4 Reasons Why it is Important to Grow as a Leader

How many of you were enthralled by watching the Summer Olympics in 2012? I know I am. It was thrilling to watch the Fab Five win the gold in gymnastics, Michael Phelps winning gold and then losing gold by centiseconds in two of his individual events, and who didn’t fall in love with Missy Franklin, the swimming sensation and sweetheart from Colorado? Despite all of their natural ability they worked hard to hone their craft. I wonder what kind of leaders we would be, if we devoted as much time and energy to grow as these Olympians did?

As I prepared to attend a recent leadership summit, I thought about why I carve out time to hone my craft. Growing as a leader does the following:

  1. It raises my game. There is nothing like the stress of working hard to break through a plateau and reaching a higher level of performance. Several years ago I could barely bike 20 miles at any one time. Today I’ve completed several century rides and think nothing of going out for a 50-mile bike ride. Certainly part of this improvement was achieved by practicing, but I also needed to learn more about pedal stroke efficiency, interval training, heart rate training and the things I needed to do off the bike to become a stronger and better rider.   The same is true of leadership – we practice every day, but what are we doing to improve our game? 
  1. It motivates others to follow me. People are not interested in following leaders who are stagnant. They are much more interested in following leaders who are energized and have great ideas and vision that expands over time. Certainly character and competence are prerequisites if we expect others to follow us, but if we’re not growing, the people we lead will soon become disinterested in following.
  1. It helps me identify my blind spots. We all have blind spots. The other day I was talking to my coach about an area of improvement I saw in someone else. As we processed the issue, it became clear that I had a blind spot that was preventing me from addressing the issue in a timely manner. It reminded me again that leadership is not a solo sport; we need other people to help us identify what we can’t see in ourselves. Input from others helps me see things from a different perspective.
  1. It helps me reach my God-given potential. Don’t we all long to be all that God created us to be? Part of this includes being intentional about our growth and seek opportunities for growth. There is a 2012 60-Minutes interview with Michael Phelps. After the 2008 Olympics, he spent little time in the pool. He didn’t practice to to point where his coach didn’t know if he was going to make it to the Olympics despite his natural talent. Michael’s challenge was to learn to grow beyond the accolades and medals he previously won.

Being a great leader takes discipline and diligence, even in the face of success. You can be good at what you do, but you can never be all that God intended until you cooperate with His purposes and are intentional about your growth and development.

Share Your Thoughts: What types of things do you do to develop your leadership and your character?

Finding Opportunities to Flourish

The Wall Street Journal reports that honeybees continue to die at increasing rates (Tennelle Tracy, 14 May 2015, p.A3). Let's juxtapose this against a story in The Economist  (9 May 2015, p.30) about Bolivia's loss of 250 miles of Pacific Ocean coastland in 1904. Now let's ask what these two stories on different continents hold in common. Both represent overwhelming problems, but problems that are not within our current line of sight. Bee deaths have stumped scientists so far and pose a grave threat that will affect everyone. Unless we are beekeepers, however, or the price of pollinated products or honey rises out of our reach, we don't perceive it. Bolivians suffer the most from lack of a coastline because it costs more to ship to an already poor country that can't purchase nearly as many goods as, say, Brazilians can. Unless we are trying to export to Bolivia or actually reside there, we can't feel the constriction.

These stories share one more item in common, something entrepreneurs can see if they choose to look. Both present opportunity--opportunity that can foster flourishing for humans and all that God created.

Let's start with Bolivia. An entrepreneur likely can't persuade Chile to give some coastline back. Yet, with the advent of 3D printing, some of what has to be shipped by boat, and then by train and truck, could now be produced on demand and on site, driving cost way down. Sniff the wind and you can smell possibility.

Honeybees pose a different sort of problem that point to other types of possibility. Steve Forbes editorializes on what and what should not be alarming about honeybee deaths, essentially reminding us that doing nothing and protesting that something should be done are basically the same ineffective response. Neither reduces cost, increases production, inoculates bees against predatory mites, or lengthens a Queen's egg-laying life. Someone committed to problem solving -- perhaps a partnership by an entrepreneuring company in combination with a research university and ready-to-adapt beekeepers is going to find a way--something disruptive or innovative. Possibilities abound for those in a position to find and act upon them.

Many of the businesses represented by readers of this blog came into existence because someone sniffed out a possibility and acted. All too often those entrepreneurial chapters fade into the background as successors try to ride on the rails the founders laid down. Only so much more good can be done by tweaking and upgrading. Only a little more margin can be eked out. Only so much more transformation can be nudged into being.  What is needed is continued pioneering, continued possibility sniffing.

Sure, it has to be done in sustainable ways, without breaking the companies whose cash flow margins make it possible to pursue a concept toward a new profit-bearing enterprise. But that is not an excuse to stop dreaming, nor to do nothing.

And that is the bigger problem -- the company whose CEO, board and senior managers do not have the time and space to explore the possibilities.

As Proud Entrepreneurs We Have The Opportunity To Share

We business types are proud to be described as entrepreneurial.  According to Peter Drucker, entrepreneurship is about taking risk. The entrepreneur is willing to put his or her career and financial security on the line and take risks in the name of an idea, spending time as well as capital on an uncertain venture. Most of us would agree with that definition and most of us have had the opportunity to experience the “highs” of success and the “lows” of failures from the risks and ideas we have pursued.

As Christian business owners, what are we called to do with the wisdom and experience gained through these successes and failures?  The Bible is filled with passages that give us direction on that question:

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." (Hebrews 13:16)

"One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches." (Galatians 6:6)

Knowledge of God’s plan for our business talent and experience directs us to the question, "How can I help others develop their entrepreneurial capability?"

Peter Greer, President of Hope International and a speaker at the 2015 Convene Leadership Summit, continues to challenge all business leaders to share their entire entrepreneurial gift and experience with others.  In his recent book with co-author Chris Horst, Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing, we see that free enterprise and entrepreneurship are integral to advancing human flourishing around the world. And it is the most effective way to overcome poverty and hunger.

Jeff Rutt, a member of our Convene team, founded HOPE International in 1997 motivated by a church mission trip to the Ukraine where he recognized that the charity food programs were not being successful–the people needed a “hand-up” instead of “handouts.” Jeff has always been bold in his business and life pursuits.  He bought the 200 acre family dairy farm from his father when he was 16 years of age. He and wife Susan operated the farm for 10 years, and after a decade of hard work and 100 hour weeks in dairy farming, Jeff decided to change careers. "I looked for something with lower risk and fewer hours" Jeff says with a straight face. "So I got into home building."

For the past 8 years Keystone Custom Homes has been the highest ranked builder in the mid-atlantic region. The 2015 sales goal for Keystone is 400+ new units. Whether farming, building, or founding Hope International, Jeff Rutt has always been an Entrepreneur who seizes The Opportunity

Saving Money and Culture

A regular practice at Convene Forum Day is for members to bring business issues—we call them Opportunity/Challenges—to their CEO peers to gain wisdom and insight from multiple perspectives and experience. Convene uses a standard format and process for the subject member to present the issue and for fellow members to gain understanding and provide guidance. A member recently presented his challenge in consolidating two manufacturing plants into one location. Although only a mile apart, they could achieve production efficiencies and cost savings by combining under one roof. This would involve selling two buildings and finding another in the same area that could accommodate the operations—a monumental task in the midst of sustaining a vigorous enterprise—so daunting that it created paralysis of action. Through the Opportunity/Challenge process, the group helped him quantify a potential $30,000 per month savings should he make this change.

Perhaps more significant was the member’s confession that a drastically different culture had prevailed at the satellite location, a result of its isolation from the ownership and management team located in the main facility. He felt discontent at them not sharing the values and practices that he so earnestly strove to maintain at the headquarters. Through inquiry and advice, the Convene team helped him realize that the cultural costs were as important as the monetary costs.

One of the questions of the Opportunity/Challenge process asks for the “intensity level” of the issue on a scale of 1-10. The member came into the meeting rating this a 3 to 4 intensity—fairly low on the scale. After an hour of discussion among his Convene peers, he moved this initiative up to a 9 to 10. That was three months ago; since that time he’s announced the decision to his management team and staff, has engaged a realtor to sell or lease both buildings, and began a search for a single building to accommodate the entire operation. The thought of saving at least $360,000 a year and unifying the culture of his staff motivated his action on this initiative.

Functioning as a virtual Board of Advisors, the Convene Team will continue to advise and hold the member accountable to a plan that is manageable and attainable.

What could a peer advisory group like Convene help you realize and achieve?

Face-to-Face and No Excuses

Someone on my team had blown it. He had taken too long to complete some significant tasks, which put one of our clients in an awkward position. Since his attempts to apologize to the client seemed to fall on deaf ears, I realized I needed to step in to repair the damage. So I dialed our client’s number to apologize for our failure to serve him well.

Before the phone rang twice, however, I hung up.

Even though the damage seemed to be minor to me, it dawned on me that our client could easily see this as a major problem. Therefore, it called for a face-to-face conversation.

Therefore I called him to ask if I could take him to lunch to apologize personally for what had happened. His guarded response confirmed that this was no small matter to him. So I booked the flight.

When I walked into the restaurant the next day, I saw him sitting with another man who turned out to be his attorney. Thinking I might try to minimize the damage, he brought “the troops” to back his case.

My gut tightened up a bit, so I prayed that God would give me grace not to become defensive or competitive (two of my most natural reactions in a situation like this).

We exchanged pleasantries as we scanned the menu and placed our orders. Then after a moment of awkward silence, I moved into a “Seven-A Confession.”

I acknowledged our failure to serve him in a timely manner. Although I was tempted to point out how he had caused several major delays himself, God helped me to avoid making any excuses whatsoever.

Instead, I admitted our mistakes in detail and acknowledged how they had probably impacted the client, both emotionally and substantively. Finally, I offered a solution to get us back on track … plus a commitment to waive our entire fee if he was not completely satisfied with the outcome of the process.

He was stunned. His attorney showed the same surprise.

Once he collected his thoughts, he told me he had expected me to make excuses and downplay the seriousness of the delays. So they had actually spent an hour at their office that morning preparing a counterattack. My unqualified confession caught them totally off guard.

The mood at the table changed dramatically. The tension evaporated, bodies relaxed, smiles become more natural, and we all switched off “attorney mode.”

In response to my no-excuses apology, the client actually started making excuses for me (a perfect example of “The Golden Result”). He even pointed out that they had failed to give timely responses on two critical exchanges.

As tempting as it was to minimize our failure by agreeing with him, I said, “I appreciate that. But it’s actually beside the point. Our organization is committed to serving you with excellence regardless of others’ actions. We failed to do that, and I’m here to do whatever it takes to make things right with you.”

After a short, congenial tug-of-war as to who was most responsible for the delay, we both laughed out of pure relief. We were not going to be adversaries. We could relax and work together to find a solution that moved us in the direction we all wanted to go.

Face-to-face. No excuses.

It’s often the fastest way to turn a conflict into an opportunity to build a closer relationship.


Ken Sande is the founder of Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360 and the author of numerous books on biblical conflict resolution, including The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.