Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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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

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Every Leader Has an Impact on Their Team: Will Yours Be Positive or Negative?

Unfortunately, I continue to hear from way too many people about the negative impact their leaders have on them. Recently, a friend told me about their leader, who had told him over and over during the past year that he had “saved her”. He is an “A player” on the team, but at the time of his performance review, the leader’s actions didn’t match their words. That same leader hadn’t held the required “One on One” monthly meeting with that team member for 18 months, and the leader is also poor at resolving conflict on the team. No wonder that employee is now looking to move to a different leader.
Another person told me that they were concerned about the leader they were assigned to because their position was not deeply technical, and the word was that this leader only valued technical skills. When I checked with them recently about how things were going, they responded that the team hadn’t really seen much of the leader lately. They just figured that the leader was working on their own development and didn’t have time for the team.
Leaders will always have an impact on their team members, either a positive one, or a negative one. A good leader of course wants that impact to be a positive one. A bad leader will often cause a team member to become so dissatisfied that they will leave the team, and perhaps even the entire organization. Continue reading

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Are You a Leader or a Manager? 

Are you a leader or a manager? Is there a difference between the two? Some people are leaders, but have the title of manager. Many, if not most people, use the words leader and manager interchangeably, but there is a vast difference between the two. So, what are some of those differences? Here are four differences between managers and leaders that I would like to share with you:

  • Managers – whether they be in business, the church or a non-profit organization – maintain the status quo. Just as leaders are needed to move organizations forward, managers are needed for those areas of an organization that are not considered strategic, but still need to be maintained. In some of my assignments in an IT department in a large Fortune 50 organization, I worked with roles that were not considered strategic, but were certainly needed to “keep the wheels on”. Also, some of the responsibilities that I had (making sure everyone on my team accurately recorded their time each week, for example) certainly fell into the managing, rather than leading category. It is the same with a church. In some churches, “managers” (pastors, church leaders, etc.), just maintain what is in place, not working to move their churches forward to impact their communities in a greater way for the Gospel.
  • Leaders cast a compelling vision of a better future. While managers maintain systems and programs that are in place in their organizations, leaders look to a better future, moving their organizations forward. Leaders have vision and they cast compelling visions of a better future for their organizations. This means change, but it is change for the better, not change for the sake of change. Change for the better improves organizations. Change for the sake of change disrupts organizations.
  • Leaders influence followers to buy into their vision of the future. John Maxwell often says that “Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less”. In other words, if you are not able to influence people to follow your you and your vision, you are not leading. Maxwell has said that people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. As a result, leaders need to be people of character and competence.
  • Leaders inspire trust. Stephen M.R. Covey has said “The first job of any leader is to inspire trust. Trust is confidence born of two dimensions: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record. Both dimensions are vital.” It is not that people don’t need managers, but here I want to focus on the word “inspire”. Leaders inspire.

Your particular situation may find you doing more managing than leading. However, I contend that no matter what type of leadership or management position you are in, you can have the vision to improve your organization. And if your vision is compelling enough and you communicate it clearly, people will follow you, and you will be a leader.

There are many other differences between leaders and managers. What thoughts do you have about the difference between the two?

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Leadership Lessons from Nikki Haley’s Book “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace”

Nikki R. Haley served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2019. She had previously served as Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, and in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2004 – 2010. With All Due Respect covers highlights from primarily her most recent positions, and includes a number of leadership lessons. Here are some of my favorite leadership quotes from the book:

  • I’ve always been underestimated. I’ve always responded by diving in, working harder than everyone else, and proving them wrong. I don’t let what other people think bother me. I just work.
  • (About President Trump): Our styles were very different, but we were both fundamentally disrupters of the status quo. And we were both action-oriented.
  • It’s one of the most important leadership lessons I’ve learned: Don’t talk for the sake of talking. When you say something, make it matter. If you agree with something, offer ways to make it happen. If you disagree, say so. But always have a plan to find a solution.

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5 Best Books I Recommend on Servant Leadership

I’m a strong proponent of servant leadership. I’ve previously shared four reasons why I aspire to be a servant leader. You can read that article here.
I’ve read many books about leadership over the years, and several about servant leadership in particular. Below are 5 books on servant leadership, plus a bonus chapter, that I recommend you read if you would like to find out more about the topic.
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Can an Introvert Be a Successful Leader?

In the organization where I worked as a leader for almost 38 years, it seemed that the vast majority of leaders were extroverts, and that particular personality type was most valued in a leader. The question we must ask is whether an introvert can be a successful leader.
First of all, we need to know what we mean when we say someone is an introvert. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of an introvert is “a reserved or shy person who enjoys spending time alone.” That definition doesn’t seem to scream “leader” to me. In comparison, an extrovert is defined as “a gregarious and unreserved person”.
Although I would occasionally have people challenge my assertion that I am an introvert, I had no doubt. For example, on family vacations, I would rather be by myself in a canoe, on a bike or reading a book, than I would be with the rest of the group playing a game.  My wife Tammy even reminds me when I was too shy as a teenager to order a pizza on the phone. Now that’s shy! Continue reading

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Find Work That Will Allow You to Play to Your Strengths

Have you ever had work that just drained or weakened you? Perhaps it was an activity or a particular meeting that you just dreaded? Years ago, for me it was strategic planning sessions. I really dreaded them.
In 2007 Marcus Buckingham published his book Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance. In a sea of business and professional development books, this was a book that really resonated with me. I read it once on my own, and then two more times in book clubs. In addition, our team watched a companion video titled “Trombone Player Wanted”.
Around that same time, our organization had a helpful “Building Leadership Skills” program, in which leadership and non-leadership associates who wanted to grow in their leadership skills read and discussed Buckingham’s book The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success as a group. That book was an abridged version of Go Put Your Strengths to Work. Our organization (and I) was “all in” on Buckingham’s “Strengths Revolution”.
Although there was a lot of excellent information in these books, here’s what I remember, and what continues to be helpful, more than ten years later. Some work (activities) strengthen us, and some weaken us. What strengthens me, may weaken you. Our goal should be to find work that strengthens us (lets us play to our strengths) as much of the time as possible.
In the books, Buckingham has you record all of your work activities (meetings, etc.) for a period of time (a week or two). After each activity is completed, you indicate whether the activity strengthened you or weakened you. Based on this information, you develop strength and weakness statements. That activity was eye-opening for me. Yes, strategic planning sessions really weakened me. Working with team members and mentees who were proactive about their development definitely strengthened me. Although we can rarely design a job completely to our specifications, this exercise helped me to find work for myself, and others, that would strengthen them.
I can clearly remember watching “Trombone Player Wanted” with my team. It was clear that some were excited about the concepts discussed, while others felt it was just the next “flavor of the month”, and they tuned out. For one team member, Del,  it helped him understand why he wasn’t successful on a particular assignment, and what work he needed to find to be successful at. Another team member, Jim, really bought into the strengths movement as well. Jim and I would continue to work together for the much of the next eleven years, and we would often talk about work that either strengthened him or weakened him.
We are all wired differently. The work that strengthens you, may weaken me. I recommend that you check out these books by Marcus Buckingham to help find the work that strengthens you.