Within two days of Jesus’ crucifixion, just hours before, a woman would anoint his body for burial… Here is the strange and glorious account of that event:
It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “Not during the festival,” they said, “so that there won’t be a riot among the people.”
While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thingfor me.You always have the poorwith you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me.She has done what she could; she has anointed my bodyin advance for burial.Truly I tell you,wherever the gospelis proclaimed in the whole world,what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Mark 14:1-9
Our pastor Cliff Jordan’s sermon on Mark 14:1-11 brought this account alive again to us. [Listen to the podcast linked above.]
The woman who poured out her treasure – possibly all she had in the world – in worshiping the Lord – was no stranger to him. She was Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha – friend and follower of Jesus.
Surrounded by the disciples at his host’s table, Jesus was enjoying the company of these men so close to him. Mary entered the room without ceremony and straightaway broke open an alabaster jar containing this expensive perfume. [That jar was like her security – equivalent to a year’s wages in that day – “compared to her love for Jesus, it was nothing”, Cliff preached.]
She would pour that extravagant oil over his head. She then took the dripping oil into her hands and rubbed it on his feet. Drying off the excess with her own hair. The men in the room took loud exception at what they considered her frivolous act…but not Jesus.
“Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thingfor me.You always have the poorwith you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me.She has done what she could; she has anointed my bodyin advance for burial.Truly I tell you,wherever the gospelis proclaimed in the whole world,what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Two days later, Jesus would give his all on a cross. Beaten and bloody he would die…for us…holding nothing back. It was a Friday, and Passover. By the time his body was released to be buried, his followers had to rush, because of the late hour, laying his body in the tomb, wrapped but without anointing oils.
No worries. In the quiet of that Passover evening, Jesus’ body, caked with blood mixed with his sweat, the fragrance of Mary’s love offering must have remained…must have sweetened the stench of his death. He gave his all for us…she gave her all for him.
“Love is a laid-down life.” (Elisabeth Elliot) – We experience that in Jesus, those of us who know him. We see that in Mary.
Pastor Cliff asked the questions: “What is my alabaster jar? Where do we place our security? What can’t we imagine life without?”
I can’t imagine life without Jesus and knowing his love and his great gift of salvation. Everything else pales.
TV is on in the background. Watching our government come apart at the seams. Or so it seems. Here are my lightning-speed Friday Faves;
1) Emotional Pixar Themes – Beyond the Guitar posted his arrangement this week of some of the heartbreaking Pixar movie themes. Masterful music – you just don’t expect to feel sad in a children’s animated film. Still the sweetest memories of these nights at the movies. Did you see them all?
2) Relationships – I discovered a few unique articles this week on the precious, life-giving quality of relationships. One of those articles even deals with relationship-shattering divorce (I have dear friends and family who have experienced the hard of divorce. This article is for those who have had divorce thrust on them or they are considering divorce as their only recourse…at least worth the read…).
If you have a resource you have found affirming regarding relationships, please share in Comments.
3) Caring for the Most Vulnerable – What does it take to care for our most vulnerable neighbors? There are so many books out there with warnings about charitable giving, or help that hurts. Giving is a good thing but it’s not a complete thing. Raleigh Sadler wrote a paper that speaks to this so well: Jesus’ Invitation to Care for Our Most Vulnerable Neighbors. He addresses five ideas regarding these we long to help but don’t know how. These ideas are: Identify, Empower, Protect, Include, and Collaborate. [His article is a quick read…let him answer your questions.] Along these very lines, Embrace Richmond does training on Assets-Based Community Development. Wendy McCaig, the trainer and executive director of Embrace Richmond, guides those in the audience in learning how to do community listening.Photo Credit: Wendy McCaig
Those we want to care for are the ones we need to get to know, look them in the eye, and give ear…then we might be able to come alongside them, and together we help make their lives better.
Look for this sort of effort in your own community.
4) The Question – Nope, it’s not “Will you marry me?”
This week marked TV’s Fall Season premiers. Lots of great story-lines and ensemble casts. My favorites are law, medical, and police shows. New Amsterdam is a new program that highlights the patient care in a huge medical center with all the drama of politics and corruption affecting the patients. A new medical director, Dr. Goodwin, comes on the scene, in the first episode, and turns the status quo upside down, for the sake of those most vulnerable. Over and over, he asked the question:
5) Reason –The Supreme Court of the United States has a vacancy. The US President nominates a candidate. The next step is for the Senate Judiciary Committee to do the heavy and serious work of examining the fitness of the candidate before releasing their name to the Senate for a vote. This is a weeks-long process.
Finally the candidate sits before the Committee to answer their questions. The Judiciary Committee is made up of 11 senators – men and women. Documents and witnesses are presented. It can be a grueling process for everyone.
Our current situation is the accusation of sexual assault by a woman who once knew the nominee. This week, she gave testimony, and the nominee gave his response. She said…he said.
Everyone in the US who cares knows the facts of this proceeding in great detail…our political bias impacts what we believe is true…whether we admit it or not. [Great article below.]
Using reason, or reasoning, can also be described more plainly as providing good, or the best, reasons. For example, when evaluating a moral decision, “morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason—that is, doing what there are the best reasons for doing—while giving equal [and impartial] weight to the interests of all those affected by what one does.“ – Wikipedia
Watching the proceedings of this confirmation hearing was like nothing I have ever seen before. The vitriole. The partisan divide. The reckless treatment of people. The lying (there must be lying somewhere).
Whoever watched these proceedings would take one side or the other. There is no room for fence-sitting on these issues. How do we reason out what is happening here? How do we reason together when it seems people refuse to hear and try to understand the other side?
Where I would see reason, another person might see something very different…and on the flip side, I also saw something else…so damaging to the individuals interviewed this week…and to our country. God help us.
Worship. Such a tension to keep the focus on the Lord and not on our own preferences, our own pleasures.
King David had his own slippery slopes through life, but worship that pleases the Lord was clearly something he understood. Psalm 15 came up in my regular Bible reading this week and is still working its work on my heart.
Lord, who can dwell in your tent? Who can live on your holy mountain?
The one who lives blamelessly, practices righteousness, and acknowledges the truth in his heart— who does not slander with his tongue, who does not harm his friend or discredit his neighbor, who despises the one rejected by the Lord but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his word whatever the cost, who does not lend his silver at interest or take a bribe against the innocent— the one who does these things will never be shaken.– Psalm 15
Who is that person?! That person who lives a life of worship as if he enters the “holy of holies” as he would enter his house or his workplace or his church.
What we do briefly on a Sunday morning matters to God, for sure. What we are about through the week (including Sunday morning) is the substance of the life of a worshipper. There is no separation of sacred from secular. Of daily or divine. We all know this in our hearts.
Psalm 15 puts me on my knees. Let’s break it down. How does the psalmist describe one who essentially lives in the presence of the Lord?
10 rules are laid out in Psalm 15. The first three are in verse 2. These only God can see whether we live by them or not. Now others may see our actions but these verses pertain more to the content or motivation of our hearts. The other seven are listed in verses 3-5. These are straight-up actions toward those we encounter each day.
Here they are in Easy English*, these rules or habits that mark a true worshipper:
1) She “makes no mistakes”; lives a life of integrity and uprightness. Consistent. Honest. What you see is what you get.
2) She does what is right and fair. Practices righteousness. In fact, he works righteousness into every situation, as one would knead bread.
3) He speaks out loud what he knows to be true in his heart. She does not withhold the truth in timidity, but acknowledges the truth with courage.
4) She tells no lies about another. In fact, even if something seems true, she reminds herself that telling it won’t help the person or the situation. He refuses to speak ill of others. No slander. No back-biting.
5) He does nothing harmful to his neighbors. No mean intentionality. Nor cruel or indifferent neglect.
6) She does not harm others with words. She makes no slurs nor discredits them. He does not make slurs or gossip about others. [Similar to #4; the repetition shouldn’t be lost on us. Our mouths can betray what’s in our hearts which can disqualify us for true worship.]
[Sidebar: If we can determine to speak truth in love, the temptation to talk about others INSTEAD of to them would be less a problem. What do you think?]
7) He does not keep company with bad people. He despises those who show themselves despicable. She does not seek the favor of those who reject God.
8) He gives honor to those who fear God. She serves those who serve God.
9) She keeps her word no matter what it might cost her. He is dependable and trustworthy.
10) He uses money to bless not to profit. She is generous. He remembers the poor.
We look at these rules and spiritual habits and wonder how we can offer pleasing worship to the Lord…ever. We are imperfect and follow Him imperfectly. The key is the aim of our hearts. If we tune our hearts toward God as a matter of life, we set our aim on Him. In such a way, that the arrow of our lives hits the center of the target of these habits…these disciplines…these practices.
I always loved Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. He was a monk who struggled against the mundane of serving God and the brothers in his monastery. Then he caught onto the idea that God was in the mundane…as in any of the holy sacraments.
Writer and farm wife/mother Ann Voskamp wrote about this in her blog How to Practice the Presence of God. In her critique, she posed the question of how can you practice His presence. “God’s presence needs no practicing because God’s presence has no end. God presence needs no practicing because it’s perfect and it’s present everywhere.”
What she says is true, but we are frail in our faith and too often distracted by the many tantalizing imperfections of life. We miss God if we don’t make seeing Him a practice. It’s less like practicing the piano and more like practicing medicine. Less works. More faith. Faith in a sure truth and great God. Worthy of worship in every aspect of our lives.
We know Him and we live in ways that reflect knowing Him.
No song today through which we might worship together. Songwriter Hoss Hughes has penned a sweet response to Psalm 15 (see link below).
Friday! A holiday weekend is upon us here in the US. Labor Day on Monday. Where we live that means this is the last weekend before public schools start their Fall session. On this hot, thunder-stormy weekend, the last sweetness of summer will be savored.
Here are my five faves of the week:
1) Tavern Music – My heritage is a mix of Scottish-English. I’m thinking, because of that, tavern music might be part of my family’s DNA. When Nathan Mills arranges and plays a tune reminiscent of Celtic music, he might come by the joy of it quite honestly.
Hearthstone is an online video card game set in a tavern. The theme music has very much a Celtic feel to it. Beyond the Guitar was actually asked by someone on the Hearthstone creative team to do an arrangement. Here it is for your enjoyment.
2) Kindness – Author Peter Economy has written a couple of pieces on kindness – one on kindness quotes and the other on the impact of kindness when expressed by our leaders.
“There is something incredibly appealing about leaders who place themselves on the same level as their employees without losing their authority as leaders. Tapping into kindness and small (and big) acts of showing your appreciation for your team allows those around you to know that you care–leaving them feeling like their work matters, and encouraging their engagement and loyalty.” – Peter Economy
I find my tendency is to think I am kind but that kindness is not necessarily executed in a way others experience. It’s worth a few moments to consider how we think of kindness, what it means and how we could actively and intentionally express kindness at work or wherever else we find ourselves.
“Today is National Overdose Awareness Day! It still surprises me on how many people I talk to seem oblivious to this epidemic in our country and throughout the world. In 2017 the official number of deaths was over 72,000 people. (more in 2018) These 72,000 people were Mothers and Fathers, Daughters and Sons. Aunts and Uncles. Just think about how many peoples lives were affected by 72,000 deaths. Addiction is real……..Addiction kills……..Lets all get together and find ways to talk about this beast that kills more people than car accidents, guns, breast cancer, The Vietnam War. I pray that my Facebook friends never have to be touched in anyway by the Overdose of a loved one. Unfortunately, the math says …………..you more than likely will.” – Jeanne Barney
4) A Film and Its Book – A strangely titled little book continues high on my top 5 books for recreational reading. It is:
This year marked the debut of the film of the same name (aired on Netflix in the US). I’m so thankful Netflix picked it up otherwise we might have missed it altogether. Such a lovely film, true enough to the book, and a feast for the eyes. Several actors from our beloved Downton Abbey are part of the cast. You will love it…trust me.Photo Credit: Battle Royale With Cheese
5) Signs of Fall – This week has been hot and humid, but still there were signs of Fall all around us. Pumpkin spice has entered all of our coffee shop experiences again. Our young ones are back in school. The geese have taken wing for distant places again..
Photo Credit: Max PixelAnd Dave’s garden has the messy, overgrown beauty of late summer. Last blooms pushing out and flowers turned to seed for the birds to eat and scatter. Early brown leaves and surprise buds that couldn’t wait until Spring. Welcome Fall, my favorite season of the year.
Too often we focus on what makes for a bad boss rather than looking at those good leaders in our lives. For the last several days, I’ve been asking friends what makes for a leader of excellence…one who brings excellence to the table and also brings it out in their teams.
Before I asked these friends…from various disciplines (education, health care, private sector, and non-profits)…I developed my own list. As they talked about the good leaders in their lives – either past or present – their characteristics resonated with mine below.
10 Characteristics of a Good Leader
They enjoy their personnel. – Story after story of bosses who made the workplace more pleasant by their sheer enjoyment of their colleagues and teams. They were present. They didn’t have to have the room’s attention. They clearly just took pleasure in the folks with whom they worked (up and down the chain of command).
They know their personnel. – Leaders were described as excellent when they really knew their employees. They not only asked about the progress of work but how the individual was doing as well. They knew successes and failures. They knew the families. Maybe not in so many details, but it was obvious, by their interest that they genuinely cared about their employees…as well as what they were doing on the job.
They treat their personnel with dignity, even in hard conversations. – When conversations were disciplinary or corrective, these leaders still respected boundaries and showed care. No raised voices, no demeaning, no putdowns, no threats.
They reel in stress, instill confidence, and bring perspective. – Along with the above, when outcomes weren’t as hoped or when difficult change had to be executed, these leaders kept drama out of it. What was communicated was that we would get through this…together. Now, that wasn’t always possible, as when downsizing has to happen, for instance, but every effort was taken to care for those most negatively impacted.
They sacrifice for their personnel. – Business coach Ron Carucci wrote a post earlier this year entitled 3 Ways Senior Leaders Create a Toxic Culture. He talks about how easy it can be for leaders to become isolated from the majority of their employees, so focused on the success of the company…or their own success…that employees below them are neglected in the process. Time and time again, friends talked about how leaders would interrupt their own schedule…even travel or meetings…to deal with some difficult situation with a team or employee. This is a rare circumstance, I’m sure, but what a trust-builder, right?
They develop their personnel. – None of us know really what kind of person we can be until we have proven ourselves through experience and training. I hear so often about the problem of “not enough leaders”. Good leaders develop their personnel with broad generous strokes. Then, in time, they will discover who may very well be of the caliber to be in the line of succession for their jobs…avoiding the crisis of “not enough”.
They provide platforms for their personnel to shine. – One comment I received repeatedly was “She believed in me.” or “He knew I could do it.” Being challenged and then given the resources to be successful/effective were huge for folks describing good leaders.
Their decisions make sense to their personnel. – Because good leaders keep their teams up-to-date with vision, plans of execution, outcomes, then their decision-making brought no confusing after-shocks. Besides, good leaders instill trust, so buy-in comes more naturally. Often because leaders allowed their teams to speak into the decision as well. This is huge.
They extend their reputation to their personnel. – By this, I mean that good leaders share – with those on their teams – the responsibility and rewards of engineering a product or service. It’s not just the upper echelon leaders who collect the kudos. It’s the organization as a whole.
They show up when their personnel need them. – Lastly, this characteristic seemed to carry a high emotional ring to it with those I questioned. When an employee is in a tough situation, with an unhappy parent, or a litigious customer, or just having a really bad day, these leaders don’t leave it always to someone else. If they are needed they come…one way or another. “He always had our back.” “She knows me so she knew how hard it was for me that day.” For leaders to show this kind of character requires margin in their lives and willingness to let go of some other piece of their work to show up in this way. Again, I’m thinking these situations are rare, but they reflect a level of leadership that we all appreciate.
Good leaders are others-focused. They have fought off the natural tendency of being self-focused and self-promoting. They are self-aware (they know themselves and know how they may be perceived by others). They have trained themselves in the habit of putting others first. This discipline is the cut of the fabric of excellence in leadership.
Now, I didn’t go into the other critical parts of a leader’s responsibility – that of keeping the business of the organization running well. This was all about what goes into the kind of leader we are glad to work for. When it comes to bottom-line and performance, Carucci in his article shows research that demonstrates the profitability of keeping priorities (like those above) and focusing positively on personnel. Photo Credit: Assad Schuitema, Care and Growth
“If a video camera captured your leadership team in action for a full day, how would you feel about that video being used as training for the rest of the organization? Serving on a leadership team should be viewed as a privilege. And along with that privilege comes a responsibility to behave in ways you would be proud to have the rest of the organization emulate.” – Ron Carucci
What do you think about what makes for a good leader? Please comment below. Whether you comment or not, take a moment to consider those leaders in your life that have made a tremendous positive impact on your worklife…and through that, your personal life as well. Maybe you’re a good leader because of the influence of those who mentored you.
Friday has come…and gone. Finishing up this Faves on an early Sunday morning. Summer has wound down. School starts here in a week. Family visits. New babies. Friends back in town. Lots going on. Still…wanted to close the week out with my faves…and you.
1) Pursuing Truth – Deception is a problem of the culture that can become very personal. When something is spoken through public media as if it’s true, or someone we know speaks with confidence and authority, we are tempted to believe it is true…without weighing its validity. This is not always the case…in fact, too often we must sift through motives and spin to get to the meat of the matter.
From the time our children were little, we have tried to teach them how to sort out what is true. In the culture today, celebrities opt out of critical thinking by saying such things as “your truth”.
There is truth. How can it be colored so many individual ways?
I’m very thankful for the opportunity for table talk even today with our adult children. Sitting over dinner discussing faith, politics, and society…along with music, film, babies, and the latest technology.
I’m also grateful for friends who can be worlds apart on some ideologies but are bound together by relationship. They teach me so much. In fact, I have sought out some friendships, in the beginning, for those very differences. These are people whose passion and determination in living their passions. They help me make sure I haven’t pigeon-holed a certain worldview without considering what is winsome about it.
Nothing has changed about my belief in a good God…that deepens as I get older. He will answer for Himself one day, as He chooses. On what may have confused any of us, in our human frailty, about both His justice and mercy. I will also answer one day about my own grasp of that and how it influenced my dealings with others.
I do believe that God has given us a guide for life in the Scriptures. I don’t understand it all, but I would not be so bold as to throw out some parts while I cling to others. Absolutely sure He can protect His own story through the ages…from getting lost in translation.
Anyway, what do you think about pursuing truth? It doesn’t happen without intentionality. We are being blasted with “someone’s truth” most all the time. Growing weary of pursuing truth would not go well for us.
It’s a six-week look at God’s heart for justice and came at just the right time for me. Some of us are deeply engaged with turning stories of injustice into hope and healing. I am not one of those but so want to be.Photo Credit: IF Gathering
“If you treat every person you meet like they are dealing with a serious challenge, you’ll be right more than half the time. If you entreat people with love, kindness, empathy, and discernment, they will appreciate you so much.
You could change someone’s life today. You could potentially save someone’s life today. You could also indirectly change countless other lives through the ripple effects of making just one person feel heard and seen.
Send the text to a friend.
Make that call to a loved one.
Apologize to a co-worker or employee.
Wrote William Shakespeare, ‘They do not love that do not show their love.'” – Benjamin P. Hardy
4) Biomedical Treatment for Autism – [This is fascinating to me, but I have some idea how hard this could be to read by parents trying to make decisions about what’s right for their child with autism and the rest of their family. So please bear this in mind, while you read.]
During a conversation this week with a young mom who has a child diagnosed with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder), my concept of food as intervention was rocked. In her determination to rid her child of the ravages of autism, she is following the counsel of a renowned local pediatrician, Dr. Mary Megson. Her approach with autistic children includes intensive testing of biological factors and then applying biomedical measures as appropriate for each child’s findings.
I’m not going into the specifics, but my friend has changed up her child’s diet and has also added a long list of supplements each day. Who would even imagine that giving cod liver oil to a child would have impact on autism? I know her sweet child and the changes I’ve seen just in the last few months are remarkable. The video below captures what another mom did for her son and the difference it made. [Don’t be overwhelmed by all the interventions…every family must decide for themselves what they can believe and manage/afford in the care of their child with autism.]
From my friend’s experience and my wonder at this strange disorder, this type intervention is definitely something to consider…for a season, for the sake of a child. There are just so many diets out there, so I can’t imagine how parents make their decisions. Hopefully the benefits outweigh what can be very isolating and divisive between people who care about each other.
5) An Antique Store Experience – This week I was home visiting my family in Georgia. My sister-in-law is an amazing crafts-person – taking dreary scuffed-up (albeit much loved by someone in the past) old furniture and bringing them to life again. She knows all the best antique shops where others do the same sorts of re-purposing and “up-cycling”.
[Someone took a tv cabinet and made it into a beautiful display piece. Do you see the doors of the cabinet were made into the shelving? And how about an artsy chandelier made from bed springs?!]
[Chenille takes me back to childhood before our comfy modern fabrics…when chenille was the softest bed cover to wrap up in.]
That’s a wrap on this week’s favorite finds. Please favor us with some of yours in the Comments section below. Have a splendid end-of-summer weekend. Be gentle with yourself and with those you meet…you just never know what it will mean.
Unhinged. My choice word to describe how I’ve felt all week culminating in a Friday to which I awoke with my eyes being super swollen. I’m wearing an outfit I’m 99% sure I already wore this week (hey, I blame it on being European for a short season & go ahead and judge me as though you’ve never done the same). I’ve slept horribly all week because of worry and stress waking up around 4.
I decided I was going to redeem Friday, eat a croissant, have good coffee, and read a book. Please note the weird lighting and spilled coffee in the background. Because this is actually my life.
The book I’m reading is about a surgeon who during WW2 lived in China and served the Lord and the people there until his premature death. A friend asked me where and why I find books like this and suggested I read something lighter (sometimes I do). This morning it hit me that I know the answer why.
The gravity of a life lived before the Lord in a selfless, sacrificial way calls into reckoning my frivolity and selfishness. I need gravity because far too often I am unhinged and need to be reminded that who I am in Christ, swollen eyes/outfit/sleepless soul/etc., is enough because it doesn’t depend on me. God takes my unhinged-ness and allows me to cast my burdens on him.
And I’m working on it. Praise God. – Taryn Blocker, with permission
Happy Friday! One of those weeks that so rapidly entered history. Lots of travel and family and birthdays and then work, of course. Will go right to the faves before the clock runs down. Hope your weekend is long and lovely.
1) The Fortnite Phenomenon – Not a gamer myself, but when the game Fortnite comes up in conversation with men and boys of all ages, it’s easy to see what a phenomenon it is. A multi-player battle game (with elements of construction as well), Fortnite is free-to-play and wildly popular right now in the gaming universe. A unique component of the game includes avatars who break out into dance. These dances are emulated by player fans, and you would recognize some of them because of boys, in particular, master them as they master the game. These dances have become part of Nathan Mills‘ (Beyond the Guitar) classical guitar repertoire. His YouTube channel subscriber numbers have more than tripled since his first post of Fortnite Dances…and views of his videos are in the millions. Enjoy the latest…as the commenters clamor for Fortnite Dances #4.
2) Back to School – That time of year is back. So much new happens as summer ends, and Fall stretches out before us. Routines and rhythms crank up again. Growth spurts require new clothes. Then there are all the school supplies required for starting a new year.
As our children grew up, we had varying seasons of “back-to-school” between home schooling and other schooling, both in the US and in Africa. It was never easy for me to see them off, when we didn’t homeschool. I missed them…and those moments together when they talked about life as they saw it. I also missed being able to protect them from some of the meanness in the world. Still, the start of the school year is a hopeful time of anticipation and wonder, of new beginnings and possibilities.[Kudos to the teachers, Stacie Mills & Kirby Joseph, whose classrooms pre-student-return, were my inspiration on this fave.]
How thankful I am for teachers who really care for their students. Teachers who see themselves as partners with parents, even the most woefully unprepared ones…for the sake of these kiddos who will hold the future in their hands one day. What a marvel this is.
3) Clean Comedy – So just this week I discovered Dry Bar Comedy. It showcases stand-up comedy that is actually family-friendly. No profanity. No sex. No mean putdowns. The first act (on video) that I caught was Leanne Morgan, a gorgeous Southern woman who puts her arm around our experiences of being female at all ages. Hilarious!
Another clean comic (not with Dry Bar) who I adore is John Crist. His tour this Fall brings him to Richmond, Virginia, and we have tickets. Crist is a preacher’s kid and uses that church experience as fodder for many of his routines. You can see his videos on his website or YouTube channel. Don’t miss him…high energy, so funny.
4) God’s Heart for Justice – For the next six weeks, I’m digging into a study on God’s heart for justice through the International Justice Mission. I bought the book, but if you sign up for daily emails, you can glean great good just in that content and the resource videos.
It’s too easy to turn a blind eye away from the injustices of this world – human trafficking, poverty, racial and religious oppression… Arise focuses on the Biblical definition of justice and the mandate for each of us in turning the tide on it…until Jesus returns and rights all wrongs. We too often are numbed by the immensity of the problem, when, in fact, we can swing the pendulum toward justice… Each one of us can do something. Sign up for daily emails and discover your place in God’s mission of love for those most vulnerable.
That winds down this week. Hope yours was stunning – full of meaningful work, real rest, family and friends, and deep conversations. Be gentle with yourself and each other.– some of those people in our lives. #Friends #Community
Leadership is a process that has been a great interest all my adult life. There’s this man I know well who actually spends concentrated time studying about leadership, both through books and observing it in practice. He has had the experience of being a leader of few and many. He has managed teams, budgets, and action plans. Other times, he has led only by influence, without authority. He is my go-to person on what is good leadership – which is never a finished product. Leadership changes as organizations and cultures change.
Yet, the basic elements of leadership that builds leaders and, at the same time, gets the job done are foundational.
The man is my husband. He, from time to time, has also been my boss in the workplace. Dave Mills wears many hats. He most recently applies himself to risk/crisis management, security processes, and strategic partnerships. Making leadership development happen is his professional happy place.
In the training he does on Leading From the Heart, he lays out these 6 Basic Elements of Leading Well. With permission, they are excerpted in brief below:
Be clear about what you want personnel to do (What)
Make sure they know why it is important (Why)
Make sure they have what they need to do the job (How)
Give them a way to know how they are doing
Follow up regularly on priorities and progress (accountability)
Make sure they know you care about them
This is intended to help leaders understand what they need to provide for people to thrive in their work. This doesn’t address vision or strategy; it focuses on the people part of the process – the interaction between leaders and those we are responsible to lead.
For someone to thrive in a job, they need all six of these in place.
6 Basic elements of leading people:
1. What: Be clear about what you want them to do.
People tend to underestimate the amount of communication effort required to achieve clarity. This requires repeated communication to hammer home a clear understanding of the task. A feedback loop where you ask the team member to explain the assignment back to you is essential. Even when they can do that, you still need to revisit it regularly. Do not short-change the work involved to achieve clarity.
[This is very different from micro-managing. This is empowering through comprehensive, understandable information-sharing.]
2. Why: Make sure they know why it is important.
Do not assume that employees understand why the task is important. Make sure that is clearly communicated. If they already know the importance, it helps them to hear it so they know their leader understands the importance.
This is often neglected. Sometimes it is because it is assumed that the person knows why the task is important. Sometimes it may be obvious why it is important. However, it is worth unpacking that together to reinforce the importance of the task and your confidence in the person to successfully carry out the assignment. The most common scenario is probably just to ignore the issue and never bother to help the person understand why their work is important. This is one of the points in Lencioni’s three characteristics of a miserable job. He calls it irrelevance.
3. How: Make sure they have what they need to do the job.
When you assign a task you must be sure that the person has what is needed to do it. This may involve resources, like access to equipment or funding. It may be knowledge. It may be connections to other people. There may be a training need. Or it may be capacity. Do they have the capacity to take on the task you are assigning to them? Make sure they have capacity, or free them up from something else, or give them someone to help them with the task. Also recognize that sometimes at the beginning it may not be clear where the gaps are. This is something that should be regularly revisited with people – Don’t forget to ask them if they have everything they need.
[This is another area where micro-managing would stifle rather than empower employees. Give team members the authority to get what they need to get the job done.]
4. Give them a way to know how they are doing.
People need to know what a good job looks like. At the end of a day they need to be able to assess whether or not they did a good job that day. What are the most important outcomes that you are expecting from them? Have you expressed these in ways that can be quantified?
5. Accountability: Follow up regularly on priorities and progress.
Check in with them regularly, with intentionality, about progress and priorities. The leader must take responsibility for driving this. The frequency depends on the employee and situation, but there should be a regularly set time. This needs to be a one-on-one conversation with each direct report to discuss what progress has been made since the last check-in and what are the priorities to be focused on until the next check-in.
Not only do you give them a way to assess their own performance, you regularly review their progress and provide feedback on how they are doing. This is a good opportunity to revisit whether or not they have everything they need to accomplish the assigned work. This is where coaching and accountability happen.
6. Heart level connections: Make sure they know you care about them.
Relationships are key to leadership. You need to be intentional and deliberate about building heart level connections with those you lead. There is an enormous amount of research indicating the importance of this. If you do all the other parts of the process well and fail on this one, your people may endure your leadership but they will not thrive. On the other hand, if you are not so great on some of the other parts but do this one well, people will cut you a lot of slack if they know you care about them. Relationships are the oil that keeps the work machinery going. Like having something with a lot of moving parts – as long as the oil is there, it runs smoothly. If you throw some sand in the works, it doesn’t run so well and over time it will grind down to a point where it doesn’t work at all.
Caring about our employees (direct reports, in particular) involves investing in their development. Proactively looking for ways to help someone improve and grow in their work is a very caring and practical thing to do.
[Be careful that you, as a leader, don’t presume a relationship exists. This is only effective when the employee experiences the relationship as positive and caring.]
What do you think? Any element you could use as a leader or team member? In our work (both together and in work independent of each other), Dave and I also believe that leadership development – intentional and proactive – should begin at orientation. The tendency in the workplace is to load development on those already in authority. Entry level and mid-level employees don’t always have benefit of the care needed to provide opportunity to grow and develop in their areas of expertise. It is something to consider on the order of company core values.
Lastly, I just wanted to give a shout-out to some of the folks who have demonstrated excellent leadership to Dave…as well as those in relationship with him who have developed as excellent leaders themselves during the time they worked together. These make for long and rewarding relationships across a lifetime of work.
[Just a few of those remarkable ones are in the following images]
A conference room table is much more winsome than rows of chairs facing the front of the room. At least for me. Chairs facing each other give the impression that all those at the table have a voice. Enlarge that to an organizational level. Especially related to change. When employees understand some sort of change is necessary for the growth of the organization, then having the opportunity to speak into that change has tremendous value.
Not just for embracing the change but for the execution of the best change possible.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be on a board of directors of a private international school in another country. Also a parent of students in that school, it was easy and satisfying to engage in the various problems and challenges the board faced for the sake of the school. Initiating change was always a part of that. Early on during my tenure on the board, I saw how difficult it was for the average parent to get the ear of the board. This was grievous to me that I had more influence than most of the parents on decisions affecting all our children’s school situation.
Thinking back on the formation of that parents’ organization, we learned the wisdom of securing feedback early from those most affected by the change. Feedback well before the roll-out of the change. We also gained an understanding of how “knowledge is power”. Parents who had access to the knowledge of looming change as well as an avenue to speak into that change became advocates and influencers for the change.
Who are your critical thinkers? Those folks on your team who think deeply about work and the processes at work that affect personnel. Not all of them are the greatest cheerleaders and definitely not just the isolated inner circle of leadership.
Are we willing to value and seek out the critics, skeptics, naysayers, contrarians? If our ideas are so fragile that we can’t bear the input of these folks, how can we press these ideas on a whole organization? If we only take the input of those consummately agreeable with our ideas, then do we avoid, even lack, the feedback that could launch our ideas toward the most favorable change?
Business writer Oliver Staley gives organizational psychologist Adam Grant‘s take on the positive impact of the disagreeable giver – in regards to change:
Cheerful and helpful workers are beloved by their bosses, and just about everyone else, really. Enthusiastic optimists make for great colleagues, rarely cause problems, and can always be counted on.
But they may not necessarily make the best employees, says Adam Grant, the organizational psychologist and Wharton professor.
The agreeable giver may seem like the ideal employee, but Grant says their sunny disposition can make them averse to conflict and too eager to agree. Disagreeable givers, on the other hand, can be a pain…, but valuable to an organization, Grant says.
They’re more likely to fight for what they believe in, challenge the status quo, and push the organization to make painful but necessary changes, he says. And because they’re stingy with praise, when it’s offered, it generally can be trusted.
Disagreeable givers “can get more joy out of an argument than a friendly conversation” and be tough to work with, Grant says. But for organizations eager to avoid complacency and determined to improve, they also can be invaluable. – Oliver Staley
In Chuck Lawless’ 10 Thoughts, he doesn’t speak outright about disagreeable givers, but they are present and valued. One of Lawless’ readers, Jerry Watts, commented with this insight: “One time, in a culture far-far away, I heard a pastor say, ‘People aren’t afraid of change, they’re afraid of loss.’ – I thought those were good words to remember. After 40+ years, I have discovered that change is okay as LONG AS you don’t mess with me.”
Change does mix loss with gains. When personnel have the opportunity to grieve ahead of time, their problem-solving acumen is sparked to help drive a better change, not just for themselves but for the organization as a whole. Is it messy including more people in the decision-making? Of course…but the process for everyone yields far more meaning and understanding.
Business thought leader and writer Matt Monge is my go-to guy on company culture. The fact that he also struggles personally with depression tenders my heart to what he has to say. He is a straight-talker. Courageous, transparent, and caring. Monge knows toxic work cultures. He is consulted to help fix them, and through his writing he gives generous help to all who struggle to thrive in a culture that makes that a challenge. Take heart, those of you currently in troubled work cultures. Once you have identified what the murkiness is about, you can then act to clear it out…or, if necessary, you can clear out. You have options.
Your culture is in trouble if your CEO is a toxic leader. Matt Monge delineates this further in his article 10 Traits of Ego-driven Leaders. Employees and teams can experience huge shifts in their own thinking and behavior toward each other and customers, just in response to top-down influence. Beware of mission drift also.
Your culture is in trouble if poor managers are allowed to remain poor managers indefinitely. This is sad for both the manager herself and the team under her. When a company is frantic with reacting to the demands of toxic leadership, the simplest processes of feedback, teaming, and development take a backseat. Everyone suffers.
Your culture is in trouble if humanness and vulnerability are absent. In a troubled work culture, trust deteriorates. The bottom line is the driving force. Keeping one’s job and the perks of that job trumps everything else that might have once mattered in a work culture.
Your culture is in trouble if accountability is misunderstood and only selectively applies. Healthy accountability is meant to be a two-way process. Leaders and subordinates are best-served when they have open communication and transparency is high. An employee is much more open to accountability when he sees that his leaders also submit to the accountability of others.
Your culture is in trouble if people aren’t learning much. Opportunities for training and growth are signs of a healthy environment where employees clearly matter to the organization.
Your culture is in trouble if teams and departments have ongoing problems performing their core functions. This is a glaring sign of trouble. When performance is off and morale matches it, a cry for help is being sounded. When personnel just don’t care, something has to be done to turn that around. What that something is and who is capable to doing it can be sorted out by both managers and employees. Punitive action is not the answer.
Your culture is in trouble if executive team morale is low. This speaks to the ripple effect starting from a toxic CEO, through the organization and then back up the chain-of-command. Morale, as we know, has a huge impact on performance. When the executive team is struggling with low morale, reflecting that of the company, then it’s to the point that someone from the outside must come in to help correct course. This takes enormous vulnerability on the part of the executive team.
Having come through a cancer diagnosis, my experience is that it’s better to know what’s going on than to remain in the dark…or that murkiness of knowing something is wrong but you’re not sure what.
Once we identify what the struggle is with our work culture, we can begin to rectify our situation. Some things we may have little control over, but what we can change, we must.Photo Credit: Venture Lab, Pauline James
Business writer Joanna Zambas has given us examples that mirror Matt Monge’s list on company culture (see links below). One of her lists celebrates companies who have made culture a priority.
Southwest Airlines made Zambas’ list. It is my favorite domestic airline. Mainly because of its customer service. However, that customer service is rooted in a work culture that is very pro-employee. Photo Credit: Business2Community
I know that first-hand because of my contact, over many years, with one Southwest employee. Her kindness, demeanor, and consistent care at every touchpoint have demonstrated to me the very heart of this company.
My hope for all of us is that we can work toward a company culture like this one…bottom-to-top if necessary. For you as company leaders, you may not see this or any such piece…but I hope you can be encouraged or re-energized to grow such a culture. The impact will nothing but positive…you know it somewhere in that leader heart of yours.