Tag Archives: organizations

How do you keep leaders from pressing the Eject button?

After some good dialogue in my last post on the Civil Rights Movement, here is Post #5 in my series on the Future of CRU and it was inspired by a post Michael Hyatt tweeted out on retaining talent. It’s worth reading because this is such an under-appreciated element of leadership and in ministry especially.  Check out the full post here:


This is the graphic I want to highlight which lists 5 biggest reasons people flee their jobs. I have a few thoughts I’ll share below.


In organizational ministry, we spend tons and tons and tons of hours ($ money) on trying to get more laborers and more leaders to join the organization.  But much less time is invested in assessing whether we’re retaining the right people and if our culture is helping those new leaders succeed.  It sometimes seems like we like to just keep moving ahead with the more leaders and more teams part and we don’t enter in as fully to the question of retaining leaders.  This isn’t a unique struggle to just my organization, but it’s a challenge across the board.

Of those reasons above listed as to why people press the eject button in ministry – #2 – #4 are fairly common I think (#2 & #4 especially):  Failures in empowerment, Politics (Power Games), & Lack of Recognition are often just as much evident in ministry as in other places. I personally think those of us in ministry, if we’re experts at anything, we should be experts in empowering others, stewarding power humbly and serving others, and encouraging others with reminders that they are seen, known, and believed in.  These three areas can make or break any aspirations for a true “leadership culture.”  They don’t seem to come naturally and seem to require great intentionality.

I wrote a paper about 5 years ago about why Ethnic Minority Staff leave my organization. I came across the organizational data describing the breakdowns of how many left the organization and why and the largest category by far was “Calling.”  People felt “called” to go elsewhere.

My response?  Of course they are.  If you’re leaving a vocational missionary organization what else are you going to say?  My observation was that we don’t work too hard to track the real organizational weaknesses or even failures that might contribute to losing real leaders. We settle for sometimes spiritual answers when there are more tangible reasons under the surface. We may indeed be called at times to go somewhere else, but there are usually real causes that open the door for a sense of calling that leads to a different place.

For the future of CRU, we need to spend just as much time thinking about how to retain staff and leaders that represent the FUTURE of where we need to go as we do about trying to recruit new staff and leaders.  So in that light, we need to put in just as much time working to RETAIN Ethnic Minority Staff as we do in trying to recruit them. Same holds true for women leaders.  That means a commitment to understanding what true empowerment looks like, what power structures and dynamics are preventing leadership reproduction in these contexts, and in recognizing and rewarding those people most needed to move towards the envisioned future.

A lot of organizations and ministries would serve themselves by thinking deeper about retention and give retention of talent (leaders) greater priority.  Sometimes in ministry I think we get lazy and we start depending on people’s “calls” and we forget that fundamentally we’re a volunteer organization in many ways.  People, especially volunteers, respond to being empowered, believed in, encouraged, and healthy cultures in which power is being stewarded for others. It’s a shame when we take volunteers (in which I’m including all staff categories in) for granted.

Here are some Practical Steps:

1.  Learn how to help your people succeed out of who they are (empowerment)
2.  Learn how to navigate power dynamics to serve others
3.  Get to know your people and communicate your belief in them and where you see their gifts and talents making unique and significant contributions

What are the factors that get you to start thinking about where the grass might be greener? What strengthens your commitment to your current context?

Names and Reputations

After the first post on Transferable Training, it’s time for post #2 in this short blog series on some of what I perceive to be needed culture change in CRU as we move into the future with a new name and renewed commitment to what God has called the organization to.   And in light of that I’m going to focus on some things pertaining to the name change itself, but maybe from a different angle than what has been covered thus far and I do so with some measure of fear and trembling. But as mentioned before I believe our leaders want these conversations more than ever before – so here goes. For more context on where I’m coming from in all this go here.

This past summer when the name change from Campus Crusade for Christ to Cru Global was announced there was a lot of press and much reaction, much of which seemed anxious and even uninformed.  I default to family systems language in saying that for many it tapped into such anxiety that their “amydala’s” took over.  I read an interview of an MMA trainer recently who referred to that point at which your survival instincts take over and your reason shuts down as an “amygdala hijack.”  I like that. A lot of anxious believers suffered from an amygdala hijack this summer when they heard about the name change.

One of my favorite things this summer being with all the staff  and about the name change process was actually a powerpoint slide.  Has that ever been stated before about a staff CSU summer?  But it’s true for me.  When V.P. of the Americas Steve Sellers was walking staff through the process with all the staff, he included a slide that represented how people experience our organization.  It included feedback from non-believers, other parachurch organizations, churches, and donors.  It was a list of things that should not have shocked anyone who was paying attention over the years, but it spoke loudly….

And then it was forgotten (seemingly).

The best thing to me about the name change process was that it was the first time I’ve really seen the organization put significant effort towards learning how people are experiencing us.  There was attention to not just our NAME, but there was learning about our IDENTITY as an organization.  I LOVED that.  Getting tangible feedback that reinforced many of my perceptions and impressions was helpful, yet I hardly have heard anyone talk about that aspect of things in the months since.  Discussion since has all been about the name itself or how it impacts evangelism or what it means for financial giving.

Shortly after CSU, my wife and I had a meeting with a missions board at a church.  In short, they ended up terminating their financial support of our ministry and specifically they cited that they just knew too many people with bad experiences with the organization and some were especially troubled by what they felt was a legacy of burning women leaders (not literally if you’re concerned at that statement!).  Now they were downsizing and there were other factors, but it was a reminder to me that names do matter because people attach meaning to them.  That’s why I was a fan of the change, because the meaning people attached to the name CCC was increasingly more negative.  Some of that was because of cultural changes in how people view Christianity and words like “crusade.”  But some of that is meaning that we ourselves as an organization have earned for ourselves – and it’s not all great (though there have been a lot of great things!).

When I was told about concerns about CCC and perceptions about the legacy of women leaders being treated poorly, I unfortunately couldn’t totally disagree in general. I myself have witnessed too many examples of great women leaders suffering greatly both from systems that favor men and from at times a variety of assumptions and expectations that work against the empowerment of women, sometimes that are even theologically driven. Now I know women who have had great careers on staff where they’ve felt empowered and treated well too.  So I’m not making universal statements, but as I observe myself and have interacted with people who have been around the organizational a long time, it’s hard to argue that CCC has had patterns where women leaders have not been supported enough or empowered and often shoulder extremely difficult burdens in the ministry.

And it’s broader than that, because the same things are true when I track the history of how ethnic minority staff have fared over time in the organization. I was not totally surprised, but when I switched to serve in an ethnic ministry about four years ago I was somewhat shocked to hear how many ethnic staff had their friends and pastors and even donors warn them about serving with CCC because of a perception or reputation that we don’t navigate culture well and partner well with ethnic churches. That’s not perhaps universally true, but it’s true enough to where that reputation and perception was attached to the name. If you are Cru staff, did you know that no small number of ethnic staff have been advised not to join the organization by their own faith communities? That was sobering news to me and makes me more thankful for every single ethnic minority staff we have because they clearly have been called!

I’m not citing these things to be negative or critical – just honest. After all, that powerpoint slide had many of these types of examples which partially fueled the process of the name change.  The bright side for us in these particular areas is that I believe our organization gives more women the opportunity to lead on most levels more than almost anywhere I look in the ministry landscape.  There’s a lot of women leading in a lot of places. And there’s been great progress to take initial steps towards partnering with ethnic communities in more respectful ways.  But there’s a ways to go and we have real and legitimate character flaws within our organization that many people associate with us.  We have had integrity gaps if we’re humble and courageous enough to acknowledge them.

So here’s my point.  I loved the statement our V.P. made at CSU that Cru would be a new name that we would infuse with new meaning.  I agree. There’s an opportunity now to invest in what we want to be known for and it goes way beyond just affirming our roots as a ministry or affirming that we’re still committed to Jesus Christ and the gospel.  There’s an opportunity to sow a new reputation as well as our actions and behaviors from here on out will provide much of the new “meaning” of Cru.    Just as that powerpoint illustrated we can look at what people have experienced, connect with feelings of sadness where we’re falling short, and make a choice to change for the better so that our actions match up with our hearts and intentions.  So whether it relates to ethnic ministry, the empowerment of female leaders, or involvement in compassion and justice areas and many other things – we can sow new meaning into our name and an even greater integrity into our corporate identity. Integrity in our corporate identity means greater integrity in our mission.

That’s what excites me about the name change.  But if we can’t sow that kind of new meaning into Cru, then it simply won’t matter what our name is over time and we might as well be called Crescendo. I’m excited to invest for the sake of a new future – are you?

What kind of changes do you see as needing to be made, if any, to the future identity of Cru?


Do you have big plans for your organization?

“Sometimes it seems like it was better down in the warehouse you know.”

-Daryl, from “The Office”

If you watch “The Office” you might remember this line from a couple weeks ago.  I thought the storyline between Daryl, the former warehouse worker who is an up and coming entrepreneur, and Michael Scott, the quintessential middle manager was well done.  Daryl has a pattern of generating good ideas.  Michael is threatened by them and functions in a way as to not be upstaged by those “under” him.  After sorting out tons of politics and drama, Daryl reflectively utters the quote above which maybe you can resonate with in some way the more you get involved in higher levels of organizational leadership.  The episode mentioned is a great example of innovation killing and how empowerment efforts die.  The corporate values say one thing, leaders’ actions in the belly of the organization say another.  Michael tends to ignore, hijack, or block great innovation.

My team has been discussing the frequently mentioned book here, Orbiting the Giant Hairball and one particular passage captures this and I’ll give credit here to my dad who made some great connections as it relates to this particular passage.  Gordon Mackenzie writes,

“Unfortunately, while the heart of [your organization] sings the virtues of creativity, the company’s intellect worships the predictability of the status quo and is, thus, adverse to new ideas.  This incongruity creates a common corporate personality disorder:  The organization officially lauds the generation of new ideas while covertly subverting the implementation of those same ideas.

The consequence is that, on any given day, umpteen people at Hallmark, responding to official corporate invitation, come up with concepts for new methodologies or fresh, original products.  Then those ideas, by nature of their newness, are deemed fundamentally unseemly by the same authority conglomerate that asked for them in the first place.  This makes for a lot of frustrated ideamongers.”  (pg. 147)

The belly of an organization is where empowerment and innovation is either reinforced or killed.  There are tons of “Daryl’s” out there with ideas and passion and energy.  It seems there are just as many “Michael’s” who get paralyzed in the face of newness and ideas.

If you have ideas and passion, you’ve probably wondered whether it was really worth it to deal with all the politics and drama of organizational bureaucracy.  You can’t help wondering if you were better off in the warehouse.  There are some seasons where maybe you are.  But like Daryl, sooner or later everyone will benefit if we keep pushing, keep innovating, keep creating.

I love the end when Daryl concludes his reflection with, “I do have big plans for this organization.”

Do you have big plans for your organization or ministry?

How are you moving towards them?

For a couple weeks more you can watch this episode online and I’ve embedded it below if you want to watch it.  Be warned that it is a “Halloween” episode so all the above action takes place with the characters in various costumes.

Permalink: http://www.nbc.com/The_Office/video/costume-contest/1256768


So while I recently did a post on “Bad Words” I recognize there is a certain hypocrisy in writing a post with this title.  But I also mentioned that there are things where it’s hard to use normal language to describe.

Before I begin, I will offer a disclaimer.  I had the bulk of this post in the dock a long time ago and I’ve saved it just because I wanted to make sure no one in my life would make an assumption that this had something to do with them.  I’ll use some specific examples, but I’m not throwing anyone I know under the bus.

But have you noticed how sometimes when you ask someone to do something or you’re talking through something with someone and they just unload stuff that there’s no other word for but B.S.?  In that post linked to above, I made the point that swearing involves anger.  This is a post about being told things that are worthy of getting angry at.

I’ll offer an example – Last summer I took my then 4 year old and 1 1/2 year old to McDonalds for breakfast.  We got their at 10:20 because my kids love pancakes.  They were a disaster we waiting in line for 8 minutes.  Then they started changing things over to lunch (2 min. early).  I get to the one person taking orders and it was actually a manager and I order one of the breakfast things with pancakes and eggs.  He says, “I can’t serve you breakfast.”  I say, “We’ve been in line 10 minutes.”  He says, “I just can’t serve you breakfast.  Breakfast is over.”  I say, “But look behind you, you have a worker pouring pancake batter on the grill and is making pancakes RIGHT NOW.”  He says, “I can only give you lunch right now.”  He didn’t even say sorry.   I’m holding a toddler and a pre-schooler is standing looking up at this guy and he’s like a robot with a short circuit.   I then say, “Well then I can’t give you any of my money and I’m going to take it somewhere else.”

The best part was that I had explained my job to my daughter a week before.  She asked what I was always working on.  I explained how leadership development is about helping people become better leaders and I work to help people learn how to do their jobs better.  We were in the car and she says, “Daddy, maybe you should help that guy be a better leader.” That made the whole experience semi-worthwhile.  My then four year old daughter could see through this guy’s B.S.

Another quick story:  My wife was doing her radioactive iodine treatment when she had thyroid cancer five years ago.  She’s a total wreck emotionally and physically because of all of what she had to do.  Morgan was 1 at the time and we met up briefly for a quick lunch since Christine had to be quarantined for a few days and couldn’t in the house with Morgan at the time.  We happened to be at another fast food place and all Christine wanted was some honey to have with some grilled chicken I brought to her.  I asked the worker for honey.  This place serves breakfast and has served honey for years.  The women goes on to tell me they have no honey.  I say, “Can you look for it?”  She says, “We’ve never served honey so I don’t need to.”  I said, “That’s totally not true.  Can you go look for some honey?  It’s probably with all the breakfast stuff.”  “Sir, I assure you we have never served honey.”  Worse yet, was I believe I could see a box of honey behind the counter and I said “I think I see it.  Can you go check?” I got more B.S.  Of course my wife’s gotten honey there many times since, but that one time when we really needed it we ran into a women shoveling large amounts of B.S.B.S. flows for a lot of reasons.  Sometimes it’s from ignorance, or from pride, or from laziness.  But it’s always self-motivated.  B.S. most typically comes though when people are defensive and they need to make something up to shift blame from themselves.

At its core, B.S. comes out of people’s mouths when they can’t take responsibility for the situation and they need to preserve their image and their need to feel good. It comes in the form of excuses or blaming or rationalizing.   It happens in one-on-one conversations and it happens when people are speaking in front of large groups and it happens in speeches and it happens in meetings.

Spiritual B.S. is probably the worst form of B.S. because people spew all sorts of stuff that sounds good to them to rationalize self-centered decisions, but it’s just B.S. with some perfume sprayed on it. Rationalizing selfish decisions is stinky business.I wish there was a B.S. button that you could press in those moments where there was total accountability for uttering things that offer no value and only seek to drive right minded folks crazy.   Or maybe it might help all of us to have a button in our own heads that we can mentally push just so we can preserve our own sanity in these crazymaker moments.

Do you have any thoughts on B.S.?  I bet you do.  Share an insight or share a story!

Taking an In-Water Survey (Evaluating on the Go)

Here’s the next installment of the “Leading on the Seas” series.  Head over to the “Leading on the Seas” link in the list of categories to the right for more in the series.

Evaluation is always a critical part of leadership efforts.  It’s important to measure up results with objectives and examine whether things are going well or need to be improved.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some value in evaluating.  People like to do it – whether it’s after a date, after a wedding, after a movie, or after just about any other significant experience.  We evaluate.  It’s what we do.

But not all evaluation is equally beneficial or productive.  One reason can be a black and white and overly structured approach to evaluation that leads some to only feel like they can evaluate when everything is over and done with.  So basically when it’s too late to make any corrections or changes.  It’s important to evaluate at the conclusion of a project or season of work, but if we wait we miss out on improving things as we go and ensuring greater integrity and better results as well.

Marine vessels typically had to be “drydocked” to examine all of their underwater parts.  This happened only when a vessel was not in the water and going somewhere.  So for the ship to be checked out, it could not be on a journey. It was sidelined.

A new method was eventually discovered called an “In-Water Survey”, which is a “method of surveying the underwater parts of a ship while it is still afloat instead of having to drydock it (wikipedia).   This was a great step forward because it meant that the ship didn’t have to be removed from the water to take a full inspection of that which usually cannot usually be seen.

Waiting until the end of a project to do all the evaluation or assessment of how things are going is the equivalent of having to pull the ship out of the water.   There is no opportunity to get back in the water quickly or continue on the journey without significant delay.   Those who find ways to assess and evaluate as you go accomplish a few things.   First, they find ways to make adjustments quickly and in a timely fashion.  Second, they avoid having to wait for a scheduled drydock to evaluate at which point significant damage might already have been done which undermines the integrity of the vessel.  Finally, they avoid long “evaluation” delays because there is a quicker and more integrated approach to assessment and evaluation built into the process.  The ship is in the water and can stay in the water, avoiding significant delays.Of course you don’t want to build a culture in which you are evaluating all the time.  That’s probably worse than a drydock.  But if you can find ways of consistently assessing what typically goes unnoticed in the daily flow of activity it should position you and your team to be more agile and adaptable over the course of whatever project or in whatever leadership season you are in.

I’ve found that having occasional conversations about the culture our team is reproducing and our core values and how those values are being manifested and implemented are pretty helpful conversations that serve as “in-water surveys” in that these topics often get neglected in favor of pure evaluation of goals and priorities and tasks.

What are helpful ways that you can take “in-water surveys” of those things in your context that are not typically seen or noticed, but are of significant importance? And for fun, I saw this recently which speaks to maybe some of the difficulties in doing an “in-water” survey depending on who we’re leading.  Enjoy 🙂

The Reverse Albatross

Earlier this week I posted on leadership albatrosses. Today, I’m flipping that discussion on its head and posting on a phenomenon that might be able to be called a “reverse albatross.”

While an albatross is a burden or commitment that really prevents leaders from leading in the direction and manner which is needed at a given season, a reverse albatross works much the same way though for different reasons.

A reverse albatross is when you are not bound or stuck in a bad situation or are limited in your decisions by an external force, but you choose to bind yourself anyway because there are reasons, usually material, that lead you to choose safety and security over making a hard call that frees you up to lead.

The best example of a reverse albatross is connected to events or programs that some of us affectionately refer to as “cash cows.”  There are those events – conferences or programs or something else – that generate so much money for you that even though it’s the smartest thing to go a different direction you keep doing it because you can’t walk away from the money.  So it functions the same way as an Albatross in that you are not free to lead, but the reason lies in your own psyche and capacity to say no to money and easy material gain.

Doesn’t matter if you could do the same thing for free because of technological advances – you keep doing it because you can’t bear to part with the easy money.

Programs and conferences and events that make money, but that are not serving ultimately where you are going ultimately function as a leadership albatross if you don’t have the courage or fortitude to say no to them when wisdom and vision and mission is calling you to change and go a different direction.  There are at least three significant conferences or events that I can think of right now in my own general context that I think could be eliminated – but it would force a major financial shift if they were and I don’t see much change on the horizon.

Are we free to adapt and change to what is needed today?  I say – probably not when you can’t eliminate events that aren’t worth the money that is put into them as it relates to the bigger picture of where you are really going.

Of course I have a non-profit perspective in this and a ministry perspective at that, but the central premise is that whether you are truly bound by something out of your control or whether you psychologically bound by money or control and safety or security, you’re still bound to an albatross and you need to “get yourself free.” And as I quote that, the song “50 ways to leave your lover” becomes entirely appropriate for this post.  In fact, that could be the anthem for liberating your leadership from antiquated cash cows and things that function like leadership quick sand.

So here are my quick tips for cash cow albatrosses:

Just Say No.

“Slip out the back Jack, make a little plan Stan, drop off the key Lee, and get yourself free.”
– the great leadership consultant known as Paul Simon

How would you advise people to transition from events that they might be financially dependent on, but that they aren’t serving the mission like it needs to other than funding corporate expense and travel budgets?

How do you keep yourself and your ministry or organization free from getting sucked into the trappings of financial security and gain to the degree it hinders or slows you down from leading towards the vision?

Any other Reverse Albatrosses you see out there besides Cash Cows?


Hope and Strategies

So I was pleasantly surprised today when I found out while on a hayride that my Bruins took it to the University of Texas today for a most surprising football win.In the post game interview with UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel some things jumped out to me and thought I would relay them here. See below for the whole 80 second interview.The interviewer mentioned something about getting the team to believe and have hope.  Coach Neuheisel then surprisingly responded,

You know hope doesn’t make for a very good strategy.  You have to execute (meaning your strategies and plans).”

This really stood out because when most sports upsets happen coaches and players seem to go on and on about how they “always believed” and “never lost faith” and as long as they keep believing “good things happen.”  Obviously these interviews are in the moment and there’s a lot of emotion flowing, but I always get a kick out of them.I loved Neuheisel’s response because it’s true.  Hope is necessary and vital – but it’s not a strategy and in order to lead significant change you need to execute plans that are developed with wisdom and forethought.  Hope allows you to execute those plans with life, energy, and passion, but strategies and plans have their place to give shape and form and direction to those actions.  Wisdom and hope together can make magic happen.I’ve developed a renewed passion for wise planning lately (compared to programmatic and simplistic planning) and my ears perked up to this and it’s worth thinking about.  In the ministry world where I function – where there are debates back and forth about strategies and plans and the “work of the Spirit”, this provides way of thinking about how the Spirit can be involved in the whole process of leading which includes wise planning and preparation as well as the inspiration of people, Supernatural power, and the intangible elements of faith, hope, and belief.But enough of all that – Go Bruins!!!

Ringing the Bell of Communication

I’m excited to post the next installment of leading on the seas today.  So far all the posts have related to “wind” in some way, so I’m excited to go a different direction today.  If you want to check out the other “leading on the seas” posts you can find a listing of them here.

When you think about leading a crew on the seas, one of the immediate issues facing the captain would be maintaining clarity, order and cohesion to keep things “sailing smoothly.”  There are a few ways that this typically has been worked out, but one is “The Ship’s Bell.”

The ship’s bell is rung traditionally eight times a day and traditionally was used to synchronize the crew’s watches.  It brought structure and order to a potentially chaotic situation, and gave shape and form to the daily grind of duties for the crew.

When I think of many leadership efforts today, including some of my own I think there’s often a lack of consistent and meaningful communication that results in clarity of roles and direction.  There’s no shortage out there of communication that seeks to delegate jobs, issue policies, and share organizational “facts” of one kind or another.  But there’s typically less communication that functions to keep people focused, keep them on the same page, and that helps them understand where their work stands in the bigger context of what’s going on.

The Ship’s Bell has been an alignment mechanism that aligns everyone to the same schedule and same flow.  It also has evolved into a symbolic mechanism that rallies the whole crew together.  The Ship’s Bell has often been used to baptize infants!

Leadership communication is such a significant part of facilitating community and also getting things done.  I do marvel how often the things that need to get communicated so frequently do not in favor of a bunch of lower-level “stuff.”  As leaders, we have opportunities to invest in the stability of our teams and communities and one of the best avenues to do this is communicating in a similar fashion as “the ship’s bell.”  In fact, if we fail to communicate in this fashion, we will be facilitating the erosion of core values over time and vision will take a back seat to the tyranny of the urgent.

Today there are more ways than ever to communicate – though that doesn’t mean they are all effective or appropriate in any situation.  We need to find the best ways to communicate with our people and be consistent in that communication and make sure that we are communicating about what is MOST important.

One caveat from the Ship’s Bell metaphor is that it is one-way communication.  Nobody today can afford to take such an approach, so communication today always must include one or more return streams of input in return.  But the point remains – we have to consistently communicate about what is most important because if we don’t we’re contributing to chaos over time and we lose the ability to keep action and work connected to core values.

One fact I found interesting was that it was frequently the ship’s cook and not the captain who had the job of ringing the bell throughout the day.  It’s a reminder to me that communication can come from a lot of places and serve the same unifying and meaningful purpose as long as there as a good foundation has been laid.

I think some of why the Ship’s Bell took on symbolic status over time is because of the meaning that people associate with trust and consistency.  The Ship’s Bell helped people trust that there was a greater meaning to what they were doing and it kept them focused and clear on what they should be doing and when they should be doing it.  Trust is huge – and it doesn’t happen over time without consistent and clear,  value-driven communication.

What are some ways that a leader can effectively communicate with his or team today?

How can leaders consistently keep their teams anchored in their vision and values amidst constant forces (internal and external) that seek to undermine them? Most leaders all think they communicate well with their teams, so why do you think there often is a disconnect?  How do you guard against that?

Empowerment and the Wind in our Sails

Here’s the next installment of “Leading on the Seas.”  I chose another fairly common phrase in today’s vernacular – “taking the wind out of their sails.”

Here’s the basic definition via wikipedia:Taking the wind out of his sails – To sail in a way that steals the wind from another ship. cf. overbear.

Picture yourself in a boat that is in motion.  The wind is behind you, you’ve got momentum and speed.  Then another boat navigates in such a way where they actually steal your wind.  Very quickly you go from momentum and speed to being somewhat dead in the water – just floating there knowing that it’s going to take a heck of a lot of work to get back the momentum you just lost.

Empowerment is a buzz word today and I blog on it frequently.  But is there a better metaphor than “having the wind taken out of your sails” for those moments when you are riding high on vision and motivation and someone hijacks your momentum for whatever reason?  A similar metaphor would be “raining on your parade,” but we’ll stick with the seas for now.

I’ve gone on record as writing that empowerment is a fine art that many claim to value, but fewer really know how to do.  They like it in theory, but it’s hard for them to see whether empowerment is really happening or not.  It’s the same for disempowerment.  Leaders often fail to recognize when they have taken the wind out of people’s sails.  As long as they’ve got smooth sailing, they don’t recognize their impact on others.

Sometimes the wind is taken out of people’s sails by unfortunate circumstances.  Other times it’s a product of leadership philosophy, lack of awareness, or lack of character.  Some don’t have a vision for empowering others.  They might use the word, but they see people as tools to achieve their goals.  They delegate, they use.  Some people just have no idea about their presence or impact on others.  They don’t understand how to steward or manage their power.  They don’t understand how people experience them.  Others abuse power because of character issues or they have other issues that lend themselves to self-focused leadership.

I’ve taken the wind out of people’s sails before.  I’ve had the wind taken out of my sails.  It’s a bummer all the way around.  The end result is the eroding of trust, messages of lack of belief or confidence from leadership, and an environment where tasks take priority over people and values.

Servant leadership demands an intentional and clear effort to empower people.   A fundamental aspect of leadership in any context is to figure out how to help others gain momentum and speed, not hijack their wind because of a limited leadership paradigm, lack of awareness or EQ, or character issues.  As leaders we can be the wind behind our people’s sails (rather than beneath their wings!) or we can leave them dead in the water having to work two or three times as hard to lead out the way they are called to.

How do you seek to help others build momentum as leaders, empowering them towards greater fruitfulness and development?

How do you handle it when you realize you’ve taken the wind out of people’s sails?  What do you do with leaders that you might experience that routinely take the wind out of your sails?