The biggest mistake a leader can make

Here’s the latest video from the Harvard Business School symposium. The question being asked is “What is the biggest mistake a leader can make?” Here’s a summary:

Put their self-interest in front of their institution or organization
Bill George
, Harvard Business School

Betraying trust
Evan Wittenberg, Head of Global Leadership Development Google Inc

Being certain. Why bother when you know!
Ellen Langer, Professor, Harvard University

Not to live up to their own values.
Andrew Pettigrew
, Professor, Sïad Business School, University of Oxford

To be so overly enamoured with their vision that they lose all capacity for self-doubt.
Gianpiero Petriglieri, Affiliate Professor of Organizational Behavior, INSEAD

Personal arrogance and hubris
Carl Sloane, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School

Acting too fast.
Jonathan Doochin
, Leadership Institute at Harvard College

It’s all about the leader and also not being authentic, consistent and predictable.
Scott Snook, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School and retired Colonel, US Army Corps of Engineers

Not being self-reflective.
Daisy Wademan Dowling, Executive Director, Leadership Development at Morgan Stanley

The common thread running through these responses is the danger of pride or over-confidence. I’m going to look at this more closely tomorrow, especially in connection with pastoral ministry.

Tell them one thing

Nick Morgan, President of Public Words Inc, says that most presentations fail because the presenter didn’t prepare well enough in two ways. And these two errors are so common and so important that he has written “Two Rules for Preparing a Successful Presentation.” 

Rule 1: Know thy audience
Here Morgan lists a number of helpful questions to ask before even starting to type the first Powerpoint bullet. Preachers could profitably ask themselves a version of these questions too. Thankfully, as we don’t preach to inebriated audiences too much, we probably don’t need President Reagan’s after-dinner speech rule: 12 minutes, a few jokes, and sit down before the audience stands up!

Rule 2: Tell them one thing, and one thing only
Though in the business of public speaking, Nick Morgan admits that the oral genre is highly inefficient:

We audience members simply don’t remember much of what we hear. We’re easily sidetracked, confused, and tricked. We get distracted by everything from the color of the presenter’s tie to the person sitting in the next row to our own internal monologues.




So you’ve got to keep it simple. Many studies show that we only remember a small percentage of what we hear — somewhere between 10 – 30 percent.

Unfortunately, we can only hold 4 or 5 ideas in our heads at one time, so as soon as you give me a list of more than 5 items, I’m going to start forgetting as much as I hear.


Morgan’s solution?


Against this dismal human truth there is only one defense: focus your presentation on a single idea. Be ruthless. Write that one idea down in one declarative sentence and paste it up on your computer. Then eliminate everything, no matter how beautiful a slide it’s on, that doesn’t support that idea.

John Stott argues for something similar to this in Between Two Worlds. He says the preacher should isolate the dominant thought of a passage and organize his whole sermon to support that one thought. Jay Adams has the same idea in Preaching with a purpose.

This is perhaps one of the hardest rules for preachers to follow. When we start preparing sermons, and God’s Word starts opening up, we discover vast riches of wonderful truth. We look out on our congregations and see that Joe needs this truth, and Julie must hear that truth, and Ben must get this, and…etc. So we gather all these truths and throw them out at all these people. And we’re surprised that no one seems to hear anything! Hmmm. Wonder why?

But if you need more motivation to clarify and simplify, how about Morgan’s great closer:

Follow these two rules and you’ll find that audience will remember — and maybe even act on — your speeches. After all, the only reason to give a speech is to change the world.

What did you expect? Something more positive!

Systematic and structured pre-marital counseling is not very common in the Scottish Highlands, where I was a pastor for 12 years. I usually spent one or two evenings with young couples wanting to be married, but it was not the done thing to get too personal and practical! I usually “risked” giving them Christian living in the home by Jay Adams, and followed that up with some questions. But that was about as far as I could go without being told to take a long hike in the mountains.

In some ways that was OK. There was still a fairly strong Christian culture and most of the young people had seen healthy Christian marriages in their own homes. On reflection, however, I think it would have helped to have a dose (though maybe not a full dose) of the intensive American approach to pre-marital counseling, which I’ve come to deeply appreciate.

What did you expect?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been using Paul Tripp’s What did you expect?? to help a young couple prepare for marriage. It was the first time I had used this book. But after three weeks and 53 pages I was beginning to wish I hadn’t chosen it! The book has received great reviews, but I found myself rather depressed by Tripp’s early emphasis on the negatives, difficulties, obstacles, and troubles of marriage.

I realize that Tripp is writing in a context of over-idealizing marriage. He is addressing the huge problems caused by unrealistic expectations – hence the title. However, there is also the other common problem of young people (including Christians) being put off marriage by the obvious and numerous disasters everywhere. Why try it, if it’s so bad?

While we must of course guard against giving a Mills & Boon view of marriage, we must also guard against giving the HBO view!

A Christian marriage, while not perfect, is one of the four greatest blessings God has left us in this sinful world (the other three being the Gospel, the Church, and the Lord’s Day). Without falling into false fantasies, I think it’s really important for older Christians to live out their marriages and speak of their marriages in a way that makes young people want to be married, look forward to marriage, and thank God for the privilege of marriage. When marriage is being bashed from every angle, Christians must try to show the advantages, benefits, and pleasures of marriage.

Turning the corner
Thankfully I stuck with this book for another week, because in chapter four Tripp seems to turn the corner to a slightly more positive, practical, and hope-filled approach.

The one thing that struck me above all in chapter four (“Day by Day”) was Tripp’s emphasis on the DAILY habits of marriage. He put this in so many ways: “daily commitments…marriage must be a lifestyle…things that are done daily…moment-by-moment lifestyle…daily lifestyle of your marriage…make those habits a regular part of your daily routine…reconciliation lifestyle…regular patterns…daily patterns…daily change…daily need.”

I think we get the point! And it is a vital point in a quick-fix society.

Memory work
In previous weeks with my young friends, I summarized the chapter and asked a few questions to test knowledge and application. However with this chapter I asked them to memorize the three “daily mentalities” and the six “daily commitments,” and to test one another’s memory. I summarized these points and gave a sentence to aid recall.

Three mentalities (62-64)

1. Harvest mentality (you reap what you sow)
2. Investment mentality (you get a return on investments)
3. Grace mentality (you are to be an instrument of grace)

Memory sentence: Harvest an investment of grace

Six daily commitments (65-67)
1. Confession and forgiveness
2. Growth and change
3. Bond of trust
4. Relationship of love
5. Deal with differences
6. Protect our marriage

Memory sentence: I must confess that growing in trust and love makes a difference to protecting our marriage.

Sticking with it
I think we are going to stick with Tripp’s book. However, on reflection, I think it would be a better book for married couples in their first year of marriage rather than those preparing to be married. In fact I’m going to the bookshop today to get three copies for young couples who married in the past year.

Saved by 9/11

Here is a remarkable testimony of how God used the 9/11 disaster to save my friend Nick Batzig, who is now planting a PCA church in Richmond Hill, Georgia.

Is this not a perfect fulfillment of Psalm 76:10? 

When counting your blessings doesn’t help the pain

Can I recommend Kara Dedert’s blog for your reading, and especially the latest post, When counting your blessings doesn’t help the pain. Kara and her husband Daryl were missionaries in Cambodia when their fourth child, Calvin Luke, was born with serious brain abnormalities. You can follow Kara and Daryl’s story of their struggle with this providence, and their subsequent return to North America, through Kara’s incredibly honest and deeply moving blog posts.

Six ways to supercharge your productivity

Tony Schwartz is the author of the NYT and WSJ best-selling The way we’re working isn’t working. His basic argument is that “we’re undertaking more and more tasks every day, but they often add up to less and less real value.” And he writes this as someone who has 1307 messages in his inbox!

In this post he asks “what does it take to be productive and efficient in a world of infinitely rising demand, and endless potential distractions? By productive, I mean generating goods and services with lasting value. By efficient, I mean doing so with the least amount of unnecessary expenditure of time and energy.”

He answers with six ways to supercharge our productivity:

  1. Make sufficient sleep a top priority
  2. Create one to-do list that includes everything you want or need to do, on and off the job
  3. Do the most important thing first when you get to work each morning
  4. Live like a sprinter, not a marathoner
  5. Monitor your mood
  6. Schedule specific times for activities in your life that you deem important but not urgent

Read the whole post for a brief exposition of each of these helpful points.