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Responsible Freedom

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. (1 Peter 2:16)

It’s the great paradox of Christian freedom that those who are most free, choose to live as obedient slaves of God. Understanding this is critical to a rich and expanding faith.

We are truly free. We have been released from spiritual ignorance and darkness. All our sins forgiven. All debts to God cancelled. Our future in Christ’s kingdom assured. We have received the Holy Spirt as a sign and seal of that freedom.

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Is Donald Trump God’s “Cyrus”?

There is a claim, some even call it “a prophecy,” that Donald Trump is a leader appointed by God to rescue America.  He has, it is said, the “Cyrus anointing.” If this were just a case of suggestive comparison, it could perhaps be justified. Unfortunately and too often it is used as the basis for claiming divine blessing on the Trump presidency.

In Isaiah Cyrus is summoned “by name” to fulfill the Lord’s purposes in a specific situation. It is a basic principle of biblical interpretation that none of what is said there can validly be applied to the President of the United States in 2019, and there is, in any case, no similarity “by name” to “Trump.” But there are other more important biblical reasons for doubting the link between Trump and Cyrus.

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When Servant Leaders MUST Fire Someone

There is no better way to help people achieve at their highest potential than servant leadership. Servant leaders, committed to the mission, the organization, and their people, work to find more effective means to achieve, strengthen their organization, and build up their people. When the leader’s concern for people is sincere and trusted, expectations can be discussed openly and problems corrected. Occasions when someone has to separated from the organization and the team are few.

An Inescapable Responsibility
However, there are situations where a servant leader must take action to remove someone. Some of these situations are — or should be — easy decisions.

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Improve Your Storytelling

It’s an ancient art. A storyteller has captures his listener’s with voice and gestures. As the tale unfolds people learn the heritage of their people, weep over their tragedies, rejoice in their triumphs. The stories express deep longings and fears, cherished dreams and hopes, values and behaviors to imitate or avoid.

Would you like to improve your storytelling? Peter Guber can help. Guber is producer of films such as Rainman and The Color Purple. His films have earned over $3 billion dollars worldwide and earned over 50 Academic Award nominations. This is man who knows a lot about story telling.

Great Storytellers Are Great “Truth Tellers”

At the core of every great story is a great truth, Guber explains. At root storytelling is “truth telling.” Great stories point to truth about the meaning of our world and our lives. Effective storytellers, Guber believes, master the four truths of storytelling.

1.  Truth to the Storyteller

A consummate storyteller “knows his own deepest values and reveals them in his story with honest and candor. When a story is congruent with the teller’s own values and beliefs it bears the hallmarks of authenticity.  Authenticity is important because the storyteller wants to “enter the hearts of his listeners,” Guber says, “because he must enter the hearts of his listeners. Because people know the power of their heart to move them, people guard access to this part of their soul. The storyteller uses the truth of a well-told story to bypass these guards and speak deep truth to the heart. “So although the mind may be part of your target,” Guber says, “the heart is the bulls-eye.”

Scripture gives a marvelous example. Filled with pride and sin David sits with the confidence of absolute power on his throne as Nathan tells the story of a wealthy and unscrupulous man who for his own pleasure stole the treasured lamb of a poor family. His story slips past David’s defenses, speaks directly to his conscience, and breaks his heart. Such behavior is an outrage, David proclaims before all in his court, and, “The man who did this deserves to die.” Within seconds the powerful king is reduced to a sinner, crying out in shame to God: “Against, you, you only, have I sinned.” Nathan has hit the heart’s bulls-eye. His story is consistent with his own deep values, and he has become a truth teller to God’s king.

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Leading From Behind: The Shepherd’s Way

There’s a marvelous article in the Harvard Business Review on “leading from behind” and “leadership as collective genius.” Professor Linda Hill is chair of the Harvard Business School’s High Potential Leadership program and an active researcher in the field of leadership. Leadership in the future, she says, will require “leading from behind” to create environments where people working in teams can contribute their skills for collaborative problem solving and innovation through the joint creativity of diverse teams. (See the article here.)

She compares this process to the work of a shepherd. Shepherds lead from the rear of the flock, helping them navigate and creating an environment where the more nimble and agile are able to run ahead so that the others can follow. The task of the leader is to help individuals flourish in their roles, setting boundaries for the flock, and helping to resolve tensions. Leading from behind is particularly important when the goal is to encourage innovation, discovery and implementation of new ideas and processes. Innovation flourishes where leaders both unleash and harness the creativity of the team, Hill says. “You have to create an environment in which” all the participants are “engaged and in which the collective talent of team members is tapped by having everyone take the lead at some point.”

Nelson Mandela and “Leading from Behind”

In more recent time the concept of “leading from behind” has been associated with President Barrack Obama and said to be a foolish idea. This confuses politics with leadership, and seriously fails to understand the concept. “Leading from Behind” is not about hanging back and failing to lead. Nelson Mandela, a leader admired world-wide for his strength of character explains the true meaning of “leading from behind.”

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995, 22).

“Leading from behind” is about empowering others to lead in addition to yourself. It’s about being in front when there is danger but allowing others to join in when there is success. Leading from behind is the pattern of strong, not weak, leadership.

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Extraordinary Organizations: What Does It Take?

It’s the perennial leadership question. There is something different about some organizations, something that helps them outperform others and even exceed their own goals.

What does it take to be an extraordinarily
effective organization?

In his book, Building the Bridge As You Walk On it, Robert Quinn says that these “extraordinarily positive” organizations can be called highly “productive communities.” In these communities, people find that they can contribute and excel.

What makes highly productive communities different?

During a visit to one extraordinary organization, a group of managers described the impact of several extraordinary people. These were people who had influenced the organization very significantly. They had inspired others to achieve at higher-than-dreamed levels.

“So what do they do?” the researcher asked. Quinn says that there was a long silence. Finally one director said, “That’s the wrong question.”

I like that. To ask first about what they do is to ask the wrong question. That question points us to look for behaviors, techniques, practices, and habits. It’s the dream of everyone concerned about leadership. “Tell me what I need to do!” We want the three-point short-list, the seven-part formula, the 87 irrefutable keys to successful leadership, the “formula” that we can apply. If we could only find out what these extraordinary people do we could then capture it, teach it, and through imitation gain that same performance advantage for ourselves.

It’s Who They Are

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What Is Your “Transformational Question”?

Questions are powerful. Getting to the right answer begins with asking the right question. A particularly probing question can press us toward new perspectives, new insights, new methods. A very few questions–just the right questions–can stimulate wide-scale transformation

The Power of a Transformational Question

Robert Quinn relates the experience of consultant Kurt Wright who was working for a huge software project that involved a $100 million dollar contract. 400 hundred engineers were 38 months into a 60-month schedule. The project was slipping behind every month and was now 18 months behind. Worse still, if the project was not on schedule within 10 months, the contract required the company to pay a $30 million penalty. Disaster was 10 months away.

What would you do? Crack the whip and urge people on? Fire the managers responsible for the slippage and hire new ones? Give up?

After many conversations with people involved in the project Wright concluded that he had to change the fundamental “scripts” that were controlling the workers’ assumptions and behaviors. To galvanize everyone’s efforts and establish a new positive vision he concluded that it was necessary to change the underlying question. In short, those 400 engineers and managers needed a new and transformational question.

What would it take to finish one week early?

The question had to be creative, frame-breaking, and visionary. It had to capture imagination and motivate wholehearted commitment. Through a series of two-day retreats, Wright finally hit on the critical transformational question: “What would it take to finish this project one week early?”

On the surface, Quinn says, the question was ridiculous. Everyone was already trying to finish the project “on time” in a 5 year contract “one week early” is hardly different from on time. Besides that, going from 18 months behind to one week early seemed an impossible goal. And yet the question was powerful. It rewrote the underlying script by injecting a new frame for conversation. A few people began to take the foolish question seriously and then more joined in.

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Courage to Oppose Toxic Leaders

He shared in their humanity so that he might free those who were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15

“How does the resurrection of Jesus transform your understanding and practice of leadership?” If someone asked you this question could you answer it clearly?

If this most pivotal event at the core of our faith doesn’t have an impact on how we lead then surely something is wrong. Isn’t it?

Toxic Leaders and the Fear of Death

As I thought about this point, I recalled a fascinating analysis of toxic leadership provided by Jean Lipman-Blumen in her book on toxic leadership. As with other poisonous things, these leaders come in varying degrees of toxicity.

Petty Tyrants. Some are mildly poisonous—one might say “not altogether bad”—and are found in small domains, offices, churches and ministries. They set unreasonable goals, promote excessive internal competiton, and create cultures of blame.

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Building Value Into Your Life

You long for a life of significance!

You don’t crave fame. You’r not trying to become powerful. Pursue these things and in the end you may discover you’ve squandered your years. So what does it take for life to be significant?

The teaching of Jeremiah gives us important clues.

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
Before you were born I set you apart and appointed 
you as my prophet to the nations.”
                        — Jeremiah 1:5

We learn that:

  • God prepared him from birth for a life of godly significance. He has done the same for you.
  • God appointed him to do significant work. He has good works for you to do, too.

Significance begins with the imprint of a great maker!

From the moment you were born you’ve been a treasure to Him. Yes, it’s true! He formed you personally in your mother’s womb. You are a unique and special creation of the Maker of Heaven and Earth Himself.   I once stood in front of a glass case containing a collection of the fabulous, jewel-encrusted “Easter eggs” created by Peter Carl Fabergé for the Czars of Russia as gifts for their wives and mothers. A single Fabergé egg was recently estimated to be worth more than $30 million dollars. A violin made by the famous Antonio Stradivari is vastly more valuable than even the best modern instrument.

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Is Your Vision Creating an Adaptive Gap?

It is often said that if leaders want to see high achievement they must cast bold visions. It is less often pointed out that proclaiming a large vision creates a gap between the vision and the current reality that must be managed. Ron Heifetz, in his book Adaptive Leadership puts it this way.

“Adaptive challenges are gaps generated by bold aspirations amid challenging realities.”

Vision Creates Gaps

“Wait a minute,” you say, “I was hoping that my leadership vision would help things move ahead. I wasn’t trying to create gaps!”

But that is precisely what true vision does. True vision calls us to venture into unknown territory, to take risks, to innovate — “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Or, to put it in Heifetz’s terms, vision creates a gap between current realities and the preferred future. The bolder the vision and the more challenging the realities, the larger the gap. Good vision casting understands this. It’s goal is to “widen the gap” in a way that appeals to our desire for achievement and sense of adventure.

Gaps Call for New Learning

One of the most powerful ways to frame the gap between reality and vision is to understand it as a challenge that calls for adaptation and new learning. The way to bridge and adaptive gap is not to work harder. You’re probably already working as hard as you can. Instead, an adaptive challenge is a call to work smarter, replacing current strategies, tools, and methods with new ones that help you move faster and farther with the same effort.

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Guy Saffold

I’ve observed leaders for many years, always asking the question, “What should a person do to lead in more Christian ways?” It’s often not an easy question to answer in the midst of the day-to-day events that whirl around a leader. Here I explore some of the dilemmas and answers. I also post some devotional thoughts about the application of biblical teaching.