Category Archives: Leadership: Teamwork

Abraham Lincoln: Humble and Meek

Abraham Lincoln Statue

Abraham Lincoln Statue

Today we celebrate the 206th birthday of my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. Born in a humble Kentucky log cabin, humility characterized the life of the tall, lanky, awkward-looking man. Yet perhaps meekness, often defined as “strength under control,” is a better word to describe his character. He leveraged his strength as a wrestler and a fighter by channeling those energies into educating himself and becoming a successful attorney. Legal battles turned to political battles and as President he had to battle the personal demons of self-doubt and clouds of depression, while being demonized by a hostile press and political enemies who loathed the backwoods country lawyer.

He led our nation during its greatest crisis to overcome our greatest national shame. Though a fighter, he led in his characteristic humble and meek style, enlisting his political adversaries into a “team of rivals” to win them over and help save the Union. Rather than taking a swing at those who opposed him or his ideas, he resolved to stand firm in his convictions, while listening to and engaging his opponents in dialogue. He once said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” While standing firm, his self-effacing humor and ability to spin a yarn broke down defenses and built bridges.

One of my favorite Lincoln quotes is from the final paragraph of his Second Inaugural Address, delivered a few days before his tragic assassination: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

We can only imagine how much faster the process of healing our nation and reconstruction of The South might have taken place had Lincoln been able to serve out his second term of office. Perhaps we might have been spared some of the long and agonizing delays in the process of racial reconciliation and civil rights that continues in our nation and around the world to this very day.

But one thing is certain. Lincoln left his mark and made a difference in this world that is still recognized and appreciated today. His legacy is felt by all who work toward achieving and cherishing, “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Echoes of Lincoln’s hundred and fifty year old words are heard whenever a voice is raised to oppose injustice, whenever the chains are released from a soul rescued from human trafficking, whenever the lever is raised on a water pump to improve the health of a community, whenever a door of opportunity opens for a child born in poverty, and wherever freedom reigns so people have the right to lift their voice in praise to their Creator.  Quite an accomplishment for such a meek and humble man!

Teams and Teamwork, Part Four – Energy & Empowerment

teamwork with graphicI’ve worked with some great team leaders who energized and empowered their teams. I’ve also worked with some who seemed to be aloof, seldom scheduled team meetings or gave direction, and knew how to suck the energy out of the room whenever we did have a meeting. I’ve also been a team leader, and although my intentions were always to energize and empower, I am certain I fell short on many occasions as tunnel vision, deadlines, and distractions got in my way.

Today Michael Hyatt posted some excellent observations on, “5 Ways to Energize Your Team.”[1] Michael has a way of succinctly stating the obvious in a fresh manner, so I am listing his five points and will close with a couple of thoughts:

  1. Assume others are smart and working hard.
  2. Listen intently and ask thoughtful questions.
  3. Acknowledge the sacrifices others have made on your behalf.
  4. Express gratitude for their effort and their results.
  5. Remind them why their work is so important and the difference they are making.

Number one above helps us avoid the fundamental attribution error that occurs whenever we assume our own intentions and actions are good even though circumstances may cause us to be a little off our game (we are smart and working hard), but erroneously assume that others are just slacking off.

Number two is essential for a collaborative environment where people are free to share ideas without judgment. Some people never speak because they know no one is listening. The team loses whenever that occurs. We encourage the hearts of our team members when they know they and their ideas are honored, listened to, and respected.

Number three and four seem to go together. Success is seldom a solo accomplishment. Everyone appreciates a little appreciation, and team leaders need the humility and ability to share the wins by shining the spotlight on the team. Leaders also need to acknowledge what is going on behind the scenes, and how some team members may persevere and discover crucial solutions that could be hidden in obscurity if they are not prone to sing their own praises. For a team leader to keep silent or take credit is a sure way to breed resentment and change the dynamic from team to group of rivals.

Number five is all about the mission, and keeping the purpose in view at all times. Jesus encouraged the hearts of his team members (disciples) in each of these ways. It would be a good Bible study to discover the specific references in the Gospels where he modeled these five behaviors. Here’s one example: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50 NIV) Leadership requires discipleship, which requires follower-ship. As we follow Christ, we will learn better ways to equip and empower our teams and in the process make and become better disciples.

Teams and Teamwork, Part Three

teamwork with graphicWe’ve been talking about teamwork, specifically how working as a team makes harvest possible from a spiritual perspective. To a certain extent, the harvest is the bottom line for the farmer, and it is also true in the church. All of our efforts at cultivating, sowing, and tending a crop are in vain if there is no harvest. Jesus made his purpose clear: “to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) In church teams, our ultimate mission and purpose must be in alignment with Jesus’ mission and purpose. And do you remember the importance of prioritizing purpose from the Leadership Network report on church teams mentioned in the last post in this series?

Here is another excerpt from my upcoming book, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation. In it I discuss these principles and also share more about my neighbors, Granny and Gramps Plake.

A harvest is always anticipated. No one plants a crop and expects it to fail. The investment is too great. The Bible uses the metaphor of fruit to describe intentionality. “Be fruitful, and multiply,” God told Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:32). Jesus called us to “go, and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). “The fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) describes the qualities of maturation that result from organic growth.

Blank white book w/pathWhen it comes to spiritual formation, we should expect to become fruitful followers of Jesus. At any given point in time, an organism is either dying, declining, living, growing, or thriving. The same is true for our spiritual growth. Where do you see yourself in that continuum? What would it take to change? How can you engage more fully in your own spiritual formation so you can expect to be a participant in the harvest?

Obedience to Jesus Christ opens the door for growth, and obedience often means working to bring in the harvest. It is understood that proper nourishment, cultivation, and environment are all necessary for sustained growth at every stage of development. Faith, life, and community lead to fruit, the organic result for harvest. When this is not the case, or when growth is stunted, it’s time to get back to basics. The writer of Hebrews spoke to this issue:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12–14)

Spiritual formation and the resulting harvest have a lot to do with sowing and reaping. If you don’t invest much on the sowing end of things, you won’t reap much of a harvest. But even a small investment can reap great dividends if we invest in the right things.

Granny and Gramps, mentioned earlier, knew the value of investment in things that truly matter. While you’d never have known it by looking at their humble home and surroundings, they were storing up eternal treasures by investing in people. They raised many of their own grandchildren whose parents had died, and their kindness extended beyond their family to neighbors and even strangers who were welcomed to partake of Granny’s meals.

Granny and Gramps were a team during nearly seventy years of marriage, up until the end of their lives. Everyone thought that Gramps would go first, even though he eventually gave up his smoking habit. But somewhat surprisingly, the spry and seemingly healthy Granny ended up in the hospital and then an extended-care facility because of congestive heart failure. I visited and prayed with them often, and was there the day Granny went to heaven. Grief-stricken Gramps went home and the next morning a grandson found him slumped over in a chair with a smile on his face. Their separation had not been long, as both were reunited at the feet of their Savior. At their combined memorial service, hundreds of relatives, friends, and neighbors paid tribute to this humble couple who teamed up to make a difference in the lives of others. (From Chapter 13: Teamwork Makes Harvest Possible, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation, Deep River Books, ©2013 Don Detrick)

Teams and Teamwork, Part Two

teamwork with graphicIn my last post I mentioned the new report authored by Warren Byrd and Ryan Hartwig from Leadership Network and Azusa Pacific University showing the results of surveying 125 church teams last year. You will find a link in the last post to access the report. I found particularly interesting their number one suggestion for strengthening your team: “Clarify the team’s specific purpose–making sure it is distinct from simply providing general leadership to the church–and increase the challenge of that purpose.”

Why do you exist? What are you doing? These are the two questions every team must consider. The first is the question of purpose, and the second is the question of mission. When you discover the answer to those questions as a team, you have unlocked the power of multiplication exponentially. Two people working together can ultimately accomplish things it would be impossible for one person to achieve alone. This is a biblical principle: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 New Living Translation) Depending upon the task, the team effect is multiplied by the combined efforts of the group.

As a boy growing up on the farm, I often helped elderly neighbors accomplish tasks they could not have accomplished on their own. The following is story from my upcoming book, Growing Disciples Organically:

Members of agricultural communities join together to bring in the harvest. This is a time-honored core value that recognizes the importance of teamwork and synergy, that the combined effort of the whole, working together, is greater than the sum of the parts working individually. Farmers were community organizers long before the term was popularized by politicians.

Blank white book w/pathAs a boy, I have fond memories of helping my elderly neighbor, Grandpa Plake, bring in his hay. I started when I was about ten years old, and continued to work with him until I graduated from high school. Although we were not related, everyone in our neighborhood called these dear folks Grandpa, or “Gramps” and Granny Plake.

“Now Donnie, I’ll tell you what, Mr. Man, we’ve got to get all this hay baled and put up in the barn” he would say as he tried to start his ancient orange Allis Chalmers tractor. “I’ll be needing it to feed the cows come winter.”

Actually, his words were more of a wheeze than anything else, the result of a lifetime of smoking Camel cigarettes. Gramps was a skinny beanpole of a weathered old man, his face as wrinkled as the bark on an ancient oak. He would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it, and I enjoyed helping him (although I sometimes wonder how much help I really was, because the eighty-pound bales weighed almost as much as I did when I began working with him). The sweat poured from our brows as we worked together to get the job done. There is no way I could have done the work by myself, especially at the age of ten. Gramps could never have done it alone either. I think I provided him the moral support and companionship that made it possible. Together, we always brought in the hay. Granny would fix us a big meal at lunch, and we would say grace, honoring the Lord for his provision and another year of harvest. (From Chapter 13: Teamwork Makes Harvest Possible, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation, Deep River Books, ©2013 Don Detrick)

In my next post I’ll share a bit more about teamwork and the rest of the story about Granny and Gramps Plake.

Teams and Teamwork: Part One

teamwork with graphicA new report authored by Warren Byrd and Ryan Hartwig from Leadership Network and Azusa Pacific University shows the results of surveying 125 church teams last year to get their input about what works and what doesn’t work in their experience. Their report provides insight on 5 proven indicators of successful teams, their top 10 findings, and 7 suggestions to strengthen your team.

Their 5 proven indicators are:

  1. Being a real work team, rather than a team in name only. Such a team has a stable membership, and high levels of interdependence among members.
  2. A clear, compelling, and consequential direction for the team’s work.
  3. An enabling team structure with well-designed team tasks, norms, and composition.
  4. An organizational context that offers necessary reward, information, material, and educational resources.
  5. Access to expert internal or external coaching in teamwork.

You can access the entire report here:

The findings of the report may or may not be surprising to you. However, if you take another look at the 5 proven indicators of successful teams, I think you’ll discover that Jesus modeled them all with his team of 12 disciples, his senior leadership team. And he did so organically, without access to any of the technology, bureaucracy, curriculum, charts, or institutional metrics that we utilize today. He didn’t even have an office, virtual or otherwise. I’ve included a chapter on teams and teamwork in my upcoming book, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation. The book will be available the last part of April, 2013. I’ve included an excerpt below in this post and will include Part 2 in my next post.

Blank white book w/pathRegardless of the type of farm, the overall operation rises and falls on the harvest. A successful mission or season of farming depends upon the harvest. Staying on mission means focusing on properly executing all of the steps necessary to bring in the harvest. Every farmer knows that if he fails to bring in the harvest, no matter how good he may have been in planting, weeding, or pest control, he has failed.

Although we seldom used the word, virtually everything we did on the farm involved teamwork. Family members, which included at times extended family members, worked together to accomplish tasks that would have been impossible for any one of us to do alone. From bringing in the hay, to building a barn, to cutting and wrapping meat or canning produce or hauling firewood, we worked together.

When there were really big projects to accomplish, such as building a bigger barn or building, we often worked with neighbors as well. Together, we toiled and everyone did his or her part to accomplish the goal. There existed no particular hierarchy, with middle-aged men working alongside teenagers or senior citizens, each doing what he or she could do best according to their own level of skill or expertise. Artisans with years of experience willingly and without cost patiently taught younger members of the team skills that would greatly enhance their lives with the expectation that they, in turn, would train another person down the road. Thus, healthy tradition and craftsmanship continued on in an organic fashion, without bureaucratic paperwork or organizational bylaws.

Jesus showed us how teams work. He never appointed a committee or chaired a board meeting, but he was the undisputed leader. He led by example and did not try to micromanage his disciples’ activities. He empowered them to succeed and encouraged them when they failed and coached them when they needed to take the next steps in the journey. (From Chapter 13: Teamwork Makes Harvest Possible, Growing Disciples Organically: The Jesus Method of Spiritual Formation, Deep River Books, ©2013 Don Detrick)