Monday, November 17, 2008

Keep Your Ideas to Yourself

I podcast the HBR Ideacast; it is one of those podcasts that I load on my iPhone, but often times it takes a while for me to get to the individual episodes. I left this particular recording on the bottom of the pile because the title seemed so very ridiculous: Keep Your Ideas to Yourself. Why in the world, as a leader, would I keep my ideas to myself? Isn’t that precisely my job… to be adding value with my brilliant ideas?

The point of the podcast is this. There are many times when adding our ideas has a diminishing return. The author makes the point that there is both inspiration and perspiration in every initiative. There is both the excitement of the project leader (I often refer to the one who has their hair on fire) and the core ideas. Sometimes we leaders add our ideas into the mix, possibly improving the core ideas by 5%, but all the while throwing a bucket of cold water on the “fire”, gutting the personal commitment it takes to make the project work.

Take a few minutes and listen to the podcast yourself at

I think you’ll find useful ideas that work with direct reports, colleagues in teams, and even members of your family.

One final thought, the author, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, quotes a friend who says, “Achievement is about me, leadership is about them.” In my estimation, this might very well point to the most common mistake of most, especially young, leaders; we often mistake achievement for leadership. We often are more wrapped up in achieving a rank, role, or post than actually leading people. We come to be served, rather than to serve (sound familiar?).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rose or Cabbage?

Listening to talk radio yesterday, a caller, reflecting on the presidential election, rolled out the following quip:

It appears that we decided that, since a rose smells better than a head of cabbage, we figured it would make better soup.

I assumed that such homespun wisdom must have been derived from a popular colloquialism… but a Google search reveals no such saying, so I can only assume that this was original with the caller.

So… what is better? A rose or a head of cabbage? It all depends on the end sought, doesn’t it? If you’re heading to a dance, the rose will likely be more useful. If you’re heading to the kitchen to make dinner, the cabbage will provide more nourishment.

I’m more of a cabbage guy than a rose guy. I tend to overemphasize the substance of things and underestimate the importance of the sensory appeal. When I cast my vote, I focused almost entirely on ideas and ideology; it appears that a lot of people focused more on charisma and appeal.

I suppose that we need both. Not only for the leadership of our country, but for leadership in general.

One good question is which comes first? Is one more important than the other? Is one more easily acquired, or learned, than the other?

If you are a cabbage, can you hire or acquire rose-ness? If you are a rose, can you lead the cabbages?

I think the answer is yes. Leaders need to be keenly aware of both style and substance, and be vigilant to address their own shortcomings in these areas and the weaknesses in the organizations that they lead.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Parthenocarpic Leadership

In Colossians 1:10 we can see that God is pleased when we are “bearing fruit in every good work.” A recent study caused me to ask the question, “What is the point of fruit? (Other than to make delicious pies that go into my belly?)”

The point of fruit is that it contains seed, the reproductive power of an organism. The Gospel isn’t just an idea, or philosophy, or point in history… it is a living organism. It has in it the power of reproduction, the power of self propagation through its fruit.

So if the point of fruit is seed, and the point of seed is reproduction… it is plain to see that it pleases God for us to be about reproducing our hope, love, and faith through our fruit (through our good work).


Let me ask you this… what is the fanciest “kind” of fruit? What kinds of mutant fruit do we like the best?


We like to eat some seeds, but most fruit seeds we throw away. A friend served one of the best apple pies I’ve ever tasted a couple of nights ago; thankfully there were no apple seeds in it. She would have had an easier time preparing that pie if she had seedless apples (apparently there is such a thing, it is just not common; the technical term is parthenocarpic). While seedless apples are uncommon, seedless berries and watermelons are very common.

While we prize the mutant parthenocarpic plant that produces seedless fruit… I wonder what God thinks of seedless Christians, seedless ministries, and seedless leadership. I wonder if we sometimes make our “fruit” so tasty and appealing, focusing on the sweet flesh of it all, that we produce seedless fruit.

I’d have to say that I’ve observed, and even perpetrated, seedless Christianity. There are times when we are so wrapped up in the sweet, juicy indulgence of the flesh of the thing that we produce mutant, sterile, seedless fruit. Such fruit is certainly tasty, but it has no power to reproduce. If Christianity were allowed go “all seedless”, then, like any organism, it would become extinct within a generation.

We need to be sure that the fruit of our leadership has seed in it; our fruit (at least some or hopefully most of it) needs to contain the power of reproduction.

Friday, October 17, 2008

You can make him drink, but you have to lead a horse to water.

The old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” It is a useful colloquialism when it comes to leadership. It reminds us that people are generally only going to do what they want to do… that you can present an opportunity for folk, but they won’t generally take the opportunity in front of them unless they want to.

But a boss can “make him drink.” Managers often have the authority to dictate… to simply make a decision and issue an edict, thus “making him drink.” These dictates, though, often have little lasting impact and may even instigate a backlash (overt or covert). To mangers who lead by dictate I say, “You can make him drink, but you have to lead a horse to water.”

Leaders lead. There are certainly times when there is danger, emergency, or limited opportunity in which a leader needs to invoke the authority embedded in a chain of command, but for most of us, most of the time, the work of leadership has very little to do with dictate. It is about determining, defining, and delivering a better future.

A dehydrated horse nearing death may need to have its head plunged into the trough for survival, but most horses need to be led to the water, shown the way so that they can enjoy the good water for a long happy life.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I love this cartoon! It reminds me that in most cases the "headliner" has a partner that is doing the same hard work, but with added burdens. Sure, Fred Astaire was the big star; he got to "lead" and get the biggest share of the credit, but Ginger was right there with every step... but doing it backwards and in high heels.

We who get to be out front have to be sure to remember that there are usually others around us who are doing the same heavy lifting. In many cases it might even be easier to be out leading. We get to "lead," calling the shots, and benefiting from the titles and such... while those around us are doing the work a harder way, without the privilege we often enjoy.

I hope I can do better to appreciate those around that are doing the work "backwards and in high heels." And, when I'm the one doing the work "backwards and in high heels" I'll remember to take some pleasure in getting things handled well in my role.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I am generally very happy to serve… but detest being treated like a servant.

It seems that there is a certain category of people who are born with a smile; they only have one kind of attitude… a really good attitude. They don’t seem to have to work at it, or even think about it much; they just seem to be naturally optimistic and positive.

Sadly, I’m not in that category. My attitude is a constant project.

Nothing seems to more easily wreck my day than when I feel like I’m being treated like a servant. And then that realization, itself, makes matters even worse for me. First I feel bad about being treated like a servant, then I’m even more bummed out that I care how I’m being treated. The self talk goes something like, “really Dan, aren’t you happy to serve? Don’t you want to serve? Aren’t you at your best when you are serving? Then why all the angst about being treated like a servant?”

Hopefully, as I grow older, I’m learning to get over myself, and overlook these kinds of attitudes from others.

The more important lesson, for me, is assessing how I treat others along these lines.

I wish it was more rare when I realize that I have perpetrated the same sin on others. There are times when I can tell that there is something broken in a relationship and, after thinking about it, realize that I have treated that other person as a servant. Rather than ask, I’ve demanded. Rather than respect, I’ve offered contempt. Rather than appreciating the privilege of the service, I’ve communicated that it would be a privilege to be my servant.

The answer, of course, is not to stop asking for help, but to be sure to look for that help with respect and appreciation. I can always do a better job of making those “tasking” moments an opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

MFA the New MBA

I podcast the Harvard Business IdeaCast. Episode 92 was titled "The MFA is the New MBA." It was an espescially interesting interview; you can listen to it by accessing the MP3 file here. It was drawn from a blog post that you can access here.

A couple of ideas that caught my interest:
  • The importance of story telling in leadership
  • Learning how to value criticism as it relates to our work
  • Learning how to give really good advice and criticism

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Served or Followed

The adage goes something like this: You’re really not a leader if there are no followers.

Leadership is, of course, people business; in really broad brushstrokes, there are two kinds of people in the wake of leaders: those who serve and those who follow. With position often comes a certain amount of service and obedience. With chains of command and titles come staff and subordinates, employees who obey and serve because it is their job. I’ve noticed that some leaders seem to be gratified by the obedience of those who serve. In my view, this really isn’t being a leader; it is simply being a boss.

Leading those who serve is easy; leading those who follow is hard work. Being a boss is a cheap thrill; being a leader takes sacrifice, but the rewards are genuine. Bossing may work for tactics; it takes leadership to make a lasting impact, to see people grow, to cause strategic change, and to leave a legacy.

I’m finding myself entirely dissatisfied with merely being a boss, and increasingly irritated by those who insist on being a boss when they should be leaders (and especially intolerant of pastors who boss rather than lead… but that is probably the subject of another post). I’m working to inspire followers, whether I’m officially their boss or not. And I’m trying to purge any satisfaction that comes from being merely served, but rather find my gratification, and judge my own effectiveness, by the impact of those who may follow.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


We went, as a family, to see Expelled (really enjoyed it… made us both think and laugh). I went to the Seattle Times’ Web site to look up theaters and times (my goto place every time I want to see a movie… which would be about once or twice a year). I wasn’t all that surprised to read the lead line on their unbiased description: “A highly slanted documentary about evolution - or as the movie refers to it, "Darwinism" - and how its proponents have shut off any sort of debate about whether our origins depend, not on random mutation, but a Creator.” Of course it would be slanted; documentaries like these generally have some agenda to push.

Now reflecting on the movie, I no longer agree; I can’t really say that it was slanted at all. No Bible thumping. No jamming any ideas down anybody’s throat, theological ideas or otherwise. The main point of the movie is that it appears that powerful scientists refuse to behave scientifically when it comes to the origin of life.

So… where does the Times get off on declaring the movie slanted? In order to call something slanted, I suppose one ought to have a sense of plumb. And, I suppose that the Times’ writer decided long ago that Darwinism is a perfectly aligned fact of science.

Check out the movie and decide for yourself.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Sociologists will tell us that social movements (religious and otherwise) take their facts and ologies (ideologies, theologies, ontologies, ecologies, etc.), and turn them into nonnegotiables. These nonnegotiables serve as a powerful unifying force that gives strength to the movement. The nonnegotiables become a filter through which every thought is passed, or rejected.

We religious types are expert in reducing our faith down to facts and theologies.

“We have the truth.” End of story. Not only will we not respond to any questions about our nonnegotiables, or any urging to expand or modify our understanding of nonnegotiables, we will take offense at any questions. If you persist in your questions, you don’t get to be part of the club.

I need to remember that our faith is founded on One who says that truth isn’t merely facts and ideas. Jesus says that He is the Truth. Absolute Truth is a person. We don’t figure out Truth; we are invited to a relationship with Truth.

We need to somehow master ways to hold onto Truth without shutting people out. If we truly believe, we can both have Truth and seek Truth.

In my world, I find that academics, of course, are truth seekers. We can open up ways to better reach, and better mobilize, academics by all being truth seekers together. Nonnegotiables throw up red flags; the typical academic sees nonnegotiables as a sign of intellectual weakness.

Facts and ideas are exhaustible; they can be entirely mastered and contained. But a relationship grows infinitely. Our relationship with The Truth is inexhaustible and uncontainable. This concept of Truth will stand up with academics (and the postmodern mind as well).

There are two definitions of nonnegotiable:
  • Ideological – that which cannot be questioned
  • Financial – that which cannot be traded

So far I’ve been dwelling on that first definition, the ideological definition that fits this posture of reducing our ideas and facts into a list of nonnegotiables. But the financial definition is interesting to me too. Think in terms of trying to get a latte at your friendly neighborhood Starbucks with a pocket full of dinars. The Iraqi dinar won’t get you much, especially those older dinar notes with Saddam’s face all over them. They are nonnegotiable; they can’t be traded and they are worthless.

In the realm of ideas, our nonnegotiables are often nonnegotiable.

When we cheapen Truth to a list of nonnegotiables, we make our positions worthless in today’s market of ideas. Our faith is not only big enough to stand up to all questions; it is expanded, enhanced, and strengthened by questions.

For a bit more of my thoughts, check out today's talk at The Chapel at

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rule - Govern - Lead

I’ve been thinking about these three words for the past few days: rule, govern, and lead. They caught my attention a few days ago when I heard a commentator say of a presidential candidate that they appeared to “want to rule, rather than govern.” I found that to be an interesting turn of a phrase.

With some candidates, it seems that they’ve been waiting all their lives to rule. They have all the answers, they’ve worked hard, people like them, and they deserve the power. Other candidates seem to be motivated more by governing. They demonstrate respect for the rules (constitution) and other legitimate authority structures; they seem to have a sense that they have a role to play within a complex system.

Initially, I thought that I wanted a leader who would govern… but after thinking a bit more about it, there are times when we need a ruler too.

I think that one of the best leadership skills may be in knowing when to rule, and when to govern. It seems that some of the biggest leadership mistakes are made when leaders choose to rule when they ought to govern and when they choose to govern when they need to rule. Ruling and governing are both important leadership postures.

When disaster strikes, ruling may be better than governing. To build a system to best handle disaster before it strikes, governing may be better than ruling.

I wonder if the electorate knows the difference. I’m concerned that when given ballots for these kinds of things, we tend to think that we’re choosing a ruler. When candidates speak in terms of governing, eyes glaze over and the electorate takes a nap. Ruler talk can inspire fantasy; we believe that someone just might have all the right answers.

Presidential politics is an interesting case study, but these issues of governing and ruling apply in all sorts of arenas. The same principles apply to CEOs, pastors, managers, and even coaches.

Is there more here? What do you think? I’d love to see your thoughts in a comment.