Monday, April 24, 2017

An Organizational Culture Parable

Long ago in the land of Metallasso[1] two industrious and hard working brothers set off from the secure home of their father and mother to make their way in the world. Thad and Chad were equal in every respect. They were of the same size, strength, and intelligence.  They shared a common upbringing. They both possessed the values and work ethic of their parents. Along the journey they came upon a fork in the road and took their leave of one another. Thad ventured down the road to the East. Chad chose the road leading West. Thad eventually settled in the Eastern kingdom of Douloo[2] to make his living. To the West, Chad settled in the province of Exousia.[3]

Ten years later we find Thad living a life of frustration in Douloo. His zeal for hard work has given way to apathy. The joy of enterprise he once held has now become a drudgery of tasks to be performed in order to sustain his living. Meanwhile, in Exousia, Chad’s zest for life has increased. He wakes up every morning eager to join fellow workers in their daily tasks. He has been inspired toward greater creativity and has been aptly rewarded for his diligence. What has made such a stark difference in the dispositions of these two workers who began with an equal expectation of promise? The answer lies in the societies each of them became citizens of—the organizations they became members of—the companies they became employees of.

In this little parable I have given meaningful Greek names to the places where these two brothers lived. Metallasso is a word meaning change. Their story begins with change as many of our own stories do. As we travel the road of our own lives we will experience much change—new places, new experiences, new environments, new challenges. Some change may be hard for us yet good for our own growth and maturity. Some change is entirely intolerable and should not be settled for. The brothers in the story above were leaving the home of their upbringing to find dwellings of their own. Thad settled in Douloo, meaning bondage and servitude. Chad found his place in Exousia, meaning freedom of action, empowerment. The cultures they became a part of made an enormous difference in the fulfillment they found in life.

As leaders, what type of culture have we fostered in the organizations we lead? Do the members of your company feel like servants who are dictated to and are just there to do the work with little or no input of their own? Does your organization value your members and empower them to act and to be creative? What is the culture of your business? What would you like for it to be?       

As illustrated in the story of Thad and Chad, environments that foster individual freedoms and creativity toward a common shared purpose fare far better than hierarchal systems that tend to merely use employees rather than value them. As leaders we have much say so in whether we create a domain of Douloo or a community of Exousia. If you find yourself as Thad in a place of unfulfilling drudgery and you are not in a position to effect significant change, perhaps it’s time to exercise your freedom to travel down a different road. We still live in a free America so you are at liberty to choose.

[1] metallasso:  Greek— from meta, “implying change” and allasso, “to make other than it is,” “to transform, change,” “to change one thing for another, or into another,” change.
(from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.)    

[2] douloo:  Greek— “to make a slave of, to bring into bondage,” to be denied freedom or liberty – servitude.

[3] exousia:  Greek— “freedom of action, right to act,” “authority,” empowerment

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thoughts on Emotions and EQ

I was recently asked how, as a leader, I deal with emotions, both personally and professionally? My view on emotions is that we all have them unless we happen to come from the planet Vulcan. I am a man of faith who also happens to be a minister by profession working within the organization of the Church. Therefore, personally, professionally and organizationally, I tend to view the subject of emotions from a Christian biblical perspective. Through the lens of Scripture, much can be said about the fact that as created human beings we are also created emotional beings. The idea that emotions are to be “checked at the door” or suppressed or denied is not a biblical one. Emotions in and of themselves are neither good nor bad; what we personally do with them may or may not be. The Bible is charged with all kinds of emotions: fear, anger, love, jealousy, passion, etc. But, while acknowledged and even celebrated as part of what makes us uniquely created in the image of God, we are directed toward the proper expression of emotion. For example…

“Be angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph 4:26).

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (Mt 5:43-45).  

Over the past 100 years or so, much has been learned and asserted as to the importance of IQ. IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient and refers to a person’s natural cognitive reasoning ability. For many years persons possessing a high IQ were thought to have the greater capacity to be successful because they are so smart. However, in recent years the term EQ—Emotional Quotient, also called “emotional intelligence,” has been coined to represent one’s ability to discern and handle situations and personalities on an emotional level, not just a fact based level. In fact, recent studies have shown that the most successful business leaders are not those with the highest IQ’s but those possessing high EQ’s; and unlike IQ, which is more innate and remains relatively constant over a person’s lifetime, EQ is something that can be learned and continually improved upon over one’s lifetime.

While the recognition of the value of EQ seems to be relatively new, Stein and Book (2006) suggest that emotional intelligence has evolved along with humankind and assert that, “emotional intelligence is as old a time” (p. 15), and that comparatively, IQ is a new construct (p. 16).[*] Perhaps the recent awareness of EQ is actually the recognition of a part of our human make up that has been suppressed and underdeveloped in an age where we have perceived ourselves to be more enlightened. Perhaps more than the intellectual part of our being, it is the spiritual part of our created being as humans, that helps us to relate more effectively on an emotional level.    

In today’s world there is much emphasis on the importance of education and the development of intellect. There is even a great deal of attention given to the importance of physical fitness. However, EQ is not something many people have even heard of, much less pursued. I would argue that an emphasis upon personally developing ourselves physically and intellectually while ignoring our emotional and spiritual development is to handicap our total development as God has created us. Certainly it is subject for leaders to consider and explore. I’m sure we will be revisiting the subjects of EQ and spiritual health in future posts.   

[*] Stein, Steven J. and Book, Howard E. (2006). The EQ Edge, Emotional Intelligence and Your Success. Mississauga: Josey-Bass, and Imprint of John Wiley & Sons

Monday, April 10, 2017

Creating Enough but Not Too Much Friction

This week’s “Leadership and Purpose” blog entry will piggyback on last week's entry on Dealing with Conflict. As I suggested last week, “friction is not only inevitable but is useful to the producing of forward progress in organizations and in relationships… Conflict in the hands of God and a good leader uses friction to produce positive forward motion.” So with that premise, conflict (or friction if you will) may be seen as something to be desired, not avoided. Taking that concept a step further, does a leader’s task not only involve the using of friction toward positive change, but of actually creating friction toward those ends?

Let’s take the last Presidential race as an example. Friction is certainly created between candidates as they try to accentuate their own strengths and abrasively rub in their opponents’ shortcomings whether actual, merely perceived, or outright falsified. The creation of these conflicts often brings to light the differing positions of the candidates on various issues voters are concerned about. Forward progress takes place in the minds of American voters when the conflict brings enlightenment leading to voting decisions. When Donald Trump calls Ted Cruz a liar or Marco Rubio calls Trump a con artist, or Ted Cruz calls Hillary Clinton criminal, and Hillary calls The Donald a bigot, the creation of this friction may be quite helpful if the conflict moves voters to find the truth and make informed voting decisions. However, if the highly emotional nature of these barbs largely serves only to cause voters to be led by bombast rather than reason, the friction created may be more likened to the moving parts of an engine with no lubricant, eventually not only damaging the individual parts but actually destroying the entire engine. 

A leader will necessarily create some friction. Things may get heated and a bit uncomfortable before the benefits of that conflict are realized. Every leader needs to ask him or herself how much friction is to be endured and how much is too much. Are you creating friction toward forward progress or toward destruction? Is the goal to shed light on the subject or to deflect attention from truth? As a leader, your vision should be to lead your organization toward a preferable future. A dedicated leader will sacrifice her or him self for that cause and will recognize the difference between necessary friction and catastrophic abrasion. If the vision of the GOP, for example, is to reverse the trend of the last seven years, that has seen liberal ideology progressively moving our government further and further toward the left, then regaining control of the Executive Branch is essential. When does the abrasiveness created by leaders vying for the GOP nomination reach the point of destruction and loss of that vision rather than being useful toward achieving that goal?

On the democratic side, is the vision being striven for seen as enlarging the role of government to provide more services and protection for all the people—to achieve greater redistribution of wealth in our nation and fundamentally transform our government to democratic socialism? Then likewise, for the Democratic Party, retaining control of the White House is vital to build upon the advances of the last seven years toward that end. Is a healthy level of conflict being produced in the Democratic Primary races? Should Bernie Sanders be more abrasive against Hillary Clinton? Running against an opponent who is facing possible Federal indictment for her mishandling of classified material as Secretary of State, and with the vision for the Presidency at stake, should Sanders be more aggressively rubbing in that issue, or would creating that friction be destructive toward the goal? Again, good leaders need to be able to discern the difference toward the realization of the vision sought.

As American citizens, let us drill down past the rhetoric to see the truth as best we can. With due and prayerful deliberation, may we cast our votes according to a blending of our hearts and our minds—our passion and reason. As leaders in our own capacity, whatever that may be, may our prayer be: Lord, give me the will to create necessary friction and the strength to endure the heat. Give me the heart to press toward the best and the temperament to avoid harm. Give me the wisdom to discern the difference between enough and too much.   

Monday, April 3, 2017

Dealing with Conflict

Do you know the sound automobile tires make when they are spinning on ice? The transmission is engaged, the accelerator is being applied, the wheels are turning, but there is no forward progress. I remember the frustration I felt one winter while attempting to drive on a side road in Kansas City. The grade was only slight, but the snow packed street was icy. As I pressed the accelerator, along with the revving of the engine, I could hear the whining of the tires, zzzziiiiiizzzz…  zzzziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiizzzz…  Instead of moving forward my car began sliding sideways toward the culvert at the side of the road. There was no friction (or conflict if you will) between the tires and the pavement to produce forward motion. In fact, the lack of positive conflict between the tires and the road was putting me and my car at risk.

I suggest that friction is not only inevitable but is useful to the producing of forward progress in organizations and in relationships. If we fear conflict our fear of it will make us handle it poorly allowing problems to fester and grow. Avoiding friction is like sliding toward disaster. The worst possible way to handle conflict is to avoid or ignore the friction. As leaders, we mustn’t see conflict as a bad thing but rather as a useful means to show us where things need to be addressed, changed and improved.

I was asked by one of my peers about how I handle conflict as a pastor. I answered, “Prayerfully, tactfully and in the fear of the Lord.” With the help of the Holy Spirit conflict is a tool to reveal real problems, hurts and their roots. With the ministry of the Holy Spirit conflict is an opportunity to bring healing. So, as a pastor, I don’t see my job as that of a manager jumping in to take control of a situation before it gets out of hand. I see my role as the Lord’s minister partnering with Him to resolve conflict. That’s not to say that conflicts should not be addressed quickly, but just to say that they should be addressed rightly. 

Conflict provides opportunity to lead. Conflict offers the possibility of not just managing or maintaining control of a situation, but to actually lead for change. Conflict in the hands of God and a good leader uses friction to produce positive forward motion.