What Does it Take ….?

I’m sure you’ve heard the question many times: What does it take to be a good leader? Of course, the answer depends on who is responding to the question.

Two major concepts are: a leader is born; and training produces a leader. Government and many large organizations lean toward the latter: proper training makes a good leader. And if someone fails, just retrain him or refresh his training. If he fails big-time, replace him and start over.

The late Dr. Lem Boyles, Col. ChC. USAF (Ret.) said in his book, Leadership: The Minister’sIMG_1819 Responsibility, “The need for well-trained, highly qualified leaders in the Christian realm is one of the most critical problems we face in the church today.” I agree, and that also applies to the secular world. Without well-trained leaders, our churches and organizations are faltering. But Dr. Boyles taught that training alone is not sufficient. True leadership entails more than just filling a vocational slot: true leadership involves a higher calling.

So, what does it take to be a good leader? I have an interesting book by Hans Finzel titled The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. In other books we find many formulas and lists of qualities such as: “10 Keys to Successful Leadership” (different sets of ten by Sonya Shelton, Jill Geisler, Jonas Clark, and others). There are other sets of three, five, seven, twelve, and more. Various writers call out attributes such as emotional intelligence, influence, or authority as the key. But although those qualities are involved in leadership, they fall far short of being the keys.

John Marks Templeton stated a good point in his book Discovering the Laws of Life, “Someone who possesses good leadership abilities can accomplish much more [by leading] than one who pushes.” A leader is not one who stays in the background pushing for his agenda, but is out in front leading by example. Pushing people is similar to herding cats–it doesn’t work.

PrinciplesIn his book, Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey said, “…we often attempt to short-cut natural processes–substituting expediency for priority, imitation for innovation, cosmetics for character, style for substance, and pretense for competence.” Although they might not realize it, this is designed failure by incompetent leaders.

Covey stressed that true leadership is practiced or manifested “from the inside out.” Ruth Simmons, 18th president of Brown University, emphasized “There is no formula for inner work. Leadership is a habit of mind.”

Covey and Simmons point us to the true person: the core of our being: character, integrity. Character is involved in every aspect of our lives. Poor character is based on a façade of some sort, but good character is based on a foundation of truth. And good character is built into our lives by habitually choosing proper responses in every situation. As living and working safely is a result of good habits, so is good character.

So, what does it take? It takes a person of Godly character; one who listens to counsel but is not swayed by pressure. It takes a person who has committed to live by a high moral standard no matter what the circumstances are. Whether one is to be a leader in church, scouting, military, local or national politics, school, or business, the multiple and diversified qualities that are required can be boiled down to one word: Character. Make that two words: Good Character. Good leadership is character-based leadership.

So, what is good character based on? Humanism? No, that includes relativism. Reliable or trustworthy character can never be based on a “whatever is right for you” philosophy. That denies leadership. Is good character based on “all religions lead to the same destiny”? No. Various religions contradict each other; and some religions mandate killing people. That generates confusion and results in tyranny.

The bottom line is: Good character, integrity, is based on God’s law. And JesusCross summarized the law in His statements in Matthew 22:37-39; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This is the foundation for good character and sound leadership.

Do you desire a leadership position? Establish your relationship with God and ask Him to guide you. Establish a wholesome relationship with people. Take proper training. Excel in your vocation. Don’t push people. And when the opportunity arises, humbly accept the responsibility and remain accountable to others.

Seven Helpful Habits

From 1994 to 2005 I was an operations officer in the Nuclear Physics division at the Los Alamos7 Habits National Laboratory. One of my responsibilities was to assure that our staff’s training was up-to-date. One day I read about a seminar titled, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.” That intrigued me, and I attended the seminar to see if I should recommend it to our staff. I’m glad I did, and it was my privilege to meet and talk with the speaker, Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Dr. Covey condensed his seminar into a book titled by the same name: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (He passed away in July of 2012. America misses him, but his teaching will go on. And yes: I recommended this course to our staff.)

Covey taught that developing good habits presents more long-term benefits than trying to build a good image – corporate or personal. He said:

“The difference between the two approaches is similar to the difference between cramming for an exam and taking care of a farm. ‘Cramming’ is an image-based approach that nets temporary results, whereas taking care of a farm requires continuous, daily attention that will provide long-term dividends.”

And ‘taking care of the farm’ is the phrase he used for developing good habits for living.

The first three habits deal with the Personal Level. Individuals develop Independence by adherence to these habits.

Habit One focuses on taking control of life: Be Proactive. Don’t create or accept excuses for failure or lack of progress. Blaming or accusing doesn’t help anyone. And stop being overly concerned about things over which you have no control, but respond properly to situations. Covey called this: “response-ability”.

Habit Two is the development of a Personal Mission Statement: Begin with the End in Mind. Leisure time? Travel? More efficient teamwork? More effective sermons? Quicker meals? Whatever it is, define it. Whether you are a husband, wife, business owner, student, pastor, etc., develop goals to define your direction. This can be difficult; but once accomplished it will help you develop more effective leadership qualities needed in your personal or business life. It makes life easier and more enjoyable.

Habit Three is the essence of personal time management: Put First Things First. Separate tasks or projects under “urgent” – “important” – “necessary” – “desired.” This takes insight, planning, preparation, and promotes efficiency. It also greatly reduces time spent in crisis-management. That, in itself, is rewarding.

The next three habits deal with the Interpersonal Level. This section is more complex because practice of these habits leads to valuable Interdependence, which leads to personal and corporate maturity.

Habit Four is the philosophy that creates more productive, long-lasting relationships: Think Win/Win. We do not have to step on someone in order to succeed (except for sports games: one team must win). We need to fix in our mind that in order to truly get ahead we must depend on and help others. No one ever succeeds by himself. We must ignore our competitive instinct and help others succeed. The Win/Win concept requires courage and trust, but pays big dividends.

Habit Five is the skill that allows Win-Win to work: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” This concept made a long-lasting impression on me. Learning to actively understand someone else and his/her point of view is mandatory in order to effectively communicate our thoughts. If the other person realizes that I am concerned about him, he will be open to hear from me and perhaps willing to help me.

Habit Six is Synergize. Often (but not always) a corporate concept produces a better solution than our individual ideas. And this is actually the fruit of Habits four and five.

And Habit Seven is Sharpen the Saw. Our skills and methods are never perfect. Therefore, we need to continually hone or refine them.

PrinciplesThe information I gained at the seminar, and in reading the book, did not guarantee quick fixes to any personal, interpersonal or business problems. But I was supplied with tools to improve my communication skills, my outlook on life, and reduce unnecessary friction.

I also recommend two other books: “The Leader In Me” and “Principle-Centered Leadership.” To learn more about the “7 Habits” and other Covey books, contact Franklin Covey Co., Debra Lund, 801-244-4474; Debra.Lund@FranklinCovey.com.

How Should We Respond?

A friend asked recently, “How do you respond with a good attitude when things go wrong?” I’ve chosen the following examples from personal experience to help answer the question.

It was a cold, moon-lit February night in 1970, north of Seattle, Washington. GettingDSCN3918DSCN2635B off work at the Boeing Aircraft Company just after midnight, I was heading home looking forward to the chocolate cream pie my wife had made. No one else was in sight on the road. I was driving carefully because it had snowed earlier that day, and now a gentle, slushy rain was falling. The temperature was around 30 degrees.

Driving over a small hill, I saw a car stopped beside the road about a quarter mile away. I activated my 4-way emergency flashers and began slowing down. Pulling up alongside the stopped car I noticed a partially frozen stream flowing beside the road. I leaned over, rolled down the passenger window and asked the man standing there, “Can I help you?”

The man said, “No, everything is under control.” Suddenly he looked up. His eyes widened in panic and he yelled “WATCH OUT!!” as he jumped, and tumbled downPICT0027 the embankment into the freezing water. Within seconds, a Ford going about 45 miles per hour slammed into the back of my Toyota. But at that moment another man, who had also stopped to help, walked unseen in front of me. The impact hurled my car and me about seventy feet down the slick road; but my car hit the unseen helper. He was flung around like a rag doll, and wound up under the car we had stopped to help.

My immediate thoughts were: What should I do? How should I respond?

Believe it or not, my only injury was a sprained neck which still gives me mild frustration today. As other cars arrived, I asked the first driver to go call for help (no common cell phones in 1970). I directed traffic until the police arrived. The police at first didn’t believe that the driver of my crunched car could walk away – let along direct traffic. But I did. We didn’t discover the man under the other car for another ten minutes.

 [Note: The police report verified that the driver of the Ford was careless. His insurance company paid for everything; and yes, the fifty-seven year old man under the car survived. However, he had a massive heart attack, spent four months in the hospital, endured additional years of physical therapy, and was crippled for life.]

After giving my report to the police and undergoing three visits from other lawyers for depositions, my lawyer asked, “What would you like out of this?” That puzzled me. Again, how should I respond?

The lawyer could not believe it when I said, “I do not want to sue anyone; I just want my car repaired. If I honor the Lord, He will meet all my needs.” My car was repaired. Five months later Boeing had a massive layoff, so we moved to New Mexico.

DSCN8505BI thought the ordeal was over, but about a year later I was summoned back to Seattle. The crippled man was suing (rightfully so) and a more detailed deposition was required from me. This time I underwent something like an FBI interrogation, and the interrogators’ questions were leading me to spin the 1970 incident in favor of the crippled man. Desiring to support the injured man but maintain total honesty, once again how should I respond?

Asking for my original deposition to refresh my memory, I answered the questions openly and truthfully, and added other details that came to mind. I didn’t bad-mouth the driver of the Ford, but I did remind them the driver was neither alert to what was going on around him nor aware of road conditions. My desire was to be totally open with information and honest in detail. The man won his lawsuit.

In every situation in life we can spin things to our favor, but that would dishonor God and ultimately dishonor ourselves. So to answer the my friend’s initial question (How should we respond?), I determine to be honest and helpful in every situation, regardless of the outcome; and I ask God to help me to make right decisions. That enables me to maintain an accurate memory, a clear conscience, and a good attitude.