Leading Well

Be The Most

It is surprising when a bank makes you say, “Wow!”  I recently stumbled across the story of the genesis and growth of Umqua Bank in the Pacific Northwest.  It is a fascinating saga about how ‘being the most’ brings out the ‘wow.’  As customers enter this bank they are greeted with, ‘Welcome to the World’s Greatest Bank, how can I help you?’  When Ray Davis took the helm at Umqua Bank in 1994 he focused on the belief that the difference in the future would be in HOW their bank offered the same products every other bank offered.  Davis had a conviction - You have to be the most of something: the most elegant, the most colorful, the most responsive, or the most focused.  Just pick your ‘most’ and then as a bank let’s become a passion brand in an industry that is famously void of passion.  For Davis it was not enough to participate in the banking industry, he wanted to be different and distinct.  So, this has been the Umqua way for more than two decades and their thirty-fold growth since 1994 indicates the power of a passion for being “the most” different, distinct, and dedicated bank around.

I have been wondering in recent days, what if we as church leaders set our sights on being the most of what matters most to the fulfillment of our mission in the world? As church leaders we often wrestle with the question, how do we motivate and mobilize a group of people to engage in the best way possible?  What if the best approach is to make our own actions our first and best point of instruction. The best way to help people be their best is to give them an undeniable example of what it is to ‘be the most’ of that attitude or action.

For a leader who desires to see a team of excellence, positivity, respect, and risk taking the best approach is for that leader to ‘be the most’ excellent, positive, respectful and risk taking.  For the pastor who longs to see his or her staff and congregation ‘notice the newcomer’ the best instruction is the action of that pastor in ‘being the most’ aware and engaged with newcomers whenever they cross his or her path.   For the youth leader who seeks to shape a culture of full hearted engagement it is best to save your breath on the pep talk and simply ‘be the most’ engaged when any youth event or gathering occurs.  Only then do you pull out the pep talk because you have something tangible to point to – your own commitment to be the most of what you are asking others to be.

Be the most of whatever you say your values are and see what happens.

What are your thoughts on this challenge to “be the most” . . . ?

Pastoral Leadership and the Kobayashi Maru

By Bryce Ashlin-Mayo - Westlife Church, Calgary

In the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, James T. Kirk is faced with a theoretical training scenario known as the Kobayashi Maru.  The Kobayashi Maru is a no-win situation that tests the leader’s character and ability to redefine the situation or problem.  Starfleet Academy knows that good leaders are not only able to make good decisions, but they are also able to navigate difficult situations with integrity and wisdom when a positive solution seems elusive.

Over my years as a pastor, I have encountered several Kobayashi Maru leadership situations.  Circumstances where there was no clear outcome or way forward.  In my experience, these situations led to one of two conditions in the life of the leader (I’ve experienced both).  One is fear and worry and the other is trust and peace. 

This may seem easy, but it is not. 

Trusting God with the inanimate, impersonal, and distant is easy but trusting God with a complicated situation, wrapped in fragile personal relationships, with unknown outcomes and potentially devastating fallout, is more difficult than words can express.  As any starship officer would attest, peace is easy when the Starship Enterprise is in space-dock, but it is an entirely different situation when it is in battle.

Conflict is complicated.  A few years ago, I walked several people through a conflict resolution process.  It was extremely complicated with no obvious solution presenting itself.  Adding to the complication was the messy reality of the pastorate; I was friends with all parties involved and they served in various church leadership positions.  If things went poorly, I could lose dear friends and the church would feel the impact of their relational conflict.  As I led them forward, all I could do was help them discern the next step and encourage them to take it.  Although the conflict was complicated, God was faithful.

As I continue to learn these lessons as a pastor and leader, the following three truths have been battle-tested in the most difficult of circumstances.

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus

This may seem obvious for a pastor, but in the midst of a leadership challenge it becomes all too easy to focus on an easy outcome, our preferred solution, or our ability to make good decisions.  In difficult leadership situations, I need to constantly remind myself that Jesus is more invested in them than I am, the Holy Spirit is working, and Jesus (not me!) is the head of the Church.  Sometimes, as pastors we need to proclaim the truth that Israel declares in 2 Chronicles 20:12 “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” 

Ask for Wisdom

Kobayashi Maru leadership situations are such that there is no easy way forward.  There is no easy answer.  There is no simple solution.  In these situations, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we need to ask God for help and wisdom (James 1).  I have learned that God’s wisdom doesn’t come all at once but in a constant trust-inducing stream that runs at God’s pace, not mine.  In other words, we may not know all the steps to take in the situation, but we just need to trust in God for the next one.

Find Peace in Jesus, Not in a Successful Outcome

In my experience, leaders and pastors bear too much personal responsibility for successful outcomes in pastoral situations.  We falsely assume that other people’s choices are our responsibility.  We can set the stage for good decisions, give good counsel, and have a good next step to offer, but often people will ignore it and go their own way.  If our sense of peace is rooted in things ending well, we will be constantly worried and trapped in fear.  However, if our peace is rooted in Jesus and being obedient to the steps He gives, we will find peace regardless of other people choices or our perception of a successful outcome.

As you’ve faced Kobayashi Maru leadership situations of your own, what have you found to be helpful advice and counsel to weather the storm, keep your eyes on Jesus, and grow in your faith?

Vital Moves When Discouragement Strikes - Part 2

In our last post we pointed out three vital moves when discouraged.  1) Go deeper into your own story – go past the symptom of discouragement and get at the root.  2) Enter the story of a person nearby – discover the power of an outward mindset, and,  3) Find and explore the story of one who has prevailed in the face of great challenges – experience the gift of vicarious resilience.  Now, three more vital moves:

Insert gratitude into your current story.  We often hear the call to ‘thanksgiving’ in scripture as an add on to prayer.  It turns out, gratitude is a game changer especially in times of challenge, difficulty and despair.  When we are discouraged we often sense we are in a state of depleted resources.  A grateful posture changes perspective.  It jolts us out of a spiral of thoughts on what is wrong or what is missing and reminds us of what has been given.  Martin Seligman refers to the practice of forgiveness and gratitude as the twin pillars of happiness.  In reverse, the one-two punch of misery is the lack of forgiveness and the absence of gratitude.  This act of resource listing lifts us up to see much more than the current situation and prompts us to call in the life-giving attitude of thankfulness.

Don’t forget to place a comma in your own story.  We often tend to place a period where there needs to be a comma.  In discouragement we feel as if we have reached a terminal point, an end . . . or a dead end.  Many years ago, as my brother wrestled with his divorce, his thoughts were spiraling downward with the thought that this failure was final and fatal.  However, in the fog of his perceived failure he was urged by the mercy and grace of God to place a comma where he was tempted to nail down a period.  We worship and serve a God who ever calls us forward.  Place a comma in this season of discouragement and then move ahead.

Finally, at the centre of our journey with discouragement, remember THE Story.  Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, “remember Jesus Christ,” is framed in the “difficult days” of those who strive to be a servant in the midst of such days.  Paul throws on the screen of Timothy’s mind inspiring examples of athletes, soldiers, farmers, and then workman, vessels of honour, and servants.  But at the heart of II Timothy 2 is a central exhortation, “remember Jesus.”  Ever keep the person and journey of the Great Servant in view as you enter the contest, till the soil, and work your craft.  In the same spirit as Hebrews 11 and 12 we can gain much from the story and example of others around but the vital remembrance is of the one who “endured the cross” for us.  If we are discouraged today, our best move is to spend some time fixing your eyes on His story, and from Him to draw our strength, courage, and greater endurance.  It is time to Keep On!

Helpful Resources:

What to do with criticism? This one page perspective may prove helpful in overcoming discouragement. 

Book: Crafting a Rule of Life