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Why Advent is important for leaders

Advent (Credit: Philipp via Fotolia)The season of Advent asks a weighty question to all leaders who call themselves Christians: "are you leading from the humility of Jesus or from selfish ambition?" This particular Christmas, we find ourselves in the thick of a cultural maelstrom. Terrorism, violence, incivility; all are before us like a foul odor that won't dissipate. In this season of Advent, we so desperately need the message of the gospel of Jesus come as a baby into our hurting world.

Our culture's main conception of leadership is that to be a leader, you must grab control and waste no time in asserting yourself and your agenda. The Advent theme of patient waiting is dismissed as archaic and sentimental. The problems in our society loom about us, while the inner struggles we each carry clamor for our attention. The season of Christmas, perhaps more than any other time of year, becomes so crowded and cluttered that it often passes by without us taking the opportunity to reflect on the central figure of our faith: Jesus, come to us as a baby.

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Leading in an age of terrorism

Two West Australian TRG officers wander toward their 4WD after their demonstration of rappelling from the Police Helicopter, November 19, 2005 (Credit: Devar via Fotolia)If you were to ask leadership gurus around the world what the three most important characteristics are for leaders, chances are you would hear a smattering of the following words: vision, strategic thinking, charisma, passion, determination. Would you hear the words courage, humility, and gratitude?

The Paris attacks, along with other similar terrorist strikes over the past year, have brought up a host of issues for leaders in the 21st globally-connected world. Perhaps the most daunting is how to lead in an ever-increasing fear-soaked world. The reason fear is such a difficult challenge to leadership is because leadership is about balancing present concerns with future possibilities. Fear paralyzes people into only being able to think about the immediate, however, and distorts the present reality in all manner of ways that leads to a compounding of fear.

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Leading in an addicted world

A heroin addict using a needle to shoot the drug into her bruised and scarred arm (Credit: Tatty via Fotolia)There is a massive substance abuse problem in America, and very few are talking about it. Widening out the scope to the rest of the world, it could be easily argued that the modern world could be described succinctly as the addicted world. CBS's 60 Minutes aired a feature piece recently entitled "Heroin in the Heartland" that explored how substance abuse has grown in suburbia and wealthier parts of middle-American cities, smashing the notion that heroin (and drug use in general) is merely an inner-city problem.

Mike DeWine, the Attorney General of Ohio, makes the startling statement in the interview that "this is the worst drug epidemic I've seen in my lifetime". While the 60 Minutes piece only focuses on heroin use, the wider problem is that other forms of harmful addiction are on the rise as well. The Chronicle of Higher Education released a series of in-depth articles last year on the upsurge in binge drinking and intoxication by college students. The "Monitoring the Future" report, sponsored by the National Institute of Health, described the stunning problem of heavy drinking with teens and college students, reporting that "five or more drinks in a row at least once in the prior two-week period…was reported by 5% of 8th graders, 14% of 10th graders, and 22% of 12th graders." The results also reveal that 40.2% of college students say they've had five or more drinks in a row in the last month.

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God's plan is better than your plan

A stock market investor checking buy and sell signals on smartphone and tablet over his morning coffee (Credit: Photongpix via Fotolia)The theme of fiscal austerity seems to ebb and flow as markets across the world expand and contract. In the current climate, one can see both expansion and contraction happening at the same time. Only noticing one of the two can lead to a distorted view of how things really are. To illustrate, news outlets are reporting Sprint is attempting to trim $2.5 billion from the company's operating expenses by targeting employee costs. The banking industry is also trying to circle the wagons, as over 100,000 banking jobs have been cut since 2012 in the European Union alone. Contrast that with news from the social media giant Pinterest that it is undergoing close to a $20 million renovation of its office space that, among other things, will make the kitchen and dining areas look more like a food truck.

While both companies make diverging decisions, Dr. Shlomo Benartzi of UCLA penned an article in the Wall Street Journal recently on behavioral science and our decision-making when it comes to investing. The article speaks to the concepts of myopic loss aversion and careless optimism. Let's explore how each of these impacts our decision-making as leaders.

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Leading in a regulated world

Margrethe Vestager, EU commissioner for Competition gives the press conferece on General Electric case at European Parliament headquarters in Strasbourg, France, September 8, 2015 (Credit: AP Images/Wiktor Dabkowski) Vanderbilt University released a report last week on the financial impact of federal regulation on U.S. colleges and universities. The study estimates that U.S. colleges and universities spend north of $27 billion dollars on compliance every year. That is a phenomenal sum, spent on everything from research compliance to meeting accreditation standards as well as overall financial accountability with other state and federal laws.

The compliance industry has grown exponentially since 2000. The collapse of Enron and Worldcom due to nefarious accounting practices led to the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate-governance law of 2002, and the financial disaster of 2008 brought on largely by questionable loan practices within banks has led to a new round of regulations as well. The Wall Street Journal estimates that "Since 2009, there's been nearly a 40% rise in the number of chief accounting officer titles, according to findings from Russell Reynolds Associates." These positions did not exist before 2000, as Chief Financial Officers were all that was necessary from the financial part of a company.

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