The Life Giving Leader

When I first started reading The Life Giving Leader, I honestly wondered if we needed another book on leadership. Certainly not everything has been said that could be said about leadership, but I know there are lots of resources available for leaders. As I read Tyler’s Reagin’s book, I saw the value in what he had to share.

As the President of Catalyst, I know Reagin is in a position of leadership and also rubs shoulders with many of today’s top leaders. He draws from those experiences and shares them in the book.

In the first part of the book Reagin focuses on the person of the leader, primarily helping every leader to lead from who they are. He shares how he didn’t feel he could be a leader because of his personality type. He even shares how on two different occasions people told him that his success could be hindered by his personality. He goes on to encourage leaders to live and lead from who they are, what he calls “your truest self.”

I think we all have a picture in our mind of what a leader looks like. While we identify that ideal image, we also are able to point to the places where we don’t match up to the ideal. Reagin’s encouragement is to be who God made you to be, to lead out of that identity and give life to others. Those are good words we all need to hear.

In the second part of the book, he writes about the behaviors of a life-giving leader, including being willing to sweat, sacrifice, surrender and serve. While he had some good insights and suggestions in those chapters, one particular portion really stuck out to me.

Near the end of a chapter, he was writing about the importance of being on a team and how the leader builds good teams. He writes about developing trust and a culture where people believe the best instead of expecting the worst. I thought this quote was a great reminder as we work with people. We are going to let one another down, we are going to make mistakes and there is no perfect team. Knowing that Reagin writes this:

I know this is a crazy thought, but it’s good business to trust people. Obviously, there’s a chance someone will prove to be untrustworthy. But just because you had a bad cup of coffee once doesn’t mean you stop drinking coffee. Just because someone once used you and lost your trust doesn’t mean everyone who works with you should be called into suspicion.

If you work in any sort of group, team or organization, you know there exists what is called the “gap of information.”  When that gap exists, when we don’t know all the details or what someone is thinking when they make a decision, we fill in the gap with either trust or suspicion.  Reagin’s encouragement to leaders is to build a culture of trust and to be an advocate for your team members.  That is some solid advice for leaders as we continue to work with people.

The Life Giving Leader is filled with some good insights for leaders.  Reagin makes it clear that being a leader isn’t easy, but it is worth it. If you lead in any type of organization, this book would be of value to you.

Thanks to Waterbrook and Multnomah for an advance copy of The Life Giving Leader.

Hurtful Words have an Atomic Half-Life ~ Bruce Van Horn

kicking1Our words carry a lot of weight and the things we say can have an impact long past the actual event in which they were said. I read this article today and it reaffirms the power of our words.

The author of the article shares this memory from his past:

I’m now 48 years old but I still remember the words, and how they made me feel, that a coach said to me when I was 17–31 years ago!

I was not feeling well and had performed poorly at a cross-country meet. I normally placed in the top-5 for my team, but came in well below that for this race. When the coach asked me what happened, I just said “I didn’t feel good.” He must have interpreted that as “I just didn’t feel like pushing hard today.” What he said to me in front of all of my teammates was “Van Horn, you’re a loser! You’ll never amount to anything in life.”

Read the rest of the article (the link is below) and the author’s thoughts on the power of our words. It’s a good reminder to all of us.

Hurtful Words have an Atomic Half-Life ~ Bruce Van Horn.

The Rise of Louisville Athletics

20130209-191303.jpgSince Syd made the decision to go to UL, we have paid more attention to what happens to the Cardinals. Obviously the men won the National Championship in basketball and the women went to the championship game, but they have also seen success in other sports.

I saw a link to the following article on Twitter today. I don’t know much about the history of the athletic department, but according to this article, it was in bad shape. The author talks about the improvements that have occurred in the program and the steps that were taken to bring that about. He refers to the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, which interested me as well. Thought it was worth sharing.

You can read the original article on the Forbes website.

Louisville athletics was a pariah. An organization so mis-aligned, so bloated in inefficiency that the very conference it helped form had sued to expunge the university from its ranks. A desperate attempt to prevent the department’s disease of non-compliance from spreading to the other members of the league. There was little hope for Louisville, its faith seemingly sealed as terminal.

In his influential work on organizational management, “Good To Great”, author Jim Collins refers to the circumstances Louisville had fallen into as the “Doom Loop”. The organization lacked internal accountability, failed to achieve credibility within its own community and had lost all authenticity with the college athletics community as a whole. It was not that the department did not want to change, but rather that it lacked the discipline to do so.

Those were the circumstances that faced Tom Jurich when he became the athletic director at the University of Louisville in 1997. Jurich understood that if there was any chance of salvation, he needed to reconstruct the athletic department to be built upon a foundation of accountability, integrity and honesty. Then, and only then, could a culture be born that would filter its way through the department and move it slowly out of a vicious cycle of disappointing results and stalled momentum.

“The department was out of control when it came to issues like compliance and Title IX,” says Jurich. “We were staring down the barrel of a gun and potentially facing the death penalty from the NCAA. Either we made a decision right then and there to change the culture once and for all or we would forever be mired in our own self-sabotage,” he adds.

For Jurich and his leadership team, part of that process involved confronting the hardest decision a manager must ever make – replacing individuals who did not fit within the cultural boundaries they set out for the department. In fact, within the first five years of tenure, there were more than 130 changes within the staff, or almost 50% of the entire department. Such high turnover is almost unheard of from any organization with the multi-million dollar revenues, and is testament to the dire situation Louisville found itself in.

According to Jurich, “The ride [Louisville] was embarking on wouldn’t be easy – we were going to need tough, self-motivated people who were selflessly driven by their passion for the department and the university as a whole. If they weren’t hungry and humble, they weren’t getting on the bus.”

Once the wrong people were off the bus, and the organization’s cultural foundation began to take shape, Jurich’s administration was only then able to begin to systematically address the issues that were plaguing the department. The most pressing of which was gender equity, or rather the total lack thereof.

“When it came to non-compliance with Title IX, Louisville was in dire straights,” says Jurich. “We had Lamar Daniel, a leading gender equity consultant, come to campus and tell us that we were the ‘worst program he had ever seen’. Here was someone who had spent over two decades conducting investigations for the Office of Civil Rights and who was practically at a loss for words on just how bad our situation was.”

While the problem Louisville faced was evident, the solution was less clear. At the time, the department’s budget was $14.8 million, or just 17% of the $85 million it had risen to today. Just about every area of the department needed improvement and additional resources. The problem was that not only did the Cardinals need to fundraise, but also that they needed to invest the majority of the money back into women’s sports, none of which would provide any financial return on investment.

“Our backs were against the wall, but we had no choice but to do what was right. I caught a great deal of criticism in those early days as we tried to pull ourselves out of the quicksand, but the reality is that without the tremendous support of the Louisville community and our boosters, we would have never made it out. ” Jurich explains.

In the words of Jim Collins, Louisville needed to confront the brutal facts of their current reality, while retaining resolute faith that they would prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulty. Breakthrough for organizations that face such adversity comes through making good decisions, each of which is meticulously implemented and accumulated one on top of the other. Yet more importantly, without the guidance of Jurich and his senior administration, whose keen leadership focused attention away from the disillusion of the circumstance and towards the delicious potential of the future, the Cardinals’ never would have made it.

Ever so slowly, Louisville began its slow climb out the college athletics basement and towards respectability. With a blue-collar like work ethic, the department inched towards ever-greater achievements, each victory built upon the last. Yet, while that work ethic Jurich had installed helped turn the tide for Louisville, many of its teams still failed to achieve their full potential. Like most organizations that make great strides in a short time, the greatest threat they face to continued progress is the stagnation of their culture.

His solution was the installation of a philosophy known as “Louisville First, Cards Forever” or “L1C4”. The concept was simple – the name on the front of the player’s jerseys was far more important than the one on the back. Pitino wanted his players to understand that they were playing not for themselves, not even for their teammates, but for the university community as a whole. It was no surprise then that the entire Louisville athletics department soon adopted the L1C4 philosophy as its own. After all, it was the perfect epitome of the cultural mindset Jurich began to implement within the organization when he arrived a decade earlier.

L1C4 came full circle for Louisville during the quarterfinal game of the 2013 NCAA tournament against the Blue Devils of Duke. Cardinals’ guard Kevin Ware landed awkwardly after attempting to block a basket, suffering a compound fracture to his leg live on national television. The gruesome injury sent a debilitating shockwave through the team, bringing to a grinding halt to the Cardinals’ seemingly unstoppable momentum. In a single moment, the dreams of the entire Louisville nation were brought to the brink extinction, resting precariously once again on the edge. Yet the Cardinals had been there before, had seen this void and in that very moment decided that this time was different, that they would not go quietly into the night again without a fight. The Cardinals rallied around Kevin Ware, his injury a profound reminder of just how far they had come and that they no longer had an opportunity, but rather an obligation to win. The rest of course was history.

Some 15 years after Jurich took over as athletic director, the Louisville Cardinals have made history. The university became the first to win a BCS football game, a national championship in men’s basketball, play for the national championship in women’s basketball, and make the College World Series all in one year. Even more significantly, the University received an invitation to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), a move that all but guarantees stability for many years to come in tumultuous college athletics landscape. For any other university, achieving even one of those feats would be cause for tremendous celebration, but for the University of Louisville, anything less would have been a disappointment.

By human nature, the majority of people do not want to hear that success comes from years of effort or discipline. They prefer to think that it emanates from some predetermined advantage or is just the luck of circumstance. The transformation that occurred at the University of Louisville was certainly not the inevitable, nor was it a function of circumstance. Rather, it is the culmination of years of calculated risk and exceptional hard work. More significantly, it serves as testament to the importance of visionary leadership, organizational buy-in, and the courage to carry on when everything seems against you.

Every morning, Tom Jurich asks his department to answer a simple question, “How are we going to wake up and become better as an athletic department next year?”

The University of Louisville stays humble and hungry.

This post was co-authored by Justin Vine.

Jason Belzer is Founder of GAME, Inc. and CSA, and a Professor of Organizational Behavior and Sports Law at Rutgers University. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBelzer.

Good to Great

good.to_.greatOne thing my wife enjoys doing when we are running errands is to visit a Goodwill store. Now, she has hooked me on it as well. In the past couple of visits I have picked up some nice, inexpensive dress shirts. The other thing I enjoy doing at Goodwill is looking at their books. You can get a good hardcover book for just under $2. Several weeks ago I saw a copy of Good to Great for just $1.99 and I couldn’t pass it up.

Good to Great by Jim Collins has sold over one million copies and has been read by many people in the business world. As I was picking it up I knew I was way behind the curve (it was published back in 2001).

While this is written about companies in the business world, there were several principles in the book that apply to all organizations, including the church.

The first principles is the Level 5 Leader. I listen to the Catalyst podcast and they continually use the phrase Level 5 Leader. Leadership plays a huge part in any organization being successful and Collins talks about that from the very beginning of the book. He identified several people who were able to lead their companies to be great and spelled out characteristics they modeled.

Another principle from the book was “First Who, Then What.” What Collins’ research team discovered was the great companies focused first on getting the right people in place, then zeroed on what they wanted to do. Some companies he highlighted hired people who were believed to be the right people before the company knew exactly what its main focus was going to be. The people in an organization are so valuable and Collins showed how it was important to start with the people first rather than some great business strategy.

I’m sure many people have already read Good to Great and know about the principles Collins identifies. If you lead on any level in any organization and haven’t read it, it would be worth your time (especially if you find it on the rack at Goodwill!)

You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader

No TitleThis is my first Mark Sanborn book, but I’ve heard him speak before and know he is a prominent voice in the area of leadership. Even if I didn’t know the author, the title of the book would have been enough of a hook to interest me in reading the book. I like the concept that everyone can lead regardless of the name on the letterhead or your business card. Since leadership is primarily about influence, a title is not required.

In the early pages of the book, Sanborn establishes that as a primary principle: “The bottom line is, influence and inspiration come from the person, not the position.” His encouragement to the reader is that he or she can be leader, even if his or her title doesn’t reflect a leadership position.

Throughout the book, he provides examples from his own experience and the experience of others to demonstrate how influence and inspiration can come from all different levels. He refers to people who are teachers, bellhops in a hotel, insurance customer service agents and waitresses to give evidence of leadership.

One of his principles I highlighted was this: “Leadership is intimately linked to service.” Whether someone sits at the top, in the middle or at the bottom of an organization, he/she can still be a leader as he/she serves.

A critique I have of this book is that at times it seem a little disjointed. I felt like he jumped from topic to topic within a chapter. While the content was good, I didn’t always feel like it connected within the chapter.

I really like the principles Sanborn lays forth regarding leadership and it would be a good read for anyone who seeks to be a person of influence.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review)

National Honor Society

IMG_1972[1]I had the privilege today to attend the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony at Clinton-Massie High School. My daughter, along with 26 other students, were accepted into NHS and the ceremony not only honored them, but also underscored the values of NHS.

There were a couple of things that stood out about the morning. The first was the emphasis of the four standards of NHS: Character, Scholarship, Leadership & Service. Normally when I think of NHS, I think of good grades. The brief program this morning brought to light the importance of the other characteristics. Current members read a brief explanation of each standard. One of the statements that stood out to me went something like this:  “The development of character happens by choice, not by chance.”  Thought that was a powerful statement.

The other thing that stood out to me is that each inductee had an influential adult escort him/her during the ceremony.  It was cool to see parents, teachers, coaches, and family friends who were selected to accompany the students.  It gave the students a moment to honor adults who have impacted them and it communicated that we are who we are because of the people in our lives.

It was an honor for the families and the students who are now members of NHS.

Bill Hybels: What I’d Do Differently

Willow_Creek_Community_Church_sign-e1311705888461A link to this article came across social media today and I took a few minutes to read it. I know people have varied opinions on Willow Creek and some of the things they do. I remember when I was in college one of our youth ministry classes took a field trip to Chicago to take a look at how they were doing youth ministry at that time.

The thing I found interesting about this article is what Hybels said he would do differently. I think it applies not only to church planters, but also to church leaders and even those in youth ministry.

Just some food for thought. You can click the link to read the article on the Church Leaders website.

Bill Hybels, a seasoned church planter with 40 years’ experience shares his insights on how church planting has changed.

via Bill Hybels: What I’d Do Differently.