Transformative Coaching: Inspiring Your Team by Demonstrating You Care, by Todd Hall, PhD

Seven life lessons from an award-winning tennis coach

We’re pre-wired to understand meaning in a narrative form. Story captures the imagination more than rational thought. Story also activates people’s emotions, which is what motivates people to action.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

What kind of people do you want to be around? What kind of person motivates you to do your best? To become the best version of yourself? If you’re like me, the simple answer is people who genuinely care about you. There are a lot of ways to show care, and lots of ways to describe it, but for simplicity, we can call it connection. This is why you should lead with connection. As I described in my last post on the 3 benefits of leading with connection, you’re most effective when you start with connection, rather than competence. In addition, leading with connection means that relational connection should permeate your leadership. So, how then, do you lead with connection in this sense?


I had a high school tennis coach who really connected with my teammates and me. He started my sophomore year and, in the span of one season, took a struggling team to one that was competitive against some of the best high school tennis teams in Southern California. Looking back, it was a remarkable feat. Here’s an excerpt from a 1989 L.A. Times article about our team:

Redondo celebrated its first boys’ league tennis championship since . . . well, since anyone can remember. “The last one was a long time ago,” Coach Ted Atteberry said. “I know they had not won a championship while I’ve been at the school.” Atteberry, who started teaching at Redondo in 1981, watched the Sea Hawks end the drought Wednesday with a 15-3 win over Mira Costa to clinch the Ocean League title with an 11-1 record.  “We put in an awful lot of time on the courts,” he said. “The kids that come out are not real experienced, but they’re a very hard-working group and very coachable. There are no secrets. We just put in the hours.”

We did put in the hours, but Coach Atteberry was being modest here. He connected in numerous ways that created a team that wanted to its best for him and for us. The root of our hard work and success was that we knew Coach Atteberry cared about us. I knew he cared about our team and each of us as individuals. Whether you’re coaching a team, leading an organization, mentoring someone, or contributing individually to a group, these practices will help you make a positive impact by leading with connection within your sphere of influence.


Coach Atteberry listened to us. He sought our input on the team line-up and the workouts. He was still in charge, but he genuinely valued our input. When someone felt frustrated or treated unfairly, Coach listened first to try understand his perspective. Particularly when there is conflict or confusion, listen first. Try to understand the other’s perspective. What is their experience? What messages are they hearing from you—spoken and unspoken? What do they need you to hear now? True dialogue starts with listening first. That means you don’t think about what you want to say next while the other person is talking.


Coach Atteberry observed each match, and our overall improvement and wove them into a story. At least once a week at practice, and after every match, he told us the story we were living out on the courts. It helped us to see who we were, and what we were capable of as a team. When we start to hear a story, we immediately sit up and tune in. We’re naturally drawn in because we’re pre-wired to understand meaning in a narrative form. Story captures the imagination more than rational thought. Story also activates people’s emotions, which is what motivates people to action. So if you want to move people to action, lead with a story…

Continue reading

Lead with Connection, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

Why leading with your competence may not your greatest asset

We turn in to warmth faster than we tune in to competence

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SO PRESSURED ON A PROJECT that you focused solely on the tasks and forgot that you are working with human beings—people who have anxieties, fears, hopes, and dreams just like you? 

Screen-Shot-2015-02-22-at-11.20.55-AM-524x405Several years ago, I was in a meeting between two departments that were working on a project together. There had been several miscommunications and each department was frustrated with the other. The time had come for the key players from both departments to meet and try to resolve the problems. The leader of one department started the meeting out by blaming the other department and demanding they do a better job with their part of the project. Sure, he showed his “strength,” but the meeting did not go well from there. He was so concerned with competence, he forgot he was relating to people—not robots or computers. And as a consequence, it hurt the entire team’s performance on the project.

I do my own version of this all the time. I get so focused on my to-do list and my goals that I lose sight of the chance to connect to the people I work with, and to maybe help them in some small, but meaningful way.

Our work culture is so focused on results that make us look successful (smart and competent), that we often lose sight of the big picture. We often lose sight of the importance of connecting in our work relationships.

Connection, however, isn’t just a nice add-on at work; it’s a huge part of what makes work meaningful, and it’s critical for team performance.

A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Connect, Then Lead,” argues that connection or warmth is so important, in fact, that you should start with connecting before demonstrating strength or competence. The authors cite research by social psychologist Alex Todorov and colleagues, which found that the first thing we evaluate in others when we look at their face is their trustworthiness.

We tune-in to warmth faster than competence.

Here are three benefits of starting with connection.


If you start with connection, and focus on connection at work, you will create a much more meaningful work life. Why? Because we are born to connect and this basic drive doesn’t just disappear in our work life. In her recent book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington makes an important observation: “Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?”

At the end of the day, people aren’t going to remember you for your titles, roles, and accomplishments, as important as those things are. They are going remember how you treated them, and how they felt about themselves when they were with you. They are going to remember you for how (well) you connected, because that is what’s most meaningful to them.

Now think about this from your point of view. When you take a step back from the deadlines, emails that need to be answered, and projects that need to be completed, what is most meaningful to you in your work life? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that somewhere near the top of the list is the relationships you’ve developed along the way. So don’t wait until the end of your career to start building meaningful relationships—start now…


Continue Reading

Todd-Hall-LOGO-2014-may-e1400621894177Todd W. Hall, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Director of the Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality, and Editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, in the Los Angeles area. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University, and a doctoral specialization in measurement and psychometrics from UCLA. Using his expertise in clinical psychology, spirituality, leadership, and organizational development, Dr. Hall helps leaders and organizations maximize their potential and effectiveness.

Lead With Connection; Free ebook by Dr. Todd Hall


Spirit-empowered Leadership and the ‘Dangerous Unity’ of Prayer

Kingdom Prayer and the Work of the Holy Spirit

When is the last time you heard of a church or college in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together?

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Why is the power of the Holy Spirit so evident in some communities and so absent in others?  Why are some leaders so directed and effective in their callings, while others faithfully program and preach with so little sign of God’s presence? Why are some campus ministries effective in helping students come to faith, while others are so ineffective?  Why do some churches deeply impact their culture, while others merely grow more conformed to its image?  Why are some cities and campuses so full of God’s presence and others so empty?

Pastors Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, Lloyd Ogilvie in Prayer gathering at the Rose Bowl
Jack Hayford, Kenneth Ulmer, and Lloyd Ogilvie at Rose Bowl prayer gathering.

The first time I lived in Los Angeles, Presbyterian Lloyd Ogilvie and Pentecostal Jack Hayford teamed up to gather hundreds of leaders from around the city to gather for half a day of prayer every month. It started with a handful of their ministerial friends who were willing to spend long periods of time together in focused prayer (and even fasting.) They then invited other ministers to gather monthly, and gather they did. As a young campus minister, it was a life-altering experience to gather with more than 500 city leaders willing to give up a day of their busy schedule to seek God’s face together. Not only were they  powerful times of prayer, they were times of prayer for God’s power. God seemed to answer the prayers of that era with an increase of the Spirit’s work all across the city. When the gatherings stopped, the vitality and influence of the church across the city seemed to falter.

A coincidence?  Maybe. Anecdotal evidence is often used to support nearly any theology, and certainly there were a number of complex factors involved in that unique era of L.A. history. Still, the entire experience left me wondering: Is it possible God that releases the ministry of his Holy Spirit on earth primarily when and where his help is specifically requested by His people?  Consider the case from the Old Testament.

Spirit-Empowered Leadership and Prayer

Othniel, by J James Tissot
Othniel, by J James Tissot

Throughout the Old Testament, it is the Spirit of God who empowers God’s people to do his will. [7] In the power of the Holy Spirit anointed leaders delivered Israel from their oppressors,[8] performed supernatural feats,[9] prophesied the word of God,[10] judged Israel’s affairs,[11] built the tabernacle,[12] and received God’s plan for the Temple.[13]

The prepositions “among” and “upon” are of particular significance in describing the Spirit’s work in the OT. This work of the Spirit is primarily “external” in the sense that the Spirit does not dwell within OT saints as in NT believers.[14] The work of God is often accomplished by the Spirit “coming upon”,[15] or “lifting up”[16] a leader or prophet.[17] In Judaism the Spirit of God is especially the “Spirit of prophecy,” [18] and the NT affirms that the prophets “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”.[19]

The Spirit dwells “among” the people of God, through these Spirit-empowered leaders[20] who comprise a mere handful of the people of God: primarily judges,[21] prophets,[22] and kings.[23] This work of the Spirit seems to be closely related to anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s actions—the hand of God,[24] the finger of God,[25] the breath of God,[26] “the word of God.”[27]

Throughout the Old Testament prayer plays a significant role in the release of the ministry of the Holy Spirit on earth. [28]  One of the more remarkable examples is found in the third chapter of the book of Judges, when the cry of the people of God for deliverance from their enemies is answered by God putting His Spirit upon the Othniel to deliver them:

“When they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave the king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.” -Judges 3:9-10

This pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament as God answers the cries of his people by giving them Spirit-empowered leaders. [29]

What is more, the Old Testament prophets foretold of a day when the empowerment of God’s Spirit would be available to all God’s people.[33] Joel 2:27-28 and other passages prophesy a coming Messianic age of the Spirit that will be marked by an outpouring of the Spirit coming “upon” all of God’s people not merely a limited set of leaders.[31] When the kingdom of the Messiah breaks into the world, both the external “empowering” work of the Holy Spirit, [32] and the “internal” purifying work of the indwelling Spirit would distinguish the people of God from all other peoples. “I will put my Spirit in you (all) and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27).[34]

So why aren’t believers today experiencing the kind of empowering and purifying work of the Holy Spirit that marked the lives of most Old Testament leaders?  Perhaps it’s because we don’t pray like they did? For instance, King Jehoshaphat and his followers prayed (and fasted!) for an entire day before the Lord answered.

“All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel …as he stood in the assembly. He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you…” -2 Chronicles 20:13-15

When was the last time you heard of a church in the United States devoting an entire day to prayer and fasting together? Would we even know how to wait together–men, women, and children–until the Spirit of God gave an answer? Maybe not. But certainly we can learn. Our busy modern lifestyles might mitigate against our gathering the entire church to pray, but it might be possible to start with the leaders.

Gathering Campus and City Leaders to Pray

Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the Campus Transformation gathering 20+ years after their 'dangerous unity' at Michigan State.
Gary, Greg, Leo, and Gordie at the 2012 Campus Transformation Network gathering 20+ years after their ‘dangerous unity’ at MSU.

When my wife and I served as campus ministers at Michigan Student University we were specifically warned against developing ‘dangerous unity’ with the leaders of the two largest competing campus ministries: Leo Lawson and Greg Van Nada. Fortunately, biblical convictions and past experience won out over administrative caution. Leo, Greg, local college pastor Gordie Decker, and our staff teams soon joined in evenings of united prayer for God to work through all the campus ministries at MSU. While we never really saw the kind of campus-wide spiritual awakening we were asking from God, many students did come to faith, and much more importantly, we learned to seek God for his agenda and just to be in his presence. The experience helped birth a vision in each of the hearts of those leaders that burns to this day. Leo, Greg, Gordie, myself and many other MSU leaders of that era continue in campus ministry and continue to pursue the work of God across our campuses and cities.

Later, while serving as a college pastor on the north shore of Boston, I was invited to join the steering committee for the Boston Ministers Prayer Summit. The leaders of the church in the city believed so strongly in prayer that we would carve three days out of our busy schedules just to wait on the Lord together. Some of our gatherings were like days of heaven on earth. And perhaps it is not surprising that while the Prayer Summit remained strong, the church in greater Boston experienced what became known as the “Quiet Revival.” One of the most “unchurched” urban centers in America witnessed the birth and renewal of hundreds of thriving churches, and many campus fellowships began to experience unprecedented growth.

Is it time to once again gather the leaders of our campuses and cities to seek God? All anecdotal evidence aside, I suspect that the writers of the Old Testament would answer, YES!

Next:  With Prayer in the School of Christ: Higher Education and the Knowledge of God

For Jesus prayer and education were inseparable, because education and the knowledge of God are inseparable.



[1] Grudem, 1994, p. 634.

[2] John 6:32,46;13:3;15:26; Acts 2:33; Rom 1:7; 1Cor 8:6; Jam. 1:17.

[3] Rom 5:10; Heb. 1:2; 1John 4:9.

[4] Neh 9:30; Ezek 11:24; Matt 12:28; Mark 11:36; Rom 5:5.

[5] Blomberg, 1996, p. 344.

[6] Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076-7; Simpson, 1988,  p. 600.

[7] Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075-6.

[8] Judges 3:10

[9] Judges 14:6

[10] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[11] Num 11:17f

[12] Exo 31:3; 35:31

[13] 1Chr 28:12

[14] Grudem, 1994, p. 637

[15] 1Sam 11:6; 1Chr 12:18; 2Chr 20:14; 24:20; Ezek. 11:5; Isa 59:21

[16] Ezek 3:14; 8:3; 11:24

[17] Blomberg, 1996, p. 345.

[18] Schweizer, 1986, p. 381

[19] 2Pet 1:21; cf. Isa. 59:21; 2Sam 23:2; Neh 9:30

[20] Isa 63:11   Hag 2:5

[21] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6,19; 15:14

[22] 2Chr 15:1; Ezek 11:5; Isa 59:21

[23] 1Sam 10:6,10; 11:6. See also, Kaiser, 1997, pp. 1075.

[24] 2Chr 30:12; 2Kgs 3:15; Ezek 33:22

[25] Exod 31:18

[26] Ps 19:1; 102:25

[27] Kamlah, 1978, p. 692; cf. Ps 33:6; 147:15,18.

[28] Kaiser, 1999, pp.3-7

[29] Judg 3:10; 6:34; 9:23; 11:29;13:25;14:6;14:19;15:14;

1Samuel 16:13; 1Kings 18:45; 2Kings 3:14

[30] Psalm 51:11

[31] Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Zech 12:10. See also, Pach, 1954, 34-36.

[32] See Fee, XXXX, . Also Kaiser, 1997, p. 1076; Blomberg, 1996, p. 344; Grudem, 1994, p. 637.

[33] Ezek 36:27; cf. 11:19; 37:14

[34] See also, Ezekial 11:19; 37:14.

Three Practices to Repair Relational Ruptures, by Todd W. Hall, PhD.

Continuing series on leadership, relationships, and spirituality from leading attachment theory expert.

In all my relationships—but especially with the people I lead—my job is to go first in doing everything I can to repair the rupture.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology

betrayalRecently, I was reminded that relationships are dynamic—always changing, unfolding, developing.

Along with the changes, ruptures and conflict in relationships are inevitable. They happen all the time. It’s part of what it means to be human.

It also means you can’t bank on the trust that was built in the past. Trust is built and re-built one interaction at a time.

I re-learned that the hard way recently. I was responsible to be there to support someone I mentor. I unintentionally blew Frank* off. Sure, it was unintentional, but it still had a negative impact. After it happened, Frank called me on it. I was a little bit surprised—another sign of how out of tune I was with the negative impact I had caused.

My first internal reaction was defensiveness. I wished like crazy that I could just rely on the past status of the relationship being positive and intact. But it doesn’t work that way. I wasn’t there in the way I should have been, and it caused pain. There was a rupture and it hurt Frank’s performance. He wasn’t able to focus on his job because he was preoccupied with the rupture.







How to Repair a Relational Rupture

In all my relationships—but especially with the people I lead—my job is to go first in doing everything I can to repair the rupture.

Your job as a leader is to go first as well.

It’s not your employees’ responsibility to repair a rupture, even if they caused it. It’s yours. Even if it’s a colleague, go first and help create the trust you want in your team.

It’s hard to go first. It’s one of the most difficult things that come with the territory of leadership and relationships in general.

Here are 3 practices that will help you repair relational ruptures… 

Continue Reading

* The name and some circumstances have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Dr. Todd Hall writes on psychology, relationships, and leadership and is currently offering a free 5-week ecourse on becoming a Connected Leader at

LOST Lessons of Leadership 3: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – Authoritarian Leadership Learns to Serve

Part 3 of series, LOST Lessons of Leadership: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

Ben carefully manipulates of his followers by giving them just enough of what they want to be able to keep them under his control

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

Dr. Benjamin Linus, a wolf in sheep’s clothing

The second season of LOST introduces yet a third approach to leadership in the person of Dr. Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson). Ben is the leader of “The Others”—a second group of island inhabitants who predate the plane crash and have no intention of sharing the island with the survivors of Oceanic 815. [1]

Ben is neither a servant leader, nor an overtly authoritarian one. He is something else altogether. He is not above using the “gun” of authoritarian power to force people to do his will, but his particular talent is mastery in the art of picking up a “basin and towel” in order to manipulate followers to do his bidding.

As evidenced in the clip below, Ben is the most dangerous type of leader in the postmodern world—a pseudo servant leader. Injured, captured, and imprisoned by the crash survivors (who have no idea who he really is), the unassuming Ben seems to be in no position to lead. Yet, watch how quickly he gets under John Locke’s skin by exploiting Locke’s “need” to be seen on equal or greater footing than Jack. (Go ahead. I’ll wait while you watch it.)

LOST Season 2: Ben manipulating Locke. Follow my videos on vodpod


The Paradox of Power

Leadership is essentially a transaction. Followers give their leaders power in exchange for service. The “paradox of power” in democratic societies is that men and women simply will not follow leaders they don’t perceive are meeting their needs.

The American political system bears testimony to this paradox. We call our elected officials “Public Servants.”  If they serve us well, we re-elect them.  If they serve us poorly, we elect others in their place.

Business practice bears this out well. Companies who serve their customers well are highly rewarded with return business and referrals.  Companies that do not meet the needs of their clients soon find themselves filing for bankruptcy.

Hollywood is painfully aware of this principle. The “best” film ever made won’t last a week in theaters if it fails to touch a chord in the hearts, minds, (or funny bones) of a significant audience.

Faith communities are subject to this paradox as well. People join churches and follow various teachers and rabbis because they sense their needs are being met.  They “vote” for their favorite spiritual leader with their attendance, their giving and, in the burgeoning religious marketplace, their buying.  Churches that truly meet the needs of their congregations grow large and prosperous.  Their pastors become famous.  Their methods and teaching become models for others.

But is this all there is to servant leadership? If so, then anyone can do it.  Just give people what they want and you’re a leader.  But are you?  Really?  Is the ability to attract a following by promising and (sometimes) delivering what people want all there is to transformational leadership? If it is, then we are in real trouble.

Authoritarian Leadership Learns to Serve

Unfortunately, the paradox of power cuts both ways. People give power for service.  A leader who fails to understand this and, therefore, fails to seek to meet the needs of his followers will soon lead only himself. However, the leader who does understand this principle can turn it to his advantage.  By selectively meeting only those needs of his followers which meet his agenda, an authoritarian can actually “lord it over” his followers by careful manipulation.

Ben maintains a dictatorial iron fist upon the “others,” by claiming to be their servant leader

This is where authoritarian leadership can most closely resemble servant leadership. Because of the paradox of power even an authoritarian leader must be wise in how she attains to her goal of gaining a position over their followers.  Machiavelli, the epitome of authoritarian leadership, put it this way:  “Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.”

Mao Tse-Tung, the father of Chinese communism, used this principle to subdue an entire nation under his iron-fisted grip. His interest in the welfare of the peasants of China was based upon managerial expediency not philosophical principle.  He boldly declared:

“To link oneself with the masses one must act in accordance with their needs and wishes… We should pay close attention to the well being of the masses, from the problems of land and labor to those of fuel and rice… We should help them to proceed from these things to an understanding of the higher tasks which we have put forward… such is the basic method of leadership.”[2]

Power Brokers

A quick study of history will reveal that nearly every dictator from Napoleon to Hitler to Hitler rose to power by mastering this principle. They doled out servant leadership in exchange for power.  Burns describes the difference this way: They learned to exploit the paradox of power to their personal advantage.  In the words of James MacGregor Burns, they are not true servant leaders, but power-brokers.

“Power-brokers …respond to their subjects’ needs and motivations only to the extent that they have to in order to fulfill their own power objectives, which remain their primary concern.  True leaders, on the other hand, emerge from, and always return to, the wants and needs of their followers.  They see their task as the recognition and mobilization of their followers’ needs.”[3]

This kind of power-brokering appears to be the true motivation behind much of the “servant leadership” in contemporary society. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman helped birth a revolution in the business book publishing industry by studying the actual practices of top corporations. One of his key findings is summed up as follows: “Almost everyone agrees, ‘people are our most important asset,’ yet almost none really live it.  The excellent companies live their commitment to people . . . They insisted on top quality.  They fawned on their customers.” [4]

Yet Peters and Waterman were unwittingly candid as to why such an approach is so effective: “We desperately need meaning in our lives and will sacrifice a great deal to institutions that will provide meaning for us.”[5] Really? So is the goal to provide meaning or to get our customers to sacrifice to buy our product?

Barber and Strauss in their book Leadership: The Dynamics of Success, are equally candid:

“Servanthood is the highest form of leadership.  It is the ideal.  It exists when the leader creates a caring environment in which those under him feel wanted and appreciated.  In this environment they can respond to his direction and reach their highest level of productivity.”[6]

Hmmm? So what motivates the supervisor’s interest in her employees needs: service or manipulation? It is difficult to discern?  What happens when meeting the real needs of employees will (at least temporarily) hurt their productivity?  Are they really interested in meeting the needs of their employees or are they merely searching for a method to get them to follow their leadership?

And what about the pastor who diligently attempts to meet the needs of his flock?Which motivates him more; building his people into a super-congregation, or building himself into a superstar?

All too often “servant leadership” boils down to little more than skillful manipulation. We invest in the needs of others only if it yields for us a return on our investment:  a return of profit, promotion and power.  Our true motive is not to serve others, but to serve ourself.  It is authoritarian leadership in servant clothing—all form but no substance.

The LOST Power of Ben

Ben carefully manipulates Juliet by giving her what she wants (but only in order to get what he really wants.)

This appears to be the secret to Ben’s unassuming power: He is wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is a master dictator skilled in the careful manipulation of his followers through giving them enough of what they want to be able to keep them under control.

Nowhere is this more evident than his recruitment of Dr. Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell). Ben lures Juliet to the island by “serving” her in the death of her estranged husband, the healing of her cancer-ridden sister, and appealing to her longing to help barren women conceive. And to what purpose? To make her his own. (To view the creepy scene, see clip link below.)

Like Dr. Benjamin Linus, the secret to so much power in Western society today is not so much genuine servant leadership seeking to meet the needs of others, but rather the careful manipulation of others through the sleight of hand of power-brokering. 

So what is the difference between power-brokering and genuine servant leadership?


Next post in the seriesLOST Lessons of Leadership 4: Charlie and Juliet’s Sacrifice – The Heart of Servant Leadership 


Previous Posts In Series:

Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

The Paradox of Power: A Cure for the Cancer of Pseudo Celebrity?

LOST Lessons of Leadership 1: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

LOST Lessons of Leadership 2: Jack’s Position of Power – A Study in Servant Leadership


[1] Remarkably, the role of Dr. Benjamin Linus (aka, Henry Gale) was originally intended to be short-lived and minor. However, Michael Emerson created such a creepy and compelling character (one that earned him two Emmy nominations) show writers ended up “promoting” him to be leader of the “others.”

[2] Quoted in James MacGregor Burns. Leadership. p. 10

[3] James MacGregor Burns, Leadership. p. 48

[4] Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. (New York:  Harper & Rowe)  p. 13,16

[5] In Search of Excellence, p. 56

[6] Cyril T. Barber and Gary H.  Strauss.  Leadership: The Dynamics of Success.  (Greenwood, SC:  Attic Press), pp. 107-108

LOST Lessons of Leadership 2: Jack’s Position of Power – Service for the Common Good

Part 2 of series, LOST Lessons of Leadership: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

Instead of treating leadership like a gun to meet his own needs, Jack is using leadership as a tool to serve others

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

In contrast to the “asshole” style of leadership evidenced by Sawyer and his gun (see, LOST lesson #1), the first season of LOST open’s with a compelling story of a radically different approach: service. In perhaps the best seven-minute opening in the history of action-adventure television, Dr. Jack Shephard awakens to find himself alone and injured in a bamboo grove on a deserted island. Ignoring his own injuries, Jack rushes to the crash site and jumps into action as a servant leader. He tends to the wounded, brings a woman back from the dead, performs jungle surgery, leads the exploratory party to look for their jetliner’s transceiver, and plunges into the water to save a drowning woman. 

Despite a back story that would cause many to eschew the heroic, Jack functions not so much like a positional leader with the gun, but rather as a servant leader instead for the entire group.  

If you want to see exactly what I mean, you’ll have to sign in to ABC to watch the first ten minutes of the pilot below. (Also available on Hulu.)

The Nature of Servant Leadership



Few words seem more mutually exclusive. Leaders give orders. Servants take them.  Leaders have followers. Servants have masters.  Leaders are powerful. Servants are powerless.  Everyone wants to be a leader. Everyone wants to have a servant.

But are they really so opposite? Jesus told his followers that true spiritual power comes not in seeking a position over others, but rather in a position under them.

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” -Mark 10:43-44

The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs.

How these words must have shocked Jesus’ disciples. They must have shook their heads to clear their ears.  Surely they could not have heard correctly.  A servant in Jesus’ day was the lowest of professions.  He performed the most menial of household tasks.  A slave was lower still.  “He had no rights at law and could demand no privileges …his money, his time, his future, his marriage were all, strictly speaking, at the disposal of his master.”[1]

But there was no mistake: Jesus selected His words very carefully. A servant is someone who lives to meet the needs of his master.  A servant leader lives for the needs of his followers.  The basis for greatness in the kingdom of God is not how many people serve you, but rather, how many people you serve.

The authoritarian leader uses people to help him gain his position of authority. The servant leader uses his position of authority to help him meet the needs of others.  “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant–first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”[2] The more needs he meets, the better the servant he is and, therefore, the better leader.

The Power of Servant Leadership

If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.

This is the secret power of a servant leader:  people want to follow them. They sense that she genuinely cares about their well-being. There is something in the very nature of leadership that implies service.  True leaders, those who people follow because they want to not because they have to, always begin with and return to the needs of their followers.  As James MacGregor Burns states in his monumental work, Leadership: “The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs.”[3]

This is the secret to Jack’s leadership. He really isn’t trying to lead.  He is trying to serve. The group gradually gravitated to following him precisely because they realized that he was acting with their best interests in mind. When the group needs medical care, Jack is there. When they need fresh water, Jack finds it. When tensions in the group finally boil over into a fight, it is Jack who intervenes in what becomes one of the most famous speeches of the series:

It’s been six days and we’re all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don’t? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. …Everyman for himself is not going to work. …Last week most of us were strangers, but we’re all here now. And God knows how long we’re going to be here. But if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.” 

The Goal of Servant Leadership

Throughout the rest of season one (don’t get me started talking about subsequent seasons), Jack continues to cast vision for the survivor’s future by inviting them into a story of collective servanthood. He functions as what business writer Jim Collins refers to as a “Level 5 Leader.” Collins studied top companies in order to discern why some were able to grow from being “good” companies into “great,” while others faltered. Not surprisingly, servant leadership was key. In Collins words:

Level 5 leaders are differentiated from other levels of leaders in that they have a wonderful blend of personal humility combined with extraordinary professional will. They are very ambitious; but their ambition, first and foremost, is for the company’s success. [5]

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Like many Level 5 Leaders, Jack hasn’t sought and doesn’t even want to lead. In fact, it takes Jack more than a few episodes to even realize that he has become the group’s de facto leader.  When he insists to John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) that he can’t lead because, ”I’m not a leader!”  Locke can only reply, “Yet they treat you like one.”

And why not? Instead of treating leadership like a gun to meet his own needs, Jack is using leadership as a tool to serve others. Like Jesus, who took up the tools of a household servant—a basin and a towel—in order to wash the feet of his first followers; Jack uses his medical training and innate leadership skills to wash the wounds, and souls of the survivors of Oceanic 815.

By rejecting the path of lording it over the group and choosing to take a position under the survivors, Jack has become a true servant leader..

But is that all there is to servant leadership? If only it were so simple…

Next: LOST Lessons of Leadership 3: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Authoritarian Leaders Learn to Serve.


See also:

LOST Lessons of Leadership: What ABC’s Hit Series Taught Me About Heroic Character.

Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly Guest Posts on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

The Paradox of Power: A Cure for the Cancer of Pseudo Celebrity?



[1] Michael Green, Called to Serve (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1964), p. 19.

[2] James M. Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper & Row, 2010), p. 461.

[3] Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness: 25th Anniversary Edition (New York:  Paulist Press, 2002),  p. 13

[4] Sarah Powell, “Taking Good to Great: An Interview with Jim Collins.”  See also, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t (New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001).

[5] At least for the remainder of Season 1.

LOST Lessons of Leadership: What the Island Taught Me About Heroic Character

Part of ongoing series: Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God:  Celebrity and Servant Leadership in an Age of Self Promotion.

Like all authoritarian leaders, Sawyer understood that a leadership position is often wielded very much like a gun

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Critically-acclaimed and wildly successful, culture watchers consider LOST one of the most influential TV shows of all time

I admit it. I’m a huge fan of ABC’s hit series LOST (2004-2010). My son gave me the first season DVDs as a Father’s Day gift right before I boarded a plane for a conference at Yale University. After a late night arrival, I checked into my turn-of-the-century dorm room, fired up the trusty laptop and watched the first episode…alone.  I was completely hooked from the opening slate. [1]

I was also terrified. The juxtaposition of the Island’s tropical beauty with its forlorn isolation evoked some sort of Jungian identification in my soul. The polar bear and that pilot-munching “monster” only added to my sense of disorientation. By the time the first episode ended with a THUD and that eerie theme music, I was completely creeped out.

Lost and alone in a strange dorm room in a college town, I gave LOST my highest horror-film honor—I slept with the lights on!

LOST: A Study in Leadership?

The survivors of Oceanic Airlines flight 815 find themselves on a mysterious island and in desperate need of leadership

Curiously, the most influential aspect of LOST in my own life is its unique insight into the nature of servant leadership. One of the key story lines of LOST’s first season is the tension between Jack (Matthew Fox) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) for leadership of the small band of plane crash survivors desperately seeking to balance the twin goals of survival and rescue.

With the plane’s crew and captain missing (or killed in first episode), Jack and Sawyer step into a profound leadership vacuum with radically different approaches to leadership.

 Sawyer Got a Gun

Jack and Sawyer’s struggle for control of the band of survivors is a central plot line of season one.

To Sawyer, leadership is about getting his own way, and the means to his end is gaining control of the only advanced weapon to survive the plane crash: an air marshal’s pistol. Once Sawyer gets the gun it is only a matter of time before he begins to use it to impose his agenda and well-being as the group’s first priority.

This is the nature of all authoritarian leadership. It is a lesson that Jesus of Nazareth laid out in his understanding of leadership nearly 2,000 years ago. St Mark records an extraordinary encounter between Jesus and two of his disciples–James and John–who approach him in search of positions of authoritarian power.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten (other disciples) heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you!”

-Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 10:35-43)

To Jesus, an authoritarian leader is someone who seeks to leads by virtue of his or her position over people–whether that position of advantage is gained by virtue of wealth, heritage, connections, talent, or luck.  To “lord it over” someone as Jesus calls it, is to attempt to subjugate them and control them.  This kind of leadership typified the Roman Empire-“the rulers of the Gentiles” in Jesus’ day.   First Century Israel was an occupied nation.  The disciples knew all too well the Roman cruelty and taxation that had already attained infamy in their excess.  By virtue of their position Roman soldiers and official could demand service from any civilian they chose.  Clearly Rome did not rule for the good of her subjects but for the glory of Caesar and his favored subjects.

Authoritarian leaders understand that a leadership position can be wielded very much like a gun

The Goal of Authoritarian Leadership

Like all authoritarian leaders, Sawyer understood that a leadership position can be wielded very much like a gun. Genuine leadership— “The skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good”– is the farthest thing from Sawyer’s mind.[2]

The authoritarian leader leads by using their position of power to force others do as she pleases. She accomplishes this by “exercising his authority over” his followers.  She has gained the upper hand by virtue of her wealth, privilege, status, or influence and uses her position as leverage against others to force them to do her bidding.  As George Mallone puts it,  “people who have spent all their energies getting to the top now let others feel the full weight of their authority . . . They are preoccupied with position.”[3]

This is clearly the aim of James and John. They reason that a dual vice-presidency in the kingdom of God is just the ticket for the ultimate power trip.  Yet their very request reveals a deep misconception of the nature of true leadership–a misconception that Jesus quickly corrects.

The Limitations of Authoritarian Leadership

Sawyer’s use of the “Gun” of authoritarian leadership quickly devolves into a power play for control

To the authoritarian leader, power and position are synonymous. Without position they have no power.  Without power, they cease to be a leader at all.  No one would follow them. When Sawyer loses control of the gun, he loses control of the group. As Dan Allender explains, “”You may obey a leader who has power and authority, but you will not strive to serve her or the cause of the organization unless you respect and care for her in addition to the ones with whom you serve.[4]

In short, as Season 1 begins, Sawyer is in the words of Stanford University professor Robert I. Sutton an “asshole”(an actual scholarly designation).  Assholes are profoundly ineffective leaders who “travel through life believing that they are inspiring effective action when, in fact, it only happens during the rare moments they actively impose themselves on underlings.”

The moment the authoritarian leader turns their back (or gun) their influence plummets.  Until then, followers “learn that their survival depends on protecting themselves from blame, humiliation, and recrimination rather than doing what is best for their organization.” Assholes are often praised for their short-term results, but their long-term impact nearly always devastates any group they lead. [5]

Sadly, such ineffective authoritarian leaders are all too common, whether in ancient Rome, a modern corporation, college, church, or synagogue… or even a tropical paradise. 

Next Post in Series:

LOST Lessons of Leadership 2 – Jack and the Position of Power: A Study in Servant Leadership

Previous Posts In Series:

Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God: Servant Leadership in an Age of Self-Promotion

Hollywood Responds to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Higher Education Responses to Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

Icons of Heroic Celebrity: TV Writer Chris Easterly Guest Posts on Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God

The Paradox of Power: A Cure for the Cancer of Pseudo Celebrity?


[1] For those who missed LOST’s premise, ABC TV provides the following introduction: “LOST – Out of the blackness the first thing Jack senses is pain. With a rush comes the horrible awareness that the plane he was on tore apart in mid-air and crashed on a Pacific island. From there it’s a blur as his doctor’s instinct kicks in: people need his help. Stripped of everything, the 48 survivors scavenge what they can from the plane for their survival. A few find inner strength they never knew they had.  The band of friends, family, enemies and strangers must work together against the cruel weather and harsh terrain. But the intense howls of the mysterious creatures stalking the jungle fill them all with fear. Fortunately, thanks to the calm leadership of quick-thinking Jack and level-headed Kate, they have hope.  But even heroes have secrets, as the survivors will come to learn. From J.J. Abrams, the creator of Alias, comes an action-packed adventure that will bring out the very best and the very worst in the people who are lost.” (ABC/MARIO PEREZ

[2] James C. Hunter, The Servant: A simple story about the true essence of leadership (New York: Crown Business, 2008).

[3] George Mallone, Furnace of Renewal (Downers Grove, IL:  Inter Varsity Press, 1981), p. 82

[4] Dan B. Allender, Leading with a Limp: Turning your struggles into strengths (Colorado Springs, Colo: Waterbrook Press, 2006).

[5] Robert I. Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t (New York: Warner Business Books, 2007).

Father’s Day 2014: A Tribute and Two Poems for my Dad

It’s been two years since my Dad went into the presence of the Lord on Father’s Day weekend 2012.  I can think of no better way to honor him this Father’s Day than to repost the tribute I wrote for his Memorial service together with two poems I wrote for him growing up. I hope they help you celebrate and cherish your Father today. 

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor


Warren Kenneth Stratton

Warren Kenneth Stratton, 78, of Bedford, NH, pioneering aerospace leader who retired to become a pastor to New England’s pastors, died June 15, 2012 after a brief illness.
 Warren was born in Boise, Idaho on December 5, 1933, and married the love of his life, Joan Baker in Richland, WA. They raised four children and have twelve grandchildren.

Warren served in the U.S. Army and graduated from the University of Washington School of Engineering, where he later taught as an adjunct faculty member.

After working on Boeing’s original pre-Sputnik space shuttle program (code-name, “X-20 Dyna-Soar”) in Seattle, WA, Warren moved to Boeing’s Vertol division in Philadelphia, PA. He became one of the world’s leading experts on field safe fiberglass helicopter rotor blade design, and project manager for the iconic twin-rotor Sea Knight Navy and Coast Guard rescue helicopters, responsible for the saving of countless lives.

Later, Joan and Warren moved to Westlake Village / Thousand Oaks, California, where Warren helped spear-head the creation of the Army’s famous Apache attack helicopters for Hughes Aircraft, and later became vice president of Northrop-Grumman’s Newbury Park division responsible for much of the Air Force’s cutting-edge stealth technology.

Clockwise from upper left: X20 'Dyno-Soar' Space Shuttle Prototype, CH46 'Sea Knight', AH64 'Apache,' B2 'Spirit' Stealth Bomber
Clockwise from upper left: X20 ‘Dyno-Soar’ Space Shuttle Prototype, CH46 ‘Sea Knight’ Naval Rescue Helicopter, AH64 ‘Apache Longbow,’ B2 ‘Spirit’ Stealth Bomber

Warren and Joan retired to Bedford, NH, where they became beloved pillars of the Bethany Covenant Church, serving the congregation in numerous capacities. In “retirement” Warren volunteered as a trustee and consultant to numerous churches and ministries. Dr. Stephen A. Macchia, past president of Vision New England and founder of Leadership Transformations at Gordon-Conwell seminary described Warren as “a minister to New England’s ministers.”

Warren will be remembered as a warm and loving husband, father, grandfather, leader, and friend who could always be relied upon for his compassionate listening, straight-shooting advice, and off-beat sense of humor.

 He loved golf, tennis, bridge, chess, photography, poetry, suspense novels, and hard-hitting non-fiction.

A romance of over 60 years

Other than his God, his wife, his family and friends, Warren’s greatest love was spending time at his cabin on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, where he could be found with a fishing pole in hand, a broad grin on his face, and a gentle admonition to always “be safe.”

He was dearly loved and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Family members include his wife of 59 years, Joan (Baker) Stratton of Bedford; two sons, Gary David Stratton and his wife Sue of Hollywood, CA, Scott Stratton and wife Kerstin of Bedford, NH; two daughters, Laurie Stratton Bruns and husband John of Lafayette, CA; Diane Stratton Dunkle of Bedford, NH; as well as his beloved grandchildren—Dan and Leslie Stratton and Christopher and Patrick Dunkle of Bedford; Alex Jones, Melissa, Jessica, and Tylor Bruns of Lafayette, CA and Ashley, Jordan, Joshua, Micaiah Stratton of Hollywood, CA; nephews, nieces, and cousins.



My Dad loved poetry. Our family often spent Christmas Eve and other family gatherings reading poems aloud to one another. Inspiring and life-affirming poetry to be sure. But also and especially the droll verse and strange rhymes of Ogden Nash, who the New York Times once declared the “the country’s best-known producer of humorous poetry” (e.g. ‘If called by a panther / don’t anther.’) ‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon‘ was a family favorite, as was ‘The Termite,’ which I cite here in full to give you an idea of what an Ogden Nash (and Warren Stratton) sense of humor sounds like.

The Termite 
by Ogden Nash
Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good!
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.

Twice in my life I tried to capture both the serious and zany side of my Da’s love for verse in a poem of my own. They’ll never make The Norton Anthology of English Literature, but taken together, they make for a very accurate portrayal of my beloved Da. Enjoy!



(Christmas, my freshman year in college)

If men were giants and giants men,

you would be the smallest of all;

and it would be obvious to all

how insignificant you are.


Thieves would be hills;

Murderers, mountains;

And lovers only sand.

The proud would be worlds unto themselves.

And God so small

Even His existence would be doubted.


But life is not so.

For the mountains, hills,

And even the sands

Proclaim the greatness of God.


So that in this world,

Where so many men try to run my life

by claiming to be great,

My life will never be the same,

because I’ve been touched by the love

of a true giant;

Who in his pretending to be small,

has not fooled me in the least.




(Christmas, my first year as a father to my own son)

Some boys are raised on Whitman’s verse*

And some on Poe’s refrains.

Some even study Dickinson.

Their lives are “Not In Vain.”


Some lads are raised on Browning,**

Still more on Robert Frost.

They take ‘The Road Less Travelled

to keep from getting lost.


Some grow up on Kipling,

If‘ they make the grade;

Others aspire to Tennyson

and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.’


But then most boys are raised by Doctors,

Lawyers, Statesmen, PhD’s

They learn the great and classic works

upon their father’s knees.


Some are even raised by Plumbers

who quote Shakespeare in a flash…


My father was an Engineer.

He read me Ogden Nash!



* ‘O Captain! My Captain‘ was one of my Dad’s favorites. No wonder I fell in love with Dead Poets Society.

** Elizabeth Barrett Browning (more than Robert Browning), especially ‘How Do I Love Thee?

Why Helping Millennials Develop as Leaders Requires a New Mindset, by Adam Vaccaro

Part of ongoing series: How Millennials are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community

Organizations need to shift the mindset of what a good manager does away from hitting those departmental goals–which rely on what he calls talent consumption–to graduating employees into better positions–or talent production.

by Adam Vaccaro • Inc.

Millennials want face time with top leaders and the freedom to grow (Photo: Forbes)
Millennials want face time with top leaders and freedom to grow and are more than willing to go elsewhere if you won’t provide in-house opportunities. (Photo: Forbes)

Among the starkest data points in Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report is this one: About two-thirds of companies around the world consider themselves weak in developing millennial leadership. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of companies rated themselves as “excellent” in that field.

The data comes on the heels of other reports showing trouble in leadership development programs. Among those findings: Companies are hurting themselves by failing to differentiate between high-performance and high-potential employees, and though they recognize the importance of talent development they’re not putting their money where their mouth is by investing in development programs.

If You Don’t Develop Them, You’ll Lose Them

Part of the trouble with developing young talent, Deloitte analyst Josh Bersin tells Inc., is that generally speaking, millennials approach their careers very differently than previous generations. They expect to rise fast, and if they can’t, they look for other opportunities.

Bersin’s assertion is backed up by separate data showing that just 23 percent of disengaged high-potential employees aim to stick around at their jobs, and only 55 percent of millennials say they are loyal to their companies (compared to 69 percent of other generations).

This makes it important, Bersin says, for companies to find ways to help young talent see the opportunities within their companies. He offered a few of strategies…

Read how top companies keep their best talent


Two Handed Warriors at Three Years: A Promising Start to a Common Language …Friendship!

Reimagining Faith and Culture One Story at a Time

What Inigo Montoya taught me about transformational leadership

Educators, filmmakers, ministers, and leaders of all kinds share a common desire to influence society for good. What we lack is a common language for understanding one another’s perspectives.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor 

“These were the men who came to David while he was banished from the presence of Saul. They were among the warriors who helped him in battle. They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones with both the right and the left. Warriors who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

-1 Chronicles 12

Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black model two-handed swordplay (The Princess Bride: MGM Home Entertainment)
Inigo Montoya and the Dread Pirate Roberts model two-handed swordplay (The Princess Bride: MGM Home Entertainment)

The Princess Bride (1987) is full of many of my all-time favorite movies scenes. The one I love most is the comedic sword fight between Inigo Montoya () and the Dread Pirate Roberts (). Unbeknownst to either swordsman both duelists fight with a secret: each spent thousands of hours mastering swordplay not only with their right-hand, but also with their left. To make the contest more sporting they are fighting with their non-dominant hand.

As the duel builds to its hilarious conclusion, the combatants slowly begin to realize that expertise in single-handed swordplay is completely inadequate preparation for battle with a true master. Eventually each must reveal the awful truth, “I admit it. You are better than me. But I know something you don’t know, I am not left-handed.” The tide of battle quickly shifts as they switch to their other hand. In turns out that, becoming a two-handed warrior is essential to achieving your life mission—whether that mission is piracy, true love, or revenge.[1]

The Danger of One-Handed Swordplay

The writer of the book of Chronicles reveals a similar strength in King David’s army. One reason they were so devastatingly effective in battle was their ambidextrous fighting abilities. “They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones with both the right and the left.”  If the angle was wrong for a bowshot with one hand, they could take it with the other. If one hand was occupied or injured, they could quickly switch to the other. Their holistic preparation gave them an advantage over enemies trained only in their dominant hand.

I hate to push a metaphor too far, but I suspect that many of our current failures in connecting faith and culture suffer from a similar ‘single-handed’ myopia. Few institutions in modern society prepare men and women for holistic approaches to life. Filmmaking, sports, and academic careers demand single-minded focus from an early age. Our parents and teachers recognize our ‘dominant’ traits when we are quite young and set us on a path that  all but guarantees we become proficient in a very narrow range of human experience.

This one-handed approach is perhaps even most pronounced in the realms of faith formation and culture making. Educational institutions, churches, and the filmmaking communities all long to shape society for good, but often from drastically different perspectives.  Our common desire to influence the world, devoid of any common understanding of one another’s perspectives often leads to the kind of demonizing and scapegoating predicted by thinkers such as René Girard. The most striking lesson of Sue and my five-year missionary journey to Hollywood is the depth of heartache in our most talented filmmakers of faith because of the rejection and misunderstanding they experience in their interactions with faith communities and faith leaders.

Faith-Formation AND Culture-Making

This tension often spills over into our leadership roles as well. Leaders adept at culture making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith building. Leaders skilled in faith formation—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency—are rarely trained in the art of culture making. It is my firm belief that this dichotomy not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership, it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn.

For leaders interested in effecting broad societal transformation, this dichotomy is even more devastating. Like Inigo Montoya or David’s army, the ability to fight with either hand is often a matter of life or death. And I am confident that we are facing such a life or death moment for our society. Educators, filmmakers, ministers, may share a common goal. What we lack is a common language for understanding one another’s perspectives. I believe that our only hope for leading our society out of our current cultural dead-end is our willingness to learn one another’s stories and the stories that shape us as a culture.

An Enriching Conversation that Sharpens

Sometimes even the greatest of enemies can become the best of friends
Sometimes even the greatest of enemies can become the best of friends

So I named this website Two Handed Warriors in hope that it would become an ongoing conversation between filmmakers, educators, philanthropists, and faith leaders who aspire to become modern-day versions of the Dread Pirate Roberts devoted to expertise in BOTH faith formation and culture making. Men and women who “understand the times” and therefore know that redefining faith and culture one story at a time is our best hope for accomplishing our respective missions. Three years into this project I feel as if we are only just beginning to understand one another… but it’s a promising start.

This is especially true for Sue and I. My friendships with filmmakers have transformed me in ways I could never have imagined.  Their stories (those they live and those they tell) are so radically different from those of any college educator or spiritual formation professional I know, they help me see life from radically different perspectives.  And my students in the university can tell the difference. I have used Academy Award-winning films in my teaching for over 20 years. Now, I cringe when I think of how poorly I understood what I was teaching.  Not that I’m an expert now, but the new depth of understanding into story I’ve gained in Hollywood has taken my teaching in spiritual formation and theology (two disciplines rooted in story) to an entirely new level. One of my students recently wrote me:

“[W]hat you are doing with this class is phenomenal. I don’t think I have ever looked as deeply into myself as I did for your course.  It gave me an entirely different perspective of movies and a greater understanding of their underlying worldview. Thank you for the soul-searching this course has awoken in me. God truly does send us guides through unusual mediums.”

Reimagining faith and culture one friendship at a time

None of this would have been possible without patient conversations with the brave women and men in the film and television industry. They have been my guides on this awkward journey of learning to fight with my ‘left hand.’  I will never come close to mastering culture-making as they have, but I am now convinced me that I need to stay in conversation with those can. Together, we are slowly beginning to reimagine faith and culture one friendship at a time. And I want to broaden that conversation no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it is.

King David’s son, Solomon, grew up in a warrior’s household. He learned first-hand that swordsmen attain mastery only where sparks fly. He later write, “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). My dream is that in helping each other master the art of two-handed swordplay we will not only foster transformational films, schools, and congregations, we will also continue to forge lifelong friendships.

En garde!






[1] Reiner, Rob, William Goldman, Andrew Scheinman, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, et al. 2001. The princess bride. Santa Monica, Calif: MGM Home Entertainment.

[2] Osborne, Barrie, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, et al. 2002. The Lord of the rings. The fellowship of the ring. [Los Angeles, CA]: New Line Home Entertainment.

Strategies for Women Leading Men, by Lisa Whittle

Part 9 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

When women offer truth from the wellspring of their own life experience, it resonates…  regardless of their gender!

by Lisa Whittle

Becoming the first ever solo-female author under the acclaimed George Barna literary imprint intimidated me. Can I influence men? Can I play in the boy’s field? I had all these thoughts when I was offered a contract for this new writing project.

Happy businesswoman with colleagues in the background - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #10361595
Photo courtesy of ©


Until this time, my “tribe” consisted mainly of women. Although I am a strong woman, I was not sure I could adapt my leadership style in order to connect with men. Thankfully, I have.
In the intervening months, I have learned four tactics:
1. Understand men’s need for brevity. I learned very quickly in working with men that I would need to find a way to say a lot in a few words. (You might think that being married, I would have already known this.) But the reality is that females tend to be wordy. Men cut to the chase. If I was going to be successful in influencing men, I needed to respect their need for brevity.
2. Connect to a universal need. While we do not share gender, we do share many other human needs. We both search for significance. We both have a need to define ourselves outside of our roles. We both desire to be loved and appreciated. Connecting to a universal need is an important aspect of influence—with both genders. But it is especially as it relates to women influencing men.
3. Don’t apologize for your growing influence.  More than ever, women are becoming influencers in less traditional venues. The church is even using women in a vibrant, new way. It is an exciting opportunity for women to use their unique voice to share truth. Men who embrace this will benefit, just as the women who embrace it will. But first, women have to own their growing influence, without apologizing for it.
4. Show them truth from your life. Regardless of their gender, when women offer truth from the wellspring of their own life experience, it resonates. Truth is truth. Therefore, being more intentional about sharing our life experiences is a way to expand our influence and connect in a meaningful way.
Women have been influencing men for years, in society as well as in the home. But it is my conviction that in the coming years, I believe this will only grow. The key for women is to learn how best to translate that influence to reach both women and men.
When that happens, everyone wins.
Question: What have you learned about how women can best influence men?


Author, blogger, speaker and Compassion International advocate, Lisa Whittle

Author, blogger and speaker Lisa Whittle is an innovative thinker and a bold leader with great insights into male-female issues in leadership. Her first solo book Behind Those Eyes: What’s Really Going on Inside the Souls of Women (Thomas Nelson) is available on Amazon.  Lisa’s new book, {W}hole was released by Barna Books last September

Lisa’s post originally appeared in the blog Intentional Leadership curated by Michael Hyatt. (Used by permission.)


Next post in series:  She Who Is: Elizabeth Johnson and the Language of Leadership

See also, How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, by Scot McKnight



The Reel Lincoln: The Historical Case for Spielberg’s Masterpiece

“One of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places that other disciplines, like history, must avoid.” – Stephen Spielberg

By Harold Holzer

Even as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln emerged as an unqualified critical and popular triumph, the historical nitpickers—myself among them, I must confess—were only hiding in the scholarly reeds, waiting to pounce on the factual (and even some interpretive) errors admittedly punctuating the hit movie. Now comes the mini-avalanche of gotcha comments, which has grown into something of an academic parlor game.
How many errors can one identify in a two-and-a-half-hour movie? How accurate is the film’s portrayal of emancipation? Of course, the answer depends on what constitutes a genuine “error.”  Does all that trivia matter anyway?
As the film’s historical script consultant, I asked several scholars to weigh in….

Continue reading


Read Harold Holzer’s new book: Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in Americaan imprint of HarperCollins.