The Most Under-understood Leadership Principle in the Universe

It is simple. It is profound. Here it is:

When you are in leadership, there are no insignificant conversations.

It is true in every setting. It is true regardless of the topic. It is true whether you are talking business or you’re enjoying a personal chat. Maybe you’re water skiing at the lake or you are enjoying eggplant parmigiana and pasta at Luigi’s Restaurant. When you are in leadership, there are no insignificant conversations.

Your assistant is frustrated or angry. You are the leader. How do you respond? Tell him to suck it up and do his job? Listen and offer encouragement and perspective? Or pour fuel on the fire and co-create an emotional hurricane? Your interaction has far-reaching consequences.

A dedicated member of your team comes to you with a suggestion that almost feels like criticism. How you respond paints a picture of your organization that far-and-away overpowers the mission statement on the wall. Your response has limitless impact.

You have an unplanned conversation in the conference room. Your attitude can be life-giving or demoralizing. Your words can build morale or snuff out a dream. Your body language lets the person know whether you value people and appreciate diversity or whether your phone or your next appointment is more important. Every time you interact with someone in your church or in your business, you are creating and reinforcing a culture that permeates everything and divides healthy organizations from dysfunctional ones.

Try these out: “I see tremendous potential in you.” “Let’s take a look at that together and see if we can solve that problem.” “I have been discouraged sometimes myself. I am sorry you’re feeling so low. What can I do to help?

Every conversation is an opportunity to clarify a misunderstanding, recast the vision, build morale, model dependence on God, or simply let someone know that they matter to you and they are important to your organization.

Hang it on a hook inside your mind so that the next time you have a conversation, you remember this: When you are in leadership, there are no insignificant conversations. Period.

Q: With whom should you share this leadership principle? When will you share it? Is there someone you should ask to hold you accountable to applying this principle yourself?

Your Passion

Dead and gone, or untamed and unleashed?

Passion is the force that brought you into this world. Without passion, there would be no you. 

Every person is born because of passion, and every person is born with passion. From the time you learned to walk, parents, teachers, siblings, and friends fed your passion, ignored it, or did their best to squeeze it out of you like a thumb and finger pressing the last drop of juice out of the lemon and into the water glass at the restaurant.

Passion that survives the onslaught is rarely refined at the early stages of life, but it manifests itself in squirming in your seat at school, boredom and fiddling, or launching yourself out of captivity and into freedom the millisecond the bell rang every afternoon at 3:30. You were a maverick and you couldn’t help it.

If you were a kid who didn’t fit in, commands like Calm down, Pay attention, and Remember the rules felt like iron fingers around your throat. If the people around you didn’t encourage you to find your niche or follow your dream, it’s probably because they long-ago abandoned their own dream. They took the easy road.  They acquiesced whenever someone barked a command. Someone put them in charge of “educating” you, and that someone measured success as creating cookie-cutter kids who were compliant, who didn’t get too excited, who didn’t question the status quo, who were content to exhale and let their shoulders fall.

If you’re reading this, I assume you survived childhood. You left home (eventually), spread your wings, and starting paving your own road. What happened next? What did your pursue? When you arrived at the stage of life that allowed you to make your own choices, did anything get your motor running? Was there a sizzle in your heart? Above all, did your passion survive?

If the answer is YES, you are living proof that miracles happen. That sometimes passions can be so strong that no person or barrier or circumstance can snuff them out. If you’re a follower of God, the time came (or maybe it’s still coming, or He’s still trying) when God prompted you with something specific. A cause, a people group, a mission, an injustice that cannot be ignored. While others are chasing toys or comfort or Likes, something burns inside of you that you just can’t ignore. You feel and hear the water breaking against your inner emotional rocks. The prompting is so understandable and unmistakable that it interrupts your sleep and distracts you from being normal because of the racket going on inside.

Michael E. Gerber piles on with these words, “Passion keeps you company on that journey into the unknown, singing in your ear, whispering in its strange language, in words that your mind doesn’t understand, though your heart is touched in the sweetest, most intimate way, to move you forward.”

Is your passion still alive? Does anything matter to you – deeply? What is it? What might be different in your world or in the world if you were certain about your passion and you acted? Who might help you? Whom would you seek out for validation, for wisdom, for support? What might your first steps be?

Simply by shifting the negative to the end of the sentence, a popular Bible verse says, “Where there is a vision, the people no longer perish.”

One Controversial Way to Handle the Church Critic

The setting: A church board meeting. The tension: Off the charts. 
My head elder pursued the agenda – and almost swallowed his larynx. He didn’t say a word, 
but his eyes and face shouted, Have you lost your bloody mind? I returned a shrug and an insincere smile that was intended to convey, Pray and hang onto your hat. We will soon find out. I had just handed out the agenda at the monthly church board meeting and one thing was sure: I had either solved a problem or blown up the church. 
I read a blog this week titled Top Ten Healthy Ways to Handle the Church Critic by Charles Stone. Everything he writes is outstanding, and you can read it here:
As I read through Stone’s list, my mind drifted back to a deacon in my church. I’ll call him Ted. Ted exasperated pretty much everyone. He was a sprinkler system of negativity, spraying criticism on everyone he talked to. Unfortunately, he was on the church board. 
I had tried everything. I had prayed, sought counsel from others, chatted with his wife, and talked directly with Ted. Charles Stone would have applauded my efforts, but nothing worked. I came to the unhappy conclusion that Ted enjoyed manipulating everyone’s emotions and being an all-around pain in the butt. 
So I put the issue on the board meeting agenda. Item number 8 – after devotional, prayer, financial report, the new projector, membership transfers, and a stipend for the youth leader – was Ted’s gripes. Yep. That’s the way I listed it on the agenda. As the board members arrived and we were about to begin, I passed out copies of agenda and held my breath. 
Almost everyone set the paper on a chair next to them or rolled it up like a scroll of Leviticus. But Hal, my head elder, scanned the agenda to see what we would be discussing. When he saw “Ted’s Gripes” after #8, he thought he was dreaming or that I had lost my mind.
The meeting rolled along like it always had. And then Ted turned on his sprinkler. I don’t remember what he was against at that moment, but everyone cringed as they felt the baptism of negativity. “Hey Ted,” I ventured. “May I asked you a favor? Do you mind waiting until your place on the agenda?” 
“What do you mean?” he responded. 
“Look at number 8.” 
Ted read his name followed by the word “gripes”. His sprinkler shut down. His face turned as orange as a Cincinnati sunset. He took a deep breath, stood up, made a left turn, and walked out of the room. 
The silence was thick. No one knew what to say (I certainly didn’t). After a painfully-long pause, my head elder spoke first. “Ron,” he said. “When I saw the agenda tonight, I thought you were nuts. But after hearing the negativity again and thinking more about it, I believe you did the right thing. Thank you for having the guts to deal with this issue. Hopefully we can have a happy church again.” I exhaled with relief as all around the room, one person after another agreed with Hal. 
Ted came back to the meeting that night. He slipped in 45 minutes later and sat quietly. None of us addressed the issue. When we got to agenda item 8, we moved on to number 9 and kept going. As I walked to my car to drive home that night, several board members patted me on the back and thanked me again.
Two questions: Did it solve the problem? And did I do the right thing? It solved the problem. I’m not sure whether his heart had changed, but I know that no one heard anything negative from Ted from that day on. He was quieter, and everyone felt better about having him around.  
Did I do the right thing? I’ll let you decide. I believed then, and I’m more convinced all the time, that the leader is responsible to shape and protect the DNA and atmosphere of the church. I did the best I could, and I think I would do it again. 
Q: What have you learned about dealing with pain-in-the neck people? What are the consequences of not dealing with them? 

Bon Voyage Captain Smith

Do You Live With Hubris or Humility?

Someone quipped that the real value of weather forecasters is to make palm readers look good.

Just yesterday, I missed out on a great day of hiking because said it would rain most of the day. It didn’t, so I spent the day fighting sunburn while power washing my driveway instead of enjoying camaraderie on the trail and soaking up the beauty of Falls Creek Falls. 

How good are you at predicting the future? Do you know what’s ahead for your leadership, your marriage, your health? Newspapers and websites have an almost-100% track record when it come to predicting movie schedules, but their accuracy rate plummets in the area of elections. 

Ask a year-old turkey to prognosticate his future.

His answer is likely to be smug. “I’m living the good life,” he gobbles. “Every single day, a friendly member of the human race shows up with food and makes sure I have enough to eat. I enjoy the friendship of my fellow turkeys. My home is fenced which keeps me safe from predators. Nothing threatening or negative has ever happened around here. I’m feeling good about the future.” If the next day is Wednesday before Thanksgiving, however, something unexpected happens to the turkey.

You cannot predict the future, but you can approach it with hubris or with humility. In the Bible, Paul issues a warning that a long list of disqualified leaders wish they had heeded: “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Paul seems to be waving a bright-red warning flag about the difference between hubris and humility. If you’re a turkey, it doesn’t matter what your attitude is; you’re going down whenever the butcher decides to eat you for lunch. If you’re a person with a call to lead others, your attitude determines your outcome, and eventually your impact. 

Read this 1907 quote from an English naval reserve officer who became a ship captain, then tell me whether you hear him speak with hubris or humility.

In all my experience, I have never been in any accident…of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in any disaster of sort.

Hubris or humility? 

Five years later, Edward J. Smith was captain of the most famous shipwreck in world history. (Type “Films about the RMS Titanic” into Wikipedia and you’ll find a list of over 40 movies.)

Let’s pick on Peter because he’s easy to learn from. Jesus warned him and the other disciples that a crucifixion was in Jesus’ future. Persecution was coming. Yet Peter wouldn’t hear of it. He was as smug as the turkey who had just swallowed another meal. “Even if everyone else leaves you, Jesus, I will be the one guy standing firm, defending you with Braveheart courage and a sword in my hand.” But when the heat was turned up, Peter melted.

I see and hear it all the time: Leaders barging through life with self-centered hubris. Whether they say it out loud or by the way they act, so many leaders believe that they are immune to temptation. Their attitudes communicates: “I have a lot of faith. In fact, people look up to me as a model of faithfulness. I have been tempted a gazillion times and I have always said No.” 

”I have fervent love,” boasts another (usually not with words). “I am fine. There is no danger of my going astray.” They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pharisee in Luke 18:11 and smugly pray, “I thank God I’m not like that pastor from Colorado Springs or Las Vegas, or {insert the name of your town here}.” This is a textbook case of spiritual hubris. Their apathy toward Paul’s strong admonition places them on dangerous ground. “That’s great advice,” they admit, “for someone else.”

Paul did not say, “Once you have said “No” 70 x 7 times, you’re pretty safe.” His counsel is for every leader. His counsel is for you. Crawl down off the throne. Let God reign there again. Surrender your hubris to God. Remember that “He is able” (and He alone) “to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.”

Question: What advice do you have about this topic for others? How about for yourself? What is God saying to you right now? 

Do You Suffer From DTL?

2 Pure-Gold Nuggets for Your Life and Leadership

In a previous life, I lived in southeast Missouri.

Today, when Sunday rolls around, I head for the mountains and hike to a peak, a lake, or a waterfall.

Back then, when the weather was hot and humid and the sun was blazing, a bunch of us got up early, bungied canoes to the roofs of our cars, smeared sunscreen virtually everywhere, and launched our boats into the Black River where we relaxed by floating, splashing, and clowning around in the water. 

If you pick the right river, the current carries you from the put-in to the take-out point. The only paddling you have to do is left-right navigation to avoid boulders and to keep from striking the shore. If, inexplicably, you can’t resist the urge to deliberately tip your friends’ canoe over with them in it, you then have to paddle frantically to delay their adrenaline-fueled revenge. Once the score has been settled, you slow down to reapply the sunscreen, enjoy a sandwich and some chips, and chat with other drifters. (Some were friendly, some were boring, some were drunk – and then there was the fascinating/socially-unique guy in the Grumman who had stenciled letters on the side of his boat announcing, “Jesus did not drink, smoke, or take drugs”). 

Some of the river-drifters either couldn’t afford a canoe or they preferred to ride the current on an overinflated inner tube with their butts positioned through the center and their arms and legs dangling over the sides. Whether they got to their destination as quickly as we did was not the point. They were drifting and they had fun. 

It’s one thing to drift down the Black River in canoes and on tubes. It’s another to acquiesce to DTL (Drifting Through Life). In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon says, “There is a time for everything. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to keep, and a time to give away. A time to be silent, and a time to speak.” Solomon could have added, “There is a time to drift, and a time to live deliberately.” 

Way too many people drift through life. They succumb to the current of life, moving from one place to another, from one season to the next. Year follows year and, before they realize what happened, they arrive near the end of the river and have no idea how time passed them by. In the movie The Bucket List is this brief but insightful exchange: Chambers: “Forty-five years goes by pretty fast.” Cole: “Like smoke through a keyhole.” The founder of Mary Kay cosmetics said, “Most people live and die with their music still unplayed.”

  • Nugget: When we are young, our regrets tend to be short-term; things we did that we wish we hadn’t done. When we are older, our regrets tend to be long-term; things we didn’t do that we wish we had done.

How does this nugget play out in the various arenas of life?

Let’s start with a fun example: Adventure and travel. If you’d like to conquer Mt. McKinley, you have to be deliberate. If you want to visit Plitvice, Iguazu, the Parthenon, or the pyramids before you kick the bucket, you have to plan ahead. You have to make a bucket list and follow it up with planning, discipline, and action. Some people are content to sit on the couch and read 1000 Places to See before You Die, but most prefer to squirrel away some finances, save up vacation time at work, and actually make some of the trips. You can’t just drift and expect to get where you’d like to be. 

All of which brings me to Dave Ramsey. When you’re 24 or even 32, retirement is not at the front of your mind. (Things start to change when you hit your 60s.) The path of least resistance is to succumb to the avalanche of ads designed to separate you from your money and make you feel deprived if you don’t have all of toys that your neighbors have. You fight traffic and get home from work and you’re too stressed to find something to eat at home so you eat out six or eight times a month. It’s been forever since your uncle asked if he can borrow your pickup to tow two tons of rocks over the continental divide, but you still can’t resist that hot-off-the-lot Ram 4×4 pickup with the Cummins diesel and Laramie Longhorn package so you take out a mega-loan and sign a contract with a bottom line of $57,000. That’s drifting. 

Then Dave Ramsey comes along on the radio (or at that annoying class at church) reminding you that the status symbol of choice is no longer the BMW but the paid-off home mortgage. And then he shows how a minimum-wage worker can retire a millionaire simply by investing 15% of his income in a growth stock mutual fund over forty years. You’re going to be 65 someday, and sooner or later you have to face the music that you can’t just drift and expect to get where you’d like to be.

  • Nugget: The difference between the economic classes in North America has little to do with how much money they do or don’t make, but with their ability to delay gratification. 

Now apply the same principle to your health, your relationships, and your spiritual life. Are you living deliberately or are you drifting? Apply it to your leadership. Are you taking your leadership call seriously? Are you investing the time and effort to make sure that your gift is maximized for the benefit of the people you are called to serve? I heard a leadership coach say, “In any given room of people, I’m not the smartest person. But I’m almost always the most disciplined. I have to be.” 

There is a time and a place for drifting. But unless you’re enjoying a hot, summer day on the Black River in a canoe or on a tube, kick the DTL habit. Choose to live deliberately. You be happier, and you’ll be exponentially more successful.

Q: In what area of your life do you need to live more deliberately? What will you do about it? What tools or allies do you need? 

Solomon Speaks at the Summit

If Solomon were one of the speakers at the Global Leadership Summit, would you go to hear him?

Pro: He wrote some profound counsel.

Con: He wasn’t famous for following his own advice. He was more of a “do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do” kind of leader.


Personally, I would opt to hear him. I enthusiastically go out of my way to learn from anyone who challenges me to be a better husband, dad, leader, or follower. I might cringe if Solomon talked too much about women or war, but I know I would leave with a nugget of truth or a holy Spirit prompting that could potentially alter my life and my leadership.

Why Solomon Might Skip the Summit

In my last blog post, I purported that Solomon would have attended the Global Leadership Summit. “Not so fast,” one of my friends chided me. “Solomon’s press secretary may have christened him as the wisest man who ever lived, but with 700 women to take care of as well as other distractions, he was too busy to sit still long enough to learn from leadership experts. He was actually kind of a fool.”

Admittedly, there is a kernel of truth to that!

But whether or not Solomon would have attended the Summit (sitting next to his wife of the week), you should have. Here are a few more highlights:

Solomon Goes to the Summit

Solomon would have attended the Global Leadership Summit.

How do I know? He wrote in one of his bestsellers, “Let the wise listen, and add to their learning” (Proverbs 1:5). If he had known that Willow Creek produces the most powerful leadership training anywhere, he would be on the front row.


It’s astonishing and mind-boggling that over 300,000 people attended the GLS either on-site at Willow Creek Community Church or live at one of the 459 satellite sites scattered throughout North America. Now that the summit has ended, the talks and interviews will be presented in 675 additional cities throughout 125 countries in 59 languages.

4 Indispensable Ingredients of Leadership (Can you find them below?)

You’ve heard the question, Are leaders made or born? Why do people ask it? Are they hoping beyond hope that there might be hope for someone who should be leading and isn’t? Are they wondering if they themselves have leadership potential?

Here is the answer to the “made” or “born” question: There are two categories of people when it comes to leadership: those who have the seed or potential for leadership, and those who don’t. When we cut through the fog and get honest, we know that there are some people who aren’t going to lead if they attend every seminar, read every book, shadow effective leaders, and live for a thousand years. They don’t have the desire, energy, wiring, or character to lead. They can be contributing members of the team and even serve somewhere, but their leadership potential will always be limited to driving the ice cream truck and recruiting someone to fill in when he’s not feeling good (no offense to ice cream truck drivers!).

One Bedrock Truth That Improved My Leadership

If I had a scoop of ice cream for every time I heard John Maxwell say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” I could cruise around the neighborhood in my own ice cream truck spreading glee far and wide.

It is true. Everything absolutely rises and falls on leadership.  E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. This is not a cliché; it is a rock-solid reality. Place the right leader in the most daunting situation and he or she will find a way for the cause to prevail. Settle the wrong person into the most favorable climate and the project flounders and often fails.