Some time ago, Kelsey, one of my direct reports, came to see me in absolute frustration with a co-leader on her team. Over the previous month, he had done several things that had made her feel undermined and disrespected as a leader. As she described several instances where she had given direct instructions that had not been followed, I could see that she was steaming mad.
“I have red flags about him, and I just don’t want him on the team,” she said urgently. “I am asking for your permission to kick him off.”
“How did it go when you talked to him about his behavior and explained how it affected you?” I asked.
“I didn’t. I have tried in the past and he gets really defensive. It just doesn’t work. Besides, I have always had red flags about him. When do we just pay attention to our discernment? I just get the feeling that something isn’t right with him.”
“Well, we don’t just get rid of people because something doesn’t feel right,” I replied. “That isn’t our culture. We work to communicate through challenges and give people the chance to adjust and grow in their leadership skills. I am also concerned about the idea of ‘red flagging’ people and calling it discernment. That’s not how the gift of discernment works. Can we perhaps explore what those ‘red flags’ are and where they are coming from?”
Kelsey settled back in her chair and we began to examine what was happening in her heart.
“What is your emotional reaction when you get around him?” I asked.
“I feel overwhelmed.”
“What do you want to do when you start feeling that way?”
“I just want to get away from him.”
“Why? What would that give you?”
“Peace! I already have too many ‘D’ personality types in my life. I do not have room for any more. I just get run over and it’s too much for me!”
“Wow. It sounds like you believe that people with dominant personality types are more powerful than you and that you can’t be free around them. Does that sound accurate to you?”
“How about we have a look at where that belief came from?”
Are You Waiting for Someone Else to Create the Experience You Want?
It is amazing to me how many people come and ask for help with a difficult work or relational situations, completely focused on the problem someone else is creating for them while completely unaware of any way they may be a participant in the problem.
Just this week someone asked me, “How can I fix my marriage when my husband is the problem? He’s just so controlling!”
My answer to that question is always, “You first have to identify and address any issues of powerlessness in your own life that caused you to be attracted to and live for this long in that kind of relationship.”
While many people long to live in relational cultures where they feel fully loved, where there is safety, trust, and intimacy in their connections, they are usually waiting for someone else to create that experience for them. It is the same with cultivating a culture of honor in the workplace. People want to experience honor, but tend to put the focus and responsibility on others to create an experience of honor for them. I have heard many leaders ask, “How do I get my people to honor me?” The answer to that question is always, “You demonstrate honor to them first.”
This is the biblical principle of sowing and reaping. We all have the power and responsibility to shape our relational culture by demonstrating the behavior we hope to receive from others.
What Is the Culture of Your Heart?
Changing dysfunctional relationships and cultures in our families, churches, and workplaces begins with changing ourselves. We must turn the focus and attention away from how we are experiencing others and start to examine what we are bringing to the environment.
The real question for every leader is, “What have I cultivated in my own heart that I am sowing into the environment around me?”
The quickest way to identify the culture of our heart is to look at the behavior we exhibit when we’re under pressure. It is easy to practice honor when everything is going well. But if we cannot practice honor during moments of difficulty with others, then we have not yet fully established a culture of honor in our own hearts.
I love how The Passion Translation puts Proverbs 17:27: “Can you bridle your tongue when your heart is under pressure? That’s how you show you are wise. An understanding heart keeps you cool, calm, and collected, no matter what you’re facing.” This is an excellent measuring stick for us.
However, for many of us, pressure reveals that we need to do some work to develop an “understanding heart.” We discover that we still have areas of our hearts that operate with a culture of pain, fear, and self-protection rather than love and honor. When these areas come to light, we must go after healing of the heart to reform our internal culture, for what is in our hearts is what shapes the world around us.
What Is the Root of the Problem?
Kelsey turned the attention to her own behavior and agreed to have a look at her heart, she realized that the real problem lay with her. Why was she not able to demonstrate honor to this person, giving feedback and setting expectations around behavior so they could be successful? Why had she lost her ability to see the best in them, leading to her wanting to get as far away from them as possible?
The answer was that she was afraid. As we explored the source of this fear, Kelsey discovered a place of unhealed pain from childhood. Growing up around strong, dominant personalities had taught her to believe that she did not have a voice around certain types of people, which caused her to feel powerless. Her “red flags” were her own reaction to not wanting to feel powerless. Her instinct to remove the person from the team was due to her own desire to feel safe and have a voice.
This discovery caused a complete turn-around in the situation. Kelsey embraced the idea that this was a God-given opportunity to overcome fear and find the courage to lead with honor while working with people who were very different from her. She came into my office powerless and afraid, and left with fresh vision, excited to grow in her leadership!
Can You Recognize the Growth Opportunity in Front of You?
Every difficult situation that we face offers us the opportunity for personal growth if we will humble ourselves and allow it. God will use the challenges to shape and train us to carry love and honor if we will focus on what is being revealed in our own heart and refuse to live in reaction to the people around us.
It is exciting to think that God can use each one of us to shape the culture of the world around us as we take up the challenge to allow Him first to shape the culture of our own heart!
Today, I challenge you to honestly ask yourself these three questions:
Have I taken responsibility for shaping the world that I want to live in?
Am I living powerfully in my world and sowing love and honor—even in the most difficult circumstances?
Are there any places where I need to deal with the issues of my own heart because something other than love and honor is coming out?
P.S. In my new book with Danny Silk, The Pathway to Powerful, we dig into the process of changing our internal culture on the journey to becoming powerful leaders who can build powerful teams and organizations.