Here’s the quote for today: “A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one would find fault with what he has done.” – Cardinal Newman

My way of saying that is: “Leaders always disappoint someone!”

It took me a while to figure that out. In my initial days of leadership I thought it should be possible to please everyone with my achievements. I soon discovered the fallacy of that thought.

If one does nothing, he displeases those who think he should be doing something. If one does something, he displeases those who think he should be doing something else.

Jesus displeased people in the church of his day. Luther displeased people in the church of his day. They both achieved results that even now impact life for time and for eternity!

In our day, Pastors displease people in the church and politicians displease people in the country. It’s not wise for leaders to go out of their way to displease their followers. But displeasure often goes hand in hand with courageous leadership and frequently precedes significant achievement.

So here’s my advice, dear fellow leaders. Put on your big boy britches, buckle up your boots, get on your knees in prayer, exercise your God-given gift of leadership, anticipate disagreement and disappointment from those around you, and achieve much for the world and for the church!

Characteristics of Healthy Leaders

Follow the Leader

As promised, today’s focus is on characteristics of healthy leaders. While not perfect, I’ve tried to fit characteristics neatly under a few general categories. These thoughts reflect my personal experience and what I’ve learned from others. Here we go with characteristics of healthy leaders:

  1. A Servant’s Heart: Only people capable of serving are capable of leading. Servant leadership emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and ethical use of power. Servant leaders will not ask subordinates or volunteers to do anything they themselves are unwilling to do. Servant leaders lead by example and are humble about their position. They look to the example of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
  1. Trustworthiness: Trust is the basis for all relationships. To be trusted, leaders must be trustworthy. Trust is built over time but can be destroyed in an instant. A huge element of trust is follow-up and follow-through. Keeping promises builds trust. Leaders won’t be trusted until they show by attitude and conduct that they trust others.
  1. Humility: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Prov. 16:18 Humility is a necessary requisite for healthy, successful leaders. Leaders who take all the credit for themselves and do not understand the necessity of giving credit for success to co-workers will soon be resented by those they are trying to lead. Humble leaders find joy in authentic self-deprecation and genuine, generous affirmation of others.
  1. Integrity: Leaders lacking integrity say one thing and do the opposite. Leaders having integrity not only talk the talk, they also walk the walk, saying and doing privately what they say and do publicly. They communicate frankly and truthfully, regardless of their audience. Healthy leaders behave in a manner consistent with the image they portray.
  1. Transparency: Healthy leaders are open and vulnerable with those they lead. Leaders are responsible for defining reality, even when doing so calls for delivering bad news. Successful leaders cannot ignore the truth in an effort to make themselves look good but must speak the truth even when doing so is personally painful or politically inexpedient.
  1. Delegation: Great leaders are not indispensable and can’t succeed alone. Excellence is a team sport. Leaders can get more done if they share the burden through delegation. Healthy leaders trust people enough to delegate significant responsibilities to those who are qualified for the task. Delegation includes oversight but not micro-management.
  1. Courage: Healthy leaders almost always disappoint someone when diagnosing problems and taking steps to resolve them. Doing so almost always involves an element of risk. Healthy leaders are not afraid to take risks, but have the courage to act, not foolishly but wisely, after careful calculation and intentional evaluation of risk and reward.
  1. Prayer for Wisdom: The Bible says a lot about the power of prayer and the importance of praying for wisdom. God granted wisdom to Solomon, who didn’t ask for possessions, wealth, honor, or the death of his enemies. Solomon did not even ask God for long life. Healthy leaders pray, especially for others. They also pray, fervently, for wisdom.
  1. Conclusion: Healthy leaders are not always born leaders but earn their way into positions of responsibility and authority, by God’s grace. Successful healthy leaders inspire their followers through integrity, hard work, courage, faith, humility and confidence in God’s guidance.

God bless healthy leaders! May their number increase!

Three Rules for Secret Control Freaks

ControlSome time ago I heard about a book with that title, written by Jason Brooks. In my earlier life of yesteryear, I’m quite sure my now 99 year old mother must have told me never to call anyone a freak. So although I don’t like using that term, I must say that I agree with a bunch of things Mr. Brooks says about leaders who hold a vastly different perspective on leadership than do I.

Like Mr. Brooks, I’m fascinated by leadership, not necessarily from the academic perspective but more about the dynamics of how certain people attain leadership status and what they do with the privilege. There are lots of people in leadership who aren’t necessarily interested in leading. They’re more interested in control. Here are some things Brooks says about that:

“Some leaders are more concerned with fulfilling their vision than anything else. Everyone and everything under their leadership is a means to an end. Many leaders actually seem like nice people, the kind of folks you would want to serve under or with. So rule number one of bad leaders (or controllers) is simply: Play nice!”

“Playing nice is treating people one way in public and another way in private. It’s saying all the right things, but never doing any of the right things. You can call this behavior anything you want—deception, manipulation, abuse—but it comes down to the leader maintaining control over the people and environment he or she is called, elected or chosen to lead.”

That’s rule number two of bad leaders: Always maintain control! Such a leader may be a micromanager who’s constantly telling employees or followers what to do and how to get it done. But, says Brooks, “true controllers avoid the obvious (remember, rule #1 is play nice) so they freely give away control to anyone who wants it.

“People are welcome to step up and try new ideas, or take over existing projects that need a fresh spark of energy. But when the workers need new resources, or want to take their projects in a fresh direction, the controller flexes his or her might via one of his or her strongest weapons—the denial: “That’s a good idea, but we don’t have the money.” “Nice suggestion, but that doesn’t really line up with our core values.” “I like this, I really do, but I’m not so sure that it will get the wider support a project like this really needs.”

Notice the “but” in each statement. Everything before “but” is negated by everything after “but.” The controller uses those phrases to subtly remind the subordinate who actually has power. The unspoken statement is the one the controller wants heard: “I could fight for this. I could push for this, but I choose not to.”

That’s rule number three of bad leaders: Leave no trail!

Brooks says: “It’s all about the he said/she said. Let’s be honest—most employees don’t think to document every little conversation or exchange with their leaders. They operate on the assumption that trust is part of a healthy environment (and it is).”

“This trust is exploited by controllers. They don’t bother having anyone take minutes in a meeting, or document decisions made, because that creates an atmosphere where people have to trust one another for accountability. It also plays into the power dynamics of most offices: When in doubt, the higher authority wins.”

“Being a controller is not healthy. It damages people, kills momentum and vision, and ruins everything else a good organization strives to achieve. Healthy leaders are out there, and sometimes the only way to know them is to know what unhealthy leaders look like.”

Next week I’ll say some things about healthy leaders. Stay tuned. God bless your week!

Excellence in Leadership!

Tom CedelLast Friday night Terry and I joined over 500 of our nearest and dearest friends at the annual Concordia University Texas Excellence in Leadership Gala. Okay, not all in attendance were nearest and dearest friends. However, it was obvious that we all had much in common:

  • Attendees cared enough about Concordia University to spend a lot more than pocket change for a very nice dinner and more than a very nice contribution to benefit Concordia students.
  • All respected Dr. Tom Cedel, this year’s honoree, enough to offer three standing ovations and extended applause when he was introduced and at the end of his brief Christ-centered remarks.
  • We all joined in thanking Tom’s wife, Penny, who has worked faithfully at his side voluntarily representing Concordia locally and nationally as a cheerful ambassador of good will.

During Dr. Cedel’s 12 years as president of Concordia, the University has, among other things:

  • Moved from its 23-acre site in north central Austin to a 389-acre site near Lake Travis.
  • Doubled in enrollment. Ten times more students now graduate from Concordia each year.
  • Added several new undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
  • Developed the Accelerated Degree program for part-time and adult returning students.
  • Formed partnerships with local school districts for teacher education programs.
  • Developed a nursing program that is one of the fastest growing in central Texas.
  • Achieved numerous academic and athletic milestones.
  • Grown in success in achieving its mission of Developing Christian Leaders.

Thanks to God for his healing hand through months of successful chemo and radiation treatment for Tom’s recent illness, discovered shortly after he announced his retirement last summer. Being chosen as honoree at the Excellence in Leadership Gala is an appropriate testimony to the gifts God has given Dr. Tom Cedel and the excellence with which he has used them to God’s glory!

Tom, Terry and I wish you and Penny the best, in the words of a toast learned from my father many years ago. I originally learned it in Spanish, but it’s spoken here in English: “May God bless you with his gifts of good health, much love, sufficient money and enough time to enjoy them all!”

Honor, Integrity, Discipline, Selfless Service

Texas A&M 1Those are the qualities highlighted at my recent 50th reunion of graduates from the 1964 class at Texas A&M. It was a wonderful gathering that in many ways surpassed my expectations!

Naturally, one highlight was the informal gathering of a dozen of the men who had spent time together from our freshman through senior year. We were all in the same Corps of Cadets “outfit” creatively called Company A-3. We lived together in one dormitory and had successfully survived the very real challenges of hazing to which freshmen in those days were regularly exposed.

When people go through difficult times together, a lifelong bond is formed between them. That bond was evident at our four hour gathering, spouses included, during which we recalled stories and experiences from the past and summarily brought each other up to date regarding personal, family and professional experiences of the past half century. Very interesting stories!

Another highlight was the Aggie Muster Silver Taps, held in the 10,000 seat auditorium on campus. Reed Arena was packed to capacity, with well-dressed and well-behaved students surrounding us old codgers who were seated on the main floor. This gathering is held annually on April 21 on the main campus in College Station and in 300 other locations around the world.

The main focus of Muster is the calling of the names of all former students who have passed away during the 12 months prior. Someone in the crowd answers “Here!” to signify the symbolical presence of the deceased, and a candle is lit after the calling of each name.

When all names have been called and all candles lit, the Ross Volunteers (an honor guard of juniors and seniors in which I participated long ago) marches into the auditorium and fires a 21-gun salute in three volleys of seven shots each. Then “Taps” (also known as “Day is Done”) is played three times by a small group of bugle-playing Band members. The somber notes penetrate the candle lit silence. In many ways it’s a very meaningful and memorable experience!

The main speakers at both that evening’s Muster/Silver Taps and also the next morning’s class meeting emphasized the uniqueness of Texas A&M University. They highlighted qualities and characteristics that included “Honor, Integrity, Discipline, and Selfless Service.” In today’s world those commodities are all too often much rarer than they ought to be.

Here at Concordia University Texas in Austin, while we may not use exactly those same words, we certainly encourage the concepts. At Concordia we emphasize the importance of Teaching, Modeling, Practicing and Recognizing the personal and spiritual qualities required to succeed in “Developing Christian Leaders.” We define such leaders as “Men and women who transform communities by seeking out leadership opportunities and influencing people for Christ.” It’s a worthy mission that embodies “Honor, Integrity, Discipline, and Selfless Service.”

The Nine Toughest Leadership Roles

Leadership 1

Credit: Craig Parylo

An article on Leadership by Rob Asghar in the February 25 Forbes Magazine ranked what in that author’s opinion are the nine toughest leadership roles. These are not scientifically evaluated, just offered in the words of the author as “one educated guess.” Here they are, in reverse order:

9. Corporate CEO

Cons: Angry shareholders, low employee morale, media scrutiny, and an impossible task of balancing long-term goals with quarterly ones.

Pro: A generation ago CEOs made 25 times what the average worker made. Now it’s over 250 times. So one really cares what the cons are.

8. United States Congressperson

Pros:  Even though Congressional approval rates hover around 15%, incumbents get reelected 90% of the time. Even a monumental scandal may not drive a congressman from office. And generous donations from special interests give you a clear map for how to vote on even the most complicated issues.

Cons: Every so often you wake up at 4:00 a.m. with a clear sense that you’re the cause of the nation’s problems.

7. Editor for a Daily Newspaper

Pros: You’re at the cutting edge of change within the global communications revolution.

Cons: It’s mostly you that’s getting cut.

6. Mayor

Pros:  Chance to ban large sodas and/or deport citizens who picked on you in grade school.

Cons: Unlike most politicians, you actually have to make sure that garbage gets collected, snow gets shoveled, and things get done. And worse yet, you often can’t fire the people who are getting in your way.

5. Pastor, Rabbi, Mullah or Other Holy Leader

Pros: You’re seen as a man or woman of God and what you say gets taken seriously, at least momentarily.

Cons: “Being a pastor is like death by a thousand paper cuts,” says Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California and a program director at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. “You’re scrutinized and criticized from top to bottom, stem to stern. You work for an invisible, perfect Boss, and you’re supposed to lead a ragtag gaggle of volunteers towards God’s coming future. It’s like herding cats, but harder.”

4. Football Coach

Cons: You never see your spouse or kids.

Pros: You never see your spouse or kids. And it’s your chance to finally get that 24/7 attention you crave, usually from bitter, underpaid sports “journalists” and psychopathically unhappy callers to AM radio shows who blame you for 4,037 things outside your control.

3. Second-in-Command of Any Organization

Pros: As the company’s #2, you’re insulated from much of the searing heat that the top position faces. And many people flatter you by telling you (out of earshot of your boss) that you should be the real #1.

Cons: You’re less ready for the #1 job than you think. Even though you think you’re doing the true hard work while your insufferable boss basks in all the glory, you have no idea how much more complex, lonely and pressure-packed the #1 position is.

2. University President

Pros: People are pretty sure you’re super-smart.

Cons: People don’t like know-it-alls. And in addition to managing a huge and complex physical campus, you have to manage a thousand unmanageable constituencies—including picketing students, partying students, zealous alumni, Nobel laureates, hundreds or thousands of highly opinionated tenured professors that you can’t fire, and 10 to 15 separate sports franchises that would drive any NFL owner insane. And bear in mind that public university presidents have all the problems above, while additionally needing to wrestle with governors and state legislators and political groups.

1. Stay-At-Home Parent

Little known fact: While there are some 5 million stay-at-home mothers in the U.S., the number of stay-at-home fathers has tripled in recent years.

Pros: Comfortable, stretchy sweat-pant uniforms. Showering is optional. Freedom from water-cooler gossip and office backstabbing.

Cons: Condescending tone in the “Oh, staying at home is a very important job” statements that others make. The knowledge that, if you do your job badly, you’ll be raising the next generation of psychopaths and U.S. congresspersons. While it’s been calculated that the value of your work is a whopping $100,000 a year, your overpaid CEO spouse flaunts his or her paycheck as a way of showing that he or she doesn’t plan to help around the house. Even if you do your job right, the little ingrates move on and leave you with an empty nest.


Obviously the author is prone to a bit of stylistic sarcasm. In my humble opinion all the leadership roles listed in his article are legitimate expressions of Christian vocation that have significant value and are at least potentially important for the good of society. There are many more such beneficial leadership roles and vocational callings than the nine in this article.

Regardless of the level of difficulty or sacrifice of the vocational calling of God in your life, I pray you find meaning and fulfillment in that calling. As St. Paul writes, in an admittedly different context: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

And Martin Luther adds this little note about Christian vocational calling: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

New Births

Baby BottleLast week’s Perspectives reported the Christmas night premature birth of triplets to my sister’s granddaughter and her husband, Amanda and Jesse Collins of Evansville, Indiana. Little Logan Christopher passed away on the second day. Emma Grace and Anna Christine continue to be in stable and improving condition. Here’s the latest update from their mother, Amanda:

The nurse practitioner just called with our daily report. Both girls are eating 7.5 ccs now. Anna caught up to Emma. Emma had some residual last night so she did not increase today. Both girls’ x-rays and brain ultrasounds look good. Emma’s blood count is good, so she will not get more blood in the next couple days; Anna’s was borderline, so she will. She said they are getting close to coming off their IVs. They take them off once they get to 14cc feedings. She said once they get to 9ccs (probably in a day or two) they will start giving them Prolacta, which is a breast milk fortifier, and they will be on that until about 34 weeks, then hopefully just breast milk. We will probably go visit soon, because they need more milk!


Praise God for this encouraging report! And thanks to so many of you who responded to last week’s article with assurance of prayers for this family during a time of great need and concern.

A new birth of a different kind occurred earlier this week at Concordia University Texas in Austin. The first official session of the newly formed Christian Leadership Institute took place on Monday, January 13. While not a birth in the traditional understanding of that word, it was nevertheless a very special occasion.

Twenty-four Concordia students gathered in the Board Room for presentations by veteran church leaders whose sum total of experience is well over 100 years. While significant age differences separated students from presenters, the students received us “old geezers” remarkably well!

The multi-faceted topic was: “Building relationships, developing and modeling with courageous humility a biblical worldview, grounding identity in Christ and Christian principles, understanding life purpose, personal strengths and weaknesses.” Wonderful topics, beautifully presented!

To put it mildly, I’m very excited about this new venture, impressed with the quality of the participants, and confident that this endeavor will contribute greatly to the accomplishment of Concordia’s Mission: Developing Christian Leaders! Stay tuned for more updates!

In the meantime, join me in thanking God for the miracle of new births, especially those that truly bring new life!

The peace of the Lord be with you all!