Leadership Faith


I was giving a speech to the state’s Administrative Officers Association, a group of high level administrators in the state government. The theme of their training day was “lead where you are.” I was impressed with the question which one person asked at the end. He asked, in essence: How do you continue to stay upbeat, fire-up the troops, and suggest that things will get better, when you’re just not sure about it? It was a question that Presidents Bush or Obama could ask; General Petraeus, Governor Granholm, or William Clay Ford could ask. And it’s a question for everyday leaders, especially in these difficult times.

What would you have answered? I offered three thoughts off the cuff — two external, then one internal. I suggested that it’s critical to make a list every week. Make a list of the key priorities, because things are difficult and things are changing. The act of making the list forces you to decide what’s most important and forces you to confront change. And making a list keeps you and your team focused on the work that needs to be done.

The second piece of external advice is: Gain small wins. When a team is down by three touchdowns, a comeback takes time, but always begins with momentum — a first down, another first down, maybe even just a great punt, before the tide begins to turn. Small wins generate hope. A few high-fives loosen people up. A few small bills paid off helps you feel you can one day get out of debt entirely. One small sale reminds you there are buyers out there. Small wins strengthen faith.

That’s where the internal game comes in. Times like these test our faith. It’s fun and easy to believe that you’ll be able to retire when a bull market is driving all stocks upward. It’s fun and easy to believe the Tigers can win the pennant when they start out the season 35 and 5. It’s fun and easy to believe in your own worth when job offers are coming to you, but not so much when you’re one of a thousand people at a job fair. That’s where faith comes in. Faith unfolds in many forms. I loved the state administrator’s question to me, because he stood up in a crowd and asked a fundamentally spiritual and deeply question — a question about truth, and a question about his own faith and hope. These are times for just such honesty. These are times to look deeply. These are times to put stock in those things you believe really matter. Those things may range from well-developed strategies, to the strengths of relationships, to the power of facing the truth, or to the knowledge that you may be planting seeds which will bring forth trees under whose shade you may never personally sit. Faith is the intrinsic value of honesty, hard work, love, and for many, the hand of God in all things.

 Today could be a good day to reaffirm the deep things in which you believe. Invest your energy in the work, in the truth, and in your team to:

 Lead with your best self.



  • Hey Dan,

    Pretty darn good for three off-the-cuff remarks. In fact, if a person would have had time to plan a response, I don’t know if they could have done any better.

    I think all three of these suggestions are important: to stay focused, to recognize the gains that you do make, and to rely on one’s faith. For many of us — even though we know better — it’s easy to compartmentalize our lives into things like family, work, and leisure, with faith being something separate. But I dare say that down inside, we know that faith is something that should transcend our lives. Your readers come from many different faiths, so the way each of us applies our faith will be different. But it’s important to know that there’s something bigger than each of us, and without that trust and faith, it’s difficult to be our best, and to add to the cumulative betterment of everyone around us.

  • Dan,

    There’s a really terrible old joke: “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. That way, he is a mile away and you have his shoes…”

    Twice in five years I have been the unfortunate subject of ambush terminations — no warning, no preparation, nothing personal…”It’s just business.” This attitude dehumanizes the trauma and strengthens the impersonal concept of Human Resources (a phrase I hate). In light of your comments today, I think you could add the need for a leader to demonstrate a deep and abiding empathy with those he or she may be forced to terminate from their jobs. The remaining members of your team are also traumatized in these times, and may suffer great fear and angst if the Sword of Damocles is swung by an impersonal and unfeeling hand. There are few things more personal than losing your job, especially in a society where self-worth is often measured by accomplishments, rank, wealth, and your apparent value to your employer. It should never be easy to terminate another’s livelihood, perhaps even end a career. Demonstrating empathy for and understanding of the other’s pain and loss may hurt, but it will help keep you human and reassure the other team members that you truly care about them. Honest words are important, but they will remember honest feelings much longer. It will give your words of hope a foundation for trust.

    I wish with all my heart that my two past employers understood the impact of their impersonal terminations. I know that their remaining employees understand it. Thanks for your insight, Dan.

    • Dan,

      You picked a great subject. Mick makes an excellent point. Everyday the Dow drops the commentators report how the consumer isn’t buying. This evening’s news reported that movie theaters are seeing an upsurge in attendance because it is a cheap form of entertainment and everyone is keeping their wallet close to their purse or pocket. What does this have to do with faith? In my opinion, I think there is a strong correlation. Mick correctly highlights the dehumanizing aspect of loosing a job not once but several times over. In Saturday’s Detroit Free Press the headlines at the top of the paper stated that production of York Peppermint Patties and other brands ended Friday at the Hershey Co, plant in Reading Pa.
      The work is going to you guessed it, Mexico.

      A strong and abiding faith in our economic system that one would have a steady job and be paid a decent wage to live confortably has been completely destroyed by the Corporate philosophy that has dominated our national scene over the last 12 years which emphasized restructuring was necessary for the good of the shareholders and to make the corporations more competitive. Sadly, hourly jobs were sent to other countries because workers in those places could be paid 13 times less. It was only a matter of time when white collar jobs were the next to go. The only people who made out were The CEOS who gave themselves lavish compensation packages because of the great jobs they did of destroying the economic independence of the American wage earner. So the economic downturn should continue for sometime becasue I feel the average Joe has lost faith in our system of government, and our leaders. In my opinion this fear of an insecure economic future is real. Why would anyone want to go out and buy anything if they are not confident or lack faith that they will have a job by the end of the month,

  • Dan,

    Leadership faith can manifest itself in hopeful actions.

    Hope is different from optimism which is a generalized expectancy that good things will happen. Hope is something that can be taught and developed through participating in positive conversations and reading self-help books followed by taking positive action steps with the assistance of a supporting leader/coach, mentors and a like-minded support group.

    Hope can be your pathway to get what you want in today’s tough economy—along with the motivation and strength to travel that path. A higher degree of hope creates a higher satisfaction in the life you choose to live and the work you do in serving others.

  • Listening to Dan’s inspirational words and reading the heartfelt blog posts, I have an image of a sometimes dormant, other times lovely flowering plant – the amaryllis that blossomed in my kitchen window this week. Bear with me here, it relates because during tough times, it’s stem gets cut back to the bulb and stays dormant, requiring only minimal water and living in a “hunkered down” state. This plant belonged to my late, beloved mother-in-law. After her passing, my 7 year old found it on Grandma’s back porch…….a couple of months later. Because my little girl did not give up faith that it would bloom again, we enjoy its flower every winter……..almost like Grandma pays us a visit! These tough times require us to “get back to basics” – taking fuller advantage of scarcer resources – but knowing that we’ll blossom again.

  • Amen to all of your points.
    I find that the internal part can be assisted with meditation, prayer and community.

  • Dan,

    That question came at a very good time and one that a lot of people are asking. At a time when so much is in question and what lies ahead for our children and their children, we have to turn to faith, but I believe more importantly to have faith in each other. Being negative and looking to blame someone else will never solve anything. For the sake of the people we come into contact with day in and day out, remaining positive and keeping the faith is all we have and we should never let desperation get the best of us. Problems can never be solved by taking the attitude that it can’t be done just as the adage says, “if you believe it can happen or it can’t happen, you’re probably right”.

    Thanks for remaining positive, continuing to look for answers and keeping the faith.

  • Let’s have a little perspective here. News media are always hyping the negative. Does that mean we have to? I heard on the radio today that the Dow dropped as low as it was in 1997! Omigosh! Let’s all wring our hands and bemoan our fate! Excuse me? I was alive in 1997. I lived through it. Was it so horrible for you? Funny… I don’t remember anything particularly tragic about it.

    Just because someone else is alarmed about one thing or another doesn’t mean we have to jump on the alarmist bandwagon. There are always things to be grateful for. No bombs dropping on our heads. No floods or fires today. Enough to eat today. Shoes and clothes to wear… more than many in third-world countries have!

    How about focusing on the positive, and things we can control, like looking for a job, or looking for a better job, or volunteering to raise money for a worthwhile cause? Better than bemoaning all the stuff that might happen, but didn’t, or is happening, but we have little control over it.

    We are not powerless. There’s always a tree to hug and soon there will be flowers to brighten our day. We can focus on positives. We can be grateful.

    • There is a huge difference between “jumping on the alarmist bandwagon” and voicing opposition to the cronyism and collusion/corruption between Government and upper echelon Wall St. types. I prefer to call it “jumping on the ACCOUNTABILITY bandwagon.” Case in point…..just one of MANY…..the same federal auditor who was supposed to be looking out for the citizens of the USA, and in particular, the folks who had funds in the Charles Keating run Lincoln Savings and Loan…..the one that started the S & L debacle, was also the same auditor who was overseeing that relationship with the failed bank in California called IndyMac. Coincidence; hardly. His ‘reward’ for looking out for the bank stock holders was not a criminal investigation, but rather, he was given the ‘opportunity’ to ‘retire’ with full federal employee benefits intact.

  • All I have to do is focus on my current project, the CHEF’S CHALLENGE – a Culinary fundraising event for Challenge Mountain, an adaptive recreational facilty for he developmentally challenged. For a second year event, things are shaping up great. I’m dealing with some cancer now, so that gives things a bit more urgency. I’ll leave that up to my doctors, as I don’t have time to worry because there are so many things to do.
    How blessed I am to be in Michigan, with the fantastic awakening/rebirth Spring season approaching. This is the year many of our citizens should concentrate on staying home and exploring Michigan on Spring Break. Forget heading South – if the economy forces them to stay close to home, it’s a blessing in disguise. The savings are fantastic, and the options and discoveries awaiting them will combine to make them realize what they have been missing. I can see Spring becoming a prime contributor to our Tourist economy in Michigan, and it’s taking a bad economy to make it happen. I just hope we don’t miss this opportunity to pass the word.
    Sorry, Dan. Your comments got me reflecting, and I had to do a bit of preaching. Everyone should look forward to April and May with great anticipation.

  • Dan, your off the cuff comments are great. I would add that perhaps we might consider being positive and motivating others simply because “it is the right thing to do.” Consider the folks in health care, and those at home who are caregivers, who face the issue of how to motivate themselves, their patient or loved one, and others involved everyday when they are sure that life for their patient or loved one will not get better. . . . ever. Think of the person who is caring for a loved one with MS, terminal cancer, Parkinsons, etc etc. These caregivers dig deep inside themselves each day and use their faith. They know that it is simply the “right thing to do” to be positive as they do the most important things each day (which do change from day to day)and make the other person’s life as good as it can be for that day. Both know that they will not be getting better, or improving, or returning to a productive life. The game will not be won. These are the folks who really have to focus on leadership and faith everyday. The difficulty managers in business, government and nonprofits are facing today are similar to the leadership challenges these folks face everyday; it is simply the nature of their work. There may be some lessons we can learn from them.

  • I felt pride in reading this article and vindicated for all the scars I still carry from being on the front lines in Education Adminstration for so many years. You expressed exactly the emotions I experienced in my role as the one and only woman adminstrator at the table, often…not to mention the men’s room and golf courses being where many of the real decisions were “cut and dried” before reaching hte table…

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