11.30.15

40

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:04 pm by Administrator

i turned 40 last week, which means i am supposed to have “figured it out” by now—which would then mean that i no longer have any use for this blog. alas, i have not figured it out, and so here i am. i am still writing.

as expected, my 40th birthday seemed to be a bigger deal to me than it was to most anyone else. i received many assurances that i still look young (a lie) and that “forty is the new twenty” (which has to be the biggest crock of bullshit i’ve ever heard in my life). maybe “dead” is soon to become the new “living”? but i digress. my 40th was a big deal to me for so many reasons, and as a result of that, i showed my true colors as i fell upon my personal milestone.

i had my classic “4″ moments. i found myself mentally noting those who had “paid tribute” and those who had not bothered to (something i will remember, for better or worse). even in the last moments before the year turned on my life, i found myself questing for the perfect place, the perfect reflection. incidentally, i think that i found it, alone with my wife and kids on a sandy cove illuminated by a full moon.

and there were my classic “4″ obsessions with singularity and importance as well. i made a point of articulating those thoughts rather than repressing them, studying them rather than allowing them to lurk at the fringe of my feelings. for those thoughts, i had many responses. i had some reassurances for myself (i.e. “you’ve never had it better”, or “look at what you have learned”). i had my misgivings as well (i.e. “you’ve still failed to write anything of significance” or “look at the losers you’re surrounded by”). but in the end, i did find what i was looking for—a moment of shalom. i felt myself standing beside God, the sagacious spirit that knows all things, and i was reminded that the Lord surely rescued me from that black pit of deep despair that i fell into six years ago. i am no one’s hero anymore, nor do i have to be. i am “sufficient”—to borrow the term that my sister-in-law learned from byron katie. my story, in its foibles and limitations, is sufficient for me in its vast collection of art both high and low, and there is now a quiet place where i can go and enjoy it all. here, at the age of 40, i am a man who can wander through the museum of my retrospections and find it worth the price of entry. and that price is no trivial thing; i am the only one in this world able to afford it.

God had no great and solemn words for me during my sojourn last week. i wondered if perhaps i’ve grown out of that—or whether perhaps i have imagined His voice in my ear all these years. but i stop short of doubting God, because what is the point in that? if there is no god the way i understand it, there is still undoubtedly that force in the universe that somehow provoked life from the elements, and that is mystery enough for me. the more i learn about the planets and the stars, the more i believe that we are not consumed enough by the utter miracle of what we experience as life.

in any case, God had no special words for me, but i was reminded nonetheless of something i believe He told me about a year ago. i was reflecting on my work as a doctor at the time, and the Lord told me this: that i am given His favor in proportion to what is demanded of me by my tribe. and so i am as close to God as i am devoted to the thing He cherishes most—His people. this is a difficult proposition for me, at this time in my life. but if this was the Lord’s reflection for me at this juncture, then it seems a worthy one.

recently, a patient of mine walked out of our clinic, got into his car parked just outside, and was found vomiting blood. i ran out into the street when we were alerted to the emergency, and i watched him die as the paramedics pumped his chest in those last and futile moments. the sirens, the lights, the gathering crowd. the blood in the car, the blood in the street. the guilt, the horror, and the great sadness. these were the things i took with me into my time with God as i turned 40. i think that i received no special words because He has no special words for this: the gruesome death, following a life of ignominious suffering. when i was twenty-five, i thought that i deserved words and explanations for this. but now i recognize that following God requires embracing His fatalism: the necessity of His death, my death, and the death of all created things.

i stood on the beach and i looked at the waves—cresting, crashing waves, which always make me think of the big sleep. then i wrapped my wife and children in the biggest hug i could muster, and i expressed all the love i could give. in the face of all that darkness, i did what anyone would do; i tried to make a little place full of light for the ones i love. you see, i haven’t figured it out, not at all. but i do know that forty is not the new twenty, and i’m glad for it

11.24.15

mountain of memory

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:54 pm by Administrator

i awoke not knowing the time of day
except by the soft illumination of the cracks
between the shutters. leaves moved
silent across lines of thin gray light,
like drops of olive oil across marble

or like the ripple of birds against clouds
hugging close to that mountain
where i once spent the summer.
and so, one more time,
i found myself returning there:

to the mountain, and to the girl
who took my hand and ran with me
across its face, enshrouded by mist
and by the unfathomable inky shadows
cast by thick brambles and towering trees.

i remember her eyes, hazel green
and her hair, dark in the night and golden in the day,
the shape of her already stretching against her years
curving against the whorl of clouds,
turning with rage, or with song.

we went off on our own into the dark
while the rest, just children,
fell away like the echoes of their voices.
one night, we wandered so far
we could not find our way.

she took my hand and plunged forward
onto soft soil we could feel but not see
and when she suddenly stopped, i fell into her
so close i could smell her hair,
so close i could hear her breathing.

How many times have i returned here?
But while other versions of myself
saw the mountain as it was,
it seems different to me now.
The earth around this boy and this girl

once murky with shadow
is now trampled bare. i see the trees,
once thick and rustling,
but they are leaveless now
and unmoved by the wind.

So many times, i came to rummage
and now all that is left
are footprints and bald earth, lain bare
to the grim sky. it’s what i see now
through the shutters, and beyond.

They came to remember her
but here i stand looking upon him,
the boy that i was,
and i can see that this moment
will change him forever

and i know that it’s wonderful,
though it is not love,
and i feel compassion for him,
though i don’t know why,
and i know there’s nothing left now

but to leave one last time
and never come back
’til the grass has grown thick
and the trees make shadows dark and long enough
for forgetting, and for remembering.

40

11.14.15

Paris, Syria, and Irony

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:35 pm by Administrator

when i think of these attacks in Paris and of the people who died—in a state of horror, unprepared to face their deaths—i am filled with a rage which refuses to be contained in words. it is a spirit, not merely a feeling. and it has nowhere to go except in endless circles, from my insides out to the edges of my fingertips and then back again to the black core of my heart. i would kill with my bare hands if this could accompilsh justice; but the fists that i make beat only upon myself. because what we experience at our own hands is only right, and when we suffer, we suffer on account of what we are.

this particular chapter in the story of our species demonstrates a plot of the most tragic depths. there are layers upon layers of violence. at the surface, there is the violence of zealots with guns, murdering French civilians. and beneath that, there is the violence of one tribe against another in an entirely different region—a reenactment of a centuries-old vendetta. and beneath that, there is the war of words and ideas between the nations that are funding and supporting those tribes that are at war. there is the West on one hand, providing drone strikes and anti-tank missiles to Syrian rebels, who kill solders of the Syrian government. and on other hand, there are Shi’ites and Russians, providing funds and weapons to support the Alawites of Assad, who fight for their lives against rebels supported by America—and against an organization of international terror that has just sponsored the killing of more than a hundred people in Paris.

the irony of the situation begs the question: what is the United States doing in Syria?

two years ago, in september of 2013, i wrote about america’s confused foreign policy approach to the Syrian civil war.

as ugly as the Assad regimes have been, there is one thing that the Alawites have not tolerated, and that’s Sunni fundamentalism. and on this one matter, Assad and the Americans couldn’t be more aligned. because if there’s one organization that America despises more than Hezbollah, it’s Al Qaeda. and now, it appears, Al Qaeda is one of the main organizations fueling the rebellion against Assad. in fact, Al Qaeda has been so effective in fighting the Syrians that they have become a legitimate stakeholder in the government that will replace Assad, should the rebels ultimately prevail.

and the U.S., which is funding the rebels, simply won’t stand for a government aligned with the organization responsible for the worst act of terror on American soil. herein lies the great challenge to Obama’s administration.

to this point, the U.S. has been content to allow the Syrian civil war to rage on, supporting the rebels without directly committing American manpower. it’s learned to become something of a tribal warlord among tribal warlords, pitting the rebels against the Syrian government while also playing the rebel factions against one another.

insert “ISIS” for “Al Qaeda”, and the tragic irony of the situation we have created becomes all the more clear.

i continue to believe that there is no justification for our support of the moderate rebels in Syria. there is only one proven means of securing peace in the fragile nation states of the post-colonial Middle East, and it’s despotism—pure and simple. we may have no love for Assad; but it is an autocrat like Assad who stands between order on the one hand and the endless vendetta of sectarian rivalry on the other. one can chop off that authoritarian head; but then another despot must take his place. it seems self-defeating and genuinely tragic to face the fact that Assad’s absolute power is the only hope of combating ISIS and whatever follows its demise; but that is the only practical conclusion to draw, nonetheless. it was terribly short-sighted of the United States to prolong that Syrian civil war by supporting a rebel faction; and now we are paying for it by dealing with the devastating consequences of a persisting war.

the grief of France will only draw more and more attention to our political quandary in Syria. the ongoing civil war there is tearing at the fabric of society well beyond the borders of that region, as displaced refugees and other ramifications of the human crisis test the infrastructural capacities of nations all over the world. that war must end, and the empowerment of Assad’s regime is the only tenable answer to the crisis. as if the ironies of the situation could not extend any deeper, we must face one troubling fact if we are ultimately to contribute to peace: Russia’s support of Assad is not only justifiable according to its national interests but also necessary for the stability of the region.

and so Obama must be willing to admit to the terrible mistake that his administration made more than two years ago when it directly involved itself in the Syrian civil war. there may be opportunity for a political transition in Syria in the years to come; but that time is not now. Assad must win—and whatever our feelings about this terrible man might be, the United States cannot afford to continue undermining him

11.13.15

The Evasion Conversation–Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:18 pm by Administrator

there are a couple of high-profile protests on american college campuses that generally concern race relations and specifically regard the inability of administrative leaders to respond appropriately to allegations of racist behaviors. students are challenging authority figures on their passivity, language, and unconscious biases, and they are engaging in large protests and even hunger strikes to prove their passion. it’s fascinating and inspiring to me. it makes me want to march with them. and it gives me hope about our future as a society.

what’s a bit less heartening is how the leaders at these institutions have responded. they’re resigning. on the surface, it looks like the ultimate evidence of accountability; and it might even be evidence of genuine and profound penitence. but it’s unsatisfying to me, and it reflects something fundamentally wrong with how the discourse on race is being handled in america. because when the leaders of the University of Missouri and Claremont McKenna resign their positions, they remove themselves from the dialogue at precisely the point when their voices on these matters are most necessary. they replicate a pattern which has been too commonly demonstrated in this nation—a pattern of hostile clashes and unconditional surrenders, in which the main casualty is the possibility of a transformative and mutual understanding.

a few months ago i engaged in a “salon” of sorts, in which about twenty of us from various walks of life engaged in an open discussion about matters surrounding race relations in this country. generally, we were strangers with one another, so there was no common denominator that could be assumed. what evolved was a relatively careful conversation—and one which was more difficult for some than for others. one participant, a white woman, eventually admitted that she felt unable to express her viewpoint for fear of using the wrong terms or betraying an offending underlying bias. several people of color did jump to her defense. but ultimately, i felt that there was no simple solution to her quandary. the fact of the matter is that in our society, one has to navigate the conversation on race very carefully, and there are many possible mistakes to be made. and white people, especially older white people, have to be particularly careful, because the terms and ideas they absorbed in their formative years are now offensive enough to earn the ire of their peers and cost them their jobs and their livelihood as well.

but here’s the thing: when a white person in authority betrays the fact of his or her underlying unconscious bias, how we as a society respond to that determines our capacity to grow and to learn. and when we demand “ultimate accountability”, what we are demonstrating is an inability to carry on a two-way conversation that is capable of transmitting substantive truth. perhaps this white dean who just resigned from Claremont is going to go hang with her people now—people who will sympathize with her, cluck their tongues at the rabble-rousing youth who overreacted to her good intentions, and help her move on past this “honest mistake”. that whole process of denial and self-justification will transpire in the privacy of her personal life, while other more seemingly dramatic changes appear to occur in the public sphere—leadership turnover, new classes, a new “chair of diversity”. a political need is fulfilled; but a personal connection is left unaddressed. a dean that has spent the majority of her professional life invested in that school is permitted to leave the conversation in a manner that excuses her from using her influence to reform the culture she has formed and knows so well.

that to me is unsatisfying. and were i a board member of that university, i would refuse that resignation. i would demand that she face the music, engage in dialogue with those protesting students, take their feedback to heart, and learn. in an institution of learning, her personal learning—if it came to fruition—would be the ultimate sign of their success as a university.

resignation is a form of the “evasion conversation”, a mode of discourse that i’ve previously written about. it’s a mode of discourse that is prominently employed by those in positions of privilege; and it’s often used in the present day by church leaders that are trying to create that nebulous (and fundamentally impossible) third space of indecision regarding controversial matters such as gay marriage, gay inclusion, and racial diversity within the church. every church i have belonged to, including my present church, employs the evasion conversation intentionally and as a culture-making tool. and the church has learned this approach from its role models of authority within the political sphere. leaders of our society have deftly employed the evasion conversation for centuries, effectively avoiding accountability on potentially dangerous issues by claiming to be in a position within which straight dialogue is impossible. the strategic benefit of taking such a position is that one can throw his weight behind the winner, if and when a winner emerges in the public sphere. the risk of taking such a position is that one cannot model a process of learning. one becomes irrelevant to the conversation; he becomes marginalized, stereotyped, and ultimately destroyed by his cowardice.

in the national conversation on race, i’d like to see, just once, a white man in authority engage in a public, sustained, and totally honest dialogue with people of color about his unconscious bias and the effect it has had on his leadership. i want him to bear the full exposure and scrutiny of the public; i want him to understand what he is inside; and i want him to hate what he is within. most importantly, i want him to change. i want him to model that change to all the white people in America. i want him to prove, live and in living color, that white people who were trained to be racists can constructively address their racism—and learn to be better

11.11.15

aspiring to be a FOOL

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:22 pm by Administrator

a new career opportunity is possibly being availed to me at this fairly formative juncture of my life, which seems oddly coincidental and very much fateful. it would be a major departure from everything i’ve done previously, and because it will move me away from patient care and into senior leadership, i’m totally on board. not that i hate patient care—well, maybe i do.

of course, this career transition isn’t without its risks. the person i’d be succeeding is sixty-eight years old, a highly reputed leader in her field, and a veritable guru. as much as i respect and personally like her, i know that there’s simply no way i can replace her experience or do what she does. i’d have to blaze my own trail, which is risky. and while she’s the main proponent of my candidacy, there are at least some who undoubtedly have their reservations about me. my current boss, for example, has urged me to reconsider this career path. “if you take on this role, you’re going to get upset a lot,” he told me. “i can say this because i know you.” and his feedback wasn’t at all surprising to me; for years, he’s been pushing me to develop my Lominger competencies in “perspective” and “composure”.

it’s become a theme in my life that there are problems inherent to my natural high emotionality. just this past weekend, in fact, i went through a mutual feedback session with the leadership group at my church, and my peers consistently noted two areas in which i needed to improve: my consistency of follow through and my ability to rein in my feelings when necessary. at the same time, my peers acknowledged that my passion is my strength; i’m able to inspire through my words, and i’m able to lead by connecting deeply with people. one person in fact stressed that my ability to be deeply vulnerable with people is a rare strength, “especially in a man”.

i’ve gradually come to the belief that if i can aspire to be a FOOL—a “fair, objective, and open-minded leader”—then i might find some success in countering the career-stalling, community-disrupting tendencies that i manifest in moments of extreme weakness. just yesterday, i put my new approach to the test, during a meeting regarding some highly charged and important issues in my company. i checked myself before the meeting and during various points of the discussion. i could recognize right away that i was coming into the meeting with a sense of urgency; i wanted to express my opinion, and it was important to me that i persuade others to agree with me. just recognizing where my heart was at the start of the meeting was sufficient to restrain me to some degree. my sense of urgency, i realized, was rooted in my innate and irrational belief that the people in the meeting would naturally be resistant to being redirected from their pre-set agenda. i made it my goal to express my opinion succinctly and to trust the process. in the end, it was i that was convinced to conform to the group’s prevailing opinion and not vice versa. most importantly, when i saw that outcome, i was pleased with myself; i’d played a part in supporting the right outcome.

when i think of King David, my archetypal reference, i think that one of the most important moments of his life was when the prophet Nathan confronted him about his betrayal and murder of Uriah. it’s very powerful to me that David immediately and sincerely responded to the rebuke of Nathan, to the point of heartfelt and grieving repentance. not all men with absolute power might respond in this manner; but David was the kind of man that could be cut to the core by a hard truth about himself. and though he was previously and utterly blind to the immorality and cruelty of what he had done, he could be convinced in a single moment of confrontation to see himself anew—and to see himself through the eyes of the Lord. this is the gift that the “4″ must exercise constantly and with intention. our natural inclination toward self-absorption makes us blind to the perceptions of others; but our ability to take the hard truth internally and deeply gives us the unique ability to experience growth in a discontinuous and radical way.

at this time in my life, i am struck by the fact that my personality is not something i can fundamentally change or alter; but i can approach it as a tool by which i can reflexively challenge and manipulate myself. and if i am convinced that the Lord wishes me to be different, for the sake of Him and His people, then i can use what i am to push myself in that direction; i can align the lens of my personality so that the light from heaven can burn me within at the very point where i must be burnt. all that i am—my emotionality, my biases, and my fear of others—is simply the material form of the vessel that i was shaped to be. but that vessel is mine to fill and to pour out, even to emptiness. indeed, i am the vessel; but in another way, the vessel is mine, and it is mine to use for whatever purpose i devote myself to

11.06.15

goings-on

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:02 pm by Administrator

i’m on a good run as i hit this last stretch before turning 40. generally i’ve been upbeat, optimistic, and interested in what i’m involved in. but there have been some bumps in the road, bumpy enough to bring out my inner 4…

one of those bumps hit me out of nowhere as i was randomly walking through a Target store on Sunday. i was passing through the books section to get to the shelf of devastatingly discounted DVD’s (hoping for a “Complete Tarantino” compilation for $4.99) when i was whiplashed by a prominently displayed copy of George R. R. Martin’s “A Knight of Seven Kingdoms”. shock turned to near-rage as i read the book jacket and realized that Martin had just published a prequel to the Game of Thrones, undoubtedly procrastinating on the release of “Winds of Winter”, the agonizingly long-awaited sixth book in the series. i briefly considered buying the book just to destroy it; but then i decided to buy it and read it instead. the good news is that this cheap one-day read features none of Daenerys Targaryen’s frivolous sex scenes or annoyingly unnecessary narratives; the bad news is that the stories are nevertheless frivolous and annoying. if “A Knight of Seven Kingdoms” is any reflection of GRRM’s current state of mind, then the sixth book is either going to be very bad or indefinitely nonexistent.

the only solace i had on this sunday in question was that the eagles were on their bye week. the philadelphia eagles and their miserably bad quarterback Sam Bradford have given me a poignant reminder this year of why i decided to disconnect from television six years ago, and i can proudly say that i’ve stuck by that decision ever since. to me, the eagles are like the Republican presidential candidates and their televised debates. i hear from afar that they are incompetent and self-denigrating buffoons, but as long as i don’t actually see them in action, i don’t have to be personally offended by their utter lack of dignity and self-respect.

i’ve already bought tickets for opening weekend’s showing of “The Force Awakens”. it will be the first movie that i watch with my son that i will consider a mutually anticipated experience. he apparently knows all the characters and their back stories already; he’s convinced that Luke Skywalker has become a Sith Lord (or something like that). as for me, i’m simply hoping to not be disappointed. i’ve had a bad experience with reboots over the decades. i still remember watching “The Phantom Menace” with Andrew Lam and the utterly awful feeling i developed in my stomach as the ending credits came on the screen. it took years for me to forgive George Lucas, as deeply as i disdained him for ruining a movie franchise so precious to my generation. i’ll have no such baggage when i watch “The Force Awakens”. i understand this newer generation’s approach to movie-making. they’re into big lights and noise, short takes and quick change-ups, and ironic dialogues that frame familiar narratives. i’m expecting this Star Wars sequel to be a reasonably smart film that avoids the usual pitfalls; but i’m not expecting the movie to be particularly good in any way.

i have to admit though that i’m really looking forward to the movie. it’s been a long time since i’ve anticipated something this much, and i think that has a lot to do with my son’s two-year obsession with this movie release. it reminds me a bit of when i was 15 and my dad and i trekked out on Christmas Day to watch “Godfather 3″. i remember the nervous anticipation we felt during that silent car ride out to the movie theater. of course, after the movie, there was also very little conversation for another reason. “it was very disappointing,” i remember my dad saying tersely, which made me instantly aware of how terribly disgusted he felt. the funny thing is that i had not been so disappointed, if only because i had found sofia coppola so captivating.

i ran across john irving’s new book in the library a few days ago, and i read the first page before deciding to borrow it and take it home. it’s sitting on my nightstand, and when i pick it up, i remember what it felt like to read “A Prayer for Owen Meaney”. to this day, i believe that it’s the only real novel he’s ever written, aside from maybe “The World According to Garp”. in any case, when i look at that book—pristine in its brand-new glossy book jacket, with its suitably evocative cover illustration—i find myself believing that there could be utterly magical storytelling within. that belief is so heartening, in fact, that i hesitate to open the book at all. and thus it resides unopened and becomes something other than a story; it becomes the symbol of the lovely dream so anticipated, absent of the inevitable dread that follows discovery

11.02.15

the role of the leader

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:14 pm by Administrator

while participating in some high-level strategy discussions last week, one of the senior leaders at my company asked a question that was so brazen that i was afraid it would derail the conversation. it turned out though that the question was so challenging that the people in attendance—all fifteen of them—decided to move on with the discussion as if it had never been asked. and even the person asking the question simply moved on with the flow of conversation, as if she had intended for her question to be nothing more than rhetorical. but as i thought about it in the days that followed the meeting, i realized that the question merited some reflection, if not a frank answer from everyone. and that question was simple:

what is the role of a leader at this company?

i’m sure that if we had not been caught by surprise, we each could have come up with a canned answer. but oddly, i couldn’t come up with a satisfying answer even after thinking about it for five minutes. after all, the leaders at my company have so many roles, and it would seem simplistic to reduce all their roles to a common by-line. i took a few cracks at it, and then i shelved the question. later, over the weekend, i thought about it in the car for about twenty minutes while i was idling in the church parking lot, and finally what i came up with is this:

the role of the leader is to know the organization’s results, to understand what is working and not working and why, and to support those people who are in a position to improve the organization’s results.

more than anyone else in the company, the leaders must know how the organization as a whole is doing, and they can only know that by knowing the company’s salient results—what they are, how to interpret them, and what they say about the organization’s future.

i’m not a results-oriented guy, so that sort of approach to leadership just doesn’t naturally resonate with me. i believe in inspiring leadership; i believe in engaging leadership. and for better or worse, most of my peers in leadership at my company feel the same way. for an ENFP leader (and we have plenty of those), engaging hearts and minds comes naturally to us, and it makes us feel like great leaders. the trouble with being over-focused on the emotional temperature of the organization is that one can fail to drive improvement where and when it is most needed.

i was reminded of how i have changed as a runner over the years. when i first started running competitively nine years ago (and by that i mean running in competitions, not winning them), i wanted to be fast, durable, and able to run all kinds of courses. i wanted to be a really fast 5K runner; i wanted to be a really durable marathon runner. i followed my race times, but i didn’t follow my training times. as a result of all these factors, i had vague goals; i just wanted to be faster, and i set goals based on my gut feelings. “i can probably run that 5K about 1 minute faster”. or “i can probably run 20 miles of the marathon without stopping for a break”. my results improved; but i never knew whether i was really maximizing my potential.

a game-changer for me is when i actually bought a stopwatch and began timing all of my practice runs. just following my times from one day to the next caused automatic and incremental improvements that were immediately notable to me. later, i began using on-line programs (i.e. hal higdon) and being systematic in how i designed my practice runs. over a 5-year period, i changed from being a generally ambitious runner to being a data-driven, goal-oriented runner. i gave up marathons. i became a 5K runner. i reduced my 5K run times progressively over 3 straight years, to the point that i’m now running a 5K more than 2 full minutes faster than i was 3 years ago. for the first time in my life, i can maintain a sub-7 minute pace for 3 miles, regardless of the weather and how i feel. there isn’t much variation anymore on my practice runs. every day that i run, i hit the ground knowing what i will run and how long it will take me.

a leader has to bring that kind of focus to his unit and to his organization. he’s got to take lofty goals and strong gut feelings and direct those things to basic behaviors that produce results. she’s got to be so focused on results that at any time her team can predict how she’s reacting to the data and what questions she will ask. she’s got to remember what they’ve tried before, what worked, and what didn’t work. she’s got to interpret that history so that anything new that they try is either time-tested and true or highly likely to succeed. if a leader can be absolutely and consistently results-focused, then he will function as the stopwatch, the training program, and the goal-setter of the company; and even if he doesn’t do any of the running himself, his presence will make those who run run faster.

the Lean/SS guys talk about how they are obsessed with failure, and i think that this has to be the natural trajectory of any leadership group that is fixated on its results. once the leadership is well-versed and profoundly understanding of its metrics and data, it can begin to understand the story that these data are telling about themselves. they can see the trends as they are developing; and instead of reacting to those trends, they can begin to anticipate them. that is the value of the leader: in sensing early indicators of either progress or failure, and in acting so as to support the progress and to abort the failure. their power resides in their ability to anticipate results and drive the results that matter.

in Baldrige speak, i think that any incipient leadership group that is devoting itself to the Baldrige criteria for performance excellence must start with category 7. they must create a category 7 section for themselves spanning all 5 subcategories, and then they must pick those results apart. why are we featuring this result or that one? how are we benchmarking this particular result, and why in this way? why are we failing to see improvement on this result? why are we not at benchmark performance yet on that result? what’s missing from these sections? where are our results for the things implied by our organization’s mission and strategy statements? if the senior leadership cannot align around how they view and interpret the results that most matter to them, then they cannot align around anything of importance to the organization. the organization’s identity is its results; and senior leadership’s job is to know their identity in all the intimate and ugly details.

only after a senior leadership group has a common understanding of its focal results can it properly approach the things that follow: defining an approach to process improvement, executing that approach, and learning about the successes and failures of that approach by listening rigorously to the voice of the customer and to the feedback of the front line. a focus on results forces a commitment to learning, because an obsession with failure necessitates a deep, collective, and integrated understanding about what caused that failure.

a last reflection. i know that a lot of people including myself have qualms about business approaches to church administration, and no one in the church likes to talk about results, whether those results are membership, financial, or outreach results. but even in the church, there must be results that matter to its leadership. unless a church’s leadership can define the results that matter to them with both specificity and clarity, the ministry itself is doomed to fail someone’s expectations, and it is likely to repeat its past mistakes. a result such as “spiritual growth of our members” is just not specific or clear. “giving glory to God” is a lofty goal with no clearly understandable ramifications for those who serve. even in the church, results matter, and the challenge is in defining those results, understanding those results, and driving the results that point to glory