Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The most important leadership lessons I have learned (so far)

One thing about having untreatable cancer is that it does tend to make one a little more reflective about the past.  Personally, I have found this really quite liberating on a number of levels.  Someone once said that an unexamined life is not worth living.  There is probably some truth there.

As I look back over my life and ministry, I won’t pretend that I have been the perfect leader. I am rather aware of my shortcomings, as are those who work with me at The Voice of the Martyrs.  Thankfully, they are a very gracious bunch.  But I  hope that I have modeled a commitment to the several different lessons that I have learned over the years that have shaped the way that I lead our mission. So here are eight of the most important leadership lessons I have learned (so far).

1. Promote the cause, not the organization.  I sincerely believe that most organizations blow it at this very point. Most advertizing by non-profits and missions seems to be committed to telling the public how wonderful they are.  The fact is, people often care very little about organizations, at least to begin with.  They are probably more likely to be interested in your cause or in those you are trying to serve.  At The Voice of the Martyrs, I insist that we talk about persecuted Christians first and foremost. At many meetings that I have spoken at, I have actually had people complain, good-naturedly, that they wish that I had said more about The Voice of the Martyrs. I suppose a little balance is required but I would rather error on the side of saying too little about VOMC and too much about persecuted Christians than the other way around.  In fact, I think that the public is getting tired of organizations that only put out information that is geared to promote themselves and ignore the work of others.

2. There is no pie! I think that part of the reason so many organizations fall into the trap of self-promotion is that they sincerely believe that there is only a limited amount of resources out there and that they need to compete with others to get their share, their piece of the pie. Have we forgotten Who our real source is and how infinite His bounty is?  There is no pie, in God’s economy.

3. Only say what you know is true.  This is a maxim in our Communications Team when it comes to reporting on persecution.  We would rather under-report something than exaggerate a story and report something that we are not sure about.  We will also not engage in promotional campaigns with slogans that are catchy and attention-grabbing but which we simply can’t support or say without hesitation are truthful.  I am not prepared to risk the reputation of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada in order to attract new supporters if the means of doing so requires that we hedge on truthfulness.

4. Everything a person does either builds or undermines trust. My staff will hear me say this quite often. In missiological studies, it is called the Prior Question of Trust. I try to live by it.

5. A cross-centre gospel requires cross-centred messengers.  This the overriding theme of my book In the Shadow of the Cross and I believe that it has ramifications for all Christians regardless of where we live.  God’s purposes are always accomplished in a context of sacrifice, suffering, humility, and weakness.  Christ calls each of us to a life marked by these things.

6. Know your mission and stick with it unwaveringly. The mission of The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is to glorify God by serving His persecuted church.  Straight-forward and simple. It tells us what we do and also what we will not do.  We simply will not get involved in otherwise worthy ministries that do not directly help us to fulfill this mission, even if it means turning away donors.

7. Leadership is influence.  Leaders are not leaders just because someone has given them a title or a position in an organization.  Leaders influence others to fulfill a shared mission in accordance with shared purposes and values.  I hope that I have done that well here at The Voice of the Martyrs.

8. Leadership style must be situational.  There is no one right leadership style.  I believe that good leaders must adapt their leadership styles according to the skill and motivation of those they lead, providing instruction and encouragement as needed in each situation.  Inflexible leaders who adopt one primary style can only lead some people some of the time. A good leader seeks to be able to lead all people all of the time just so long as the person is willing to be led or influenced.

I would love to hear from other leaders as to what are some of the most important leadership lessons that you have learned to this point in their journey.


Anonymous said...

"God’s purposes are always accomplished in a context of sacrifice, suffering, humility, and weakness. Christ calls each of us to a life marked by these things."
Glenn, I was really struck by this statement. It seems that this is a foreign idea even to most Christians. I am looking forward to reading your book. Btw, having worked with stem cell transplant patients for many years I am, at least, familiar with what you have gone through and have seen how very tough it is. God bless you and the work you are doing.

kathyhenning said...

This is one of the best discourses on Christian leadership I’ve read. I was especially struck by #2: “Have we forgotten Who our real source is and how infinite His bounty is? There is no pie, in God’s economy.” It’s a life lesson for all of us, whether we’re leaders or not -- and no matter the state of the economy.

I might add three points, which are implied or understood in the others, but which I think should be called out.

1. Commit every decision, no matter how small, to prayer.
2. It’s never about you; it’s always about God.
3. God gets the glory, all of it, all the time, period. (What if every Christian organization began its mission statement, as you've done, with, “To glorify God by . . . .” What if every item on our task lists began with, “Glorify God by . . .”?”

I don’t know what kind of cancer you’re fighting, but I’m praying.

Glenn Penner said...

Thank you, Kathy, for your kind words. I so agree with your three extra points.

I am fighting Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Have been since 2002. My other blogs this week kind of talk about it, as does my personal blog on