Harnessed or Unleashed!

Empowerment is the goal of many leadership initiatives today. We are encouraged to find potential leaders, equip them to lead, give them authority, and then turn them loose to achieve. “The best executive,” Theodore Roosevelt noted, “is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

Henry Ford’s Model T changed the face of twentieth-century American life. By 1914, Ford was producing nearly 50% of all cars in the U.S. But by the early 1930s Ford’s share of the market had shrunk to 28%, and the company was losing a million dollars a day (big bucks, then!). The reason an American success story went south? Henry Ford. The antithesis of an empowering leader, Ford micromanaged his subordinates and undermined the authority of any executive he viewed as a threat to his control.

Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, observed the principle of empowerment as consistently as Henry Ford violated it. During the Civil War, Lincoln continued to give his commanding generals power and freedom to act, even when this strategy had failed with their predecessors. Eventually, of course, the wisdom of this approach proved itself, Lincoln finding in Grant a recipient worthy of his confidence. As leadership guru John Maxwell points out, “Only empowered people can reach their full potential.”

So how do we select worthy candidates to empower? Proverbs 17:2 speaks to this issue: A wise servant will rule over a disgraceful son, and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.” He says that the most important qualification for empowerment is not connections, credentials, charm or confidence, but character (“A wise servant”).

Makes sense doesn’t it. The obvious danger in empowering somebody is that they will abuse their power. So when it’s time to promote, men and women of character always get the nod, right? My guess is, unfortunately, leaders often do what the Bible character Samuel did.

When God commissioned Samuel to inform one of Jesse’s eight sons that God had decided to empower him to become Israel’s next king–and going in Samuel didn’t know which son it was–Samuel was naturally drawn to the photogenic son, the proven warrior, the one with experience. But God said, “Wrong choice, Sam. It’s the boy out tending the sheep, the one they call David, that I’ve chosen. You see, he’s a man after my own heart.” How readily we, like Samuel, are tempted to empower folks based on outward stuff, instead of what’s on the inside. So Proverbs 17:2 reminds us to focus on character when it comes to empowerment.

A final point on empowerment, also a principle that illuminates a key distinction between the Christian faith and “religion.” Some people mistake Christianity for a system in which a cosmic killjoy God simply tells people to do this and not to do that. The truth, per the Bible, is that Christianity is a lot more about empowerment than it is about rules and regulations. It says that God is passionate about us joining him in a personal relationship by exercising trust in his son. Through this relationship, God empowers us to change on the inside, working to fashion in us the integrity that is indispensable to good leadership.

By Jim Furr


Without advantages like a solid education, adequate financial assets and good health, life can be a real challenge, but without hope, life soon becomes unsustainable. Proverbs 18:14 in the Bible says, “A healthy spirit conquers adversity, but what can you do when the spirit is crushed?”

I think most of us would agree that to cultivate a healthy spirit requires encouragement and lots of it. In today’s fast-paced, highly-competitive, oft impersonal world we all experience losses, disappointments and loneliness. This stuff can cause us to begin doubting our value, which can lead to discouragement. That’s why it’s critical for our emotional health that we maintain regular contact with people who build us up.

I’ve found it helpful to keep an encouragement file. When somebody writes me a note, even if it’s only mildly encouraging, like, “Good try, Jim. Better luck next time,” I file it. On days when I need a lift, I’ll sometimes pull out this file that I’ve kept over the years, and as I read through both cards over and over, it’s fulfilling to me to know that at least sometime in my life my wife and my mother thought I had value J.

So we need to be encouraged, but as leaders we understand that the effectiveness of our leadership may well depend on our ability to refresh the spirit of a demoralized follower. How then can we help others recognize their value?

One way, of course, is to verbally affirm them. Like the bride who brings her new husband dinner and says, “Honey, my two specialties are meatballs and peach pie.” And her appreciative husband says, “And which is this, darling.” You know, he wanted to affirm her.

Better, though, to affirm somebody for who they are than just for what they do. Psychiatrists who study the power of affirmation have assigned a point value to positive and negative strokes. They tell us that to give somebody a positive stroke for doing something good is worth one point, but to give them a positive stroke for who they are (e.g., “Thanks for being honest”), that’s a 10. On the other hand, to criticize somebody for something they’ve done wrong counts as a minus 10, but to criticize them for who they are (“Why are you so dumb?”) is a minus 100.

Another way to increase others’ self-esteem is illustrated by Saint Paul in the Bible. It seems that Paul had a colleague named Timothy, who by nature was easily intimidated. But it says that Paul took his friend under his wing and invited Timothy to join him as he traveled around the world starting new churches. One day while they were in the city of Ephesus, Paul said, “Tim, I’m going to leave you here, and until I get back, you’re in charge of the Ephesian church.” Paul trusted Timothy with responsibility and it changed Timothy’s life. In fact, young Tim developed into one of early Christianity’s most capable leaders.

What made the difference was that Paul believed in Timothy more than Timothy believed in himself. Paul kept assigning his colleague responsibilities and expecting the best from him. Finally, with his mentor’s encouragement and some hard work Timothy developed the confidence to be an effective leader.

Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” Clearly, the best leaders are those who look at people building as a big part of their job description.

Dr. Jim Furr


A Life Well Lived 

“A Life Well Lived” is the theme of an ad campaign promoting San Miguel, a Spanish beer. Such a life, the unseen narrator tells us in a made for TV ad, is about experiences of beauty, romance, mischief and adventure, including being rescued by an admiral’s daughter and being swallowed whole by a fish.

To which I say, not so fast. Celebrated author Ernest Hemingway lived an intrepid life. A foreign correspondent in both World Wars who also traveled extensively in pursuit of hunting and other sports, Hemingway had wide-ranging experiences. However, at age 61, lonely, suffering from paranoia and plagued by a variety of physical problems aggravated by years of heavy alcohol consumption, Hemingway’s legendary life of adventure, flamboyance and celebrity ended by his own hand.

For others, a life well lived is about success. The story is told of a businessman who was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The businessman complimented the Mexican on his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. “Only a little while,” the Mexican replied. The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” “Well, señor,” the Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll into the village every evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos.”

The businessman scoffed. “You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, then a fleet of boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would of course need to move to Mexico City, then to LA and eventually to New York City where you would run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will this all take?” To which the businessman replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then, señor?” The businessman laughed and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right, you sell your company and become rich.” “Then what, señor?” “Then you would retire,” said the businessman, “and move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Smiling, the fisherman said, “Isn’t that what I’m doing right now?”

Clearly the Mexican angler was closer to solving the “What is a life well lived?” riddle than the business guy. But for a more complete answer yet, I suggest we consider what the incomparably wise King Solomon wrote on this topic.

If a life well lived is about joy, happiness, courage, peace and honor, then Solomon regarded such a life as the natural result of living righteously, i.e., doing what is right and good. For instance he says in Proverbs, “The life of the righteous is full of light and joy”; “Happy are those who obey the Lord”; “The righteous are bold as a lion”; “When people’s lives please the Lord, even their enemies are at peace with them”; “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.”

So it turns out that while living a good and honest life may in some quarters be considered a bit dull and too conventional, it does have certain advantages according to the best selling book of all time (and perhaps one Mexican fisherman).


by JRF

Conventional wisdom, according to Wikipedia, is “The body of ideas or explanations generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field.” Wikipedia goes on to say that “Such ideas or explanations, though widely held, are unexamined.” They’re not necessarily true, in other words.
Take for instance conventional wisdom’s contention that money plus possessions equals satisfaction. Now I know we say we don’t believe that, but a lot of times we live as if we do, even though a cursory study of the lives of the world’s wealthiest people quickly belies this notion. Then there’s what recent surveys tell us about the majority of high school and college students today accepting as true the idea that it’s okay to cheat to get ahead in life. The ruinous consequences of this worldview are evident in the lives of countless dishonored and failed politicians and CEOs, right on down the line, who carried this attitude into their careers. Conventional wisdom also holds that education is the answer to society’s ills. Yet the German people were arguably the best educated in the world when Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party rose to power.
I think you’d agree that at best conventional wisdom is a shaky foundation on which to build a life, although it may eventually lead to a successful life. I mean, after we try out some of these phony ideas and run up against their fallacies, we can learn from our failures and try to avoid making the same mistake twice. But I’d like to suggest that there’s a better way to live than going through the school of hard knocks. Allow me to explain.
In the Bible two different English words translate the Old Testament term hokma. Hokma is rendered “skill” in some verses to describe individuals with exceptional ability and knowledge in craftsmanship. Because they had hokma, these men could produce beautiful pieces of furniture and jewelry. Other verses talk about ideas that, when acted on, produce a beautiful life. These exceptional, often nonintuitive ideas together are referred to as hokma, translated “wisdom.” In other words, while conventional wisdom, because it’s not always true, is a poor foundation on which to try to build a life of excellence, hokma is exactly what’s needed because it’s always true, or so the Bible claims.
Here’s an example of conventional wisdom versus the Bible’s hokma (“wisdom”). Conventional wisdom says that it doesn’t matter if we look at porn, listen to gangsta rap and play blood and guts video games because, “Well, you know, I’m not affected by any of that stuff.” Hokma, on the other hand, warns us to be careful about what we feed our mind because our life is shaped by our thoughts. So which of these claims do you think is the basis for the billions spent on advertising?
Another example. Conventional wisdom holds that conflict is something to avoid at all costs, and if it can’t be avoided, the end goal is “I win, you lose.” But sometimes conflict is necessary to surface issues that need to be resolved.  And in those cases hokma teaches that, through humility, gentleness and patience, unity can be restored and both sides can be a winner. Now which of these approaches would you say is characteristic of an exceptional life?
Proverbs 13:14 asserts that “The teaching of the wise [those with a working knowledge of what the Bible calls hokma] is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?
by JRF

What percentage of people would you say suffers from “self-esteem deficit”? 85%, says Dr. Joe, and since he was at the top of the heap when I googled the question, he must be right. Right? Well, maybe, but for sure there’s a bunch of folks who conform to fads, compare themselves with others, act superior, procrastinate, are indecisive and consumed by fear of failure, need constant approval, and exaggerate their achievements – all marks of low self-confidence.

A lot of people struggle with this sort of thing all their lives. How does somebody improve their self-esteem? What works and what doesn’t? According to Proverbs 11:7, one thing that doesn’t improve self-esteem is financial success. The Book says,“Confidence placed in riches comes to nothing” – .

In a Psychology Today survey involving 20,000 people, 74% agreed that in America money is how we keep score. There’s this popular idea that if I had a suite on executive row, a 20,000 square foot house, a Mercedes, and a closet full of Armani suits, then everybody would be impressed, and presto, I’d be self-confident.

This is of course a myth. If those things produced self-acceptance, the “one percent” would have the highest self-esteem. They don’t. As King Solomon reports in Ecclesiastes, “He who loves money will never have enough.” The jet set are just as likely to overreact to criticism, drop names, and live beyond their means as anybody else, maybe more so. Psychologists generally agree that the most successful people often have the greatest difficulty with insecurity.

Clearly, self-esteem driven by financial success is short-lived, at best. So what lasts? Are those who doubt their value destined to live on an emotional rollercoaster, some days feeling self-assured, other days lacking confidence altogether? Dr. Joe offers a solution…for a price, naturally. The Bible, on the other hand, for free, identifies three sources of self-confidence that actually address the problem of low self-esteem.

One, humanism says that we’re only animals…with dignity, you understand. How can we have dignity if our great-great… grandfather was an ape? We can’t. But we don’t have any apes in our family tree. We’re made in the image of God and that gives us dignity. Recognizing that mankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation is the foundation of deep-rooted self-esteem.

Two, when calculating our worth, as with a piece of art, value is determined by what somebody is willing to pay. Jesus says, “I paid it all.” That’s our value, priceless. So we build our self-confidence on that.

Finally, there are seven-billion people on the planet, no two the same. Why? We’re unique because God had a unique purpose for each of us. Insecurity falls away when we recognize, “I’m not just here to take up space for a while and then die. I’m here because God has a purpose for my life.”

For years, low self-esteem was a major issue for me. These three sources of self-confidence, profound as they are, did nothing for my problem. Frankly, I didn’t believe them.  Then, in desperation, I put God to the test, and over time, as I experienced him keep his promises again and again, I became convinced that he’s reliable, that what he says we can take to the bank. My self-confidence has been in ascendance ever since.

“Confidence placed in riches comes to nothing” – Pr 11:7





Jim Moschgat, an Air Force Academy cadet in the late 70s, tells the story of their squadron janitor, William “Bill” Crawford. Although Crawford kept the place spotless, says Moschgat, none of the cadets gave him much notice, “rendering him little more than a passing nod or a curt, ‘G’morning!’ as we hurried off to our daily duties at the Academy, one of the nation’s premier leadership laboratories. Face it, Mr. Crawford was just another fixture around the squadron. What did he, a janitor, have to offer us on a personal level?”

One day, however, Moschgat, reading a book about World War II, “stumbled across an incredible story.” It was the account of how in Sept. 1943, on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy, a Pvt William Crawford, “in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire…with no regard for personal safety…on his own initiative, single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions.” It continued, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States…” Bill Crawford, the janitor, was a winner of the nation’s highest award for gallantry, the Congressional Medal of Honor!

When confronted with, “Why didn’t you tell us?” Crawford replied, “That was one day in my life, and it happened a long time ago.”

After that, says Moschgat, “Bill went from being a simple fixture in our squadron to one of our teammates. Most cadets routinely stopped to talk to Bill throughout the day and we began inviting him to our formal squadron functions. He even got to know most of us by our first names, something that didn’t happen often at the Academy.”

Moschgat draws a number of profound leadership lessons from his experience with Bill Crawford, janitor, one of which is, “All too often, we look to some school to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet everyday will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look and listen. I spent four years at the Air Force Academy, took dozens of classes, read hundreds of books, and met thousands of great people. I gleaned leadership skills from all of them, but one of the people I remember most is Mr. Bill Crawford and the lessons he unknowingly taught. Don’t miss your opportunity to learn.”

Thanks to Col. Jim Moschgat for this illustration of  Proverb 1:6: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance“. The Book tells us that the great talent of the truly wise is that they are humble enough to learn from others, including those that some deem lowly and insignificant.

Pointers by JRF – FocalPointTulsa



In a scene from the television miniseries, “Band of Brothers,” Major Richard Winters is seated in a parked jeep when he notices Captain Herbert Sobol walking by pretending not to see him so as to avoid saluting. “Captain Sobol!” says Winters, stopping the captain in his tracks. “We salute the rank, not the man.”

What’s up with Sobol’s disrespectful behavior? I believe it stems from a failure to separate his identity from his role. Allow me to explain.

As you will recall if you’re familiar with the story, Winters and Sobol shared considerable history. Sobol had been Easy Company’s commander through their basic training at Camp Toccoa, GA, where he was credited with having the finest company in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. But later, during training in the UK for the Normandy invasion, Sobol proved incompetent as a battlefield commander and was reassigned. At the end of the war he remained a captain. Lieutenant Winters, on the other hand, who served under Sobol at Camp Toccoa, received combat promotions to captain and then to major.

When Captain Sobol spotted Major Winters in the jeep that day, because he confused his identity – who he really was – with his role – in this case his rank – pride welled up. In Sobol’s mind to salute one of his former platoon leaders who now outranked him would be to acknowledge Winters as the better man.

Not unlike Captain Sobol, I’ve had my struggles with confusing identity and role. Unless I miss my guess, I’m in good company. Of course, not all leaders make this mistake, and we can learn from those who don’t, Abraham Lincoln for instance.

George McClellan, the Union Army commander in 1861, was arrogant and snobbish, at times even insubordinate to the president. On one such occasion Lincoln’s assistant, John Hay, was enraged when he observed McClellan snubbing the commander-in-chief. But Lincoln told Hay, “I’ll hold McClellan’s horse if he’ll only bring us success.” The president did not allow McClellan’s insolence to affect his self-esteem. (Note: Lincoln did, however, fire the insolent general when he proved to be ineffective.)

Here are several advantages of differentiating our identity from our role. Greater flexibility, meaning we can more easily adapt when circumstances require (something Captain Sobol was unable to do). The freedom to genuinely serve those we lead because we are not risking anything. Finally, we avoid the self-esteem crisis that occurs when our identity is centered in our leadership role and all of a sudden we are no longer the leader.

Proverb 27:19 offers a clue to how to keep our identity and role separate: “As water reflects a face, so the heart reflects the real person.” He says that the real you and the real me is about our hearts – i.e., our character and sense of intrinsic value as a child of God – that sort of thing, rather than about our professional position (or appearance, financial status, education or exploits). The implication is that the more we focus on character development and our intrinsic value, the more clearly we will be able to distinguish our true identify from any role we might be playing, and that cannot help but make us more effective leaders.

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