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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Leadership

The Pace of Change

Tom Elenbaas

"On almost every important business index, the world is racing ahead. The stakes - the financial, social, environmental, and political consequences - are rising in a similar exponential way." [John Kotter] I have some serious questions rattling around in my own head and heart as I both experience, study, and lead in this rapidly changing world.

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Shadow Mission

Tom Elenbaas

The shadow mission is the allure of centering our lives around something that is unworthy, selfish, or dark—a shadow mission. Ultimately, the shadow mission is derivative of the shadow side of our character or personality.

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The Other Side of Me (Beformed)

Tom Elenbaas

[Exerpt] What might happen if in humility we willingly submitted ourselves to the people we know love us who would only hurt us to help us? Do we have those people in our lives we can trust with our open vulnerability, and how might our character be formed for the better if they help us see the other side of ourselves?

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David Platt at Urbana 2012


Urbana is an incredible missions conference for college students originally held on the campus of the University of Illinois and put on by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship - one of my favorite organizations. My wife and I attended this conference long ago, and it impact us for life. Though at the time we thought we would be "goers" to Africa and China respectively, we ended up being "senders" and "supporters" instead. The impact this conference has had on our life and commitment to missions is still inestimable. The conference happens every three years, and if you can send a college student, you won't be sorry. Save some money over the next two years and send someone that you sense God is prompting. If you haven't seen David Platt's talk from Urbana this year, I would encourage you to watch it. However, as a friend of mine said, "WARNING....Don't watch this unless you want your life to change drastically..." PS... if you have not yet read "Radical" or "Radical Together" by David Platt, I would also encourage these books at seminal reading in personal missional thinking and drive towards action.

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One of the phrases that I like to use is "failing forward." I believe that it takes some risk to move forward, and without risk, nothing changes. But with risk comes the possibility of "failure." Honestly, I don't even like that word. Failure surely has a category of its own, but risking new things and not achieving them is not necessarily failure. I had a conversation with someone yesterday about this who worries a lot about failure because his parents continued to tell him over and over and over that he wasn't supposed to fail. They treated him negatively when he "failed," and punished him verbally, if not in other ways. This kind of child-rearing or even management in organizations creates a risk-averse culture that then leads to a lack of innovation, creativity, out-of-the-box, and break-through thinking.

In her book 9 Things Successful People Do Differently, Heidi Grant Halvorson shares some ideas that help move us toward possibility thinking rather than fear of failure thinking. I like her understanding of the difference between "Be Good" goals, and "Get Better" goals. I like this because first of all it's practical, and second of all, it fits with my theology. Theologically, we cannot "be good" in this perfectionist mode. It is impossible to get it all right, and we are sinful, broken people seeking to follow Jesus into the better life. A friend of mine often gets frustrated with sermons he calls antithetical to the gospel - you know the ones - they have an outline like this: "You suck; do better." When I say "get better" I don't mean that kind of thing, but instead, the desire to seek something higher, greater, and more pure and right without the fear of failure, because honestly, failure isn't optional. Failure happens. Get over it already.  And yet that is not an excuse for doing better, being better, and improving. I'm not advocating for a lackadaisical kind of lazy lifestyle, but a focus on getting better rather than being good; a focus on seeking excellence, not perfection; on development rather than accomplishment; and on transformation over success.

Here is how Halvorson describes the difference between be-good goals and get-better goals:

  • Be-good Goals: Put the emphasis on proving you have ability and showing you know how to do something.
  • Get-better Goals: Put the emphasis on developing ability and learning to master a new skill.

In a recent article on - ideas on making things happen, called Tripping into Terra Incognita: how mistakes take us to new places,  John Caddell takes on this topic in terms of business management (cf. Six Sigma), and how the focusing on removing mistakes completely and the pursuit of perfection could keep us from accidentally falling into all kinds of great things. He uses examples such as the invention of the first artificial sweetener - saccarin, the process of vulcanizing rubber, not to mention things like the lightbulb and other great inventions. (Remember the old commercials for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups? Or my favorite... those meatball hors d'oeuvres that combine chili sauce and grape jelly... that can't have been on purpose). I love the idea John puts forth that "A mistake is a collision between your perception and reality," and that mistakes take us to the margins, to the unknown, to the unexplored, and that it is in these places that some of the best discoveries emerge. Mistakes often lead us to the place of realizing that our assumptions and beliefs may have been invalid, which can open us to new possibility thinking if we will let it. Think Galileo and the Copernican revolution. Many - myself included - would advocate that it takes true failure of our systems, institutions, and assumptions to create a real and lasting paradigmatic shift in belief and practice. It is failure that leads to incredible success, if we are not paralyzed by it. (Think Steve Jobs.)

  • "Failure" often leads us into accidental discoveries.
  • "Failure" leads to margin rather than mainstream thinking.
  • "Failure" gives us an opportunity to learn, and is a great teacher if we will let it.
  • "Failure" teaches humility, and out of humility often emerges truth that less dependent upon our limited thinking and abilities.

So how about we figure out better ways to raise our children and to treat our employees and colleagues? How about we find ways of embracing "failure," or figuring out how to fail forward in safe contexts that value innovation, out-of-the-box thinking, charity for risk, perfection-aversion, and seeking the opportunity to get better rather than simply getting it right.

Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon entitled "God Perfects Me," which talked about this penchant for perfection so many of us have. If you'd like to hear the podcast, click here. (Note: there was a person during the service who had a seizure - I don't think it was my preaching. What was interesting to me was that this "imperfection" in the service happened on this particular Sunday. In fact, I spoke with the gentleman later, and he was concerned about having been a distraction. I think the point was made for him, for me, and for others... I just wish he hadn't had to experience that.)

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Leader to Leader - Jack Welch


Candor:  Walsh is one who deeply values candor, honesty, and authenticity.  One thing that was helpful here was that Walsh said something like, "Let's not waste time having meetings to decide what we're going to say.  We're just going to say what we believe."

Differentiation:  At GM, employees were divided into the top 20%, the vital 70%, and then the 10% who needed to have something done with them immediately.  You can't have a differentiating organization without having candor at the core of the organization.  People need to know how they are doing, what to change, and where they stand.  Walsh would say that this is not a heartless approach to people.  In fact, he would say it's the most compassionate because everyone knows where they stand.

  • Top "A" people, or the 20% are filled with energy, they are likeable and infections, they're good people, and they love to see people grow.  They aren't afraid to have great people around them.  They're not mean-spirited or envious, but have a generosity of spirit.
  • The Vital 70%, or "B" people are hard-working, but not necessarily as gifted as other people.
  • The Lower 10% are not energetic, acidic, a pain in the "arm", negative, boss-haters, disrupters, wet-blankets, antagonists.

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Organizational Culture


We talked today at lunch about organizational culture, and what makes a good culture.  I'm really intrigued by this topic, and think it's well worth not only talking about, but trying to be clear about defining your particular organizational culture.  If we don't do that in our organizations, a culture will emerge, and culture is more difficult to change than to create.  I really like what Terri Kelly said today about the organizational culture of WL Gore and Associates as well as some other places I appreciate like IDEO, Google, and Disney as well.  Here are some of the ways that Google defines its organizational culture:

  1. Lend a helping hand. With millions of visitors every month, Google has become an essential part of everyday life – like a good friend – connecting people with the information they need to live great lives.
  2. Life is beautiful. Being a part of something that matters and working on products in which you can believe is remarkably fulfilling.
  3. Appreciation is the best motivation, so we’ve created a fun and inspiring workspace you’ll be glad to be a part of, including on-site doctor; massage and yoga; professional development opportunities; shoreline running trails; and plenty of snacks to get you through the day.
  4. Work and play are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to code and pass the puck at the same time.
  5. We love our employees, and we want them to know it. Google offers a variety of benefits, including a choice of medical programs, company-matched 401(k), stock options, maternity and paternity leave, and much more.
  6. Innovation is our bloodline. Even the best technology can be improved. We see endless opportunity to create even more relevant, more useful, and faster products for our users. Google is the technology leader in organizing the world’s information.
  7. Good company everywhere you look. Googlers range from former neurosurgeons, CEOs, and U.S. puzzle champions to alligator wrestlers and Marines. No matter what their backgrounds, Googlers make for interesting cube mates.
  8. Uniting the world, one user at a time. People in every country and every language use our products. As such we think, act, and work globally – just our little contribution to making the world a better place.
  9. Boldly go where no one has gone before. There are hundreds of challenges yet to solve. Your creative ideas matter here and are worth exploring. You’ll have the opportunity to develop innovative new products that millions of people will find useful.
  10. There is such a thing as a free lunch after all. In fact we have them every day: healthy, yummy, and made with love.

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What Motivates Us - Daniel Pink


Biological Drive

Reward and Punishment Drive

Meaning Drive

Two Dimensional view of human beings is one in which we try to dampen the biological drive and pump up the reward and punishment drive, but it doesn't work very well.  What researchers have found is that this focus on the reward and punishment drive works and increases productivity with simple "mechanical" processes, but when more cognitive functions were necessary, the higher the cognitive function required actually found that reward and punishment decreased productivity.  The research is so good showing the "carrots and sticks" don't work, and yet it is routinely ignored in organizations every day.

Two False Assumptions in Organizations:

  1. Human beings are machines, and if you hit the right buttons, they'll respond the way you want them to.
  2. Human beings are blobs.  The alternative to this would be that humans are active and engaged.

There are, instead, 3 enduring motivators:

  1. Autonomy: Management is a technology from the 1850's designed to get compliance.  We don't want compliance in our organizations anymore.  Management leads to compliance. Self-direction leads to engagement.  People need autonomy over their time, their team, their tasks, and their technique.  A great example of this is the 20% autonomous time that companies like Google have instituted. (cf. this Google blog post)
  2. Mastery: The single largest motivator, according to one study, is making progress.  As human beings, we feel the most loyal to the organization, the most useful, the most meaningful is when we are making some sort of progress and growth and change and impact.  In order to have mastery, we also have to have effective feedback.
  3. Purpose: There is a rise in recent years of what could be called the purpose motive.  In the last decade we haver learned that the profit motive comes unhooked from the purpose motive, bad things happen.

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