On Effective Leadership

How to lead in a fast-changing world. 

This is a very simple guide to effective leadership, with effective being defined as “successful in producing beneficial results”. I deliberately switched the word beneficial for the word intended because many times, in this fast-changing world, our original intentions need refining as well. It is possible to go seek something and find out, in the process of seeking it, that it is not the outcome we really want not need. Much has been said about the agility required in today’s environment. I have realized that an agility of objective is just as important as an agility of execution.

A lot has been written and said about leadership, so much in fact that it’s confusing. This guide does not try to better them. This is simply my personal approach to getting things done in a team, and it follows my penchant for simplification, some would say oversimplification, because it is designed to be easy to understand across a team. 

Here is my leadership framework:

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The Leader

At the center of the framework is the Leader, the primary agent for progress in a team. A leader takes on the responsibility of causing the team to a better place. I think it is important to be clear that the leader does not solely bring the team to a better place. Getting there, that better place, is a team effort. Saying that a leader causes it means he or she gives rise to the team actions that result in the outcome. 

The Three Core Abilities

To lead effectively, a Leader must have the following abilities:

  1. Clarity: Clarity refers to the ability to define and communicate the shared values and compelling mission that leads to the attainment of a great vision 
  2. Competence: Competence refers to the ability to bring together a team of people who are purpose-driven, principles-led, and performance-oriented, and to harmonize them into living out the values, pursuing the mission, and realizing the mission the team shares. 
  3. Capital: Capital refers to the ability to marshal and manage the resources we deploy to pay for the necessary human, financial, and social costs. Capital will always be finite. The more resources, and even more, the better the stewardship of the resources, the more effective the leader will be. 

When Clarity and Capital combine, we have Focus. Channeling our human, financial, and social resources at a very clearly defined outcome leads to benefits such as alignment, less waste, and a strong brand. 

When Capital and Competence combine, we have Productivity. Our resources and our skills together produce good things. This helps us ship out products and services, helps get things done, and helps us do these things in an efficient manner. 

When Clarity and Competence combine, we end up with Dynamism. Dynamism is defined as:

The quality of being characterized by vigorous activity and progress.

When a leader and his team are very clear about what the want to accomplish and have the skills to make it happen, including the necessary collaboration skills, this leads to highly-energized way of working that is not only exciting but gains momentum as it continues. This momentum triggers a virtuous cycle, as it leads to great progress, making the vision, mission and values more real and more achievable, leading to more capital coming in (in different forms), leading to more excitement for the team that translates to even more energy. 

I want to spend a little more time with this one. 

Dynamism in a team is a highly-prized quality but for some reason leaders continue to ignore the factors that lead to Clarity and Competence. Instead of clarifying further the vision, mission, and values, we tend to bloat them with dogma, tradition, and conflicting interests. Instead of ensuring purposefulness, we are busy propping up the past. Instead of principles, we end up with policies. Instead of performance, we are distracted by politics. 

I will write about the abilities of Clarity, Competence, and Capital in more detail, but for now let me leave you with this: Be a dynamic, productive, focused person; and surround yourself with dynamic, productive, and focused people. I can’t think of a simpler leadership hack than that. I am privileged to be surrounded by such people, and that is an earned privilege for deliberately making sure I am dynamic, productive, and focused. You will attract more of what you are. #DB

That’s Nice. Can’t Afford It Now. Maybe Someday.

I had a wonderful trip with my wife, Yasmin. She’s so child-like and fun-loving that it’s almost impossible to NOT have fun with her. There were the occasional arguments and irritations but, like in anything else, it’s not the absence of bumps that’s important, it’s our response to the bumps that matters.

One phrase I found myself saying quite often when Yasmin would show me something to eat, visit, or buy, or I would see  something I would like to spend on, was “That’s nice. Can’t afford it now. Maybe someday.” It’s something I think more breadwinners should use with their family, especially if they’re already financially tight, such as startup couples like Yasmin and me. I don’t necessarily mean saying those exact words but communicating the three things the statement says:

That’s Nice…
When presented with something nice, even if it’s something we can’t afford, it’s good to be appreciative and acknowledge your partner’s preference. The temptation for me when I can’t afford something is to quickly say, “You don’t really need that.” or “That’s a waste of money.” or “You’re hungry again???” but instead I can start with appreciation and acknowledgement. Both these things don’t cost any money, don’t crush hope, and don’t require actually obtaining what ever it is they’re presenting. In fact, I learned on my last trip, it’s a great way to get to know someone, by just casually learning how to appreciate what they appreciate.

Can’t Afford It Now…
As a husband there is a deep desire to please your wife and give her the best. Few things feel as satisfying as seeing the gratefulness in Yasmin’s face when she receives something. So when she points out something she find nice or asks if we can buy something, my instinct is to want to buy it for her. There is also a deep desire to show that I’m capable of meeting her needs and wants, and during times where I’m not able to do so, I’ve felt a feeling of inadequacy, that I am not an excellent provider. But then I remember that while society places so much emphasis on a man being a spiritual, physical, financial, and emotional provider, a husband is first and foremost a head, a leader, not a chief lifestyle provider like I’ve described in old posts. This means he is first a spiritual leader, a physical leader, a financial leader, and an emotional leader, than just a provider. There’s a difference, and that is, being a leader means you’re responsible for directing where your family goes spiritually, physically, financially, and emotionally. In the post I mentioned, I shared that I believe that marriages are meant to achieve a purpose not a lifestyle, that a husband should be leading towards that purpose not trying to be Prince Charming, and that the wife should be a great partner in achieving that purpose not a princess. That purpose I believe is to honor God as a family by being so good at fundamentally improving the lives of others through excellence and service. The single biggest hurdle I see preventing families from doing this is not lack but materialism and a self-centered spirituality that believes the blessed life is a life where we get all the things we desire “from God”.

Given that the family has a clear purpose, our budgeting and spending needs to reflect that purpose. Our spending cannot be defined by impulse and we are not better providers nor better husbands if we are able to accommodate impulsive spending better. We are better providers and better husbands if we are able to first provide the leadership required to achieve the family purpose in a way where family needs and family joy is not neglected. So it’s part of our role as leaders to know our boundaries, in this case financial boundaries, and to operate within these boundaries.

It’s a mark of maturity for a man to be able to withstand the demands of anyone (even his own and his family’s) to do the right thing. It’s the mark of a mature woman to do the same. The right thing is to live according to principle not impulse. The right thing is to live according to conviction not convention, especially if that convention is a born from a materialistic society. The world needs mature people who actually understand that a man is a stronger leader when he is able to make unpopular wise choices, such as looking at the disappointed faces of his family and saying, “Not now. I want to give it to you. But more important than you getting everything you want or having everything you’ve desired, is learning stewardship, faithfulness, patience, and faith. So let’s pray about it. Let’s bring this request to God. Maybe someday.” That man is not driven by how people view him. And a truly principled wife would not only respect a man like that, she will cherish him, because she knows that he is truly leading, not simply providing.

Maybe Someday
While it’s mature to understand the cost of things, it doesn’t mean we can’t hope and believe for bigger and better. This is why I like to end this statement with hope: maybe someday. I say “maybe” because I really don’t know what the future will look like. For one, I don’t know what the political situation will be. I also don’t know whether I’ll have other priorities (such as if someone is sick, or paying off mortgage, etc). Most of all, I don’t know what God will be asking of me in the future. But another reason why I say maybe is because the reality is a lot of the things we think we want right now, we don’t really need nor even really want. It’s impulse. How many clothes do we have that we haven’t worn in the last year? How many more shoes do we need? How many more shoes does our family need? How many more calories do our already overweight bodies need? How many more video games? How many more toys? How many more TVs?

The reality is we don’t need much more. Our materialistic environment makes us want more. I know this because I always fall for this.

Maybe someday means, in the future, if God wills, and if we actually still want it, let’s do it. Because if God wills, then He will provide. And if we actually still want it, then we will truly enjoy, not merely experience.

Mature people are able to appreciate nice things, be good stewards of their resources, and have the faith to trust in God’s timing, His will, and His goodness.

Again, a Leader Not a Prince, Partner Not a Princess
I’m very grateful to God that I have a wife like Yasmin. God knows we drive each other nuts in frustrating and private ways, but we’re also learning how to support each other and enjoy supporting each other. It’s important to be dutiful and know your role, not buying into the crap about “only doing what you love” but being the type of person who “does what the world needs of him/her”, in other words, the servant of all that the Bible describes. Many wives I’ve observed aren’t partners. They’re princesses. They don’t really share in carrying the load. They’re part of the load. Being a partner means knowing what’s required, sharing in the responsibility, which includes sharing the blame when things fail, and sharing in the work of achievement. A princess begins with “Here’s what I want for our family”. A partner begins with “Here’s our family purpose.” A princess asks, “Why is our marriage like this?” A partner says, “How can I be of better service?” A princess says, “My partner needs to be like this for me.” A partner says, “I need to be excellent for my partner”. A princess says, “I will love you the way I feel.” A partner says, “I will love you the way God commands”.

Our selfish spirituality has led us to overemphasize the meeting of needs, the filling of love banks, and not enough on the achieving of purpose. In business, in my experience, the most drama and complaints come from the least impactful. I think it’s the same at home. When people are busying themselves with being amazing for others, they don’t have the time nor the luxury of burdening others with their attitudes of entitlement. When people are conditioned to think about their own needs being met and not achieving a purpose greater than their needs, we will become petty, so easily shaken when our relationships don’t validate our feelings.

One of the best pieces of advice I get regularly whenever I feel frustrated or want to self-pity is this simple phrase: “Man up!” I’ve heard it from my dad, from my brother Joseph, from my godparents, from friends. It’s basically them saying, “I’ve heard everything you’ve got to say about why you feel that way. But that won’t solve anything. So man up. Do the right thing even if you don’t like it, even if no one likes it.” And I don’t think giving into the impulses of your family is manning up no matter what anyone says. Charting a purposeful course, even if its unpopular, is manning up.

What kind of an example is the leader of the home setting if he is driven by what the family wants NOT by what the family stands for? And is this man following God’s example, who owns the world, yet wisely provides and withholds according to the wisdom of His love?

And I also think, women need their own version of “Man up”. A phrase that reminds them to think maturely not childishly. A phrase that cuts through the feelings and emotions to reveal the principle needed to make the moment great. I don’t know what it is.

I do know this: most of my impulsive decisions I’ve come to regret. If a family is run on impulsive decisions there will be regret, even if they go to church, give their tithes, and pray everyday.

 

 

Tangible

It’s not enough for people to respect me.

I want to know, I need to know, in the deepest part of me, where there’s no one but God and myself, that in our partnership, we weren’t lazy nor dishonest with each other. I know that He’s faithful with His part. I need to focus on being faithful with mine. This is why I put a lot of emphasis on measured results, so that I never fall into the vanity of being honored by man and think that is proof of  a good life. It’s easy to impress a shallow judge. Man is a shallow judge. But by putting standards, even difficult standards, I push myself towards actual, fundamental, tangible results, that I may sleep content that I did everything in my power to be faithful to God as well.

When I am not meeting these standards, I feel the insecurity of dissonance. There is no peace in a lying heart, and my heart has, through the years, gone through many lies. Chief of which is that I am here to promote, protect, and pleasure me above all. It manifests clearly when I say things like, “I’m not so bad” or “I’m alright” or “I’m enjoying my ‘me’ time” or “I’m allowed to feel this way” or when I entertain other excuses. These are some of the conversations I have in my head when defending my small laziness and dishonesties, not thinking of the other lives deprived or hurt by me When I catch myself do this, I switch the question from “How do I feel today?” to “What is my measurable impact today?” and it changes my mental framework. Before I think about what I think I lack or need, I think about what I have given.

In Matthew 11, there’s a story where the John the Baptists sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if He’s the real deal. John was having doubts, probably due to his situation in prison. Jesus didn’t go on an offended, angry, defensive “You don’t believe in me!” speech. Instead, He said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Jesus simply said: Look at the results. The reply wasn’t “look at my posts”, “look what the media is saying about me”, “look at my likes and comments”. He said, “Look at the fundamental improvements in the lives of people I’ve touched. Look at my life’s message.” 

Jesus never argued His value to anyone. He let His results do the talking, and His results weren’t cute or vanity metrics. They were fundamental life improvements that transformed.

This is the example I seek to follow: to live such a good life that whenever there are doubters, I can simply say, “Look at the results. Look at my life’s message. I’m not perfect. There are a ton of mistakes. But look at the results.” To do this, I need to make sure that every day is spent generating results, not necessarily for monetary ends, but for life transforming impact. This is where discipline, diligence, and determination trumps intention, inspiration, and ideas. Too many people share a lot of inspiring crap but completely fail when they are asked, “So where are the actual, tangible, fundamental results?”

#db

 

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