Apr
23
2015

“A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree”  – Proverbs 11:28

 

Values drive behavior. What we decide is most important in life will control and direct us. Jesus said it best: “Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart’s going to be.” It follows then that nothing is more important to a leader’s effectiveness than values, and that makes where we find our values critical.

Surveys indicate that as many as 80% of Americans believe that our society’s values are in transition, that in fact our culture is suffering a morals meltdown. Ya think maybe this perception has anything to do with the fact that for years now there’s been an explosive growth of Hollywood’s endorsement of infidelity and divorce as the norm, of internet smut, of “the ends justify the means” politics, of an entitlement mentality, of “just make sure it doesn’t make the papers” business ethics, etc.? (more…)

Apr
22
2015

“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame” -Proverbs 18:13

 

In his 2002 best-selling book “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership,” former University of Southern California president Steven Sample observes that the average person suffers from the delusion that he’s a good listener. “Most people, however, including many leaders,” Sample writes, “are terrible listeners; they think talking is more important than listening. But leaders know it is better to listen first and talk later.” He suggests not only that we make the effort to listen, but also that we do so “artfully,” practicing what he calls “listening gray.”

Sample describes listening gray as taking in information and suspending judgment about whether it’s true or not for as long as possible. If delaying decisions until the eleventh hour seems counterintuitive, that’s because, according to Sample, it is. Most of us, he says, tend to take what he calls a binary approach to listening and thinking: when we hear something, we are inclined to categorize it immediately as good or bad, true or false, black or white. To suspend judgment demands a concerted effort. (more…)

Feb
7
2015

“Those who will not be moved from doing right will live, but those who pursue evil will bring about their own death” – Proverbs 11:19

*What is a leader’s greatest fear? Failure? Mutiny? Criticism? All are possibilities, but I would suggest that the leader’s greatest fear is, or ought to be, not something that we do, which is recoverable, but something that can happen inside us. Let me explain.

Jim Collins in his monumental book, “Good to Great,” describes several characteristics of CEO’s who took their companies to the highest level of excellence. He calls these rare individuals “Level 5 Leaders.” Collins’ research revealed that Level 5 leaders “are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves…Level 5 leaders display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated…” We might well conclude that exhibiting these qualities is a leader’s true mission. (more…)

Feb
3
2015

“The evil man gets rich for the moment, but the good man’s reward lasts forever” – Proverbs 11:18
In “LeadershipLessons from West Point,” a collection of essays published by The Leader to Leader Institute, Lt. Col. Sean Hannah, at the time Director of leadership and management studies for the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point, writes, “Authentic leadership occurs when followers idealize their leader and internalize the leader’s vision and ideals.” (more…)
Jan
12
2015

“She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life” – Proverbs 31:12

*Proverbs 31 is a verbal portrait a mother paints for her son the king to help him in his choice of a wife. The woman depicted in this passage embodies the core behavior of fanatical discipline. Every day, day after day, this wife brings her husband good, not harm. The context describes a virtuous woman motivated by her love for God to “march 20-miles” (see below), i.e., to be industrious, frugal, efficient and productive with tremendous consistency. As a result she achieves a truly great enterprise: the perfect wife, worthy of all praise. (more…)

Dec
16
2014

“The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; he guides it wherever he pleases” – Proverbs 21:1

*In America today Christmas has become a Santa-ized, materialized blur. In many quarters what is seen as just another celebration is referred to in PC terms like “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings,” rather than as “Christmas.” As a result, it’s easy to lose touch with the event that’s the reason for the season. My goal with this article is to use the answer to a Christmas question to reconnect us with what the Bible asserts is the reality of Christmas. (more…)

Oct
21
2014

 

“A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired” – Proverbs 17:22

Would you agree that attitude drives success in life?

Lou Holtz, former premier football coach, today is a highly sought after motivational speaker who inspires people well beyond the realm of sports. Such a successful man surely started out with some kind of “right stuff” giving him a leg up on the rest of us, right? Wrong. Holtz came from a broken family. He stumbled out of life’s starting blocks like many of us did. Yet, he became a remarkable person. How come? He attributes his success to maintaining a positive attitude. “Life,” he says, “is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” (more…)

Sep
22
2014

“Pride lands you flat on your face; humility prepares you for honors” – Proverbs 29:23

*There’s an old story about a Navy warship that’s navigating through dense fog one night when directly in their heading a distant, faint light appears. As they continue, the light grows brighter. At length the captain appears on the helm to assess the situation. About that time, a voice over the radio calls on the vessel to adjust its course. The captain, an admiral, refuses to yield. Getting on the radio he demands, “No, you adjust your course.”

Several transmissions follow between the admiral and what turns out to be an ensign, each calling on the other to yield. Finally, the admiral says, “We are a U. S. Navy carrier, you adjust.” To which the ensign responds, “We’re a lighthouse.”

Some things are just bigger than we are; they transcend us. Take gravity, for example. Like the lighthouse, gravity invites us to adjust our course to its reality. If we do, we do well. But if we fail to yield to gravity’s reality, no matter how strong we might be, we’re going down.

Yielding to transcendent reality appears to be a simple matter of common sense, right? It would be except for the answer to a question that maybe more than anything else controls how we function in life. Here’s the question: “Am I God, or not?”

While we of course recognize that we’re not God, frankly sometimes we act like we are. Human beings have this tendency to overestimate our talents and importance and to think that life is all about us. Then, when we come up against a “lighthouse,” operating under the delusion that we’re “bigger,” we founder on its realities.

It was this very thing that led to huge corporate meltdowns in recent years. Universal values such as justice, honesty, fidelity and responsibility comprise a category of bigger things that transcends us. You’ll remember that a few senior executives chose to ignore these “lighthouses” and make their own self-centered interests the bigger thing. It all became a means to serve them. Theirs was the egocentric behavior that says, “I am God, and everything revolves around what I want,” as opposed to, “I exist to serve the things that are bigger than I am.” The result was predictable, these people not only foundered themselves, they took a lot of others down with them. Lighthouses always have the last say.

As with the admiral above, we may at times be ignorant of life’s bigger things. For instance, if we’ve reached the end of ourselves – life seems empty, meaningless – we may not recognize that what we’re missing is transcendence. That was my experience. Then I stumbled onto a transcendence that filled my emptiness. It was a person; his name is Jesus. “Come to me, and you’ll recover your life,” he promises. “Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” And I’ve discovered him to be a man of his word. I might add that if he is in fact the transcendent reality the ancient scriptures claim him to be, then, like the lighthouse, we do well or suffer shipwreck depending on how we adjust to his reality.

A final thought. Henry Cloud writes in his book, ”Integrity,” that it is the bigger things, not ourselves, that make us big: “As we join them, we become larger.” The paradox, Cloud continues, is that to join things bigger than we are, we have to humble ourselves by becoming smaller. “When we realize that we are smaller than the transcendent things, and we exist for them and not them for us, we grow into greatness.” Proverbs 29:23 puts it this way, “…humility prepares you for honors.”

*Many of the ideas in this article are drawn from Henry Cloud’s book, “Integrity.”

Dr. Jim Furr

Sep
9
2014

 

A gentle response turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger – Proverbs 15:1At I listened in a recent seminar to Joseph Grenny present from his book, “Crucial Conversations,” I thought, “Wow, what a relevant topic!” All of us at one time or another have found ourselves needing to bring up important information at meetings, or to speak with a direct report about his subpar performance, or to work out a problem with our spouse. Sometimes we’ve engaged in these conversations, and it didn’t go well. Other times we did nothing because we refused to choose between telling the truth or losing a friend, unaware that, as Grenny notes, “a third choice is available through dialogue.” My point is who of us can’t use a tip or two on how to be more effective negotiators and conflict resolvers?My intention in this article is to outline the basic argument of Grenny’s book and to compare his conclusions with the perspective of ancient wisdom on this critical topic.

According to Grenny, if we are to master the art of fruitful dialogue in conversations where the stakes are high, emotions are heightened, and opinions differ, we must know what we want the outcome to be for ourselves and for the others involved. Makes sense, but what is the most desirable outcome of a crucial conversation?  It’s that we win, right? No, I think most of us would probably all agree that the best result we could hope for from a critical conversation is greater productivity and more unity.

Conflict produces energy, energy that can be channeled in different directions. A conflict between a husband and wife can serve to facilitate open, honest discussion, which can lead to greater understanding between the two and a better relationship. Similarly, a conflict between two engineers over the design of a product can lead to a better design than either one was capable of producing alone.

So, the goal of crucial conversations is to channel the energy of conflict in the right direction. How do we do that? Ancient wisdom says, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (from the Bible book of Ephesians). The assertion here is that approaching conflict with humility, gentleness and patience, gives us the best chance of effecting unity and peace, resulting in greater productivity, more honesty, and deeper commitment.

Back to Grenny. In his view the goal of crucial conversations is to use them as “trust-building accelerants that improve the core of families and organizations, thus affecting everything else.” In other words, the goal of dialogue is to channel the energy of conflict in the right direction.

As to the means of achieving this goal, Grenny writes that masters of dialogue create an atmosphere where all the parties feel safe adding their own views, no matter how controversial, to the “shared pool” of ideas being expressed. Creating this “pool,” according to Grenny, will require patience, ”but the outcome will be more valuable.”

There are, Grenny adds, two essential safety conditions for any dialogue, “purpose” and “respect.” If others become convinced of our malicious intent or lack of respect, they will almost certainly react in anger, ending all meaningful dialogue. To restore free flowing meaning, Grenny advocates a gentle response that communicates our willingness to listen to their concerns and in humility an apology that emphasizes our fundamentally respect.

It seems that Grenny and his three coauthors are aligned perfectly with the wisdom of the ages. Maybe that’s why folks have found “Crucial Conversations” so helpful that over two million copies have sold.

Dr. Jim Furr

Aug
26
2014
 What are the most dangerous mistakes that leaders make? Patrick Lencioni, author of ten business books with more than three million copies sold, spoke to this topic recently at a leadership summit that I attended. What follows is a recounting of Lencioni’s “most dangerous mistakes I see leaders make” plus a few comments of my own.

Becoming a leader for the wrong reason, according to Lencioni, is one mistake leaders commonly make. More than a few go into leadership because of what they believe being the leader will do for them. In Lencioni’s view people who become leaders for wrong reasons – power, money, fame – eventually run out of idealism, get bored and leave behind a trail of tears. Lencioni: “If it’s not servant leadership, it’s just economics.”

Author and Taylor University president Eugene Habecker writes, “The true leader serves people, serves their best interests…because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory.” According to Proverbs 20:28, “Love and truth form a good leader.”

In the Bible, Jesus, surely in terms of lasting impact history’s most successful leader, did not assume a leadership role because he was on a power trip or wanted more stuff. On the contrary, he dissociated himself from those things then became a leader as a means of serving. Lencioni: “The most successful leaders sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others.”

Leadership mistake number two: Failing to embrace vulnerability. Lencioni recounted a meeting he had sat in on with a high-powered CEO and his direct reports, who had recently submitted written evaluations of their boss’ leadership skills.

“It says here,” began the CEO, reading from their evaluations, “that I’m not a good listener. Well, I feel I’m doing better with that. What do you guys think?” Unanimous agreement with the CEO. It went on like that for a while. Finally, at Lencioni’s prompting, one of the VPs admitted that he believed the CEO did have areas in need of improvement. His colleagues all disagreed, leaving that VP twisting in the wind.

“The CEO destroyed the trust of his people,” said Lencioni, adding that not long afterward that corporation’s board fired the CEO due to the company’s poor performance. Lencioni: “People have the right to expect us to be competent, but I don’t think you can be too vulnerable.” “A mocker resents correction, he will not consult the wise” – Proverbs 15:12.

Leadership mistake number three: Making leadership too important. Lencioni: “Our identity can be so wrapped up in our leadership role at work that we ignore our primary constituents.” Dare we ask our wife, “Do you think my job and my employees are more important to me than you are?” Lencioni again: “At life’s end what counts most is not that employees come around our bed and say what a great leader we are.”

In Ecclesiastes King Solomon records his observations of a certain senior executive: “A solitary person, completely alone – no children, no family, no friends – yet working obsessively late into the night.” “Why,” this guy asks himself, “am I working like a dog, never having any fun? And who cares?’” Solomon’s summary of the situation: “How pointless and depressing.”

Why do leaders fall into these traps, each of which can lead to disaster? Lencioni: “It’s all pride. The antidote is humility.” “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18.

So how does a leader, especially who sees himself as successful due to his own efforts, develop humility? He remembers who changed his diapers as a baby, who taught him how to read and write, who nursed him through his illnesses, who gave him his first job, who believed in him enough to promote him. Then he leans into God’s power for help in breaking old patterns of behavior.

Dr. Jim Furr
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