Good Leaders are God-aware


Got one of those LinkedIn Pulse emails recommending blog posts worth reading. One caught my eye: a Harvard Business Review piece entitled  “5 Ways to Become More Self-Aware.” It’s advice on how to become a good leader.

Becoming self-aware is key, said the post, because “Self-awareness lets us better understand what we need from other people.”

To become more self-aware, readers are instructed to meditate, to have honest how-am-I doing conversation with trusted friends, to write down plans and priorities, to take a psychometric test (think Myers-Briggs type indicator) and to encourage formal feedback at work.

That’s it?

Inhaling, exhaling, journaling, accepting constructive criticism etc. have their place, their benefits and their limits. We’re human. Becoming more aware of our selfish human selves doesn’t fix us.

Knowing my Myers-Briggs type (ENTJ) and being a natural planner/priority setter didn’t make me a better leader a.k.a. manager. Most managers became managers because they were good at something else. The annual 360 feedback process is like a writing a novel. Once it’s written and read, what happens? In my experience, not much. The calendar turns toward the sequel.

Most people don’t need to “cultivate and develop” self-awareness. My problem, maybe yours too, is that I am all too aware of me – my needs, my wants, my desires, and my demands. I’m not unaware of other people. I simply don’t care as much about them as I do about me. Like the HBR blogger, I am focused on what I need from other people not on what I can give them.

Obsession with self-knowledge is not a biblical principle. The Bible encourages people to know God and, in the process, begin to know and understand ourselves. Our answer is outside ourselves and beyond other people.

The prophet Isaiah had a God encounter. When he saw the Lord, he also had a full-on moment of self-awareness. His response: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…” Isaiah 6:5

God-awareness is humbling; this makes us better prepared to lead. “Humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33

Biblical leadership is about denying self and serving others. Jesus, our example, went about selflessly doing good. In John 13, He strips down, suits up in a towel and bows down to wash the disciples’ feet. He willing goes to the cross, dying there to save them and the rest of us self-absorbed sinners.

Becoming that kind of leader isn’t something we’re likely to learn from Harvard Business Review. May I suggest a few tips from the pages of Scripture?

  • Treat people as you’d like to be treated. Matthew 7:12
  • Be merciful. You’ll need mercy one day. James 2:13
  • Be humble. God knows how to exalt you in due time. 1 Peter 5:5-6
  • Never take credit for someone else’s work. It’s stealing. Leviticus 19:11
  • Pray for wisdom. Proverbs 2:6

That last is key. What we really need to lead well we can only receive from God.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. James 3:17

Willing to trade?

Passed a church marquee that read, “Jesus takes trade-ins.”

A trade-in is a transaction. Both parties have to be willing to do business. Jesus will exchange my rusty, wreck of a life for a brand-new one free of charge. He already paid the price in full.

It’s a great deal, if I can get past the notion that I’m giving up something worth keeping.   Not recognizing the old life for the decaying wreck that it is, the human tendency is to try to salvage parts we consider still valuable.

But Christianity is an “either/or” proposition. If I’m in Christ, the old has gone, the new has come. The Bible says, If I try to hang on to my life, I lose it. If I lose it for Christ’s sake, I preserve it. (Luke 17:33)

My candy-apple red Volvo V70 provides an excellent auto object lesson. It’s an old car. I need a new one. I’m thinking trade-in…maybe.

My Volvo is about the age of my youngest child. (To be totally honest, it’s not “my” car. Technically, it  has morphed into the “new driver safe car.”) I love the red wagon. It shines like new, despite its full sun parking space. It has buttery leather upholstery (the driver’s seat is a little worn, but the rest is pristine) and heated seats that still heat. It has a sunroof, too, and a good audio system.

The best part is the Volvo sports suspension and peppy zip! When I need to kick it, say to get out of the path of an 18-wheeler on I-40, it’ll flat out go. Need I say more?

Why get rid of the car, if it’s so great?

Time takes its toll. Parts eventually wear out. Recommended repairs amount to more than Kelley Blue Book value. I could make the investment, but one collision with some texting-while-driving dimwit and I could lose the car in a junk yard total.

Gas is another drawback: Premium grade only, currently priced at more than $4 a gallon and climbing. A newer, greener car would practically pay for itself in better gas mileage and warrantied repairs.

In my head, I know hanging on to the old car is blocking a new purchase. In my heart, however, parting with the Volvo is like leaving a dysfunctional relationship. I know there’s no future in it, but it’s familiar like an old pair of slippers I should have tossed long ago.

To go forward, like Paul, I have to start  “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…” 

Sooner or later, everyone who is confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to make a similar decision. Stick with the old life with the hidden issues under the shiny hood or  — in an act of faith  — trade it for the new life Christ offers?

Embracing change means accepting sacrifice, including parting with things we’ve loved. Trade-ins, after all, are package deals. All or nothing. Just as no car dealer is going to accept my Volvo piecemeal  (unless he’s a junk dealer), Christ isn’t looking for partial surrender. He wants it all.

Are you willing to trade?

Forever in Blue Jeans?

My house is filled with teenagers who ask a lot of questions. Consequently, there’s a lot of discussion around what I call “the culture wars,” modern-day controversies that clash with historic Christian teaching.

I recently edited an article for someone regarding a May 8 vote on NC Amendment 1, which would amend North Carolina’s state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The subject came up at home. Finally able to vote in an election, one of my children stated their position. Then came the question: what do you think?

My husband and I are about to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary, telegraphing that I favor church-sanctioned marriage for a man and a woman. I view marriage as a picture of Christ and His Bride, the church. That said, I have no quarrel with civil union, which has nothing whatever to do with the church as far as I’m concerned. It merely provides legal standing regarding property rights, hospital visits as “family” and the like. I see no point in enshrining a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution. Same sex marriage already is illegal in North Carolina.

A hail-storm of questions ensued: Is it “fair”? How can a loving God just reject people and consign them to hell because they “love” someone of the same sex?

We humans tend to accept some things as a natural part of life, of what is. We consider other things, spiritual things in particular, negotiable, open to question or outright challenge.

Quick example: My employer has a dress code. I can wear denim on Fridays only, but not all Fridays. On Fridays when special guests are on property, business attire is required. Sleeveless arms, Capri pants, sling back pumps, mules and exposed-toe shoes are taboo every day of the week.

As far as I know, no one ever has challenged the code. Acceptance of employment includes submission to the company’s dictates regarding what can and cannot be worn on site. Their property, their rules. No question.

In that way, the company gets more respect than God who provides the air we breathe. Something inside us insists on the right to challenge everything about Christianity that goes against the grain of personal preference or popular culture. I’m guilty. I have a sin nature just like everyone else on the planet. Compliance is not my first response.

On Facebook, the nation-sized online community that’s poised to go public, young and old freely post what they are thinking, reading, watching on YouTube or listening to on Ipods, Spotify, Pandora or Rhapsody. There I find a pervasive embrace of peace, love and inclusion that is devoid of biblical perspective. Historic Christianity is widely viewed, even by professing Christians, as narrow, dogmatic and intolerant of other faith systems that proclaim other ways to God, many paths to enlightenment.

Seems to me that most of us fail to grasp the real meaning of Christianity. It’s not a democratic system in which we vote on what we like, majority wins and rewrites everything to suit us. We are not running things. God is Sovereign. Christ is the Head of the Church, the body of Christ. As members of His body, we are blood-bought Company men and women, governed by our relationship with Him. He rules in love, but He does rule.

In its simplest terms, Christianity is a holy God’s offer of rescue to sinful mankind. It’s John 3:16.  He alone is God. We come to Him on His terms, His way. Dogmatic? Absolutely.  It is an offer. Like an offer of employment, we can accept or not. But once we accept, we wear His robes of righteousness. No wardrobe changes.

I encourage my children to question. My husband and I clearly do not have all the answers. The answers we do have from Scripture don’t always satisfy. Young people are much more attune to culture speak on issues of gay marriage, pluralism and so on than they are to historic church doctrine. Modern-day paganism seems so much hipper.

Still, I’m of the opinion that an unexamined faith is not much faith at all. Christianity can hold its own in the marketplace of ideas. God can handle questions. The real issue is our willingness to accept answers we don’t want to hear and then to do what we otherwise would not.

When it really matters, we can develop a willingness to conform. Today is Friday. I’ll be wearing jeans to the office. Big decision: Gap, Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein or Levi’s?

Need Debt Forgiveness?

  What you don’t know can hurt you. You don’t know what you don’t know. By the time you learn, the fix-it boat may have sailed.  Want a real life example?

While training for my first half-marathon, I reached mile 12 and my right shin decided it simply was not going to keep up that pace. Off I went to physical therapy.

I didn’t know precisely what it would cost, but this was familiar territory. I’d taken my daughter to PT during her senior season of cross country. I chose a different therapist whose location was more convenient, plunked down my co-pays at each of 8 visits and never gave it a second thought.

Imagine my shock when the final bill arrived one month after the last session: $1200-plus. No itemized list of specific charges. Just a bill with a payment address and a note that failing to pay within 30 days would result in additional charges.

Who knew that a few half-hour therapy sessions could cost so much? You might say it was unwise not to consider the end from the beginning. And you’d be right.

I got my therapy, ran my race and claimed my trophy without once considering the ultimate cost of reaching the finish line. It never occurred to me that the price would exceed what I was prepared to pay.

I’m not alone in my lack of foresight.

Plenty of people go blithely through life completely unconcerned about the day of reckoning. Oh, we know we are mortal, that 100 percent of the living will die. Yet, we don’t prepare for our dying day.

We have our reasons.  We say, “When you’re dead, you’re done; so why worry?” Or we’re confident that when life’s bill comes due, our good deeds will cancel our bad debts. In the end, we assume everything will work out. Of course, the end is not an ideal time to find out.

Christianity favors complete disclosure: Dead is not done. “It is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment.” Judgment sounds to me like settling accounts. We’re advised to “count the cost” on the front end of things so we know whether we have what it takes to pay the bill.

Lest we abandon all hope, Christianity offers debt forgiveness. You’ll probably see it advertised in the stands at next Sunday’s Super Bowl: a placard painted with John 3:16. This plan goes by several names: Substitutionary atonement. The Great Exchange. The Gospel.

Christ is our Advocate. He speaks in our defense, having satisfied our debt in full at the Cross. We walk away.

Whether you’re dealing with spiritual indebtness or an unbelievable bill for services rendered, learn from my mistake.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to understand your situation. The Bible says in all your getting, get understanding. If you seek counsel with your money, why not get some for your soul?

I recommend an Advocate. Works for me – body and soul. A health advocate resolved my physical therapy bill.  Final accounting: I actually owed about $400. That, my friend, is deliverance!

Higher Performance

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

If you’re an investor, you’ve read this fine print disclaimer on every glossy prospectus. It’s the boiler plate statement of the financial services sector.

So what’s it mean?

Basically, mutual fund managers use color charts of past growth in returns on investment to entice new investors while simultaneously forewarning  them that market fluctuations can easily turn yesterdays gains into future losses.

No guarantees.

Fortunately, the Kingdom of God is not Wall Street. (No, Christians aren’t promised a steady up-tick in our fortunes no matter how many TV preachers say so!) But God’s past  performance is absolutely an indicator of what He is capable of doing here and now and in the future.

All the biblical repetition of His being “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” is no accident. God wants us to remember what He did in the lives of those men, the promises He made and kept, despite their human frailty and flaws. He lets the record speak for itself so that we might be encouraged to trust that He’ll do what He says He’ll do generation after generation – despite us.

What do I do with this knowledge? When I face a mega-problem with no visible solution I look back to past problems that God solved:

  • I needed to quickly sell my first home in a down market while surrounded by houses that had been on the market for months.  My Realtor said it would take at least 90 days to sell. I showed the house once. It sold in two weeks.
  • A decade ago, I had a major health scare that could have prevented me from seeing my children grow up. It turned out to be a minor problem, and I’ve been blessed to watch my babies grow into confident young adults.
  • When things fell apart, as things sometimes do, God was there to help me reassemble the pieces.

God has a track record of being trustworthy not only in the Bible but right here in my everyday life. He says: “I am the Lord, and I do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)  He means it.

He  isn’t saying our circumstances won’t change. He isn’t guaranteeing that everything will be rosy, any more than an honest broker would. God is simply saying that no matter what happens He will not change. Everything may turn against you. But “God is for you.”

For me, this is encouraging news. I’m at a place in life where many things are changing. I’m soon to send my eldest off to college. I’m on the verge of a career shift.  Life, like investing, is unpredictable. I like knowing that my future is in the hands of the Most High performing portfolio manager.

Whether life brings bulls, bears or gentle breezes, I trust that He will be what He always has been: Faithful.

The Fundamental Things Apply

Most of us know how to turn it on when the stakes are high and the bigwigs are watching. It may come as a shock, but Christians ought to be just as concerned about “routine faithfulness” in small tasks before an Audience of One, to borrow a phrase from today’s installment of the “Our Daily Bread” devotional guide.

Life’s routine matters, “the little foxes,” are usually what cause us to stumble. We all come off as spiritual at prayer and small group meetings. The trouble comes when we have to keep the laundry under control, the dishes washed and toilets scrubbed at home. If we hold it  together there, maybe we struggle with staying on task at work when the boss isn’t looking.

It’s understandable. Who hasn’t checked their email only to lose half an hour of prime work time?

If we aren’t intentional in this distractible culture, however, our Christian character can lose its luster under harsh scrutiny. Consider the cautionary tale of an employee whom I “met” after inheriting their company-issue computer. We never had a face-to-face encounter; it was more of a virtual introduction through the uncleared hard drive.

Through that computer, sometimes quite by accident, I learned more about the former employee than any stranger ought to know. Mostly, I learned that they spent much of their work day doing things completely unrelated to work while many detailed aspects of their paying job were neglected for years.

Musical downloads revealed their tastes in music. Their preferred Internet websites were logged in the bookmarks cache. Their spouse evidently was often job hunting judging from the number of completed employment applications left behind. (The Social Security numbers alone would have been a boon for an identity thief.)

This employee was big on “giving back” if the multiple emails and files of their charitable work can be trusted. They prized family, too, producing various party invitations in Microsoft Publisher and scanning family photos. Did I mention that this person had a reputation as a dedicated Christian who had done a “good job” in the visible aspects of the position?

I’m not sure God would agree.

Christians should be an employer’s most productive, trustworthy and dependable workers. As followers of Christ, we are called to work hard whether we are being supervised or not. We are to “work with enthusiasm, as though [we] were working for the Lord rather than for people.”(Ephesians 6) Sadly, I’ve actually heard people say that they hesitate to hire Christian people because they tend to be lazy on the job.

I’m fond of the North Carolina state motto, and I think it applies here. It’s the Latin phrase, Esse quam videri meaning “To be, rather than to seem.”

I’m committed to being a Christian rather than simply seeming to be one. If that’s your goal, and you are blessed to still be employed in this economy, don’t bother posting Scripture verses in your cubicle or inviting people to Bible study over lunch. Go to work on time. Do the very best job you can while you’re there; and be mindful to treat people well no matter how they may treat you.

That’s all the Christian witness you’ll ever need.

P.S. If you leave your job, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to clear your hard drive!

Going Through Changes?

My friend Brenda lives at the top of a mountain near Boone, NC.  A visit to her beautifully renovated home can be a mix of sun, rain, heat, cold, even snow — all in the same day. She has a saying about the weather:

“If you don’t like it, wait a few minutes. It’ll change.”

Change is life’s constant.

When I came to Raleigh, nearly three decades ago, downtown was asleep, then-Fayetteville Street Mall populated mostly by pigeons. Lunch out meant one of three destinations: Poole’s Luncheonette, The Mecca or Hudson Belk’s Capital Room.

Traffic on I-40 was a trickle for a girl accustomed to a 45-minute commute through a maze of Atlanta cloverleafs. Big Texas builders hadn’t arrived to construct the Triangle’s now overbuilt townhouses, apartments and PUDS (that’s planned unit developments for the uninitiated). Nortel and IBM ruled the high tech roost.

What a difference a few years can make.

  • Poole’s, originally morphed into the neuvo Vertigo Diner, then reincarnated as dinner-only Poole’s Diner.
  • Belk left downtown, its renovated building now is home to Eyewitness News 11 along a re-opened Fayetteville Street.
  • Nortel went bankrupt and auctioned off its assets.
  • IBM, renowned for its “respect for the individual,” routinely dismisses domestic employees like a snake sheds skin.

You know the rest of the story:  building boom gone bust, I-40 traffic grown dense and dangerous, employees “resource action-ed”  out of jobs two, three times in the last five years.

Sure, the Triangle still has its titans of industry: SAS, Cisco, GlaxoSmithKline. But who knows what a day may bring? Even my friend Brenda is thinking of coming down from that picturesque mountain.

Are there any sure things in a world of flux?  God says:  “I am the Lord, I change not.” That’s a sure foundation on which to build a life.