Leadership Lessons from Parables – Prodigal Son

Henri Nouwen talks about the lesson from the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) in his book, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, in the reading for June 30. He points out that one son is distanced from his father by dissipating himself with alcohol and sex, while the other son alienates himself by working hard and dutifully fulfilling his obligations – both sons have separated themselves from the intimacy with their father. Nouwen’s point is that we separate ourselves from fully being children of God, and invites us to come home and embrace God’s unconditional love.

How often do we focus on things that take us away from our fundamental relationships as leaders?

In my four principles of leadership, the fourth principle is Balance. One dimension of balance is maintaining wholeness of self – physical, emotional, spiritual, educational, etc. There are different parts of self that are important to being a whole person. We have many sides to who we are. Balance in my principles does not mean that each part is equal. It means that we must be aware of the different dimensions of self and give attention to each.

When evaluating your ability to create balance, think about these various aspects of self. All of us who lead organizations get off track at one time or another. We can also have systems in place to help us to realize that we are off track, and then get back in the groove again.

I find it helpful to segment my workweek by the kinds of activities that I perform. Activities sometimes link to the part of me that I need to be in touch with, such as the following:

1. Thinking: It’s important to schedule time in your week to think. That’s it. Just think. You can program the thinking, or you can see what comes to mind. This gives your mind a chance to catch up and realize that there are other things going on in life, at home, and at work.

2. Planning: The old saying is that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. This gets repeated so much because it’s true. The musical conductor must plan each rehearsal down to the minute details in order to get the best results from the best people. Planning is an essential leadership tool, one that is often minimized.

3. Tasks: Create a to-do list of action items for your workweek, and then break the list into workable steps. I call these DVDs – Daily Value Deliverables. They are daily. They address my action plan, so they have value. They are expressed as completions, which means DONE. Create a weekly and daily list. Review the lists at the end of each day. Journal comments that help you grow in management of time and tasks.

4. Team: If you have teams (and we all do – formal or informal), then schedule time for team activity. The planning segment allows for the preparation. This allows for the active time spent. The key is delegation and managing the delegations in team settings.

5. Mentoring: If you work with anybody – staff, boards, committees, affiliates, joint venture partners, consultants, etc. – then plan time to work with them. They might have particular expertise, however, you will need time to work with them, articulating your specific needs and teaching them something about your vision and what you need to see as a final result.

This list is only the beginning. Think about ways you spend your time, and then turn around the concept. Do not let the tasks drive your day – be intentional and plan time for the tasks. You will discover that this will save time and help you be more effective because you don’t get off track, you are working sequentially so one activity sets up for the next one, and you are very clear on what is now and what is later.

My workweek might be 20 hours or 60 hours depending on client engagement and travel. Here’s my snapshot of my workweek, short or long:

  • Client engagement – 20%
  • Planning – 15%
  • Thinking – 5%
  • Team – 10%
  • Content Creation – 25%
  • Networking – 15%
  • Study – 10%

Do not get distracted like both of the sons in the parable. Be intentional about where your focus will be and how to evaluate your time use. Link the time use back to yourself, and see if you are using all of yourself in your work. Be sure that building relationships is also linked to every activity. After all, that’s what the parable relayed to make the point. God does not move from us. We lose track of God’s presence in our lives.

What will you do today to stay focused?

Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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(c) 2012 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.

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