Archive for May 2016

Always Leave So That You’re Welcome Back

Recently, my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke.  As we gathered together in the hospital, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years.  Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years.  Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before.  My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016.  I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.

This week, I am sharing something he said to me several times in my adult life, and it centers around the way in which you leave a job.

When my dad passed away a couple of weeks ago, my family all gathered together for the viewing and the funeral, in order to grieve over the loss and to celebrate the godly man and influence that he was to us and to so many others. When I went to the first viewing and was looking at the various floral arrangements that had been sent with notes of condolences, I immediately saw the arrangement that came from my present employer. I greatly appreciated this, and I knew that they were supporting me and mourning with me in the way that the book of Ecclesiastes says to “mourn with those who mourn.” But then I saw an arrangement from my previous employer, expressing sympathy and encouragement as well. I had not expected this, even though it had been a very amicable parting, because – well, because I no longer worked there. Seeing it, though, reminded me of something my dad had said to me over the years of my adult working life: “Always leave so that you’re welcome back.”

Throughout my adult life (actually, since my teenage years) I have had the privilege of working at a wide variety of jobs that, taken together, have helped to shape the person I am today. Most of that time – approximately 25 years – has been spent in one particular career field (Christian education), but much of my work experience has been outside of that career context. Some jobs have been part-time, or for the purpose of a second income or a specific financial need, or for a temporary time period. Some were very brief, and some I did not enjoy at all, but even those provided valuable life lessons. But in all of them, my father reminded me of how important it was to finish well, and in such a way that if you were ever to want to come back to that place, you would be welcomed willingly. Seeing those flowers from my previous employer was a refreshing reminder that I had been able to do so.

Sadly, too many people don’t do this. They may “check out” while still showing up and collecting a paycheck for a period of time, they may stick around while spreading negative words and feelings, they may undermine the organization in order to be vengeful, or any number of other behaviors that reflect poor character, harm the organization, and hurt their own reputation. They leave in way that makes others glad they are gone. One of the reasons why I believe I am accurate in saying this is because of the times when my supervisors have been genuinely surprised that I finished well when they knew I would soon be leaving. They communicated the impression that they were used to people not leaving well, so for me to counter that expectation was a surprise.

I strongly believe good leaders should reflect good character and integrity, the kind that people will still speak about after you are gone. And one of the ways that is demonstrated is in how you leave. These words of wisdom from my dad, if you will use them to frame your mindset when your time at a place is coming to a close, can help you leave the right way, in such a way that you would always be welcome back.

 

 

 

 

Week of May 30, 2016

“Quotable,” on the value of reading

There are many different things that you can learn to do well, if that is all you study; but if you can read well and you read often, you can learn to do anything well.” 

Rev. Jack C. McMaster

If You Can Read Well, You Can Learn to Do Anything

Recently, my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke.  As we gathered together in the hospital, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years.  Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years.  Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before.  My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016.  I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.

This week, I am sharing a post that I shared about a year and a half ago, and it centers around what he often said when he talked about the value of reading.

When I was in high school, I remember my father often sharing nuggets of wisdom with people.  One such pearl was a statement he would make about the importance of reading: “If you can read well, you can learn to do anything well.”  He would make this comment when the conversation around the dinner table was focused on one subject or another in school, or how one of us – his children – was doing in a particular class, or what we were learning.  He would say something about the value of that subject, but then he would add his statement about the value of reading.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that I grew up in a family of readers.  When I was little, my father read to us every night (I can remember listening to him read the Little House on the Prairie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I have since read to my own children, along with the Chronicles of Narnia books, by C.S. Lewis).  As I grew older, it was not uncommon, on a quiet evening, to find us all sitting in the living room, each reading a good book. And I have continued to read as much as I can as an adult; although, to be honest, there have been periods when I found it nearly impossible to find the time to read.

As I reflect over the time that has passed since my childhood, I can identify several books and/or authors that have had a significant influence on me.  The Bible would be at the top of the list; as a follower of Jesus, it has shaped my worldview (and continues to do so), and profoundly impacts how I understand and navigate the world.  Reading most of Louis L’amour’s western fiction as a teenager helped to shape my independence and determination, and influenced my perceptions of the characteristics of rugged manhood.  When I read Earnest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in my 10th grade English class, the poem by John Donne that was referenced at the beginning of the book and from which the book gets its name struck me in a way that I have never forgotten: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this one poem helped me to understand the importance of relationship and connection, which has in turn shaped my views on leadership (I have quoted that line a number of times in conversations about leadership and organizations). I could add a number of others to this list of personally influential books, including books like The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien; Man to Man, by Charles Swindoll, All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot; and even Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Waterson, and Gary Larson’s The Far Side had an effect on my sense of humor (or, perhaps better stated, reflected my sense of humor).

When I was working toward my Ph.D. in leadership, two books in particular had an effect on me early in the program.  The first was called Leadership and the New Science, by Margaret Wheatley.  This book explored the scientific principles of Chaos Theory, and translated those ideas into leadership principles.  The impact of this book for me was not so much the content and the leadership principles, as it was the fact that, in reading the book, I began to make connections in my own mind between truths of the Bible and effective leadership principles and practices.  I don’t believe that Wheatley is a Christian author, and I’m pretty sure that was not her intent in the writing of the book, but it was a turning point in the way that I read books on leadership.  The second important book for me was called The Making of a Leader: Leadership Emergence Theory, by J. Robert Clinton.  This book presented a theory on the formation of leadership that, as I read, resonated deeply with me because it reflected precisely how I viewed my own development of leadership.  As I read through Clinton’s stages of leadership emergence, I could look back over my life and see that I had followed the same process he was describing.  In fact, the theory of leadership presented in this book became the supporting theory for my doctoral dissertation.

I continue to read regularly, and with variety.  My personal habit is to be reading some combination of four or five books at any given time – typically one on leadership or education, one on Christianity or spiritual growth, one on history or general knowledge, a work of classic literature, and/or a book of enjoyable popular fiction (at the time I wrote this in 2015, I was in the process of reading The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Chabris and Simons; Disciplines of a Godly Man, by Hughes, Victory at Yorktown, by Gingrich, and Don Quixote, by Cervantes; presently I am in the process of reading Necessary Endings, by Dr. Henry Cloud, Work Matters, by Tom Nelson, Never Work Harder Than Your Students, by Robyn Jackson, and Forbidden, by Ted Dekker).  Some books I read purely for entertainment and enjoyment, but some I read in order to intentionally learn and grow.  For those books (usually the books on leadership and the books on spiritual growth) I take notes on 4” x 6” note cards, summarizing and outlining the main ideas of each chapter, and I keep those sets of note cards stored alphabetically by book title in a file box to keep them handy for reference at a later date.

You don’t have to read in the same way that I do, but you should be reading.  You should read books that challenge your thinking, books that help you to learn in your particular field of work, books that help you to grow as a leader, books that broaden your general knowledge.  All of these types of books shape your thought process and ideas and stretch the muscle of your brain.  In the process, they can help you to become a more knowledgeable and effective leader, because you will learn.  So I would challenge and encourage you to be disciplined and intentional about reading.  Read for enjoyment.  Read to learn.  Read.

Week of May 23, 2016

Your Walk Talks, and Your Talk Talks

Recently, my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke.  As we gathered together in the hospital, with much uncertainty over the eventual outcome*, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years.  Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years.  Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before.  This week, I am sharing a post that I shared some time ago, and it centers around something he often said when he talked about the importance of your example to others.

*My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016.  I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.

“Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” I heard my father say this many times when I was growing up, in his effort to teach the importance of being genuine. The lesson, which was reinforced to me on numerous occasions, was that my words (what I say) and my actions (what I do) need to match. In fact, the reality is that people will judge me more by my actions than by my words.

As I grew into an adult, I eventually realized that I had unconsciously taken on many of my father’s characteristics that I had learned by watching his “walk.” Interestingly, I think the same thing is true in organizations: people within the organization, over time, take on many of the characteristics of the leader. I’m reminded of the classic parenting line, “Do as I say and not as I do,” which we all know is not what really happens; we tend to do what we see. That same conclusion was reached by Albert Bandura in his studies on behavior modification and observational learning, most notably in his classic “Bobo doll” study (1969, 1986, 2003).

One of the primary applications of this truth is the importance of consistency in leadership. In essence, do what you say you will do. I found strong affirmation of this in a recent study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, which was undertaken to identify “what separates the competent from the exceptional individual performers” using over 50,000 360-degree evaluations on 4150+ individual contributors over a five-year time period. Stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, they said, “Walk the Talk. It’s easy for some people to casually agree to do something and then let it slip their minds. Most people would say that this is mere forgetfulness. We disagree. We believe it is dishonest behavior. If you commit to doing something, barring some event truly beyond your control, you should follow through. The best individual contributors are careful not to say one thing and do another. They are excellent role models for others. This is the competency for which the collective group of 4,158 individuals we studied received the highest scores. That means, essentially, that following through on commitments is table stakes. But exceptional individual contributors go far beyond the others in their scrupulous practice of always doing what they say they will do.” (Zenger & Folkman, 2014)

Consistency in what you do is one of the most important factors in your credibility as a leader. It gives you trust, makes you believable. John Kotter made the same connection between consistency and credibility when he said, “Another big challenge in leadership efforts is credibility – getting people to believe the message. Many things contribute to credibility: the track record of the person delivering the message, the content of the message itself, the communicator’s reputation for integrity and trustworthiness, and the consistency between words and deeds.” (HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, 2011, p. 48) I had the opportunity to live this out in one organization that had an absence of trust between leadership and employees when I arrived. In my first year, I became very intentional about communicating publicly what I would be doing (both minor and major things), and then making sure that people saw that I did those things. I wanted them to know that I would do what I said I would do, so that they could trust me. My efforts were affirmed when, during an evaluation process at the end of the first year, the consensus of the employees indicated that “trust of leadership” was one of the most positive aspects of the year.

I also want to go one layer deeper in this principle. The consistency of doing what you say you will do is critical to effective leadership, but it will really only work well if it is genuine, and it is only genuine if it is who you are. In other words, it’s not simply about your actions matching your words, but your life matching your values. Jim Collins calls this “consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.” (Collins & Hansen, 2011, p. 21) Consistency begins with what you say, is demonstrated by what you do, but is validated in who you are. It is actually at this deeper level that you will find the strength and courage to resist the pressure to compromise in ways that make you inconsistent, especially when circumstances are difficult.

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (2003). On the Psychosocial Impact and Mechanisms of Spiritual Modeling. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(3), 167.

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.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. (2011). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2014, April 11, 2014). The Behaviors that Define A-Players.