six important abilities for an incarnational leader

As promised in my earlier blog, here are six abilities that we can develop in order to develop an incarnational model of leadership. These abilities come from Duane Elmer’s book, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility.

1. OPENNESS includes getting “out” and involved where people live and also inviting people “in” to my home and life = hospitality. Hospitality has the same root as hospital, two Greek words meaning “loving  + the stranger.” It evolved to mean connecting with strangers in a place of healing. True hospitality receives others openly, warmly, freely without any need to prove anything. Hospitality creates an atmosphere of safety and security so that deep, meaningful conversations can take place. An interesting twist to consider is that we sometimes honor others most by receiving from them rather than by trying to give to them.

2. ACCEPTANCE is the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person, considering each person as created in God’s image and worthy of dignity and consideration.   A leader demonstrates acceptance when they suspend judgment. Not all judgments are wrong, but most premature judgments are! Acceptance also believes the best of people, while not being naive.

3. TRUST is confidence in a relationship when both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.  Trust develops over time as we practice reciprocal need and mutual dependence successfully. Trust involves emotional risk; it is fragile, hard to gain and easy to lose.

4. ABILITY TO LEARN involves learning about, learning from and learning with others – recognizing that everyone has something to offer. Learning happens best when the leader is able to initiate and sustain interpersonal relationships and when they have a strong self-identity. People who are comfortable with themselves are also authentic and real with each other and avoid pretense in relationships. Active listening communicates a willingness to learn from the one speaking.  Another key to learning is positive, realistic expectations. These increase an individual’s ability to anticipate challenges but also to know that greater learning will be worth the effort.

5. UNDERSTANDING is the ability to find the deeper motivations and meanings behind values and behaviors. This requires pursuing the “roots” below the superficial words and actions. Too often we assume others are foolish or illogical simply because their reasoning is not self-evident to us. Understanding brings new perspectives. Forming the habit of asking Why? Why? Why? helps us to increase our understanding.

6. SERVANTHOOD is the ability to help people in such a way that their dignity is preserved and they are more empowered to live God-glorifying lives. Service takes different forms, depending on the situation, so it can’t be legislated, forced, or manipulated; if it isn’t sincere, it will come across as artificial and false.

I want to be an incarnational leader.  How about you?

Incarnational leadership is like chocolate!

As an avowed chocolate fan, I love Vianne Rocher’s chocolaterie as a picture of incarnational ministry.  The protagonist of the movie, Chocolat, Vianne is “warm, non-judgmental, and compassionate, offering grace and peace to the troubled community… She engages the lives and troubles of her community… offers space… for honesty and truthtelling to happen”.  Vianne makes transformational friendships in the community by discerning the individual (chocolate) preferences of each customer and prescribing the appropriate (chocolate) remedy for their needs.  She cares less about the success of her business and more about the concerns of the people in the town.  Vianne serves the French community with the incarnational attributes of love, self-sacrifice, and commitment.  As a result of her compassion and acceptance, Vianne’s ministry transforms the lives of individual friends and the village as a whole.*

The greatest story of transformation power through personal incarnation is God himself coming to live among us in human form through the person of Jesus (Phil. 2:7).  An incarnational model of leadership is a willingness to re-make ourselves in order to mimic Jesus more effectively in our life and work.  Incarnational ministry does not require that leaders completely give up their culture (national/gender/personality) identity.  Jesus did not give up being God; He did choose to limit certain aspects of His character and power.  Just as a body illustrates how the varied spiritual gifts are necessary to serve God completely (I Cor 13:4-31), so are elements of all cultures necessary to reflect the full image of God.         (…a whole box of chocolates!) No one culture alone is the perfect God culture.  Sometimes aspects of one culture may more closely represent the character of God than another culture; at other times, combined cultural views reflect the character of God more accurately; sometimes an aspect of culture is definitely not Biblical, and a leader should discard that value. Incarnational leadership requires a lot of reflection and effort to determine how and where to make the edits in order to be more like Christ.

Applying the incarnational servant model in leadership is not easy. It can cause self-doubt, confusion and frustration. As leaders we enter a leadership position with a deeply ingrained sense of identity that developed over a lifetime. Our ethnocentrism assumes that others do or should have the same cultural values because my view is the “best” or the “correct” view. Leaders inevitably bring pride and selfishness into the situation and often negatively judge others as inferior or wrong. Attempts to serve and lead in another culture or with multi-cultural teammates will also be affected by the others’ views of  servanthood and leadership. Remember: an action is not a service simply when called service; the action must actually be helpful to the receiver. (Which chocolate is their favorite, not my favorite to give away?) In addition, the pre-conceived opinions, perceptions, and stereotypes of others may interfere with our efforts to lead and serve.  Sometimes even though our motives are good, our actions are completely misunderstood by others, due to their own culture grid or even their own insecurities.

Applying the incarnational model to leadership begins with an attitude adjustment. Just as Jesus came as a helpless infant, so must we approach the leadership situation humbly and with a willingness to learn.

  •  The first step towards an incarnational model is self-acceptance.  This self-acceptance implies recognizing that God made each person intentionally and uniquely, and that He sovereignly allowed their lifetime experiences to develop in them the cultural values that they have at the time.
  • Secondly, it is important for a leader to recognize their personal values, but also be willing to adapt them when necessary. (Would I give up my favorite candy?) God’s power to help a people yield their own preferences and needs to those of others is an indispensable element of incarnation. Without confidence in God’s power to change lives, there would not be much hope for the difficult process of incarnation. Thankfully, with desire, effort and God’s help, leaders can change and grow in their incarnational leadership.

*The Chocolate example comes from The Shaping of Things to Come (2003) by M. Frost & A. Hirsch (pp. 33-62) Hendrickson Publishers.

*** Next blog post will discuss six abilities we can develop to grow in our incarnational leadership… stay tuned!

How do you apply an incarnational attitude to your leadership?  

parents building world leaders

Photo courtesy of Sarah Joelle Photography

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?

what does a movement look like?

After reading my “be part of a movement!” blog, a friend asked for more details.  He wanted to know more about what the movements looked like… I would love to share that with you.

We define a movement as “God working through a team of like-hearted people who are winning, building and sending.”


A movement will include four elements:

  • Connecting lost people to Jesus
  • Life-changing discipleship
  • Multiplying leaders
  • Generation of local resources (vision, people, ideas, funding, systems, etc.)

In both movements, it was clear God was at work.  Personal and group prayer was common – sometimes programmed, often spontaneous – due to a deep sense of dependence on God.  We studied His Word and took steps of faith.  We trusted the Holy Spirit to control us and guide us.  I don’t know that our actions “caused” the movement – that was simply God’s choice, but we were deliberate in opening our hearts so that He could work in us.

Team was another key factor.  One movement team included several full-time staff and student leaders; the other had only one staff woman and a core group of committed adult volunteers.  In each case the team was passionate about reaching their audience for Christ. The team members were also committed to each other – growing in character, communicating, sharing responsibilities, learning and training, enjoying the work and life together.  The teams were not perfect – sometimes there were personality conflicts; sometimes members didn’t do their part; sometimes volunteers decided to get involved in something else… but the team provided strength and encouragement for the task.

In both movements, we were committed to evangelism – connecting people to Jesus. In the campus movement, we intentionally and strategically shared with any student who had come twice to a meeting. We trained our staff and students how to do evangelism and went sharing together often.  The women’s movement was also committed to training and sharing Christ during their book study; they often had opportunities to share one-on-one after a small group meeting.  Both movements also organized numerous special evangelistic events. Basically, evangelism was a priority – in heart and practice.

Incredible transformation happened through life-changing discipleship. In both cases, we saw an increased desire to know God’s Word and apply it to their lives. We taught basic follow-up, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and other Bible studies. Students chose not to lie or bribe professors for better grades. Women chose to forgive their husbands and strengthen their marriages. Dating couples chose to break off relationships instead of continuing in immorality.  Moms chose to reconcile with their children. Students chose to serve God in ministry after graduation.

Leaders multiplied.  In the student movement, we recorded discipleship chains out to four generations. In the women’s movement, we lost track of the generations! It became “normal” for everyone to invite friends to events, or take a few friends through follow-up, or lead a small group, or host a mom’s book club. Students and volunteers led in reaching areas of campus or running parts of the ministry (prayer/socials/followup) or arranging details for an event. Everyone found a place to serve.

There was no lack of resources.  The students quickly offered to bring the snacks. They began to support each other and/or work together to send each other to conferences and mission trips.  There were very few outside subsidies. The women hosted the studies in their homes, shared food for meals, and donated items and money for the evangelistic events so that they were always self-financed and often profitable. Creative ideas surfaced continually. New materials were created. Partnerships were formed. More people were recruited.

God blessed.  It became impossible to measure the impact as creativity flourished and initiative grew. Years later, the student ministry still produces laborers.  Many graduates share Christ at their workplace and lead their marriages and children to follow the Lord. The women’s ministry continues to work on projects that will expand to other cities in all of Mexico.

Connecting lost people to Jesus. Life-changing discipleship. Multiplying leaders. Generating local resources. That is what a movement looks like.

Which element of a movement is most exciting to you?

Which element is most challenging for you?

multicultural team or tension?

As our world becomes more connected globally, today’s organizations need an atmosphere that encourages a multicultural work environment. However it is a big mistake to simply put a group of international leaders on a team and expect them to achieve great results. There will be many differing values on an international team, and we need to help our leaders understand and appreciate each other in order to work together more effectively.

One great tool I have found is a book I am reading for my M.A. in Global Leadership  – When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures, by Richard D. Lewis. A helpful explanation of general nationality differences divides the world’s cultures into three groups: Linear-Actives, Multi-Actives and Reactives.  

See if you recognize yourself and/or some of your co-workers or teammates in one these groups!

Linear-Actives Common characteristics of this group are affinity for schedules and plans, preference for objective data and information, task focus, less emotional and relational connections. Communication with Linear-Actives will be direct, to the point, and optimistic, often decorated with humor and idiomatic phrases.  They are quite linear in their view of time and appreciate punctuality.  Promotion at work is a result of hard work and productivity. They are known to do very well with small talk at dinner parties, but prefer all business during meetings. This group is the smallest of the three, with around 600 million members.

Multi-Actives  The Multi-Active group has over three billion members, making it the largest group. The Multi-Actives have an extroverted and loquacious manner, multitasking capabilities, and interdependent, net-working relationships. Conversation with a Multi-Active is passionate, animated, descriptive and personal. Schedule is subordinate to relationship and the event of the moment. Multi-Actives are stereotypically known for arriving late for appointments and for eating dinner late into the evening. Entry and advance in the workplace is often a result of family and/or other loyalty connections. Compassion and human understanding motivate Multi-Actives to action.

Reactives The third group that Lewis describes is the Reactive group. They have over one and one-half billion members around the world. This group is typically quiet and reserved, good listeners, respectful of others’ needs and desires, principle oriented and very concerned with saving face in relationships. They have a cyclical view of time. Communication will likely be more formal, polite, complimentary, with plenty of periods of silence. Reactives are known for their extravagant gift giving and their harmonious relationships.

Recognition of different national culture values is just one step toward understanding. There are many other cultural value differences that factor into team relationships: age, gender, personality, profession, etc.  Our authentic respect for each other and our sincere willingness to make adjustments to each other are key components to international team success. More about how to do that in a future blog…

With which group do you identify?

What has your experience been like in international settings?  

Please share a comment so that we can learn together!

are you dangerous?

I first saw this Creed in Judy Douglas’ post: Are You a Dangerous Woman? on her blog:              (Thanks, Judy!)

It was written by Lynne Hybels, writer, speaker, and wife of Bill Hybels.  She wrote it as the “Dangerous Women Creed” and it is presented below as it was printed in 2008 Synergy Program.

Although it was written specifically for women, I believe it is powerful for any person!

Dangerous Women Creed:
Dear God, please make us dangerous women.

May we be women who acknowledge our power to change, and grow,

and be radically alive for God.
May we be healers of wounds and righters of wrongs.
May we weep with those who weep and speak for those who cannot

speak for themselves.
May we cherish children, embrace the elderly, and empower the poor.
May we pray deeply and teach wisely.
May we be strong and gentle leaders.
May we sing songs of joy and talk down fear.
May we never hesitate to let passion push us, conviction compel us,

and righteous anger energize us.
May we strike fear into all that is unjust and evil in the world.
May we dismantle abusive systems and silence lies with truth.
May we shine like stars in a darkened generation.
May we overflow with goodness in the name of God and by the power of Jesus.
And in that name and by that power, may we change the world.
Dear God, please make us dangerous women. Amen.

I want to be dangerous.  How about you?

remembering 9-11

No matter who we are or where we were during the 9-11 attacks, we remember and were affected. I pray that God will continue to redeem that horrendous tragedy for good, showing us once again His power and love in the midst of pain and suffering. I also pray that we learn from that sad day and grow into leaders who reflect His grace, forgiveness, and hope to a hurting world…

Here’s a tribute video – (You may like it more if you are a country music fan!)

running for my life

runner free digital photo Sura Nualpradid
My birthday caused me to consider how to best invest the next years of my life. Often good physical health contributes to reaching other dreams, so I got motivated to lose some weight and increase my running routine.

In the process, I learned about reaching other life goals!

  • Getting better takes time – I am not a patient person; I prefer instant results. However, I am learning to persevere and trust the process. There were weeks when I wouldn’t lose one pound, and I wanted to give up, but if I kept doing the right things, I would finally see the weight drop. I often want to quit in other areas of life also – habits I can’t break, changes I can’t make, or relationships that aren’t working like I want. If I stop trying, I guarantee not getting better… but if I give it time, doing the right things, I just might get results!
  • Getting better takes hard work – I have never really liked to run. For me it is just plain discipline. Some days I feel pretty good; some days my feet feel like lead. Often, if I push through the first discomforts, I start to feel better and go farther than I initially thought I could. No great athlete achieves success without consistent practice, lots of sweat, and often pain. Neither will I get better – personally or professionally – without intentional effort. I have found that an honest evaluation (like a 360) and a personal development plan, accompanied by a coach or mentor, can help me grow and improve. 
  • Plan for hard days and easy days – A training plan allows for “pushing for distance” days and rest days. Going all-out every day will inevitably lead to injury and burnout. Life is similar. There are days when I have to give more than I have to handle a conflict, help someone, or get something done on time, and there are days when I need to rest. Without the rest, I don’t have the energy needed for the tough times, and I am resentful and tired. When I am regularly refreshed and rejuvenated, I have the stamina and strength to give the extra effort – even when it’s hard.
  • I am unique –  My husband can eat a lot more calories than I can and still lose weight. But, I am not my husband, and my weight-loss plan is not the same as his. Nor is my exercise plan the same as his… nor is my life plan the same as his! I need to stop comparing – and complaining(!) – and figure out what will work for me. Often I want to “cut and paste” someone else’s gifts or abilities or experience into my life, but God has a singular, individual plan for me. 
  • Getting better gets harder – Many people can run one mile or lose a few pounds. On the other hand, keeping weight off or running a marathon is much more challenging. As much I as would like to have earned an easy road due to past accomplishments, that is not how real life works. Instead, the older I am, the more responsibility I get, the more leadership I take on… the harder it is to get better! There is no “downhill” slide. It will always be “uphill”, and I don’t want that truth to surprise or discourage me.
What are principles that help you reach your goals?

what can we learn from iMentor Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs had an incredible impact at Apple.  What principles can we learn from him? I stumbled on this challenging presentation at:  Some great advice for any leader!

1. Follow your heart – “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

2. Make a dent in the universe – “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me… going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”

3. Think different – “Kick start your brain. New ideas come from watching something, talking to people, experimenting, asking questions, and getting out of the office!”

4. Sell dreams, not products – “Your customers dream of a happier and better life. Don’t move products. Enrich lives.”

5. Make products for yourself – “We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”

6. Say ‘no’ to 1,000 things – “It is only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.

7. Keep it simple – “That has been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it is worth it in the end, because once you get there you can move mountains.”

8. Go for excellence – “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

9. Break the rules – “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

10. You only live once – “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

**One more thing: “Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life.  Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”  Steve Jobs


What advice would YOU give to a leader?

how to transition well?

Change happens. We (my husband and I) just finalized a National Team transition. It has been a long process, and we have learned a few things along the way…

Plan the transition.  (I realize this isn’t always possible, especially if the transition is due to a crisis, but when you can…) A good transition is well thought through. We prayed and asked others to pray with us. We organized the process with an educated guess as to how long the steps would take, and stuck to the plan. We announced the coming transition with anticipation. We involved others in the process. All of this made it easier for us to move peacefully towards the future; ensured that the new leader entered his position with less stress, and helped to avoid confusion for others during the transition.

Consider the loss.  Every change – even those for the good – creates loss. Transitions shake stability, change relationships, and adjust structures and job descriptions. Others in the organization wonder how the change will affect them – and don’t like the answer. A good leader will validate this reality, take time to grieve their own losses, and coach his/her people through the process. We communicated early and regularly with everyone we thought of who could be affected by the changes. We met with mentors to process our own thoughts and emotions. We had meetings with those who work with us to ask how they were doing with the changes and what were their concerns. This personal side of the transition is often overlooked, but it is a crucial element of a successful transition.

Pass the baton.  It is important to pass information and relationships to the new leader. In the past, we have entered “blind” into new positions – no information, no alliances, and no training. We were left scrambling to understand, to “catch on”, to figure it out ourselves. We wanted something different this time, so we worked hard to be organized and invested time so that we could train well, pass files, answer questions, and connect new relationships. We clearly defined the timeline for change of authority and responsibility. We invited the new leaders to our home to process their personal concerns and questions. At the office, we talked through the general vision, the people, the finances, and the day-to-day details. We presented the new leaders to our partners. Our plan allows us to personally “coach” during the next months, but the new leaders have successfully begun to lead with clarity and confidence.

Let Go! We experienced pressure to stay longer in the position and pressure to extend our transition timeline because others hadn’t prepared well. Sometimes we were the ones “holding on” when we saw things happening that we didn’t like, and we wanted to maintain control and influence. God told me clearly… “Don’t do it!  This is not all about you.” Others will only grow and take leadership if I move out-of-the-way! We just finished our national conference, and for the first time in many years, we had no responsibilities for the event. You know what? It was a great conference! It is humbling to admit that we are not needed, but it is also an exciting indication of a hopeful future.

End well. Make sure the ending is not an escape from unresolved conflict. Say good-bye well. Express appreciation to those who partnered with you. Take time to evaluate. We worked with some wonderful people. We were part of some great accomplishments. We also experienced a lot of painful criticism and conflict, and we had to leave many of our dreams and plans unfinished. It has been good to process though all of this – forgive others and ourselves – and be able to trust God with the future!

I know I have a lot more to learn about transitions. I would love to hear from you and learn from your experiences. What do you think are the elements of a good transition?