Mon • Dec 9th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 7
In the mid-‘80’s I was in Washington, D.C., serving as director of the Community of Hope. The anti-apartheid movement was gaining momentum in the U.S. Mandela was still imprisoned. Everyday anti-apartheid protestors were being arrested in front of the South African embassy. I decided to take my turn. Along with the others that day I was arrested, handcuffed, transported by the police to the nearest precinct and there released without being charged or even identified.
It was a relatively timid thing to do, although more than a little unnerving. At the moment I was committed to the struggle, not only with the inner-city poor in Washington, D.C., but for freedom in South Africa for which Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for over 20 years.
Mandela is often described as a moral leader bringing us along on his journey from prison to president with hope, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
As the world joins with South Africans this week to celebrate his life and legacy it’s a good time to ask what it means to be a moral leader.
Moral leadership is more than ethical leadership.
Ethical leadership describes personal characteristics such as integrity and honesty. Doing things the right way, avoiding deception and deceit.
Moral leadership includes that and more.
And yet moral leaders are not perfect human beings. They acknowledge personal failings and frailties. Mandela made that clear in his various writings. He wrote about being embarrassed by all the attention.
Moral leaders are engaged in the struggle for good against evil, right over wrong.
For Mandela it was the struggle for freedom in a nonracial democracy over the oppression of apartheid. He knew this was possible only by a peaceful transition guided by forgiveness and reconciliation.
Moral leaders are followed for their ideas rather than force.
Mandela emerged as the leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa during his 27 years in prison. By the time he was released in 1990 he had already defeated his enemies in the court of public opinion. He gained the high ground and become a rare revolutionary – a moral leader followed for the force of his ideas. He had no position, power or authority from which to advance his vision.
Moral leaders are committed to causes greater than personal achievement.
He said he was willing to die in the struggle for the freedom of his people. While he lived a long enough to receive a Nobel Peace prize and win the veneration of the global community, that was not what he lived for.
Moral leaders cause us to examine our own values.
Mandela persuaded his followers as well as his foes to offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation rather than retaliate with revenge. What could have been a civil war became a peaceful transition to a nonracial democracy.
He inspired us to examine our own lives however far removed from South Africa. Do we offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation in our own personal interactions? Are we living for anything worth more than our own achievements?
This week of remembrance brings the struggle for racial and economic justice, peace and reconciliation, to the fore again.
What does it mean to be, and follow a moral leader in our times?
What causes are worth living for, being arrested for, even dying for?
And shall we pursue those causes with hope, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation?
Mon • Dec 2nd, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 4
Pope Francis’ ‘apostolic exhortation,’ “Evangelii Gaudium” (the Joy of the Gospel) has raised hopes for renewal in the Catholic Church as well as global change for the common good.
Having read the document, I think that most non-Catholic Christians will find much to agree with, particularly the statements on evangelism, missions and discipleship. The suggestions for parish hospitality, optimism/hope and good preaching apply to churches everywhere.
Jews, Muslims, adherents of other world religions, even non-believers will likely welcome his invitation for dialogue based on mutual respect.
Catholic scholar George Weigel writes of “Pope Francis the Revolutionary” in his ‘Wall Street Journal’ column.
The “National Catholic Reporter” compares “Evangelii Gaudium” to Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
Much of the media attention has been on the sections addressing “Some Challenges of Today’s World” and the “The Inclusion of the Poor.”
A few of his memorable statements:
“The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed.”
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?”
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
I wonder whether “Evangelii Gaudium” will indeed initiate renewal in the Catholic Church and influence Catholic public policy initiatives, particularly in the U.S. As well as addressing the Church’s internal problems the Pope offers some very strong statements challenging if not condemning economic inequality, globalization and ‘laissez faire’ capitalism as well as hoarded personal wealth in the presence of human need.
Will it prove to be revolutionary and as memorable as King’s “I Have A Dream Speech?” Time will tell.
In addition to the substance of his treatise there are some valuable lessons to be learned from Pope Francis’ leadership style.
Jim Copple, in an email noted that he -
As a leader Pope Francis is being well received for -
Leaders today cannot succeed on their own nor expect all their followers to agree with them – not even the Pope.
He recognizes that “Evangelii Gaudium,” his ‘dream’ for a renewed Church and changed world will not happen unless leaders everywhere, both in and outside his Church have the courage and integrity to create a new community together.
Mon • Nov 11th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 8
I have just completed five weeks of outpatient PT (physical therapy) following hip replacement surgery – and doing well.
The most difficult part of PT was the balance board and the test to see how long I could stand on the operative leg. It was a test of and exercise for balance – which as I found out was badly needed.
As I wobbled back and forth on the balance board I had time to think about how this might apply to other areas of life and leadership.
I made it to 22 seconds on the leg with the hip replacement and couldn’t begin to hold steady for 2 minutes with both feet on the balance board. At the beginning the therapist stood behind me holding me steady when I began to lose my balance. With practice I got better at it.
In reading a blog about the Leadership Development Wobble Board I was reminded of the leadership lesson about balance.
Maintaining physical balance requires that all of the core muscles work together. That’s a problem with aging. Injuries from falls are often from the lack of balance. It’s not enough to strengthen single muscles. I’ll be working on this for the rest of my life.
Likewise it takes many strengths and skills to be an effective leader. But unless these are balanced, with no one strength dominating, leaders may be in danger of losing their balance.
A woman in my PT group is recovering from a painful fall, breaking her femur – the large bone in her upper leg – when she lost her balance just stepping off the curb in front of her house. She had no idea she was in danger of a fall.
The lack of balance in leadership can cause missteps as unexpected and painful over things as simple as her fall from the curb.
From PT I’ve learned that it takes a plan to strengthen and coordinate muscles to live with pain free mobility.
And it takes someone looking on. I didn’t always recognize when I was limping, and still don’t. But others do. The therapist was trained to know what to look for and what combination of strengthening exercises I need to keep my balance and walk without limping.
The same is true with leaders. They don’t always recognize when they are out of balance, sometimes just limping along. But their followers can tell.
A good coach, mentor, spouse or perhaps a close friend, someone who knows what to look for can help identify areas where balance is needed. Three of the most important for the leadership balance board are:
Work and rest
Career and family
Inward and outward
One of the best reminders of the need for balance is the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3 – “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
Mon • Nov 4th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 3
A reflection on “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell uses the David and Goliath story as a metaphor for succeeding against overwhelming odds to which he adds his own stories of underestimated and disadvantaged people who have accomplished improbable feats.
His so-called “advantaged disadvantaged” include:
Several of his stories are of unsung heroes who have sparked movements that have changed the course of history.
Gladwell, the author of several best selling books including “The Tipping Point,” how social movements are created; “Blink,” that our first impressions are more often than not right; and “Outliers,” that success results less from talent than hard work, luck and background.
In a recent interview he said that of all his books this is his favorite.
In his TED Talk video, “The Unheard Story of David and Goliath,” he claims that we have misread and misunderstood the story. In ancient battles he says, David with a sling was better equipped for a one-on-one fight than Goliath with his size, protective armor, and sword. Goliath’s strength became his pitfall.
His point is that power does not exist where we think it does and we can do more than we think we can in spite our inadequacies.
He believes that it is often those who have been wounded or are disadvantaged in some way that have the inner resources to overcome injustice and disadvantage.
Throughout history he finds that good is often accomplished by individuals who step forward to lead the way in spite of, perhaps because of what appear to be their weaknesses and disadvantages.
Thus the “advantage of disadvantage,” of leaders willing to take social risks—to do things that others might disapprove of.
For Gladwell, the Davids of the world are always up against the power and wealth of Goliaths.
Yet he believes we would do well to stand with David on the side of the disadvantaged since, as in his quotation from Ecclesiastes, when it comes to things that really matter in life – “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.”
Tue • Oct 1st, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 7
In the midst of the bad news about political stalemate and the government shutdown it is worth finding and following the servant leaders among us.
Without servant followers there would be no servant leaders.
They contend that who we are as followers is as important as the leaders we need.
This is especially true of servant leadership.
In his first essay on servant leadership, “The Servant as Leader,” Robert K. Greenleaf wrote “It is seekers, then, who make prophets,” the kind of leaders who point us to a better future. In his words, servant leadership is “granted by the led to the leader in response to, and proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader.”
This turns the common experience of leadership on its head.
For the most part leadership is imposed upon us by people who command and control, who expect us to subordinate our will and actions to their expectations, if not demands.
Greenleaf wanted to change that. Interestingly enough, be began not with how to be an effective servant leader but with how to be a “seeker” after “individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants.”
In her 2012 book, “The End of Leadership,” Barbara Kellerman claimed we are suffering from failed leadership as much now as in 1977 when Greenleaf retired from AT&T to begin writing his series on servant leadership.
However, it’s not all bad.
As a seeker after leaders who serve others rather than their own self-interest I know more than a few. They are seldom in the headlines, often unsung heroes willing to give their lives to meet human need without drawing attention to themselves.
Here are eight servant leaders I follow, listen to and learn from, encourage and support. Admittedly they are all my close personal friends. I could name many more.
Founder of the Neighborhood Christian Centers, Memphis Tennessee. She got started in neighborhood development as a foster parent taking disadvantaged youth into her home and helping them attend college. Her story is told in “I Belong Here: A Biography of a Community.”
Gary Morsch, MD
A Kansas doctor, founder of Heart to Heart and One Heart Many Hands, volunteer charitable organizations sponsoring shipments of medical supplies and other resources following natural disasters and to people in need including China and Vietnam. His current project is in Cuba. As the author of several books, his most popular is, “The Power of Serving Others: You Can Begin Where You Are.”
Director of SAI (Strategic Applications International) and the nonprofit Servant-Forge. A tireless advocate for abandoned children and abused women in the United States and Africa. His story is told in his recent book, “Voices From the Night.”
Recently retired after 27 years as CEO of Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC, he is now the director of a charitable foundation established by the hospital offering grants to organizations and leaders committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in Washington’s poorest neighborhoods. He is writing a history of Sibley, started over a century ago by Methodist deaconesses.
Jerry and Sue Ketner
From their home in Dodge City, Kansas the Ketners have established “New Hope” centers throughout the US, Mexico and Central America. It’s a grass roots network connecting volunteers with resources to disadvantaged neighborhoods. Jerry doesn’t have a website – but if you send an email you could request to receive an informative personal newsletter like you’ve never seen before: email@example.com
CEO and President of Humanity United, a global foundation seeking to end human slavery and mitigate international conflict. With his leadership HU has initiated a collaborative, the Partnership for Freedom: Modern Solutions to Modern Day Slavery. Be sure to read Randy’s op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle for an overview of human trafficking and forced prostitution around the world.
Following his distinguished career as president of Bethlehem Steel, Under Secretary of Labor, and President of the American Red Cross he volunteers his time to several charitable organizations most notably the International Youth Foundation.
As a Nazarene pastor in Orlando he is an eloquent apologist for cultural diversity in the US and abroad. His latest book challenges faith communities to be more inclusive – “Culture Trumps Religion, Every Time.“
Most of us has our own list of servant leaders to follow. Perhaps it begins with a network of friends involved in causes worth supporting and then expands as we seek to find and follow others who are doing good.
I’ve learned that being a servant follower takes time, effort and sometimes sacrifice.
But it is worth it to find and follow those who dare, in Greenleaf’s word, to be prophetic, to inspire us with hope for a better future.
Mon • Sep 23rd, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 1
The title of a recent new book, “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night?” reminded me of a question I was asked years ago.
While at the Community of Hope, in Washington, DC, I was being interviewed by a magazine reporter about our mission to serve homeless families. After I described the toll poverty takes on families he asked me, “What keeps you awake at night?”
I knew he was not talking about insomnia. He wanted to know what really bothered me, even preventing sleep. I suspected that he had an answer in mind — thinking it would be my concern for homeless families, mostly women and children sleeping on the streets and begging for food.
At that time the Community of Hope had progressed from an all-volunteer group to a nonprofit corporation with a budget and staff. He was somewhat disappointed when I told him that at the moment I was bothered most by some difficult staff issues.
In research for her book, “What Keeps Leaders Up at Night,” Nicole Lipkin found that leaders often lose sleep over self-awareness and management issues rather than critical issues such as global poverty, war and peace, economic and racial injustice, etc.
Some of the “personal responsibility” issues that often keep leaders up at night she found are:
She recommends “three simple rules” for letting these things go and getting a good night’s sleep.
While facilitating a team building consultation recently a participant said to me – “self-awareness is really difficult.” Agreed! It sometimes requires taking the lid off stuff leaders try to hide, ignore or deny: anxieties that sometimes keep them up at night.
Lipkin is suggesting that a lot of the things that keep leaders up at night are not worth losing sleep over.
If leaders can take care of their self-awareness and personal responsibility issues maybe they could get a good night’s sleep without Ambien – or stay awake for the right reasons.
Thu • Sep 12th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 2
I came across two bits of surprising information this week.
First, in his blog about Google Glass, “Less Ubiquity, Please,” Sasha Dichter notes that “the average teen sends 3,000 texts a month.” More about that later.
Second, in his recently published autobiography “My Brief History,” Stephen Hawking, renowned physicist and prolific writer now in his 70’s, has survived with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) since the age of 21. Early in his career he was dependent upon face recognition software to write three words a minute.
What a contrast!
Dichter is advocating for more reflection time unplugged from the Internet, email, texting and twittering.
He anticipates that our children and grandchildren with their compulsive constant communication will need to be taught “sustained attention” – “the skill,” he writes, “of having an empty moment and not doing anything with it.”
Back to Stephen Hawking – can you imagine what his life is like limited to three words a minute, unable to communicate by voice or typing?
But rather than dwelling on what he can’t do, Hawking reflects thankfully on what he has been able to do, and even on the advantages of his handicap. He has written more books in his lifetime than many people read, some of which are too abstract for most of us.
Both texting teens and Hawking are dependent upon breakthrough communication technology.
Yet with all the benefits of our wired world there is a pitfall — too much of a good thing.
Dichter intends to break his habit of “reflexive checking” of email, texts and twits – contributing to his “unconscious unproductive behavior.”
Among other things he is trying, with limited success, to not check his email before breakfast, while in transit or in the bedroom. He admits that’s a pretty low bar – but at least it’s a beginning.
Hawking is more productive at three words a minute than most of us are with all of our advanced communication tools.
Sometimes less is more.
Tue • Aug 13th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 1
A leader I know and admire contacted me recently to talk about his possible career change to a new assignment in a field for which he has no background.
In spite of his apprehension I assured him that he was highly qualified and would be well received if this opportunity would come his way.
And I know of several leader friends who have recently been elected or appointed to positions without experience for their new assignments.
I was reminded of this in a USA Today article about Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors, “You don’t have to be a ‘car guy’ to lead GM.”
With no experience in the automobile industry, Akerson was elected in 2010 as the CEO of General Motors with the challenge of leading GM out of bankruptcy. Since then GM has earned $25 billion before taxes and interest – more than any comparable period in GM’s history. He’s done very well in spite of, or perhaps because of not being a “car guy.”
Akerson, a Naval Academy graduate with a career leading telecommunications and technical companies as well as an investment firm, says that he brought the management and leadership lessons learned in these assignments with him.
“Fundamentally, no kidding, it’s all about leadership. I don’t think you have to be a subject-matter expert,” he said in an interview with USA TODAY. “Complex organizations have many common challenges.”
“Leadership is transferable,” says Alan Merten, president emeritus of George Mason University, author and expert on leadership and management. Akerson is “a good example of someone who took his knowledge and leadership skills with him wherever he went,” according to Merten.
There are a few essential lessons to be learned from transferable leadership -
In our mobile, changing society it is likely that in their lifetimes leaders today will have many positions or assignments.
They should be confident that their acquired leadership skills will follow them and serve them well wherever their career, opportunities or interests take them.
Mon • Jul 8th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 5
Two young men, David Busic and Gustavo Crocker were recently elected to serve as General Superintendents, the highest elective office of the Church of the Nazarene. The position compares to bishops in the United Methodist Church.
In their acceptance remarks both told of being born to disadvantaged parents.
David Busic told of his father, Bobby, who with his three siblings spent their childhood in several foster care homes. Polio left him with a physical handicap and a speech impediment. In his final foster care home with a Nazarene family he was guided to faith. Since he didn’t finish high school he was unable to follow his calling into the ministry. Bobby married at age 18 and moved to Bethany, Oklahoma where until his death at age 50, he engaged in a variety of service opportunities through his home church. Busic said that many in his large funeral audience told stories of how his father Bobby had influenced their lives for the good.
Gustavo Crocker began his acceptance remarks by saying that he had a list of reasons why he was most unlikely to be elected to this leadership position, beginning with his birth as the eighth child in a poverty-stricken family in a rural Guatemalan village. He reflected that he was a candidate for abortion but for the sanctity of life influence of the local church his mother attended. His early life, he said, was not a likely track for this leadership position.
I was fascinated with the stories these newly elected leaders chose to tell about themselves.
I’ve known each of them for several years but didn’t know this about them. All I have known is their effective ministry careers prior to their elections. Which leads me to wonder how much we really know about our leaders and how willing our leaders to tell their stories.
Around our dinner table after the elections I asked my extended family what they thought about the stories of these two men whose lives might have been so much different given their parent’s disadvantaged circumstances.
Our reflections varied. Some felt that given their stories these new leaders will be especially compassionate to the poor and marginalized around the world.
Others remarked that even though our lives vary, we all have important stories to tell. We were reminded of the quip, “There are no dull stories, just dull writers.” What stories, we wondered, would we tell to introduce ourselves?
Some wondered if perhaps these Gen-X generation leaders are more inclined than others to be transparent about their humble beginnings.
At one point the conversation turned to Malcolm Gladwell’s soon to be released new book “David and Goliath,” in which, according to the advance promotion, he explores the question, “when is it a good thing to come from a disadvantaged background.” I’m eager to read what Gladwell has to say about that.
We left the table impressed and thankful for these leaders who were willing to tell us how their lives began. It helps us understand them and in some way, we thought, may help them understand us.
Mon • Jun 10th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 4
That was the penetrating question in Brian Schaffer’s “Monday Musings” last week.
Brian is the director of “New Hope on the Last Frontier” a poverty mission in one the toughest and neediest areas in Anchorage, Alaska.
He asks the question after a paragraph recounting the messages waiting for him on the New Hope answering machine.
He writes, “It amazes me every time I check voice messages for our main phone number at New Hope. There are numerous people in desperate need leaving us heart-breaking pleas for help.”
And then Brian asks –
What would happen if someone left you a message on your phone asking for help? How would you respond?
Many, if not most of us shield ourselves from the poor and needy. We never get those calls, and if we did we would quickly erase the message, perhaps change our number or at best refer to a poverty agency.
But Brian and his staff of volunteers at New Hope listen and respond. They welcome calls for help as an opportunity to connect with the forgotten and disinherited, as Howard Thurman put it in his book, “Jesus and the Disinherited.”
I know Brian quite well – tall, short red hair with a friendly Southern accent – having followed him in his various leadership assignments including youth work and until recently as an assistant adjudicatory leader. A couple of years ago, in his mid-40’s he came to me for help in making a career transition. He has the strengths and experience that many search agencies find compelling, particularly for nonprofit leadership.
To my surprise he and his wife Deborah and their three teen-age sons accepted an invitation, at subsistence pay, to direct a poverty program in Anchorage.
He told me, “We sold everything, packed our suitcases, and departed the tropical climate of the Gulf Coast to serve in the sub-arctic conditions of Anchorage.”
Since then, their son Eric has entered the US Military Academy at West Point
New Hope was much more than a change in the weather. I’ve been to the New Hope location in Anchorage and know something about the challenges he faces.
When I inquired why, at 45, in the prime of life with a family to support he would begin a new chapter directing a poverty mission, he responded:
Over the years I have crafted a personal mission statement to give me direction and focus in my pursuit of fulfilling why I believe God has placed me on this earth.
That’s it. Brian knows why he has been placed on this earth – leading to serve.