Saturday, January 27, 2007

Creating a Pocket of Greatness

Moving from Good to Great isn't just for CEOs and corporate executives. Jim Collins offers a brief word of encouragement (2+ minutes) to create a pocket of greatness wherever you are or whatever you're doing...even if you don't have responsibility over the entire enterprise. He tells us about Roger Riggs, a high school science teacher who applied the Hedgehog principle to his work.

Jim Collins closes out with this bit of advice -

Take responsibility to make great, what you can make great....(and don't worry about the rest) .

Regardless of whether you subscribe to Jim Collins' Good to Great principles, the pertinent question is this - are you trying to create a pocket of greatness or have you settled for something less?

Artwork copyright JR Bell . Used with permission

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Could You Be a Level 5 Leader?

There are many ways to define great leadership. I've been enjoying the insights of author and business guru, Jim Collins and I plan to share a snippet here and there over the next two or three weeks.

In his bestselling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins highlights what he calls Level 5 leadership - the pinnacle of the leadership hierarchical order. Level 5 leaders transform ordinary organizations into great ones. At a very high level, here's a summary of Collin's model -

Level 1 - individual capability
Level 2 - team skills
Level 3 - managerial competence
Level 4 - effective leadership.

Level 5 leaders take it to the next level. They possess the skills of levels 1 to 4 but also have the essential component of blending personal humility with relentless will to accomplish the mission. They have been able to displace their ambition for personal greatness with the ambition for the mission of the organization/enterprise.

In this very brief talk (3+ minutes), Jim Collins talks about the evolution of leadership from level 1 to level 5 in the life of Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM. Collins concludes by making this point - our first task is to find work that we care enough about to be a level 5 leader. I found his point very thought provoking and challenging.

Is he right? Is the type of work we engage in really that important? As Christians, is there another way to think about this? Do I feel that way about the work I do?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Biblical Thinking on Racism

In response to a proposed measure requiring the state of Virginia to apologize to descendants of slaves, delegate Frank D. Hargrove tells the Virginia state assembly that "our black citizens should just get over [slavery]". In a "two-fer", Hargrove also goes on to insult Jews. If you're interested, you can read the account of his remarks here.

Although primarily symbolic, the proposed measure was viewed as part of a healing process according to Donald McEachin, who is black and one of the bill's sponsors.

“No one is asking any individual to apologize, because certainly there are no slaveholders alive today and there are no slaves alive today...but Virginia is alive and well, and Virginia was built on the backs of slaves, and Virginia’s economy boomed because of slavery, and it is Virginia that ought to apologize...”

I'm not sure if the proposed measure would materially advance the healing process but I'm certain of this - Hargrove's negative comments does nothing to promote racial harmony.

As I've asserted in a previous post, how Christians think and respond to racism is strategic to contextualizing the gospel. Unfortunately, there are precious few voices that speak biblically and faithfully on this topic. Hence, we miss the opportunity to communicate the gospel as glorious good news to an area of life that "the world" cares deeply about but cannot fix.

One compelling, insightful voice is that of John Piper. In the article, Stereotypes, Generalizations and Racism, he offers three exhortations to Christians.
  • Christians should not simply reflect the morality of their era but the morality of the Bible.
  • Christians should not be guilty of stereotyping groups, recognizing that stereotyping is different from the just and loving use of generalizations
  • Christians should use generalizations justly and lovingly to form true and helpful judgments about people and life.
I think Piper's analysis, differentiating between generalizations and stereotyping is particularly helpful here. In his article, he defines generalization is the method by which we derive principles, laws and understand standard behavior. Generalization carries no moral or ethical component. On the other hand, he defines stereotyping as unjustified and uncharitable generalizations. He also goes on to define how uncharitable generalizations and stereotyping can lead us to racism.

How does this stack up against real life issues pertaining to race relations? In view of these exhortations, can racial profiling ever be justified?

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Test of Prosperity

If you've found yourself thinking - "no worries, life is good", here is something to sober you up. From Randy Alcorn's bestseller Money, Possessions and Eternity, comes the following quote -

“In my experience, 95% of the believers who face the test of persecution pass it, while 95% who face the test of prosperity fail it.”

In the past, I've posted on how to face adversity at work...actually twice. Perhaps, the greater challenge for most of us is actually learning how to live with the abundance of blessings. Even you don't feel like you're prosperous, simply living in the United States qualifies you as among the "rich" in this world. Here's another way of looking at this - reading this post on your own computer means you probably have access to wealth that is uncommon to many in Third World countries.

Although we often equate prosperity with material wealth, prosperity isn't just about money. For some, being prosperous may be primarily about enjoying good health or comfort. For others, it may take the form of recognition or acknowledgment of success. However, regardless of the specific form, all prosperity is accompanied with a testing of our hearts.

Here's the problem - we are too easily overtaken by our own desires to delight in the gift, rather than the Giver. We place our hope in the abundance of our wealth, rather than in God who gives the power to get wealth. We love too much the recognition for our accomplishments rather than prefer the commendation from God. I know this because it's what I do.

Here are a few questions I'm asking myself as I'm thinking and praying through this at the start of 2007.

1. What does it mean to pass the test of prosperity?

I'm intruigued to understand what that looks like for someone living amidst such abundance. I wonder if passing this test can be measured by externals such as a modest standard of living, eschewing designer labels and levels of charitable giving. Or is it more of an attitude of our hearts?

2. In the midst of prosperity, am I keeping the cross of Christ central in my thoughts?

The cross of Christ offers me a perspective I desperately need. Meditating on the cross reminds me that the greatest blessing I enjoy isn't measured by dollars or accolades but in the eternal life I've inherited, purchased by the currency of his Son's sacrifice. It's somewhat counter-intuitive but in some ways, I need greater awareness of the gospel when "life is good".

3. Am I actively aware that blessings from God are meant to point us to God?

Pleasures and blessings from God are mere props to showcase the God we serve. C.S. Lewis makes this point -

“I have tried since that moment to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different…. Gratitude exclaims very properly: ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says: ‘What must be the character of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”

4. Do I recognize the temporal nature of all prosperity and pleasure we enjoy in this life?

Our enjoyment of prosperity and pleasure is tempered by our experience in a fallen world. Regardless of how great the wealth we accumulate or how lavish the accolades we receive, these riches will not satisfy our souls nor will the delight in them last. They are temporal and fleeting. Furthermore, our indwelling sin makes the wise Christian handle prosperity with some caution. We understand the admonitions from scripture to guard our hearts from the love of money and the love of praise.

Perhaps like me, you could use some help passing this test of prosperity - I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions.