Lead Like Scrooge?


“Oh!, but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens.

At this time of year it seems appropriate to turn to Dickens with A Christmas Carol for some seasonal leadership inspiration. Let’s see what we can learn from one of literature’s most well known bosses – Ebenezer Scrooge. Read the passage again and this time let your mind linger over the words, then let’s take a closer look.

We can’t help but sympathize with the diligent and hard working clerk Bob Cratchit, a devoted husband and father who must endure the scorn and mistreatment of a cold and uncaring boss. Scrooge sees Bob’s wish to be with his family over Christmas as an imposition. As far as he’s concerned Cratchit is taking advantage of him. Even today there are a great many people feeling torn between unreasonable bosses and their families, they are often as discouraged as Bob Cratchit. Encouraging a healthy work / life balance is not only the right thing to do – it builds loyalty and performance. So this Christmas take time to do a balance audit. Look a little more closely at how hard the members of your team are working and how they are feeling about it. Make sure there is time for family, rest and even a little Christmas cheer.

Dickens describes Scrooge as “secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I think we can pull two good lessons from this passage. Today a great many leaders are not sharing as much information as they could or should. They don’t talk to their team members regularly about the organization, and when they do their comments are often superficial. If you want engaged employees then you have to engage them – that’s the way it works. When you share information openly – when you genuinely work to help the members of your team understand the situations that come and go – you send a powerful message that you trust them and care about them. This is why a good communication plan is a strong loyalty builder. Remember, we talk to people we care about. This is the message good communicators send. So this season, take stock of how often you’re holding staff meetings and how openly you are sharing information.

Finally, I ask the question: Can a leader be “solitary as an oyster” and still build a high performance team? You of course know the answer. Leadership is at its heart all about relationships. When you care about the people you lead they care about you – team members don’t want to disappoint leaders who care about them. I am convinced this is a powerful and enduring leadership truth. Whether you are encouraging or correcting, it must be evident in all that you do that you care. So your final assignment as this Christmas approaches is to ask yourself how well you know the people you are leading and how well they know you. If you have well developed relationships, you are doing the work of a good leader, keep it up. If you’ve lost touch, if you’re spending too much time in your office and not enough on the shop floor resolve to get out more – Christmas is a great time to make a start.

We all know how the story ended. Ebenezer had a change of heart. He became the best of leaders, illustrating the last and most important lesson: its never too late for aa change in the right direction and a change can have a dramatic effect on everyone involved. Merry Christmas all, let us all remember the reason for the season and try to keep the spirit of Christmas all year long.


Follow Well To Lead Well


“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority for they keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

God values order. Anarchy has no place on an effective leadership team, yet too many leaders unwittingly create more chaos and discontent than they realize. The conditions arise when we are directed to lead a mission we don’t personally agree with.

These situations are important tests for every member of the leadership team. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all failed this test at some point. So how should we deal with them? A good leader will welcome input from the members of his or her leadership team, “for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisors.” (Proverbs 24:6). Advisors help leaders fine tune plans and avoid unnecessary mistakes, so advocate for your point of view as an advisor, and when you’ve had your say, fully support the direction you receive as you carry it to your team. You would expect the same from those you are leading. If you cannot do this, even when it is contrary to a choice you would have made, the time has come to leave. Anything else invites chaos and eventually conflict for you and those you lead.

In his book, Shake Hands With The Devil, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire poignantly described his thought process at the height of the FLQ crisis of 1970, when he was asked to lead a mission he was uncomfortable with. His men had live ammo in their guns and he might have to give the order to fire on fellow Quebecers. Dallaire wrote, “If I gave the order to shoot, I could not let my men sense the slightest shiver of doubt in my belief in the rightness of that order. Any uncertainty on my part would communicate itself to my men; any hesitation on their part could result in chaos and innocent casualties. In a nanosecond I had to be able to set aside deep personal loyalties and put the mission first.”

Leaders who cannot put the mission first and follow well create three problems:
1. Divided loyalties
When the team sees you don’t fully support an initiative, they are caught between their loyalty to you and their obligation to the larger team. They hesitate, they cannot give the mission their best work and are often cited for poor performance, they become the innocent casualties of your leadership.
2. Multiplied resistance
It’s not good when anyone resists a mission their leader has charged them with and it does not honour God, but a single individual does not have the same impact as a leader who is resisting. A leader can and will multiply that resistance across an entire team, undermining the effort for everyone who is trying to make a success of the effort.
3. Hypocritical example
If you are to become a transformational leader – someone who leads important changes – you will soon discover that leadership is not a popularity contest. There will be times when doing what is right is just not popular. Times when you must direct the team to follow you on a mission they don’t agree with. How do you do this when your example is contrary to what you ask of them?

I offer one caveat. You do not take a mission you believe is morally wrong to your team. If you find yourself in this situation, try to change your leader’s mind and if you fail it’s time to find a new shop. This said, these situations are generally rare. Most often resistance to a mission is the product of pride, preference and a need for popularity. What we’re asked to lead is not morally wrong, we just think our way is better, or we don’t want to take unpopular news to the people we lead.

A leader who follows well offers advice and then, regardless of the decision that’s made, accepts the mission and takes the hills he or she his charged to take. Anything less invites chaos, conflict and disorder. Anything less undermines the mission and the success of the team.

Looking to go deeper into Christian leadership practices for the modern world? Check out my book and the free downloadable PDF Christian Addendum. Or call or write for a workshop.

Dan Gaynor

Thinking About Potential

An encouragement for the day – a short excerpt from the book:

“However, we must accept that it is possible to treat people poorly and still achieve a measure of commercial success. The evidence is all around us. For this reason, let us fix our gaze on something higher: on potential. I believe that every team that achieves commercial success with poor leadership could become so much more with good leadership. Let’s ask ourselves what these teams could become if the people who did the work were enthusiastic participants and not reluctant survivors, if they were chasing a dream they cared about for a leader they cared about.”

Are you passionate about your team’s potential?

The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders is available in soft cover and in all major ebook formats. Order yours today. Also, download your free PDF addendum for Christian readers, for much of the scripture that informs each chapter.

Performance and Job Fit

Colorful Puzzle Pieces

“We have different gifts according to the grace given us.” Romans 12:6

Leaders are limited or lifted by the people they lead. Their success and that of the missions they lead depends on the contributions of others. With this in mind, others only contribute well when their work is matched to their talents and their values. I call this match Job Fit. When people are doing the work they have talent for, the work they have been gifted for, for leaders and missions that matter to them, they are invariably satisfied and productive. Christian leaders serve the people and the missions they lead by ensuring everyone has job fit.

Talent is the stuff we are born with. When talent is trained, and accompanied by the right experience, high performance and job satisfaction are natural outcomes. I learned a long time ago that I do not have the talent for math. Trying to make me into an accountant or mathematician would be an exercise in frustration for everyone and it would be a frustrating exercise for me, but I have other talents. The key to lasting success is matching talent and values to work. While this might seem obvious a lot of people are doing work they’ll never do very well or feel very good about.

Talent alone is not enough, we also need the right values. An individual could have lots of the right talent but still be a divisive influence on the team. The apostle Paul was no doubt thinking about this when he advised his protege Titus, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.” Titus 3:10. Divisive people only damage the team and undermine the mission. Talent AND values are the keys to job fit and lasting success for everyone. So every great team-building leader is in a constant search for job fit with every team member.

Through job fit leaders build high performance teams one individual at a time. As I’ve been known to repeat constantly, “Great leaders surface and resolve the big questions about people and the work they do.” They do not sit by and watch someone struggle without doing something about it. Job fit becomes their reference point.

This is why great leaders make every performance count. They know that performance is always the best indicator of job fit. When performance is strong and the individual enjoys the work, we can be fairly sure of job fit – this is evidence of good casting. When someone is consistently performing poorly, job fit questions arise and it’s time to do something about it. This is when a leader’s observation, feedback, coaching and accountability skills all become essential. When performance improves in response to the leaders intervention, we can dismiss job fit concerns. When it does not, it is time to make a change for the individual and the organization. The most frustrating situations I came across during my newspaper leadership career were those where I knew there were job fit issues that previous leaders had ignored, sometimes for years.

When job fit is the issue, performance and job satisfaction will not improve until the casting issue is resolved. Delaying these changes is not skillful or caring leadership. While you can’t guarantee that everyone who leaves will find the right job the next time, know for certain that they won’t even get the chance to by staying in the wrong one.

Looking for more Christian leadership development? Check out the website www.christianleader.net for workshops, coaching and facilitation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are you currently doing to build your team’s performance?
  2. Are there any job fit issues that need to be surfaced and resolved?

Thinking “Corporate”

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to the others.” Romans (12:4-5)

Like so much of our language, the word “corporate” has taken on new meanings over the years, many of them not very flattering. Often when we hear it we think of power, money, cold-hearted leaders, business in it’s worst manifestations. A look at its classic definition provides a different perspective. Our english word corporate gets its roots in the latin word for the body, corpus. It literally means to form one body of many members.

I believe this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he used it so often as an illustration for the church. We too can draw insight from this perspective as we consider corporate life in all its forms – the church, para-church organizations, business, team life or any other situation in which people come together to work or play as a group.

The classic definition of corporate gives us a powerful look into God’s design for organizational life and leadership. it carries with it implications that are worth thinking about, regardless of where you lead. It’s helpful then to see the organization as a corporate body.

Let’s start with the idea that corporate gets at the reality that we are at once highly individual and at the same time connected to everyone else who is part of the group. The contributions of one affect all.

There is a reciprocal relationship within every corporate body. The body needs strong members; the members need a strong body. When the body is strengthened everyone benefits; when it is weakened everyone suffers. The body will only ever be as strong as its members and what they contribute. When one contributes even a little more, the entire body is strengthened for everyone. When one contributes less, or undermines the effort in any way, the body is weakened for all. This is why great leaders treat every performance like it really matters.

At newspapers across Canada, I shared this thinking in my own way, with the many different teams I led. I held a staff meeting, usually within a few days of my arrival. I told everyone that I believed people were the most important part of every newspaper. I waited for the predicable response, “Oh, he’s one of those guys, those people guys.” Then I would continue, “No, I really mean it. So if I really believe that people are the most important part of this newspaper, I will treat every performance like it really matters. I want you to treat your work like it really matters.”

When you really believe people and what they do matters, it carries with it a responsibility to pay attention, and it sends the message to team members that they should approach work as though what they do really does make a difference. I have always believed that people want to make a difference, they want their contributions to matter. I sent this message early and often.

In a strong corporate body there are no unimportant contributions, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…” (1 Cor. 12:21-22)

So how does your leadership team treat the development of the organization? Does every member of your leadership team treat the contributions of each individual member as indispensable? How would this corporate perspective change the way you lead?

Want to go a little deeper into Christian leadership? I wrote The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders to pass on what I’ve learned from a career of building high performing teams. Or look into some individual coaching or a 1/2 day workshop for your leadership group.

Dan Gaynor

Authenticity and Vulnerability?

Authentic Stamp. Vector. Stamp. Sign. Authentic. Brown.

Christian leadership is so often corrupted by worldly culture and the thinking it gives rise to. Indeed, one of my missions for this blog is to expose these situations and contrast timeless biblical principles with the often trendy faddish thinking I see so much of. My target this time around is the current popularity of Authenticity and Vulnerability. These are hot leadership words that are attracting big audiences. I suggest both are problematic.

Let’s take authenticity first. The thinking generally goes something like this: be authentic, be who you truly are, to become a great leader. But what if who you are isn’t so great? The call to authenticity seems to assume a certain goodness of character and this is a deeply flawed assumption. A few years ago I was seated beside someone on a plane who told me that when he simply gave way to the really nasty guy he is and embraced his nature to cheat and exploit people, he found real contentment. Yes, this is a true story. At that point I had to tell him that as a Christian such an approach would be totally unacceptable for me.

Remarkable as the exchange was in its candour, it pointed to a truth and to the problem with authenticity. We are all born sinful. Christians are called to resist the sinful nature and to be led by the Spirit. All Christians enter into a lifelong process of sanctification, one we are expected to be active participants in. So Christian leaders should not strive to be authentic. Rather, we should strive, in the power of the Spirit, to be more than we are today. To more closely reflect the likeness of Jesus in all things, including the way we lead others and the example we set. This should encourage the Christian leader to an ongoing process of prayerful introspection to uncover and remedy faults. King David demonstrated this well, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24.)

Now for Vulnerability, The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.” The problem is that people just don’t follow weak leaders and vulnerability often leaves the impression of weakness when people need confidence.They don’t want arrogance but they do want courage and strength of character. Teams take their emotional strength from their leader. There were challenging times, even a few frightful ones (two tough labour disputes come to mind) during my years leading newspapers when I knew if my knees buckled many others would have as well. A leader may feel vulnerable but sharing this with the team is unwise.

This is why God instructed Joshua as he was about to lead Israel into the Promised Land, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:6) God repeats his call for strength and courage three times in the opening 10 verses of the book. He does not instruct Joshua to be vulnerable.

The bible offers a great illustration of leadership vulnerability in the 12 spies Moses sent ahead to the land God instructed them to take. When they returned, 10 expressed real vulnerability, “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘we can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.'” (Numbers 13:31) Moses, Joshua and Caleb were unable to undo the harm and it incited chaos and rebellion that set the mission back 40 years.

Authenticity and Vulnerability have become hot words these days. I suppose in some contexts there is nothing wrong with them. They may play well with academics, writers and consultants but they don’t stand up well against timeless biblical practices and they still give rise to the same problems. May God bless you and inform your day to day leadership.

Interested in a workshop, some coaching or a speaking engagement? Check out Christianleader.net to learn more.

Dan Gaynor

The Pain Problem


“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed by us in any way.” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9)

Our opening verses paint a vivid picture of the Apostle Paul wrestling with the internal conflict presented by pain as he sought to correct problems in Corinthian church. While he regrets the pain his letter caused, he also accepts it as necessary and purposeful. There is no question that pain presents a significant problem for many leaders. For many, their reluctance to say or do something that will be painful causes them to choose avoidance over engagement. To develop expert biblically-based performance management practices we must accept pain as a constructive and even essential force.

Pain is so often a part of meaningful change. I know it has been in my life. It often provides the motivation to correct a bad habit, or to lead someone out of the wrong work and into right work, providing for lasting job satisfaction. Surfacing and resolving the big questions about people and their work often entails some pain and it among a leader’s most important work. But when fear of pain prevents leaders from taking these steps both the individual and the team are disadvantaged.

When you become aware of a performance problem, the first step is always to provide corrective feedback – a simple 2-5 minute coaching conversation that describes the situation, the problems it’s giving rise to, and the change that is required. Loving and fair leaders voice their concerns as soon as they arise, they don’t delay. This minimizes damage and provides the best likelihood of a successful correction, but the pain problem often prevents leaders from holding even these initial conversations. The individual loses the opportunity to correct a problem early and the mission must accommodate a poor performer. As performance issues worsen so too does the deterrent effect pain can have on leaders.

When corrective feedback doesn’t bring the change that’s needed, consequences up to and including job loss, should follow. Experience has taught me that pain has a tendency to intensify until it is resolved at its source. This is the way progressive discipline should work. Job loss is painful, often intensely, this we know. At times it provides the motivation needed to learn a lesson and make a necessary change.

Once again, a Christian leader must in all things treat people fairly. This means clear feedback with a clear warning about future consequences when feedback is not acted on. However there is a limit to a leader’s influence, we cannot force the change we would like to see someone else make. When leaders are unwilling to resolve these issues in a timely manner, they become accomplices to the problem.

Pain often motivates change because it forces us to address it at its source, nothing else brings relief. Good leaders never deliberately cause pain for others, however the best all come to accept it, as the Apostle Paul did, as a natural by-product of their work. In doing so, they serve the missions and people they lead.

For additional leadership resources I offer group workshops, individual coaching, facilitation and a book titled, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders.

Dan Gaynor
Discussion Questions:
1. When has pain played a purposeful role in your life?
2. When was the last time fear of pain stopped you from taking steps you should have taken to resolve a performance issue? What were the consequences?

The Popularity Problem

Do you believe as I do that transformational leadership is not possible when leaders value popularity above all else? Today, it seems to me there are far too many don’t rock the boat, don’t upset anyone types of leaders. Moses was often more than a little unpopular as he led Israel out of slavery and toward the Promised Land.

The Israelites learned soon after their departure that their journey to a better life would not be easy or comfortable. Early in the story we learn that after three days without water they arrived at Marah to find water that was bitter and not drinkable. Their response, “So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?'” (Exodus 15:24.) Moses cried out to God who in turn transformed the water. A little further into the journey, in the Desert of Sin, hunger and thirst aroused more grumbling. God responded with manna and quail. This time, testing Israel’s obedience by directing them to collect only enough for the day. Many failed the test to discover that the excess they had collected turned rancid over night. Throughout the book we see a pattern of hardship, grumbling and disobedience – a pattern not unfamiliar to today’s transformational leaders.

Every really effective leader soon discovers that the most important missions normally entail hardship. This is why all effective leaders accept that leadership is not a popularity contest. Doing what we believe God is calling us to do, that which is best for the mission and the people we lead, is often not what is easiest or most popular at the time. I experienced this as I led teams through a couple of difficult labour disputes that arose from periods of significant organizational change. To be sure, there were those who agreed and supported my efforts, but there were many others who opposed. There were many occasions when I chose a course that made me very unpopular.

Today I see far too many leaders who place popularity above all else. They don’t want anyone to be upset with them. One way this manifests is the plague of consensus management. Leaders from this school of thought won’t make a decision until they have found a path everyone agrees with. This always leads to truly impotent leadership and it robs teams of the opportunity to do something important. It always puts the Promised Land, however you may describe it in the mission you lead today, completely out of reach. The best leaders take their teams on missions that matter. Think Moses and the Exodus or Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem. There is always hardship, resistance and grumbling on a mission that matters. Often disobedience that must be dealt with if the mission is to succeed.

To be sure the best leaders are not autocrats, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) I valued the advise of others as an essential part of my decision making process. All effective leaders value good advisers. This said, the time always comes to make the hard and often unpopular decisions that are always a big part of the journey to some place better. Then the most effective leaders have the courage to stay the course when the going gets tough. They are willing to pay the price, in at least temporary popularity, in pursuit of a much bigger prize for everyone on the journey. Interested in a group workshop or some individual coaching? Check out www.christianleader.net.

Biblical Leadership: Obligation or Advantage?

Often I wonder if many Christian leaders view leading in a way that honours God as an obligation rather than an advantage.  I believe they know it’s what God would want but wonder if it really delivers the best results. I led large daily newspapers across the country with leadership principles that were clearly Christian, although I wouldn’t have recognized them as this at the time. In return, I was blessed with hard working dedicated teams.

As I followed God’s call away from that business and became a Christian, God brought my practical newspaper experience together with a love for His word. Here I discovered that God’s way is always the best way. I recall reading for the first time my favourite 14 leadership words, “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” (Psalm 78:72) This is the essence of great leadership: it takes a caring heart of integrity and skillful hands. The development of skillful hands is a life long apprenticeship.

I hope this blog will, over the months and years, contribute  in some small way to the development of your skillful hands.

A final word of warning and encouragement. Leading God’s way is not leading the world’s way, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:9) and, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Corinthians 1:20) The world is full of leadership foolishness packaged as wisdom. As you ponder the latest best seller or Ted Talk always ask yourself: What does God’s word, the Bible, say? If it is contradicted in the Bible as it so often is you can be assured it is just more well packaged foolishness.

Interested in more leadership resources? Check out my website.  You’ll find a list of services as well as a page about my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, where you can also get a free download of the Christian addendum that accompanies the book.

May God bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you.