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Leadership can be understood as a series of ironies, statements that capture seemingly contradictory yet complimentary ideas about how leaders can lead effectively.  Here are a few:

While leaders must lead and are necessarily in the "spotlight," effective leaders must serve others. Moses’ example of meekness speaks eloquently against contemporary macho notions of leadership. Followers who are affirmed, appreciated, and assisted express more commitment to the organization’s mission.

While leaders must know their followers, effective leaders must develop some social distance from them. Christ’s love for his disciples was great, but he declined James and John’s desire to assume a place at Christ’s side in Glory (Matthew 10:35-45). Leaders must maintain an appropriate objectivity in making personnel and resource decisions. Too-close relationships can make these decisions more difficult and even biased.

The wiser the leader, the more frequent the admission that he or she does not have all the answers. Leaders must make informed judgments, but they do not speak ex cathedra or with vox Dei. This point is illustrated in Proverbs 15:22, “without counsel purposes are disappointed; but in the multitude of counselors they are established,” and in Ecclesiastes 4:13, “better is a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.”

The more emotional the times, the more rational must be the leader, the more rational the times, the more emotional must be the leader. More emotional times are generally characterized by crisis. Leaders must be able to think clearly and render judgments based upon facts and identified alternatives, not feelings, sentimentality, or peer pressure. More rational times are those in which organizations forget their original purpose and yield to bureaucratic tendencies. Personnel begin to consider means more important than ends, and rules and regulations become more important than client interests and needs. Leaders in such times must be emotional. They must recall the organization to this raison d’etre, and clear impassioned leadership is one of the best ways to do this.

The more complex the organization and its future, the more focused and even simple leadership must be. As organizations grow, they diversify, fragment, and multiply their parts. Leaders are hard-pressed to maintain coordination and continuity. Effective leaders use metaphors and easily understood goal statements. Joshua reminded the people that their task was to possess the land that the Lord their God had given them. Clear, concise leadership is all too rare in this day of circumvention and “doublespeak.”

Effective leaders are optimists at the same time they are realists. They should have their heads in the clouds while their feet remain planted firmly upon the ground. Christian leaders must be optimistic realists, optimists because they affirm God’s sovereignty and realists because they acknowledge the temporal presence and power of sin.

A leader's impact upon an organization is often greater after departing office than when in office. Leaders may actually hold office for a few years, but the values they advance, the structures they establish, and the personnel they attract can influence an organization for decades. Old Testament kings like Ahab left terrible legacies, while others like Josiah left honorable legacies. A leader’s legacy is either an organization’s firm foundation or a nightmare of entrenched accumulated poor decisions.

The busier the leader and the less time to pray and plan the greater the necessity to take time to pray and plan. Crisis management is sometimes required but leaders cannot remain effective for long using this approach. Both prayer and planning help the leader and the organization to focus on identifiable, meaningful goals. Samson’s career is a case in point. Although he periodically accomplished great feats for God, he neither prayed nor planned consistently. Consequently, except for the final hours of his life, Samson’s ministry was a disappointment. While he contributed to God’s service, he could have contributed much more.

The "higher up the ladder" a leader climbs, thus the more specialized in leadership he or she becomes, the more of a generalist the leader must be. Perhaps Nehemiah is the best scriptural example of this irony of leadership. He was promoted from Cupbearer to leader of a reconstruction expedition. He became the leader, but his wisdom was taxed as a spiritual guide, organizer, builder, and more. Effective leaders develop a personality with a wisdom born of perspective and cultivate an eclectic understanding of their organization and the world.

The more effective the leadership, the greater the likelihood that the leader recruited people more intelligent, dynamic, capable, or credentialed than the leader. “Threatened” leaders are not effective. They appoint individuals who are non-threatening and who by definition weaken the organization. King Saul failed to understand this irony in his relationship with young David, but Pharoah avoided similar pitfalls by appointing Joseph to direct Egypt through years of plenty and famine.

The more dynamic, exciting, and even effective the leader’s ideas, the more criticism he or she is likely to receive. This irony is so much a part of the human condition that we can state with reasonable assurance that if leaders are not being criticized, they are probably not leading. If leading and changing go hand in hand, leading and criticism must be hand in glove.  Great ideas change things. People don’t like change. Ergo, change agents (leaders) attract criticism. Abraham lived with a family critic in his nephew Lot. Moses had to answer his critics before he could do great things for God.  Paul responded to critics in the early church. The great man Job even had to deal with critics on his sick bed. Effective leaders fix their thoughts on Jesus and attempt to live peaceably with all people.

The more a leader celebrates rational traditions, the more accepted will be his or her rejection of irrational traditions; the more a leader champions responsible change, the more accepted will be his or her rejection of irresponsible change. Truly effective leaders do not allow themselves to be identified strictly with change or tradition, for both must be continually evaluated for the good of the organization’s mission. It’s true that leading and change are virtually synonymous, but not all change is good and not all traditions are unworthy. Indeed the right kind of traditions create loyalty, espirit d’corp, and community, and the wrong kind of change can harm an organization.

Leaders turn their followers into leaders. John C. Maxwell has nearly cornered the market making this point, and rightly so. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner say this happens because leaders give people the courage to do things they’ve never done before. Leaders encourage the follower’s heart.

Leaders always are accountable to someone. Leaders answer to the Lord, whether they ever understand or acknowledge this fact of life. Leaders are always responsible for their organizations and thus answer to someone, owners, constituents, personnel, clientele.

And a last irony for the road…visionary leaders lead when others are not yet following.

 

**A version of this blog was originally published as "The Ironies of Leadership," Christian Management Report, 15(April/May, 1991)3, pp. 5-6.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Leaders are not machines. They’re human beings and as such will lead more effectively, remain in leadership during their productive years, and probably live longer if they learn to love, listen, and laugh.

What and Who Should Leaders Love?

To accomplish goals and achieve greatness, leaders must love the vision of the organization. Leaders who aren’t passionately engaged with the vision can’t present it day in and day out with any degree of credibility. If they don’t love the vision they’ll sound fake, because they are.

Leaders must love personnel. I don’t mean something illicit, of course, but rather a genuine appreciation for those who work to fulfill the organization’s mission. Leaders who care more for prestige, perks, power, profit, or pensions than people may earn revenue but they won’t earn respect. Leaders who love personnel will more likely inspire them to contribute to mutual success. And leaders who put people first will always lead more effectively, and last longer doing it.

To What or Whom Should Leaders Listen?

Leaders who think they know it all eventually evidence otherwise. Usually, others know emperors have no clothes even if emperors do not.

But listening leaders are learning leaders. The fact that they listen demonstrates humility and opens them to new ideas. Learning leaders listen to what they read, they listen to the marketplace, they listen to advisors, they listen to personnel, they listen to clients or customers, and the public, they listen to their critics, they listen to their heart.

Why and When Should Leaders Laugh?

Laughter is a sign of a healthy soul. Leaders who do not laugh shouldn’t be trusted. The Scripture says “a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22), which is why I said leaders who laugh will live longer. Laughing relieves stress and improves leaders’ disposition, something followers watch and emulate.

Leaders should learn how laugh. Laughing at themselves and laughing with others is a great humanizing, bonding expression. It almost inexorably draws people to leaders, increases the esteem with which they’re regarded, and thus enhances their influence.

Leaders should learn when to laugh. The Scripture again gives us direction: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Leaders lead best when they laugh and cry with those they’ve asked to follow them on the journey. Nothing says you’re one of the team than actually being one of the team.

Leaders who love, listen, and laugh model traits that will enable them not simply to survive but to thrive. So too their organizations.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

I’ve been blessed and stressed with the privilege of leading in my life.

I consider my leadership experience to be a gift from God and I wouldn’t trade any part of it, even the most difficult times. One reason leadership is special to me is I believe I was (and still am in a different assignment) doing what the Lord wanted me to do, and another is that I learned a few things.

It sometimes bothers me when I read leadership books or articles written by people who’ve never led anything. It’s not that you can’t learn from them. Of course you can. On the other hand, experience counts for something in everything we do in life. My first experience in upper-level administration began in 1988 and in one assignment or another continues to this day.

Giving Good To Whom It Is Due In the fall of that first year I hung a Bible verse, written in calligraphy, on my office wall. It’s never left my wall to this day. I can see it now as I write. This verse is a reminder and a commitment:

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it” (Proverbs 3:27, KJV).

I have not always measured up, but I’ve tried to make this principle a key ingredient of my leadership philosophy. In that spirit, one of my favorite leadership tasks has always been handing out awards, especially at graduation. For years I told university audiences “Commencement is my favorite day of the year.” That day like no other expressed what we were about.

Celebrating faculty or staff book publications is another example. Recognizing authors in front of their peers with a gift of a matted, framed cover of their new book is big-time fun.

Ideas-That-Weren't-Mine I also enjoyed citing what I called “Ideas-That-Weren’t-Mine.” Certainly not every great idea came from me, even if as president I was usually the one who took the idea to the Board, personnel, students, constituency, or the public. Pointing to beautiful buildings or growing programs or successful projects and remembering aloud by name the person who birthed the idea was and is a great way to enjoy highpoints.

A leader’s satisfaction shouldn’t come from trying to be the most brilliant person in the organization. Leaders who try this usually bloom early and quickly wilt. No one can keep up with this and no one else wants to endure it. A leader’s satisfaction should come in helping develop an organization that attracts talented and dedicated people, one where they want to work, stay, and thrive.

Leaders In Demand Leaders are always faced with the question of demand. Everyone wants a piece of whoever wears the top hat. I tried to be visible on campus in as many places and as often as reasonable—the “managing by walking around” idea. Of course, others often defined reasonable differently. But a leader has to make these decisions in a way that stewards the entire organization, as well as his or her needs and family life, not just those of a given interest group. I liked to speak regularly in chapel so the student body remembered who I was and hopefully connected with me. I wrote regularly for the student newspaper, which I strongly supported and believe is a key ingredient in a healthy university.

Taking A Position I tried to avoid “university positions.” Issues come and go, but whatever they are, people usually want an organization, especially a Christian university, to “take a position.” At times I stated “my position,” but except for a few key moral questions, I tried to side-step making statements that purported to be the “university position.” Not every issue controversy—actually not very many issue controversies—require a “university position.” I told people the university had a stated mission, values, and doctrinal statement, beyond this, for the most part “positions” should be the province of the faculty, staff, and students.

Decision-Making Finally, as I reflect, I can’t identify very many decisions about which I can say, “I did that.” Obviously I made many operational decisions in the course of daily administration. But I’m talking about leadership style and the fact that the bigger or more significant the decision, the less likely the leader should make it alone. This was true for me, contrary to what people often thought. Think of it this way: “If you’re going to play your cards close to your chest, you’d better be good.” Why not take advantage of the talent and experience around you?

Once a decision was made, I announced it—and if necessary, took the hits. It’s the leader’s job to share the credit and absorb the blame, whether or not he or she deserves either at any given time.

Leadership is not about the leader. It’s about the mission and vision of the organization, the people who make this possible, and the contribution to the greater good an organization makes. Sounds lofty, but that’s what makes leadership, at least effective leadership, significant and fun.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

I hold graduate degrees in political science, so I began my academic career teaching government and politics courses. Later, when I became a university president, I told people “I don’t teach politics anymore, but I practice politics every day.”

Writing for Radio For over 16 years, I was privileged to write a daily radio program. Doing so was not my idea. It was our vice president for broadcasting’s idea, and his vision for what it could do proved correct. Nothing I did garnered more frequent and more positive response, or opened more doors for my day job as president, than the “Making a Difference” radio program.

Philosophy of Life My philosophy of life, something that for years I’ve called “Proactive Stewardship,” also helped me in leadership. Proactive stewardship may be an inelegant phrase, but it captures what I believe the Word of God teaches about leadership. It means that I should be forward-thinking, “pro” rather than “re”-active, and that I am accountable to God for the time, talent, and treasure he’s given me. So I tried to develop a leadership style characterized by a high degree of energy, a strong work ethic courtesy of my father’s and two grandfathers’ influence, a fairly quick work pace, a lot of ideas and “vision” (doesn’t always need to be your own; can embrace anyone’s good ideas and vision), and a hunger to do more and better for the Lord.

Organization Charts One of my favorite maxims regarding perennial debates about organizational structures is that “Any system will work and no system will work. It depends on the people in the system.” I’ve yet to find an organizational chart silver bullet that fixes everything. So, I’m pretty open to changes in the chart when it seems warranted, including titles, because such things are all means to an end: accomplishing the mission. But you also have to remember that titles mean something to people and changing a title can unsettle as well as reinforce personnel.

Developing Leaders I believe in developing leaders throughout the organization. Two corollaries: I believe in strong, which is to say proactive and effective, leadership at all levels, trustees, the president, vice presidents, deans and directors, and personnel. And the stronger the leaders at each link the stronger the chain. And I believe in accountable leadership, first to the Lord as I noted above and then to others.

Making Hard Decisions Making what I called “hard decisions,” those involving people’s job performance or continuance in the organization, are the most stressful any leader faces. The most difficult decisions are those involving the termination of an employee for cause or, even more difficult, a reduction in force required as part of an organizational budget adjustment.

My most challenging time in leadership occurred when the university experienced financial shortfalls and we were forced to make adjustments laying off several staff members. It hurt, relationally, emotionally, physically. It was one of those times in leadership when I had trustees speaking in one ear saying, “You’re doing the right thing,” or “We’re with you on this,” or the one I’ll never forget from a close trustee friend, “I’m walking right beside you in this.” At the same time in the other ear, some personnel, students, or members of the general public called my actions, even my character, into question.

I learned a great deal:

  • God’s love is “unfailing” as he promises in the Psalms,
  • Some friends are indeed fair-weather,
  • The media thrives on controversy not necessarily facts,
  • A leader must step up, lead, take the hits, and keep his or her eye on the goal,
  • “Laying off” is not the same as “firing,” but it feels the same to the person on the receiving end, which means that only later will this difference make a difference,
  • There’s no easy or pleasant way to inform people they’ve lost their job, and there’s certainly no easy or pleasant way to receive this information, but it can be done with dignity and professionalism, and it can be done appropriately in a Christian organization focusing upon its stewardship.

Since that time, I have tried to call or write leaders who’re experiencing difficult times, not to assess or take positions on their actions but to support them as individuals. They always respond with surprise and gratitude and I consider this a new kind of ministry that God has given to me.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

After much prayer and discussion with Sarah, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for me to initiate a transition plan that will ultimately result in my leaving the presidency of Cornerstone University.

I have enjoyed many blessings of God in my years as President, but I believe it is time for Sarah and me to seek whatever new adventure God intends for us.  I am 54 years of age, enjoy good health, have been in the presidency for 16 years, and have completed a number of university initiatives we set out to accomplish. 

It is a good time for me to make a change.  It is a good time for the university to seek a new leader to take it to the next level.

At its meeting last Friday, I informed the Cornerstone University Board of Trustees of my intentions and the Board, while surprised, acted graciously in accepting, approving, and after some thought appreciating my proposed transition plan.  The plan maximizes the Board's ability to construct and conduct a professional presidential search, something that typically requires as much as a year to implement.

The Board's response will allow me to work together with trustees to manage this transition and its announcement in a manner that reinforces Cornerstone University. Presidential transitions can be noisy, political, and too often hurtful to the schools involved. On the other hand, transitions can be smooth, professional, and actually a benefit to all involved. Both models have been evident in West Michigan in the past couple of years. I prefer the latter example.

Given that this is the end of the academic year, with the Board's support, I expect to continue as CU President likely into the next academic year, departing by May 31, 2008. This gives me time to connect with other organizations and it allows me to work with the Board to orchestrate as smooth and as seamless a passing of the baton as we can.

I am open to whatever God wants for me, e.g., another leadership position in a Christian college or university or perhaps in a different kind of Christian nonprofit organization, corporate or consulting work, etc.

I have nothing but good things to say about Cornerstone University and my experience here. I’ve given the role my all, I’ve tried to honor God in what we did and why we did it, and I believe that any objective measure will indicate the university is better positioned today than it was in 1991. I expect to tell media I have enjoyed my service, I have been blessed with a good run, and I am seeking God’s next step in our journey.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2007 

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

One of the greatest lessons I learned during my undergraduate experience was a lesson in leadership. I did not know it then, but God had plans for me, plans that required me to understand a few things about people before he would entrust me with his purposes.

During my junior and senior years, I became the vice president then the president of a men’s service organization. I had enjoyed this club since becoming part of it right after arriving on campus. We set up and tore down banquets, assisted in county health and emergency needs, provided muscle for campus clean ups and other projects, and sponsored the annual spring celebration, a day of silly games, special luncheons, off-campus visitors, and of course a queen. As the president I got to escort the queen and help her plant the traditional tree. I moved on to escort another lady through life, but the tree still stands.

In my role as president I was directly responsible for the events of the big day. Every activity had to be planned and someone had to be found to develop and administer the activity. This is where I began my extracurricular lessons.

I discovered that there are several kinds of people (in this case it was all men, consistent with our club at the time). There are:

· People who say, “Yes,” and never fulfill their promise.

· People who say, “No,” mean it, and never do anything.

· People who must be begged, cajoled, urged, flattered, or even “threatened” with “dire” consequences, who eventually agree to do the job—maybe.

· People who say, “Yes,” but must be monitored while they do the work to assure it’s accomplished as mutually planned.

· People who say, “Yes,” do not require supervision, complete the task, and do it excellently.

I learned that the latter type of person is all-too-rare. But they do exist. One such person is Dr. Kevin Sims, who is now teaching at our alma mater. Kevin and I served together in that men’s club, and I will never forget his reliability, work ethic, and integrity. When he said he’d do something, it got done—well and on time. And once he took charge, I never gave the task a second thought. So I learned that this kind of commitment both achieves and liberates. It completes the task, and it frees the leader to move on to other things. So this kind of person makes a double contribution.

I’ve met only a few Kevins in my leadership experience, but I’ve learned to look for and greatly esteem them. They are the right kind of “Yes Men/Women.” They are “Do-ers” and “Builders,” people whose works are an apt expression of their faith.

I also learned not only to look for these kinds of people but to try to be this kind of person. I learned that how I handle assigned task says volumes about my character and my faith.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2007

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.