Tag Archive: leadership


Lead by Example

I recently experienced what it means to lead by example in a powerful way.  Two leaders and I were in front of a group of 90 international students explaining small group Bible studies.  The situation was set up in such a way that we were asking the people in the audience to volunteer to join.  We explained the ideas behind Bible study, and told them where on campus each group would be meeting.  Then we called for anyone who lived in a certain part of town to please stand up and go with a leader….

Silence.  Motionless.  Blank stares.

I probably started showing signs of uneasiness and started sweating and my face turned red.   I seriously began to question what we were doing, why wouldn’t anyone get up?  Worry, frustration, doubt, until a single girl meekly rose out of her chair and half raised her hand.  “I would like to join”, she managed to say.  Not three seconds later five other hands shot into the air.  All it took was one person to break the ice.  She had blazed the trail for other people to follow and made it OK to volunteer.  The ensuing meetings saw record numbers signing up for Bible studies because one person was brave enough to say, “I will go.”

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Another popular story crafted by Fran Kick which teaches about leading by example goes like this:

The best definition of leadership I can share is by way of an example. At a leadership conference before it began, one person saw that the room was kind of a mess. There were papers on the floor, a Coke® can in the corner, and other miscellaneous remnants indicating that an entire day of classes had occurred in this lecture hall. Before we started the session, one person got up out of his chair, picked up a piece of paper and the Coke® can, threw them out and sat back down. Not less than maybe 30-60 seconds later, two other people got up, went around and picked up trash near their chairs, threw it out and sat back down. That first person was leading by the most effective form of leadership possible, leading by example.

For the rest of the story click here!

As leaders we wield an immense power with the example that we set.  Take a moment and think about each of your leadership roles and how people perceive you.  What example are you setting?

Have you experienced an example of someone leading by example?  Share in the comments below!

On Being Needy

People have a natural aversion from being in need.  We like to have all the power, solve our own problems, leave everyone else out of it.  This works great as long as we are by ourselves, but it breaks down as soon as you mention the word team.

Feeling needed is empowering .  As Thoreau said, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”    Our chest puffs out when someone asks for our help and puts our solution into effect.  We want to share the news that our idea worked.  We wish it would happen more often!

In many cases a leader will be capable of doing all of the work necessary for a project.  The leader doesn’t really need the help of any of their followers.  The question is, what is lost if the leader does all of the work?  The answer comes in two parts, one for the followers and one for the leader.  In the case of the followers they are losing an opportunity to be involved.  An opportunity to use their own skills to further the vision and contribute.  This leads to a lack of buy-in and they feel detached from the project.  You will not find anyone who daydreams about a solution when they are not intimately involved with the problem.  A follower cannot be intimately involved with the problem if the leader has already solved it.  Soon, the leader will find themselves alone, the team disbanded.

The second loss is for the leader.  If the leader places themselves in need they lose the position of power.  Pride must go out the window, a hard thing to do.  It takes a certain humility to be in need.  It takes an even greater one to purposely put yourself there.  You may be capable of doing everything yourself, but what are your followers losing so that you can puff up your ego?

I think people learn better from stories than from lectures (this should be a post!).  So take a minute to read through John 4:1-42 below for a great story of Jesus humbling himself and talking to a Samaritan woman.  What is Jesus giving up (by even being on Earth, by talking to a social outcast) so that she can gain?

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John 4

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

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I challenge you to place yourself in need more often, give people the satisfaction of being able to help.  Listen to people’s ideas more often, seek their opinion, and attend to their answers.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

How do you empower others?  Share in the comments below!

The Bible: More than just “Food for Thought”

It’s a given fact that the act of reading has many benefits. If you know someone who is a professional writer, they will tell you that one of the greatest secrets to being a writer is being an avid reader; those who read can write more quickly, clearly, and colorfully than those who don’t read. Professional authors aren’t the only ones to reap the benefits of reading. We know that “Leaders are Readers,” as Tyler so poignantly put it in his previous post. We all have something to gain from the general practice of reading, but I think that we have much, much more to gain from the disciplined practice of reading the Bible.

I’d like to give a bit of backround upon Biblical literacy before I begin, so bear with me! The Protestant Reformation brought with it the largest wave of biblical literacy since the original authorship of the New Testament.

“That means that for roughly 1200 years, the common man was unable to read the Bible for himself.”

The Bible hadn’t been in any sort of common vernacular since the days of the translation of the New Testament into the Latin Vulgate by Jerome, which occurred somewhere around 383 AD. That means that for roughly 1200 years, the common man was unable to read the Bible for himself, and dependent upon a priest to even hear it spoken! Can you imagine the mysteriousness surrounding the Bible during those times? With Biblical illiteracy fresh within their minds, the Reformers strongly held to a doctrine known as Sola Scriptura, that is, the belief that Scripture alone contains all that is necessary for full salvation and spiritual growth. We would do well to carry their convictions. While it might be trendy or even marginally beneficial to read the holy books of other religions, we know that only the Bible will lead us to spiritual life.

So, apart from just holding to a view of Sola Scriptura, why should we read the Scriptures? To start with the seemingly most obvious:

  1.  It is the manner by which the God of the universe has chosen to communicate with us. For whatever reason, God chose to get his words to us in written form. That means that, whenever I open that book, on some level, the God of the universe, both through providence and through the work of the Holy Spirit, will speak to me. I may not know it, just as a plant may not feel water in its roots after every rainfall, yet, God will soften the soil around my soul and deeply, deeply change me.
  2.  Many people have given their lives to get me the book that I have today, most notably William Tyndale and John Wycliffe. So often we easily forget our history as the church. We have ancestors in our tradition who gave their lives and suffered horrible deaths because they were so passionate about the Bible – the same book that we often justify not reading because we are “busy” or “tired.” I think it is an amazing thing that there have been so many who have gone before us that have drawn the inner strength to do great things from the same book that graces our coffee tables and bookshelves. Read it!
  3. We need the words on those pages to be alive spiritually. Quite simply, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Deut 8:3, Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4) We need to encounter God’s words more than we need food. Do you believe that?

There are many more reasons why we should read the Bible, but I hope that those listed above will prove sufficient to at least drive you to consider the amount of time you spend reading the Bible. The Bible isn’t just “Food for Thought”; it’s food for our spiritual lives.

Leadership Defined

insert picture of dictionary open to the word leadership, those little pegs that no one really knows what they are, or penguins jumping off of an ice berg here.

I love to define words; I would call it a hobby.  My friends can tell you that I am always specific with which words I choose and I’m always looking up new ones.  I believe words have power and that different words communicate different things.  “I meant to say dislike not hate!”  I especially enjoy complicated words like love, hope, or leadership.  I think I like definitions because it gives people a language to communicate consistently.  If you and I understand the same definition, we can exchange complex ideas easily.  Definitions are revealing to me, I hope that they can teach you something as well.

A lot of people have tried, and will try to define leadership.  In fact, there are plenty of bad definitions of leadership:

  • You cannot use a word to define itself: The activity of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this. (Business Dictionary – lol, how can these guys get it wrong?)
  • I like this one but it is trying to incorporate too many ideas into one sentence:  “Leadership is the professed desire and commitment to serve others by subordinating personal interests to the needs of those being led through effectively demonstrating the experience, wisdom and discernment necessary to leverage trust & influence to cause the right things, to happen for the right reasons, at the right times.” (Blogging Innovation) Confused yet?
  • This is just incorrect, most modern leadership theory will tell you leadership is not a position“The office or position of a leader.” (Merriam Webster)

Phew, now that we’re done laughing, let’s look at some definitions that I like.  I do not think that leadership’s entire essence can be easily contained in a single definition, so I’ve adopted the stance of having a few.  Here are my top five definitions for leadership, in no particular order:

1.  “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Mark 10:43-45, Matthew 20:26-28 (NIV)

2.  “Leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less.” ~ John C. Maxwell

3.  “Leadership is seeing an opportunity, responding appropriately, getting others to follow in the process, whether you want to or not, without being asked.” ~ Fran Kick

4.  “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.” ~ Stephen Covey

5.  “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” ~ Peter Drucker

These definitions cover a huge amount of thought.  So leadership involves service, humility, influence, taking initiative, having followers, communication, valuing people, casting vision, and on and on.  Each of these topics could have a couple blog posts each, but these do not cover everything!  Where are the thoughts on organization, character, integrity, love, and on and on?

Ultimately, my advice is this: do not get caught up in a single definition of leadership thinking it covers everything – keep an open mind and continue to search for other definitions and ideas.  That is why the picture is white!  Be able to talk about leadership using a mash up of the current ideas.  Define complex words using a paragraph because different definitions will appeal to different people.  Different situations will call for different roles to be taken by a leader leading to different definitions.  Maybe someday we’ll have the perfect paragraph to describe leadership.  Until then, do you have a favorite definition?  Share in the comments below.

The Leader’s EDGE

While I was in Boy Scouts, I had the opportunity to go through a leadership training camp, both as a participant and as a staff member, called National Youth Leadership Training Camp, or NYLT. At NYLT, various seminars in aspects of leadership are given which tie into activities at the camp. Perhaps one of the most interesting concepts taught was that of the Leader’s EDGE. This powerful leadership tool helps to enable leaders to delegate with trust to those with whom they work, teach new skills to their team members, and ensure a sort of quality control on what the team does. EDGE is an acronym which stands for:

Explain

Demonstrate

Guide

Enable

Though fairly self-explanatory, I’ll take a minute to expound on these four steps.

Explain: This is simply the verbal act of defining what that action is. If you are leading someone, this is naturally the first thing that you do when you are about to delegate a task to them. You simply communicate what the task entails and what is required/expected of the team member to achieve the task. This is naturally the first step in teaching a new skill or delegating. It is, however, usually not sufficient to ensure that the team member fully understands what is expected.

Demonstrate: This step is crucial. The act of performing the task or skill in the presence of the learner is powerful beyond just the words taken to explain it; it shows the team member, at least to some extent, that you as the leader know exactly what it is like to do that task. This is an important concept, especially if the task is unsavory, like cleaning the bathrooms or some other task that the rest of the team doesn’t want to do. This gives the team member a visual of both what it looks like to perform a task, and that you as the leader are willing and able to perform the task as well.

Guide: This is where the “hands on” leadership comes into play. You have the team member perform the task while you are there to coach and help them through it. Many people get the first two steps and skip this one. Don’t skip this step! Think how you would feel if you were the team member, especially if this task was pivotal to the success of the group. They want to be absolutely sure that they know how to do it correctly. Now think from your own perspective. You want to be absolutely sure that they know how to do it correctly. Guiding them through the process puts both of your minds at ease.

Enable: This is my favorite part of the process. You let them do it without you, placing full trust in their capability to complete the task. This can be such an opportunity to give a sense of value to each team member. To paraphrase John Ortberg, so many team members are silently saying: “Involve me.” They want to feel as though they are contributing to the team, and you as a leader cannot afford for them to not be contributing to the team. Place full trust in them to succeed; follow up with praise in public and criticism (if necessary) in private. This is a growing point for your team members and for the team as a whole as they learn to rely upon each other and to be relied upon. This is the ideal environment towards which leaders should strive; enabling their team members to succeed. With the proper amount of encouragement and trust, that team member can truly feel valued as they are enabled to become a “specialist” in what they do.

Explain, Demonstrate, Guide Enable. It applies to a multiplicity of situations and can be one of the leader’s most valuable assets. Don’t you find yourself naturally doing this to some extent? It’s amazing how simple, intuitive, and effective the leading EDGE is, and it is a powerful tool for any leader.

Conducting Potential

Have you ever looked at people through the glass of their potential?  As leaders we have the opportunity to come alongside of people, hold up the mirror and say, “Look at what you’re capable of.”  Think about it, not many things are as exciting as finding out what could be.  A boyscout tying his first square knot eying a pioneering project, or a team in a huddle realizing they could win the game.  The joy of getting the kid with the good arm on your team in dodge ball!  Gym class aside, people can’t accomplish something if they don’t believe they can, and it is amazing what people can do when they start believing in themselves.

Benjamin Zander, Conductor BPO

As a leader it is your job to unlock the potential of your followers.  The wildly successful conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander, said that after 20 years of conducting, he had an epiphany that changed his life.  He said, “I realized that conductors do not make a sound.”  What Zander meant was that a conductor is incapable of performing anything by themselves, it is in fact the musicians who produce the music.  This revelation puts a would-be leader in a predicament!  Most leaders love to accomplish things on their own, and are very capable and not in need of help from someone else.  Although Zander is an accomplished pianist and musician himself, his performance pales in comparison to what the full Philharmonic can produce.  (I shudder to think what his singing would be like.)  I think this is true of most leaders, they are capable of great things on their own, but if they can unlock the potential of others they can achieve truly great things.  “Real power is in making others powerful.” ~ Benjamin Zander
For more of Zander check out this great TED talk about music and passion.

So how do you unlock someone’s potential?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Spend time with people and learn to care about them.  We have a shortage of people who really care.  You have to know people to know their potential, and that takes time.
  2. Be encouraging, raise their vision.  The more someone’s vision is raised, the more potential is unlocked.  Find me a person with a change-the-world vision, and they will most likely be using a lot of their potential, especially if they are successful.
  3. Believe in people before they believe in you.  Often times leadership is a one way street.  People don’t catch the vision, don’t care or see why any of this is important.  Be patient, earn respect and believe in people.  They’ll come around.
  4. Give people opportunities to find their potential.  I’m amazed at how many leaders believe that they are the only ones capable of accomplishing a task.  Be able to delegate responsibilities away so that hidden potentials can be found.  Maybe that student would make a great graphic designer, or engineer, or both…who’ll know till they try?  Also, try new things!
  5. Become a master teacher.  So you’ve found someone with potential, now what?  The qualities of a great teacher go hand in hand with the qualities of a great leader.  If you are able to pick up on someone’s hidden potential and then teach them to use it, be ready for an exciting ride!

Do you have a success story about how you helped someone reach thier potential?  Share it in the comments below!

“Leadership is a choice to deal with people in a way that will communicate to them their worth and potential so clearly they will come to see it in themselves.” ~ Stephen Covey

The Death of Creation

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1 ESV)

Let There Be Light by Christolakis (Source: flickr)

Genesis 1 begins with that famous line which clearly positions God as the creator, maker of all things.  The story unfolds as everything that is seen is created and put in order.  Near the end of His working, God creates something very good, a man, in His own image.  I often wonder what characteristics of God show up in human beings because of our possession of His divine image.  None of us express His entire image, and each of us are weak in some aspects and strong in others.  But I think that there are some pieces that we all possess.  One of these is the capacity to create, even if at a level far below what God does in Genesis 1!

It is clear from the rest of the story that God intended man to be able to create.  He asks Adam to create names for all of animals and charges him to “increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” i.e. create more humans.  This story makes me reflect on modern day creation and how we spend our time.

Let us suppose for a moment that people have two modes, creation and consumption.  There are times when consumption is a physical necessity for life (eating or breathing). In our society it is rare when we do not have the necessities for life, especially when there is a super Wal-Mart down the street, though not for Dean.  We have minimized the time it takes to feed and protect ourselves which leaves ample room for either creation or other types of consumption.

We are a consumption saturated society.  The advent of mass media and advertising has led to people being drowned in a consumer mentality (fight-able yes, but an unlikely victory).  The saying goes, “you are what you think” and in the US, many people think about the next product they want to own or the TV show that is on tonight because an advertisement is in front of them all the time.  In my own experience, it is so easy to be convinced that I “need” that new product.  Everyone has their hot buttons.  Think about how you spend your time from a consumer, creator standpoint. Do you add value with your time; is it a good return on investment, or do you only consume?  As a creator you could create knowledge, build relationships, design art (digital or traditional), or play music.  How do you feel after bringing something to completion?  Most people experience joy when exercising their powers to create.  I know that Bethany was pleased with herself after repainting her bookshelf with cool stone flecky paint!

I agree that there are nights when I only feel like consuming a bit of mindless TV, but I find that even after couch potatoing I do not feel refreshed.  This situation has an opportunity for hidden creation.  I like to think about relaxing as the creation of peace.  Relaxation is specific, instead of mindless; it does not happen naturally (except during sleep).  How to relax is different for everyone, but my relaxation spot is a dimly lit room in a chair with a glass of Arizona sweet tea, a book, and DJ Tiësto’s “Hide & Seek (In Search of Sunrise Remix)” playing in the background (you’ll find me there after I get this post written)!  I am adding value with the book but when in relaxation mode I choose something lighter than Shakespeare!  Another great example of hidden creation is what I talked about in one of my first posts: Called for a Purpose – Building a Community where my roommate, Dean and I used video games to create a community.

Where do you want to focus your God given powers of creation this week?  We all have our projects.  I encourage you to spend time there, in things that add value to yourself and to others.  Those are the activities that are truly important and are so often buried under those which are only urgent.  The best way to think about it is what you will remember and what you will be remembered for.  Let me end the post with one more theme and reverse the definition of success.

“Success is to laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people & the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics & endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (thanks for the find Tuesday!)

We Need Each Other

Over spring break I attended a week long Intervarsity program called CityLights in St. Louis.  CityLights is an Urban ministry which serves the poor and neglected people of St. Louis.  Every day, we were asked to read a chapter from a book called Theirs is the Kingdom by  Robert D. Lupton.  Although it is written about the urban poor, I think that this passage contains many lessons about leadership.

“I came to the city to serve those in need.  I have resources and abilities to clothe the ill-clad, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless.  These are good works that our Lord requires of us.  And there is blessedness in this kind of giving.  But there is also power that allows me to retain control.  My position as a helper protects me from the humiliation of appearing to need help.  Even more sobering, I condemn those I help to the permanent role of recipient.

When my goal is to change people, I subtly communicate:  Something is wrong with you; I am okay.  You are ignorant; I am enlightened.  You are wrong; I am right.  If our relationship is defined as healer to patient, I must remain strong and you must remain sick for our interaction to continue.  People don’t go to doctors when they are well.

‘It takes everyone of us to make His body Complete, for we each have a different work to do.  So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others’ (Romans 12:4-5).

I need the poor?  For what?  The question exposes my blindness.  I see them as weak ones to be rescued, not as bearers of the treasures of the kingdom.  The dominance of my giving overshadows and stifles the rich endowments the Creator has invested in those I consider destitute.  I overlook what our Lord saw clearly when he proclaimed the poor to be especially blessed, because theirs is the kingdom of God.  I selectively ignore the truth that monied, empowered, and learned ones enter his kingdom with enormous difficulty.”

I love this passage because it is so rich with information.  Here are some of the things that I get from it:

Leaders need to be able to change their role in their relationships.  As time passes and as a relationship develops, people will relate differently.  If a relationship is started as teacher to student, one day the student will graduate.  Keeping the same attitude towards that student could hamper further growth, and the relationship my die.  Do not be afraid to upgrade someone’s status!  If someone no longer needs help, become their friend instead of their provider.

This is a difficult one – leaders should strive to work themselves out of their job.  It’s about legacy; leaders should be dispensable and give way to the next generation.  If a leader sets up systems that only they can run, the system falls apart once they leave.  The mission of the organization should not be about the leader, but about the mission.  Leaders need to think about who will come after them and train the next generation.

All people are valuable, everyone is a bearer of God’s image.  Everyone brings something worthwhile to the table even if it is hard to see.  Do we treat people as bearers of God’s image, even the annoying, or disadvantaged ones?  To the Christian it means welcoming the alien, poor, and vulnerable among and around us.

Another profound lesson is that we all need other people to be the person God has called us to be.  Our conversations and interactions will change if we need those who we interact with.  We normally treat people of power with a sense of need because they have positional or material power.  What if we treated everyone, even those who do not have obvious gifts for us, as if we needed them?  As leaders, we need others’ perspectives, challenges, and correction because our vision is so limited.  We need others’ support because the challenges of this world are far too heavy.  God brings people into your life for a reason.  He wants to give something to you through them.  I encourage you to try this out in your interactions with people.  Approach it from a stance of needing their input, perspective, and abilities.  Leave a comment for what you find out!

Update: found this quote the day after publishing – “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Giving Significance

As a grad student, I often feel like my work really has no significance.  I feel like anyone could do it, so I am not anything special.  This is an unfortunate side effect of being at the top of my class in high school and college, only to become solidly mediocre in grad school.  It’s not true, of course, but it’s too easy to listen to the little voice telling me that I am not good enough, not smart enough, not good enough at programming, etc.

Luckily for me, I have a fantastic advisor.  I think there are two types of professors that everyone likes: the easy ones, and the ones that challenge you and make you want to give up until you finish the task and realize how much you learned from it.  My advisor is, without a doubt, the latter type.  You take his classes and you stay up until 3 am doing the homework, you don’t sleep for 3 consecutive nights because you have a huge project due, you do 7-page derivations that make you want to gouge out your eyes with a rusty knife.  But after all of that, you realize you have learned more in his class than in just about any other class you have taken.  People sometimes feel sorry for me because I am his student, but I would not have it any other way.  As I’ve worked for him, I’ve wanted to quit grad school so many times – but I also want to live up to his expectations, so I keep going.  All this to say…

I was sitting in my advisor’s office on Friday afternoon and we were discussing the results of some analysis I had just completed.  As he was explaining something to me, his office phone rang.  Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in professors’ offices – when the phone rings, they stop what they are doing and take the call.  This time, though, something strange happened: he ignored the phone.  We continued to talk about my results, all while his phone was still ringing.  My mind was completely blown.  I know this seems like a really tiny thing, but it sent me a loud message:  “Your work is significant.  I care about your work.  I care so much that I’m going to ignore whomever is calling me right now, even if it’s a hotshot from NASA.”  Wow.  There are other signs of this – printouts of my results scattered all over his desk, relevant papers showing up every other day – but I think that, in this instant-gratification society in which we can’t seem to keep ourselves from being connected to as many people as possible, ignoring a phone call from who-knows-who to discuss research with a lowly grad student speaks volumes about how my advisor feels about the significance of my work.

For someone who struggles with feeling insignificant and at times incompetent, this was like ice cold water on a hot summer day.  This ten-second incident got me thinking about how we, as leaders, treat our followers.  If you’re reading this blog, odds are good you want to reach out and help people in some way.  As you do that, ponder this thought: If you want people to believe that they are significant, it is your job to show them their significance.  There are more effective, and simple, ways to do this than a simple banner in the hallway or giving everyone an award.  The key is one word: Focus.  Focus on those you are teaching, mentoring, and/or leading.  Focus on what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they are feeling about doing it.  If you can give them your complete, undivided attention, they will take note.  And imagine what could happen if everyone in the world truly believed that their existence, their life, their work, had significance.

Inside Out – The Reversal

“The Lord works from the inside out.  The world
works from the outside in.  The world
would take people out of the slums.  Christ
takes the slums out of people, and then they
take themselves out of the slums.  The world
would mold men by changing their
environment.  Christ changes men, who then
change their environment.  The world would
shape human behavior, but Christ can change
human nature.”

~ Ezra Taft Benson