Welcome to The SHAPE of a Leader. I write this blog with the SHAPE leadership development program (for women pastors) I lead in mind, but it is for all who are interested in leadership, faith, and the intersection of the two.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Worth the Risk

 "Safe is good for sidewalks and swimming pools but life requires risk if we are to get anywhere."  (Simon Sinek)

After the Sandy Hook tragedy, a friend and colleague, Deanna, and her elementary-aged boys were talking about the events, wondering what they could do.  They noticed a typical elementary school craft project of an angel hanging at Deanna's computer and they decided to make some angels and send them.  But a few angels can only touch a few lives.  They decided that 750 angels was better than a few.  It was Tuesday.  Then they realized that all these kids would be going on winter break and they had to get these 750 angels sent in the mail the next day!

With faith like children, these boys believed that if they asked friends and family to help it was possible.  So Deanna took the risk and send email to 50 people.  That email spread.  Angels started arriving at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN.  A business called and said they wanted to pay for overnight shipping.  And the angels kept coming. As angels were dropped off, stories were told.  Before the angels were packed up, they were prayed over, and cried over. Preschoolers made angels and hugged them as they let them go.  The elderly made angels; executives and stay at home moms made angels. In 24 hours, over 1100 angels arrived. In 24 hours, 1100 angels were being overnighted to Newtown CT as a sign that the people of Sandy Hook elementary are not alone.  Angels are watching over them. 

It would have been so easy to say, "that's a great idea boys, but it's really impossible."  But she didn't. Together they took the risk and in taking the risk, not only were lives in Newtown CT touched, but lives in the Twin Cities, were changed by coming together to do a little thing for grieving souls.  

Safe is for sidewalks and swimming pools.  If we want to change the world, we must take risks.  It won't happen in any other way.  Individuals need to take the risk to speak their truth, whatever that may be.  Leadership teams need to take the risk that might just propel the organization forward, when it would be much easier to play it safe and maintain the status quo. My challenge to myself in 2013 will be to ask, continually, if there's a risk I should be taking right now.

Merry Christmas Newtown, CT.  You are not alone.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Re-claiming Christmas

Our theme at church this Advent is "Re-claiming Christmas."  For me, that would look like putting the focus back where it's supposed to be - with the expectation and arrival of the birth of Jesus Christ.  And actually, I've been forced to all but forget the commercialism of Christmas this year.  Truthfully, haven't really had time to shop or decorate due to final papers being due in this first semester of grad school.  Ok that's one small step.  

I've carved out purposeful time reflecting on what this whole season means to me.  And, I've spent time in this wonderful devotional a woman in my church community creates each year (you can find it here: http://easter.org/wordpress/advent-devotional-2012-re-claiming-christmas/  ).  The hidden blessing in all of this is that through these simple acts, I've taken the long journey from my head to my heart, where the joy and hope of Advent and Christmas seemed to have lodged themselves securely.  

How are you re-claiming Christmas? If you're not Christian, I'm sure there's something in your life you need to re-claim. What is it?  How are you going about that?

May the peace and joy of this season, Hanukkah, Christmas, or otherwise, fill you, your family, and your corner of the world.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Differences Unite

I've heard this phrase twice this week from two different people:  differences unite.  Hmmm... sounds rather pollyanna-ish, especially after enduring a couple months of other-bashing election rhetoric. But wouldn't it be great if it were true?

So under what circumstances can differences unite?  When there's a purpose or core value bigger than the differences, for one.  I've heard a few government leaders this week, republican and democratic alike, say they are ready to set aside differences so that we can move this country forward.  Bravo.

We can also find unity when we set aside the need to win, be right, or place blame - when we focus on finding common ground, such as a social justice issue, or a core theological idea on which all parties can agree.  It's from this uniting common ground that we move forward.

We can unite when we realize that differences are really good - that we all bring something important to the table; that when carefully navigated, the end result can be better than what was originally imagined.  It takes patience and strong leadership, but it's possible.  And possibilities unite people too...

P.S:  The Greek have a saying - "why should like know like?"  Anaxagora said, "What is not different is to the other who is no different a matter of indifference."  and "We come to know the cold by the hot, the sweet by the sour, what is light through what is dark."  Maybe this is, at the core, why differences unite.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Distinction: Purpose vs. Vision

Here's a distinction to consider:
Purpose answers the question: Why do we exist?
Vision answers the question: Where are we going?

Has your organization answered both questions?  

One of my favorite quotes - a Japanese proverb - is "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."  But preceding vision AND action is purpose.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Lines in the Sand

Uncle Dick, a retired theologian in my Lutheran congregation once said, "if you draw a line in the sand, you can be sure Jesus is on the other side of it."  

There are a lot of sand lines right now, and two are breaking my heart. 

Close to home, we are approaching the day on which we vote on the marriage amendment.  The state is drawing lines in the sand about who has the right to marry whom.  How did we get here? Haven't we learned?  This is a civil rights issue, like equality for all races, like women's rights, like slavery. This is a self-determination issue - allowing people to choose their own path in life.  Why should the state get to decide who or whether a person marries - for generations to come?  And if you're one to bring the Bible into the discussion, well then now we're talking about the separation of church and state and isn't that just one more reason to not have the state decide?  Truly, we don't even have to get to discussions of theology - government just shouldn't have its fingers in this one.  

I heard an interview with Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings punter, standing up on this issue. Wow! Bravo!  And I THINK Senator Amy Klobuchar is for the ability for all people to choose who they can marry, but I haven't heard her, a leader with strong influence, take a strong stand on the issue.  Leaders, stand up! It's your job!

A little farther away but even more heart breaking is the world-wide unrest because of a video that right-wing Christians created exclaiming their distain for Muslims.  These Christians drew a rather bold line in the sand.  Were they being the hands and feet of Jesus in their actions? NO.  Jesus is grace and love for ALL people. Jesus walked this earth with ALL people.  Jesus loves ALL people. Christians are called to act as Jesus acts.  To anyone who's been offended by the actions of a so-called Christian, in this incident or another, I'm sorry. My heart breaks for you, and for Christians who believe those acts are sin.

No more lines in the sand.  I'm quite sure Jesus' heart is broken every time one is drawn.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's Unacceptable?

What's unacceptable to you in this world? What breaks your heart? What makes you angry?  

When I'm working with leadership teams on visioning, these are questions I ask.  Try this with your team.  Not only will you begin to understand where the hearts and minds are of your team, but also you'll bring the team closer together - especially when a common theme emerges and you can begin to rally around a cause, no matter what that looks like.

Broken hearts and holy anger are fuel that ignite passion in the soul.  If something breaks a collective team's heart, or makes the collective angry, it becomes impossible to sit still, and the seemingly impossible roadblocks become molehills instead of mountains.  

The poet Jean de La Fontaine said, "Man is so made that when anything fires his soul, impossibilities vanish."  

May the collective in which you're a part be so impassioned that the fire in your soul ignites an unstoppable movement of change for the better.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

I'm a Myers Briggs type J, which stands for "judging" - not to be confused with "judgment" or "judgmental" (though it wouldn't be the first time I've been called that!) - this "J" preference type is about closure, order, structure - making a judgment, decision, and then moving forward.  My preference for this seems pretty strong.  I need a plan, I make decisions and don't second guess them. I make lists, as my young friend Annika has come to know, and at times has tried to emulate. My "preference clarity index" for this "J" preference is strong (that's a nice way of saying my heels are pretty well dug in on this topic!). Life often affords us the opportunity to learn new things, and I'm finding myself in the middle of one of those times.  I'm being given the "opportunity" to take life one day at a time, to not have the answers to questions that won't let me rest, to not be able to plan a day or week at a time.  It's a challenge with which I'm clearly not comfortable. The opposite of the Myers Briggs "J" is "P" - which stands for "perception." A "P" is the more "go with the flow" type of person.  One who is comfortable with spontaneity, waiting til the last minute, being flexible and adaptable, not making decisions. A person who doesn't need all the answers and doesn't need to know what's going to happen later, or tomorrow, or next week. Living into this "P" type is like living in a brand new culture. I've seen it from a distance, but it's foreign and I don't quite fit in.  I've grown to admire those for whom "P" is innate. I admire their ability to be flexible and easy going - it feels stress free from my typical vantage point.  I've tried to be grateful for the opportunity to learn something new, but who am I kidding - this isn't like cracking open a book on a subject never before considered.  This is challenging the core of who I am. In the end, I don't think I'll ever be able to claim being a "P."  But I can be grateful for the opportunity to experience it, so that I'll know it when I see it in others, and hold them in admiration, understand them better, and continue to learn from them.  And I hope I'm just a little bit better for the effort.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I hate waiting. It feels so passive - a waste of time.  I like to make a decision, move on, get going.  This impatient behavior sounds like a Myers Briggs (MBTI) "J" - or in the StrengthsFinder world, one of the executing type strengths like Achiever, Arranger, Focus.  

And yet I know that as a leadership tool, waiting can be a very important skill to master.  Sometimes waiting for more information leads to a better decision. Sometimes, waiting for someone else to decide is a powerful empowerment tactic for someone you're leading or mentoring. Or maybe it's waiting for others to catch up - come in line with - your line of thinking. And, sometimes, waiting is an important faith-building experience.

My colleague and friend Barb learned that WAIT is also an acronym: Why Am I Talking?  Yes, waiting in silence can be VERY powerful.  Let others sit with a thought. If you let them "get a clue" on their own, they've learned a much more powerful lesson than you could have delivered through a lecture.

So next time you get the urge to get to it, make a decision, deliver a message or just get moving, ask yourself if pausing - waiting - even for just a bit, might be an important tool in this moment.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Playing in Tune

I was watching a Rob Bell Nooma video yesterday. It was entitled Rhythm, and was about being in rhythm - in tune - with God.  He said, "It's not a matter of whether we're playing or not. We are always playing.  It's a matter of whether we're playing in tune!"  

What a wonderful metaphor for leadership.  We're always leading. It's always visible, whether or not we want it to be.  Are we in tune with our values, our principles? Are we in tune with God's perfect plan for our lives and our leadership?   

Sometimes leadership is just so easy. Sometimes it's just fun!  Sometimes it's incredibly hard.  Does it mean we're in tune with God when it's easy?  I don't think so.  Sometimes it's hard because we are stepping into a place where God needs us to be - to make waves. To cause dissonance that's needed in order to move a person, team, or organization forward.  

That's what Jesus did, isn't it? He came and caused dissonance, so that we could learn who God truly is and who God truly wants us to be. He taught us new ideas, new theology, that could only have sounded, to the average person, like  a group of musicians completely off key from one another.  But as we listen and learn ever more deeply about God and His character, values, principles - we begin to tune ourselves, and our leadership, to Him.  As we listen and learn, our ear to His good and perfect will becomes trained and our pitch becomes ever more perfect.  Our actions change, and we begin to feel God's beat as a continual rhythm in our hearts - guiding our lives and our leadership in the most beautiful music ever.  

Whenever I hear beautiful music from now on, I will think about being in tune with God.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Women Leading Women

The leadership consulting group Zenger Folkman has been one that I've always respected.  They do deep and thorough research into how to be not just a good leader but an extraordinary one.  When I saw a recent blogpost they did for Harvard Business Review, on gender differences in leadership at the executive level, I was a bit nervous to read it.  I thought they might diverge from what I've always believed - that we need more women in the C-Suite.

Now, I've never claimed to be a feminist. I simply believe that by nature, women bring a different perspective - one that's needed. Given that, I naturally ask the question, why aren't there more?  And, does it really make a difference?

Here's a link to the original blog (they received so much feedback, they posted another related blog this past week:


As you would suspect, they found that the higher you go in an organization, the fewer women exist.  They also not surprisingly found that women excel at "classicly women" areas.  And then they had this to say:

"But the women's advantages were not at all confined to traditionally women's strengths. In fact at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows."

When they dug into why, one of the things they discovered is that women who want to serve in the more male-dominated areas work really hard to succeed - and so they do.   

So why AREN'T there more women in the C-Suite?  Certainly some women just aren't going to make the sacrifice that is expected of them - they prioritize their families (or whatever else tugs their heartstrings) over work.  But that can't explain it all.  What else is there?  Here are some things I've found over the years of paying attention to this topic:

  • Men are far more likely to choose other, younger, men to mentor.  They'll see someone who reminds them of a younger version of self, and they will go to bat for them.  This is less common with women, and it is uncommon for men to mentor women.
  • Women tend to need an invitation.  Our natural response to increases in responsibility is, "Me?" or "Why me?" or "Not me!" rather than "Why not me?"
Take those two facts alone and you can see that women aren't doing themselves or each other any favors.  Now add this:
  • Women live in a culture of collaboration and an even distribution of power.  Lifting up one of our own above and beyond the rest is just not in the ruleset of our culture.  And there's a whole lot of unwritten and unsaid "stuff" that goes along with this, that results in the fact that women often don't know how to support each other. Period.  
It seems as though step 1 to getting more women in the C-Suite is for women to begin supporting each other in any and every way possible. And to celebrate when one of our own is promoted, honored, and admired.  ... no woman left behind...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guilt or Grace

Over the years, as I've sat with, studied, and reflected on the meaning of GRACE, I've come to the conclusion that guilt is a much easier foundation - and it's hard to be grace-filled and guilt-filled at the same time!  If guilt is my foundation, I don't have to give favor to those I selfishly deem undeserving.  I can blame.  I don't have to forgive.  I can also hold back - my guilt tells me that I'm not good enough, not worthy, that everything I do has a consequence that makes it just not worth it to step up or out. Guilt allows me to wallow rather than risk. Guilt is all about me.

Grace asks a LOT of me!  Grace asks me not to judge others, but rather understand that everyone is doing the best they can. Grace asks me to forgive and love, only and above all. Grace asks me to not only give others a break, but to give myself a break too!  Grace asks me to study Jesus' character and to ever-strive to close the gap between mine and His. Grace is all about others.

Martin Luther says we are at the same time 100% saint and 100% sinner.  Likewise, I think we are 100% guilt and 100% grace.  Which means I should have grace toward myself during those times when guilt chooses to invade my core and be my foundation.  

Thank God for GRACE!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Reason to Throw Stones?

I was delighted at the news that Ann Svenningsen was elected Bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod. She's a very smart woman who comes to the position with a vast range of experience. She deserves it. 

And then I read the comments on startribune.com.  Wow!  That an election can be the reason to start throwing stones and calling names!  Catholics are bashing Lutherans.  MS Lutherans are bashing ELCA Lutherans.  Heterosexuals are bashing homosexuals. Everyone is throwing stones! PEOPLE!  Where is Christ in all of this?  The only thread of truth in all those comments is that we are ALL WRONG.

It's no wonder that non-Christians call us hypocrites!  We are supposed to be united. We are supposed to lock arms and love all people the way Christ loves us. We are supposed to serve and show grace to the world. We are supposed to realize that NO ONE has all the answers.  We are NOT supposed to judge.  

Quoting the words of a theologian and member of my congregation: if you're going to draw a line in the sand, you can be sure Jesus is on the other side of it.  

Jesus said, "Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone." (John 8:7) and he said, "Why worry about a speck in your friend's eye, when you have a log in your own?" (Matthew 7:3).

Stop dividing the church by trying to be right. None of us are right. Only God is right. Stop giving Christianity a bad name. Stop breaking God's heart.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mean Girls

I had a conversation today with a group of women who were talking about bullying in middle and high school. It wasn't long before the conversation turned to women behaving similarly. Not quite bullying perhaps - words like conniving, competing, back stabbing come to mind.  It's surprising the number of women who don't quite grow beyond the middle school mean girl stage.

I've watched women leaders compete with each other, withhold power rather than empower, lie to lift themselves up over their female colleagues, practically trample over other women to be the one who comes out on top. I've had women work for me who just can't handle having another woman in a place of authority above them.

If you've been the victim of this erratic, inappropriate, and downright childish behavior, take heart - it isn't you! And if you see a glimpse of yourself in the mean woman mirror, ask yourself - what's really going on here? Where am I so weak that I have to do this to lift myself up? 

A couple weeks ago, I was speaking with a colleague on a related topic. She told me that her daughter just had the privilege of hearing Madeline Albright speak. Ms. Albright said, "there's a special place in hell for women who don't support each other."  

Can I get an AMEN?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Inner Poverty

Have you seen all the writing about "bad bosses," "idiot bosses," "psycho bosses" lately? (As an example, just google "idiot boss.")  Is this a new epidemic?  Or, are we just sick of inept leaders finally and we're not going to take it any more?  

I notice a common theme when people characterize these sub-marginal employers - they seem to be filled with a self-centered ego, lack humility, are susceptible to temper tantrums, and wield their power stick inappropriately.  I think we have a problem of inner poverty.

My definition of inner poverty is a lack of a belief in ones-self that causes one to use authority rather than influence, flashy style rather than inner substance, rely on charisma (the manipulative kind) rather than character and confidence, and seek the short-term materialistic trappings of success rather than the long-term satisfaction of inner fulfillment.

Because they lack confidence, idiot bosses misuse power and authority to get work done.  Without the understanding of guiding principles, values, or a foundational belief in God (or other), they lack a moral compass and choose a machiavellian style of leadership, where the ends justify the means. They are concerned with their rise to power rather than developing their people into better leaders than themselves.  Is inner poverty one of the causes of the financial crisis that took the US economic system down?  Perhaps.

I really feel sorry for these leaders.  I think it feels lonely to them, if they take the time to admit it. But they don't admit it because they can't see it, typically, until a rock-bottom moment happens. I wish that weren't true, but in my experience only a crisis of some sort will cause the blinders to fall away from their eyes.

Until then, write on!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr., On Change

This blog is a repost from Seth Godin. I couldn't have said it better myself. Happy MLK Day!

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
And a few more thoughts, from one of the greatest men of my lifetime:
“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”
. . .
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
. . .
“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Leading Through Uncertainty

I had a boss once, Mark Furtney, who would say,"Mary Kay, proceed with confidence even when you have none." 

These are uncertain times and it's difficult to lead in uncertain times - confidence wanes. And the truth is, people will follow the one who seems to have the answers, or perhaps the one who seems to have confidence in some outcome. I wouldn't say that exceptional leaders pretend to have confidence; I think people see through that pretty quickly. But exceptional leaders examine the environment or situation, find the nuggets they can hold on to and know to be true, get in touch with their values and beliefs, and lead from that place. And exceptional leaders aren't afraid to make mistakes, knowing that they've stayed true to their core beliefs. If she makes a mistake, she learns from it, redirects, and moves on. 

With this brand new year ahead, in still uncertain economic, political, and religious times, get in touch with the truths you can hold on to, set your course within that framework, and proceed with confidence, so others will follow.

UPDATE: Interestingly enough, after writing and posting this entry, I read my daily update from Harvard Business Review and found this post:  Confidence is a Numbers Game