A Powerful Lesson from Jesus in Handling Conflict

A braided leather whip

Some lessons you learn the hard way in life and leadership.

Take for example a recent principle I posted about attributes of a maturing leader. I shared that a maturing leader has learned never to respond immediately in anger. Shortly after the post went live I was interviewed about it for a leadership podcast. They questioned me on how I learned that one.

Well, most of the time you learn those things by responding in anger and regretting it later. And, this has happened to me a multiple of times. I once released a good employee in anger, for example. I regretted it ever since.

Many years ago, however, I was convicted by Scripture. (Isn’t this what Scripture is supposed to do?)

I read a passage I had read many times, but I saw something this particular time I’d not previously noticed.

See if you catch it in this  John‬ ‭2:13-16 passage:

“The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and He also found the money changers sitting there. After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace! ””

Did you catch it? Did you see the powerful leadership principle about responding in anger?

Yes? If so then you were convicted too most likely. 

It’s huge. It will change the way you deal with people in tense or confrontational environments.  

If you didn’t catch it, read it one more time. This time the emphasis is mine. 

The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and He also found the money changers sitting there. After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace! ”” 

Make sense now? He made a whip. Before Jesus cleared out the temple – He made a whip. Handcrafted whip. 

Have you ever made a whip out of cords – a whip strong enough to drive out people bent on making money through unrighteous means?

I have to be honest. I never have made a whip in my life. I don’t know how long it took to make whips in Jesus days, but it certainly wasn’t instantaneous. 

There was time for reflection. Time to think. Time to process. Time to make a plan. Time to pray.

Suddenly the scene I had in my head of Jesus seeing the activity in the temple and going wild with anger was not the same.

I can picture Jesus sitting on the steps of the temple, talking to His Father. (The Scripture says He did nothing except what the Father told Him.)

Maybe the dialogue went something like this:

God, how do you want me to respond to this?

They are in the temple, money-changing. I know how You feel about that. It’s Your house. It’s supposed to be a House of Prayer.

What should I do? How serious should I take this?

(Twisting the leather a little tighter.)

You know, God, they are going to be writing about this for a very long time. This scene may even appear in the movies someday. 

Help me know how to respond. 

It wasn’t a rash decision. It wasn’t unrehearsed. He didn’t respond purely out of emotion.

To me it has the appearance of being a very calculated, methodical, strategic move.

Over the years of leadership, since I realized how Jesus actually cleared the temple and facing lots of critics and conflicts of my own, I’ve made a lot of figurative whips. Perhaps someday I’ll even make a real one – and hang it on my wall. I’ve taken time before responding to think, process, develop a plan. And, all this in the spirit of prayer. 

In the process – of being more calculated, methodical, and strategic – it’s made me a better leader. It’s helped me respond better. 

And, here’s the other thing I discovered. Often, once I’ve made the figurative whip – I didn’t need to actually use it. In fact, and here’s the real life lesson, sometimes the process led me to understand I was the one who was wrong. Ouch!

When you’re facing conflict in life and leadership — when you’re angry — take time to make a whip. It changes everything.

4 Ways I Know When to Say No to Seemingly Good Things

no

Age and maturity has helped me better discern what I can do and should do based on my strengths, weaknesses, passions and dreams. It’s freeing when we become more certain in who God has wired us to be and who He has not.

Still, I’ve equally learned – through many different seasons – there are often more opportunities than time in life – even God-honoring, seemingly good opportunities. I have recently had to say no to some great opportunities. These were things I would have clearly thought had to be “God appointed”. They were things I wanted to do. But, as much as they lined with my strengths, passions, and dreams, I said “no” to them.

How do you know when to say no to what looks like a good thing — perhaps initially even like a “God thing”?

Here are 4 ways I know when to respond no:

God’s calling on my life says no.

This trumps all the others. This applies to many decisions, but let me use my vocation as an example. I do not believe I’m called to a place as much as I’m called to a Person — the Person of Jesus Christ. I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in where we serve. There are seasons of life, however, where I know He has positioned me in a place “for such a time as this”. There are things He has called me to complete “at such a times as this” God always has a right to change my assignment, but when He has made the assignment clear the decisions of yes and no should become easier. 

My heart doesn’t line up with this decision.

If I can get no “peace” about saying “yes” it’s time to wait or say no. This requires consistent prayer and wrestling with the decision, but the more I pray the more confident I become in sensing God’s specific will for my life and in this decision.

When it distracts from what God has called me to do.

I can’t do everything or be everywhere. I can only do what I can do. There is nothing wrong with taking assignments just because I want to do them. If, however, it is going to get in the way of my ultimate calling – the right answer – the often difficult, but brave answer – is to say no.

When my personal strengths and interests don’t match the opportunity and I don’t sense an urgency from God.

I have learned situational or physical limitations aren’t a factor if God is in the mix. He can part waters if they are in the way, so I can do things outside of my strengths, but in my life God seems to usually work within the experiences and gifting He has granted me. Why would He waste the investments He has already made in me? Therefore, apart from a sense God is challenging me in a direction outside my gifting, I can rest within the place where He has been preparing me and say no to those He has not.

Discerning the heart of the decision is critical and requires a consistent, close, seeking the heart of God relationship with the Father. I realize it’s much easier to write this post than to live this post, but hopefully this will help you as you too wrestle with the seemingly good, even sometimes seemingly God opportunities.

I wish I had used this paradigm earlier in life, because it would have saved me some heartache.

What “good thing/s” do you need to say “no” to during this season of your life?

Leadership Advice: Be Careful Making Decisions from an Ivory Tower

tower

I was talking with with a pastor recently. He has made some decisions he feels are best for the church. In listening to him, I think he’s probably making good decisions. They are needed from the perspective of where he sits in the organization of the church. His next step was to present the changes to the church.

I asked him how the staff felt about the changes. He said he hand’t told them yet. He had handled it with the elders and they supported him. They would find out with the church.

What? What?

Again, I said, “what”?

I watched this happen when I was in manufacturing. When decisions, which affect the assembly line, are made in the boardroom they seldom work and are always resented. The quality of work diminishes and production stalls.

I watched it happen when I was in sales. When sales procedures are handed down as edicts, without including the input of salespeople, morale is damaged, which ultimately has a negative impact on sales.

In this church and several churches I’ve consulted with over the years, I’ve realized it also happens in churches. When the pastor, or a body of senior leaders, make decisions, which impact the children’s ministry, for example, without the input of people who are actually doing children’s ministry, resentment builds, momentum stalls, and people resist the changes.

I have some advice for ministry leaders — really all leaders.

Be careful making decisions from the so-called “Ivory Tower”.

Many leaders lead with a top down approach, passing down decisions without consulting with those who have to live with the decisions made. It’s easy in leadership to forget real people have to implement your decisions. It’s not helpful, inefficient and, frankly, it’s unkind.

Don’t stand in the tower. Get out among the people you lead. Learn from them and let them give input into the decisions made in the organization.

Great leaders build decisions from the ground up, not from the top down.

5 Suggestions of How to Add Good Structure to an Organization

Constructor sujetando un ladrillo construyendo un muro.

I think there is value in unstructured growth. We shouldn’t be afraid of growth we cannot understand. It’s messier, harder to contain, even uncomfortable at times, but it also keeps leaders energized, maintains momentum, and helps spur exponential growth.

As the organization grows – as strategy changes – additions in structure have to be added. Adding structure, however, can be a painful and disruptive process if not handled carefully. We must add structure strategically.

Too many churches are stalled because when things got messy they simply added a new rule.

The fact is structure should never be too inflexible. It should change with the organization. It should even change at times with the people who are in the organization.

How do you add good, helpful structure?

Here are 5 suggestions to add good structure to an organization:

The change should make sense with the organizational DNA.

We have to be careful altering something in a way which could disrupt the fiber, core, or root foundation of the organization. DNA is formed fast, but changed slowly – and sometimes never. It’s who an organization is and who people have come to expect it to be. It’s hard to disrupt this without disrupting future potential for growth. The structure we will add or change in church revitalization will likely look different from the structure we had in church planting. And every church and organization is unique. 

The structure added should not impede progress.

This seems common sense to me, but I’ve learned this is not always the case. Structure should further enable the completion of the vision, not detract from it. Notice I said progress not grow with this suggestion. It could be you need some temporary structure which slows growth for a season. When I was in city leadership there was a time we needed to slow the pace of growth so we could catch up with infrastructure in the city. I can. We saw that as progress. If it slowed growth forever it would no longer be progress. An organization which never grows will eventually die – hence the following suggestion. The key is structure should consider the future potential for long-term sustainability of the organization. 

It should accommodate or encourage continued future growth.

Again, this should make sense. The problem is we don’t always ask those questions. Structure’s purpose should be to help the organization continue to grow over time. Structure should make things more efficient — not less. Enable not control. 

It should hit the center of acceptance.

Not everyone will agree with any change, but if the structure is universally opposed then it may need to be considered more closely before being implemented. This goes back to the suggestion about DNA. You shouldn’t make change based solely upon popularity – it needs a better thought process than simply what people like. Leadership is never about making people happy. But, at the same time, if you want the structure to be sustainable and helpful it must meet general acceptance – which leads to the last suggestion.  

People should understand the why.

This may be the most important. People are more likely to accept structure when they can identify the value to them and their area of responsibility — but at least the value to the overall organization. I once interviewed Zig Ziglar. He continually said, “If people understand the why they will be less opposed to the what.” I’ve learned how true this principle is over the years. We took a year to make one structural change so people could clearly understood why we were making it. Some still didn’t. Most did. And, it was a widely accepted change in our structure. 

What would you add to my list?

7 Random Suggestions for Younger Leaders

Team in the office. Asian businesswoman standing in the foreground smiling, her team of co-workers in the background

I love working with younger leaders. It keeps me young and it helps to know I’m investing in something and someone who will likely last beyond my lifetime.

I also love sharing some things I’ve learned from experience. Some of it hard experiences.

If you can learn and practice some of what I’ve learned early in your career it will help you avoid having to learn them by experience.

Please know these are intended to help – not hurt or discourage. I believe in you.

Here are 7 random pieces of advice I give young leaders.

Never attend a meeting without some way to take notes

It helps you remember to write it down, but it also communicates you care about what is being discussed. If you take notes on your electronic device (phone), be sure to tell people this is what you are doing.

Respect your elders

The fact is you may not always feel respected by them, but that’s their fault not yours. Showing respect to people older than you now will help ensure you receive natural respect from others when you’re the elder in the relationship.

Learn all you can from everyone you meet

This includes the awkward, even difficult people that you encounter. (You may actually learn more from them if you’re willing.)

Keep a resume handy and keep revising it

You may never use a resume again in today’s work world. It’s all about knowing someone or knowing someone who knows someone. But, the discipline of gathering your experience as you gain it forces you to think through your worth to a future employer. You’ll likely be asked to defend this someday and need to be prepared. (Also keep your LinkedIn account up-to-date. Future employers will look.)

Never burn a bridge

You’ll be surprised how many times relationships come back around. Don’t be caught by surprise. Leave well always. Always honor your past.

Be an encourager

Encouragers win the approval of others and are rewarded because they are liked. Be a genuinely positive influence on your team.

Never underestimate a connection made

When someone introduces you to someone, consider it a high compliment. Follow through on the opportunity to know someone new. Always value networking. You’ll be surprised how often these relationships will work for good.

Drop the defensiveness

Young people often get defensive when a person with more experience challenges them. This is especially true when being corrected by a leader. Remember you don’t know what you don’t yet know. It’s okay. Learn from your mistakes. Grow from correction. Be patient with those who are trying to teach you. Get the chip off your shoulder and allow feedback to make you better. Over time you’ll win over those who see you as inexperienced.

There are 7 random suggestions.

Elders, what other suggestions would you advise?

7 Attributes of a Wise Leader

Portrait of a senior man sitting in an armchair and thinking deeply.Shot with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

I write and speak a lot about leadership. I know lots of good leaders. In fact, I work with many good leaders. I hope some would even say I have days where I meet the standard – whatever the standard is.

I also write and speak a good deal about wisdom. And, I think wisdom is critical to the field of good leadership. 

A wise leader has developed certain attributes –  wisdom learned from the personal experience of success and failure and from the insight of other leaders – which sets them apart from other leaders. Wise leaders are valuable to any organization. 

But, I’ll be honest. There are few I know in leadership whom I would consider truly wise. Wise leaders have moved to a new stage in life from mostly learning from others to being looked to as a resource. People seek their input because they know they are seasoned leaders. They are investors in new generations of leaders.

I am going to list some attributes I have observed in leaders who have  wisdom. Think in your mind people you believe are “wise” leaders.

Here are 7 attributes of a wise leader:

The art of timing

The wise leader knows time is a commodity. They use sound judgement in decision-making. They have patience. They know organizations and individuals have seasons. Seasons of plenty and seasons of want. They have learned there is a right time to act and and there are times to wait.

Character Morality

The wise leader places a high value on integrity. They know ultimately everything rises and falls on the moral fiber of an individual. They’ve seen people lose everything with one bad decision. They know reputation is hard-earned and should be treated as gold.

Leads with Vision

The wise leader understands the value of a big picture. They keep an eye on something worth attaining. They continually motivate others by sharing the “Why”. They know momentum lost is hard to regain. They continually seek change which will spur energy around the vision.

Initiative

The wise leader is risk-taking and intentionally encourages innovation. They have witnessed a stalled organization. They know the dreadful feeling when there is no forward progress. They have personally experienced the cost of lost opportunity. They want to engage others by keeping things moving, people dreaming and the culture exciting.

Visible Diligence

The wise leader continues in spite of adversity. They tenaciously persevere. They know reaching a goal is worth the struggles to get there. They’ve been through storms before and have scars to prove you can come through them whole. They are seen as pillars. Strength under duress. People look to them for stability.

Strategic thinkers

The wise leader realizes no dream becomes reality without proper planning. They make sure plans are in place and people know what’s expected of them. They utilize healthy systems and structures. They aren’t burdensome with rules, but they are helpful in thinking through a process to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization.

Genuinely Love People

The wise leader knows people are the key to any organizational or team success and they work to empower others. Others know they are valued and appreciated under their leadership. They are true delegators. They invest in and develop the next generation. They look past the income statement to see the balance sheet — with people as the greatest asset.

What am I missing? What would you add to my list?

10 Principles of God Leadership

man waiting to help poor single-handed

How would we lead if we led as God inspired us to lead?

What does godly leadership look like?

I put some thought into this question recently. Actually, I’ve thought about it for years.

I should tell you I believe God is okay with us using good leadership principles in the church — even business principles. He gave us a mind. He made us creative. He said He makes Himself known in all creation. And, we are told all things were created for Him and by Him. I think we can find great leadership principles — the best — and implement them in doing His work.

But, there are principles clearly spelled out in Scripture. These are simply leadership principles, but rather principles for life. And, of course, these trump all the others. In fact, all other principles are built upon the principles of God’s word. The point of this post, however, is any good life principle from God’s word is a good leadership principle — or rather — a God principle. 

So, what are some characteristics of God leadership?

Here are 10 Principles of God Leadership:

Seek God’s will before your personal desires or ambition. Matthew 6:33

Be Humble. 1 Peter 5:6

Serve others. Matthew 23:11

Walk by faith. Hebrews 11:6

Practice Patience. Romans 8:25

Consider the interest of others even above your own . Philippians 2:4

Submit to authority. Ephesians 5:21

Be Teachable — seek wisdom from others. Proverbs 4:7

Believe the impossible can happen. Luke 18:27

Empower others to do what they can do. Ephesians 4:12

What would you add to my list?

7 Causes of Team Idleness – and a Few Suggestions to Help

Businesswoman bored in office isolated on white

Team idleness

Team idleness is a term I use to describe when a team is failing to move forward towards its desired goals and objectives.

Team idleness does not always mean the wrong people are on the team — it could. It doesn’t always mean the team has the wrong goals and objectives or the goals and objectives are unrealistic. It could.

It simply means things have stalled. Period. The term means for a span of time there is no — or very little – forward progress for the team. Idleness. It could be a month or several months. Things aren’t desperate – yet. They’ve simply slowed.

Every team, regardless of their health, can go through times of team idleness.

I have witnessed team idleness many times in organizations with which I have been associated – in business and in the church. I can assure you most teams will deal with team idleness at various times through the life of the team.

What causes team idleness? What causes a team to stagnate?

Here are a 7 thoughts – and a few tips along the way:

No fresh ideas.

If new ideas are not coming to the table frequently the team becomes stale and progress slows. One way we address this is to periodically schedule times where the only agenda is brainstorming – dreaming – answering the question “what’s next?” Also, reading books together, attending a conference, or visiting other healthy organizations or churches can help generate new ideas.

Burnout.

If team members are overworked or in need of a break their energy level will slow. This has to be encouraged and allowed in the structure. For me it’s essential I discipline myself to rest frequently. I try to personally lead by example here. Shared values and shared workload help here. There should be no Lone Rangers on a healthy team.

Lost vision.

If a team loses sight of the big picture goals and objectives they can lose interest or get off course. Vision-casting is an essential task of every leader – and it needs to be done frequently. Celebrating also keeps what’s valued ever before the team.

Misplaced team members.

Again, I didn’t say wrong team members. It could be, but many times idleness is caused when a vision outgrows members of the team and other times when team members outgrow the vision. People sometimes need a reassignment of duties or a change of focus. They need new goals which further stretch them. It’s not a bad idea to occasionally shift the organizational structure and chart. 

Lack of Resources.

If there are not adequate resources to complete the task the work becomes frustrating and the team stalls. While we need to be stretched and walk by faith, it’s equally important not to push people beyond where the structure can support them long-term. Unreasonable expectations – over time – cause team members to naturally slow their individual productivity, which impacts the entire team. Leaders must make sure the team has the resources they need to do what they’ve been asked to do.

Poor training.

Sometimes people are asked to perform beyond their level of understanding. No one is helping them get to the next level and so they stall waiting for further investment into them. I have found it rare for people to voluntarily ask for more. Leaders must recognize potential in others and intentionally develop the people around them.

No accountability.

Teams idle when they stay the same for too long. Frankly, sometimes things stall because no one is pushing things to continually grow or holding people to higher standards of excellence. Growth and momentum are seldom self-produced. Change, at least good change, never comes without purposeful efforts. Leaders must become champions of new innovation and continual progress individually and for everyone on the team.

The problem with team idleness is it doesn’t stay simply at idle. You know that leaders. Idle turns to decline and often quickly. Idleness will come naturally. Our goal should be not to rest there long.

Have you served – or do you serve – on an idle team? Tell us about it.

7 Ways to Respond to a Lazy Co-Worker

Lazy person

I’ve always valued hard work and usually resented lazy workers.

There. I said it. I have a bias against laziness.  

I started working when I was 12 years old in a grocery store. I worked hard, gained the recognition of my managers, and was rewarded with all the hours I wanted to work. The store was a revolving door of workers it seemed. I worked with some much older than me who didn’t last long, because they really didn’t want to work. They wanted to sneak into the break room and have a coke or take an extraordinary amount of time taking the trash out each night.

Please understand, I’m not talking about people who protect their family time (I do that) or people who work smart so they can enjoy life. (I try to do that too.) I’m also not talking about people who honestly want to work, but can’t for legitimate health reasons. 

I’m talking about people who are lazy. People who don’t want to work. They often have a job, but give far less than their best to it. They want a paycheck, they want to eat well, but they don’t really want to earn their pay. 

(I told you I’ve usually resented people like this. Can you tell? :) )

Something even more frustrating — if you are in a equal position to a lazy person, and you are not their leader and no one seems to do anything about it. You feel taken advantage of because of your hard work.

Not long ago I was stopped at a conference and asked if I saw laziness as a problem on church staffs. The questioner is in a large church where most of the staff work extremely hard, but a few barely get their work done. They are, in his opinion, lazy — and seem to get by with it. He wanted to know if this was unusual.

Of course, I assured this frustrated person, lazy people exist in every field. Wherever you find people you’ll encounter problems with people. Churches are places where people work, so some of the same problems that exist outside the church exist inside the church.

His real question, however, was “What should he do?” I shared a few thoughts and told him to read for a post to follow.

Here are 7 ways to treat lazy people:

Make sure it’s not a perception problem

Make sure you aren’t confusing a different work style with laziness. Make sure you aren’t lumping your overachiever mindset on them. People approach work differently. This is not always laziness. It could be they’ve found a way to work smarter and more efficiently. Look at the person’s performance based on results, not based on style.

Model hard work for them

This is your best offense. Some lazy people are encouraged by watching what they should be doing. Some will adapt to the environment if the environment is working hard. The completions will spur them. Certainly though, over time the lazy worker will be exposed. Then it is up to leadership to address the issue. (I know the question here — what happens if they don’t? That would be the subject of another post. This was is about co-workers.)

Pray for them to step up or leave

This sounds harsh, but if they are impacting your morale they are most likely impacting it for others. They are damaging the credibility and momentum of the organization for the rest of the team. Laziness is a sin. They need a heart change more than anything.

Don’t let them take advantage of you

You only enable them if you cover for them or do the work they were assigned to do. Lazy people seem to seek those out who will pick up their slack.

Challenge when necessary

If it’s clear a person is lazy and taking advantage of the situation, there comes a time when it’s right to challenge them. You should do so in love, but use the Matthew 18 approach — going to them first — then bringing along another if it continues. Work through the chain of command. It’s better to challenge lovingly than to let the resentment in your heart destroy your witness as you develop bitterness towards the other person. If you’re the senior leader — do your job to handle the problem.

Make sure it’s not personal to you or the organization

Could laziness be the result of something else? Could they be reacting to issues within their own life, or with a vision disagreement? That doesn’t mean they should stay or go, but it should impact the way you respond.

Help them with specific tasks

Sometimes you can help a lazy person, even if they don’t report to you, by helping them find things to do. Lazy people typically aren’t looking. If there is work to do they can do, ask them to help you or to assume responsibility for it. Structure is often the key need.

Have you ever worked with a lazy person? What did you do?