Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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What is Moral Authority, And Why Is It Important for Leaders to Have It?

I recently read John Maxwell’s excellent book Leadershift: 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. One of my favorite chapters in the book was titled “Positional Authority to Moral Authority: The Influence Shift”.  What exactly is moral authority and why is it important for leaders, and others, to have it?
Maxwell writes that moral authority is:
“The recognition of a person’s leadership influence based on who they are more than the position they hold. It is attained by authentic living that has built trust and is sustained by successful leadership endeavors. It is earned by a lifetime of consistency. Leaders can strive to earn moral authority by the way they live, but only others can grant them moral authority.” Continue reading

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12 Essential Traits of a Good Team Member

A few months back I wrote about how to become a leader that others would want to follow. You can read that article here. I was telling a friend about that article and he challenged me to write about what makes a good follower. I’m adapting his question to reflect what I believe are 12 essential traits of a good team member.

In nearly 38 years as a leader in a Fortune 50 organization I had the opportunity to work with many talented people. As a general rule, they demonstrated the following traits:

Initiative – I always appreciated team members that demonstrated strong initiative. They didn’t wait to be asked to do something, instead they saw what was needed and just took care of it, helping the team in the process. Some may call this person a “self-starter” as well. Continue reading

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How I Spent the Majority of My Time as a Leader

As a leader, I never bought into the philosophy of treating everyone the same. I tried to treat each person on my teams as an individual, according to their specific needs and personality. I didn’t treat everyone the same, but I did treat all with equity.
On my teams I found that there are some team members who are consistently solid. They aren’t looking for any advancement and just love what they are doing. In fact, if they could, they would stay in their positions for a long time. In my experience, there were two categories of employees that I spent the most time with.

  1. High potential employees who wanted to continue to grow and advance within their role or the organization. The individuals in this category were highly motivated and demonstrated excellent attitudes. Many were interested in advancing to a leadership position, while some were working toward a promotion in their current role. I would help them to find stretch assignments to continue to grow, as well as suggest some mentors for them. Also, in this category were those I was mentoring. I always enjoyed working with mentees, and never turned anyone down who asked to be in a mentoring relationship with me. I always saw it as giving back to others, just as my career mentor did for me.
  2. Those with performance problems. The individuals in this category were struggling with their performance for one reason or another. It could be that they were in a position that was not a good fit for their skills, they may have been struggling with attendance issues and thus not able to consistently produce for their teams, or they were not be fully engaged or had a poor attitude. The goal of working with these team members was always to help restore them to being solid performers. Many times, that was the result, but unfortunately there were some times when that was the not result, and those were some of my most difficult times as a leader.

I love a good redemption story. Someone who fell into this second category turned out to be one of the most pleasant stories in my career. For whatever reason, she had a year in which she did not perform up to expectations. Her leaders knew it and she knew it. Prior to that year she had been a solid performer. When she came to my team, she told me that level of performance wasn’t her, and she would show me just that, which she did. She immediately re-established herself not only as a solid performer, but as a top performer. Within a few years she was in a leadership development assignment, capping off the most significant turnaround I saw in my career.
I would encourage you to treat each person on your team according to their own talents and needs.  As a leader, who did you tend to spend the most time with on your teams?

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The Most Painful Time of My Career and What I Learned from It

The most difficult period in my nearly 38-year career at a Fortune 50 organization came about 25 years into it. I touched on this period briefly a few years ago in my article “Looking Back at Life Through the Lens of Romans 8:28”. It started with a regular monthly meeting with a team member, a team member who was not a good performer (and later terminated by another manager). The team member was a homosexual, a detail that is important to this story. But I always love to see people turn their performance around. That is one of the most satisfying aspects of being a leader.
During the course of the meeting, I remember him pointing out a small George W. Bush bumper sticker that I had placed near the bottom of a bookcase in the corner of the office, out of the sight of most. I’m sure he had put me in a mental box as being a conservative in all things, which was probably not an inaccurate assessment. But then he said “I bet I wouldn’t even be welcome in your church”. I was taken aback by his jumping to this, but I knew fully what he meant. I replied, “Yes, you would be welcome…..but, we would want you to change”. As I recall, we shortly got back to discussing business and the meeting ended fine. But within a day or two, I was called to my leader’s office and told that the employee had filed a complaint against me. Continue reading

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The Biggest Risk I Took in My Career

Are you a risk taker? Some people are, but I’ve never been one to take big risks without looking at an issue from all sides, getting input on it, and praying about it. I remember one IT department leader telling us (about implementing changes into our infrastructure) that if we do our homework (testing, etc.) and something went wrong, he would be right there to support us. However, if we had not been diligent, and something went wrong (the change took the system down, for example), we would be dangling in the wind without his support (as he slowly waved a piece of paper back and forth).
One time, about a third of the way into my career, a mentor suggested a consultant position to me that if I was chosen, would have resulted in a promotion. However, the position would have resulted in a significant amount of travel. After my wife and I discussed this, we decided that the downside offset the advantage of the position, and thus I did not pursue it.
One of the risks I did take was when I applied for a leadership position that was a step up from the one that I was in. The position would be a challenge for me, and I would have to take a lot of difficult classes. On top of that, I loved the position I currently had (leading a group of Planners). I remember praying about this decision, and not getting any clear answer one way or the other. I decided to make the move and it was one of the best decisions I made in my nearly 38-year career.
But the biggest risk I took was changing departments exactly halfway into my career. Continue reading

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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?