Developing a Faith Based Leadership Program: Deciding on the content – Part 1

OK, if you’re following along with me on this, you now have your definition of leadership, have vetted it within your organization and may be starting to hit some conflict and differences of opinion. I AM NOT SURPRISED. Now that you’re getting serious about this leadership development initiative, it’s time you get serious about covering it with some spiritual warfare and serious prayer. You laugh? I’m not kidding. What is the most strategic thing you can do to deepen and broaden your organization’s impact for the Kingdom? Develop leaders… lots and lots of leaders, at every level, in every position. And not just the run of the mill manager type leaders, no, peculiar leaders… who lead like Jesus, who lead with Kingdom lenses. THAT is the most important work you can do for this world and for the impact your organization will have to end poverty, to end injustice. So do not be surprised when this important work suddenly struggles… it’s time to pray, assemble others to pray, keep prayer and discernment front and center to the initiative because inevitably the attacks will come.

As you think about the content of your leadership program… I almost feel sorry for you at this point because of the abundance of “stuff” out there that gets called leadership material AND the number of senior stakeholders that will want to see everything but the kitchen sink thrown into the “leadership development pit”.   You DO need to ensure major stakeholders are on board with the leadership content so it doesn’t migrate into a catch-all training program for everything from financial accounting to project management. And the program content and delivery should reinforce your organization’s core values and determined leadership needs.

Frankly, I think the biggest challenge in organizations isn’t getting people to live out good leadership practices, it’s that your organizational culture doesn’t allow people to live out good leadership practices. You’d be stunned how many times people have told me that Jesus’ model of leadership wouldn’t work in their Christian organization – too passive, too caring, not results-oriented enough, etc. etc. etc.

Funny eh?

I don’t care though, I still teach these principles because God has given us Jesus not only as the ultimate instrument of our redemption on the Cross, but also as the model of redeeming this world to Himself. I find it incredibly sad that many who bear some “Christian” label in the public sphere today don’t resemble anything of Jesus, the Christ, in their words or actions.

But I digress…. Back to recommendations.

OK, here are some generally accepted (across the board) elements for good leadership development programs:

  1. Addressing the spiritual…. For any Christian leadership development program, spiritual formation should be the anchor upon which the whole thing rests because frankly, the stumbles and fumbles of Christian leaders are rarely because they didn’t work enough hours or were bad at tasks…. Its usually a break down in the spiritual core of their life and their leadership stumbles and bumbles are an outflowing of that breakdown.
  2. Mentoring/Coaching – There is high value of individual attention and coaching in leadership programs. I recommend supervisors as coaches (with some coaching training/tips provided) and a senior leader or external leader as mentor. This can also provide a form of accountability to the spiritual formation mentioned in #1.
  3. Team based approach – Learning as part of a group develops an ongoing support relationship. These groups coalesce most successfully when team-building exercises or seminars are incorporated into the design early in the program.
  4. Individual Leadership Plans – Individual Leadership Plans enable each participant to design a learning opportunity to address their capacity building goals. These can be developed with the input of coaches and mentors.
  5. Feedback and Assessment Tools – Performance evaluation tools like 360s on a regular basis so that their feedback isn’t unidirectional between just the participant and their supervisor.
  6. Recognition – There is significance and motivational value of being recognized for their improved work as well as the contributions of those mentoring them.

AND some things to avoid right from the start….

  1. Ensure you are positioning the program as an “expansion of your leadership influence right where you are”. It’s a mistake to position the program as a guaranteed step into a larger leadership role, especially if you don’t have one readily available. I’ve seen this frustrate many a leadership participant all because of the expectations that were set at the outset.
  2. Ensure you bring supervisors into the LD program process.   You may find reluctant supervisors of your leadership program because they are concerned you are grooming their staff to replace them. Be sure to include them in content development (what topics are needed), provide them coaching training and make them an active part of the process.
  3. Lastly, as you think ahead to how you will recognize participants for their completion of the program, don’t forget to recognize the good coaches (supervisors) and mentors. I can’t stress enough that the more people involved in developing leaders in your organization the more you will help to develop a culture of leadership for your organization.

Next up: My recommendations for specific content (topics) in your leadership development program.


Developing a Faith Based Leadership Program: Unpacking your definition of leadership. Part 2

OK, so you’ve asked your leadership team to reflect on their definition of leader and leadership and you’ve started to see some patterns in statements. Some of those patterned clusters unfold like this:

Usually a cluster of statements about influencing and moving people forward.

Usually another cluster of statements about outcomes and “getting it done”.

Do you notice anything missing?

Christian worldview? In what way do these statements represent your organization’s Christian worldview and values? Put another way… if your definition could easily define Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin, Bernie Madoff or a corporate executive running for high political office in my country… you may want to rethink your definition. If your organization is a Faith Based agency, what sets your leadership model apart from the way any Fortune 500 executive leads? What makes you peculiar…. set apart for God’s good purposes in this world?

Followers? How about followers? Is there any mention of the followers (employees) of your organization? If they are mentioned, how are they viewed in the leadership relationship? As ones to be moved, motivated or coerced? Or as empowered participants in the leadership relationship?

Have your definition? Great…. Now test it out. Share that definition of leadership with your board, with your leadership team, with your employees… does it sound like the leadership that gets lived out within the agency? Discrepancies in this area means you’ve got some work to do to ensure that the definition of leadership you want to develop in others is the leadership that is being modeled within the organization now. Otherwise all efforts at developing new leaders will be thwarted by existing leaders valuing and modeling something completely different.

Next up: Developing or selecting your leadership content

Developing a Faith Based Leadership Program…. Start first with defining what you mean by “leadership”. Part 1

Organizations know the value of leadership and in an effort to get it, either poach it from other good agencies or decide to “develop their own”. I’ve participated in the development of many a leadership development program, some formal with credentials attached, some informal. In a series of blogs, I’d like to share some of the process I go through in developing a solid leadership development program, specifically for the faith based organization and pose to you the questions you should think about before doing so.

What’s first? Make sure you know what you mean by “leadership”.

The word leadership is overused and rarely truly understood. Good, Godly leadership is more than task accomplishment, more than people influencing, more than aspirational vision casting. The very best leadership achieves organizational mission only through recognizing and fostering the talents, skills and passion of followers in the organization. In this sense, Leadership is Faithful Stewardship of the organization’s most important resource…. The people in it.

As you think about developing the leadership program for your organization… how do you, and others currently in positional leadership, define leadership? A simple poll will help you to realize how diverse your leadership team’s definition is… and that needs to change first, because, as the saying goes, “if you don’t know where you’re going, all roads will get you there”.

Why does the definition matter? Two reasons. First, if the model of “good leadership” isn’t being espoused and/or modeled within your organization you’ll be sending a mixed message to those you hope to develop. Second, your leadership program should foster those values, qualities and behaviors borne of your leadership definition.

A simple exercise is to ask your leadership team, and perhaps further down the leadership layers of the organization, to write down two things: a definition of leader and a definition of leadership. This will give you the starting point for moving this group towards a shared definition of leadership for your organization.

Next up…. Unpacking those definitions …

“How goes the world?”

GUEST BLOGGER:  Professor Craig Stewart, CEO, The Warehouse, Cape Town, South Africa

EASTERN University School of Leadership and  Development


Kigali, Rwanda, 2014

Craig Stewart, Eastern Professor, Eastern Alumni

At the entrance to the ACT campus is a banner that you’ll see all over Rwanda at the moment. The banner declares “Kwibuka 2014 – REMEMBER UNITE RENEW.”

“Kwibuka” means “remember” and it is the annual remembrance of the genocide in Rwanda twenty years ago – a genocide we spent time discovering more about yesterday.   This year’s commemoration highlights three themes:

– To remember: Honouring the memory of those who died. Offering support to those who survived.

– To unite: to show that reconciliation through shared human values is possible and asking the world to do the same.

– To renew: To build Rwanda anew, to share the Rwandan experience humbly and to learn from others. Let us create a better world together.

The act of remembrance is an important one in the human story

Many of our countries REMEMBER our independence days.

In South Africa, my country, we just remembered the Soweto uprising where high school students broke out in country wide protests against apartheid education on the 16 June 1976.

The Jewish people still remember their escape from Egypt via the celebration of the festival of Passovers.

Each year western nations remember armistice day and all those lost in war on 11 November

We remember each other through annual birthdays.

Yesterday I remembered that a very close friend of mine was killed in the Nairobi mall attack 9 months ago.

Remembering is part of celebration and its a part of healing. However for cultures that are focused on comfort and removing all pain from life, like most western cultures, the act of moving towards pain in remembrance can seem almost offensive and often uncomfortable. However, trauma and grief research is increasingly pointing to this as a critical part of healing.   To truly heal we need to build the capacity to be present in our own pain and in someone else’s pain.

South African theologian, Denise Ackerman in her book After the Locusts, writes about remembering and dealing with a past filled with injustice

“A painful history can cripple human memory in two ways: you can either forget the past or be imprisoned by it. I wish neither on you. Your understanding of your past will enable you to deal with your future. Understanding the past will also help you to recognise – both in yourselves and in those who will govern you – the inclination to harm and destroy…

If, on the one hand, you believe yourselves to be immune to the evils perpetrated by previous generations you will be more vulnerable to evil. If, on the other hand, you believe yourselves to be the victims of history, you will forgo the opportunity to emerge from self exoneration into the more turbulent but rewarding waters of self-knowledge…So my prayer for you both is that you will not shirk the clamour of history, while at the same time you will not be burdened by it to the extent that you feel helpless to act.”

As we remember we are reminded that we are all victims and and we are all perpetrators. WE are all capable of this depravity. We echo what Paul said – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

What relevance does this have for us as we start this residency, three intense weeks spent together studying, learning, laughing, crying, playing and working.


I think we need to remember why we are all here. I know enough of your stories that this is a group uniquely in touch with the broken, hurting pain filled places of this world. We have collectively seen, experienced and touched these places in the human experience. Indeed they are our experience.

We must remember what has drawn us here, what drew Eastern to set up this programme and what drives Dr Beth to champion it ceaselessly is a passion and concern for these places and people.

So as things get busy and we find ourselves discussing topics passionately let us find ways of remembering why we are here – individually and corporately – and lets call that out in each other.


Unity is a difficult thing and we live in a world that is increasingly divided and, in their fear, people are finding solace in division. The ministry of reconciliation is God’s ministry and we should not be surprised when the kingdoms of this world oppose it with everything they’ve got. Not for nothing did Jesus say that it would be by our love for each other that he’d be known.

When Alice, a victim, forgives Emmanuel, a perpetrator, it is an act that offends the kingdom of darkness, it is an act that sees satan fall like lightening from the sky, it is an act that shakes the very foundations of his kingdom.

For us at this residency this has relevance because we are an unusual people. At one level we are with our tribe here in ways that we may not be when we are elsewhere. But in other ways we are a deeply unusual group of people in the world today. We are culturally, economically, theologically and otherwise a very diverse group of people and if we are to learn fully we will need to learn to open ourselves up to others and let others open themselves up to us – even or perhaps especially in the places we are fearful or offended and in these places to fight for unity. For this is the way of His Kingdom.


If we only stay in the memory we run the risk of being trapped by it. And so we should daily renew our commitment to justice and to hope and renew our commitment to our first love and knowing Christ as saviour.

One of the readings you’ll all do in this course is from Preskill’s Learning as a way of Leadership. In particular the chapter on learning to sustain hope in the struggle for justice is a favourite of mine:

“It may be useful to begin this chapter by distinguish optimism from hope and critical hope from naive hope. Optimism is a positive outlook, a tendency to look on the bright side. It is an unearned given, a way of thinking that seems to come automatically and naturally. Hope on the hand is more sober and thoughtful, the necessary result of trying to face struggle while wallowing in despair. Cornel West refers repeatedly to authentic hope as being critically tempered, smelted in the fires of experience, realistic about the dangers it confronts and committed to its perpetuation.

Naive hope, a weak form of hope, is inattentive to how disorienting despair can be and unappreciative of how much must be done to overcome injustice. Naive hope announces that change will come, but it does not divulge how hard it will be, how great the challenges are, or the fact that hope itself is not nearly enough. Critical hope, a much stronger, even fierce form of hope, acknowledges how destructive the absence of hope can be, but it also comprehends at a profound level how complex and multifaceted is the fight for social justice. ”

So renewing our hope, renewing our commitment isn’t an act of optimism or naive hope. The struggle for justice has been handed to us by a great cloud of witnesses – of those who have gone before us in this programme and outside – and we will have to hand it over to a future generation.

There is a children’s book called “The Tales of the Kingdom” that I love. In it two orphaned children flee a city ruled by an enchanter and find themselves in a garden where the King rules. The King who, it is said, will one day return to the city to overthrow the enchanter. In the meantime they live in the garden and learn the ways of the King from the others who live there. The King’s rangers keep watch and call out to each other during the day and night:

“How goes the world?”

“The world goes not well!!”

“But the Kingdom comes”

It is this hope filled call we will need to pass on in order to be renewed. The world goes not well but that is not the end of the story.

Residency is a huge sacrifice for all of you – in finances, time, comfort and energy. But it is also a huge gift, a time set apart, a holy time which won’t easily be repeated in your life.

Find ways to remember why you are here – the fact that the world goes not well but that His kingdom is at hand.

Be courageous in uniting, in finding each other, in pushing through the language, culture and perceptions and truly listening – forming the unusual community called for in the Kingdom.

And each day be renewed in the hope that you have – that this time will build the sustenance for that hope. That optimism will die and in its place a real sustained critical hope will be birthed.

God bless you.

–Craig Stewart, June 2014, Kigali, Rwanda


See me new… my challenge to the followers of an ever-growing leader

I recently spent time with a group of precious NGO leaders in Malawi discussing some of the practices of Christ-like servant leadership. What an honor it was to be with this leadership team and an even greater blessing to see its team leader, a former student of mine, modeling and acknowledging the practices of his gradate program of nearly a decade ago!

As we wrapped up our time together and were reviewing some of the challenges of putting the ideas to practice, one of my old lessons came out….

“The group of people who will have the hardest time accepting your new ‘servant leadership posture’ is the group you now lead.”

Read that again…

“The group of people who will have the hardest time accepting your new ‘servant leadership posture’ is the group you now lead.”

Why? Because, for better or worse, we have come to expect certain behaviors of our leaders and have learned to navigate around them. IF THEY CHANGE, SO MUST WE…

“He doesn’t listen”…. Now he wants to sit with me weekly and hear my views of the organization

“He plays favorites”… now he is including everyone in giving input into strategic direction regardless of title, gender or tribal affiliation.

“He micro manages my work”…. Now he is giving me an end goal and expecting me to reach it myself?!

Generally speaking, we don’t like change and we are suspicious when leaders exhibit new behaviors, even if we have longed for those behaviors for some time. The world expects leaders to be “fully baked”, completely finished, fully developed by the time they reach some point of positional leadership. But this is not Biblical, I believe true leadership emerges through the relationships of leading; between leader and God, between leaders and followers. I am reminded daily, that I am “fully saved, not yet fully sanctified”…. I’m on the journey of becoming…   It takes a GREAT deal of humility for a leader, already in a positional leadership role, to acknowledge that God has shown him/her something further to develop, and for them to actually set about developing it! A great deal of humility! And this makes God smile.

So, my charge to you, Oh Follower, is this…. If you know there’s some aspect of leadership that the leader around you is developing….   PRAY for them, set aside your internal critic or internal cynic who would normally respond “yeah, let’s see how long this behavior lasts”….   ENCOURAGE them… point out the new behavior and how it makes you feel – without patronizing…. “I’ve noticed that you seem more eager to hear my ideas a bit more lately, I just wanted you to know how much I feel valued by that action”.   And MODEL IT yourself! Lord knows, followers could use a bit of development as well!

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. – 2 Cor 5: 16-19 (NIV)

Leadership and the Metaphor of the Mountaintop

Throughout history, leaders have used the mountaintop, or “high places” as a point of their reflection, a moment of rest, a vista for the way forward.

Moses received some pretty good lessons on a mountaintop; Jesus had a number of significant experiences and lessons in His mountaintop moments.

In his “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech, Martin Luther King experienced the mountaintop and saw a view of the Promised Land… he never got to see it this side of The Gates, but passed through them the next day.

Nelson Mandela looked back over his journey from a high place – “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” (Nelson Mandela, former president, Republic of South Africa)

There’s something about viewing our work, our organizations from a different perspective, from high up, one can view just how big and small some of our efforts and problems really are.   While there are dozens of metaphoric lessons on leadership and the mountaintop experience, let me share just a few….

The journey is long, travel light.  WOW, it’s easy to carry the baggage of ego, our marred identity (I am the job, I am the title), and the God Complexes (if I don’t do it, the organization will collapse) with us on this journey, but frankly too much attention is paid to leadership and not nearly enough to stewardship.  We are not owners but merely stewards, of our work, of our teams, of our resources…. For such a time as this.

Don’t be overwhelmed by how far the peak looks. Strategic planning is good, forward thinking is good, but looking too far ahead results in two things: we feel overwhelmed by the distance, and forget how quickly things can change.  So take time to plan, to give a glance at the journey ahead, but stay focused and take it one step at a time, making sure to stop and celebrate those victories and milestones along the way.

Hey, did you notice, you’re not on this journey alone?  So little about leadership truly rests with individual effort. There are the select few that hold the title, and have the perks, but it’s the real leader who recognizes their true role is in acknowledging those with them on the journey, strengthening and cheering them on in the climb.

Carry someone else’s load and let them carry yours.  It is the rare and right leader who is both willing to shoulder the load of others, and who humbles themselves to let others carry theirs.  We move in and out of our leader and follower roles, carrying each other’s burdens, sharing the load.

At the peak, stop, rest, and enjoy the view.  Here’s the moment to savor, to look back from where you’ve come, to reflect on the people who’ve made the journey with you and the moments that got you here.  When the noise of the day-to-day quiets down, it’s easier to hear the things that are important for the way ahead.  All that loomed large down in the valley is suddenly so small.  And the important visions for the future break through.  Stop, savor, reflect and rejoice.

One deep breath and down you go.   While it may be tempting to stay up on the mountain, or live for those mountaintop experiences, it is, however, in the valley that the real work happens, its where our calling lies, laboring and working for solutions to big problems, building up and edifying those around us.  With greater clarity between the insignificant and the important because of those mountaintop experiences.

For the last 18 years I’ve walked alongside many amazing leaders from all around the world.  Together we’ve gathered for an annual residency somewhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America to study and discuss ideas about faith, service and leadership in ministry and NGO work.  Those annual residencies are mountaintop experiences for me, and many a student has shared that they are for them as well…. Times to step away, be quiet, reflect and grapple with the day-to-day realities of leading their organizations.

Survival Tips for Budget Season

Its budget season…. the inevitable period of time a few months before the budget is due when we’re forced to look at the cold hard facts of the “business” of doing ministry.   Resource comparisons abound, perceptions of fairness and unfairness abound.  And scrutiny over paper and ink use is common.

This is the season my mind fractures with internal arguments like these:

“of course income must equal or exceed expenses, don’t be daft!”

“My calling, and the world’s greatest need (dare I say), is Godly leadership development for those that have the least access to it.  And I don’t give a rat’s patoot how it gets paid for”

“how can we be held accountable for revenue when we have no authority over the revenue drivers”?

If it seems that my internal dialogue is contradicting, then welcome to my schizo world at 2am in the morning.  But fret not, dear friend… I’m sharing my survival tips to get us both through this season…

Offer it up:  The praise, that is…   Having a long tenure in an organization gives you the memory of other times “we’ve passed this way before” and God’s faithfulness in them.  The New Era scandal fall out of the late ‘90’s, the Post-9-11 donor fund shortages in 2002 and 2003.  We’ve been here before… ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.   I have seen first hand how God has taken our five loaves and two fish and turned them into …. well, 15 years of ministry and 3500+ alumni serving Him around the world.  Faithful is the One who calls you to it, for He shall also do it (1 Thes 5:24).

Lay it down:  The burdens, that is… lay your burdens at the foot of the cross and leave them there… no, don’t wander back in 3 hours and pick them back up again… lay them down and walk away… now!  Hey, don’t even glance back there and consider picking them back up!  Keep walking buster!  (1 Peter 5:7)

Time on your knees:   I’ve often felt that God has used the financially challenging times to keep us “on our knees” in prayer.  During the financially flush times (though I don’t remember when those have ever been)… we tend to forget the source of the blessings and maybe get a bit too self-congratulatory over ministry accomplishments.  It’s the lean years that are the good reminder that everything we have comes from God for His purposes.

Remember the birds:  Every time I have to do budgets, personal or otherwise, this verse comes to mind (absolutely no idea why)… 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  (Matthew 6:25 & 26).    So to “remember the birds” I’ve hung bird feeders all over my yard where I can watch them daily and meditate on these verses.  Granted, this act seems to contradict the verse, now that I’m buying them two bags of bird feed each week… but you get my drift.

Take snapshots:  I can get pretty bad tunnel vision with an intense project like budgets.  And when those numbers are challenging, it can become all I see.  Every day I have to remind myself to “take a mental picture” of a blessing happening, often it has something to do with dogs, nature, or dogs.  At least four times a day I hear the words in my head… “This moment of blessing is brought to you by the One from whom all blessings flow”.  Its usually James Earl Jones’ voice and if nothing else, it makes me chuckle.

Retreat… for a little while:  The challenging budget season begs the question:  are we doing the right things, are we staying Mission True (thanks Peter Greer!)?  And are we enjoying the journey?  Too much time looking at spreadsheets can make you forget the joy of the work.  Whenever Jesus had significant decisions to ponder, He took time away, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.  Off to the desert, off to a garden…or off to a farm in the middle of nowhere to go sledding if the snow agrees.  Grab your colleagues, go to lunch, go on retreat, remind yourselves of why you’re in it and get recharged for the work ahead.

Trust Him for a new thing.  There’s economic theory that posits that during times of downturn and destruction, our greatest innovations bloom.  It is during these challenging times when the call for doing more with less may be the time to really look at what we’re doing at all, is all of it towards the mission?  Is all of it essential for the fulfillment of mission?  Is there a new direction we should seek to go?  Be on the lookout, dramatic shake-ups can be something shaking us loose from inertia.

Stewardship not ownership.  I am a steward, not an owner, for such a time as this.  My theology of money is such that for any dollar of a ministry I might waste, when I get to the Gates of Glory, the first thing I will be asked is “can we have that back, please?”.  Granted, its not likely to be the FIRST question I’ll be asked… but its somewhere on the list… “were you faithful with what I entrusted to you?”.  I like this because it reminds me that though my title today is a leadership one, it’s not an ownership one…. Leadership is all about stewardship, not ownership.  I am the steward of the mission, I am the steward of its resources.  I do not own it, I do not have autonomous control.  And that’s a very, very good thing.  Stewards, not owners.

There will be more sleepless nights before this season is over, and then I am rewarded… with a summer filled with the most blessed time with the dear ones we serve.  And that is the last survival lesson…. Always keep before you the mission of what you’re doing this for… the faces, the voices of the dear ones you have been called to serve, be faithful to that service.  And the One who called you to it, will be faithful too.

My 2014 Reading/Rereading/Deeper reading list…

I don’t make resolutions, but of course new years always bring a new hope of some sort.  I have one… I hope to be surprised by something this year.  I think I am at an age and have done enough stuff that it starts to look like the same loop repeating…. Work, travel, scenery, news… sometimes feels like “ain’t nothin’ new under the sun”… to the extreme.  So my hope for this year is to be surprised by something… in a good way.    So where does a professor start?  With books of course! (actually, this could be my problem –ha!)….

Here’s my reading/re-reading/deeper reading list for 2014:

My day gig requires me to read quite a bit of leadership and organizational behavior literature (mostly journals… sometimes a yawn).  However, in February, Peter Greer’s new book “Mission Drift:  The Unspoken Crises facing Leaders, Charities and Churches” (Greer/Horst) is coming out.  Because I’m special ☺ I read an advance copy in November.  It’s a good read on a critical issue.  I will likely blog some more on some of his points when it’s available for purchase (Amazon, Feb 8).  In addition to the “day job” reading list… I’m hoping to read the following:


“The Idea of Justice” by Amartya Sen…. Because he’s Amartya Sen and I’ve had it on my shelf for too long…

“Pursuing Justice” (read deeper) by Ken Wytsma, because he sent me a copy after Justice conference and because he seems to walk his talk… I like that.

“Journey toward Justice:  Personal Encounters in the Global South” by Nicholas Wolterstorff…. Met him recently at Micah Network gathering and was quite taken by his brain.

— My interest has been piqued in the area of justice and the organizational sphere and see research emerging in the difference that it makes to “lead justly”.


Its mid-term election year in America… all together now say “blach”… yes, yes, it is a privilege to have the right to vote and I am more than aware of the many, many places where a fair election is still out of reach of the masses.  What I find distasteful about American elections is the massive amounts of untraceable money spent, the amount of half-truths pedaled and with very little change in the status quo of how the machinery works.    The system is broken and needs a major overhaul.

The list?:

“Left, Right and Christ” by Lisa Harper and D. C. Innes because I liked what Lisa Sharon Harper had to say at Justice Conference

“On God’s Side:  What Religion Forgets and Politics hasn’t learned about serving the common good” by Jim Wallice (on its way thanks to Sojourners renewal ☺)

“Radical” by David Platt… because it comes from numerous recommendations

“I am not a social activist:  Making Jesus the Agenda” (reread) by Ron Sider…. Because its Ron Sider!

After all this, I think I’m going to need a good dose of inspiration….

“I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai, …. courage, conviction, change leadership

“Love Does” by Bob Goff, because my friend Chelsie Frank sent it to me and my friend Shanna McClarnon was photographed with this gent… I’m intrigued…

“Stories of Transformation:  experiences of transformation from development work” by Ravi Jayakaran because he gave it to me at Accord and asked for feedback.  And because he’s one of the long-serving brothers in the field of transformational development and a delightful gent.

Lastly…. Some re-reads as a reminder of why I love education…

“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire

“We Make the Road by Walking:  Conversations on Education and Social Change” by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire

“Teaching Defiance:  Stories and Strategies for Activist Educators” by Michael Newman

I’m sure the list will grow as I discover (remember) others I’ve wanted to read.  If you come across a good one, send it along, you see the general themes of where my brain is going this year!

Happy New Year and keep your eyes open for pleasant surprises in 2014!

The Leadership Legacy of Nelson Mandela – A Case Study in Transcendence

Nelson Mandela passed away today.  Its been coming for a few months, so the experts say.  It doesn’t make it any easier.  I now live in a world without the model of so many of my leadership lectures.

Let’s be clear.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ and He is the only One I worship.  But Nelson Mandela’s leadership legacy gave me so many Christ-like characteristics to reference in a world where there seem to be fewer and fewer models to point to at a national and international level.  And there are so many points in his leadership journey that leave the rest of us mere mortals wondering…. “would I have reacted that way?”

He was a black South African in a country that ordained brutal institutional racism against the black and coloured South African (two different racial categories).  God forgive us for the use of Your holy word in ever supporting the oppression of one man over another based on race, gender…  He, among others, chose to fight this oppression, first with violence (matching only the violence he and his comrades experienced) but for the majority of his life, with non-violence.

In 1964 he was imprisoned for life (not his first turn in prison thanks to oppressive laws).  There he remained for 27 years until he was freed, at age 72, and within a few years, elected The Republic of South Africa’s first black president (1994).

OK, there’s the VERY brief overview of some of the facts…. Now, the stuff that has always amazed me….. and the points of transcendent leadership:

1.  A leadership that transcends current circumstances.  During his 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela continued to encourage and support those freedom fighters continuing the fight on the outside.  He also used that time to continue his education, completing his degree at University of South Africa (UNISA) via correspondence courses (that needed to be smuggled in and out of the prison).  I heard this story recounted many times by Robben Island (prison) inmates that serve as the tour guides now.  As an educator and one who has visited UNISA, this fascinated me.  And it aligns with this quote of his that is one of my all time favorites:

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

2.  Leadership that transcends personal affliction – the healing in forgiveness.  After 27 straight years in prison, plus a few more, he emerged from prison, not ready for retaliation or revenge, which any human would understand, but extending a hand of forgiveness to the people and the government that had imprisoned him.  Why?  Because his vision for the new South Africa would not happen without unity and without uniting the gifts and talents of all South Africans.  His long walk to freedom was but a precursor to the nation’s long walk to recovery.  And he lead the way.

3.  Leadership that recognizes that power must be limited…  the counter-cultural and counter-continental choice to limit his presidential years.  He ran for one presidential term – 5 years, and chose not to run for re-election, despite his assured victory.   Its been said that Nelson Mandela recognized the problems inherent in so many African leaders that “stay too long” in the job.  You’ve heard me speak on this many times.   The longer one stays in a leadership position, we move from “steward” of this responsibility to “owner” of this organization, this country, etc.  This may sound like an easy feat, but you mustn’t forget, leaders are never solitary beings.  They are surrounded by people who benefit from having them in their leadership role.  So it is with country presidents, many, many cabinet members, aids, family members and others benefit from having that person in power.  And yet he chose to not listen to those self-serving voices and step down after one term.

I know many a US congressional leader who could take a lesson from this.

4.  Leadership that is willing to embrace and include the dissenting / opposing voice.  I have an exercise my leadership students do when creating their leadership development plan.   “Interview someone that regularly disagrees with you about your leadership style”.  They hate this assignment.  Tough.  I love it.  Why?  Because all too often when you get into supervisory roles, leadership roles, you surround yourself with what I call the “bobble head cabinet”… a team of those around you who only ever agree with you.  Please don’t ever mistake compliance and apathetic agreement with support.  If you don’t have alternative viewpoints on your team, and those willing to share them… get a new team!  Nelson Mandela recognized that in order to rebuild the country after the apartheid (segregation) that had existed for so long, he would have to work shoulder to shoulder with people he did not like, that did not like him, that did not agree with him, that probably wished his failure… but for the good of the country, they had to transcend those differences.

And again, I can think of a few political parties closer to home that should pay attention to this part of the lesson!

5.  A leadership willing to transcend political party affiliation.  There were many, many big and small decisions Nelson Mandela made in his presidency that went against the party to which he belonged (African National Congress  – ANC).  From choosing not to remove white South African farmers off their land (land rights issues are significant in Africa) to not disbanding a sports team beloved by the Afrikaans (white) citizenry.  There was a line in a Harry Potter film that always made me think of this… “it takes great courage to stand up to your enemies, but even greater courage to stand up to your friends” to do what is right. (stop laughing at my source!).

These are just a few of the many reasons why Nelson Mandela has become one of the leadership models I teach.  And this blog is so insufficient in expressing the significance of Nelson Mandela to South Africa, my adopted home.  Having traveled there yearly since 1999 and living there in the middle part of last decade, his legacy influenced everything, including the comparison of those leaders (using the term loosely) that would follow.  So tonight his long walk has ended, his spirit joins his comrades Stephen Biko, Walter Sisulu and the thousands of others who fought for a better South Africa.  The work, however, continues as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mamphela Ramphele and other contemporaries continue that labor.

Where do I put my hope for South Africa?… First and foremost in the Spirit of the Lord that seems to be sweeping through the South African church and bringing it to its repentant knee for its part in the racial strife of the country the past 60 years.  But when I think of hope for South Africa… I see faces… I see Craig Stewart, I see Lloyd Williams and Mark Slessenger, I see Debbi, and Bryne and Bafo and Joy… and on and on.  My South African students who taught me so much… and for whom I have great confidence in the future of this beloved country.

Rest in peace Madiba… your legacy continues on.

A little more substance, a little less style please

I just finished reading an e-mail from my friend Reeta.  It’s her version of a ministry newsletter.

Reeta is a 60+ year old medical doctor, native of her foreign country, body riddled with rheumatoid arthritis, who I met over 20 years ago after hearing her present her tiny start-up ministry.  She left her medical practice in the major city to move to a dump to start a medical clinic.  Low and behold, that wasn’t all that was needed, so she started a school, one grade at a time, adding one each year, a small loan program for women to start businesses, small business training, its grown quite a bit over the years.

And without a web site, facebook page or even consistent newsletter.  In fact, until 2 years ago, she hand wrote these update letters.

She presents her work so matter-of-factly.  “Women needed loans, so we gave loans, one wanted to learn how to sew, so we started a class for her and others”.  When I first heard her present her school and her ideas for future ministries, I remember thinking, I could have saved myself some grad school tuition and gone to sit at her feet for 3 years and learned everything about what the textbook says “is the right way”. 

Over these years, I’ve continued to support her and the ministry, probably more because of the substance of her and the substance of what they are doing, its certainly not for the “style” of how its being communicated.  Today, that’s a one page e-mail of prayer requests about what each kid is struggling with at home, what health training she’s going to do to stop the outbreak of this or that.  Stories and substance.

In this world full of expensive branding consultants, expensive web site overhauls, 24-hour tweets, making rock stars out of ministry leaders, I’m wondering if we’ve completely confused style for substance.  The One we claim to follow could have achieved “rock star” status during His, instead He chose a peculiar way, He chose the substance of deep relationship with a small group…. And THEY told His story.  And the world was forever changed.

For me, I’ve learned to tune out the glossy newsletter, the latest “buzz words”, the overly hyped stats about how a community would shrivel up and die without us, or even what great leader our program produced (gasp).  In our effort to tell our story, in such a way that this media noisy world will take notice and buy our product / give to our agency, are we missing His story, embedded in that small, handwritten prayer request letter?

 One story at a time, focused on substance, told with integrity.  And trust God to put the ears that need to hear it in the vicinity.