Archive for December 2015

Week of December 14, 2015

“Quotable,” on regrettable leadership

“Become intentional about leadership that reflects goodness, reflects love for God, and reflects love for others. Whatever you do, don’t be a regrettable leader.”

Jeff McMaster

Will you be a regrettable leader?

A couple of years ago, my wife and I got into the habit of reading one chapter of the Bible together every night before going to bed. We started at the beginning (always a good place to start) and have been slowly working our way through the books of the Bible in sequential order. At times, the chapters have been engrossing or enlightening, and at other times, tedious (the book of Numbers is called so for a reason), or even gruesome (some of the sacrificial rituals and some of the political conflicts are described in quite graphic detail!). But recently, six short words really caught my attention, and prompted me to go back, re-read, and compare to some other passages.

The context of this particular passage is a record of the history of the kings of Israel, found primarily in 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. These histories, which serve as dual accounts of the same events recorded in two different places, often with complementary details, follow the recorded history of the establishment of the rule of kings, in 1 and 2 Samuel. Those two books tell the stories of Samuel, Saul, and David, and describe the circumstances and events around the transition of rule by judges to rule by kings (and often reads like a soap opera). The books of Kings and Chronicles then begin with the reign of Solomon, followed by the division of the nation of Israel into the north and south kingdoms, and trace the lineage of leadership through many kings, until eventually both kingdoms are captured and taken into exile. Along the way, we read a continuing saga of good and bad rulers (more bad than good); “this one did was right in the eyes of God,” or “that one did what was evil,” and so on, back and forth, for a few hundred years.

It was in this setting, nearing the end of the rule of the kings, that I came across a particular passage – 2 Chronicles 21 – where we learn about he reign of King Jehoram. We only know a few details about his leadership –that he was 32 when he became king, he reigned for eight years, and “he did evil in the sight of the Lord.” As a result of his bad leadership and sinful rule, the nation was attacked and pillaged, and the Lord caused him to become sick with an incurable disease (it sounds like an extreme case of hemorrhoids; don’t believe me? Read verses 15-18.) And then, in verse 20, we read that when he died, “he departed with no one’s regret” (ESV) – and that was the phrase that caught my attention. Wow, what a statement! At 40 years old he died, having been the most powerful person in the kingdom, and no one was sorry that he was gone.

After I read this, I began to pay more particular attention to what was said about the kings and rulers at the end of their lives, and a few days later I read another passage that was a complete contrast to Jehoram. This one, 2 Chronicles 24, described the rule of King Joash, and the priest who served as his counselor and guide (since Joash was only 7 when he became king). Joash and Jehoida together were responsible for repairing the temple of God and prompting a spiritual revival. When Jehoida finally died, we read in verse 16 that “they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house.” You could even say that he fulfilled the great commandments, as they were stated by Jesus – to love God and to love people. Now, that’s a different legacy!

 

The contrast of the passing of these two men was a vivid lesson and reminder to me about the kind of legacy I will leave behind in my leadership. It prompted me to ask myself: will I depart to no one’s regret, or will I be remembered well because of the good that I have done? And it’s the same question I would ask of you. What kind of legacy will you leave behind?, These two men, with opposite responses to their deaths, teach us a valuable lesson for our own leadership. Become intentional about leadership that reflects goodness, reflects love for God, and reflects love for others. Whatever you do, don’t be a regrettable leader.

Week of December 7, 2015

“Quotable,” on knowing when to make exceptions

“The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

How do you know when to make an exception?

 

Groucho Marx famously said, “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.” We laugh when we hear it, and we probably also have a name (or a face) that pops into our heads, but the truth is, we are often looking to either make an exception or to be one. And if we are not, someone else is probably asking us to make an exception for him. It seems that people (we) always want an exception; which makes me think of one of my favorite lines from the movie, “The Incredibles,” when one of the characters – Dash – in response to the comment from his mother that “everyone’s special,” says, “which is another way of saying no one is.” This also true for exceptions – if you always make an exception, it’s no longer an exception.

The question, then, that follows is, how do you know when to make an exception? Well, it begins by first knowing the norm.   That seems to be common sense – you can’t make an exception to the rule if you don’t first know what the rule is – but it also seems to be something that people forget to do. If you don’t know the standard, the normal expectations and boundaries, then there is no way you can determine where the exception should be granted. This therefore first requires clear standards of normal behavior and process that have been established and communicated. That’s why Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” You see, it as only after you are familiar and confident with the application of norms that you can begin to determine when and how to make exceptions.

I had the opportunity to learn when and how to make an exception early in my first experience as a headmaster, when I was faced with an exception dilemma. I had been asked to make an exception on something, and I was struggling with whether or not it was the right thing to do. It seemed like I could see both potential positive and potential negative impacts of either decision, and I just wasn’t sure what to do. So, I picked up the phone. I called Larry, who had been a Christian school administrator for many years and had been influential in my life, to seek his counsel. After explaining my situation and the internal turmoil it was causing, he shared some wisdom with me that, since that day, has set my parameters for deciding on exceptions.

Larry explained to me that there were two guiding principles that he used, two questions that he asked, to determine whether or not he should make an exception:

  1. Is it an exception I could make for anyone else?
  2. Is there a legitimate reason I could make an exception for this person and not for anyone else?

The answers to these simple questions – either yes or no – he said made the decision a clear and justifiable one. If he could clearly justify that it was an exception he would be willing and able make for others in a similar circumstance, then it was an exception he could make in this instance as well. In this way, it really became a standard exception, a precedent or guideline that he could use to provide a fair exception in all similar situations. And if he could clearly justify – in a way that could be documented in writing and presented to others – that it was an unusual situation that warranted an exception for this person or this circumstance only, then it was a rare exception that he could make in good conscience. The key to this one, he said, was that you could look someone else in the eye and justify with integrity and credibility why only the other person or situation qualified for an exception. If he couldn’t do that, then he knew it was not an exception he could make; put another way – if he had to hide it or cover it up, it was not an exception that should be made.

These guidelines have become my standard response. In any organization, when faced with having to determine whether or not to make an exception, I first make sure I know what the standard policies, procedures, and expectations are. Then I find out if there have been any precedents that have set the guidelines for standard exceptions. Finally, I apply the two questions I learned from Larry. Applying these guidelines has taken much of the struggle out of these decisions, enabling me to manage exceptions in a fair and justifiable way, while still maintaining consistency.   I still get asked (more often than I would like), but at least now I have a helpful process for determining a good answer.