Mind the Gap

Photo by Soroush Karimi

In my varied international travels, I’ve ridden on numerous city rail systems from Chicago’s infamous “El” to London’s Tube and including the underground systems in Prague and Beijing (love the red and green lights that indicate which stop you have passed and which stop is next!)

One of the announcements that I hear frequently is, “Mind the gap.” What? Lest I fall between the concrete platform and the train car? Really? That small space . . . Then inevitably I hear a story about someone not paying attention and doing just what you least expect, falling into the gap.

How does that happen?

It happens because we assume that the gap is harmless and not worthy of our attention. And that’s where the danger is for us a leaders.

No one leader can do everything. There are gaps. Think of the leaders you know. I’ve worked for directors who have great people skills and use them to build strong alliances and partnerships, but their “gap” is in their lack of administrative or managerial skills. And vice versa.

The successful leaders acknowledge this, and gather other people into their circle who fill the gaps. Ultimately, as a group, this team makes each of them a better leader.

Unsuccessful leaders ignore the gaps at their peril.

Think. What are 3 areas where you are not gifted or strong, perhaps, areas that could threaten the very success of your ministry?

Take a look at the people that you have surrounded yourself with — other staff and volunteers. What gifts, assets, and strengths do they bring to the table? How do they fill in the gaps that you bring? Or do they reinforce what you already possess?

Good leaders are not afraid of their gaps, and they actively look for colleagues who fill them. They aren’t afraid or threatened by those who have strengths that differ from theirs. Rather, they welcome the challenge that others bring to their leadership.

 

 

When You Are the Face of the Ministry

Living “inside the beltway” (if not literally, at least figuratively speaking), the same leadership issues seem to get hammer at ceaselessly. No one on the hill can work in a bipartisan way. Where is the new “gang of …” who will stand up and work on real issues. You get the gist.

Out here on the west coast, however, I’ve been listening to leadership issues in the world of NBA basketball.

Apparently, the first round draft pick for the LA Lakers did a sort of un-leader-like thing. He and his family appeared on WWE, and in the midst of this appearance, his 15-year-old brother repeatedly used the “n” word on TV–multiple times. Big brother did nothing. Said nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Said first-round-draft choice is apparently supposed to be the new “face of the LA Lakers” much like Magic Johnson was for so many years, the one to build the franchise on.

My guess is that he’s going to have to learn the long, hard lessons that many of us have mastered over the years. Like . . .

  1. “Be careful what you say. Someone is always listening.” Remember the last time you were in a group, talking to someone you know very well in the same room with parents, students, or leaders in your ministry, and you said something that was honest and true, but only meant for that one person to hear? And someone else heard it too, and you didn’t want her to hear that. Some call it self-censureship. I call it picking my words–and audience–wisely.
  2. “Practice what you preach.” Or your words and actions will come back to haunt you. Nothing worse than leading a group of teens through methods for conflict resolution only to run into a few of them accidentally as you are losing your cool with your spouse or friend.
  3. “Always be genuine, even if it means not being perfect.” Children and teens have particularly good radar for assessing that all-essential quality of genuineness.

Knowing you are the face of your ministry, what lesson would you teach someone who is new to ministry?

Discuss.

 

How Loud Is Our Silence?

Most of us are this person, know someone like this, or have been in a situation with someone like this.

An intensive, challenging, vocal, stirring discussion–within the family, at work, in Church, in politics–goes on for a while until there is a lull in the conversation, and one of the people who has said little if anything starts to speak. Quietly, gently, slowly, this person makes an observation or a statement that irreversibly turns the discussion in a different direction or dispels the building or potentially destructive emotions.

Remember the old commercial, “When EF Hutton talks, people listen”? That’s the kind of person we are talking about.

One of the traits of a good leader is the ability to listen. One of the hallmarks of a great leader is one who knows when to keep silent and not speak.

Look around, and I’m sure you will see a number of examples of good and bad, great and worst leaders using this specific criteria. And with one hand you can probably easily count the ones who understand the volume of silence.

One. In 1980 while I was studying in Rome, I was sort of enveloped by the hospitality of the Jesuits. Padre Damiani at the Gesu listened quietly and with a gracious smile to me and my friends as we pattered on in badly-conjugated Italian, and when we stopped, he knew what we needed most–to be welcomed. He showed us the private rooms in the Jesuit residence there with their amazing paintings and told us the history of those who had lived there (at least, I think that’s what he said–our Italian was possibly worse than his English!)

Two. Around the same time, I was spending a lot of time with an Italian youth group at a Jesuit parish. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, then superior general of the Jesuits, was preaching at Mass one Sunday, and meeting with a group of adults there. We met and talked briefly for a minute or two. What I remember most is the quiet stillness that surrounded him, this fairly tiny, but wise man.

Three. Within the first couple hours of arriving in California for work and/or to visit my parents, I get to hear the stories. The stories of the dying, the stories of the families, the stories of the caregivers–all from my Mom who is a hospice chaplain. She knows how to listen without expectation, and with compassion and kindness. And she knows when silence is the best consolation in times of tragedy and grief, when no words are even close to adequate.

That’s three fingers I can count so far.

What about you? How many people can you count–including yourself–who know how to listen and let silence lead the way?

Handling Success

humilityShortly after my very exhausted husband walked through the door yesterday, he told me about a conversation that he had with his peer leaders at the high school about humility and leadership.

He’d been struck by how the USA swimmers who medaled in the first few days responded to questions about their success–thanking their families, their coaches, the team–recognizing that the end result could have been something very different if they hadn’t given it their best.

Within the last few days, we’ve seen the value of humility illustrated on many stages. Katie Ledecky, proud of her medals, but oozing gratitude to her family and friends. As opposed to Chad de Clos, strutting in front of Michael Phelps, trying to psych him out before their semi-final. (Yes, he was indeed strutting!)

Daniel Boudia and Steele Johnson thanked Jesus Christ for inspiring them to work so hard that they were able to win silver in men’s synchronized diving.

And Ichiro Suzuki reaching 3,000 hits without the fanfare and over-analyzed attention of the Alex Rodriquez retirement press conference.

What we have seen and heard is that humility does not ask for attention. It proves its value by actions we take. It recognizes that “I” am always part of the “we” that is bigger and greater than me.

In what other realms have you heard or seen humility at work recently? How do you strive to imitate Christ’s humility in your daily work?

Reason and Wonder

wonderReason and wonder are the two sides of a coin like the one that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

Good leaders have the ability to use both reason and wonder to inspire and motivate themselves and others to embrace the Good News, evangelize, and nourish those they encounter.

Today’s first reading from Ezekiel illustrates this. It begins with an ordered account of the when, rooting us in a specific time and place . . .

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile . . .
–Ezekiel 1:2

Then unfolds the mysterious, awesome, and wonderous vision of the glory of God.

Jesus recognizes this too in today’s Gospel. He puts the question to Peter about paying the temple tax, then instructs Peter to go fishing. In the mouth of the fish Peter catches, there is a coin with which they pay the tax. Practical yet wonder-filled.

I’ve often thought about how much of my day, week, month is spent focused on the quotidian efforts of answering the questions of who, what, where, and when, and limited time spent reflecting on the vision of the glory of God and what that might mean in my work and ministry.

I know I need the reasoned side of the coin, but do I forget the wonder side?

Where do I see wonder and want only to express it in praise?

 

 

 

Vatican Announces Commission on Women Deacons

america-logo

In a press release issued this morning, the Vatican announced that “after intense prayer and mature reflection,” Pope Francis has established a “Commission of Study on the Diaconate of Women” and named twelve members to it, six of them women, including one American—Professor Phyllis Zagano, who teaches at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.

Professor Zagano is a widely published author on the subject of women deacons whose writings who have appeared in America.

— Tim Reidy, Gerard O’Connell, August 2, 2016

Read the complete article in America Magazine

Complimentary or Complementary?

ColorI think of myself as “color-challenged.” I don’t often know what color to pick when it comes to shoes or paint or much of anything else, so I resort to the basics of the color wheel.

Limiting myself to the 6 options of the primary and secondary colors, the internal conversation goes something like this. “If the room is blue, then what are the adjacent and opposite colors?” Answers? Green and purple, and orange.

When it comes to leadership culture, I can be equally challenged, but find that I take a similar tack in addressing the question, “What kind of leader do I need to be in this particular situation and for this particular group?”

The summer issue of Harvard Business Review includes a “Defend Your Research” article on how leaders should complement their culture, not embody it. Sort of counter-intuitive, but I’ve seen it in action in my own experience. I find the answer is similar to my color challenge — go with the opposite or complementary skill set.

Does the program or office need someone who is task-oriented to right or steady or focus the ship? Then you are called to bring your organizational and administrative skills to the vision of the ministry so that it can be its most effective.

Does the ministry lack vision or direction, but has lots of great volunteers and doers who are generous and willingly give of their time and talent? Then you need to provide and communicate that vision at every turn, stay out of the proverbial weeds, and help them see how they plug into it and can make it concrete and human.

Start with recognizing your own leadership strengths and which specific skills they naturally support (are “adjacent to”). Then look at which skills are opposite yours — or complement them. How do you bring a balance of these complementary gifts so that your ministry can be the most successful and effective?

 

What Do You Look for in a Leader?

presidentMovies often propose and “try on” the paradigms for leaders that we see and seek in our world.

Last Thursday, PR Web reported on the ten most and worst respected presidents as depicted by Hollywood.

Harrison Ford in “Air Force One” was the #1 best — a president threatened by foreign terror, defending both his family and his country, unwillingly to concede defeat and willing to sacrifice himself for both. A hero in the best sense of the word.

I confess: I love that movie, and I love the Ford’s character in it. As a leader, I aspire to the kind of dedication and willingness to sacrifice that his character embraces.

I’ve seen most of the most respected ones–Michael Douglas (The American President), Robin Williams (Man of the Year), Kevin Kline (Dave–a personal favorite!), and Michael Keaton (First Daughter.)

While these and the others in the top 10 had Ford’s heroic qualities in common, what I truly admire most about these other four is their humanity–a leader who can listen, admit when he is wrong, and stand for what is right; two men who come to see that the office is more important than the man who fills it; a poseur who truly can walk in the shoes of those he is supposedly leading; and a father who learns the hard way what it means to be a father and leader at the same time.

Who do you respect most? Why? Which of these qualities to you try to cultivate in yourself? In others?

Rule #2: Share All Relevant Information

When sharing information, I’m pretty much the queen of starting with A, then B, and then jumping to J, K, and L, and finishing right with T. With all of those gaps in between, no wonder I get blank stares or long, silent pauses once I stop speaking.

It isn’t intentional. At least, not consciously. The adage that “information is power” is frighteningly true, but many of us withhold information out of negligence rather than malice.

To break the habit, try these 4 things.Board's Role

  1. List out the information that you are trying to share. Then go back and ask yourself the journalist’s 5 “W’s”–who, what, where, when, why,–plus “how.” Anticipate the information that you may be excluding.
  2. Practice a conversational style where you encourage your colleague or partner to question you about the information you have shared. It’s important to realize that what you think is relevant might not be relevant to them, and vice versa.
  3. If you have newsprint or a board available, map out the information. Start with the central piece of information you are sharing, then draw lines extending outward. On each line walk through–as a group–what additional information is needed to fully understand the information. Keep adding sublines until you all agree that what you have is complete. (See “mindmaps” for a great illustration of this.”
  4. Practice a little humility, and confess straight out that you know you will forget to share something, and give your colleagues permission to ask questions as they need to.

 

Striving for What Could Be (Part 2)

objectsMy graduate strategies professor taught us his proprietary method that is based on three questions, the first of which is, “What do you got?”

Though intended for secular and for-profit industries, I find the question rivetingly helpful when thinking about strategy in a ministry or non-profit setting.

This question forces me to look at the resources in front of me — personnel, budget, physical materials. And to look at the reality of them. My budget is limited to what my budget is. Period. In my office, “personnel” is me, not the 2nd or 3rd person I wish I could hire. Just me.

Interesting thing. As soon as I started looking at “what I got,” I started to see things that I didn’t realize I had. Plus I could see how different pieces fit together in ways I hadn’t expected.

That’s when the “could be” started to emerge. And all because I looked deeply into what I already had.