Are You “Connecting” through Facebook?

I’ve been exploring Facebook and other social networking sites. It will be fascinating over time to see what kinds of lasting human connections can be made.

Most of my cousins on my mother’s side are on Facebook, and it’s been fun to stay in touch more frequently, and see what they are up to. (Leaving aside the slightly embarrassing photos from my past that have showed up here and there…) I’ve also been in touch with friends from college, which has been a pleasure.

For those of you who have dipped a toe in the social-networking waters, or jumped in completely, what has your experience been? Are you using Facebook to connect with those you lead, with family members, or others? What has that been like?

And if you are on Facebook, send me a friend request!

Are You Surfing?

Yesterday I took a quick read through a new book called Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, and, of Course, Surfing, by Laird Hamilton. Hamilton is a big-wave surfer, possibly the best ever. It’s in some ways a fitness book, but he talks more about paying attention to yourself than any other fitness book I’ve seen. He begins with a section on “Mind”, and the chapter titles are things like: “Risk and Its Rewards,” Dealing with Fear and Negativity,” “Cultivating Instincts,” and “The Joy of Being a Beginner.”

Given the up and down realities of congregational life at all times, and the wild ride our nation has been on economically, perhaps imagining ourselves as surfers can be useful. How do you keep your balance? As Hamilton points out, it requires a lot, in terms of mind, body and spirit. Hard work, managing your thoughts, taking care of your body, are all important for leadership as well as for sport.

I will never engage in his suggested two-hour workout, although I might try a modified version of his routine. And of course, this is not a deep book. But I found it a fun read in the middle of winter (lots of beautiful pictures of Hawaii and other places with big waves), and it might help you take the ups and downs of your leadership less seriously — usually a good thing. Check it out at your library. And click here to watch a brief (23-second) video of Laird Hamilton doing what he does best, surfing a big wave.

Is Lasting Leadership Possible? Part 2

Yesterday I had a Leadership Adventure teleconference, an interview with Larry Matthews, coordinator of the Leadership in Ministry workshops. For 32 years, Larry was pastor of the Vienna Baptist Church in Vienna, Virginia, so he knows something about lasting in ministry.

A couple of quotes from the interview stood out for me. I asked Larry the question of the day, “Is lasting leadership possible?” He reminded everyone that leadership is always a relationship between two parties, and that there are no guaranteed outcomes. He said, “I can only function in a way that lasting leadership is possible.” He highlighted that an essential (and challenging) element of that functioning is releasing outcome.

He also talked about the critical importance of dealing with the inevitable resistance. He said, “We expect ministry without resistance.” Larry taught with Edwin Friedman for years, and often speaks about Friedman’s notion that “the key to the kingdom” for leaders is dealing with resistance. We so often get frustrated and reactive when resistance kicks in, without recognizing that it is part of the picture for all leaders.

To read Larry’s article, “The Key to the Kingdom” in the Leadership in Ministry newsletter, click here to go to the Leadership in Ministry website and then click on “newsletter” to find the Winter 2009 issue. It’s a brief and thoughtful article that will help you think about the most important thing you bring to your ministry: yourself.

The Pressure of Projection

Did you watch the inauguration? I hope so. I was moved to tears (a fairly rare occurrence, to be honest, and never watching any previous inauguration). The election and inauguration of Barack Obama is remarkable for many reasons, including, of course, our first African-American president. He also seems to be a thoughtful and disciplined leader, not afraid to take chances in an intentional way, nor to challenge those he leads.

At the same time, millions if not billions of people (at least a million of them right on the spot) in America and around the world are projecting their hopes and dreams on one (human) leader. That’s a lot of pressure. Leaders, including Obama, have to tread carefully as they deal with these inevitable projections. When we pretend the projection doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter, and say we are “only human,” and think we can say or do whatever we like, we’re in trouble. Likewise, when we internalize the projection and believe our own press, we’re also in trouble. To sustain ourselves as leaders, we have to take almost a meditative stance toward the projections of others: “Oh, there it is.” Then we can make thoughtful choices about how to respond to it.

All leaders must at some point disappoint and disgruntle their followers. It’s the nature of leadership. Obama himself is bound to disappoint, because no one can live up to the build-up we’ve had. It’s true, however, that we are in desperate need of calm, clear and confident leadership nationally and internationally, and my prayers are with him.

Is Lasting Leadership Possible?

How tired are you? In the depths of winter, whether you are facing snow, rain, or merely cloudy skies, the demands of leadership sometimes feel overwhelming. Top it off with the burden of budgets, high anxiety in society, and any personal challenges you may be facing, and you may feel like you can hardly take the next step. Going forward can seem impossible.

We often begin the year resolving to take better care of ourselves. If we exercise more and eat better, we think, we’ll be able to manage the burdens of leadership better. All true. But “stress management” and “self-care,” as we usually think of them, are not enough. The best stress-management program around has to do with self-management in the way we relate to others: focusing on ourselves rather than trying to fix or change others. When we are growing emotionally and spiritually, we can better handle the challenges of leadership. And as I’ve often said before, we give others the room to do their own growing.

Every one of my Leadership Adventure newsletters includes the tagline, “Moving from the impossible, changing others, to the merely difficult, managing myself.” When I began to make that shift in my own leadership, my life took a significant turn. Before the shift, I truly believed I could change others by convincing, cajoling and willing them to be different (despite much evidence to the contrary!). And I was flirting with burnout as a result. I was exhausted, and felt like I couldn’t carry on with my leadership.

As I slowly began to realize that I needed to focus on myself, my goals and my emotional maturity, my stress level went way down. I was able to sustain myself over time, without wearing out or burning out. And to my surprise, I found that others responded better to my leadership than they had before. Now, I must confess that this is a long learning process, and I still often get caught up in my own need to pressure others to be, act or think the way I believe they should. The shift to putting our primary attention on ourselves and our own functioning is the first step toward lasting leadership.

Make a list: in how many relationships are you trying to change someone else? Then ask yourself: if I focused on managing myself instead, what would I do differently?

Why Are Things the Way They Are?

Are you looking at some situation in your ministry, and wondering, how’d they ever come up with that? Homeostatic Perpetuation is a terrific post by Israel Galindo on looking back — way back.

Do You Want to Get More Done?

My time management guru, Mark Forster, author if Do It Tomorrow, is beta-testing a new productivity system. I’m finding it very simple and tremendously useful so far. Time management is really about self-management: time is neutral! I’m finding his system a way to manage my resistance to a number of items on my list. Click here to sign up to get the instructions. Even if you don’t do that, I highly recommend the articles, blog and forum on his website,

What’s the Relationship between Vision and Reality?

How do you assess your own vision? Is it possible? Or is it a pipe dream? Many grand visions seem impossible when they are first dreamed of. Yet at the same time, some leaders go down in flames because they rigidly cling to their vision without being able to see reality.

I’ve been reflecting on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. I mentioned a while back that our book group was reading War and Peace. Actually at times finishing the book, at over 1200 pages, seemed like an impossible vision. But I did it, helped out by some bad weather which kept me cooped up more than I had planned.

I also read, during another bout of snow, Nigel Nicolson’s Napoleon 1812. It’s less than 200 pages, and I was glad to get a modern view of Napoleon’s efforts and their failure. Ironically, Hitler made the same mistake of invading Russia in 1941 and was likewise defeated. Napoleon was a brilliant general, but he had a hard time accepting the reality of his situation, that Russia was too big and too cold for his army ultimately to prevail.

There’s an incredible visual representation by Charles Joseph Minard of the decimation of Napoleon’s army . I keep looking at it. The brown line shows the army going in to Russia, and the black line shows them coming out. (Just click on the picture to get a full-size view.)


So what does this have to do with church leadership? Having a big vision is very important, but we have to pay attention to the feedback we are getting from the environment as well. Leaders who ignore input from the environment won’t last long. Both aspects of leadership are essential: clarifying the vision, and connecting with the environment (both people and other elements).

How are you getting input from your environment? What do you read, listen to, and who do you talk to?