Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Politics Grid

My oldest son asked me a good question a number of weeks ago: "what is the difference between Democrats and Republicans." I thought about it for a minute and gave him my views in terms of this grid.

It seems to me that we can define our political stance by asking ourselves two questions:

  1. Do we think most people are inherently good or bad?

  2. Do we think most people are generally smart or dumb?

If you think that most people are generally good and smart, then you are a Libertarian. You think that the best outcome is that we should have a really small government so that all the good and smart people can do the right thing. We don't have a lot of Libertarians. It could be because not many people think that most people are good... or not many people think most people are smart. Most Libertarians that I come across seam sort of selfish, so I wonder if most
Libertarians simply think that they are good and smart and to heck with everyone else.

If you think that most people are dumb and bad, then you are a Fascist. The best possible outcome is found through controlling the dumb, evil public. We don't have a lot of Fascists around either... for which we are all thankful.

If you think that most people are generally smart, but if left to their own selfish desires they'll do bad things, then you are a Republican. We (yes we) think that you need enough government to keep us all honest, but that we're smart enough to help ourselves. That's why, for example, we believe in free markets. Build a free system with as few controls as possible and market forces will provide good solutions because the people in the market are generally smart and will make good choices.

If you think that most people are generally good but are just not all that smart, then you are a Democrat. You think that good people aren't reaching their potential because they haven't been given sufficient opportunities to let their goodness shine. You think that people just need more help from a few smart people (you, of course, likely consider yourself to be one of those few smart people).

This view leads me to all sorts of observations... here are just a few:

  • When Democrats blow it, they rationalize; when Republicans blow it, they resign.

  • Republican politicians generally don't present themselves as better or smarter than their constituents; Democrats often portray themselves as better and smarter.

I'll probably write some more along these lines in the coming days... what do you think? What is wrong with this approach? What am I missing?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Term Limits

I’ve always liked the idea of term limits for elected officials and have supported term limits for members of congress. I used to think that term limits were important for the minority party… the basic idea being that it is so hard (and expensive) to unseat an incumbent that the minority party doesn’t get a chance.

I’m still in favor of term limits… but now for I’m thinking it is good for the majority party too. It seems that it is nearly impossible for incumbents to act selflessly; their focus moves from representing their constituents to maintaining their power. They move from pursuing ideals to protecting their seats.

I’m a Republican and I generally vote for Republican candidates. Sometimes I wish I had a better choice, but there is hardly ever another choice when my party has an incumbent. Usually the Democrat is not a choice… so I settle for supporting the least offensive candidate. I’d like to have a choice, and I want that choice to be in the primaries. The only way I’m going to have a choice in the primaries is if there are term limits.

12 years and you’re out (2 terms in the senate or 6 terms in the house).

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Unintended Consequences

Systems Thinking 101 introduces the idea of unintended consequences... the encouragement is always to think carefully about how solving one problem doesn't create another (maybe bigger) problem or set of problems. There's a great example of unintended consequences in today's news. The Seattle Times reports that Washington State's new law that gives special protected status to sexual orientation is being tested in an interesting way. The suit being filed is coming from a straight woman who is suing because she is being discriminated against because of her sexual orientation. The argument goes like this
  1. Her employer offers health benefits to unmarried partners who are of the same gender
  2. She wants health benefits for her live-in boyfriend
  3. The company is discriminating against her by denying her request based on her sexual orientation (if she was shacking up with a woman, the company would gladly pay)

Makes sense to me. Problem is, a ruling in favor of this plaintiff could establish a precedent that would throw most employers in the state into significant financial distress.

I collected signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to get rid of this misguided law... but enough signatures were not collected so now HB2661 is the law of the land. Many characterized us who signed the petition as closed minded, homophobic, bigots. Maybe a few people will now see that at least some of us who signed were just thinking a bit about the larger systems (you know the systems of marriage and family that have served our society well for thousands of years).

Monday, June 26, 2006


I podcast the HBR IdeaCast. The current broadcast is among the better ones so far. There are usually two articles. This time the first is on networking and negotiating within organizations, the second puts customer surveys in perspective. At the University we do a fair amount of surveying... I wonder how much of the criticism applies to the survey work we do. I need to heed the advice to simly work harder to talk directly to customers. You can get to the HBR IdeaCast here:

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Axiom #4

Leadership teams are like suspension bridges...
needing both tension members and compression members.

I was a mechanical engineering major for a while at Purdue... long enough to have one of those classes where you apply what you learn about force vectors to a bridge made out of balsa wood. After you design it and glue it all together, the final exam includes putting it on a contraption that adds incremental units of stress until the whole thing snaps into splinters. Some of our bridges buckled under the pressure (compression members couldn't take it), and others pulled apart (tension members couldn't take it).

I've observed that good leadership teams have both compression members (those types that are sort of solid and can handle work getting piled on their shoulders) as well as tension members (those of us who are happy to be stretched and pulled as we respond to various conditions).

Les Welk has a presentation that runs right along these lines of thinking that he calls "Leading in the Midst of Tension." I've linked it up on my podcast, available at

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Axiom #3

A lot of the time
you have to explain to people what they really want.

A little riff in Jamie Smith’s book (page 78) goes right along with this thinking:

Worship should be an event of cross-cultural hospitality. Consider an analogy: When I travel to France, I hope to be made to feel welcome. However, I don’t expect my French hosts to become Americans in order to make me feel at home… I’m expecting things to be different; indeed, I’m looking for just this difference. So also, I think, with hospitable worship: seekers are looking for something our culture can’t provide.

Then Jamie pulls an illustration from a Perspectives article (the article is a quick read, found here) that proves the point through Starbucks’ success. For a number of years I’ve been using this quote from Howard Schultz’s biography:

First, every company must stand for something… Second, you don’t just give customers what they ask for. If you offer them something they’re not accustomed to, something so far superior that it takes a while to develop their palates, you can create a sense of discovery and excitement and loyalty that will bond them to you. It may take longer, but if you have a great product, you can educate your customers to like it rather than kowtowing to mass-market appeal.

Isn’t this just a really straightforward definition of leadership? Leadership is more than just asking people what they want and giving it to them, and it is certainly more than deciding for people and forcing it on them. Leadership holds out a better destination and makes a way to get there.

So… our churches fail when we simply try to christianize what might be popular on television, or in a night club, or in the marketplace, or at a concert or sporting event. We have something better; we have something much better… and if it takes a bit of time and education to “develop their palates” so people can see what they really want, then so be it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Axiom #2

I think axiom #2 might be:

God saves us individually, yet saves us to be a people.

I’m about 50 pages into Jamie Smith’s “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism.” What he wrote on pages 29 and 30 really resonated with me:

… there simply is no Christianity apart from the body of Christ, which is the church. The body is the New Testament’s organic model of community that counters the modernist emphasis on the individual.
The church does not exist for me; my salvation is not primarily a matter of intellectual mastery or emotional satisfaction. The church is the site where God renews and transforms us – a place where the practices of being the body of Christ form us into the image of the Son.
… Nothing is more countercultural than a community serving the Suffering Servant in a world devoted to consumption and violence. But the church will have this countercultural, prophetic witness only when it jettisons its own modernity; in that respect postmodernism can be another catalyst for the church to be the church.

Who knows if it is wiring or training… but modernity comes naturally for me. I’m a fact guy, I crave solutions, and I most easily think more as an individual than as a member of a community. I can find myself in a worship service and be focused entirely on my own consumption of spiritual goods, experiencing no more connection with those around me than the connection I might have with fellow consumers in a random Wal-Mart.

But when I approach the New Testament honestly and understand what it says, I have to agree with Jamie when he says that there is “no Christianity apart from the body of Christ.” We don’t need the church for salvation; we only need Jesus. But in order to live this Christian life, for Christianity, we need to be the church.

I’ve heard a number of Christians say “I don’t need to go to church.” And I’ve heard lots of people explain that they need to go to church for Bible study, and discipleship, and fellowship… we need the stuff we can get at church. Bah! We don’t need to go to church… we need to be the church. When God saves us He saves us individually; yet He saves us to be His people. The only way to be an obedient Christian is to be an active, integrated, caring, useful member of the Body of Christ, in a church.

Friday, May 12, 2006


There are a handful of axioms by which I try to live and work. It could be that axiom #1 is this:

I take my work very seriously,
but I don't take myself seriously.

It isn't that I'm not confident, or don't like myself, or don't care... it is just that I see so many people bogged down in taking their positions, or ideas, or reputation, so very seriously. I'm glad that I have meaningful work, and I'm really glad that I know how lots of other people could do this work... probably better than me. So I work hard and laugh a lot. I bring everything I can to the work, but always realize that there are lots of right ways to do most jobs.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Megachurches Report

Check out the Megachurches Report, published by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, at .

I found a few things espescially interesting, including:

  • The section on eleven misconceptions explored (page 16) is a great list of busted myths. For example, the vast majority of megachurches belong to a denomination (6% are AG).
  • Washington state is ranked 12th among the states, with 30 megachurches (appendix A, page 20). That is particularly interesting to me since we're told, a lot, that Washington is unchurched. Don't try to tell that to the 37,000 people who show up to worship in those churches next Sunday.
  • As the education levels of the pastors decrease, the rates of growth of these [mega]churches increase (page 15).
  • It seems that these days, the musical instrument that indicates the difference between contemporary worship and traditional worship is the piano. The word organ only appears once in this 27 page document.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I habitually underestimate the power of vacations.

I have had a sense that my brain is working better this week (no real proof that my brain is working better this week... just a feeling that my brain is working better). It occurred to me it is probably due to the 5 days and nights I spent with my family over President's Day weekend at Sun Peaks. I think a vacation like this benefits my leadership ability along a couple of lines:
  • Rest - That's the obvious one, right? I've heard a lot of people say that it takes them weeks, even a month, to really disengage and relax. I think I can disengage and relax in as little as 3 days; I must be lucky. Or it could be that I have really good people around me that can handle whatever comes-up in my absence. I'm also a guy who is glad for technology, as long as I know I can be reached in an emergency, I can easily let the cares of work stay at work. I don't think I ever realize the magnitude of cumulative fatigue until after I'm able to shake it off with real rest.
  • Connection - I really like my family, especially the four of us in my immediate family. Laurie, the Boyz, and I genuinely enjoy one another's company. We enjoy every bit of vacation, even the long rides in the car. The solid bonds of connection that are strengthened on vacation provide a foundation for everything else I do.
  • Fresh Perspective - A few days away gave me opportunity to step away from a few projects that were stalled on my desk. When I came back to them, it was a cinch to move them along. It is so easy to get bogged down from time to time.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Successor Story

I talked with a leader today inside an organization going through a CEO transition. In their case, the current EVP will become President and the President, after a sabbatical, will assume limited responsibilities as Chancellor. There were several points in the story that interested me:

  • There was certainly success in the organization. Over the past dozen or so years, the size of the organization has increased by a multiple of ten. Their current budget exceeds $125 million.

  • The current President seemed to initiate the process, signaling a number of years ago that the Board might want to prepare for a transition. They created an EVP position and hired someone to fill the position that could be a successor.

  • After some time had passed, it was apparent that the EVP could serve as President. The EVP was appointed President-elect for some months.

  • The new President is now poised to build on the trend of success, while having the former President serving in the organization as Chancellor. The Chancellor will have opportunity to shepherd some favorite projects, continue in fundraising, and transfer key relationships to the new President.

The axiom, to which I referred in the last post, goes “there is no success without a successor.” This case emphasizes that all of this starts with
. The Board, in this case, was motivated to continue the clear success in the organization. They were motivated to continue the vision of the CEO through a successor, and they were motivated to continue the current president’s influence in a different role.

I think it is easy to see how a similar approach could work in a church situation. Given the right circumstances, including an open minded Board and a secure and self-aware pastor, a transition like this could work. If a pastor is leading a church with success, there's no reason that a pastor couldn't work with a Board to bring-up a successor, and that pastor continue to have some influence in an emeritus role.

P.S. - Check out this article on Bootstrapping ( it is a must read

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Success and Successor

A friend picked up a copy of Ethix, a newsletter/journal for The Institute for Business, Technology & Ethics. In it I found an interview with Mike Volkema, chairman of Herman Miller. In response to a question about his transition from CEO to chairman, Volkema said "my personal belief is that there isn't success without a successor." Many attribute the proliferation of this axiom to Peter Drucker.

I've been thinking about how this little truism applies to church leadership. Some of the questions that come to mind include:

  • How could this axiom work within the context of my denomination's polity and folkways?

  • What role should the current pastor have when working with a board?

  • Do we choose, rather, to say "there is no success without succession"? Is that a better posture?

  • Should a pastor be limited to working to replicate leadership in general, mentoring leaders for other (or new) churches, or could a pastor have a hand in selecting and mentoring a specific successor?

  • Is the axiom biblical? It certainly seems to be described in the context of the ministry of Moses, Jesus, and Paul... are these instances merely descriptive or are they prescriptive?

In the coming days I'll post some of my thoughts along these lines. Feel free to chime in with comments.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A New Blog

I'll keep my Xanga ( for more personal blogging... I'm setting this up to do blog specifically on leadership and governance topics.