Leadership Is Not A Personality Type

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Since I’m on this journey to know myself better and become more effective, I’ve been thinking a lot about personality types recently. There are many tools to determine how and why we display certain behaviors in our life and work: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder, DISC, Enneagram, and so on.

Regardless of the type of test you take, it’s really important to know yourself and put your natural strengths to work for you. If you don’t know (generally) what your results are for these types of tools, I’d recommend searching the internet for a free assessment and see what comes up. Understanding who you are is the first step to living in the fullest potential of who God made you to be.

One of the most helpful tests is the DISC test, which measures four types of personality behaviors: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Compliance (C).

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If you did a survey of many of the top business and church leaders, you would find that most of them have a high “dominant” personality. Dominant leaders are usually go-getters, confident, good decision makers, and like having the reigns of control. This makes them great at starting companies and leading organizations.

But what about the rest of the population (including me) who have other personality types? Does that mean you can’t lead? No way! The good news: leadership isn’t a personality type. 

You might be more of a “steady” person, or maybe you like to follow directions rather than telling others what to do. That doesn’t mean you can’t lead others. Being a good leader is about knowing your strengths, caring about people, and taking responsibility. It’s not about being bossy or mean or even charismatic.

Know your strengths: A leader knows his or her strengths and operates from those. I have a friend who just isn’t very good at organizing the little details of a project. Instead of pretending to be something she is not, she has people who are very detailed come and support her in her role. Leaders are self-aware without being insecure, knowing that everyone has weaknesses and that’s ok.

Care for people: Leaders, by definition, put other people ahead of themselves. People who simply use others to get what they want aren’t leaders. Leaders want to use who and what they are to benefit others. You don’t have to be out in front of people to care about them. Sometimes the best leaders aren’t even on most people’s radar.

Taking responsibility: Leaders go first. In fact, that’s what “leader” literally means. It doesn’t take a certain type of personality to notice a problem and be the first to step forward with a solution. Any personality can own up to what’s wrong and try to fix it. Boldness and initiative aren’t bound up in extroverted personality types, they may just express themselves differently.

No matter who you are, you can step up and lead. You have an arena of influence and you have opportunities for making the world around you better for the sake of others. Find a way to leverage your best gifts and go lead!

My Rebel Heart

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peajayhow/11513173615
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peajayhow/11513173615

It’s not easy to admit your faults. I think that most of the time we live our lives (unconsciously or otherwise) trying to avoid taking a long and hard look at ourselves, warts and all. The problem is we simply can’t escape ourselves. Everywhere I go, there I am.

I’ve shared a little in a recent post about how God has been inviting me into greater authenticity through some personality/value/strengths assessments. It is difficult to see ourselves in this light at times, because these tools are (generally) objective and don’t lie. You may try to alter your personality to avoid how you’re wired, but it doesn’t change who you are. It’s like looking in a mirror…before you’ve done your hair and shaved. What you see is what you get.

And let’s not sugarcoat it: it’s not just “flaws” or “weaknesses” that you see. Any time I look at myself and invite God into the process, what I see is not just my weakness but my sinfulness.

One of the massive things I’ve uncovered in this season is an undercurrent of rebellion against authority. This one runs deep in our human DNA and goes all the way back to the beginning. At the heart of the sin of Adam and Eve was disobedience – rebellion against God’s right to decide what they could and couldn’t do. We follow suit and buck against authority almost every chance we get.

God has better things for us. But this one is tough for us Americans living in the twenty-first century. We live in a context that generally rewards rebellion as “individualism” and “self-expression.” Don’t like your boss? Quit! Don’t like your church? Leave! Don’t like your president? Complain! In fact, many go way beyond complaining. Some of the most hateful language can come out of the heart of someone claiming Christ as Lord, simply because of a difference of theological stance or political philosophy.

God has helped me to see that I have lived in un-addressed rebellion in much of my life, mostly in the way that I posture my heart toward authority. Looking over my past, I can’t think of a boss, pastor or leader that I have served under that I haven’t at some point and on some level despised in my heart and thought “I could do that better.” That attitude leads to criticism, coveting, and isolation. It eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the relationship breaks down.

Here’s the reality: Everything looks easy from far away. My pride has a really high opinion of me, too high in fact. I start to believe that I’m smarter, more gifted, or more capable than another human simply because I can see their weaknesses. I forget that I have my own weaknesses in spades.

How quickly I can forget that God is the one who puts people in authority (Rom. 13:1, 1 Pet. 2:13, 1 Tim. 2:2) and requires me to submit. God appoints leaders, not me. God wants me to trust him, and he puts authority in my life to teach and grow me. When I refuse to submit, I shortcut the character growth God is trying to produce in me.

Of course there are times when submission is not godly, and there are authorities who abuse power and need to be removed. But I’m not talking about dictators here, but people in my world that I just might not like that much. I’m not called to act as an agent of justice toward a person who is just…not like me.

The freeing part is that when we submit to the authorities God has placed over us, we live life in his economy, the way he designed us to live. Walking in obedience to the way God wants us to live opens up all kinds of doors. I will see people in a different light when I understand that their place of authority is one thing, their personality is another. God uses all kinds of people to do his work, and I won’t agree with all of them. God’s church is a body, and we all have different strengths. God’s not interested in me making everyone like me, he wants me to be more like him.

Maybe there’s someone in authority in your life that you struggle with. I’d challenge you to do the wrestling with God required to walk in obedience and let him use that person to make you more like Christ.

God Speaks in Vision and Pain

Image credit: http://www.dianacastillophotography.com/LANDSCAPE/i-qNfrjGW
Image credit: http://www.dianacastillophotography.com/LANDSCAPE/i-qNfrjGW

Have you ever wanted to hear God speak? It seems I find myself in that place quite a bit. Sometimes I feel like all I do is go through my routine, checking things off of my list while periodically “checking in” with God to make sure things are “all good.” That’s not much of a relationship. God designed us for much deeper fellowship than that. I need to be reminded of this often.

I read this this morning from Job 33:14:

“For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it…”

The verse grabbed my attention because I want to hear God speak to me. Elihu, the speaker in this passage, goes on to describe the first way God speaks:

“In a dream, in a vision of the night…he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man.”

So the first way God speaks is through dreams and visions. It should be noted that the context of this conversation is to try and figure out why all the bad stuff has happened to Job. His friends, all with varying opinions, try to counsel and advise Job on how he ended up in such a mess.

So the “speaking” here is really an intervention. If God really wants to get a person’s attention to warn him, Elihu says he will use a dream.

The second way God speaks is found in verse 19:

“Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones.”

Second way God wants to get our attention according to Elihu? Pain. The example here is physical pain, but any sort of pain will do. I have found pain to be extremely clarifying. Pain forces us to seek deliverance, and will ultimately bring us to seek God.

Let me clarify: I don’t think I can make a definitive theological statement that God always speaks to us through dreams and/or pain. Nor can I firmly assert that all dreams or all pain are sent from God to warn us about our pride. Sometimes we get hurt and it’s more about us that God (i.e. you stub your toe); sometimes a dream really is bad Mexican food.

What strikes me though is that the antitheses to dreams/visions and pain are distraction and comfort, and how we go to such great lengths to be sure we always have both.

I read recently that the CEO of Twitter asked a friend, “Do you remember what it was like to be bored?” These days distractions are endless and easy to come by. If you’re in line at the store or sitting at a red light, distractions are easier than ever to come by. Quiet, concentration and focus are some of the more precious commodities in our information age, and even still we tend to avoid them. Unfortunately, these are often required to hear God speak to us.

Pain is even more distasteful. We not only avoid pain at all costs, we avoid discomfort. I burn the inside of my mouth and think I should take a sick day. Our idea of pain is uncomfortable benches at a sporting event or AC that isn’t working at full capacity.

But discomfort raises our awareness of something no one is exempt from: need. We are all in need of deliverance, and the comfort of avoiding pain won’t do the trick.

Now, I’m not advocating that you should start basing your life decisions on your dreams or order a bed of nails from Amazon.com. Both would be…extremely inadvisable. But maybe our response to the words in this passage could lead us to run to God when we need direction or deliverance, instead of believing that something or someone else can fill the need. God is our loving Father, Path-director, and Comforter in all pain and sorrow. Let’s live like that’s true.

Fasting as Worship

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There was a time in my life when a friend of mine jokingly told me “you should do a fast from fasting.” He meant well. I was in a season where I had several times of fasting right after another. What’s worse is I tend to be a perfectionist, “rule follower” type personality. So, although I may resist a fast at first, when I get into I get REALLY into it. Something about me loves the challenge of restrictions. Yeah, it’s weird.

But after some time away from the discipline, I have once again jumped in during our church-wide Daniel fast for the next couple weeks. Once again I’m struck by the way that “following the rules” isn’t really the hardest part (and isn’t even the point). The difficult part is really the internal wrestling that I go through, not so much making the choices to eat differently. I’m surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at how much of a whiner and complainer my flesh really is. “Gimme, gimme, gimme” is all I seem to hear.

Fasting is a very valuable spiritual discipline. It is a mechanism by which we let go of some distractions in order to reach out for more of Jesus. It can reveal just how entrenched we are in our habits and comforts, relying on them instead of relying on God to sustain us. The slide into idolatry is a slow creep, and it’s helpful every now and then to push the “reset” button and declare once again with the Apostle Paul, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).

Because it wars against our tendencies to be idol-worshipers, fasting is really an act of worship. Fasting helps us to broaden our perspective of what worship really is (not just singing, not just something we do when we go to church). In worship we honor God for who he is and what he has done, and we say a deeper “yes” to Him in our lives. By saying “no” to things that distract us, we make room for his voice to speak louder to our hearts. We clear the way for the searching light of the Holy Spirit to shine on our hearts and show us where Jesus isn’t before all things, and make the adjustments so that he is first. As a friend of mine says, “worship is really about the first-ness of God.” He’s right.

Fasting is a lot like going to the dentist. For many of us, the very idea is appalling. We resist it because we think we don’t need it. But, like so many other things in life, we can’t experience the benefit of the discipline just by thinking our way through it (“Hey, I’m doing pretty good therefore I don’t need to fast”).  We have to walk through the self-imposed trial in order to see our true need for Christ.

I’d encourage you to take a step and set aside some time to fast. It doesn’t have to be anything radical. A fast from anything you rely on, no matter how small, will help you see yourself and God more clearly, and God will be faithful to guide you deeper into relationship with him.

Remembering John Berlin

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It’s hard to summarize a life, especially one that meant so much to you. But my friend John Berlin had a life worth celebrating and I want to tell you why.

I could go on for days about John’s childhood and the thousands of stories he told about swimming, canoeing, fist fights and car wrecks; I could tell you all about his struggles with alcohol and drugs, or his experiences in Viet Nam, his failed marriages (yes plural), or his many corporate careers; I could tell you about how he found recovery, found Jesus, and found a woman he would be crazy in love with right to the end; I could tell you about the stacks of poems, stories and novels he wrote and was constantly sharing with those who would listen. He had one of the most interesting lives of anyone I’ve ever known.

But his unique experiences aren’t the most important thing about him. To be sure, I had the benefit of hearing many of the stories and gleaning wisdom from those experiences, but John was one of my dearest friends, and just knowing him was its own kind of gift. He was wise and discerning, hilariously sarcastic, but most of all he loved people deeply.

I’ve known John for over half my life. My first real memory of John is from when I was about twelve. John and Audrey came over to take a family picture (Audrey is a gifted photographer), and I remember that we all could barely stand up because John had us laughing so hard (holding a tin-foil covered sheet pan to reflect light in our faces).

John and his wife Audrey have been a constant source of joy and blessing to my family for about as long as I can remember. He was my mentor, spiritual father, and dear friend, the kind of person you call when you’re stuck and you don’t know what else to do.

John gave me more gifts than I can count, but three stand out to me: the gift of wisdom, the gift of belief, and the gift of love.

The Gift of Wisdom. I think I was fifteen when I asked John to be my mentor. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew I needed one. He asked me to help him pull carpet at a rental property he owned, but in reality we sat on two folding chairs and talked about life. I told him my life story (which wouldn’t have been that long), and he told me a little about his own life (although I would find out much more in the years to come). We had a connection because of a similar wiring, and John had an uncanny ability to tell you all about yourself. He taught me the power of just being with a person–he’d invite me to tag along on seemingly random errands, which always turned into quality time and great conversation. I could ask John anything about anything, and I knew I would get a straight answer.

Years went on and we would stay connected through meals, phone calls (when I was living in other states) and emails. Later we worked together for a few years in one of John’s little companies. He would tell me things like “You can’t think your way into good living, you have to LIVE your way into good thinking,” that were drilled into my head by repetition.

Regardless of what project we were working on he would ask, “Jonathan, what is our job?” And I knew the answer was not “we fix glass,” or “we build beautiful windows,” but the answer was “we are problem solvers.” John taught me the power of staying in the solution instead of staying in the problem, a lesson I think about almost constantly. He had a spiritual gift of discernment, and could see into situations in crazy ways. He not only passed on this gift to me by osmosis, but would pray that God would give me wisdom and discernment as well.

The Gift of Belief. John was a musician, and music was something we had in common. He loved classical music and would often be “blasting Bach” the way teens would jam to their favorite rock band. He played guitar and led worship so worship was a great subject of conversation in our times together. If I led worship somewhere, he would often come to that church if for no other reason than to support me.

One of the most precious memories I have is of our “art nights” that the Berlins would host at their home. We would have dinner and talk and then everyone would share something beautiful that was meaningful to them. John would read a story or a poem, others might share things that meant a lot to them, but eventually there was music. The music was always special.

We would sing songs that we loved by James Taylor or Van Morrison, but eventually we would worship together. It was always a sweet time of worship together in the living room or the porch.

I think it was on one of those occasions that John brought out his 1965 Gibson acoustic guitar for me to play. I was playing a pretty crummy guitar that someone had given me (long story), and playing his guitar was an incredible difference. The guitar has amazing tone (as old guitars do) and it plays like a dream.

I played a song or two on it and John said “Jonathan, I want you to have that guitar.” I was speechless. I didn’t understand why he would give me such a gift. He went on, “I’m giving you this guitar because I believe in you. You have a gift. When you sing, I can hear your heart’s hunger for God. So I want to give you this guitar as an investment in that gift. Don’t ever lose that when you sing in front of people.”

The only thing he made me promise is that I would never sell the guitar. No worries there, it has priceless sentimental value.

The Gift of Love. Of all the things John gave me, the most precious gift was love. Throughout all of our experiences, I knew that John loved me and was for me.

He demonstrated love in his marriage and set an example that I always wanted to follow. He loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself, even when it wasn’t pleasant to hear it. When I would call, he loved me enough to tell me he loved me, and thought about me all the time. He helped me get ready for being married, and gave the best (and most genuine) advice for loving well.

I will miss having John in my life, but I have great peace knowing that he is with the Lord. John went through so many incredibly difficult health scares that I often worried that we would lose him. But I’m not worried now, nor do I have any regrets. I decided a long time ago that I would take every chance I could to tell him how much he meant to me, and how much his impact on my lives on in how I lead others. I told him that many times, that he made a huge difference in my life and I’ll be forever grateful for him. I know without a doubt that he knew how much he meant to me. He has left a beautiful legacy that lives on in those he loved.

John went to be with Jesus on Thursday night, but I know I will see him again. And I know he’s cheering for me and for all of us who loved him, as we press on toward the goal of the prize he has now attained. He lived long and loved well, and I’m proud to have been his friend. We’ll sing together again someday soon. As the song says, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.”

The Dangerous Invitation of Authenticity

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When I was about thirteen years old, I was at a theme park with the youth group from my church. Now you should know that I’m not much of a “thrill seeker” type, but when the group goes on these trips you go along to hang with friends…even if you’re miserable the whole time.

One of the guys in the group was one of those “prankster” types who definitely had a promising future with the guys from Jack*ss. Normally I would have distanced myself from this sort of behavior, flown under the radar, and made it out of there without incident. But not this time. Jack*ss guy was coming for me.

We were all standing around in one of the quintessential “youth-group-outing huddles” (the ones where you talk for twenty minutes about whether or not we want to eat next, go home, or ride more rides then eat and go home), when the aforementioned “funny guy” came up behind me and gave a swift and terrible tug to my cargo shorts. Yep, the fear of adolescents everywhere: I was “pantsed.”

Now, to be fair, it didn’t turn into one of those “everyone was pointing at me and laughing hysterically” moments (like the scenario in the classic “I showed up to work and forgot to wear pants” dreams), but I was pretty embarrassed. What early teen wants to reveal their taste in undergarments (boxer briefs if you’re curious) to the surrounding strangers, friends and enemies (specifically girls)? Not me.

Who knows what kind of deep psychological impact that event had on me, but I would guess that it’s events like this that make being vulnerable later in life so difficult. We learn from an early age to hide who we are because if people see it they may reject us. Before we know better how to handle it, things happen to us that expose our awkward and flawed selves, and we spend much time and energy trying to avoid more painful exposure.

But here’s the problem: we aren’t meant to live fake lives. God made us exactly who we are for a reason and he gets glory when we live fully embracing who he made us to be. This idea has really challenged me lately.

One of the staff values at our church is authenticity, and it isn’t one of those “honorary” values that people say but really don’t care about. It’s real. I keep getting told over and over “just be you,” and it has taken a while to sink in. It’s a godly value that is truly upheld and valued.

But old habits die hard. When you’ve spent your entire life trying to adjust your behavior to the expectations of people around you (think “social norms”), how do suddenly find a way to just “be you”? How do you dig deep and find where the real you begins and the fake you ends?

“Be you” means you have to first “see you” and be ok with it. This is probably the hardest part. For me the challenge is trying to understand the why behind the way I am. I want to know why I do what I do and why the heck God decided to make that thing a part of me.

Some of it seems pointless, like “Really God? Couldn’t you give that ‘quality’ to someone else??” But there is power in the acceptance of who God made you to be. When you believe he loves you as you are, you can begin to love others for who they are, instead of rejecting them for being different or liking the people who are like you (or even worse trying to change people to be just like you!).

I don’t have all the answers, and I can tell you that the process isn’t easy and it isn’t quick. When you start to look for them, there are all kinds of opportunities to go a little deeper in your answer, opinion, or encouragement. There will probably always be a slight sense of hesitation when confronted with the invitation to be authentic and vulnerable. The fear is deep-rooted.

But I have found incredible freedom in the invitation of authenticity. Just as I want to really know others, others want to really know me. If God makes each person unique, we miss out on an aspect of God when we fail to know and be known.

If you’re up for a challenge, try inching your way toward letting people see the real you. Or better yet, ask God to help you see yourself and receive his love. It will be the first step in helping you love yourself and others better. It’s an invitation to a better life and richer, deeper relationships.

Put Your Shoes Out

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These days it seems like everyone is busy. Ask anyone how they are and you’ll probably get something like, “Man…things are good but crazy!” We spend our days busy trying to get all of our work done and, if possible, not take our work home with us. We’re busy with family events, sports, parties, church, trips, you name it. Even our days off are busy.

I’ll admit it, most of the time I feel pretty busy too. I have to fight to stay sane in the middle of lots of activity. It’s hard to prioritize family with a busy schedule. Even though I have to be at rehearsals, events, and special services from time to time, I try really hard to be home for dinner and bedtime as much as possible. I’ve got a long list of people I’m waiting to hang out with (if you’re one of them I’m sorry). Ever feel like you should schedule social events three months in advance? Yeah, me too.

In the midst of all of this, I am making an effort to be as consistent as possible with hitting the gym. It’s easy when you’re busy to make excuses about why you can’t exercise, but staying in good shape is crucial to your short and long term survival.

Without trying to toot my own horn, I would say I’ve been pretty successful with consistent exercise over the past few months. Most of the time I get up around 4:30 and head to the gym so I’m back home before the family gets up. Going early gets my day going and I don’t miss out on the quality morning time before I have to head off to work. Yes, getting up that early can be tough, but I’ve discovered a little trick that helps me win the daily struggle with the snooze button:

I put my gym shoes and shorts out in the living room before I go to bed. 

Sometimes the most difficult step toward any kind of progress is the first one. But I’ve learned that if you can remove even the smallest obstacle it can make a world of difference.

When the gym clothes are out the night before I have already set an expectation for myself when the alarm goes off. When the sounds of “cascading rain” come crashing into my dreams in the wee hours of the morning, I don’t have the luxury of “well I don’t want to rummage around for my clothes” as an excuse. I’ve set myself up for success. When my plan for the morning is mapped out in 15 minute increments, I know that any delay will start a chain reaction that puts me in catch up mode for the rest of the day.

Turns out this strategy can be applied in many other areas of life. If you don’t want to eat all of the potato chips in one sitting, try dosing them out into ziplock bags before you go for a snack. Portion control is real. Try putting only a few cans of that beverage or soft drink in the fridge at a time and see if it helps prevent you from going for another one. If you don’t want to waste your whole night watching TV, decide a specific limit to your view time (or better yet, don’t turn it on in the first place).

Small victories go a long way. If we focus on “going to the gym for a year,” or “getting in shape,” or “saving for retirement,” we won’t get far. I don’t have to do everything to “get in shape” today, but as long as I lace up my shoes and get in the gym I have won half the battle. If I can do that, I’ll be in good shape.