Aligned Behavior Brings Prosperity

Trust and cooperation in America have traditionally been supported by and aligned with certain core values. Values create the context for establishing relationships and pursuing common purposes. Until recently, those values were agreed upon and deemed important by most Americans. To this point, one thing Alexis de Tocqueville found “astonishing” about America was “the strange stability of certain principles”. As he traveled across America in the 1830’s, he observed these “principles” or core values being embraced by most Americans. “In the United States…”, said Tocqueville, “…general doctrines concerning religion, philosophy, morality and even politics do not vary at all.”

The reason Tocqueville found such stability among Americans is because the values were taught in homes, churches and civics classes. Those values guided the assimilation and behavioral expectations of Americans, and they created and preserved a uniquely American culture. Aligning behavior with core values continues to be an essential task of leaders and a crucial part of what Tocqueville observed.

Values not Law

It’s not unusual for people to assume that law brings order. While that may be true theoretically, order comes mostly from our voluntary compliance with the common purposes and values we share. That’s exactly what Tocqueville observed when he noted the “strange stability of certain principles” operating in America. True, law sets limits, but the core values of most people help them live life well within the limits of the law. If this weren’t true, there simply wouldn’t be enough police to enforce compliance.

Today values and culture are changing rapidly, and to some extent, our relationships, communities, businesses and organizations have suffered. We now experience less consensus regarding common values, and therefore less of a basis for trust and cooperation. We’ve replaced the flexible concept of “covenant” that Tocqueville observed with a rigid concept of contract. Instead of values like integrity and commitment binding our agreements, it’s the threat of legal action. To this point author Robert Putnam explained with a bit of sarcasm that,

“One alternative to generalized reciprocity and socialized honesty is the rule of law – formal contracts, courts, litigation, adjudication, and enforcement.  If the handshake is no longer binding and reassuring, perhaps the notarized contract, the deposition, and the subpoena will work.”

Law Can’t Build Prosperity

But building meaningful and productive relationships based primarily on legalism is virtually impossible. That’s because the by-products of this emerging culture of legalism are increasing rigidity, growing disagreements and a focus on self. In his work on trust, Mr. Fukuyama cautioned that a legalistic preoccupation with individual rights undermines American economic interests because it dissipates trust. That dissipation is evidenced in the growing frequency with which people today break commitments and look to the courts and government for resolution.

Consider that since 1950 tort costs have increased 8.7% annually. During those same years the GDP had average increases of 6.7%. Also, since 1950 tort costs have more than tripled, from .62 percent of GDP to more than 2 percent today. Total costs now exceed $260 billion and are increasing exponentially.

Granted, sometimes court action is necessary, but it seems that today’s answer to any conflict is a lawsuit. Consider a few frivolous cases cited by the Institute for Legal Reform:

  • PETA sued on behalf of monkeys for ownership of “Selfies”
  • A Colorado inmate sued the NFL over his team’s playoff loss
  • A bank robber got shot and sued the city for medical bills
  • An 8-year-old sued his aunt for a “Careless” hug

Clearly, we’re teaching Americans that prosperity comes through the courts and not through hard work and cooperation. But ultimately where does that leave us? We’ll talk more about that in next week’s blog.

Building Trust…A Key to Success

A lack of trust is devastating in any organization. Whether it’s a business, a nonprofit or a church, the dynamics are similar. If people don’t share information or don’t cooperate they lose trust. While the issue is easy enough to resolve, left unattended it can ruin an organization.

Trust is Essential to Cooperation, Engagement and Profit

Consider the case of a small telecommunications company that asked us for help shortly after I started my fundraising consulting business. They were having trouble motivating workers to go the extra mile and produce quality work. Competition was increasing and profits quickly declined, so the owners brought in a new CEO and management team to turn things around. Both the industry and their company had experienced great change in the late 90’s. The new leaders needed to engage the workers, but they resisted all efforts. Regardless of what they did, they couldn’t get people to cooperate and assume ownership for their work.

As we interviewed workers, we found that the former management team refused to share crucial information about the company and its financial health. Essentially, they kept workers in the dark and tried to drive them to higher levels of productivity. They took a legalistic approach with workers…one that was inflexible, unforgiving and rife with mistrust. In the absence of information, workers were left to make assumptions about the company and management team. They assumed managers really didn’t care about the company or its mission; they simply drove workers to produce for their own benefit. Needless to say their credibility diminished, profits declined and trust diminished to the point where people stopped cooperating with each other.

Trust is a Leadership Issue

That’s true in any organization. If people can’t trust each other, it’s just a matter of time before productivity and profitability deteriorate. At this firm, it took the new CEO months of hard work and information sharing to begin regaining the trust of workers. Trust is always a leadership issue because leaders are the ones responsible for creating the culture. No doubt, when leaders fail, it’s often because of their inability to engender trust. Hoarding information and ignoring questions tells people they’re not respected or they can’t be trusted, or both. Cooperative and productive relationships simply can’t develop if trust and respect are missing.

On a larger scale the same thing is true of society. In his best-selling book, Trust, social philosopher, Frances Fukuyama, compared “high trust societies” with “low trust societies.” He demonstrated how trust gives American business a strategic advantage that is absolutely critical to economic prosperity. When we work together towards common purposes in churches, nonprofit organizations and communities, we learn to trust people outside our families. That helps develop skills and attitudes that transfer into the workplace. In part, the free flow of information in America demonstrates that trust.

The converse is also true. Declining trust invites costly government intervention that businesses have experienced in the wake of scandals. When Enron, Facebook and Wells Fargo hide or even distort information credibility declines and customers and investors pay the price. That kind of activity also contributes to declining trust in society in general. For example, according to a recent Pew Research study only 45% of Americans believe most people can be trusted.

Finally, a recent Forbes article noted that important economic drivers include a carefully crafted brand, a cooperative culture and a talent pool that is well managed. That doesn’t happen apart from trust, and leaders are responsible for building and cultivating an environment of trust. The late Peter Drucker said it well:

“The final requirement of effective leadership is to earn trust. Otherwise, there won’t be any followers.”

Habits of the Heart Revisited

There’s a wonderful American tradition of pursuing individual success, while balancing success by serving others. That balance brings civility to society. However, lately we’ve been lacking balance, particularly in serving one another. The news offers daily evidence that something is missing or more importantly, something is moving us in the wrong direction.

Success and Happiness are Different

In 1985 Robert Bellah wrote about this balance in his best selling book, Habits of the Heart. He studied both individualism and commitment in America. Success, according to Bellah, is different than happiness and joy. The former is individualistic and comes from competition. People who win are considered successful. By contrast, joy and happiness come from serving others without counting the cost. Accordingly, when individual competition for money, jobs or votes is not balanced by service or even courtesy civility declines.

Bellah argued that in America there’s always been unresolved tension between individual pursuits (private interest) and community concern for others (common good).  While society holds dear individual pursuits of success, maintaining civility and order in society requires attending to the needs of others.  Bellah explained, “…in a free republic, it is the task of the citizen … to cultivate civic virtue in order to mitigate the tension and render it manageable.” Unfortunately, today the pursuit of private interest far outweighs civic virtue. So what happened?

A Recipe for Civic Virtue

Ideally, the pursuit of private interest should serve the common good and vice versa. When that happens, it cultivates civic virtue and creates societal harmony in ways that are less restrictive, more trusting and civil. That also supports the further pursuit of private interests. By contrast, private interests that ignore common good and civic virtue; create a more restrictive culture. It becomes less trusting, less civil and eventually less conducive to the further pursuit of private interests.

Said another way, violating the common good invites mistrust and resistance. That resistance comes in many forms including increased hostility, biting criticism, diminishing cooperation, increased crime, less trust and growing transaction costs. That essentially is what life is like in a police state. But is that what we want?

Common Good is Essential

These days individuals violate common good and pursue private political interests with apparent impunity. However, that’s shortsighted. Though individuals may be lauded for this, they weaken voluntary compliance with common values and invite resistance for everyone else. Witness the exponential growth in hostility of political opponents. It’s every day fare to yell, confront, denigrate and demonize people, and the media are complicit in promoting the turmoil. Police are assaulted and even killed, people are heckled, campuses erupt, buildings are destroyed and society teeters on the verge of another civil war. Consider that from 1999-2007 an annual average of 240,000 conceal and carry permits were issued. By 2016, that average had grown 7-fold to 1,730,000, in part due to growing insecurities. So how do we stop all of this and where is the common good?

The Solution is Available

First, understand where this is headed and at the point of conflict respectfully agree to disagree. Second, don’t get caught up in hype. Start listening to one another and responding in a civil manner. Third, check our motives to ensure that our private interests are balanced by serving others to uphold the common good. Consider the goodwill generated and common good served when the Taiwanese soccer players were rescued.  Yet, sometimes serving can be simply extending a common courtesy. Finally, the real solution here is employing the “Golden Rule.” If we can temper our “furor” with a little grace, we’ll solve a lot of our problems.

Happy 4th of July

This year I thought I’d do a little research on the 4th of July. Specifically, I wanted to learn more about the document that started it all, the Declaration of Independence. During my study I found that Elizabeth Harrison wrote a most informative piece entitled, 9 Things You May Not Know About the Declaration of Independence.

I already knew that 242 years ago, 56 brave Americans signed the document authored by Thomas Jefferson. Actually the 2nd Continental Congress met on July 1, 1776, and on the next day 12 of the 13 colonies approved this motion for Independence. However, I was surprised to learn that the document wasn’t accepted as Jefferson originally wrote it.

A Continental Congress of Substance

They debated and revised, and it wasn’t approved until two days later. Then, even though it’s dated July 4th, it took several weeks after that for all of the delegates to sign it. I was also surprised at the age difference of the signers. The oldest delegate was Benjamin Franklin (70) and the youngest was South Carolina lawyer, Edward Rutledge at 26. Yet despite these differences they were all of one mind when they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

What I find most interesting is that several hundred copies of the Declaration were printed on July 4th. In fact, an original copy was discovered in 1989, hidden in the back of a $4 picture someone bought at a flea market. It eventually sold for $8.1 million.

Our Nation’s Birth Certificate

That price made me wonder why this document is so valuable. Certainly there’s the antique value of a document that old, but it’s more than that. The Declaration of Independence is our nation’s birth certificate. It’s a statement of freedom both for our country and our citizens.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I look forward to this celebration like I do every year. We’ll share in the festivities at the home of our good friends Bob and Sue. They’ll organize games for the kids, and there’ll be swimming, cornhole, great food and fireworks. As part of their kitchen centerpiece, they’ll have a replica copy of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a reminder of the freedom we enjoy and the freedom Americans fought and sacrificed for throughout our history.

 Heroes Among Us

Certainly Bob knows something about fighting for freedom, having served as a Marine during the Vietnam era. Bart will also be there with his family. He served for 20 years as a Navy Pilot and his sons-in-law, Andy and John, also served 20 years. Along with those guys will be Jay, a 20-year Air Force veteran and Ken with 20-years in the Navy. Then there is my son-in-law Brian, who is currently a Lieutenant Colonel and a pilot in the US Marine Corps. He leads a dual command and has one deployment to Okinawa and two to Iraq. He’ll be there too. Finally my father-in-law, who survived the Bataan Death March and 3.5 years in Japanese captivity, won’t be there. But we’ll celebrate his service as well.

Of course, there’ll be plenty of people like me there who have not served. However, they’ll all be aware of the service and dedication of these men in support of our freedom. No doubt, this will be a great day of rest and celebration, but we must also remember that we enjoy this day because others around us have so selflessly fought to preserve our freedom.

Wow! Americans are Really Generous!

Currently the economic outlook is improving almost daily. Consumer confidence is the highest it’s been in 18 years. The markets are setting new records daily. In fact, on November 7, 2016 (the day before the election) the Dow was a little over 18,000, and at the time of this writing it was 24,700. Also, at 3.8% unemployment is now at an all time low, and the GDP is expected to exceed 4.0 %.

Economic Prosperity Influences Giving

The economy is growing and that is good news for churches and nonprofit organizations. Not surprisingly giving has also reached an all time high. Each year around this time the study, Giving USA has been published and the news is usually very good, especially for those in the fundraising community. This year is no different as clearly we are experiencing a time of economic prosperity and giving in America shows it.

Consider that for the first time giving has exceeded $410 billion. The breakdown is even more interesting:

  • Giving by Individuals……70% of the total or $286.65 billion
  • Giving by Foundations…16% of the total or $66.90 billion
  • Giving by Bequest…………9% of the total or $35.70 billion
  • Giving by Corporations…5% of the total or $20.77 billion

Individuals Lead the Way

What I find interesting is a further analysis of those numbers. Consider that while “Bequest Giving” is a separate category on this report, individuals are actually the ones who make bequests. Also there are some 300,000 donor advised funds in the US (many through community foundations) and combined with family foundation giving it accounts for nearly 50% of foundation giving. Again, most of these giving decisions are also made by individuals.

That means that in reality, some 85-87% of all giving comes from individuals. That’s important for nonprofits in particular to understand. As fundraising consultants, too often we find organizations put an over-emphasis on grant writing and an under-emphasis on the cultivation and solicitation of individuals. It doesn’t mean that grant writing is unimportant, but it’s no way to build a sustainable development program.

Faith Prompts Generosity

Also, while every category of giving increased, the largest giving categories were as follows:

  • Religion…31% of the total or $127.37 billion
  • Education…14% of the total or $58.90 billion
  • Human services…12% of the total or $50.06 billion
  • Giving to foundations…11% or $45.89 billion
  • Health…9% or 38.27 billion

Of course, what is not calculated here is giving to educational, human service or health care institutions for religious purposes. The point is that many people who give are motivated by a benevolence that comes from their faith. In fact, about 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By contrast, among those who do not identify a religious creed, only 56 percent make charitable gifts.

Lessons Learned

So what can we learn from all of this? Several things:

  • First, Americans are quite generous. In fact, they are by far the most philanthropic of any nation.
  • Second, faith-based people tend to give more than non-faith based ones. Therefore, despite what others may contend, research shows that faith is still an important component in giving.
  • Third, giving by individuals accounts for at least 85% of the total. Therefore, building individual giving programs should be a top priority for nonprofit organizations.
  • Fourth, do some strategic planning on ways to get to know and build a relationship with the CEO of your Community Foundation.  They are the gatekeeper for donor advised funds.
  • Finally, while Americans are quite generous, you won’t get your philanthropic share of their benevolence unless you establish organizational or ministry excellence, build relational capital and then ask people to help advance your mission.

If you would like more information on the Giving USA data and how to apply it to your own organization, join us for an upcoming session led by The Covenant Group at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. Watch our website for updates.

Friend-raising Requires Fundraising

Often when we work with nonprofit organizations and even churches, we see an active willingness to organize what is called “friend-raising” events. We hear apologists claim that these events will easily lead to increases in membership or the number of donors and the amounts they give. In fact, one CEO said, I’d rather have friends than donors in my organization.”

Labor Intensive and in Need of Followup

First, events are labor intensive and they put considerable stress on staff. They should either end in or at least lead to the bottom line results measured in increased membership, donations or both. However, to achieve that also requires a plan with active follow up requests. If results don’t happen the organization should re-think whether the event is worth the effort.

Second, related to the first point is the fact that cultivating friends and attracting folks to non-profits is important and valuable. However, the problem with many organizations is that it never gets beyond that point. Whether it’s fundraising in a nonprofit organization or a church, funds don’t get raised without someone asking someone else to make a commitment.

But the Board is not a Fundraising Board

The question is often asked of our associates, “Well what if the board is not a fundraising board?” The answer to that one is simple. There is no such thing as a non-profit board that is not a fundraising board. Now that might be slightly different in a church, but even in church capital campaigns, someone must ask someone else for funds.

That’s why according to a 2017 Leading with Intent survey of 1378 participants revealed that most nonprofits (68%) have policies requiring personal contributions from the board, and a similar amount (67%) explain expectations related to fundraising during recruitment.

In light of the fact that government support (federal, state and local government) for nonprofits is declining, the need for private philanthropic support is growing. Now more than ever, nonprofits need board members to be active in fundraising.

Of course there are lots of ways board members and other volunteers can be involved besides making solicitation calls. Some host receptions in their homes; others open doors, set up appointments and even accompany the CEO or development officer as they make “the ask;” still others are involved in making “thank you” calls.  All of these strategies are important in increasing donations.

In fact, one study showed that when donors receive follow up “thank you” calls from board members within days of making the gift:

  • 93% said they’d give again if asked
  • 84% would “make a much larger gift” and
  • 74% would “continue giving indefinitely.”

Staff Members Need to be Active

Nonprofits also need staff to be active in fundraising. When I was a vice president in higher education, we regularly tracked cultivation and solicitation visits. Staff members had goals and we helped one another achieve those goals. There was accountability, but that kept us on track.

I remember asking one associate at our weekly staff meeting about the status of a major donor. He told me simply that he was cultivating him. After several weeks of this, I realized it was a pattern. I could see he was busy, but the results weren’t there. There were no major or capital gift requests in his plans; only cultivations. Finally I told him what I’ve told many of our nonprofit clients: continuing cultivation without an eventual harvest results in waste.

In quite a few organizations, people are rarely asked. In fact, the Leading with Intent study showed that only 40% of nonprofits have board members actively involved in fundraising. It’s certainly important to cultivate friendships, but if nonprofits are to advance, those friends also need to become donors.

Transforming Followers Into Leaders

Recently I witnessed an unfortunate incident. A very successful church that had experienced rapid church growth lost its founding pastor. After increasing turmoil he was asked to leave. It created quite a stir, because many within the congregation thought highly of this pastor. The conflict didn’t emanate from any moral failing; it came from disagreements about leadership style.

Unfortunately, the church’s governance structure didn’t help matters. The staff the pastor hired and supervised were also made elders. Certainly there were complaints from employees that the pastor freely admits were shortcomings. Some felt they were being directed more than led; others alleged the pastor was somewhat despotic.

However, all of this seemed a bit extreme and probably could have been avoided. The players needed simply to understand their roles and communicate in a manner consistent with Matthew 18:15-17. I’m sure I don’t have all the details, but when organizations begin to falter, it’s usually because leaders and/or followers aren’t willing to communicate effectively.

Transformation over Exploitation

First, the leader-follower relationship is more about transformation than exploitation. Specifically, leadership is the intentional transformation of people and organizations for the better, which implies two-way communication. However, that concept sometimes gets lost in pursuit of individual agendas, like they did at this church.

A Lesson from Dickens

 A Christmas Carol, offers a good example of transformational leadership. The main character Scrooge was led (by spirits of Christmas past, present and future) through purposeful and sometimes painful experiences that transformed him. When they were done, Scrooge clearly understood his own selfishness and the needs of others around him. He used his resources to transform lives of others because he himself had been transformed. James MacGregor Burns defines this as transformational leadership, where leaders recognize and act on higher needs in followers (love, hope, esteem) and engage them fully. According to Burns,

“… transforming leadership raises the human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and those led. Leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others (so) that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality. Their purposes, which may have started out as separate transactions, become fused.”

In other words, though leader-follower relationships begin transactionally, they shouldn’t end there. As leaders earn credibility through transactions with followers, they gain power to elevate followers in transformational ways. As Burns says, transformational leadership moves followers “to higher levels of motivation and morality.” However it also implies loyalty and commitment towards the leader. In the case of the church those characteristics were lacking. In fact, their unrealistic expectations never allowed them to get beyond the transactions.

Jesus – A Model Leader

No leader has influenced more people or changed the world more profoundly for good than Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, we have arguably the best example of transformational leadership.

Jesus understood the intrinsic value and human needs of followers. Initially He engaged in transactions that He initiated. For example, He filled their boat with fish, thereby gaining credibility and their allegiance. Throughout all of His interactions, Jesus related to followers in ways that demonstrated genuine regard for them. That regard was manifest in multiple acts of love, kindness and service He performed, and it transformed them.

As a result, His disciples deepened their commitments both to Jesus and the common purpose they shared. Specifically, by teaching, challenging and loving these followers, Jesus transformed them into courageous and committed leaders. His mission became their mission. So powerful was their transformation, that they boldly followed Jesus in ways that cost most of them their lives. Yet, the power to lead and transform came not through Jesus’ positional power. Instead it came through relational power that Jesus built with His followers. As nonprofit fundraising consultants, we see that churches and other organizations excel when they follow this same model.

Effective Leaders Understand Purposes and People

Leadership, and particularly “covenant leadership,” involves more than just understanding the organizational purpose; it also involves understanding the people who have that purpose in common. In fact, without followers working cooperatively towards the common purpose, leaders can hardly expect significant success.

Understanding Individual and Organizational Purposes

 As a leader that means I must understand the people I lead as well as the purposes we serve. If people are the key to success, then leaders must know, attend to and listen to followers with focused precision and sometimes make adjustments. Success is not just about the leader’s personal ability or knowledge of processes. Sure that’s important, but to lead, leaders must actually motivate others to follow them. The late leadership guru, James MacGregor Burns commented simply, “Without followers there can be no leadership.”

Accordingly, if leaders need to know and serve the people around them, then they also need to spend time talking and listening to them. Wharton School Professor Stewart Friedman wrote on becoming a better leader. He commented simply, “If I account for the interests of the whole person, not just the work person, I’m going to get more value from them.”

Serving Mutual Needs

This comes full cycle because leaders seek eventually to engage the “whole work person.” Yet for that to happen, it also means that leaders can’t simply pursue their own selfish purposes. The focus should also be on pursuing common and ethical purposes that promise to serve the mutual needs and goals of all organizational partners. Essentially, covenant leadership achieves all of that and more by respecting and listening to the needs and ideas of others and then making appropriate changes and empowering people to do their jobs. That’s what builds trust, binds people together and increases productivity. In nonprofit fundraising it is also what builds donor engagement and retention. This is not just soft rhetoric; there are hard numbers to support this logic.

Consider Cisco Corporation. Between 2012-2017, the company had a 15% increase in their workforce and yet by listening to worker needs and ideas they were able to reduce their real estate portfolio by 30%. They closed 241 buildings, saving $196 million in operating costs and gaining $288 million from building sales. They also took the emphasis off of individual work and put a new emphasis on collaboration and community. That helped them achieve a 17% increase in both employee engagement and workplace satisfaction. It also allowed them to grow in profitability from $6.5 billion in 2011 to a high of $10.7 billion in 2016.

Balancing Individual and Organizational Trust with Accountability

Stakeholder trust must be balanced by stakeholder accountability. Maximum productivity requires that professional and personal stakeholder purposes are served, but stakeholders must also serve the larger purposes of the organization. In fact, common purposes actually link stakeholders together in a common bond. That’s why, individual purposes must always tie directly to and find fulfillment in achieving the larger purpose of the organization.

If leader-follower relationships are productive, they will be formed by the convergence and subsequent fulfillment of individual and organizational purposes. Of course, this again does not divest the organization and its people of accountability. That simply wouldn’t be fair to folks who are engaged and working hard. Thus, the chief needs of stakeholders must also be both integrated with and balanced by the larger organizational purposes.

Finally, once leaders understand both the individual and organizational purposes, they must pursue those purposes in ways that everyone understands and embraces. That doesn’t just happen by chance; it takes deliberate and strategic planning on the part of leaders. Does it sound like a lot of work? Sure, but it’s also rewarding when everyone succeeds.

Effective Leaders Demonstrate Civility Through Grace

There is an alarming lack of civility in America that we see daily, simply by following the news. A recent study of 1,126 adults on Civility in America, revealed the following:

  • 84% have personally experienced incivility
  • 59% quit paying attention to politics because of incivility
  • 34% have experienced incivility at work
  • 9 in 10 say that incivility leads to intimidation (89%), harassment (89%), discrimination (88%), and violence (88%)
  • 75% blame politicians, 60% social media and 59% the news media
  • 75% believe that incivility in America has risen to crisis levels

Civility Defined

So what do people mean when they mention civility? Study participants describe it as respecting and honoring people, tolerating them or remaining polite when you don’t feel like it. Mahatma Gandhi said this:

“Civility does not mean the mere outward gentleness of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire to do the opponent good.”

What they’re really talking about is expressing grace, which also happens to be an important leadership trait. The kind of grace I’m talking about here often manifests itself in forgiveness and tolerance. By definition it’s unmerited favor, and when leaders extend grace to others, it increases trust and goodwill and deepens relationships. This is true both in corporate America as well as in nonprofit fundraising organizations.

Grace in Action

A clear example of grace is found in a story about two of our country’s most esteemed leaders, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Though they had a lifelong friendship, they had many differences, and for a period they were estranged. However, reconciliation came in their later years, and they wrote 158 correspondences between 1812 and 1826, which are now famous.

Evidence of this leadership trait is found in an incident that occurred in 1823. Several letters that Adams had written earlier in his career were reprinted in the newspaper. Adams had been less than complimentary of Jefferson, calling him a “duplicitous political partisan.” The newspaper obviously tried to stir up trouble, but Jefferson responded with grace and forgiveness by writing the following to Adams,

“Be assured, my dear sir, that I am incapable of receiving the slightest impression from the effort now made to plant thorns on the pillow of age…and to sow tares between friends who have been such for nearly half a century. Beseeching you then not to suffer your mind to be disquieted by this wicked attempt to poison its peace, and praying you to throw it by.”

So relieved was Adams at Jefferson’s graceful words, he insisted that Jefferson’s letter be read aloud at breakfast to his entire family. Jefferson had given a gift of grace to his friend and that gift was motivated by his love and admiration for Adams. Jefferson’s actions depict what good leaders do; they forgive by disassociating actions or mistakes from a person’s value. It reminds me of what Soren Kierkegaard once said:

“Through forgiveness love covers a multitude of sins. Forgiveness takes away that which still cannot be denied as being sin. So love strives in every way to hide the multitude of sins; but forgiveness is the most outstanding way.”

Forgiveness and Grace Embody Love

When leaders forgive they demonstrate value for people and relationships beyond their immediate actions. Essentially leaders extend the gift of grace to people, which tends to break down barriers and deepen relationships. Using Kierkegaard’s description, Jefferson demonstrated not only that he valued Adams, but also that he loved him. Ultimately, the most effective leaders embrace grace and forgiveness and demonstrate a form of love. That doesn’t negate accountability between leaders and followers, but trusting people and extending grace also builds trust and increases the likelihood that accountability will be self-imposed.

The Best Leaders are Teachable

Wisdom From Solomon

I read something interesting recently in Proverbs 26:12 that speaks clearly to an important leadership principle. “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Some might think Solomon’s words here are harsh. Yet, the longer I work in organizations, the more I see the wisdom in what Solomon said. What he’s talking about here is being teachable, a key trait of leaders.

However, teachability assumes a certain amount of humility. That’s because teach-ability requires leaders to admit that somewhere out there, there’s someone who knows more than they do about a specific subject. That’s not always easy for “the person “in charge” to do.

The Good to Great Difference

However, that’s what Jim Collins found in Good to Great companies.  These organizations outperformed the market at a rate that was 7 times higher than average. Interestingly, they all had level 5 leaders who combined an unwavering commitment to the mission with a personal level of humility. In such cultures success is not for the leader’s glory but for the advancement of the organization.

This is particularly true in the pastorate. When we’ve helped churches organize fundraising campaigns, we’ve found that the pastors who are most teachable also seem to be the ones that are the most successful.

In fact, over our 20-year history of working with churches, we’ve only had one church fail to achieve its goal. However, we’ve had several examples of churches where pastors have not been as successful as they might have been, because they’ve not been as teachable as others.

For example, our church campaigns usually include a planning study. During that study we conduct some internal analysis of giving over a three-year period along with face-to-face interviews and a church-wide survey. That process helps determine the giving capacity of the church and the congregation’s propensity to give to this project. But pastors don’t always pay attention to what we tell them.

For example, at one church that failed to achieve its goal, we recommended a slightly longer pledge period. The congregation had many young couples that didn’t have much discretionary income. The pastor disagreed, commenting that they needed the money ASAP. He just didn’t want to wait for the longer pledge period. They also failed to implement other key recommendations we made and ultimately came up short of their goal.

Being Teachable Promotes Success

However, another church that had failed in a previous campaign came to us for help. The new pastor did a great job of motivating the church members, and they followed everything we recommended with enthusiastic zeal! As a result, they exceeded the goal, even though it was more than 50% larger than the first goal.

What’s the difference? The latter pastor was quite teachable and the former pastor was not. As a leader of any enterprise, you have to admit that you don’t know everything and then be willing to embrace new knowledge. That’s how leaders get better at their craft.

Pastor Matt Keller wrote a book entitled, The Key to Everything.

He notes, “The more successful you become, the less you become teachable…highly successful people know how to handle success successfully…(and they also) don’t let their failures define them.”

Sometimes both leadership success and failure can stunt a leader’s growth. It never ceases to amaze me how some pastors hire us to be their fundraising consultants and then ignore our recommendations. The secret is to have accountability structures that challenge pastors or CEOs to continue learning and seeking help no matter how good they are.

Pastor and philosopher Meister Eckhart put it this way. “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”