Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Importance of Prayer for Christian Leaders

With today being the National Day of Prayer (read more here), it seemed the perfect time to discuss the importance of prayer in the life of a Christian leader. Most Christians would probably agree with the argument that prayer should be a guiding factor in their daily lives. However, the unfortunate reality is that, for many Christians in America today, there is an inherent sacred-secular divide between their Christian faith and their work lives (Miller, 2007). They find it hard to connect their faith with what may seem like a very secular environment at their job.

But the Bible tells us that everything in our lives should be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 10:31 tells us: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Likewise, Colossians 3:17 states: "...whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Henry and Richard Blackaby (2001) in their book Spiritual Leadership, echo this sentiment when they state that "the single most important thing a leader should do is pray" (p. 148). As they note: "Spiritual leaders must spend time in prayer daily, asking God to guide them in each decision they will make, not just when they are facing a situation but also before the fact" (p. 180). 

So why don't we, as Christian leaders, pray more often about the decisions we make? I would argue that it is a question of our focus. The world barrages us each day with its definition of success--a definition tied to getting ahead, gaining power, and becoming wealthy. In contrast, God's definition of success is much more about quiet faithfulness than it is brash ambition: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). As Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges (2008) put it in their book Lead Like Jesus: "I have been called not to success but to obedience as a witness to others and as an active agent of God's plan for his kingdom" (p. 24). In essence, as Christian leaders we are called not to success, but to find our significance in God's agenda for our lives. 

So on this National Day of Prayer, I hope you will take a moment to stop and pray. Seek God's face, and ask Him to guide your steps and the steps of our national, state, and local leaders. Seek out His agenda for you and the people you lead. And ask that in your own life and in the lives of those you influence, that His will would be done "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Experiential Learning in Action - DBU Students Travel to Washington, D.C. to study Leadership in the Lives of the Founding Fathers

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of co-teaching a course with Dr. Adam Wright, DBU Vice President and Dean of our School of Leadership, that looked at leadership in the lives of our nation's Founding Fathers. What made this class unique was that it was developed as an experiential learning course where we took a group of 20 students to Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia. The trip was an amazing experience where we were able to dive deeply into the leadership of the Founding Fathers, and it allowed us the opportunity to study leadership in the midst of sites that played a pivotal role in our nation's history.

Here is a short video showing some of the experiences students had on the trip:

Here are just a few of the pictures that we took on the trip, with explanations of what we saw, and the leaders we had the chance to learn from:

Students had the opportunity to hear from a variety of leaders, including: Henry Deneen (pictured above), High-Level Administrator for the National Prayer Breakfast; Jim Kuhn, former Executive Assistant to President Ronald Reagan; Scott Brown, VP for the Christian Leadership Alliance; John Hill, U.S. Attorney's Office; and Emily Davis, DBU Alum and Deputy Communications Director for the American Action Network

Students had the opportunity to sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as Dr. Adam Wright shared about the core elements of visionary leadership as seen in the lives of Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson.

Students had the opportunity to tour the U.S. Capitol, the Presidential Monuments on the National Mall, the National Archives, and much more in D.C. Pictured here is Chelsea Vaughn as she visits the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall.

Students had the opportunity to learn about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and other prominent leaders from the founding generation. In the picture above, students listen to Dr. Adam Wright give a lecture at the University of Virginia's Academical Village (designed by Thomas Jefferson). Students also visited George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.

Students had the opportunity to worship at the Washington National Cathedral. Afterwards, we were able to have a tour of this national treasure, which has been the site of Presidential funerals, the Memorial Service after 9/11, and much more. 

Overall, the trip was a unique experience that allowed students to both learn from current national leaders, as well as learn about the great leadership principles from our Founding Generation.

Here are a few quotes from some of our students who went on the trip:

The Washington, DC Spring Break trip was an incredible experience and an impactful course...Walking in the footsteps of the founding fathers and considering their leadership impact encouraged my walk with the Lord and the impact I can have in my current time and circumstances. Anyone who desires to develop his or her leadership skills while having an absolute blast in our nation’s capital should, without a doubt, consider taking this course. - Sarah Dulin, Master's Student

The Washington DC Spring Break trip was a week to remember. It was amazing to be able to take an entire to week to study the different types of leadership. When you first think of leadership, you view it as very one-dimensional, but upon further study with Professor Cook and Dr. Wright, you will discover that leadership is very three-dimensional and can come in many different types and forms...This course stretched me to flip my view of leadership upside down. Leadership is not about position, pride, power, and authority; rather it is about humility, service, and love towards others. If we allow the Holy Spirit to instill these traits within us, then God will use us in great ways in each of our various positions of leadership. -Jonathan Fechner, Undergraduate Student

This class has truly grown my faith and has taught me how to better integrate my faith into my leadership style...Thank you for challenging and stretching me this week. I cannot tell you how much it has changed my perspective. -Annie Wells, Undergraduate Student 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Leadership Lessons from History

While in Washington, D.C. today for a meeting, I took some time to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The museum was fascinating, and along the way, I couldn't help but think about some of the leadership lessons that emerged from some of the exhibits. Here are but a few:

Lesson #1: Helping Constituents Connect Their Efforts with a Larger Purpose

Leaders often have to ask their followers to do things that are outside of their comfort zone; they ask for them to tread into uncharted territory, or give of themselves in a way that is new and unknown. As this wartime poster shows, it is vital to help your followers connect their efforts with a larger purpose so that they will know how their work has meaning. During WWII, this was done by producing posters like this one that helped the local consumers understand that each war bond they bought would be pivotal in helping to provide supplies for paramarines. By letting the consumers know that each cent they spent made a real impact in clothing, feeding, and equipping the nation's soldier's, these posters allowed the leaders of the day to speak into the hearts of consumers and influence them to spend money on something that they likely would not have bought had they not known the meaning behind it. In the same way, the leaders of today need to find creative ways to show their followers the value and meaning behind every task that they do. Just as this poster highlighted a concrete way that a small action (i.e. buying a small war bond) could have, so, too, must leaders constantly be on the lookout for how to tell the "story" of their organization and the individual tasks that make all the difference.

Lesson #2: Creating Guiding Coalitions to Enact Change

Another lesson I saw that emerged from these exhibits was the importance of having a guiding coalition to help a leader. As John Donne masterfully reminded us, "no man is an island," and this truth is even more profound for leaders. No leader can truly go it alone without the aid of people around him who provide counsel and use their own influence to help the leader enact positive change. 

During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington had to create just such a guiding coalition from many disparate groups. First, he had to unify recruits from across many colonies whose interests were vastly different. Today, we think of America as a unified nation, but at the time, people saw themselves as Virginians, or Pennsylvanians first and foremost--their identity was tied to their colony. So, Washington had to work hard to instill a sense of national pride in his army. But he also had to form alliances with American Indian tribes and French diplomats, and his skill at melding these two groups into his overall war strategy played a pivotal role in allowing the Americans to succeed. Both groups provided unique strengths that Washington desperately needed, and so, it was important that he form a "guiding coalition" not just of people from each colony, but also of Indians and French.

Today's leaders can learn much from Washington's diplomacy during this period. Just as Washington had to unite disparate groups behind a common goal, so, too, must today's leaders unite differing constituents behind common organizational goals. This is especially true in times of change, when the leader will need the gravitas of others in the organization to help him convince others to change the status quo. 

Lesson #3: Leaders Need to Find Ways to Speak Directly to their People

Yet another lesson I learned was that leaders must speak directly to their people in compelling ways. As an unknown author once noted, "A leader without followers is simply going on a walk." Thus, to ensure that the leader influences his people to act, he must speak to them in terms they will connect with and in ways that that will capture their imaginations. 

Franklin Roosevelt was a master at this type of connection with followers. He utilized a fairly new technology--the radio--to speak directly to the American people in a way that no President had done before. His calm, conversational style allowed him to quell the fears of listeners who were going through grave financial difficulties during the Great Depression. Later, these same "fireside chats" from Roosevelt helped the common American understand why it was important to go to war and how they could be a part of the "arsenal of democracy." 

In much the same way, leaders of today must find ways to directly speak to their constituents and tell the story of the organization's future. They must find unique ways to speak into the lives of their followers and not just quell their followers' fears, but give them hope for the future. 

Lesson #4: Leaders Should Publicly Recognize Followers' Achievements

I will share one final lesson I learned today: that leaders must seek out ways to publicly recognize the sacrifices and achievements of their followers. Leaders are only as good as the followers who enact their vision, and so, it is important to publicly recognize the contributions made by people on the "front lines" of the operation. 

The American military has known the importance of this concept from the very beginning, and the Medal of Honor (pictured here) is just one of the many ways that the military publicly honors people whose sacrifice for their country was truly awe-inspiring.

While leaders in business or academia may not hand out medals like the military does, it is still important for a leader to find ways to practically and publicly recognize the best achievements of their followers. By doing so, they let everyone in the organization know that their contributions are valued, and that each person in the organization plays a vital role in the success of the overall operation.

Closing Thoughts

We can learn a great deal about leadership from history, as evidenced by the lessons I learned today at the Smithsonian. It is important for leaders not just to look at the latest fads from today, but also study the time-honored lessons of leadership which can be found in the lives of those who went before. Because I think this is so very important, we have created a course in DBU's Master of Arts in Leadership program called "Great Leaders in History." It provides a look at the lives of 20 unique and noteworthy leaders, and allows us to delve into the many core principles that can be gleaned from their lives. It is truly a unique opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest in our nation's history and in the history of the world.