Tag Archive for leaders

“Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions”


It is the last week of the year, and therefore a time when many of us intentionally take time to reflect on the last year and plan our goals for the next year. This may be something that you are doing in your personal life, or it may be something you are doing in your organization, but either way it is likely a time when you are analyzing where you are and asking questions as you prepare for 2017.


So it seems to be good time of the year to turn my attention to a book I read a couple of month ago, called Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions. I realize this is an older book (and this version is actually a reprint that includes additional thoughts from other leaders), but it is still an apropos book for the end of the year. In his little book, Drucker explains and illustrates five important questions that every organization ought to be asking of itself:

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?
  5. What is our plan?


These may seem like obvious questions, but often it is the obvious questions that are missed, so the book is a tremendous reminder of the basic important questions that should be revisited on a regular basis. If you haven’t asked these questions in a while, it’s time do so.


On a personal level, these same questions could be modified to match your life: knowing your personal mission, identifying the people you impact and who are a part of your life, understanding what matters to those people, examining how you are affecting their lives, and intentionally determining how to get better at making a difference in your relationship with them. Ultimately, your family is more important than your job, so I pray that you are being just as purposefully in those relationships as you are with your profession.

It’s Time to Self-Reflect

Every once in a while (at least a couple of times a year, in my opinion) it is important to pause, look in the mirror, take time to reflect, and review. This could involve thinking through the decisions (and/or mistakes) you’ve made, analyzing the ways you’ve grown, reminding yourself of the important lessons learned, looking for patterns that have developed (both good and bad), reviewing the books, articles, workshops, and seminars you’ve studied or attended, and any number of other ways to self-reflect. Regardless of how you go about it, what matters is that you intentionally take time to do it. With that thought in mind, I would like to take time to do two things: share what I think have been the best books I’ve read this year so far, and highlight the important leadership lessons that have I have repeatedly been reminded of this year.

So far in 2016, the three best books on Leadership that I have read have been Mindset by Carol Dweck, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, and Leadership Excellence by Pat Williams (incidentally, the way I determine this is by identifying the books that I have most often referenced or intentionally applied in practice as a leader, mentor, and school administrator). Mindset really helped me to look at myself (and others) to identify whether or not I (or they) am teachable and willing to grow and learn, and how my mindset has on impact on that. It was also tremendously beneficial in helping my to identify whether or not an employee was willing and able to grow, which in turn greatly helped me to make personnel decisions that were good for my organization. Thanks for the Feedback gave me a much better understanding of how to receive feedback well, and in a way that would help me grow, and how to give feedback to others in a way that is more easily received by them. Leadership Excellence was a very practical resource on general principles that are important for effective leadership.

In addition to these books on leadership, the three best books I’ve read so far this year for my own personal, spiritual growth are two books from Tim Keller – Every Good Endeavor (on understanding the meaning and purpose of your work in light of God’s design) and The Meaning of Marriage (on understanding God’s design for a healthy and happy marriage relationship) – and one from John Eldridge, Epic (a short book that I actually read a few years ago, but read again this year; it’s a description of how our lives are part of God’s grand story). The two books that have most helped me professionally in my career field (educational leadership) are Michael Fullan’s The Principal and Robyn Jackson’s Never Work Harder Than Your Students. And for my own reading pleasure, I most enjoyed William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, and one other that I am currently reading – The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

As I reflect back over the year so far there are also a handful of lessons that I seem to be seeing over and over again. The first is that leadership essentially involves two things: tasks and people. Managing tasks well involves things like competence, excellence, knowing the right things to do for your role and your organization, delegating appropriately, strategic planning, etc. Leading people well involves building relationships, maintaining relationships, investing in the growth of others, helping people to feel heard and validated, and so on. But ultimately it seems that almost everything in leadership can be reduced to doing the right tasks well, and cultivating relationships and people.

The second recurring lesson is that authenticity and credibility are absolutely essential to effective leadership. This means that a leader must develop and demonstrate integrity and transparency and must model consistency – walking the talk and talking the walk. In doing these things, trust is earned, loyalty is built, and decision-making authority grows. People will believe in you, trust you, and follow you.

The third recurring lesson is that it is important to be a learner, always observing, listening, studying, and growing. This means that a good leader should read often, should listen to the wisdom of others, and should practice self-reflection. Always be learning, and you’ll always be growing, which means, in turn, that you will always be in the process of becoming a better person and a better leader.

So that’s a snapshot of what I have learned or been reminded of this year. Now I’m going to be taking the next twelve weeks or so share a series of lessons on effective Christian leadership drawn from the book of Ezra. I’ve shared a few of these in this blog over the last couple of years, and last year I shared the entire series on another site (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education, or CACE), but I did not share them all here. Therefore, for the next 3 months, I am going to share that series again.   I do hope that these lessons will be valuable for you.

Oh, and take some time to do some self-reflection of your own!





The More You Know . . .

In the last few weeks, as I have been sharing lessons that I have learned throughout my life from my dad, I feel like I keep seeing a common thread: the importance of being a learner. I’ve talked about things like “Never stop learning” and “Do (and learn) as much as you can until you’re 40,” and I’ve shared my thoughts on books that I’ve read that also contain lessons on the value of learning. So it makes sense, then, that this week I share another lesson related to the same topic that is also something that I often heard my father say: “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”


Like many of the things he said to me, it was simple and catchy, but with real depth when you spend some time thinking about it (which, of course, I have done). It seems to me that this simple little saying has several valuable implications:


  • You don’t – and can’t – know everything. If there is anything that we have learned in this information age, it is that there is a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge (some of it good, some of it not so much) accessible to us. Much of it can be found in a couple of seconds by Googling it, but there is far more information out there than one person can know or remember. However, this also means that it is probably more important in today’s world to know where and how to find information, than it is to know it all anyway.


  • Realize that other people know things you don’t know (and vice versa). Although you can’t know everything about everything, and you probably can’t even know everything about one thing, there are probably some things about which you are much more knowledgeable than others. Perhaps from having more experience, or from specific study, or from natural inclination, but regardless, you are likely an “expert” on something; at least, much more so than many others. But the same thing is true for those others. They are likely “experts” on things of which your knowledge and experience is much more limited. Therefore, it is a mark of wisdom and good leadership to recognize this, and to learn from and partner with others who know things you don’t know, or who can do things that you can’t do (or can’t do as well). That’s whyit is probably more important in today’s world to know where and how to find information, than it is to know it all


  • Never stop learning. Even though you can’t know it all, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to learn more. Each generation builds on the knowledge gained by the previous generation, and we should be part of the process of building that knowledge. In addition, building our knowledge also makes us better at what we do, because we have learned more and know more.


Putting this all together, it means that as you grow in knowledge, experience, and wisdom, you become much more aware of how much it is that still don’t know. That realization should help to keep you humble about your own knowledge and expertise, and should make you more willing to make use of the knowledge and abilities of others. At the same time, even with the realization that you can’t know everything, still never stop learning more. The more you continue to learn, the more you can grow and improve.

Do As Much As You Can Until You’re 40

When I was in my teens and early 20’s I really didn’t have a good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. This was a struggle for me, as I searched for what I thought should be my purpose, and where I thought I should use my gifts and abilities. I worked at a variety of jobs, went to college and graduate school, and sought counsel from others, but still felt like I wasn’t sure where I was going and what I was supposed to do. And then I had a conversation with my dad, and he shared with me a life principle that I had heard him share with others, and over the years since that time I have begun to understand the real meaning and value behind his statement. What he said to me during the time of floundering in my life was this: “Jeff, do as much as you can until you are 40, and then do one thing well the rest of your life.”


At the time, I only saw a lesson on the surface– do as many jobs as I possibly could for the next 15-20 years of my life, and then pick one of those and focus on that one – but that wasn’t the lesson he was trying to teach me. In reality, I did get to participate in a wide range of work experiences, including construction labor, mason’s tender, laying carpet, electrician’s apprentice, waiting tables, retail sails, meat butcher, teacher, family therapist, restaurant manager, newspaper delivery, door-to-door sales, and a number of others. All of those things were valuable for my development (which, it turns out, was part of the lesson), but his message to me wasn’t that I should do all those jobs, and he wasn’t trying to tell me to seek out as many different jobs as possible. His message was that I needed to be a learner first, learning from every experience that I would encounter, and then I could begin to apply what I learned into the life purpose that developed.


I think I may have first realized this true lesson in his statement when I studied Leadership Emergence Theory as part of my doctoral program. Leadership Emergence Theory, based on research conducted by J. Robert Clinton, views leadership development as emerging out of the stages of our life. He breaks our life experience down into several smaller stages, each characterized by particular principles and events, and it is through these stages that the combination of your experiences and the skills you develop eventually merge together in preparing you for impact and leadership in a particular way. Ironically, we usually are not able to see how these things all converge until after it has happened and we look back on the road that brought us there. It is then that we can often see the variety of events and experiences that played such an important role in shaping who we have become. This was the lesson that he was trying to show me, that every experience I would have, whether I realized it or not, would be part of shaping who I would become and how I would discover the best use and fulfillment of my gifts.


Jim Collins, in his book Great by Choice, describes the concept of firing bullets, and then cannonballs, to explain how successful organizations intentionally apply limited resources to a variety of ideas until they are confident of which one will work, and then apply great resources to that one. I believe we can make a parallel application to our lives. There is a lot of value in “firing bullets” with our lives, by shooting at a variety of opportunities and experiences, and then learning from those until we can hone in on the best use of our own specific skills and abilities. Then, once we have begun to focus in on our purpose, we can still pull many lessons from those other experiences that will help us where we are now.


So, when dad said to me, “Jeff, do as much as you can until you are 40, and then do one thing well the rest of your life,” I now know that what he was really trying to teach me was to be a learner, learning from every experience, and to apply what I learned, and that would eventually take me to the place in my life where I could do something well and lead others in the process.   Interestingly, I realized this same truth several years ago in the Bible, in a study of the book of Ezra. One particular verse in that book (chapter 7, verse 10) caught my attention, when I read, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” I was struck with the knowledge that Ezra, a leader of the people had first taken time to learn (“…to seek the Law of the Lord,…”) before he was ready to apply what he had learned (“…and to do it,…”), and it was only after that, that he was prepared to teach others and to lead.


I now pass the same wisdom on to you, even if I don’t say the same words that my father said: learn as much as you can, and apply what you learn, until that body of knowledge and experience shapes you into a person of purpose and influence. But if it helps you to remember, I will say it like he did – “Do as much as you can until you are 40, and then do one thing well the rest of your life.”

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.

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.