Posted in Servant Leadership

Being Still: An Important Task for Leaders

Be StillI like to be alone.
I genuinely love people, but my introversion starts screaming pretty early.
I need some quiet, a little time to pause, maybe some rest. Then I’m good to go again.

Leaders, whether introverts or extroverts, need to take time to be still. I’m not talking about what we do after hours or on vacation. Taking time for self-care and leisure is definitely important. However, leading well occasionally requires us to be still, in the midst of responsibilities, demands, and deadlines.

Leaders often go on strategic planning retreats and plot out the organization’s game plan and appropriate steps to get there. Again, this can be a valuable practice, especially if it’s actually followed. But being still is different than the formalized planning get aways.

Being still is informal. It can be scheduled or spontaneous. It’s a posture we must take as often as necessary to keep us fresh, energized, and prepared for the future.

Here are some examples of what that might look like:

  • Sometimes leaders get so consumed reaching toward goals and striving for excellence, we forget why we are doing what we’re doing. Our job becomes nothing more than a way to earn money. We may stop seeing the value of the people we serve. We need to be still to get back in touch with and passionate about our mission. We take time to remember that we are serving the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31), and make heart adjustments.
  • Sometimes leaders face unexpected situations. A staffing problem. A financial shortfall. Negative press. Rocky relationships. A financial blessing. A generous offer we never saw coming. The Lord knows the best way to deal with it all. We need to be still to seek God for His wisdom. We may have experience and education, but don’t rely on those alone. Instead ask the Lord for direction, because He knows the past, present, and future, along with the best decisions to lead to the best outcomes. There are moments I go into my office and close my door. I quiet my heart and mind, because I know the Lord has the best solutions for both the problems and blessings I encounter. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
  • Sometimes there are external changes on the horizon that could significantly impact the way we do business. Other times the changes are right on our doorstep. Strategic planning is valuable in moving toward our vision, but it is never set in stone. Leaders periodically need to be still to scan the horizon, and informally assess our organization’s effectiveness. We slow down to listen attentively to others and evaluate their feedback. We cultivate an innovative spirit, and develop flexibility to stay in the game. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Prov. 16:9).

If you’re anything like me, taking time to be still can feel irresponsible in the midst of great responsibilities and constantly pressing tasks. But it’s not. Being still is actually a part of our job. Leading others requires that we pause in order to learn, grow, and pay attention, so we can invest in a thriving staff and organization. Taking time to be still can help us get there.

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name (Psalm 86:11).

Prayer:

Lord, thank You, for calling me and equipping me as a leader. Show me when to be busy and when to be still. Teach me to balance my time and organizational priorities. Guide me to make wise decisions, so that my staff and business thrive, and Your work is accomplished well. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Faith, Personal Development

About Pie Crusts and Personal Growth

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My husband and I have a business called “Love My Pies.” As the name suggests, we sell artisan pies made to order. It may surprise you to know that my husband is the baker.

Jonathan’s grandmother and mom were gifted in the kitchen. They shared their love for cooking with him, showing him the secrets of making homemade biscuits and gravy, cornbread, cinnamon rolls, and pie crust. I, on the other hand, did not develop such a gift. I was the main cook while raising our kids, and I enjoyed making cookies of all kinds. But I avoided any dish that required lots of time and attention, especially pie crusts. I asked Jonathan to teach me a couple times, only to be reduced to tears by my own impatience and frustration. He made it look so easy, and I struggled to roll the dough into something that even resembled a circle.

A few years in our marriage I decided I would leave the pie crusts to my husband. Why should I keep trying when he could do it so much better?

I think it is a good strategy to focus where we are gifted. We thrive when we work with our strengths and abilities, and allow other people to work with theirs. However, it is also important to have a growth mindset, to be open to discovery and innovation. I had a bad case of a fixed mindset, the opposite of a growth mindset. I had decided that I would never be good at making pie crust.

A fixed mindset leads to personal stagnation and an inability to recover from mistakes. It believes that success happens naturally through talent rather than effort. It gives up when frustrated. It avoids being challenged, because failure is final.

A growth mindset leads to personal growth and resilience. It looks forward to challenges and will persevere when facing difficulties. It believes that learning may not come easily, but that’s okay. Anything can be learned eventually with desire and a positive attitude.

Here is a picture of the first pie crust that I made all by myself this weekend. It is a huge accomplishment for me, because after all these years, I determined to have a growth mindset. Recently we have had several requests for gluten free pies. My husband is busy baking for our pie orders, so I am the one with the time to experiment. My first pie crust was made with gluten free flour. It was far from perfect and the recipe needs to be adjusted, but I did it! I am excited to continue learning.

Having a growth mindset is one of my goals as I get older. I want to keep growing in faith and as a person, and to keep learning new things. I don’t want to become stagnate and shrivel. I believe that the Lord, with His eternal nature, is creative and vibrant. He imparts His life to us in the midst of the aging process. It’s nice to know that it’s never too late to practice a growth mindset. We can start with something as simple as a pie crust.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4:15).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You are the God of life and transformation. Challenge me to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Help me to keep growing as a person and in my relationship with You, to become all that You intend me to be. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Personal Development, Servant Leadership, Vision & Goal Setting

How to Expand Your Horizons

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Winters in Eastern Washington can be cold, and some times the snow accumulates in a short amount of time. It was during one of these cold snowy days that my car got stuck. I tried backing up, but all I could do was spin my wheels. In fact, I tried everything I could think of without success. I called my husband to see what I should do; it went to voice mail. So I sat where I was, cold and frustrated. Thankfully, with the assistance of kind strangers, I got moving again and drove home to safety.

It’s no fun being stuck. Even if you’re not really stuck, it’s no fun feeling stuck.

In my case, I definitely felt stuck. The men who came to my rescue showed me I wasn’t really stuck.

Sometimes the problem with being where I am is it is all I can see. I need to expand my horizons and get a better view.

When I drive I need to be aware of what is going on around me. However, I also need to see what is ahead to navigate skillfully. Similarly as a leader, I need to manage things in the present. I also need to have an eye on the horizon in order to successfully adjust the course.

When we expand our horizons, we are open to new ideas that keep us relevant and current.
They don’t have to be new ideas to the whole world—just to our places of service. Small adjustments can yield significant results.

We need to expand our horizons to build healthy relationships with our spouse, family, and friends, and safeguard against boredom and dysfunction.

We need to expand our horizons in our ministries and businesses to continually serve with excellence and avoid the downward spiral of apathy.

There are some practical ways to regularly expand your horizons.

Do not be satisfied with the status quo. Even if you are currently in a good place relationally or in business, don’t settle for where you are. Be thankful, but don’t settle. Look for ways to improve. Always strive for excellence.

Be curious and ask questions. When examining your way of doing things, ask “Why are we doing this?” It’s important to identify the purpose behind the process. Otherwise, you can get so accustomed to “the what” that you lose sight of “the why.” Keep your mind sharp and continue learning.

Observe other places in action. Get outside of your box and see how it’s done elsewhere. Take a field trip in a similar industry and see how they operate. Glean ideas. A word of caution: Don’t adopt an idea just because it works well somewhere else. Make sure it will work for you. Again, that’s where curiosity and questions come into play.

Look to the Lord. He is the source of the wisdom. He understands your organizational culture better than you. He understands your relationships better than you. He desires to direct your steps. Ask Him for the wisdom and creativity you need to lead.
Don’t get stuck in the past or the present. Expand your horizons and imagine the possibilities. Trust the Lord to guide you into the future.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for calling me to lead. Thanks that You have brought me where I am today. Help me to learn and grow. Show me how to lead where I am, and give me awareness for navigating the future. I trust You to equip me with everything I need to do Your will, as I hear Your voice and follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

Mixed race businesswoman jumping over gap between cliffs

When you think of change what comes to your mind? For most people, change has a negative connotation. As a young woman I was passionately in love with Jesus. He rescued me from a life of misery and destruction, and opened my eyes to see true meaning in Him. The Lord changed my life dramatically and I couldn’t wait to share His amazing love with others. Change was a great thing, and I wanted nothing more than to become more like Jesus.

Then I would look at older believers, especially those middle age and above. They seemed so set in their ways and quite comfortable to stay there. I was bewildered to see pillars of the faith settle for a predictable and safe relationship with God. They were good people. They were there every time the church doors were open. They financially supported their church, as well as other ministries. They sang the old hymns declaring that Jesus grows sweeter as the days go by. However to an outsider looking in, they seemed satisfied with the status quo.

I confess that, as a youngster, I judged many of the old timers harshly. Today as someone approaching 50, a follower of Jesus for 35 years, married for 30 years, and new to the empty nest season, I have a much greater understanding of where those dear folks were coming from.

I can only speak for myself here (although I think it can apply to others’ experiences). It’s not that I’m satisfied with the status quo. I have found ways of doing things, through trial and error, that work for me. I have developed good habits and efficient systems. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Plus, I don’t have as much energy as I used to. I try to choose my battles wisely. If it’s not a non-negotiable, should I really address it?

There can be a fine line between contentment and complacency. I am committed to change. Whether personally or on the job, I believe it is important to continually improve and grow. I try to keep an open heart to the Lord, willing for the Holy Spirit to reveal attitudes and actions He desires to transform. If you work with me for very long, you will quickly notice that I like to look for more productive ways to do things, to streamline operations, or to serve people better.

At the same time, I battle with initiating change. It is painful to examine issues of the soul. When it comes to leading, I know that people generally resist change. Any successful change effort requires lots of time, patience, and on-going communication. I don’t want to wade into the unknown and look like a poor leader if it fails.

My husband and I just returned from celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary. We traveled to Victoria, British Columbia, for a three day get away. We agreed before hand that this would be an adventure and that we would try new things. The idea sounded good until it was time to actually practice it. I became acutely aware of three types of fear that are obstacles to change and doing new things.

Fear of failure. We booked tickets with a passenger ferry from Seattle. Without a car, we would see the sites of the city on foot. We charted out the places of interest. While boarding the vessel and fighting off the initial feelings of motion sickness I started to dread our new approach. What if I get too tired walking? What if I can’t walk to the places my husband wanted to go? I hate being wimpy, and he is much stronger than I. I certainly don’t want to disappoint him. I don’t want to be the reason we’re stuck in our hotel our entire stay. The desire to succeed can be paralyzing.

Fear of the unknown. Our first evening we had dinner at an upscale restaurant. My husband and I both noticed that escargot was listed as an appetizer. Many times over the years (when not at a restaurant) we had commented that we had never eaten escargot but wanted to try it. Now here was our chance. And we both hesitated. Would it look noticeably like a snail in its shell? Could we get past that? What would it taste like? What if it was chewy and slimy and we couldn’t finish it? That would be embarrassing. When we step into the unknown we face our assumptions, many of which may be wrong.

Fear of being discovered. The afternoon high tea was one of our last activities in Victoria. We eagerly made reservations. As we walked into the beautiful historic mansion, I was struck with anxiety. I may carry myself with confidence, but I am not well versed in the proper etiquette for a British tea ceremony. What am I doing here? I am so out of place! Everyone will see that I am an impostor. Amid the dainty china and petite sandwiches and pastries, people would see the “real” me.

What is the Lord asking you to change? Is fear holding you back?

Be assured that if Jesus asks you to step out and do something differently, He is faithful to walk with you. Our Lord specializes in the transformation process and making things new. His perfect love is greater than any fear.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19, NIV).

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).
Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for your calling me as your child. Thank you for loving me and changing me from the inside out. Help me to walk in the confidence based on who I am in Christ. May I resist fear and step out in trust, as I follow You and do Your will. Don’t let fear hold me back. I believe that absolutely nothing is impossible for You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Don’t Miss the Next Surprise

I really did not see it coming. It simply took me by surprise.

I had recently been ordained as a minister and was investing my time in church work and developing a leadership coaching/consulting business, when I received the email. It was a prayer request for two pregnancy centers in the area whose executive directors had resigned. “Let’s be praying for God to raise up strong, godly, life-focused directors to take those positions.” The words jumped off the screen and I felt compelled to apply to the pregnancy center in the community 45 minutes away.

“Wait a minute!” I argued with myself. “How can you possibly be the right one for the position?”

It was a valid question. I have a heart for pregnancy center ministry and served as a volunteer for many years. I worked for three years managing two pregnancy center offices in the area, but I had resigned there to focus more attention on church ministry. I continued to volunteer; however, I felt my days of pregnancy center vocation were over. In addition, over a period of months, I had become increasingly aware of God’s call to minister in the marketplace and was exploring ways to do so. And then…the email prayer request invaded my life.

I wrestled with the idea of applying for the job for two days. Finally I contacted my former boss, CEO of the local pregnancy center network. “I really feel like I’m supposed to apply for this position. Do you think I’m well-suited for it?”

Her reply: “Are you kidding? You are totally qualified!”

So I made a phone call and spoke with the exiting director. I submitted an application, had multiple conversations and three interviews, and prayed earnestly for the Lord to make His will clear throughout the process. The door of opportunity continued to open, and I was offered the job.

Today I know that I’m exactly where I belong. Yes, I have a 45-minute commute and put in long days. Yes, there are challenges and changes that need to be made. But I love what I do, and I love the people I work with.

What would have happened if I had ignored God’s prompting? What if I had dismissed His leading, because it didn’t fit my idea of His will for my life? I would have missed this divine surprise.

This blessed experience makes me wonder. How often do we miss divine surprises, because they arrive in boxes of unexpected shapes and sizes? How often do we bypass an open door, because we don’t like what we see inside or we’re afraid of the unknown? How often do we try to pry a closed door open, because that one suits our preferences?

No matter how thoroughly we plan, God’s plans are always the best.

You may not see it coming, but don’t miss the next divine surprise. Be open and flexible to God’s leading. Be willing to take a step of faith.

Posted in Servant Leadership

Leadership Lessons of a Grad Student

Last week I submitted the culminating project for my Masters in Leadership program at Regent University. When I enrolled in the first courses two and a half years ago, little could I imagine how the Lord would transform my thinking and expand my horizons. What began as an opportunity to develop skills as a leader in church and non-profit settings became a platform to discover God’s mission for my life and how He fashioned me to be a leader in my family and vocation.

I’ve always been a school girl, one who loves the pursuit of knowledge in an academic environment. However, very early in this journey the information traveled from my intellect to my soul, awakening me to a whole-hearted approach to leadership. The Lord often opened my understanding to concepts beyond the scope of the curriculum. He was my Teacher, revealing to me what I needed, in order to become the leader He desires me to be.

As I reflect on the lessons I have learned as a grad student, the following ones rise to the top of the list.

Be a servant leader. God has granted me leadership so that I can influence others and help build His Kingdom. The best way to accomplish this is through serving. Jesus Christ was the perfect Servant Leader. He willingly laid down His title and walked in humility to meet people’s needs (Philippians 2:3-8). To settle an argument among the disciples about who was the greatest, Jesus taught that the one who is greatest should be like the one who is youngest and that the one who rules should be like the one who serves (Luke 22:24-30). Leadership is not about exerting authority and dominating. Rather it is about utilizing a position to equip others to succeed, and working together to achieve God’s vision for the organization in which He has placed me.

Focus on the heart. While it is important to learn leadership skills, it is less about behavior and more about the heart. It is less about doing the right things and more about being authentic and having integrity. Proverbs 4:23 instructs, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). As a leader, it is absolutely imperative that I walk daily with Jesus, allowing His Spirit of grace to transform me. If I am distant in my relationship with Him, it will infect my ability to lead. It is by keeping company with Jesus that I can love as He loves and serve as He serves.

Develop your strengths. For decades I looked at other leaders that I admired, and lamented that I was not like them. I wished that I were charismatic and more inspiring, or that it were easy for me to think creatively or dream about the future, or that I were flexible and could adapt comfortably to new situations. I spent a lot of energy on skills that simply did not come naturally. It is important for a leadership team to be well-balanced with a good representation of diverse skills. However, as an individual I can delight in how God wired me, develop my strengths, and offer them as an integral part of the team.

Embrace change. As a creature of comfort and a creature of habit, I have been good friends with the status quo. However, maintaining the status quo will bring death to any organization. Creativity and innovation are vital to combat entropy (the natural state of decline). Some organizations require drastic innovation just to stay on top of the market, but for other organizations, innovation does not need to be sudden or radical. It can be as simple as finding ways to improve existing systems or to more relevantly connect with followers.

Coach more, teach less. I gravitate toward teaching and mentoring, presenting important information and walking with others to impart my experiences. Unfortunately, these approaches do not usually facilitate follower buy-in. How often have I invested time providing usefully advice and tools that are not adopted by the hearers? While teaching is necessary when there are knowledge gaps, the coach approach has revolutionized my leadership style. It unlocks self-discovery and assists the person being coached to be solution-oriented and action-oriented, committed to implementing action steps to move him forward. Coaching works, because the person being coached is highly invested in his own development.

What are some important lessons you have learned on your leadership journey?