I Need Feedback

I am working on a revision of my book I wrote in 1999, So Many Leaders, So Little Leadership:  Beyond the Power of Position Lies the Price of Leadership.  I have matured in my view of leadership in the last eleven years and it's time I spelled that out in this book.  I want to define three concepts in the revised version - leadership, purpose and team - and I want to run these definitions (with some simple notes and verses without much explanation) by you to get your feedback.  Feel free to agree, disagree, recommend changes and additions or to tell me I am just off base, at the site where this entry is posted.  Here goes:

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Leadership – discovering, perfecting and fulfilling your God-assigned life purpose, which causes you to joyfully influence others and to serve in your sphere of giftedness, insight and experience.

  • The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil (Proverbs 16:4 NAS)
  • He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty (Proverbs 28:19 NAS).
  • A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:24-27 NIV).

Your sphere of leadership is determined by any or all of the following:

  1. Expertise/skill
  2. Burden/passion
  3. Geographic placement
  4. Occupational domain, such as:
    • Education
    • Church
    • Business
    • Government
    • Military
    • Social
    • Relationships
    • Sports/recreation
    • Food
    • Fashion/beauty
    • Entertainment

Purpose – whatever you consistently do, with whomever and wherever you do it, that gives you joy and serves some basic need in or for others

Effective team – comprised of members who know one another’s purpose and strengths and who agree to join together to achieve team goals and objectives based on synergies available as members express, pursue and perfect their gifts, passions and capabilities.


What Servant-Leadership Involves

Let's continue with our series on servant-leadership, this time focusing on what servant-leadership is and the disciplines it requires.  What we don't need is more of the kind of leadership that we have had, much of it wrapped and explained in biblical terms.  I heard one woman in leadership teach recently that her "ministry" is similar to Jesus when He went into the Temple and chased everyone out.  She was simply trying to justify her bad leadership behavior as any of us are apt to do and she used the Bible to do so.

Servant-leadership isn't just an improved version of the leadership we already have in much of the church and business.  It is a whole new genre and requires a different set of skills and thinking.  It is not simply leaders who serve, nor is it servants who happen to attain to higher levels of leadership.  It is leaders who know how to lead while putting the highest priority interests of others ahead of their own.  It is a leadership that heals and doesn't wound, leaders who know how to direct and guide others without manipulation or control.  Robert Greenleaf stated that the test of leadership is that others follow voluntarily.

Author Larry Spears wrote:

Leadership is an influence process in which you try to help people accomplish goals.  All good leadership starts with a visionary role.  This involves not only goal setting but also establishing a clear picture of perfection—what the operation would look like when it was running effectively.  In other words, leadership starts with a sense of direction.  In the book I coauthored with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute,
 we said, “A river without banks is a large puddle.”  The bank permits the river to flow; they give direction to the river.  Leadership is all about going somewhere; it’s not about wandering around aimlessly. Even Alice in Wonderland learned that concept when she came to a fork in the road and asked the Cheshire cat which road she should take.  He replied by asking her, “Where are you going?”  She essentially said, “I don’t know.”  His response was quick:  “Then it doesn’t matter what road you take.”  If you aren’t sure where you are going, your leadership won’t really matter, either.

Yet just because leaders have a vision doesn't mean they (he or she) are justified in doing whatever it takes to get people to follow.  This is usually where the breakdown occurs, especially when someone has "heard from God."  When they have, and I believe many leaders have, they then feel that the ends justify the means, that they can use ungodly leadership tactics to obtain godly objectives.

There are two skills critical to servant-leadership and they both require patience and practice. The first is listening, not just politely paying attention, but working hard to hear and understand what someone else is saying.  Robert Greenleaf wrote, "Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, are essential to the growth of the servant leader. . . . The most successful servant-leaders are those who have become skilled empathetic listeners." 

Stephen Covey wrote:

"Most people [and leaders] do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. . . . The essence of empathetic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually." 

When is the last time you encountered a good listener?   Would others say that you are a skilled, empathetic listener?

The second skill is persuasion, about which Greenleaf wrote: 

Persuasion involves arriving at a feeling of rightness about a belief or action through one’s own intuitive sense.  One takes an intuitive step, from the closest approximation to certainty that can be reached by conscious logic (which is sometimes not very close) to the state in which one may say with conviction, “This is where I stand!”  The act of persuasion, thus defined, would help order logic and favor the intuitive step. But the person being persuaded must take that intuitive step alone, untrammeled by coercive or manipulative stratagems of any kind.  Persuasion, on a critical issue, is a difficult, time-consuming process.  It demands one of the most exacting of human skills."

In other words, leaders must give followers room to ascertain for themselves the rightness of the leader's path.  There can be no manipulation, but there can and should be a lot of dialogue where active and effective listening is involved.  And that goes for prophetic leaders who are convinced that they have heard from God.  (This dialogue, which slows the process down, is a safeguard against the tendency to hear God but to hear Him in part, or to mix in a whole lot of misunderstanding with what the leader has accurately understood.)

Greenleaf also wrote this warning about persuasion and leadership:

Because they are recognized as being better than most at leading, showing the way, they [leaders] are apt to be highly intuitive.  Thus leaders themselves, in their conscious rationalities, may not fully understand why they choose a given path.  Yet our culture requires that leaders produce plausible, convincing explanations for the directions they take.  Once in a while, they can simply say, “I have a hunch that this is what we ought to do.”  However, most of the time, rational justifications are demanded, and part of the successful leader’s skill is inventing these rationalizations.  They are necessary, but they are also useful because they permit, after the fact, the test of conscious logic that “makes sense” to both leaders and follower.  But the understanding by the follower, if he or she is not to be manipulated, is not necessarily contained in this rationalization that makes sense.  Because we live in a world that pretends a higher validity to conscious rational thinking in human affairs than is warranted by the facts of our existence, and because many sensitive people “know” this, manipulation hangs as a cloud over the relationship between leader and led almost everywhere.

Because this manipulation does hang like a cloud, leaders must take active steps to disarm it or else the coercion will take over naturally.  This is why we cannot just have an improved, kinder, gentler version of the leadership we know.  We need a whole new style and servant-leadership, in my humble estimation, is it.

As you can tell, anyone serious about servant-leadership must study Robert Greenleaf, the father of the modern servant-leadership message.  When I read Greenleaf years ago, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach and took my wind away -- it was that powerful.  Nothing has changed since that first reading.  I still study his material and say, "This is what the Church needs.  This is what business needs. This is what society needs." 

Do you agree?  If so, what are you willing to do to see servant-leadership come to the forefront of your own leadership style and philosophy? 


What Servant-Leadership Is Not

I usually don't define something by what it isn't, but in the case of servant-leadership, I (and others) find it necessary to do just that.  Let's use the Apostle Paul as our focus so that I can give some examples of the points I am making. 

1.  Servant-Leadership is not being polite.  It isn't holding doors open for everyone, or picking up the tab at a restaurant.  While a leader should be willing to set up chairs if that's what is needed at the moment, that act in and of itself does not make one a servant leader. I don't think Paul was an easy man to get along with.  I think he was focused and cordial if you were on his side, but if one got crossways with him, I think that person heard from Paul. 

2.  Servant-Leadership is not "soft."  Servant-leaders don't sit still when things go wrong. They don't sit in endless meetings and listen to everyone's opinion about this or that.  I consider myself an aspiring servant-leader, yet I would release an unproductive or unhappy employee in a New York minute if that is what was best for them and/or the organization for which I worked.  Paul got in Peter's face and confronted Peter's hypocrisy as reported in Galatians 2.  He vehemently opposed putting John Mark back on the team in Acts 15 and that decision cost him his relationship with Barnabas, who was John Mark's cousin. 

3.  Servant-Leadership is not indecisive.  Servant-leaders listen and then they make decisions, when possible, in a group or team setting. If there is no group setting, then they make the decision based on what is best for the organization and the people it serves.  Paul opposed anyone or any doctrine that was not in the best interests of his "people," which in Christ were the Gentiles.

4. Servant leadership is not a little service and and a lot leadership (or vice versa).  This is why I am careful to hyphenate this concept, for it isn't either/or. It's not that one sometimes leads and sometimes serves, trying to discern which is needed when.  Paul always led when he went out, but he had no hierarchy, title, or organization. He told us in Thessalonians that he was not only like a father (" For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children" - 1 Thessalonians 2:11) but also a mother (I wonder what all those who want to be the "father" in the house of God will do with this verse?): "As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children" (1 Thessalonians 2:6-7).  This summarizes the spirit of a servant-leader.  They are both father and mother, strong and nurturing, decisive and compassionate, strong and merciful.

So what then is servant-leadership?  Robert Greenleaf, usually credited with sparking the modern servant-leadership movement, defined it as serving others' highest priority needs.  I define it as putting my experience, gifts and time at the disposal of others to help fulfill Ephesians 4:12-13:  "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." 

This does not mean that servant-leaders can only function in a church setting, nor does it indicate that servant-leaders can only serve and lead those who are in churches.  We need servant-leaders at every level of society who use the power and wisdom of experienced and skillful leaders to build up and empower others in every walk of life.

Leaders have power and servant-leaders give as much of that power away to others to empower them to fulfill their purpose.  A few years ago, I had a 20-year-old  leader from an urban ministry come to me in a retreat where I was facilitating.  She said that she felt that she was supposed to take her discipleship group to Africa and would I help.  I immediately said, "Yes!"  She left the ministry before we could go, but if she would have gone, I was at her disposal to serve her to see that her objective was met.  It did not matter how old I was or how many degrees she did not have.  The issue was servant-leadership.  I would serve her by leading her to Africa.

I want to write next on the characteristics of a servant-leader, although we have touched on some of the traits in the first three articles.  If we are going to see a reformation in the church or society, if we want to see revival take place spiritually or culturally, then we must grasp and implement the concepts connected with servant-leadership, or else we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  If we do what we have always done, then we will get what we always have. 


Matthew 20 and Servant-Leadership

My friend Bill mentioned Matthew 20 in his comment to yesterday's post and ironically I reached Matthew 20 this morning in my weekly Bible studies. I love it when the plan comes together! 

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28).

Here was what I wrote about one of those those verses:

v. 27 – Jesus put Himself forward as a model for leadership.  He did not come seeking power and position – we are back at Philippians 2 once again – but to do the will of the Father.  Let’s look at Philippians 2 one more time to see what attitude you and I should have as leaders:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

What steps can you take to be like the leader that Jesus was and is, the kind of leader that He wants you to be.  One thing that Jesus did was to give His life. Where does the Lord want you to give your life?  What can you do to give it more fully and completely?

No matter how many books I read on leadership or what I seek to learn, I must always come back to the fact that Jesus, not Calvin, Luther, Collins, Maxwell or any other earthly leader, is my model for leadership.  He is the One who understands servant leadership and can help me apply the principles, whether in business, community or church. 

Tomorrow we will talk about what servant-leadership is not, but for today, it is about serving the highest priority needs of others.  It is putting my gifts, talent and experience at the disposal and use of other people, for their benefit and advancement.  It is trusting God for my needs even when they are greater than the ones I am serving and leading.  It is leading even when it's not popular or understood, again trusting that my reputation and "good name" are in His hands to control.

So while I will write a lot about what others have to say about leadership and hopefully add something of my own to the mix.  Let it never be misunderstood where I stand.  Jesus was and is the greatest servant-leader who ever lived, and He is not just the object of my affectation or emulation, but the object of my faith. 


Servant-Leadership

It has been a while since I wrote about servant-leadership, and I have noticed a general trend of people finding this site while doing a search on that topic.  My lack of writing about this isn't due to lack of interest or commitment, so I thought it would be good once again to devote a few posts to the subject.

I am on record saying that there is a leadership crisis in the Church and, in some ways, society in general.  Don't misunderstand; we have plenty of leaders and more than enough servants.  What we don't have is leaders who understand the concepts of servant-leadership.

I follow many of the blogs and sites that bemoan the condition of the local church. They mock some of the goofy trends in the Church that deserve to be mocked.  They debate and write to come up with better philosophical and theological solutions to our current dilemma.  Many of these bloggers are much better writers and thinkers than I, so I read them and agree with almost all of them. Yet the leadership crisis worsens daily.

For one of my upcoming D.Min. classes, I am re-reading and re-listening to Jim Collins' book, Good to Great.  In that book, Collins outlines the principles he discovered from his research into what made good companies great companies.  Collins has also written a short pamphlet applying and analyzing the "good to great" principles in the social sector, which would include churches.  One of the concepts that Collins describes, and it's at the top of his list, is what he has come to call Level 5 leaders.  This is just another name for servant-leaders.

What is a Level 5 leader?  Collins explains:

 "Level 5 refers to a five-level hierarchy of executive capabilities, with Level 5 at the top.  Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.  They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company [or organization], and not themselves. . . Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results.  They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions." (page 39). 

It is my contention that we can debate the theology of the Church all day long -- what it should be, the appropriate mix of outreach and missions, and the appropriate structure -- but until we have a change in the heart and thinking of leaders, we will continue to repeat the same problems we have experienced in the last 30 years. We don't have a lack of creativity or ideas of what the Church should be; in my opinion, we don't have enough servant-leaders.

I have found that when most people plant churches, sometimes even breaking away from an oppressive church situation to do so, they don't resolve to change the leadership philosophy or practice they experienced. They simply determine they are going to do a better job than the previous leaders under which they served. Until we see and accept that the current leadership attitude and spirit are flawed, then we will not see any change in the Church, whether we call the church seeker-sensitive, seeker-friendly, seeker-tolerant, seeker-suspect, or "us-four-and-no-more."

I heard Collins talk about Level 5 leaders in New York City before he ever published Good to Great and I cried.  (For those of you who know me, you know that is a significant event!).  He talked about how Level 5 leaders practice the principles of the window and the mirror.  I'll let Collins explain what he means in his own words:

"Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves.  When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.  [Other kinds of leaders do] just the opposite--they look in the mirror to take credit for success, but out the window to assign blame for disappointing results." (page 39).

Why did I cry when I heard him talk about this?  I cried because I never, ever heard or read about anything like this in the Church, and I still don't, for the most part.  I read plenty about philosophical changes that need to be made in church theology but until we identify leadership as the problem and pursue specific remedies, we won't make much progress.  We will start over and over again, and enjoy the ennui of fresh starts, only to find ourselves in the same woeful predicament due to lack of servant-leaders.  My solution to the church leadership crisis is to work to become a Level 5 leader.  I don't need a title, an armor-bearer, an office or a position to do so.  And neither do you.

I want to contribute to the healing of the Church and her members not by replicating the mistakes of the past, only doing a better job of implementing a flawed system and philosophy.  I want to model servant-leadership and train servant-leaders, not working with those who are content to tweak the past but who want to learn from the past and change the present for a better future.  And by the way, I don't think the leadership crisis is limited to the Church.  I do believe, however, that we must address it there so that we can once again produce leaders who go forth to transform society.  At the present, most leaders are built and shaped outside the church and then come to worship.  I want to reverse that process -- they come to worship, are shaped into servant-leaders and go out from that point.

Stay tuned for more to come about servant-leadership in the coming days.  I haven't forgotten about it.  I am just now ready to do something about it! 

    Feel free to add your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted.


New Profile

If you know me, you know I am always looking for tools and assessments that will help people know who they are and what kind of job they are doing.  This is the kind of information that leaders especially need, but it is also the kind they tend to avoid, especially in the Church. 

Last March, I earned a certification to work with the 360 degree feedback profiles offered by a company called The Leadership Circle.  These profiles are powerful tools that measure competence levels in key areas for both organizations and individuals.  They are called "360 degree" because the profile seeks anonymous feedback from those closest to the individual or organization, whether those people are peers, bosses, or direct reports.

I had my own profile done and it has been a accurate and insightful tool in my own personal development since March.  It revealed two interesting trends in my personal leadership development:  my tendency to underestimate my strengths and overestimate my weaknesses. I carry the profile results with me everywhere I go and study the results, looking for new or renewed insights into my style and how I can be more effective. 

I have just completed a profile on two leaders and we are in the debriefing stage at this point, going over the results to make sure they are understood and to plot the way forward.  If it were up to me, I would make these profiles mandatory for all leaders, leadership teams and staff in both church and non-church entities.  Of course, that isn't possible, so I must rely on it being a voluntary process. 

If you are serious about becoming the best leader you can be and in helping to make your organization the same, I urge you to enlist someone's services (hopefully mine) in conducting a 360 degree feedback assessment.  Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free."  Don't rely on your feelings or on feedback from peers who may be afraid to tell you the truth. Seek the truth, no matter how painful it may be, for in that truth is your freedom -- freedom to be yourself and to grow into the best possible leader. 

In case you haven't noticed, we have a leadership crisis in our societies, especially in the Church.  It will only be solved when individual leaders break free from the cultural pressures that keep them average and fearful to become open and honest.  I am committed to see this crisis solved and want to devote my time and energy to develop servant-leaders wherever people have th courage to lead and serve.  There is one profile for individuals and one for organizations. If I were you, I would invest in both. If I can help you or your organization, please let me know.


Me and My Shadow

I had an interesting experience recently that is still causing me to think and reflect. A month ago, I was in Virginia for a seminar. I arrived every morning by train and walked to the building where the seminar was held. One morning the sun was directly behind me as I walked up the hill toward the building. As I walked, I saw a woman who I recognized from the seminar and increased my pace to catch up with her to say hello. I didn’t know she was talking on her cell phone and, when I got near her, I startled her and she reacted.

It was then that I realized that my long shadow, created by the sun behind me, had scared her. I apologized and said, “I’m sorry. I’m really harmless.”

Later in the seminar room, she explained that she had been mugged one time and still reacts in fear when approached surprised in public.

I am still reflecting on the fact that my shadow scared her. It has made me wonder how many other times my “shadow” has alarmed people and I wasn’t even aware.

You see, everyone has a shadow. It is a part of my personality of which I may not be aware. I may be aware of it, but I don’t like to acknowledge that it is a part of me. At times, I can project my shadow onto others. For instance, I may be critical but refuse to admit that I am, or may only be aware of it at a subconscious level. When I meet a critical person, I project my critical nature onto them. Usually I don’t “like” that person or their critical nature, but I are unaware (or unwilling to admit) that I actually don’t like that critical spirit in me.

My shadow can be like it was with that woman on my way to the seminar. She was aware of my shadow and I wasn’t. What’s more, she reacted to my shadow based on her previous experience. Even though I did nothing and had no malicious intent, she was still frightened.

A few years ago, I read a book by Jay Conger entitled Spirit at Work (it is now out of print.) I remember it well because of what he wrote about the shadow that he believes all leaders have or at least grapple with, and of which they may not even be aware. I believe that these shadows operate both in business and in the church. What’s more, I think I have these shadowy sides as well as a a few others. While it’s a long quote, I would like to share some of Conger’s thoughts with you, for they have been with me ever since that encounter on the way to the seminar:

A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project on other people his or her shadow, or his or her light. A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader must take responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her own self, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.

The shadow lives of leaders are inevitably projected onto institutions and society. If they are to create less shadow and more light, leaders need to ride certain monsters all the way down [to examine their inner life and motivations.] I have five of them as a sampler, and a few thoughts on how the inner journey might transform our leadership at these five points.

1. One of the biggest shadows inside a lot of leaders is deep insecurity about their own identity, their own worth. That insecurity is hard to see in extroverted people. But the extroversion is often precisely because they are insecure about who they are and are trying to proves themselves in the external world rather than wrestling with their inner identity. Everywhere I look I see institutions depriving large groups of people of their identify so that a few people can enhance theirs

2. The second shadow of leadership is inside a lot of us is the perception that the universe is essentially hostile to human interests and that life is fundamentally a battleground. Have you ever noticed how often people use “battle” images as they go about the work of leadership? We talk about “do or die” tactics and strategy, about using our big guns, about allies and enemies, about wins and losses. The imagery suggests that if we fail to be fiercely competitive, we will lose, because the basic structure of the universe is a vast combat. The tragedy of that inner shadow, that unexamined fear of failing, is that it helps create situations where people actually have to live that way.

3. The third shadow in leaders I call “functional atheism” – the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me. It is the unconscious, unexamined conviction within us that if anything decent is going to happen here, I am the one who needs to make it happen. Functional atheism leads to dysfunctional behavior on every level of our lives: workaholism, burnout, stressed and strained and broken relationships, unhealthy priorities. It is the reason the average group can tolerate only fifteen seconds of silence; people believe that if they are not making noise, nothing is happening!

4. The fourth shadow among leaders is fear. There are many kinds of fear, but I am thinking especially of our fear of the natural chaos of life. Many leaders have a deep devotion to eliminating all remnants of chaos from the world. They want to order and organize things so thoroughly that the nasty stuff will never bubble up around us—such nasty stuff as dissent, innovation, challenge, change. In an organization, this particular shadow gets projected outward as rigidity of rules and procedures. It creates corporate cultures that are imprisoning rather than empowering.

5. The final example of the shadows that leaders can project on others involves the denial of death. We live in a culture that simply does not want to talk about things dying. Leaders everywhere demand that they themselves, and the people who work for them, artificially maintain things that are no longer alive, maybe never have been. Projects and programs that should have laid down ten years ago are still on life-support system.

The insight I want to draw from spiritual traditions may be best summarized in a word from depth psychology: projection. We share responsibility for creating the external world by projecting either a spirit of light or s spirit of shadow on that which is other than us. We project either a spirit of hope or a spirit of despair, either an inner confidence in wholeness and integration or an inner terror about life being diseased and ultimately terminal. We have a choice about what we are to project, and in that choice we help create the world that is. Consciousness precedes being, and consciousness can help deform, or reform, our world (abridged from pages 24-37).

Are you willing to face the fact that you may have shadow sides? More importantly, are you willing to bring them to the light, examine them and their root causes, so that they don’t drive your leadership decisions? I hope you are. I have been working to examine my shadows so that they don’t go before me to startle people, even when that isn’t my intent.

Feel free to write your comment so this entry on the site where it is posted.


Permission Marketing 3

I have just a few more comments about permission marketing, which we have talked about on two previous occasions. The essence of permission marketing is building a relationship with people who want to hear what you have to say as opposed to interrupting people with all kinds of messages they don't want and aren't looking for using marketing gimmicks and techniques. I recently went into a sports venue and there was a company's name on the turnstile spokes as I went through the ticket gate! That is a perfect example of non-permission marketing. The company thought they had my captive attention to send a message. They did; the message was, "This is dumb and I will choose to ignore this invasion of my private, mental space." I don't remember the name of the company that put their ads in that imaginative but silly place.

In my last post, I mentioned that permission marketing requires listening, which interruptive marketing requires speaking. The latter requires that the company or church initiate and dominate the conversation with the public. Permission marketing requires that the organization listen to the public, something we as humans aren't always equipped to do. Listening takes time and takes the conversation the way the speaker wants it to go. That is why so many pastors are such poor listeners. They are so used to speaking at and to problems that they don't really know how to listen. I have seen this to be the same the world over.

In the late '80s, Stephen Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, swept the world. I have quoted the fifth habit many times: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. I have learned that when I have said to someone, "I know just how you feel. This is my experience in that area," I am actually denigrating their experience and trying to do them one better by telling them my story. For the last decade, I have worked to ask better questions, listen more intently, give feedback more accurately and not try to speak too soon. I still have a long way to go.

Here are two of my favorite quotes where listening is concerned:

“Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, are essential to the growth of the servant leader. . . . The most successful servant-leaders are those who have become skilled empathetic listeners” – Robert Greenleaf, The Power of Servant Leadership.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. . . . The essence of empathetic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually” – Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I have used The Monday Memo as an example of permission marketing. I send it only to those who give me permission and anyone can easily remove themselves from the mailing list. You may be thinking, "But you, Dr. Stanko, writer about what you want to write about every week. Aren't you dominating the conversation?" The answer is that I am, to an extent, but I would not have 12,000 subscribers if I didn't write about things that were helpful to the reader. If I wasn't a good listener as I travel, teach and consult, I would not write an effective Monday Memo. The Memo isn't about me; it's always about the reader -- readers who has given me permission to send my material to them.

So how good of a listener are you? If you don't think it's important, remember what Jesus said: "Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him" (Luke 8:18). If your listening skills are okay, then how are you applying this to your work, whether in or out of church? Are you listening to people's needs and working to meet those needs, while still adding to the bottom line whether that's money or changed lives and communities? That, IMHO, is the essence of permission marketing.

Feel free to add your comments to this entry on the site where it is posted.


Leadership Training in Zimbabwe

A while back, I wrote a post entitled Buddy, Can You Spare $175,000? Click here to read that post again.  It contained my initial thoughts on establishing a leadership center at the University of Zimbabwe medical school.  I haven't forgotten about that dream and I wanted to pass it by you again to see if you knew of any sources of funding for such a project.  If you have any questions, feel free to write and ask.

The last time I was there, I was approached by one of the medical students who asked me for one of my books.  I gladly gave her one and then she said, "Thanks.  I don't have any books at all, so this is the first copy in my library."  I was surprised since books are so readily available in the States.  I reminded myself, however, that I wasn't in the States and determined to help equip these fine students on the front lines of the fight against AIDS and malaria with the latest in leadership and management information, so help me God.

If you can help, please write and let me know.


Permission Marketing 2

A few days ago, I wrote about something called Permission Marketing. This is a concept that emphasizes building marketing relationships with those who want one as opposed to trying to capture those who don't. If you are like me, you get a lot of unwanted mass emails, which are called spam. The concept of spam is the opposite of permission marketing, for spam sends out thousands or even millions of unwanted and unsolicited emails in the hopes of catching people unaware, uninitiated, ignorant or snoozing. If you are like me, you delete spam, block it from even coming through or report it to the authorities, since it is actually illegal.

Why don't more companies and churches employ permission marketing? There are many reasons. One is that they are stuck in the thinking of old marketing techniques. If we can just get our billboard where more people drive, the reasoning goes, or if we can write better copy or ads, then more people will buy our product, employ our service or come to our church. That may have worked where there was a mass audience and few voices, but in today's world, it doesn't work anymore.

I think I can find another reason, a biblical reason, that the old marketing doesn't work -- because we aren't very good listeners, whether in business or the church.

James wrote two thousand years ago,

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:19).

Being a poor listener is bad for business, whether the business is a church or a company. Yet, we believe if we can just talk to people and get them to hear what we have to say, everything will work out and we will succeed. Actually the opposite is true: If we learn to listen to others and then shape our messages, products and services according to what they want or need, we will succeed. Don't spend time trying to convince people that they need what you have. Spend time developing what they need and they will beat a path to your door.

I worked with a church one time who bought into an elaborate and expensive advertising campaign, complete with TV spots, bulletin inserts and newspaper advertisements. The program was a colossal failure and they asked me to look at it and tell me what I thought they were doing wrong. I couldn't see anything; it was slick and well done. Then I asked, "Is there anything you do that brings visitors, the visitors that you are trying to get through this ad campaign?" Without hesitation, they answered, "Sure!" I asked what it was and they responded, "Whenever we serve food, we get a great response!"

So I asked, "Why don't you serve food?" They said, "Because people would only come for the food!" I came back, "Well, what's the difference if they come for food or as a result of an ad?" What's more, when we did the math, we found that feeding people every week for a year would cost half what the ad campaign did, and get twice the results. The church, however, wanted to "dominate" the process. They wanted to control what people received (food versus advertising) and they were angry that the ad campaign didn't work and the food did. They were so angry that they refused to feed people, even though they had the money, the cooks and the space.

Companies do the same thing. They want to tell me what I need and not respond to my customer service needs or complaints. Then they get "testy" when I don't respond to their unsolicited interruptions for this or that.

Someone once said that we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. What is your ratio? Someone else said if you are facilitating a meeting and talk more than 25% of the time, you aren't facilitating; you are preaching. If you lead meetings, what percent is spent in people listening to you as opposed to you listening to them?

I am convinced that the principles and "rules" behind permission marketing are critical to success in the 21st century, no matter what business you are in. As stated in my previous post, permission marketing takes time and doesn't happen quickly. Yet if you listen and produce something extraordinary, people will want to hear what you have to say. In today's crowded world of conflicting messages, that is worth its weight in gold.