Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Why Not Start a Book Club?

Forming a book club is a great way to enhance the pleasure you get out of reading a good book. I’ve previously written about why you might want to consider starting a Faith and Work Book Club, which I participated in at work the last few years of my career. A Faith and Work Book Club is an excellent way to discuss a book and how to integrate your faith and work and be a positive influence and representative of Christ in your workplace. A few members of our Faith and Work Book Club who left the workplace at the same time I did have continued in a new book club. More about that shortly. Continue reading

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How to Live a Life of Productivity Through Effective Planning

Usually when I talk to people, they tell me that they are busy, very busy.  But it’s the rare person that will tell you that they are happy with how much they get done each day or week. How can we be more effective in getting our work done, no matter what that work is? In other words, how can we be more productive? To do so, we often work more hours. I know that’s what I used to do. I would often be the one turning on the lights on my floor at work in the morning. I worked more than 55 hours a week for years. But working longer or harder doesn’t necessarily mean that we are more productive. We end up getting tired and our productivity actually falls. Activity doesn’t always translate into results.

Over the past few years, I’ve read three excellent books on the subject of productivity. Below are my reviews of these books along with some helpful quotes. I hope that these are a benefit to you.

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman and a link to 25 quotes.

How to Get Unstuck: Breaking Free From Barriers to Your Productivity by Matt Perman

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies and 20 quotes that I found helpful.

Looking back, my busiest time took place when I was going to seminary while working full-time as a manager in a Fortune 50 organization, and serving as a leader in my church. Seminary took about 20 hours a week, work 50+, and I often handled special assignments in my role as a leader at church. I had so many commitments and due dates, I really needed to stay on top of things effectively. There are many ways of doing this. For example, Tim Challies recommends using a tool such as Evernote. I’ve found that a simple “To Do” or “Priorities” list in a Word document worked best for me. My Dad is a list maker, and perhaps that’s where I picked up this habit.

Here are a few thoughts on my major areas of responsibility during those busy times and how I tried to stay on top of things: Continue reading

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My Favorite “Business” Book

Patrick Lencioni is one of my favorite business authors and this is one of the most helpful books that I continually go back to time and again. I would say it is my favorite “business book”, but it is actually helpful in any setting in which you work with a team – business, church, non-profit, sports, etc.
In this book Lencioni follows his usual practice of using a fictional account (fable) to make his points in an interesting manner, and then summarizing those points in the final portion (last 33 pages) of the book.
In the fable, Kathryn Peterson is a newly appointed CEO of Decision Tech, a technology company which has much potential. In fact, Kathryn will tell her staff multiple times:
“We have a more experienced and talented executive team than any of our competitors. We have more cash than they do. Thanks to Martin and his team, we have better core technology. And we have a more powerful board of directors. Yet in spite of all that, we are behind two of our competitors in terms of both revenue and customer growth.”
The problem with Decision Tech is that their executive staff is not displaying teamwork. In a series of off-site meetings, Kathryn leads the staff through the five dysfunctions of a team. She, as well as Lencioni in the final portion of the book, recommend ways for overcoming the dysfunctions.
This is an excellent book on team dynamics and teamwork. Being written as a fable allows the reader to get a vivid picture of how a team interacts and what it feels like to be part of a successful team. This is a quick read; the author’s model is simple and the book is full of practical advice which leaders can use in building good teams. I’ve included some helpful concepts Lencioni teaches in the book below: Continue reading

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Improve your Listening Skills

In our Friday morning book club, as we were discussing Bob Buford’s book Half Time, the subject of listening came up. Although we rarely think of it, listening is a very underappreciated communication skill, not only for leaders, but for all of us. You’ve probably heard people say that God so valued listening that He created us with two ears, while only giving us one mouth to speak with.
One of the members of our book club mentioned how his wife will say to him that he hasn’t heard a word that she had been saying. He is able to repeat the very last thing she had said, but yes, she was right, he heard her but wasn’t listening.
When I was attending seminary there were times during dinner when I was thinking about the reading or studying that I needed to do that evening. My wife could sense this and called me on it. I was preoccupied – physically present with her, but not truly present.
I admit that listening is an area that I can certainly grow in. Years ago I was caught off guard by feedback at work I received from a new boss. They stated that my former director told them that I hear, but don’t listen. I was caught off guard because the former leader, while mentioning that to my new leader, had never shared that feedback with me. But it is true that too often, rather than intensely listening to what someone is saying, I’m thinking ahead to how I will respond. Is that true for you as well?
John Maxwell has stated that a leader’s biggest communication problem is that they do not listen to understand. He tells us that most often, like me, leaders listen to reply. He goes on to state:
“The bottom line is this — when the leader listens, the organization gets better. Is it possible to be a leader without listening? Yes. Is it possible to be a good leader without listening? No. No leader can take an organization to the highest level without being a good listener. Why? Because you can never get the best out of people if you don’t know who they are, where they want to go, why they care, what they think, and what they have to contribute.”
Dr. Alan Zimmerman writes that listening communicates importance and respect. He writes “When you listen to another person, you are saying, “I am listening to you and only you right now. You are getting all of me. No distractions, no mind wandering, no looking at the papers on my desk, no checking my smart phone. You’re getting all of my attention because you’re important to me.”
So, how can we become better listeners? Awareness that we need to improve is really the first step. Here are three other thoughts:

  1. Practice listening. That may sound strange, but try it. Next time you are meeting with someone, perhaps over dinner or coffee, make it a point to make good eye contact and really listen to them. My guess is that it will feel very different from how you listen today.
  2. A wise older gentleman that counseled many people would listen very intently and then ask a probing question or two. It takes your full attention and not being distracted to listen and get to underlying issues.
  3. Confirm what you have heard. To better understand what someone is saying to you, especially in very important or “crucial” conversations, take time to confirm what you think you have heard. Ask the person you are in a conversation with “What I hear you saying is…”. They can either confirm what you have stated or correct it. If you want a great example of how someone’s NOT truly listening and reflecting back what the speaker said, watch this humorous recut version of an interview with Jordan Peterson.

Listening is a very important and underappreciated communication skill. What other ideas and tips do you have for us to improve our ability to really listen?

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7 Ways in Which Good Leaders Are Generous

In the book The Leadership Style of Jesus: Making a Lasting Impact by Michael Youssef, one of the chapters looks at the generosity of a leader. Youssef writes, “Great leaders who follow the leadership style of Jesus are generous with their resources, their time, their wisdom, and their insight. They give as Jesus gave, expecting nothing in return.” One of the principles the author lists is:  Authentic leaders give generously.
This got me to thinking about ways in which good leaders are generous. There are any number of ways that we could think of, but here are seven that I would like to highlight: Continue reading

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Bad Leadership and What You Can Do About It

Over the past few weeks I’ve heard about some terrible examples of leadership. In one instance, a twenty-year employee of a major organization walked out because of their leader. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this all that unusual. In his book Leadership Gold, John Maxwell wrote that people quit people, not companies. Employees often leave companies not because they dislike the company or their job, but rather because they want to escape a particular person, usually their leader.
In another example, a first-line leader held a team meeting to announce changes in work schedules that they knew would not be popular with the team. In doing so, they came equipped with criticism of the team as justification for why the changes were being made. Fortunately, the second-line leader was present and continually softened the blow, indicating that the team was in fact doing good work and was valued, messages that were not made by the first-line leader. Continue reading

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25 Leadership Lessons from Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson

I read this book when it was first published in 2013, and decided to read it again as I watched ESPN’s excellent documentary The Last Dance. I read the book this time specifically to examine Jackson’s leadership as he won eleven NBA Championships (rings) as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, and see what I could learn.

Jackson doesn’t pretend to be an expert in leadership theory. But what he does know is that “the art of transforming a group of young, ambitious individuals into an integrated championship team is not a mechanistic process. It’s a mysterious juggling act that requires not only a thorough knowledge of the time-honored laws of the game but also an open heart, a clear mind, and a deep curiosity about the ways of the human spirit.” The book is about his journey to try to unravel that mystery.

Here are some of my favorite leadership lessons from the book: Continue reading

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Adaptability:  A Key Leadership Trait in the Pandemic (and Always)

I always enjoyed it when a team member demonstrated adaptability by willingly pivoting to a different task on a project, or moving to a completely different effort all together – all with a positive attitude and approach. Adaptability can be looked at as effectively adjusting to changing conditions. It’s important for team members to be able to be adaptable, but it’s critical for leaders to be able to adjust to changing conditions, especially during the pandemic we are experiencing.
My wife Tammy and I enjoying eating out a lot. We also enjoy having pizza delivered to our home. I’ve observed three types of adaptability regarding food service providers during the past several weeks – No, Slow and Go.

No Adaptability – In my state, we went under a “stay at home” order on March 22. Since that date, we have not been able to eat inside restaurants in Illinois. Restaurants were only allowed to serve customers via drive-thru lanes, delivery service or curbside pickup. Some restaurants that had not previously provided carryout or delivery service, didn’t adapt and just decided to close their doors. Some of those establishments have since announced that they were closing permanently. I wonder how many more will close permanently before this is all over.
Also in this category are businesses that have not adapted by taking all of the recommended safety precautions. An example is an ice cream shop in town that also sells food (burgers, etc.). My wife went recently through their drive thru lane, and was stunned to find that the person handing her the food was wearing neither a mask nor gloves. We haven’t been back there since.

Slow Adaptability – Some businesses initially remained closed, only later to open with limited menus and carryout service, curbside pickup or delivery. An example of this is our local Cracker Barrel. They initially were closed, but within a few weeks, began offering curbside pickup service. Even though they already had carryout service, I assume they needed time to develop processes to handle the curbside pickup service, as they had not previously offered it.   But their menu no longer included mashed potatoes?!
Some restaurants began advertising on television, telling their customers that they were open for carryout, curbside or delivery service. Some quick service restaurants, such as Arby’s, began advertising that their food was being delivered. All kinds of food service providers began offering delivery service through firms such as Door Dash, Uber Eats and Grubhub. One company, Papa John’s Pizza, advertised “No Contact” delivery for “extra safety and peace of mind” of their customers.

Go Adaptability – Some businesses demonstrated innovation as they adapted to the changing conditions. Our local Chick-fil-A, with all personnel wearing masks and gloves, continued to operate two drive-thru lanes, with personnel taking orders outside as the cars proceeded through the lanes. But then, Chick-fil-A decided to improve service further by adding a third drive thru lane – that’s right, three drive thru lanes. This took leadership, innovation and additional coordination, but the lines, even during peak periods, continued to move at a good pace.   Another good example is Bob Evans Restaurants quickly shifted to delivering 3 meals a day, and doing it well, without delivery fees.
These are just a few examples of how one industry – restaurants – have adjusted to the changing conditions in my town. My guess is that many restaurants are doing all they can to hold on during the pandemic and various stages of shutdown and recovery. Most areas of the state will soon be allowed to offer socially distanced outdoor dining, creating another opportunity for leaders to show their adaptability.

How have you seen restaurants in your area demonstrating adaptability – be it No, Slow or Go?


The Most Difficult Conversation I Ever Had at Work

As a leader, I had to have many difficult conversations in my career. But as I reflect back, there was one conversation that took place several years ago that stood out above the rest as the most difficult.

In the organization I worked at, we would regularly have conversations about analysts who had the potential and interest to move into a leadership position. If everyone agreed, these analysts would be placed on a “promotability list”. This list would have multiple levels.  Being placed in the top category indicated that they were ready to take on a leadership position.
One of my team members was in that top category when our leadership team had their regular conversation about our area’s candidates. At that time, there was very little movement of analysts into leadership. As a result, there was new criteria applied to those on the list. As a result, my team member was not approved to stay on the list. They were not going to be moved back a level on the list, but taken off the list completely, which was very unusual. As their leader, I would have to communicate this news to them. But I was going to be out of the office on a previously scheduled vacation before our meeting. Needless to say, I thought about our meeting a lot during my vacation. Continue reading

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How to Become a Leader Others Will Want to Follow

When I worked with team members and mentees who were emerging leaders, I would tell them that I wanted them to be leaders that others would want to follow. Now, in my organization, and perhaps in yours, neither leaders nor team members often got to pick who they work with. But I wanted those emerging leaders to be the type of leaders that people would want to work for if they had the chance. I was always overjoyed when I got to work with an individual more than once, and I was blessed to work with a few people three and four different times.
When I talk about a leader worth following, what I am describing is level 2, or “Permission” in John Maxwell’s “Five Levels of Leadership”. A description of the level 2 is:
“Level 2 is based on relationship. At this level, people choose to follow because they want to. In other words, they give the leader Permission to lead them. To grow at this level, leaders work on getting to know their people and connecting with them. Level 2 is where solid, lasting relationships are built that create the foundation for the next level”.
Why is it important to be a leader who others want to follow? Marcus Buckingham has said that “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers”. Maxwell says that “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision”. Continue reading