October 10, 2015

3 Signs Your Leadership Requires a Self-Awareness Tune Up

Baby boomers will remember well the power ballad “Who Are You?” made famous by the British rock band, The Who.

Many of us from that era can recall cranking up our 8-track tapes to hear Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend and the boys bellowing out the lyrics, “Who are you…Who, who, who, who?”

Ya, on the one hand, the lyrics are pretty inane.

But for leaders these words pose a question that must be wrestled with on an ongoing basis.

You see, if a leader is going to have maximum impact, it requires a level of self-awareness. Leaders need to be able to fully understand:

  • Their strengths
  • Their weaknesses
  • Their areas of vulnerability
  • Their areas for potential growth
  • Tasks they can likely accomplish on their own
  • Tasks that will likely require them to call in some help.

In other words, it requires being able to answer that question asked by The Who, “Who are you?”

Here are 3 indicators you might need a self-awareness tune up.

1.      Your leadership style is more influenced by copying, than it is by authentic learning.

Self-aware leaders will have a broad spectrum of leaders from whom they will seek to learn leadership principles.

But lack of self-awareness can result in mere copying; a fairly shallow means of attempting to replicate the styles or mannerisms of other leaders, and of adopting these as one’s own.

2.      You receive no positive feedback in areas you believe to be your strengths.

Do you believe you’re a great communicator? How come no one else tells you that?

Do you believe you’re a powerful vision-castor? How come people don’t affirm this in you?

You could be powerfully gifted in other leadership areas. But if no one is giving you high-fives for what you believe is an area of leadership strength, it might not be. And it might be time for a self-awareness tune up.

3.      You always seem to have an excuse for lack of results

When projects consistently go off the rails, self-aware leaders will begin by looking in the mirror to see what role their own leadership played in the outcome.

But where there is lack of self-awareness there will instead be blame, excuses, and finger-pointing.

The good news is that lack of self-awareness can be overcome, and it might just begin by considering these three indicators.

And a pretty good starting place might be found in simply answering the song lyric question, “Who are you?”

3 Dimensions of Grit in Leadership Development

Would you use the word “grit” to describe your commitment to leadership development?

At this year’s Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels taught on the “5 Intangibles of Leadership”, starting off with the concept of “grit”.

In defining grit, Bill quoted psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth by saying, “Grit is passion and perseverance over the long haul.”

Can such grit actually apply to your own commitment to developing yourself as a leader?

To see if this applies to you, ask yourself these three questions:

1. How much effort would I expend to expose myself to leadership development?

With the international Global Leadership Summit season now upon us it is, I am reminded of how much leadership development grit we’ve seen around the world. In parts of Africa we have seen pastors who would walk for several hours, or days, to sharpen their leadership skills by attending the Global Leadership Summit.

That’s leadership development grit.

2. Over the years is my appetite for development growing or waning?

Not long ago I spoke with my friend Phillip Mutzelburg, who helped to found the Willow Creek Association in Australia more than 20 years ago

An accomplished leader in the church, business and the military, I asked him what keeps his drive for leadership development alive. His response? “I keep discovering how much I have to learn.”

That’s leadership development grit.

3. How far do you push your leadership development boundaries?

By that I mean, do you keep looking for, and learning from, new leadership authors and experiences?

One leader I spoke to in the Philippines told me, “What keeps me coming back to the Global Leadership Summit each year is the exposure it gives me to brand new concepts from leaders I’ve sometimes never even heard of.”

That’s leadership development grit.

To grow as a leader requires enormous tenacity and resolve over a long period of time. It is not, as Bill reminded us, for the faint of heart.

Let me urge you to evaluate your “grit level” through these simple questions.

Because as your grit towards development goes up, you can be sure your effectiveness in leadership will grow just as much.

How do you maintain grit in your own development?



Avoiding 10 Leadership Credibility Killers

Updated from February 5, 2015 post

Leadership is built on a foundation of credibility.

Take away a leader’s credibility and you’ve lost the platform from which leadership is built.

I’ve been focusing a great deal of late on the critical importance of credibility in leadership. And, as I noted in this post from earlier this year, in my opinion few leaders have captured the essence of this better than Bill Hybels.

While coaching a group of leaders in Hong Kong, Bill sounded a loud warning against, what I am calling, “credibility killers”.

A leader had asked Bill,  “What would you say about a problem I have that I believe is hurting my leadership. At work I tend to have a very bad temper and I think it is hurting my effectiveness.”

Bill let the comment hang in the air a moment or two, then responded with wisdom, clarity and kindness.

“First of all,” Bill began, “Thank you for the vulnerability you have shown in asking such a question. That shows courage. Now, to your question about losing your temper, I have two words you need to hear; ‘Understandable’, and ‘inexcusable’.”

Bill went on to explain.

“That lack of control will undermine your leadership at its core. It’s understandable, in that anger is a very human emotion. But it’s inexcusable in that when your teammates see you lose control your credibility takes an enormous hit.”

Immediately, I scrawled this line across my notebook, “Consistently losing your temper is a credibility killer.”

But I would later fill in my page with what I reflected were other “credibility killers”. Credibility killers happen when leaders consistently

  1. Fail to follow through on commitments
  2. Tell half-truths
  3. Avoid the hard conversations
  4. Don’t put in a full day’s work
  5. Blame others when goals are not met
  6. Display lack of competence in key functions
  7. Belittle others
  8. Claim credit for others’ work or ideas
  9. “Spin” bad news
  10.  Display arrogance

This list is merely the tip of the credibility iceberg.

The reality is, credibility is the currency of leadership. Without it effective leadership becomes almost impossible.

This is why, I believe, Bill took time to patiently explain the vital importance of this principle.

And it’s why every leader needs to take a close look at any credibility-killers that might be eroding their leadership effectiveness.

Because when credibility is gone, it’s tough to get it back.

What would you add to this list?


How I Learned the Importance of Tuning Fork Leadership

Updated from July 12, 2012 post

This week, the Willow Creek Association held our annual gathering of Summit host pastors from across the U.S., to debrief the recently held Global Leadership Summit.

One dynamic I found fascinating was to observe how many leadership “tuning fork” moments took place. These are moments when it appears that we could potentially veer off course, only to have another leader bring a note of clarity to the conversation, which serves to keep things on track.

As I wrote in this earlier post, I first learned the value of these tuning fork moments several years ago, and the value of these moments continues to guide my leadership to this day.

An actual tuning fork is a simple tool used as a standard of pitch to tune musical instruments. And like a piano tuner, I learned that my job as a leader is to chime the tuning fork to make sure my team is operating with complete clarity.
I have learned that there are 4 key components of tuning-fork leadership:

1.   A “6th sense” ability to perceive misalignment
As a leader you must be constantly listening and watching for indications of very subtle mission drift among your team.

2.   A patient, listening posture
I learned that a leader must follow up a hunch about mission drift with a casual, inquisitive conversation. I learned that the job is to confirm, or dispel, the notion that a teammate has drifted off course. Such a conversation must be safe and unthreatening.

3.   An environment of affirmation
If a teammate has drifted, I realized that chances are they are only off-base by 10%. Affirm the 90% they are getting right.

4.   A clear ringing of the tuning fork
Now, I learned, you’re ready to ring the fork. This involves unflinchingly pointing out where the drift has taken place, and ensuring your teammate’s understanding is back on pitch.

It’s important to note that tuning-fork leadership is an ongoing, never-ending process. Mission drift is inevitable in every organization. And just when you think you’ve brought everyone back into alignment it will be time to re-clarify things for someone else on the team.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • Is everyone in the organization clear on our overall direction?
  • Is everyone clear on our highest present priorities?
  • Does everyone see how their contribution fits into the big picture?

If the answers reveal any fuzziness it could be time for clarifying conversations.

Keep your tuning fork handy..

How do you keep your organization in tune?


10 Easy-to-spot Character Signs for Building a Great Team

Updated from July 26, 2013 post

Our Willow Creek Association team has been bolstered recently by the addition of a couple of high-caliber new teammates.
And in each case I have come to quickly realize that these new members of the team possess the same traits of strong character that have come to exemplify our culture.
How can I be so sure?
Well, as I outlined in this earlier post, there are at least 10 signs I look for that reveal the type of character that makes for a great team.

If discerning character is so important, how do you discern if you’re dealing with someone of strong character?

The place to begin is with the first words out of their mouth.

There’s no fool-proof formula, but in my experience in building teams I’ve learned to pay attention to patterns of speech as early indicators.

Listen for these 10 indicators of strong character. Chances are, if you’re seeing these patterns in their conversation you may well be dealing with the kind of person you want on your team.

  1. They receive a compliment with grace.
  2. They receive negative feedback with humility and non-defensiveness.
  3. When they disagree with you, they hold their position and yet still extend respect.
  4. Their “yes” is yes, and their “no” is no.
  5. They are quick to shine the spotlight on others.
  6. Their apologies are unreserved; they don’t say, “I’m sorry, but” or “I’m sorry if…”
  7. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they say so; they don’t bluff their way through.
  8. They don’t dominate conversations; they are genuinely more interested in the voices of others.
  9. Their conversation includes plenty of “pleases” and “thank you’s”.
  10. They speak truth, regardless of how it makes them look.

This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good start.

When you’re adding people to your team, follow up by talking with every reference, and talk to the references of references. Talk to their former employer. Ask of they’d hire this person again.

Bottom line, is don’t cut corners when it comes to discerning character issues on your team.

And the first place you should begin is with the first words out of their mouth.

How do you spot strong character when you’re building a team?


How Leaders Restore Sanity to the Excellence Value

Updated from March 13, 2012 post

In the aftermath of the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, one of the pieces of feedback I’ve heard over and over is an appreciation for the level of excellence in the experience.

While the fact that this was noticed is gratifying, somewhat less obvious is that it was healthy excellence that made all the difference.

What do I mean by healthy excellence? This earlier post unpacks some important principles.

If you want to move towards a healthy view of excellence,  here are three important distinctions that must be understood.

1.   Understand the distinction between professionalism and excellence
Professionalism is an often misguided attempt to mimic the sheen and polish of a Broadway production or Hollywood blockbuster. At its heart, professionalism is merely showmanship.

Whereas the heart of excellence, to quote Bill Hybels, “honous God and inspires people”. It’s reflected in a passionate desire to simply not settle for anything less than our best.

2.   Understand the distinction between individual excellence and corporate excellence
Individual excellence means “do your best”. Corporate excellence means “do OUR best”.

This shows up all the time in local churches. For example, if deacon Joe sings a solo at the weekend service, individual excellence would call him to do HIS best. But if he simply cannot sing well, and if there are others in the church far more gifted in vocal ministry, corporate excellence would call for that more gifted person to do the solo.

Corporate excellence calls for the organization’s best, not just an individual’s best.

3.   Understand the distinction between perfection and excellence
Perfection, almost by definition, is either unattainable or unsustainable. It can lead to an almost neurotic pursuit of error-free performance that can suck the joy out of your organization.

Excellence, on the other hand, creates an inspiring environment which sees teams spurring one another on. It recognizes that God has only ever given us His very best; therefore we ought to do no less for Him.

If the excellence value has been causing your organization undue angst, don’t discard the value. Instead, take it out, brush it off, and apply these three points of clarity to how you live it out.

Your sanity will be restored, and your organization may indeed move to new heights of excellence you never thought possible.

How do you apply the excellence value in your organization?


Top Quotes from the 2015 Global Leadership Summit

This year’s Global Leadership Summit contained enough nuggets of leadership truth and insights for leaders to chew on for months to come.

Here are a few of best leadership gems from this year’s faculty.

- ”The arch-enemy of grit is ease.” Bill Hybels

- ”Self-sacrificing love is at the very core of leadership.” Bill Hybels

- ”To rely on rank or title is an abdication of leadership.” Jim Collins

- ”The other side of the coin from success is not failure, it’s growth.” Jim Collins

- ”Creativity isn’t about drawing or writing. It’s about solving problems.” Ed Catmull

- ”I have never met a powerful leader who was not okay with discomfort.”- Brene Brown

- ”Curiosity is currency of the realm in leadership”- Brene Brown

- ”Live for your eulogy not for your resume.” Albert Tate

-”You serve your people by leading them to excellence. That’s leadership.” – Horst Schulze

- ”It is immoral to hire someone to fulfill a function. You hire someone to fulfill a dream.”- Horst Schulze

- ”Leaders cannot do this journey without help from God.” Bill Hybels

- ”If you want your team to remain relevant lead them into the unknown.”- Liz Wiseman

“You are not who others say you are. You are who God says you are.”- Craig Groeschel

What were some of your favorite quotes from this year’s Summit?





The Leadership Blooper Reel Everyone Must Avoid

Updated from November 29th, 2011 post

With less than three weeks to go until the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, there’s a a clear sense of optimism and energy emanating from the team at the Willow Creek Association. Plans are coming together, indicators are positive, and momentum is building.

At the same time, nobody is high-fiving one another just yet.


Well, effective leaders know that there’s a right time, and a wrong time, for celebration.

And, as I wrote in this earlier post, if you get this wrong you can end up on a leadership blooper reel nobody wants to appear in.

Have you ever seen one of those sports blooper reels, showing athletes caught in “premature celebrations”?
Google these; you’ll have a great laugh at some of these episodes of athletes wildly celebrating a goal that wasn’t scored, a touchdown that didn’t count, or a home run that went foul.

When this sort of thing happens with an athlete, it might mean that they show up on a highlight blooper reel.

But when it happens to a leader, it can result in a severe credibility hit.

Think of the business leader who boldly announces that the failing company has “turned around” because of a single profitable quarter. And think of the egg on their face when what follows is a return to declining sales.

Think of the salesperson who informs their manager that they have landed the big account even before the contract has been signed. And think of the back-peddling required when the deal falls through.

Think of the pastor of the plateaued church who informs his board that last weekend’s attendance increase means “we’ve turned the corner”, only to see the numbers continue to slip the rest of the year.

Effective leaders I’ve known have managed to avoid the credibility hit of a premature celebration by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Don’t get caught up in the emotion of an early win.
  • Know the difference between a “win” and a normal trend.
  • Let others point out your successes before you do.

Avoiding the credibility hit of a premature celebration requires a tremendous amount of discipline. And I’ll admit it’s an area I need to monitor in my own leadership very closely.

But getting this one right is always worth it.

It sure beats showing up on a blooper reel.

Have you ever seen a leader get caught in a premature celebration?


Why Leaders Walk Towards Barking Dogs

Updated from April 1, 2011 post

This week the barking dog got pretty loud.

No matter how hard I tried to distract myself, it just wouldn’t quieten down. And I finally realized something I should have remembered much earlier.

When it comes to facing leadership problems, leaders must walk towards the barking dog.

I came across this earlier post, and it reminded me again that this is one of those principles that leaders simply must master. Perhaps this applies to your present leadership situation too.

You’ve just found out that conflict is looming in the finance department.

What do you do?

You’ve noticed that one of the key metrics is slipping behind projections.

What do you do?

You have the seen the performance of a key staff person slide.

What do you do?

You’ve picked up on the news that your board is spending a lot of time discussing matters that really don’t further the direction of the organization.

What do you do?

If you’re a leader, you walk towards the barking dog.

When I first learned this leadership axiom it immediately painted for me a vivid mental picture as to how leaders must respond at the first signs of trouble.

The expression, I’m told, comes from training postal letter carriers receive concerning what to do when a barking dog appears.

The instinct is to move (or run) away quickly. Instead, so the training apparently goes, sometimes the best move is to walk firmly towards the barking dog. Often this will cause the aggressive dog to ‘pull in his fangs’ and back down.

If you ignore the barking, distracting yourself with other more pleasant tasks, you might muffle the noise for a while. But sooner or later the barking will return. Only now it might appear not only as a barking dog, but possibly as a biting dog.

When the dogs begin to bark, remind yourself that;

1. No amount of avoidance will make the problem disappear,

2. Unaddressed problems tend to grow over time, not diminish,

3. Avoiding pressing problem weakens your leadership in the eyes of the team,

4. Tackling problems head-on builds leadership muscles that equip you to take on the next round of barking dogs.

So right now, stop and listen. Do you hear the barking?

Don’t turn away. Move boldly and purposefully towards the problem.

Pretty soon the barking will just quiet right down.

What are the barking dogs you can hear these days?


How Leaders Know When To Cash-in “Change Chips”

Updated from November 4, 2011 post

Do you know how many change chips you’re carrying in your pocket?

This week I found myself trying to figure out why I was having a difficult time introducing some necessary changes to a team. And then it hit me; I might have already cashed in my change chips on an earlier initiative.

And it brought to mind an earlier post when I described how I learned the key leadership principle of always knowing how many change chips you’re carrying around with you.

cashing in my chips

Leaders know that they possess a certain number of “change chips”. These chips are made up of credibility, respect, authority, good will and other essential intangible ingredients.

Leaders carry these chips around in their pocket knowing that at the moment when they must introduce change they will have to cash-in some of these chips.

But if you cash these chips in at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons it can make introducing real, meaningful change that much more difficult.

I learned this lesson in a painful way during my first weeks on the job in a new leadership role.

I led a staff of about 35 people, and soon after I was hired I saw that the office configuration was not optimal. Almost before I had settled into my chair I was moving staff around the facility from one office to another. Because I was the new sheriff in town, the staff dutifully followed my edict. And within a couple of weeks most staff were in new offices which, to me, was a marginal improvement over the previous set up.

But I had cashed in several credibility chips with only a marginal “win” for the organization. I had introduced irritation, confusion and distraction, and the only upside was a slight increase in the ergonomics of the office.

In hindsight I wish I had saved those chips for later on when I needed to call for significant change that could generate meaningful, positive results.

What might this mean for you?

Take a few minutes to actually make a list of the potential changes you’re contemplating. Perhaps it looks something like this…

  • Changing the day of the weekly staff meeting,
  • Dropping a well-established, but tired, program,
  • Introducing new ways for expense reports to be submitted,
  • Launching a new product or service.

For each item on your own list, carefully consider the change chips required to be cashed in.

To make lasting, significant change, you may find that you need to keep a few more chips in your pocket.

How have you learned when to cash in your leadership change chips?


Debunking the “It Doesn’t Matter Who Gets the Credit” Myth

Updated from July 8, 2011 post

It happened again this week.

I was on the phone discussing a new initiative with a leader, when all of a sudden he used one of the well-worn leadership axioms, “Well, just think of what our team can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.”

That quote is usually attributed to Harry Truman.

Well, both Truman and this leader who quoted him are just wrong.

It really does matter who gets the credit.

The sentiment underlying the statement is noble enough. The idea is that we don’t want our cultures to be infected by grandstanding players, vying for individual attention. I get that.

But the idea that you, as a leader, ought to be unaware as to who keeps coming up with your team’s best ideas is not in the best interest of your team, your culture or your leadership.

It really does matter who gets the credit.

You need to know the relative strengths of your team players. You need to know who it is that is consistently, and disproportionately, generating the initiatives that are creating the most ‘wins’ for your organization. And for that to happen it needs to be “okay” in your culture for those top performers to be recognized.

They need to get the credit.

Jack Welch calls this ‘differentiation’. On his website, Welch puts it this way; “Companies win when their managers make a clear and meaningful distinction between top and bottom performing businesses and people.”

If you have bought into the idea that “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit” step back and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know who is generating our best ideas?
  • Do I know who is launching our most successful initiatives?
  • Do I know who is producing the most results?

If you do, give them the credit.

The whole team will ultimately benefit if credit is given where credit is due.

How do you recognize the contributions of your people?


3 Warning Signs of “Watch Me Swim” Leadership

Updated from August 3, 2012 post

Have you ever encountered a “watch me swim” leader?

This is the person who insists on letting you know about every accomplishment they’ve achieved, no matter how small or insignificant.

I came across one such leader recently, and while this person is actually quite good in their role, the constant craving for recognition made me want to avoid them, rather than engage with them.

Image via iStockPhoto.com

I first heard this apt description used by a good friend back in Canada. It’s a term that describes a leader who, like a child in the backyard swimming pool, is desperate for others to notice their accomplishments.

But in leadership it can quickly render you ineffective because:

  • It appears self-serving
  • It erodes trust in followers
  • It diminishes respect among other more secure leaders

Any leader is susceptible to “Watch Me Swim” leadership tendencies, but you can avoid it by watching out for these 3 warning signs:

1.   You embelish the significance of accomplishments
“Watch Me Swim” leaders are often quick to congratulate themselves. I heard of one leader who sent an email to his board celebrating the fact that “4th quarter results were up significantly over 3rd quarter results.”

But 4th quarter results were always up significantly over 3rd quarter results in that organization. It was merely part of an historical trend.


2.   You imply credit for achievements you had little to do with
I knew one senior pastor who announced to his board that, on his watch, “baptisms had increased 20%”. What he didn’t mention was that virtually all of those baptisms had come out of youth ministry, and he really had had no part of this whatsoever.

3.   You “spin” lack of results
“Watch Me Swim” leaders have a way of attributing poor results to any factor other than their own leadership.

Market conditions, a new competitor in town, a weakening economy, all of these can affect results. But to hear the “watch me swim” leader tell it, you’d think these were the only reasons for poor performance.

If you want to build your credibility as a leader, heed these warning signs, before “Watch Me Swim” turns into “Help- I’m Drowning”.

How do keep from sliding into watch me swim leadership?


5 Reasons Effective Leaders Avoid the “I’m So Busy” Trap

One of the things I love about the weeks leading up to the Global Leadership Summit is the sense of purpose and urgency that grips our team.

Every year at this time the Willow Creek Association staff gets seized with a powerful sense of resolve (mixed with a generous heaping of fun).

By contrast, I have visited many teams who seem to be caught not so much in urgency as they are in panic.

The tell-tale sign is when you ask someone how they are doing, and reflexively they respond, “Oh, I’m busy. I’m just so busy.”

That’s called the “I’m so busy” trap, and effective leaders avoid it at all cost.

You’ll never hear an effective leader get caught in the “I’m so busy trap” because they know it can actually communicate something quite unflattering…

1. “I’m so disorganized…”

Some people attach a misplaced sense of nobility to the notion of being busy.

But in a lot of cases that frantic pace is just a reflection of poor organization skills and lack of focus.

2. “I don’t have clear goals…”

Without clear goals, a precise strategy and iron-clad priorities it’s easy to just run around from one disjointed activity to the next.

It might look like hard work, but in many cases it’s just squandered energy.

3. “I can’t build teams…”

Show me someone who keeps telling everyone they’re busy, and I’ll show you someone who might not have team-building skills.

Because leaders who know how to build, empower and motivate teams also know how to spread the work around.

4. “I’ve mismanaged this project…”

Nothing will bring out the “I’m so busy” chants quite as fast as a project that has been allowed to run amok.

Rather than fessing up, some people will simply grab onto the “I’m so busy” lifeline.

5. “I’m just trying to impress people…”

Let’s face it.

Our culture has hoisted the notion of “busy” onto such a pedestal that many people have simply learned to mimic the “I’m so busy” mantra merely as a status symbol.

So keep your goals clear, your projects in-line and your teams on task.

You’ll not only be more productive, but you’ll be able to stay way clear of the “I’m so busy” trap too.

4 Measurements Leaders Need to Weigh, not Count

Updated from April 10, 2012 post

With the Global Leadership Summit just weeks away there is a flurry of counting going on at the Willow Creek Association.

We want to know how many people are registered, we want to know how many teams are attending, the average size of those teams and how many people are attending this year for the first time.

But these measurements that require counting are not the only metrics we’re interested in. They’re not necessarily even the most important ones.

Because throughout our organization there is a leadership culture that understands a very important principle. As I wrote in this earlier posts, some of the most important measurements require weighing, not counting.

While counting tells you some important information, that’s often only the beginning. The complete story is only found when you take the time and invest the leadership effort required to weigh less tangible data.

Here are four scenarios that call for weighing, not just counting.

1.   When you need to rally support around a cause
Counting may tell you how many are “on board”, but effective leaders will want to know WHO is on board. “Do I have the influencers on side?” In other words, effective leaders measure the weight of the voices.

2.   When you need to reverse a trend
Counting may tell you which way the trend is heading (sales are declining, donations are sliding, attendance is plateauing, etc). But effective leaders want to know who has stopped buying (and who has started), and who has stopped giving (and who has increased giving). These are questions of weight.

3.   When you need to respond to criticism
Counting may tell you how many complaints have been received. Effective leaders, though, want to know where those complaints are coming from in order to determine how much validity they might carry. They want to weigh the source of the complaints.

4.   When you need to know “who has your back”
Counting may tell you how many senior staff showed up for work today, or how many board members make up a quorum. Weighing, though, tells you who you can count on when the going gets tough. Effective leaders weigh levels of support among key stakeholders.

Is counting important? Absolutely. Just be sure your measurement doesn’t end there. If you really want to understand what’s going on behind the numbers, learn to develop the ability to weigh, not just count.

Because very often “who” is more important than “how many”.

What other areas do you find necessary to weigh, not simply count?


5 Times Leaders Need to Turn Their “Amp” Up to 11

Updated from January 3, 2012 post

With less than two months to go until the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, the level of energy in the hallways of the Willow Creek Association is on the rise.

At this week’s executive team meeting we reviewed some of what must take place within this relatively short period of time in order to ensure a successful event. With some 110,000 people expected to take in the event in the United States, and later another 140,000 around the world, the stakes are high.

These are the seasons when leaders must up their game, calling the most out of themselves and those they lead.

As I wrote in this earlier post, sometimes leaders must simply know when to punch their amp up to 11.

Fans of the classic comedy film This is Spinal Tap know exactly what I’m talking about.

This “mock-umentary” about an aging British rock band features a hilarious scene in which the lead guitarist (Nigel, played by Christopher Guest) tries vainly to explain the extra power contained in his guitar’s amplifier.

“You see, most blokes will be playing on 10…where can you go from there? Nowhere! Exactly…But what we do, if we need that extra push over the cliff, what we do is we go up to 11. One louder.”

As silly as that scene plays, leaders need to know when it’s time to go one louder; when it’s time to go up to “11”. In other words, leaders need to know how and when to call for the very best out of their team; even beyond the level of their normal level of performance.

How do you make that call? Here’s what I’ve learned from effective leaders.

It’s time to turn the performance level of your team up to 11 when:

1. The size or complexity of an approaching challenge requires extraordinary team effort to overcome,

2. A long season of “business as usual” has allowed the team to drift into cruise-control,

3. You want to provide an opportunity for new leaders to emerge,

4. The team hasn’t experienced a “win” in a long time,

5. A window of opportunity presents itself, requiring “all hands on deck” to seize the opportunity.

Effective leaders know that from time to time it is necessary to unleash the team’s full potential and to lead them to operate at a higher than usual level of energy.

You can’t over do it, or you’ll risk burning out the team. But if you want to get the most out of your team, you need to know when to call the very best out of them.

In the situations described here, it means cranking them up to 11.

How do you know when it’s time to go up to 11?


When It’s Okay to Punt a Core Value

Updated from April 15, 2011 post

This week I engaged in a robust conversation with a teammate on the subject of core values.

While we agreed on the importance of having organizational values, we saw things differently when it comes to whether you can ever let go of a value.

In my opinion, organizations change, values shift, and leaders must have the presence of mind to know when it’s okay to “punt a value”.

In this earlier post I explained why I believe this is important for leaders. 

Take out a copy of your team’s core values. You know the one I mean. It’s either filed away in a folder called “Documents”, or perhaps it’s in that binder labeled “2007 Off-site Retreat”. It’s possible that it’s framed and posted on the wall in your staff coffee room.

I’ll give you a minute while you go get it.

Read each value statement carefully. You probably have between 8 and 12 of them. They likely are peppered with phrases like “relentlessly focused on” and “wholly committed to”. Powerful stuff, eh?

The one I want you to zero in on is that one that jumps off the page, because quite frankly it just doesn’t fit. If the last time you did a review of your core values was more than two years ago, then in all probability there is at least one that simply doesn’t resonate with your present team.

You have three options:

1. You can re-cast vision around that value, “blow-torching it” until it once again is being lived out among your team, or

2. You can take out the white-out and simply eliminate the value, or

3. You can ignore the discrepancy and re-file the core values document back where you found it.

I’m going to build a case for option #2; that sometimes the best option is have the courage to hit “delete”. This sounds like leadership heresy, but hear me out.

Teams change. And sometimes along with those changes new values emerge and old ones become out-dated.

Recently our team did a review of our core values and discovered one that was clearly a reflection of a different time in the history of the organization. After trying desperately to make this value “fit”, we finally had to look at each other and admit, “This value simply no longer reflects who we are.”

Don’t take the idea of deleting a core value lightly. This is a big deal. But be open to the possibility that a value once held in high regard by a previous team may simply no longer be true for this present team.

And have the courage to hit “delete”.

How do you keep your core values alive and relevant?


The Level of Your Ownership Reveals the Level of Your Leadership

“So, who’s leading this thing, anyways?”

The question cut through all of the noise and caused each of us sitting around the table to pause, catch our breath, and re-assess everything.

At issue in this meeting of Willow Creek Association leaders, was the direction of a successful initiative. The initiative had been launched by a particular department a few years ago, and had since grown well beyond the scope of that one department. It now was a part of virtually every aspect of the organization.

But with this growth it was now realized that the department who launched it, and that department’s leader, were now merely one part of a much larger whole.

And so, the inevitable question was raised.

“So, who’s leading this thing, anyways?”

The answer to that question would come by delving in to 3 crucial leadership principles. And these are three pretty good questions that can bring clarity to your own leadership too.

1.      If you lead it, you need to own it.

To figure out who should be leading this initiative the first thing I looked for was “Who really owns this?”

“Who lives and breathes these results? Who lies awake thinking about this? Who kicks over trash cans when this initiative isn’t going well?”

Those are signs of ownership.

And the person who has the highest level of ownership needs to be calling the shots.

2.      If you don’t own it, you can’t lead it.

It doesn’t matter what the organization chart says. It doesn’t matter what the business cards say.

Just because an initiative happens to fall within someone’s job description doesn’t make that person the best leader.

If there’s just no ownership, there’s just no leadership.

3.      The higher your ownership, the higher your leadership

Ownership and leadership are inextricably linked. Want to raise your level of leadership? Raise the level of your ownership.

Here’s the point. When you look at the things you believe you’ve been called upon to lead, ask yourself, “Do I really have a sense of ownership over this?”

If the answer is “Not really,” take the high road and find out where that level of ownership really does sit.

Chances are, that’s where the real leadership is sitting.

Are you leading anything you’re not really owning?

Leadership Values- Going from Aspirational to Actual

It’s hard to make values-based leadership decisions when you’re fuzzy on your values.

A series of decisions I needed to make this week drove this principle home yet again, and it reminded me of a crucial leadership question- “Are my values real, or are they aspirational?”

I first wrestled with this question years ago with the help of a leadership coach.

He had challenged a group of us to write down the values we held as most important to our leadership.

I wrote down words like “Hard working”, “Integrity” and “Well Balanced”.

Then he said, “Next to each value, write either AS, for Aspirational, or AC for Actual.” In other words, which values are being lived out today in my leadership, and which are ones I merely aspire to embrace.

I quickly placed an AC for Actual next to such values as “Hard working” and “Integrity”, and placed an AS for Aspirational next to values such as “Well balanced”.

Next, the coach said, “Look at the list of values you have described as Aspirational. If these really matter to you, you need to find a way to change these into Actual values.

I would soon learn that there is no “one size fits all” way to do this. But for me, the key was to follow these three steps:

1.     Create a system

Without putting a tangible plan and system in place I learned it’s unlikely you’ll ever change an aspirational value into an actual value. You must institutional new patterns of behavior.

2.     Ask for help

I’m not a fan of “accountability partners”, (that’s for another blog post one day) but I am a huge believer in asking for help from someone who has demonstrated a skill I am seeking to develop.

3.     Make it measurable

It wasn’t enough for me to say, “I want to be more balanced.” I needed to say, “I want to increase my evenings at home from 2 nights per week to 4 nights per week.”

Try this exercise for yourself, and if you identify aspirational values consider how you might change them into actual values.

Because if you’re fuzzy on your values it really is hard to make values-based decisions.

Is Your Leadership Doing ’90 on Empty’?

Updated from February 19, 2011 post

In a recent executive team meeting here at the Willow Creek Association I witnessed a remarkable drama unfold.

Some data was presented that would help to inform an upcoming decision. And yet while each of us on the team were looking at the same pieces of information, we drew wildly different conclusions.

And I realized again that the way in which leaders arrive at decisions goes well beyond the data we’re provided. It’s as much about our inner wiring as it is about the information we process.

As I looked at what this principle means in my own leadership, my mind went back to an earlier post, when I reflected on this principle through the lens of a fascinating insight courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld…

Jerry Seinfeld“My parents had two constant arguments while they were driving, over how fast my father was going or how much gas was left in the tank.” Seinfeld wrote in his book Seinlanguage.

“My father had a standard defense for either one of these. It was always, “That’s because you’re looking at it from an angle. If you were over here, you’d see.

From where you’re sitting, it looks like I’m doing ninety on empty. But that’s because you’re over there. If you were over here, you’d know I’m in the driveway with a full tank.”

This dynamic plays itself out in leadership all the time.

You look at data and say,“Wow; things are heading in the wrong direction.” But someone else looks at the same information and says, “That’s because you’re looking at it from over there. From over here things look just fine.”

The bottom line is that when you’re looking at information, you need to know if you’re doing ninety on empty, or actually sitting in the driveway with a full tank.

Here’s what I’ve learned from effective leaders.

  • Know your business. Do you know the seasonal trends that can affect data? Do you know how other organizations are doing under similar circumstances?
  • Know your people. Who are the optimists? Who are the pessimists? Who are the realists? Knowing your people will help to filter their analysis.
  • Know yourself. Are you a “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” person? Being aware of your own inclinations can help bring clarity to how you view information.

The next time you’re looking at your metrics, try filtering it through these lenses.

Who knows? Maybe you’re doing ninety on empty…

How do you compensate for these dynamics when making your own leadership decisions?


The 4 Temptations of “Nice-People Leadership”

Updated from November 9, 2009 post

Today was an interesting day at the Willow Creek Association.

A group of leaders met to discuss future speaker possibilities for the Global Leadership Summit. Potential names were suggested, and then debate ensued.

Some members of our team loved certain speaker suggestions, others hotly disagreed. The debate was always passionate, but never personal. It was always heated, but never crossed the line of disrespect.

It was fascinating to watch the debate unfold, and in particular to observe how those who would normally be labeled as “nice” entered the fray.

Seeing these nice leaders engage with full vigor reminded me again that nice people really can be effective as leaders. As long as they remain on guard against these four temptations…

1. The temptation to avoid hard conversations.

Every leader needs to be able to tackle tough issues with those whom they are leading. As nice leaders we need to recognize our aversion to these conversations and compensate by being disciplined and focused.

2. The temptation to avoid clarity.

Nice leaders can be so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings that we’ll shroud our comments in vague euphemisms. Every time you walk away from a conversation ask yourself, “Did I get my message across with crystal clarity?”

3. The temptation to seek approval over respect.

Nice people can sometimes walk a path that’s dangerously close to “people pleasing”. In order for nice people to be as effective as possible in their leadership they must resist the temptation to attempt to please everybody.

Effective leaders earn respect. And out of that respect will flow approval.

4. The temptation to expect too little from people.

Nice leaders will sometimes lower the bar so low for their people that the organization flounders in a sea of mediocrity. Our people will accomplish more if we set the bar high and show them how to get there.

Avoiding these temptations doesn’t mean becoming someone you’re not. Don’t fake tough.

Instead, if you’re a fellow nice person trying to make it as a leader, start by being aware of these temptations.

You may well find that being nice doesn’t disqualify you from effective leadership.

What have you learned about being “nice” in your leadership?