March 6, 2015

3 Warning Signs of an Impending Leadership Train Wreck

Updated from September 18, 2014 post

We’re wrapping meetings with our Global Leadership Summit partners here in Sao Paulo where leaders from 36 sites have been planning and dreaming about the future of the movement in Brazil.

I came away encouraged by the both the energy of these leaders, alongside their strong emotional intelligence. 

And it took me back to an earlier blog, where I warned of the impending leadership train wreck that can be expected when leadership aggression outstrips leadership emotional intelligence.

Have you ever witnessed a leadership train wreck?

And it can leave carnage and destruction that can sometimes be beyond repair.

But if you know the warning signs to look for, these train wrecks can be completely avoidable.

Warning signal #1: Talking is trumping listening

Leaders are communicators. But before launching any course of action, seasoned leaders will listen to, and even solicit, the opinions of trusted voices.

“Is there another way to look at this?” “Have we considered all of the angles?” Effective leaders want answers to these questions.

If you don’t stop talking long enough to hear them, a train wreck could be coming.

Warning signal #2: Action is trumping discernment

A bias towards action is a vital component in the make-up of a leader.

But if that bias toward action is increasingly drowning out the need for discernment, a train wreck won’t be far behind.

In his book, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven Sample notes that when presented with a problem the first thing he would ask is, “How much time do I have?” Despite a desire to move to action, Sample wanted as much time as possible to think through the issue facing him.

Wise leaders do the same.

Warning signal #3: Emotions are trumping passions

Leaders are people of passion.

But that’s not the same as being overly emotional. Because when a leader is fueled by raw feelings of anger or frustration it can be very easy to make unwise, even foolish, decisions.

If you want to avoid a train wreck keep your passion high, but your emotions in check.

None of this is to suggest that leaders should be passive or afraid to act.

But watch for these warning signs. They’ll keep your leadership securely on the right track.


What To Do When Your Leadership Has Been Rattled

Updated from May 19, 2014 post

I’ve just embarked on a month-long trip to meet with leaders from Brazil, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and across Latin America.

And based on my experience from years of such connections, I know that some of these leaders will be in a season of tremendous “wins” and momentum. Others, will sharing with me that their leadership has recently been shaken.

In preparation I have re-visited a blog post I wrote on how to respond when your leadership has been rattled. 

I thnk there’s some good reminders here for all of us.

Ever been rattled as a leader?

Sure you have.

It’s happened each time a project failed miserably.

It’s happened each time you received a stinging criticism.

No leader is immune to having their confidence shaken. And when it happens, depending how hard you’ve been rattled, it can cause you to begin second-guessing your leadership. Decisions can become more difficult. You begin to feel unsure of yourself.

How do you get your leadership confidence back?

When you’ve been rattled as a leader and you need to regain your confidence, there are four places you need to go back to.

1.  You need to back to your inner circle

In his classic book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell writes about the Law of the Inner Circle. He adds, “A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him.”

Your inner circle are the ones best able to help you process your setback, and best able to help you rebuild your leadership confidence.

2.  You need to go back to your “call”.

Remind yourself about how you first recognized that you had a leadership gift, and about how it was you were called into your current role.

3.  You need to go back to your “wins”

This is not the same as feeding your ego. But it is important that you can draw to mind examples of times and places where your leadership has made a difference in the lives of people, or in the direction of the organization.

4.  You need to go back to your identity

“Who you are” is not defined by your latest setback.

For me, my identity is firmly rooted in who I am in Christ.

Know who you really are, and remind yourself of this the next time you’ve been rattled.

The kind of confidence you need to lead well is not the same as arrogance. It’s an inner resolve that is usually found in authentically humble leaders.

If yours has been rattled, try heading back to these four places.

You could be “un-rattled” before you know it.

How do you respond when your leadership has been rattled?


4 Surprising Disciplines Effective Leaders Must Master

Update from May 5, 2014 post

I am in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this week, meeting with the leaders of the Global Leadership Summit sites from the U.S. and Canada.

Being around such extraordinary pastors has reminded me of one distinguishing feature of effective leaders- that of tremendous personal discipline.

But these leaders have reminded me that the kind of discipline is also what sets them apart. And this has prompted me to re-visit an earlier post where I tackled this very principle.

In his celebrated leadership book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins unpacks the profound wisdom of the leader’s “20 mile march”.

Collins argues that the discipline of consistency is one of the leader’s greatest allies.

He writes, “The 20-Mile March imposes order amid disorder, consistency amid swirling inconsistency. But it works only if you actually achieve your march year after year. If you set a 20-Mile March and then fail to achieve it — or worse, abandon fanatic discipline altogether — you may well get crushed by events.”

So what are the fanatic disciplines a leader must master?

Volumes have been written about the disciplines of team-building, vision casting and strategic planning.

But I believe that there are at least 4 often overlooked disciplines that effective leaders must master.

1.  The discipline of not working

By this I simply mean that effective leaders know the value of ending the day, of putting down the phone and the laptop, and of saying “Team, we’re done”.

The day of the all-nighter is over.

2.  The discipline of fun

Many driven leaders find that simple fun does not come easy, and that it has to be placed in their Outlook calendar.

That’s ok. Whatever it takes, effective leaders must find a way to keep the discipline of laughter and light-heartedness alive in the organization.

3.  The discipline of celebration

The natural instinct of every leader is to look forward at the distance still to be traveled towards the goal.

But don’t forget the discipline of looking back at the ground that’s already been covered.

Celebrating the progress already achieved builds tremendous momentum for the team.

4.  The discipline of “counting your blessings”

Effective leaders make a regular routine of stopping just to notice how fortunate they, and their organization, really are.

These leaders know that one of the best ways to combat the daily pressures inherent in the role of leadership is to take regular stock of the things that are just going well these days.

So keep diligently focused on the disciplines of number crunching, attendance counting and budget analyzing.

But along the way don’t forget the importance of these other disciplines too.

They’re some of the best ways to keep a spring in your step along your 20 mile march.

What would you add to this list?


What Leaders Can Learn from the Growing Church in Cuba

Leadership nuggets can come across your path anytime, any place.

If you’re looking for them.

This was one of my huge take-aways from my recent visit to Havana, Cuba, where the Willow Creek Association has been supporting a group of local churches to help develop Christian leaders.

One of the friends I spent time with is Reverend Joel Dopico, the President of the Cuba Council of Churches.

And as he described the current changes in Cuba I was busily jotting down leadership nuggets I was picking up from this tremendous leader.

Scott with Reverend Dopico in front of GLS banner

1. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality”

This classic quote from Max De Pree is being fully lived out by Reverend Dopico, as evidenced by the passion with which he seeks to clarify the spiritual condition of Cuba.

“Sometimes people in other countries think that Jesus Christ is not in Cuba. He never left Cuba,” Reverend Dopico said, with a warm smile. “Jesus Christ is in Cuba. The Cuban church is a powerful church, it is a growing church. And it is a church that was tested, and a church that has a great testimony of the Spirit of God in our lives.”

2.  Be quick to recognize moments of opportunity; and act fast.

The proposed policy changes discussed by President Obama have obvious implications for the church in Cuba. And Reverend Dopico has been quick to respond.

“This is a very important moment for the church in Cuba,” Reverend Dopico began, “It’s a time of opportunities but it is also a time of challenge. And we need to respond to the call of God.

It’s not just about what we want to do, but it’s about what God wants us to do.”

3.  Opportunities come to those who are prepared

For Reverend Dopico, this means that Christian leaders in Cuba must be equipped now, for whatever new opportunities come in the future.

“It is important that the churches be receiving capacity. It is very important that churches receive training, like the Leadership Summit.”

I came away from my conversation brimming with optimism for the future of the church in Cuba.

And I also came away with a strong reminder that you can find leadership nuggets anytime, and any place.

If you’re looking for them.

How ‘Bandwidth’ Can Expand Your Leadership

Recently I completed a two week leadership coaching trip with Bill Hybels, who was building into leaders from Hong Kong to New Delhi.

One teaching in particular left an indelible mark in my own leadership.

How broad is the bandwidth of your leadership?

That question might have been the most impacting of all of the leadership challenges posed by Bill Hybels on our 2015 leadership coaching tour in Asia.

A leader had been attempting to nail Bill down on a “this or that” kind of leadership question.

“Should I be a tough-minded leader or more of a relational leader?” he had asked.

Bill quickly responded with a much better leadership perspective.

“What you should really be focusing on,” Bill began, “Is ‘What is my elasticity as a leader?

I’m talking about your bandwidth as a leader. For every growing leader this is a huge concept to master.”

As Bill went on to explain, I was busily taking notes.

“The bandwidths of leadership refers to the tension leaders must constantly monitor in various leadership situations.

You need to know when to be passionate, and when to be dispassionate.

When to be clear, and when to be ambiguous.

When to launch, and when to delay. These are all questions of a leader’s bandwidth.”

And that, I noted to myself, was a masterful leadership insight.

All too often leaders try to let themselves off the leadership hook by reducing leadership to a set of formulas or simplistic extremes. “Leaders must be tough”, one leader will say. “Leaders must be quick to act” another will declare.

But for growing, leaders, Bill reminded us, effectiveness lies in the nuances in between. They recognize that some situations, some seasons, and some people, require leadership that is quick to act, decisive and blindingly clear.

At other times, in other seasons, and perhaps for other people, leadership requires patience, seasoning, even a bit of ambiguity.

Here are the key points I scrawled on my notepaper that day.

  • Leadership can never be reduced to a set of inflexible formulas
  • Leadership requires the ability to read a situation and respond to its unique circumstances
  • Leadership is much more fluid an art than it is an exact science

Keep these concepts firmly in mind, and your leadership bandwidth can experience tremendous elasticity, and effectiveness.

How broad is your leadership bandwidth?

How to Spot Insecurity in Leadership, And Why it Matters

Updated from February 17, 2014 post

“A lot can happen when you have an insecure leader. None of it very good.”

That wisdom from a church leader with whom I served in Canada has stayed with me for years.

He was pointing out that an insecure leader will inevitably speak or act in ways that ultimately will do harm to the people or organization.

Ever since then I’ve learned to keep a watchful eye out for signs of insecurity in my own leadership, and those around me.

Here are what I’ve found are 5 of the most common indicators of an insecure leader:

1.   Me-ism

Me-ism is a particularly destructive trait among insecure leaders. It frequently shows up as an undeserved demand for esteem. Rather than focusing their energies on the needs of the organization, the me-ist leader sees everyone and everything as revolving around themselves.

2.   Stubborn-ism

The stubbornist is the leader who pushes an idea regardless of input being provided by the rest of the team. Even when an idea has been demonstrated as being unwise, the stubbornist will cling to it and push it even if only to save face.

All of this flows out of insecurity.

3.   Talk-ism

The insecure leader can often be spotted merely by the volume of words they feel compelled to spew. Talk-ists seem to justify their leadership by the word count; the more they talk, the more important they must be.

4.   Agree-ism

Insecurity often leads to people-pleasing, and one of the first indicators of this is an uncontrollable desire to agree with just about everyone.

Eventually of course, this gets the leader into trouble, when they realize they are agreeing with opposing views on the same topic. Such leadership will grind forward movement to a halt.

5.   Defensive-ism

The insecure leader will often respond very negatively to opposing views. Even when those views are presented with respect, the insecure leader will sometimes lash out, feeling that their tenuous position of authority has been threatened.

The reason? The insecure leader can’t separate the idea from their own identity. And the result is a team unwilling or unable to present genuinely fresh, innovative ideas of their own.

So keep on guard for these indicators of an insecure leader and learn to develop grow through these various “isms”.

Because as my friend said, as an insecure leader you can still accomplish a lot. But none of it very good.

What other indicators of insecure leaders have you seen?


Are You a Bridge-Builder or a Wall-Erector?

This month I am traveling with Bill Hybels in Asia, who is coaching leaders in 7 different cities. During our stop in Delhi, India, Bill asked a leadership question that immediately grabbed everyone’s attention, and which should resonate with leaders everywhere.

”Are you a bridge-builder, or a wall-erector?”

Bill asked this question to a group of fired-up leaders at a coaching session in New Delhi, India this week; the final stop on a two week leadership tour we conducted throughout Asia.

Bill raised this vital question in response to a leadership issue that was apparent among some churches in this part of India, and which applies in leadership circles globally.

As a leader, Bill was reminding us, our energies and focus will either result in the bringing together of people, organizations, ideas and communities, or it will drive things further apart.

Effective leaders, Bill taught with great urgency, must devote themselves to being bridge builders.

He used an example of Bridge-Building leadership by talking about a group of churches in Buenos Aires, Argentina who collaborate at a jaw-dropping level. For example, when one of these churches begins a building program, each of the other churches in the community will provide financial support out of their own resources!

As Bill continued to teach about this I began funneling this principle through my own leadership lens. On my notepad I created two columns; one called “Bridge Building” and the other “Wall Erecting”. I then began to list all of the ways my leadership might contribute to each of these outcomes.

Wall Erecting:

I become a wall erecting leader when I:

  • Say anything negative, even in private conversation, about another leader or organization
  • Do anything less than offer whole-hearted, enthusiastic support and cooperation to other leaders and their organizations
  • Fail to pro-actively build intentional relationships with these leaders

I become a bridge-building leader when I:

  • Season every conversation regarding other leaders and organizations with words of affirmation,
  • Pro-actively reach out to offer support and resources
  • Make it my personal leadership mission to seek the success of those who can’t offer anything to me in return

My huge take-away was that, whether we realize it or not, every day as leaders we are either erecting walls or building bridges.

I came away with renewed resolve to leverage my own leadership to be an intentional bridge builder.

How do you build leadership bridges?

Why Leaders Must Avoid the Unilateral Power Play

This month I am traveling in Asia with Bill Hybels, who is coaching leaders in 7 different cities. During our stop in Manila, the Philippines, a question was raised during a question and answer forum that prompted Bill to respond with another huge leadership principle.

“I know that, as a leader, I need to build consensus. But sometimes I feel like I just need to declare a decision. Is it ever ok to do that?”

That was a question asked to Bill Hybels at a coaching event this week in Manila, the Philippines.

For some, Bill’s answer was a game-changer.

“Every time you make a unilateral leadership power play, you cash in some trust chips.” Bill said with great emphasis.

Bill went on to unpack the deeper leadership truths.

“If you have positional power and authority, you have the right to simply make the call. You can bypass the messiness of aligning people around a vision, or building consensus and so on. And if you do this consistently you will pay a price.

And the price you will pay is the erosion of trust.”

Was Bill saying that it is never appropriate for a leader to simply “make the call”?

Not at all. There are those occasions when the leader must step up and simply declare a decision.

However he was pointing out the leadership truth that you need to be very careful about how often you make a unilateral power play.

When Bill was making this point, I quickly jotted across my page these 5 problems leaders create when they make a unilateral power play too often.

1.  Your team will wonder if their contributions matter, or will you simply make the call regardless of their input.

2.  Your team will begin to doubt their own effectiveness.

3.  You will create unhealthy distance between you and your team.

4.  You will create a culture of followers instead of leaders.

 5. You will slow the pace of productivity. If you have to make all the decisions, you will create a production bottleneck.

Leadership requires the ability to make decisions.

But as Bill reminded these leaders in Manila, a little too much decision-making can get in the way of some big-picture team-building.

How do you keep from making too many unilateral power plays?


Why Leaders Must Avoid These 10 ‘Credibility Killers’

This month I am traveling in Asia with Bill Hybels, who is coaching leaders in 7 different cities. During our first stop in Hong Kong, a question was raised during a question and answer forum that prompted Bill to respond with a huge leadership principle.

Are there “credibility killers” undermining your leadership?

That crucial question flowed from a recent leadership interaction between Willow Creek Community Church’s pastor Bill Hybels and a marketplace leader in Hong Kong.

The question? “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?


The Surprising Voice Influencing Your Leadership Decisions

Updated from October 6, 2014 post

Every time you need to make a leadership decision there’s a little voice whispering in your ear.

So, who’s been whispering in your ear?

And just as importantly, do you know what it’s saying?

This whispering voice has tremendous influence over whether you hire this person or that person. It informs whether you drive for growth or lean towards quality control.

The little voice I’m talking about? It’s your hidden values.

Your hidden values are different than the corporate values you espouse, like “Excellence”, “Integrity” and “Innovation”. Hidden values lie much deeper.

Hidden values are found in the hot-wiring of “who you are”; they are the basic make-up of your character, and ultimately they drive the dozens of leadership decisions you make every day-  whether you’ll hire, or fire…whether you’ll act or wait…whether you’ll buy or sell.

Let me give you an example.

A while ago I was admiring a beautiful red Ferrari, and the friend I was standing with said, “Wouldn’t you love to own that?”

“Who wouldn’t?” I answered. “But I could never afford it.”

“Sure you could,” my friend replied. “You could buy that car today. Just sell your house. You’d have plenty of money to buy that car.”

Then he explained the power of hidden values. “The reason you don’t buy that car is not because of lack of money. It’s because deep inside you cling to a different value; security and well-being for your family.”

The point is that effective leadership requires understanding these hidden values, what they’re whispering in your ear. Because when you are aware of these hidden values you can recognize whether they are helping, or hurting, your decisions.

So what are your hidden values, and what are they whispering in your ear?

See if any of these resonate with you…

  • “I like to be in control”
  • “I like to take risks”
  • “I prefer to play it safe”
  • “I like structure”
  • “I don’t like surprises”
  • “I’m a people-pleaser”
  • “I power up when I feel cornered”
  • “I need my decisions to be affirmed”
  • “I thrive on change”
  • “I need to see every detail before I sign off”

Bottom line- learn the hidden values you carry with you every day, and recognize how they are influencing your decisions.

It’s the first step to making those decisions the best they can be.

What hidden value influences your decisions?


10 Ways of Thinking that will Impact Your Leadership

Take 40 seconds and watch (or more likely, re-watch) this classic commercial.


Well, primarily for a good laugh.

But also because it raises one of the most important questions a leader will ever face.

We are sinking

What are you thinking about? (Or, what are you sinking about?)

The reason this question is so important is that leaders simply think differently than do other people.

At least, growing, effective leaders think differently.

As a younger, inexperienced leader, the kinds of thoughts that tend to dominate the thinking of many people are,

1.  How can I advance my way through this organization?

2.  What are people thinking of me?

3.  Who do I need to impress in order to make a good impression?

4.  Am I being adequately compensated?

5.  Are people showing me enough respect?

But growing, effective leaders really do think differently. And if you want to lead at your very best then your thinking must increasingly develop along these lines.

1.  Are we making progress towards our organizational goals?

2.  How are the individuals on my team doing these days?

3.  Is the culture of the organization becoming healthier?

4.  What do I need to do to protect the best interests of the organization?

5.  Are we adding enough value to the people we seek to serve?

6.  How can I make a positive contribution to someone’s life today?

7.  Where will this organization be in 3 or 5 years?

8.  Are we still on course, or has any mission-drift set in? 

9.  Are we moving at an efficient but sustainable pace?

10.             Am I accessible enough to my team?

Leaders who are growing and maturing in their leadership simply learn to think differently.

They’re thinking moves further and further away from self-interest and self-preservation. And it moves further and further towards the needs of the organization, its people, and the people it serves.

So, do you want to know how you’re doing in your leadership? Want to know how far along on your leadership journey?

Start by paying very close attention to one over-riding question.

What are you thinking about? 

3 Lies that can Shipwreck a Leader

Updated from January 16, 2014 post

“The water should be deep enough here.”

Many a ship’s captain has believed that lie, and many of their ships have ended up stranded on a sandbar or dashed against a reef.

In the same way, there are lies that leaders are tempted to tell themselves every day. And some of these can shipwreck their leadership too.

In my experience these are some of the most dangerous lies a leader can ever tell themselves. Start believing these and you could easily find your leadership dashed on the shore.

  • “I got away with it last time. I can get away with it this time.”

There might be nothing worse for a leader than to have once cut a corner and gotten away with it. Because the next time an opportunity presents itself to shave the truth or to take a financial short cut, the temptation can be almost irresistible.

“After all,” a leader can think, “Borrowing that money from petty cash last time was ok. I returned it before getting caught. I can get away with it again this time.”

Eventually, this will shipwreck a leader’s integrity.

  • “It’s just a one-time thing.”

The idea that an off-side action can be justified “just this once” is one of the worst lies of all.

Because leaders who believe this once can begin to believe it repeatedly.

And when that happens, a leadership shipwreck isn’t far behind.

  • “It’s okay. No one will notice.”

This lie is a doozy.

It happens when a leader has dropped a leadership ball and, rather than coming clean and owning up, the leader instead pins hope against hope that no one was watching.

Instead of accountability, this leader is counting on being able to fly below the radar. “After all,” they’ll reason, “If no one picked up on the financial blunders, I’m in the clear.”

No leader ever starts out wanting to abandon their impeccable character. Leadership shipwrecks happen one little lie at a time.

So keep your radar on full alert for lies like these.

Because if you can identify and resist these kinds of lies, your leadership can sail strong for years to come.

What are some other lies leaders are tempted to believe?

The Power of Drawing a Leadership Line in the Sand

Have you drawn a leadership line in the sand recently?

A line in the sand where your core values intersect with real life situations.

Several years ago I was called in to help turn around a non-profit organization which had been in a financial tailspin.

About three months into this journey the Chief Financial Officer came into my office and delivered some very bad news. “Scott, it looks as though we’re not going to make it.”

He explained that there was not enough money on hand to meet the next payroll. At the point where an organization misses payroll, you are basically finished.

I asked him for options.

“Well,” he began, “We are sitting on a trust fund containing more than enough money. To be clear, it’s not our money, but we do have access to it. If we were convinced that things would turn around, and that we’d be able to replace those funds later, we could dip into that account and cover our shortfall.”

I’m not going to lie to you. This was tempting.

But then, almost in unison, the C.F.O. and I said, “Wait, what are we doing? This goes against everything you and I believe in. No, we won’t violate our principles and use funds that are not really ours.”

This encounter had reminded us of three vital “line in the sand” leadership truths.

1.  A line in the sand must be drawn before you need it.

When you’re in a moral dilemma it’s too late to start figuring out your principles.

2.  A line in the sand must be shared.

Being able to say, “I won’t cross that line” is good. But it’s nothing like the power of an entire team saying, “WE won’t cross that line.”

3.  A line in the sand must be absolute.

A line in the sand must be peppered with words like “always” (“We will always…”) and “never” (“We will never…”). Not “sometimes” or “usually”

By the way, the following week an unexpected donation arrived which covered our shortfall, and the turnaround went on to be a success.

But maybe more important than salvaging the organization was the satisfaction of maintaining our own integrity.

Do you have clear core values? Good. Now, put them to work in real-life situations.

It starts by drawing a line in the sand.

When have you needed to draw a line in the sand?




Could a Lesser Mission be Hijacking Your Primary Mission?

Updated from February 22, 2011 post

In the world of American football, this is the most exciting time of year. The Super Bowl is less than two weeks away and all signs are pointing to a classic match-up between New England and Seattle.

National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell is soaking up the thrill of it all.

But on more than one occasion, he has almost let it all slip away. And so, with the Super Bowl approaching, I want to take a look back at a time when Goodell almost let a secondary mission take him away from his primary mission…

ROGER GOODELL’S MOMENT: The NFL commissioner is the most powerful man in sports, presiding over the most lucrative league in the world. His job right now is to stop it from all falling apart.

The message on the cover of the recent Sports Illustrated issue contains a powerful reality check for every leader.

What is Goodell’s moment? It’s not connected to his primary mission (building and promoting the game of professional football). It’s connected to a lesser mission (divvying up billions of dollars in league revenues among millionaire owners and millionaire players).

Goodell must pay attention to how league revenues are doled out. That’s just not his primary mission.

In other words, Goodell’s primary mission could be hijacked by a lesser mission.

And this prompts a question that every leader should consider; “Are lesser missions hijacking me from my primary mission?”

There are business leaders who arrived in their role determined to “create sustainable energy for future generations”, but who ended up simply battling for a slightly larger share of the market.

There are church leaders whose vision is to see “every person grow into the image of Christ”, but whose defining moment ends up being adding a Saturday night service.

Lesser missions are neither inappropriate nor unimportant. But they can easily preoccupy a leader and take focus off the primary mission.

How can you tell if your primary mission is being hijacked? Here are a few warning signs I’ve learned from great leaders:

  • Your board meetings and staff meetings are focused on lesser missions.
  • Your personal journal entries are dominated by concerns over lesser missions.
  • The books you’re reading are not connected to your primary mission.

If you think you might be sliding away from your primary mission, for the next month try paying attention to these indicators.

Because if you’re a leader in the local church, your primary mission is of far greater consequence than simply saving the NFL season.

How do you keep focused on your primary mission?


3 Unmistakable Indicators You’re Growing as a Leader

Updated from February 1, 2013 post

Can you actually measure the effectiveness of your leadership development?


In fact, measuring your progress is not only possible, it’s imperative.

Imagine if you could somehow really tell if all the leadership books you are reading and the seminars you are attending are paying off.

Without a reliable set of indicators to gauge the impact of your development plan you could be spinning your wheels. On the other hand, when you can recognize the indicators of progress it can give you tremendous personal momentum.

So, how do you do it? How do you know if you are actually growing as a leader?

The key is to look for these unmistakable leadership development indicators:

1.   You are attracting higher capacity leaders into your orbit

John Maxwell has rightly pointed out that if you are a “6” or a “7” as a leader, you will never attract “8’s” and “9’s”. You will only be able to lead “4’s” and “5’s”.

But if you are actually growing as a leader, one of the first indicators will be that those high capacity leaders will begin to be drawn to you.

2.   Your opinion is not only being heard, it is being sought out

Watch what happens around a discussion table when it’s time for a key decision to be made.

Long before there’s a show of hands, long before the vote is taken, the discussion leader will say something like, “So, what do the rest of you think?”

At that moment, watch which way everyone’s head turns.

If you are growing in your leadership, then increasingly those heads will turn towards you.

3.   There are increasing numbers of leaders in your circle

This is not a function of leadership attraction, as much as it is a function of leadership production.

Because, growing leaders produce growing leaders.

If you are indeed growing in your leadership then you should see evidence of a growing number of leaders emerging whom you are building into.

So, over time, watch for these unmistakable indicators to become increasingly evident in your life.

They’ll be signaling that your leadership development efforts are paying off.

How else can you tell if you are growing as a leader? 


Finding the Right Bucket to Solve Unsolvable Leadership Challenges

Ever faced a leadership challenge so enormous that it seemed utterly unsolvable?

Maybe you were dipping into the wrong leadership bucket.

Because the first step to solving an unsolvable leadership challenge is knowing which bucket to dip into.

Years ago I inherited the task of trimming $400,000 out of a $3,000,000 budget.

The first $200,000 had been relatively painless. But now the job needed deep cuts; I needed to trim another $200,000, and I had run out of ideas. I was stumped.

But a leadership mentor of mine asked me the question that changed everything.

“Scott, what bucket are you looking for your solution in?”

I pressed him to explain.

“Well, it seems to me you’re looking for answers in your ‘easy fix’ bucket. You’ve already emptied that one. That’s how you trimmed the first $200,000. But to finish this job, you need to learn about 3 different buckets.”

The Radical Innovation Bucket

“Supposing I were to tell you that you had to run the entire organization next year with only $1,000,000,” he continued. “What would you do? I’ll tell you exactly what you’d do. You would figure out a way to run the organization for $1,000,000. But you would figure it out using radical innovation.”

He was right.

The “easy fix” bucket doesn’t solve unsolvable problems. You need utterly new approaches.

Those are found in the radical innovation bucket.

The Uncommon Courage Bucket

“I’ll bet you faced little push-back with your first round of cuts,” he went on. “The next round will face serious opposition. That’s when you need uncommon courage.”

Unsolvable problems are always faced with that kind of bravery.

The Emotional Intelligence Bucket

“When you start implementing your radical solution, you need to find a way to navigate some tricky relational waters,” he concluded. “People are emotionally invested in their work. Keep your emotional wits about you at all times.”

The higher the stakes, the greater the need for emotional intelligence.

So when you next need a solution for an unsolvable problem, start by looking closely at the kinds of solutions you’re bringing to the table.

If the problem is still overwhelming, it could be because you’ve been looking in the wrong bucket.

What other leadership buckets do you dip into?

Leadership by Not Showing Up…

Updated from August 10, 2012 post

Leadership is mostly about “showing up”; it’s often about leveraging your presence in a room in order to influence, to cast vision, to bring alignment and to build teams.

But effective leaders I know are just as strategic about leveraging their absence in order to move their organizations forward.

Here are four situations where your most effective leadership might be leveraged by your absence.

1.   Being absent from the “limelight”
Many leaders simply can’t resist the lure of a microphone. If there’s an audience to be addressed most leaders will jump at the chance. And many times that is the right move.

But effective leaders know that this can often be the opportunity to profile an up-and-coming leader in the organization. These leaders never miss a chance to profile and develop talent.

2.   Being absent from a decision-making meeting
You need to tread carefully here, but not being present every single time a decision has to be made can communicate something very powerful to your team. It shows you trust them to make the right call without you.

Organizations that demonstrate speed and agility excel at this.

3.   Being absent from the “30,000 foot” view
Effective leaders have a knack for knowing when to step down from the big-picture vantage point, and instead spending time on the ground floor of the organization.

Ever watched the tv show, “Undercover Boss”?

4.   Being absent from the office altogether
Leaders must set the pace regarding long-term thinking, strategizing and planning. And sometimes the best (and only) way to do this is to pull away from the daily responsibilities of leadership, slow down, and get away.

When should a leader leverage their absence? It tends to be more of a “gut” instinct. Effective leaders have a gnawing awareness that they need to pull back from one of these arenas.

If you’ve been sensing a need to lead from your absence, pay attention to that instinct, and act on it.

Because sometimes a leader will be most effective when they aren’t around at all.

Are there other situations you have found that require your absence?


Leading Change? Why You’ll Need to Roll Up Your Sleeves

If you’ve ever attempted to lead people through a process of change you have likely already encountered a simple, but profound truth.

Short term change is quite easy; just work on their behaviors.

But for lasting change you need to roll up your leadership sleeves. You’ll need to do the hard work of leading through values.

I discovered this in a powerful way several years ago in Canada, when I served on the board of directors for a national faith-based organization.

The organization’s purpose was to publicize the policy platforms of politicians seeking election or re-election. But our angle was always to focus on policies that would be of particular interest to those in the Christian faith community.

Over time I began to grow increasingly uncomfortable with our purposes and strategies. It was clear that we were able to exert considerable political influence based on whether or not these politician’s policies happened to align with what might be expected from a faith perspective.

I began to perceive that implicit in our message was an expectation that politicians, regardless of their personal faith or lack of faith, should support policies which reflect a Christian faith perspective.

The question I began to wrestle with is, “Why should these politicians be expected to support Christian-friendly policies when these candidates may or may not share my own particular faith?”

In other words, we were attempting to lead change merely by influencing behaviors. But I saw that this change wouldn’t last. If we wanted to see true lasting change we would need to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of influencing their values first.

As a result of this struggle I ended up leaving this organization, but I took with me several key leadership understandings that have stood me well to this day.

  • Leaders, by definition, seek to influence change in how people behave.
  • These behaviors always flow out of “who you are”; your values.
  • To influence values will take longer, but the results will be behavior changes that will stand the test of time.

It all comes down to understanding the kind of change you want to see.

Short-term change? You can get away with the relatively simple leadership task of influencing behaviors.

But for lasting change you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and do the hard, but rewarding work, of influencing values.

In the end it will all be worth it.

4 Measurements Leaders Need to Weigh, not Count

Updated from April 10, 2012 post

Leaders measure.

It’s part of what we do. It’s in our “DNA”. We want to know how many, how much, how often, how far and how fast.

But effective leaders also know that in addition to these metrics which require counting, there are also vital indicators that require WEIGHING.

They know that 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?


The One Leadership Blog You’ll Read NOT about Resolutions

Updated from December 31, 2013 post

I’m a believer in setting new goals in a new year.

But there are hundreds of posts readily available today to help you set new leadership targets for 2015.

Today, I want to ask you a very different leadership question: “Is my soul in a better place today than it was a year ago?”

For 365 days you’ve been doing the hard work of leadership. You’ve been:

  • Making tough decisions,
  • Relieving people of their positions,
  • Disappointing people for a greater purpose,
  • Saying “no”,
  • Driving people to achieve objectives,

All of these necessary tasks can take a toll on the leader’s soul.

The writer of Proverbs states emphatically, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23). For leaders, this means taking time at the end of a full year to examine the condition of your inner being.

So before you tackle another year, before you set down another list of goals and resolutions, take time to wrestle through these questions. At the end of this year of leadership:

  • Is my heart towards people more, or less, compassionate than a year ago?
  • Am I growing more, or less, irritable than I was a year ago?
  • Does laughter come to me more or less easily than it did a year ago?
  • Is my appreciation of natural beauty more, or less, heightened than it was a year ago?
  • Would people describe me as more, or less, “winsome” than I was a year ago?
  • Is my walk with God more, or less, fulfilling today than it was a year ago?

This list is far from exhaustive, but I would urge you to reflect on these kinds of questions before you even think about tackling a new hill in 2015.

Because while resolutions and goals really ARE important, a healthy soul trumps everything.

As the Proverb says, “everything flows from it”.

How would you assess your own soul at the end of this year of leadership?