Tag Archives: leadership

Leadership Mapping: Step 2

Know the story of those I am leading.  If the first step to effective leadership mapping is to know my own leadership story, the next logical step is to know the story of the people I am leading.

One mistake I have made before has been to enter into a leadership opportunity all too preoccupied (and quite frankly, too impressed) with my presumed ability to lead a group.  That kind of self-inflatedness can bloat my perspective to the point of not being able to clearly see those I am supposed to lead.

Here are the who, why, what, when, where, and how questions that I have learned to answer so that I 1) realize if I am even the right leader for a group ahead of time, 2) invest in their story before I ever ask them to follow me somewhere, and 3) see a clearer picture of what we can accomplish together when I see how my leadership shape fits into their story.

  • Who are the people?

  • Why are they there?
  • What’s the basic feel of the place?
  • What are the demographics?
  • What makes them unique or normal?
  • What are their needs & struggles?
  • What are the strengths and possibilities here?
  • How does my leadership story fit with their story?

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Leadership Mapping: Step 1

Know your leadership story.  Everyone has a leadership story.  It’s a mixture of what we have experienced or have been taught as well as how we naturally function in a leadership capacity.

I think that sometimes people who are trying to point the way for a company or team miss the crucial first step in knowing and understanding their own leadership story.  Skipping this valuable exercise can create blind spots in how we give direction.  It can also cause an influence gap because those we lead typically see our blind spots very clearly!

Here are some good questions to start the process of knowing your leadership story.  You might even think of a few to add!

  • why am I here?
  • what can I do?
  • what can’t I do?
  • where can I grow?
  • how much of my leadership is just how I’m wired?
  • how much of my leadership is a response to how I’ve been led?

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Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Does My Youth Ministry Have the Shape, the Story and the Staff that Will Anchor Students’ Faith?

rubber meets the road pic

New 3-part article series on the Youth Worker Update Blog…this is part 1!

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On This Day that You Lead


On this day that you lead

      know that it is within you to show others the way.

On this day that you lead

     remember that sacrifice is the surrender of pride and the victory of devotion.

On this day that you lead

     hold fast to the truth others have used to frame and construct your character.

On this day that you lead

     give yourself to the destiny of example and inspiration.

On this day that you lead

     drink in the rich wine of wisdom that mentors have poured into your life.

On this day that you lead

     rest in a faith of things unseen and a hope of desires not yet realized.

On this day that you lead

     may God bless and keep you in every moment of decision

     may He shine a light of understanding in every circumstance

     and may He protect you with the peace that flows from his hand.

Denise McKinney      May, 2009

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Pride Fall

Labor Day weekend, 2009, we were at Devil’s Den State Park in northwest Arkansas—one of our favorite places to traipse around God’s creation.  It’s nestled in the folds of the Ozark Mountains and offers miles of trails that wind through crevices, bluffs and gorgeous views of the old mountains.  Our kids love the kind of hikes that include climbing up and down rock formations, so this was a great holiday adventure.

One of the crevices is about 30 feet in depth and about halfway down has a narrow slab of rock that you have to walk across like a balance beam to get through to the other side of the crevice and climb out.  If I remember correctly, the vertical slab is about 8-10 feet off the ground,  and below it is a bed of sedimentary rocks in the darkness.

I have crossed this stone balance beam before and remembered that to go across, the first step requires a shifting of weight from one foot to the other and swinging around a slight bulge in the crevice wall.   Once that maneuver is successful, it is an easy walk across the 6” wide slab because the crevice walls are within reach to keep one’s balance.

This time, Lanie and I were exploring the crevice while Gary and Garrison waited up top for us.  Since it was her first time to tackle this crevice, she was a little uneasy about shifting her weight around the bulge.  So, being the “expert” (I’ve done it two times before!), and wanting to show my daughter her mom’s outdoorsy abilities, I did the “step aside, honey and let Mom show you how it’s done” move.  But, evidently my show-off mode wrecked my balance, because I overcompensated on shifting my weight to the slab and lost my footing.  The next thing I know, I’m falling off the slab and through the 2 foot opening between it and the crevice wall down into the cave.  On the way down, I hit my head on the crevice wall, hit my back on the slab, landed on my upper thigh and tore up my right leg on the bed of rocks in the darkness below.  My leg felt warm with a strange pain that pulsed much deeper than a typical scrape.

I stood up pretty quickly because I could hear Lanie panicking above me—fearful that I was unconscious since she couldn’t see me in the dark.  Someone met me at the top of the bed of rocks and helped me climb out of the opening.  As I stood back up in the sunshine, there were a few gasps from onlookers.  Evidently that warm, deep pain was where a sharp rock had punctured the side of my leg.  I was bleeding more than I had ever bled in my life.  By the time a park guide had tied some cloth around my leg and we had hiked the 1/4 mile out of the park (it was early in the hike!), my shoe was so soaked in blood that a small pool of it had accumulated in the cushion of my tennis shoe.  I had to throw it away and buy some flip flops later that morning.

As I limped around for a few weeks with an incredibly sore leg, battled an infection around the wound and winced every time I sat down from a bruise on the back of my thigh that was about a foot in diameter, I knew that this experience was a humbling lesson to me of how sometimes I let pride lead in my life.  There is still a scar on my leg that often reminds me of where pride can literally take me down.

Pride for me is:

  • often quiet and patient—I don’t think I have a constant prideful demeanor, but rather my pride waits in seclusion for a prized opportunity to make an entrance.  Then it pounces on the moment.
  • sometimes disguised as humility—Not always, but there have been times that my willingness to serve or sacrifice was really a facade for wanting to get noticed or get the credit for something.
  • a confusion between confidence and performance—This isn’t to imply that to be a performer is to be vain.  Some of the best performers I know are incredibly humble and tend to retreat away from accolades.  For me, though, I have to ask myself if I’m performing for acclamation or leading from a deep sense of purpose and confidence.
  • a subtle inability to let go of my own wants—This happens when I don’t want to wait for something or disagree with someone else’s plan that impacts me!  I can find myself trying to maneuver situations to my liking when things don’t go my way.

It’s just another part of the self-awareness campaign God is working out in my life.  Often, as adults, we correct our children and the adolescents in our lives for being selfish or prideful, but the reality for me at least, is that I’ve perfected the art of disguising and diverting attention away from my pride so that I won’t be accused of such a thing.  There is just as much pride in this human heart as there was 25 years ago; I’ve just tried to unconsciously master it.

I think it takes a good, hard, pride fall that leaves a mark in order for us to see that we are being prideful.  I’m hoping that scar on my leg never goes away.  Not only will it be a good test for my vanity on physical appearance, but the scar tissue goes deep enough to caution my motives when I only want others to see the me inside of me.  Letting God clean house on my pride is about getting out of the way so others can see the gracious Creator, Author of Life, and Redemptive Father at work in me.

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Back from a long journey away

A few weeks ago, I stepped back onto a familiar road.  I parked my car on a  Thursday morning and walked across a parking lot, up a walkway and through the doors of Metro Christian Academy in Tulsa, OK.  For the next five hours, I met faculty and staff, started setting up my office and enjoyed watching students pass in the hallway each time the bell rang.  Working in a school might be a very new geographical location  for me to be in ministry to kids, but still the world of students has remained sweetly familiar terrain.

With twenty-some days down now as Metro’s Spiritual Life Director, I’m already realizing notable changes that have occurred in my own life  in the four years I’ve been away from daily vocational ministry:

  • family picI’m a little older.   No news there!  The last time I was up in front of  students and families every week, I had a kindergartner and was 7 months pregnant.  Now that I’m knocking on the door of age 40, I have a 5th grader and a preschooler.   These few years have given me greater appreciation for the daily joys and struggles of parenting.
  • I understand myself a little more.  It sounds a bit funny, but I really do think God used the last few years to help me grow up a little more in my identity.  There were so many things I did not recognize about myself until I stepped back from ministry for a while—1) I have some strong ADD traits that truly shape how I function in life and relationships, 2) I have a natural passion to help people lead well and 3) I find tremendous clarity and soul-centering in putting my words to paper.
  • I’m a little healthier.  Two years ago I got a reality check of arm pains during my runs, pretty high blood pressure and cholesterol levels that quickly reminded me to take better care of myself and not take my health for granted.
  • I’ve climbed two not so little mountains.  At a point in my life standing at the keyhole of long's peakwhen I had plenty of fears about life changes and future possibilities, Gary and I started hiking on our vacations.  The feeling of standing at the keyhole of Long’s Peak in Colorado surrounded by the tips of the Rockies was the triumph I needed to tackle some emotional mountains that threatened my hope and confidence.  Last year, we drove out into literally the middle of nowhere in Wyoming with literally no one around for what seemed 50 miles and hiked Laramie Peak just before my 20 year high school reunion.  That climb was memorable because it took me to the top of the world that I called home for most of my childhood.

I’ve also reflected on joys that have not only remained constant, but have dug deeper roots into my soul:

  • I still love spending my days with youth.   denise with her girls It doesn’t matter where I am or how much time has passed since I officially worked with students—their stories, their struggles and their spiritual growth is where I’m drawn.  If they are aloof,  I’m patient.  If they don’t trust adults, I work to earn that trust.  If they are exploring their abilities, I want to give them a place to practice and shine.  If they have questions, I want to be a safe person to come and ask.  If they don’t know how much God loves them, I want to make sure they know. 
  • More than ever, I want to live in the legacy that’s been given to me.  So much of my story is rooted in the lives of people like my parents who opened their home for 20 years to foster children with no where to go.  And, it’s rooted in the ministry of people like my youth pastor, Jeff Mugford, who modeled what it looks like to follow Christ in the real world.  I want to continue to be faithful to the good work God began in my life through them and I want to be faithful to how God is urging me to live out that legacy today and tomorrow.
  • I love words spoken, written and sung.  From my son’s well timed one-liners, to my daughter’s wonderful prose, to my own addiction to my Ipod Scrabble game, I cannot get away from the joy of communicating with just the right word.  I want every article I write, every song I sing, and each prayer I lead to guide people to a fresh, new place in their thinking.    As this desire grows stronger, I strive to minimize the moments where I waste my words on futile endeavors like complaining, gossiping or boasting.  Oh, that I could conquer that struggle for good!

So, I feel as if I have just returned from a long journey away—one that I needed to take in order to be ready to travel this road with students and families once again.  I am so grateful for this beautiful wilderness that lies just behind me.  It was not easy, but it was worth it.


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One of these someday

A reminder that the kind of person someone needs me to be today may be the kind of person I’ll need someone to be for me on another day…

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and the wrong. Sometime in your life you will have been all of these.

-Dr. Robert H. Goddard

Also has a familiar scriptural resonance:

Treat others just as you want to be treated…when you find yourself in the same situation as them!  Luke 6:31 + Denise’s addendum

God give us the strength and grace to live in such a way.

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Whitewater Adventure: An Illustration in Leadership

Ben 1201 Last week our family enjoyed an incredible week in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  We hiked, rock climbed, rode an alpine coaster, and finished off just about every day soaking in the warmth and minerals of the hot springs pool.

But as fun and memorable as all these activities were, one other family adventure was the pinnacle of the week for us:  whitewater rafting.  Gary and I love whitewater rafting and have done so many times.  But these days, we are in the season of introducing our kids to the outdoor pursuits that we love.  What kept scoring points for this whitewater trip as my all time favorite can be attributed to two things:

1.  The Company

Whitewater Rafting, LLC left no detail to the imagination.  Every time I have rafted before, the decision to wear a wetsuit has also been a decision to not only wear the lingering river organisms still fighting for their lives within the fabric of the wetsuit, but also to wear the hygiene and smells of the many people who have worn the wetsuit before you!  Although I’m sure the company does not have every wetsuit dry-cleaned in between wears, it was clear that they made a concerted attempt to disinfect and dry the wetsuits after each use.  Score points for thinking of my comfort and reducing the “ick” factor!

Not only were the wetsuit options a pleasant surprise, but also the DVD of 25 pictures from our trip that cost about $10 more than the one or two pictures we have purchased on previous rafting trips.  It’s a nice deal to be able to have ownership of the entire package of pictures so we can share them with others.  Score points for a bundle of tangible memories to take home!

2.  The Guide

We’ve always had great rafting guides, but Ben left an unforgettable impression on us.  It started with our life-jacket fittings.  As he knelt down next to Garrison to talk him into the little kid life-jacket that he needed to wear, I saw trust begin between the two.  He affirmed Garrison’s excitement and gave steady encouragement when he sensed the preschooler’s hesitation.   Score points for engaging and caring for kids.

The remarkable guiding continued on the river.  Our family group in the raft had my parents in-law who had never rafted, our 9 year old daughter Lanie, whose only rafting trip was on a milk run down the Arkansas River in Buena Vista two years ago, Gary and I who have each rafted 5-6 times and our three year old, Garrison.  With that huge range of rafting experiences, Ben somehow crafted a trip that everyone loved and enjoyed.  He narrated about the canyon scenery around us and about local folklore.  He also played concierge and gave us the highlights of what to do and where to eat in Glenwood Springs.  Probably most important, he kept Garrison dry while delighting Lanie, Gary and Papa up front with the full force of every rapid he could invite on board to drench them.  Or, maybe it was just Garrison, Nana and I who delighted in watching them get drenched!  Score points for expertise and raft steering!

And the little extras kept coming.  Once we got passed some nice class 3 rapids, Ben gave Garrison a little paddle so he could help paddle the raft through light rapids.  When we were floating in calmer waters, he talked about his story as a river guide and a ski instructor—how he fell in love with skiing years ago and how much he loves guiding people on the slopes and in the water.  He told us, “Everyday is a different day on the river.”  And the last little extra was giving Lanie the chance to ride on top of the helm of the raft just in front of the first row.  She rode the last mile or so of the trip with her legs dangling off the front edge and loved it.  Score points for even thinking of the extras!

From Whitewaters to Leadership

I love finding great examples of leadership and influence tucked into quiet places in the world and within the character of unassuming people.   And, I walked away from our family rafting trip feeling as if I’d found a gem of inspiration for how to lead and do business well. 

Pursue a spirit of excellence.  Now, I’m not a business person, but I am in the business of leading, guiding and ministering to people.  The hard and exceptional work that Whitewater Rafting, LLC did for our family and will do for every other customer this summer, offered me a fresh reminder of how important it is for organizations and churches to really pursue a spirit of excellence in every detail if they want to transform lives.  Remember, I said “pursue” excellence not “arrive” at perfection.   There is always room for improvement and necessary change.  And, by letting that spirit of excellence linger in the air around our pursuits, it will get breathed in and lived out by all those in proximity.

One guide can make all the difference.   If there is a truth that I wish I would allow to anchor every opportunity for influence, it is that one guide can really be the change-agent.  We don’t usually know until after a personal encounter with someone whether we left an imprint or not.  We don’t usually hear until long after that we truly made a difference for someone.  So, it’s important, like Ben, to see each day as a “new day on the river” and make the most of the opportunities to lead and guide that come our way.

I figure if my children continue to love the thrill of trying new things and show less anxiety when taking a risk, Ben and Whitewater Rafting, LLC, played an important role in growing their adventurous spirits!  Score points for a good day’s work on the river.

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5 Things that Make People Want to Follow the Leader

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately.  Most of it is from a ministry context, but those thoughts and reflections are spilling over into a variety of leadership situations I’ve been observing.  I recently watched an episode of Undercover Boss and was reminded of the kinds of issues employees can face – inside and outside of the church.

I don’t have any research handy to back up these thoughts.  But, I’d be willing to bet that these ideas strike a chord with people who wish their leader was less distant and removed from knowing and understanding their lives and their jobs.  My humble thought is that even though this list is by no means complete, if I just do these five things when I lead, I will find that the people I’m supposed to lead follow not just because they have to, but because they want to.

Recognize my inconsistencies and growing edges.  Since there is no perfect human leader, I’ll get much more cooperation from people if I don’t pretend that I’m always right or have nothing to learn.  I think that sometimes leaders come across this way because they are afraid that admitting to their liabilities weakens their influence and authority.  What they don’t realize is that owning their imperfections strengthens the respect of followers and builds common ground.

Roll up my sleeves and get dirty.  Getting in the middle of the hard work reminds me how hard people work on behalf of my vision.  It also gives me a reality check for ideas or practices that I’ve implemented that may not be working.  Mostly, though, it builds a bridge of appreciation and comradery between everyone on the team.

Recognize the strengths in others that I do not possess.  I can think of no greater compliment or inspiration for a volunteer or employee that I lead than to let them know I cannot accomplish a task without their expertise.  Too often, leaders are afraid that others will surpass them in recognition or influence.  I think our goal in leadership should be to encourage the abilities of people who can build and expand on what we started, and quite possibly do better than us someday!

Respect healthy workload boundaries.  My administrative assistant told me once that another administrative employee described my leadership style as something that would drive her crazy!  Although it was shared lightly, I took that gentle reprimand from an outsider to heart because I knew the basis for the comment was how much work this person saw me generating for my administrative assistant.  I started asking if deadlines were realistic and gave permission to be told when enough was enough.

Rebuild people when they mess up.  This is probably one of the hardest things to do but one of the most important.  Instead of leaving a mistake in the place of frustration and consequences, take a mistake and offer a journey of redemption.   Even if permanent changes have to occur, like loss of a job or responsibility, it doesn’t help the leader or the follower if all that remains is the broken pieces of a work relationship.  Leaders need to help their workers process what went wrong and support as much as possible whatever a “restart” could look like, whether continuing under the same leadership or moving on.

So, if this list was the “10 Things that Make People Want to Follow the Leader”, what five other thoughts would you add?


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Courageous or Political?


courage:  the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty  (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/courage)

Here’s a thought that has been welling up within me these past few weeks.  I deeply appreciate our government leaders trying to do something they feel is politically courageous on health care reform.  I, too, feel our system is in need of renovation.

But I would argue that we as a nation, and they as leaders have not had the courage to venture into the difficult waters of working together in this process, our elected officials have not persevered in trying to make the right changes happen the right way – no matter how long it takes – and they have not withstood the difficult collaboration that such a huge change obviously needs.

So, my question is:  Even if their belief in the policy is politically courageous, if the process isn’t politically courageous, hasn’t it just become political and no longer courageous?

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