Biblical Leadership

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Posted 6/18/12 at 9:58 AM | Tom Harper

Retire with a slow fizzle

Leadership Principle #6: When you retire, it should be all about your successor. It’s been about you long enough.
“‘I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.’” – Jos 1:5

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries wrote extensively about the “retirement syndrome.” He said loss of status, recognition, and income, along with physical aging and emotional stress, can make letting go a bitter, depressing experience, forcing many to cling to power indefinitely.

Perhaps the greatest biblical retirement example is Moses, who smoothly propelled his successor, Joshua, into authority. Similar transitions have been successfully emulated in modern times.

In 1981, Jack Welch became CEO of GE at the age of 45. At 58, with seven years to go before his planned retirement, Welch began searching for his replacement. “From now on, choosing my successor is the most important decision I’ll make,” he said.

Bob Russell, the 40-year senior minister of 18,000-member Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., also began succession planning seven years before his retirement. He started sharing the pulpit with associate minister Dave Stone a little more every year. FULL POST

Posted 4/10/12 at 3:59 PM | Tom Harper

How skills training builds spiritual strength

Leadership Principle #4: The leader who constantly trains his or her people also builds their spiritual strength, which multiplies the effects of their skills and resources.
“‘We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!’” – Nu 13:31 (NIV)

In the book of Numbers, the Lord gives explicit instructions for organizing the Israelite nation of two million farmers and laborers into a fighting machine.

While God predicts and guarantees victory after victory for his people, at the same time he stresses organization and discipline.

It seems modern military experts agree with this approach. According to a report published by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, extensive training is the basis for “spiritual strength.”

This spiritual strength, says the report, is a mixture of 1) the leaders’ command and control, 2) discipline and fighting spirit, and 3) widespread teamwork. The report’s conclusion is that strength and skill by themselves can’t outperform these intangible properties working together.

General John P. Jumper, retired Air Force Chief of Staff, wrote, “Spiritual strength is an integral part of leadership. Our greatest leaders are able to elevate the human spirit and inspire extraordinary performance.” FULL POST

Posted 3/29/12 at 3:11 PM | Tom Harper

Chapter 3: The benefits of reduced work stress

Leadership Principle #3:  Productivity increases when organizations celebrate core strengths, reduce non-core operations, and eliminate distractions.

"'These are ... the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.'" – Lev 23:2 (NIV)

In Leviticus, Moses unified the new nation of Israel by instituting holidays that recalled their history and required abstinence from work.

One of these holidays, the Feast of Tabernacles, kicked off with a full day of rest. On the second day they ate "choice fruit" and continued the revelry for seven more days. They filled the eighth and final day with more rest.

What kind of effect do you think this celebration had on the people? Imagine the anticipation and frenzied preparations for the festival. And after all the revelry, the readiness to get back to work.

Many companies understand one of the main reasons people like to celebrate: they get a break from work to do it. These organizations take the human desire for respite to the next level. For example:

  • Alcan, a 55,000-employee aluminum manufacturer, encourages employees to resist unreasonable workloads
  • The CEO of auto retailer CarMax begins some meetings with a jolting question: "What are we doing that is stupid, unnecessary or doesn't make sense?"
  • In 2004, IBM surveyed 42,000 employees and found that four in 10 believed 15% of their job duties were unnecessary, so the company developed a Web-based tool enabling managers to halt low-value work

Another way to reduce unnecessary workload is noise reduction. Does your organization have any of the following noise producers? FULL POST

Posted 3/22/12 at 3:23 PM | Tom Harper

Chapter 2: Have you had a dream that's died?

Leadership Principle #2:  Because external forces control the birth, death, and resurrection of dreams, leaders shouldn't dwell on what might've been.
"...It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." – Ex 14:12

My friend Mark left his sales job and embarked on a mission to Asia. His wife, Diane, quit her job at a bank. Eight years and two children later, they reluctantly reentered American culture.

Right before Mark launched the small business of his dreams, a new competitor emerged with a job offer in hand. He took the job rather than try to compete. The adventurous entrepreneur in him experienced a letdown, but relief overshadowed the disappointment.

In the book of Exodus, Moses returns to his Egyptian homeland to free his people from slavery. The goal: make them into a nation and lead them to the Promised Land. Of course, no one expected it would take 40 years. The people felt duped by Moses and abandoned by God. What had happened to the original promise of freedom?

Little did they know, of course, how God would turn their disappointments – and their disobedience – into the foundation of a new nation. FULL POST

Posted 3/15/12 at 1:04 PM | Tom Harper

Chapter 1: Creativity is still a one-brain affair

This and future posts will summarize each of the 66 chapters in Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible.

Leadership Principle #1
Creative leaders coax the best thinking out of individuals before calling a brainstorming session.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." – Gen 1:1

Many organizations foster creative teamwork through collaborative instant messaging, chat windows, discussion boards, and project groups.

Though today's online cooperation might appear to be a new kind of brainstorming, it's actually based on an ancient model of creativity. The concept is simple: the best creative thinking is done when individuals have a chance to think before they collaborate.

Not everyone thinks well in groups. Especially introverts like me. We need time to cogitate and organize our thoughts before verbalizing them.

The original act of divine creativity in Genesis was executed by one mind (notwithstanding the Trinity). God didn't wait to ask us what we wanted. His vision was clear. FULL POST

Posted 6/16/11 at 7:32 AM | Tom Harper

Lead like an impartial sleeper

"The job of a judge is to figure out what the law says, not what he wants it to say."
– Clarence Thomas 

According to a concept called the "sleeper effect," when someone allows their credibility to momentarily decline, they actually engender long-term trust.

That's why leaders who sprinkle in self-effacing humor are often more trustworthy than charismatic ones. Moses, the leader God chose to deliver his people from the most powerful ruler in the known world, was described as "a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).

But humility isn't the end-all of leadership. It must be tempered with impartiality and authority. God himself exemplifies this kind of impartial leadership in the book of Amos. God's actions in this and other prophetic books confirm a philosophy that runs throughout the Bible: The highest form of leadership integrity is impartiality.

When you're impartial, you're fair, just, unprejudiced and unbiased. Impartiality produces honesty. It makes a leader predictable – people know how you'll respond to issues. A judge's wise ruling flows out of impartiality; a leader's integrity flows from impartiality. FULL POST

Posted 5/19/11 at 9:28 AM | Tom Harper

Redeem your career from the locusts

I admit I obsess with time efficiency. I habitually stress about wasting it.

The things that bother me the most are unnecessary meetings; the phone calls I shouldn't have taken; long e-mails I could've communicated on the phone in half the time; conflicts that escalate needlessly, forcing meetings to clear the air; a forgotten cell phone at home that must be retrieved. I refuse to talk to anyone in the office before booting up my laptop and leave early for lunch to beat the crowds. I even conduct computer backups while people try to talk to me.

Most people aren't so worried about time. But still, why do so many people in organizations waste so much of it? The reasons are often out of their control, like out-of-date processes, policies, and hierarchies; or unexpected conversations and issues with coworkers and vendors.

Some time-saving tactics include office design, process automation, six-sigma-style error reduction, streamlined meeting structures, lean operations, efficient e-mail practices, and in-office socializing rules.

The worst kind of squandered time is not in the office, but in the big picture of people's lives and careers. Bad job decisions, lack of initiative and character flaws are like locusts consuming a person's most productive years. Time in a person's life is truly an unsustainable resource, and its waste byproduct is regret. FULL POST

Posted 3/15/11 at 2:58 PM | Tom Harper

Has God gifted you? Prepare for the matching weakness, too

Have you ever been criticized because of how God made you?

When someone's personality gets him into trouble, in a way you can't blame him, but nevertheless he suffers the consequences of that nature. God allows us to see and experience the effects of our faults and uses this revelation to mature us.

My past successes and abilities can't free me from my den of critics; in fact, they may be what got me there in the first place. For example, when I'm in meetings with people who thrive on conflict, my reserved nature – which usually serves me well – actually invites their attacks. Since they know I won't raise my voice, they feel enabled, even encouraged, to passionately defend their position. When I respond with short comments or silence, they press in, sure I won't counter with equal fervor.

When you are who you are, you will have problems. If you're too smart, you'll eventually get criticized for your aloofness. If you're too engaged with your people, you'll be labeled a micromanager. Think you're uber-creative? Wait a little while, and a jealous coworker will shoot down your work behind your back.

Take Daniel. He served three successive kings in Babylon, the greatest kingdom on earth. For decades he solved royal riddles, interpreted the kings' dreams, and served in their courts. FULL POST

Posted 2/1/11 at 7:35 AM | Tom Harper

Are you dramatic enough to lead?

"In a culture like ours ... it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message."
– Marshall McLuhan, 1964

The prophet Ezekiel struggled to be heard by the Israelites. They persisted in their disobedience despite enduring the judgment other prophets had promised. Though they were sure they'd soon return home from exile, Ezekiel's job was to shatter their dreams with a prophecy of further judgment.

God commanded him to deliver his message with unusual acts of drama.

Ezekiel exemplified "the medium is the message," a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan in his iconic 1964 book, Understanding Media. McLuhan said the form of a medium weaves into the fabric of whatever message it is conveying: "People don't actually read newspapers," he writes. "They step into them every morning like a hot bath."

In the 6th century B.C., Ezekiel became the medium for his own message. He literally camped out in the town square and preached his divine warnings to everyone within earshot. He no doubt attracted gawking crowds as he symbolically acted out his prophecies:

He shaved his head and beard, burning, chopping and scattering it to represent the destruction of the Israelites He dug a hole under the city wall and walked through it with his baggage as a sign of the coming exile He lay on his side on and off for 390 days to signify the number of years of Israel's iniquity He ate measly rations to signify the coming famine during the Babylonian siege FULL POST

Posted 1/6/11 at 7:49 AM | Tom Harper

Leaders need to threaten at times

"Law is commands joined to threats of punishment."
– John Austin

Lamentations deals with the apparent contradiction between the biblical principles of harsh punishment and gentleness and love. In this chapter, we'll look at how to live out this leadership paradox without alienating our people.

Jeremiah, the author of this book, was considered a threat by the people he so dearly wanted to save. When his long-ignored warnings finally came true, Jeremiah witnessed the nation's destruction with deep sorrow. God simply did what he said he would do, even though "He does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind" (Lam. 3:33).

The biblical definition of integrity is not just doing the right thing, or doing what you say you will do. It is both rewarding and punishing at the proper times. God himself often couples blessings and threats.

Let's look closer at God's discipline/reward management process:
1) He establishes rules
2) Warns of the consequences for disobedience
3) Pleads with those who disobey
4) Disciplines when the rules are broken
5) Restores relationships through forgiveness and reconciliation FULL POST

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