead, these are three valuable challenges that we can carry with us into our ministries for the rest of our lives. As you commence from this moment in time – as you go from here – remember these words to go by:


  • Do what God calls you to do, and do it well
  • Go where God sends you to go, and be His ambassador
  • Be who God made you to be, and live to please Him

Now available on Amazon: “Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity”

→ My new book, “Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity” is now available on Amazon (also available for Kindle)! Click here to order a copy.

What is God’s purpose for you? What are you supposed to do with your life? These are difficult questions that we all wrestle with, often causing frustration, anxiety, or indecision. Using the concepts of passion, ability, and opportunity, Dr. Jeff McMaster presents a road map for identifying your individual purpose, and finding fulfillment in it. Based on principles from the Bible, these simple ideas can help you gain a better understanding of what God made you to do, and find fulfillment in it.2) You can get a free digital copy of my “Three Keys for Forming a Good Team” by signing up for email notices! On the Common Sense Leaders home page, enter your email address and first name (and I guarantee your information will not be shared with anyone else), and I will send you a free digital copy, containing three important factors to keep in mind when putting a team together.

→ You can get a free digital copy of my “Three Keys for Forming a Good Team” by signing up for email notices! On the Common Sense Leaders home page, enter your email address and first name (and I guarantee your information will not be shared with anyone else), and I will send you a free digital copy, containing three important factors to keep in mind when putting a team together.


→ I am now also available for professional consulting services! E.L.M. Consulting Services can provide professional services for analyzing and assessing your Educational organization, your Leadership, and/or your Ministry; for teaching and training those within your organization through workshops and seminars; and for assisting you in creating and communicating a plan and prescription for future growth, change, and development.

My experience and expertise in these areas, combined with my ability to make connections between an organization’s past, present, and future in a way that makes sense to people, can help you to identify, understand, and implement changes that will benefit the employees, the constituents, and the organization itself. Available services include:

Analyze and Assess: Identifying your story by observing, interviewing, surveying, studying, and interacting in order to provide an understanding of culture, strengths, and needs

Teach and Train: Growing your people through workshops and seminars that will provide professional development and training

Educational workshops and seminars –

  • Be-Attitudes of Better Teaching
  • A+ Education

Ministry workshops and seminars –

  • Teaching the Mind, Reaching the Heart
  • Build Your House on Solid Ground (Marriage Conference)
  • A Friend in Need (Lay Counseling Training)

Leadership workshops and seminars –

  • Be a Better Leader
  • Leadership University
  • Leadership Lessons from Ezra

Personal Development workshops and seminars –

  • Building Blocks for Personal Management
  • Things That Matter

Plan and Prescribe: Developing purpose by working with your leadership team to define, strategize, organize, connect, and communicate a vision and plan for growth and development

Contact me at for more information.

Quotable (Jeff McMaster, “Finding Purpose”)

“When your desire, your abilities, and opportunity all meet together, it is there that the pieces fit together and you find your purpose. There you find your true satisfaction and fulfillment. You find that you are doing something that you can do well, that you want to do, and you feel like you are where you belong.”

Dr. Jeffrey McMaster, Finding Purpose

Leadership That Makes Sense (revisited)

This is the very first article I posted on my blog, and served to set the tone and the purpose. My intent was to communicate that good leadership is within reach and achievable, and that effective leadership makes sense. The combination of my successful and effective experience in leadership, my academic background and study of leadership theory, my bent toward practical understanding and application of leadership principles and ideas, my ability to make connections between ideas and between theory and practice, and my teaching and communication gifts, all help me to be able to make sense of leadership and share it with others.  This combination also enables me to provide excellent, effective training for organizations, and to observe and analyze the history, culture, and context of organizations in order to help them plan and improve.  Here is that first post:

The study of leadership can be quite complex, immense, and intimidating. Many experts, authors, and teachers research and study leadership in an effort to describe or prescribe an effective model; but a “review of the scholarly studies on leadership shows that there is a wide variety of different theoretical approaches to explain the complexities of the leadership process.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 1) Even more challenging, at times these various leadership theories seem to be in conflict with one another, and so, as Thomas Cronin says in Wren’s The Leader’s Companion, “virtually anything that can be said about leadership can be denied or disproven.” (1995, p. 30) People then will often believe that leadership is relegated only to those who know everything about the subject or to those few people whom they feel have inherent “greatness.”

However, while good leadership does have good leadership theory as its basis, much of what makes a leader effective is in the practice of leadership, and much of what is effective in practice can be seen by doing things that make sense. In fact, studies validate that leaders, organizations, and followers are more effective when they identify practical actions that make sense, and implement those actions. That is why Jim Collins says, in Great by Choice, “Social psychology research indicates that . . .10Xers [leaders who built enterprises that beat industry averages by at least 10 times] do not look to conventional wisdom to set their course during times of uncertainty, nor do they primarily look to what other people do, or to what pundits and experts say they should do. They look primarily to empirical evidence.” (Collins & Hansen, p. 25). Edgar Schein adds, in Organizational Culture and Leadership, that this “is the basic reason why sociologists who study how work is actually done in organizations always find sufficient variations from the formally designated procedures to talk of the ‘informal organization’ and to point out that without such innovative behavior on the part of the employees, the organization might not be as effective.” (2010, p. 60) In other words, people look around to see what makes sense and what actually works, and that is what they do.

When John Kotter, in Leading Change, talks about determining vision, he says that “all effective visions seem to be grounded in sensible values as well as analytically sound thinking, and the values have to be ones that resonate.” (2012, p. 84) A good leader knows the culture in his organization and environment, and can identify the things that make sense, and that make sense in his specific culture. Those things are the principles and practices that have reason behind them (leadership theory), but that resonate within the context of that culture and make practical sense (leadership practice).

So what does this mean for leaders? It means that there is a good deal of common sense involved in effective leadership. Don’t let the myriad of authors, experts, and theories confuse or discourage you. Instead, remember that most often, decisions based upon empirical validation are the ones that work. Look for what you can see works – what makes sense – and look for why it specifically works in your organizational culture, and you will be much closer to effective leadership than you realize.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion: insights on leadership through the ages. New York: Free Press.

What Do You Think . . . has shaped your leadership purpose?

There are a myriad of styles, methods, theories, and examples of leadership, and those that resonate most with us often do so because of how they connect to our experiences.   In our leadership development, we are shaped by our past experiences and influences and by what we choose to learn, which in turn has a great effect on our purpose and on how we lead. In your own practice, what do you think has helped to shape your purpose, and in turn, your leadership?  Please share in the comment box below.

Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity, by Jeff McMaster

Finding Purpose coverI am thrilled to announce the publication of my new book, Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity, which is now available on Amazon! I originally wrote this book almost ten years ago, and even went so far at that time as to apply for a copyright and submit the manuscript to a publisher. However, much like what happened with the rebuilding of the temple described in Ezra 4 and 5, God – in His divine sovereignty – saw fit to put a stop to the process until the time was right. It seems He still had more to teach me on the matter.

Now, I know that I will continue to learn and grow for the rest of my life, and I also know that “the more I know, the more I know I don’t know,” which means if I wait until I have full and perfect knowledge, this book will never happen. And so now it seems that I have reached a point in time when God has prompted me to pick up where I left off and re-engage; therefore – with some revising and additions to the original – it is time to finally publish.

In essence, this book addresses the question of “How do you know God’s purpose? How do you know what He wants you do?” When I look back over many of my experiences, it is clear that God was working out His purpose in my life. So then, as I have analyzed the circumstances and events that have taken place, I have focused in on three common factors that keep appearing in these situations that have helped me to know His purpose. These three factors are:

1)    Passion – the things that I strongly desire, that I want to pursue,

2)    Ability – the things that I have the talent to do, and

3)    Opportunity – circumstances that occur in my life.

It is these three lines in our lives – passion, ability, and opportunity – that, when they intersect, form the point where we find the greatest fulfillment and contentment, with a certainty that we are where we should be. Picture a geometric graph, with three separate lines, one representing our passion to do or be something, one representing our talents and abilities, and one representing the opportunities that appear before us. At some place on this graph these three lines intersect at one specific point. This is the place where we find that we are doing something that brings us joy and that matches our talents well.

These concepts first came together in my mind while facilitating a student retreat quite a few years ago, and over the time since, I have seen them applied in my life many times and in many ways. God has placed opportunities in front of me that matched my passion and abilities in ways that have allowed me to be His instrument while finding fulfillment in my work. My prayer for you would be that you would identify these three factors in your life and find your purpose.

To order a copy of my book, Finding Purpose at the Intersection of Passion, Ability, and Opportunity, on Amazon, click here.