facing future challenges

googleAlmost two years ago, my organization made a major shift to Google for our email client and file and calendar sharing. It has been a painful headache for some and an immense joy for others. I fall more towards the joy side, although it has been a steep learning curve for me too.

I am a learner, and I love systems that help me interact with others – even globally – while getting work done, so Google has won me over. I think Google has figured out some key principles that can make a big difference for the future. Here are a few of them:

  • Power has shifted from the organization to the client/consumer, and expectations are higher than ever. We can’t offer a sub-par product, at least not for long. Bad reviews trump clever marketing. Today, great products win. 
  • Most organizations today set up to minimize risk, not maximize freedom and speed. We tend to hoard information and restrict decision-making power. We need to move and change faster. We need to let go and empower.
  • We need more “Smart Creatives” – people who combine technical knowledge, business expertise, and creativity. They can do amazing things and have big impact. We need to recruit these people and provide an environment for them to thrive.
  • Smart Creatives like authenticity, small teams, plans that offer freedom and fluidity, involvement in decision-making, LOTS of communication, crazy goals, prototypes, and freedom to fail.

Communication is as important as decision-making,
and like decision-making,
it is something that most leaders think they are good at.

They are mostly wrong.

These principles challenge me when I think about my work and how I view the ideas and opinions of the coming generations… even my children.

If you want to think more about these ideas, you will enjoy the following SlideShare presentation. It is the basis for my content above.

What do you think are key principles for leaders and organizations as we move towards the future?

how are your listening skills?

listening skillsThe most important skill that any people helper/developer can cultivate is to listen.  Listening to people is not a passive activity, but an active one. 

Leadership is about influence. Some leaders use positional power to manipulate behavior, but true leadership is relational. Good communication strengthens relationships, and the first step to good communication is good listening.

I have spent the last few weeks in my M.A. class learning about listening. It has been convicting, challenging, and motivating. I thought I was a pretty good listener until I took time to really evaluate my normal communication tendencies against these listening skills…

Listening with full attention

Sitting calm and centered. No fidgeting. Giving eye contact. Projecting warm curiosity. No distractions.

Listening with acceptance

No judgement. No forming opinions in the back of the mind. No planning a rebuttal.

Listening for understanding

“I hear you saying…” “Can you tell me more about that?”

Listening to hear more

Truly engaged and focused. Allowing for silence; not rushing to fill the quiet spaces. Waiting. Lean in.

Listening for information

Can I learn from what they are sharing? Is there something I need to hear? Not getting defensive. Open to hear more.

One exercise I did for the class was to try to listen to someone else talk for three to five minutes without saying a word – just making good eye contact and using body language to show interest and engagement. It was SO hard to not jump in with a comment, advice, or suggestions. You might want to try this… Let me know how it goes for you!

How are your listening skills? What do you do in order to listen well?

a leader’s power

ID-10089906I stumbled on a post this morning by James Lawther on the Great Leadership blog. The post reviews the Avianca flight 52 from Bogotá to New York that crash-landed on January 25, 1990 outside of New York, killing 73 of the 158 passengers.

Inadequate communication between the flight crew and the tower controllers regarding the urgency of the situation contributed to the tragedy. Lawther claims the communication breakdown was the result of a challenge that is heavy on my heart and common in my experience – high power distance.

High power distance is a phenomenon that we deal with less often in the United States, but it is a big challenge in the cultures of places like Latin America, Asia, or the Middle East. High power distance means that there is an unseen but very real chasm between the leader/boss/director and the team or those who work for the leader. Although the leader is often treated in a superficially friendly and respectful way, they are viewed as  untouchable, unapproachable, un-confrontable authority figures who have the power to make unilateral decisions and carry the ultimate responsibility for their subordinates.

In high power distance cultures, it is difficult to have healthy team relationships, since team members are hesitant to speak honestly and directly with the leader. In some cases, the leader perpetuates the problem by leading in an insulated, controlling, and overbearing manner. In other situations, team members reluctantly agree to plans or avoid discussing problems in a group setting, but then resort to passive-aggressive behaviors or blame-shifting against the leader when failures occur. Personal responsibility and accountability for actions are also weak, since the tendency is to blame the leader for lack of results.

This leadership phenomenon can cause all kinds of challenges and frustrations, but Lawther’s post demonstrates that high power distance can be dangerous – even to the point of physical death. I never experienced that extreme effect, but as a leader in a high power distance culture, I did encounter other consequences: loss of peer friendships, demand for paternalistic care, lack of complete information for decision-making, and gossip and mutiny behind my back.

Since my leadership style is naturally more collaborative and team dependent, I tried to encourage complete and honest communication from my team, repeating frequently my desire and availability to hear their opinions, ideas, concerns, and feedback. I had an open-office policy and often interacted informally with the staff. I had no big office and no receptionist/secretary barrier. With some teammates, I was successful; with others, I never was able to bridge the gap.

This post has once again piqued my sense of urgency regarding the challenge. I hope to learn some principles for breaking down the barriers to effective leadership in high power distance cultures. Maybe you can help…

Have you experienced the high power distance chasm? How do you deal with it? Do you have any ideas about how to close the distance?

upside down life

squirrel webSquirrels do best in or around trees. Running free. Outdoors.

This little guy found his life turned around when he got stuck inside the screened porch of the club house of our apartment complex. Not a good place for a squirrel. Scary. Unexpected. Life-changing.

My life changed this Christmas too. A few days ago, my mom had emergency surgery to remove a tumor, and the doctors declared it terminal cancer. Treatments options are ugly and time is uncertain. Her life has been turned upside down… the same for her husband, her sisters, her children, her friends. I had already written a post anticipating a different Christmas this year; I just didn’t expect this kind of different.

To be honest, my head and my heart are in a sort of fog right now. It is hard to process the emotions and still live in the midst of Christmas festivities – now with an added urgency and importance.

How do I live this new upside down life? I am learning day by day… about cancer, about my mom, about my family, about myself. There will be many more lessons as we go, but I have a few in mind now that I thought I would share with you…

Lean on community 

I don’t know what we would do without the support of our family and friends. Prayers, calls, notes, offers of practical help are all invaluable and give strength to our souls. It is not easy for any of us to ask for help, but we cannot “Lone Ranger” this one without leaning on others. This is not time to let our pride get in the way.

Work at communication

The stress of an unexpected surgery and a horrible diagnosis is causing tension between family members who each try to help in their own way. Exhaustion, emotions and different personalities, opinions, and availability cause misunderstandings and conflict. My family is trying very hard to believe the best, clarify doubts, give grace, and respect the interests and needs of each one. It is not easy, but we don’t want to lose our relationship in the process.

Grow in compassion

I don’t think my family has ever had a Christmas disrupted by a tragedy like this… but others certainly have. We usually go about our merry way buying gifts, preparing meals, and playing games without a thought for those who are spending the holidays in the hospital or at the funeral home. This year, I know what it’s like to feel little interest in parties, gifts, or food as emotional upheaval dulls my senses. I have empathy for those who are hurting now, and I hope that I will be more aware and thoughtful in the future that while some celebrate, others are suffering or struggling. 

During this scary, unexpected, life-changing time, I treasure the deeper moments with faith and family. I am grateful for our network of friends and support. I am learning and growing because of this upside down life.

I appreciate your prayers for my mom and my family. Please share any lessons you have learned when your life was upside down…

tips for long-lasting friendship and marriage

A few weeks ago I celebrated 27 years of – almost entirely 🙂 – blissful marriage to my best friend.  That same week some of my children struggled through heart-breaking roommate conflicts with long-term friends.

Making a friendship, marriage, or other relationship last requires certain fundamental basics… and lots of hard work. These are a few of the aspects I appreciate in a friendship.


In a healthy (adult) relationship the two people are partners. There is mutual respect, shared responsibilities, and lots of together experiences. In a sense, we need each other. My husband and I are advocates for each other. We encourage each other and help each other be the best we can in all life areas. I support his dreams, and he supports mine. I point out errors; he does the same for me… so that we can grow. We speak well of each other and do whatever we can to strengthen each other. Partners are stronger together.

believe the best

Every relationship goes through mis-understandings, false impressions, erroneous assumptions. When I believe the best, I don’t guess at motives or intentions, but instead look to communicate honestly, try to understand, and attempt to clarify the situation. In the past, I have sometimes feared looking foolish or naive by trusting someone, but I would rather believe the best in people until they prove unworthy. More often, I am the one who doesn’t have the full picture.

shared interests

Great friendships are often welded strong through lots of important time together… Intellects read and discuss together. Athletes play together. Musicians jam together. Others eat, craft, camp, travel, pray, create, or go to movies together! For my husband and me, our faith is the most important shared interest we have as a couple, and I am really grateful for all the adventures we have enjoyed together. Shared interests are a glue.


I make mistakes all the time. I say the wrong words, do the wrong things, have really lousy attitudes… every day. I need to apologize and receive forgiveness… all the time. I have hurt my husband. He has hurt me. If we weren’t willing and able to forgive, we would not still be together. Forgiveness is easier when we recognize our own imperfections and have realistic expectations of the other. Forgiveness happens when we value being together more than we value getting even.


Healthy relationships require healthy communication skills. Through the years I have had to learn to control my “explosive” discussion style while my husband has learned to talk more freely and not “stuff” his feelings and opinions. One of us sometimes needs a bit of time before beginning a difficult conversation, but an “I’m not talking to you” escape is not an option. We have also sought help from others when conflicts were really bad. Honest, vulnerable, respectful communication can resolve a lot of problems.

What about you? What aspects of a friendship/marriage are most important to you?

parents building world leaders

Photo courtesy of Sarah Joelle Photography http://www.sarahjoellephotography.com/

In the middle of diapers, bottles, tantrums, and discipline, it may not seem like you are building world leaders, but YOU ARE! You will never invest more time, energy or love in another disciple, mentee, or young leader as you will in your own children. What you teach them when they are young is important… and is the basis for deep values and convictions they will – or won’t – have when they are adults. Here are a few “leadership training ideas” that we tried to implement as a parents that we hope have helped our children better prepare for the world tomorrow.

Value people – We taught our children to greet people respectfully. When we introduced them to someone, we asked them to respond with “hello” and a handshake or other appropriate greeting. As they got older, a “It’s nice to meet you. My name is…” was appropriate. Maybe there was a question or two more; then they could run off to play. They didn’t have to stay around for boring adult conversation unless they wanted, or it was appropriate. We felt that we did them no favor to excuse their disobedience with, “He’s too shy.” Just as God values people, they learned to value people also. As adults, they will have opportunities to say hello to the person next to them on the plane or next door, or at work. We hope they will remember their training and think, “I can do that… just say hello. If the conversation goes further, that’s great. If not, ok too. But I can show them honor and respect. I can do that.” Who knows where a simple introduction might lead…

Healthy Limits – I wasn’t sure why I didn’t like my child playing with the things in my purse. I thought maybe I was being selfish, that they were just curious and exploring. But I soon realized that children should learn healthy limits. We taught them that not everything in the house was theirs to touch or take. It was important that they learned to ask permission before touching something that belonged to someone else, whether it belonged to their brother, sister, parent, or friend. When they practiced this at home, it was not so difficult to take them to visit somewhere else. When children learn that not everything is theirs, they are better prepared as adults to be content with what is theirs and to appropriately respect the bodies and belongings of others.

Flexibility – We traveled often and needed “reproducible routine”. Especially at bedtime, we wanted a routine that was easy do somewhere else: story, prayer, maybe a favorite blanket/toy… but not complete dark, fan, no noise, etc that might be impossible in new places later. This simplicity allowed our children to be much more flexible for traveling and for practicing hospitality (sharing or giving up their room temporarily for others). They learned that, “Not everyone is always going to cater to you!” This helped to temper selfishness and “high maintenance” in the future.

Communicate – Communication skills are so important, and there are so many ways to grow those skills when children are little. The key for us was: Don’t speak for them once they can say it themselves. Even before they can talk, we taught them to communicate “please” and “thank you” with sign language. They learned to apologize and ask for forgiveness. We gave them opportunities to go to the counter to ask for a straw or napkin. When they were older, we encouraged them to talk with a teacher about getting extra help to improve a poor grade. As children learn to communicate, they gain confidence and ability. They learn to build relationships and to use their words to bring blessing to others.

These are just a few training opportunities for our young leaders. We would often say, “We’ll always love our children, but we want other people to like them too.” There are long-term benefits for our daily efforts. You are building the future!

What are some of your training opportunities?  How do you keep the future in mind as you raise up your future world leaders?