July 2, 2015

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?


The Painful Road to a Leader’s Character Growth

When does character growth in the life of a leader happen most often?

It’s during seasons of pain and discomfort.

As I’ve been retracing my own leadership journey I’ve realized that seasons of character growth have always been accompanied by a certain “wince” factor.

This is not to say you should seek out painful experiences. Rather, it’s a simple acknowledgement that if you are committed to seeing your character grow, you’d better anticipate some periods of discomfort. Because that’s where character growth takes place.

And since leadership growth is directly tied to character growth, this is something worth paying attention to.

Specifically, watch for character growth to take place in the wake of these pain-points

1.     When you’ve committed a leadership blunder

As I’ve written before leaders make mistakes. If you are a leader worth your salt, you will make mistakes as you venture out and try new things.

And let’s be honest; mistakes can be painful. They can cause us to wonder if we’ve lost the esteem of our colleagues. Mistakes can make us believe our value has been diminished among our followers.

These thoughts can cause considerable pain.

But if you respond with humility and a learning attitude it can enlarge your character.

2.     When you’ve made a decision that disappoints people

Let’s face it. Sometimes your decisions as a leader will let people down.

Some people will be upset with your decisions. Some will be more than upset; some people will be downright angry with the calls you make.

If that isn’t happening you’re playing it too safe.

Now, no one should ever enjoy feeling the wrath of those you’ve disappointed. That should sting a bit every time.

But that sting is telling you that your character is growing just a bit more.

3.     When you’ve let an opportunity pass you by.

Ever zigged when you should have zagged?

Ever let the “sure thing” slip through your grasp?

Sure you have. Every leader has let a golden opportunity get away.

And the feeling afterwards can be a hollow, gnawing pain in your gut.

But don’t wish that feeling away. Once again, if you process this with humility, this can be a wonderful opportunity for character growth.

No one welcomes pain. No one hopes for discomfort.

But with a heart of humility and a learning posture these moments can be a springboard into character growth.

And for leaders, that’s the ball game.

When have you seen your character grow the most?

4 Ways to Seize “Real Time” Leadership Moments

Updated from February 24, 2014 post

This week the executive team of the Willow Creek Association engaged in a robust day of candidate interviews for a key position on our team.

As full a day as this was, this was simply one more chapter in a lengthy, and deliberate, process that has been unfolding for many months. And this process has reminded me again that leadership is not just about the destination; it’s also about capturing leadership moments in real-time along the journey.

As I noted in this earlier post, I call this “On the Way Leadership”.

“On the Way Leadership” was best modeled by the person many of us consider to be the greatest leader of all time; Jesus of Nazareth.

It is uncanny how much of what Jesus accomplished he did while “on the way” to someplace else.

It seems that for Jesus there were no throw-away moments. Whether it was a teaching moment, a chance to bless someone, or indeed an opportunity to perform a miracle, Jesus consistently did some of his most profound ministry not just at his destination, but while he was still on the way.

Effective leaders can learn something from this.

On the way leadership takes place when you seize a coaching moment to help a team mate learn from a mistake. It takes place when you provide a timely word of encouragement to someone whose shoulders are sagging. It takes place when you ask for feedback from staff members who happen to be walking by your office door.

How does it work? On the Way Leadership has four key components:

1.   Intentionality

On the Way leaders are always on the lookout for leadership moments where ever they are.

2.   Margin

Leaders who frantically operate at Mach 10 speed rarely have the time or bandwidth to take advantage of On the Way moments.

3.   Flexibility

You need to be able to take a detour in your carefully planned day if you’re going to take advantage of these moments.

4.   Creativity

Not every on the way moment will present itself in an obvious way. You also need the creativity to look at a routine situation with a view to uncovering a leadership moment.

None of this is to downplay or diminish the importance of leadership at the destination.

Just remember that for effective leaders your best contribution might just happen on your way there.

How have you leveraged ‘on the way’ moments in your leadership?


Leading Where it Counts- Moving from the Periphery to the Core

A few weeks ago I traveled with Bill Hybels to Brazil where Bill addressed some 1200 officers in the Brazilian Military Police Force.

The event was a special Global Leadership Summit, designed especially for Brazil’s military personnel.

As I took in this scene a huge leadership truth hit me; this room was packed with leaders who go way beyond the periphery of leadership.

The periphery is where things are exceedingly pleasant, unhurried and without much pressure.

But it’s in the leadership core where things get heated. That’s where these military leaders devote their time, as do all high-impact leaders. It’s where hard conversations take place, where the stakes are high, and where difficult decisions must be reached.

So, how do you move from the periphery to the core? Here’s a good starting place…

1.       Recognize the signs of peripheral leadership

Leadership on the periphery involves such low-stakes activities as,

  • Writing reports
  • Organizing and re-organizing
  • Exchanging pleasantries

Each of these duties has their place in the life of a leader. But don’t be fooled into thinking that impactful results can be produced here. Effective leaders will move in and out of the periphery as quickly as possible.

2.       Resist the seduction of peripheral leadership

Here’s the reality.

Peripheral leadership feels good. It can occupy a leader’s time in a way that feels productive and at the same time non-threatening.

Sometimes after a season of leadership ‘heavy lifting’ such dynamics can feel exceedingly attractive, causing someone to linger a bit too long.

But having recognized the tell-tale signs that you might be stuck in the quagmire of peripheral matters, resist the lure to remain any longer than necessary.

3.       Plunge headlong into the high-stakes world of core leadership issues

If you’re finding the conversations are leading towards decisive action, you’re moving towards the core.

If the decisions carry a bit more risk, you’re moving towards the core.

If the outcomes align with your goals, you’re moving towards the core.

Keep moving in that direction.

Some time spent in the periphery is inevitable.

But as quickly as possible start heading back towards the core.

That’s where the impact happens.

How do you keep away from peripheral leadership?

4 Myths about Kindness Leaders Must Overcome

Updated from January 31, 2014 post

This week the Willow Creek Association honored its staff who have served for 10 or 15 years. As I watched my teammates receive their recognition a thought struck me; “Each one of these tremendous leaders shares at least one important leadership quality.

Each one is a kind leader.”

By kindness, I’m not referring to “niceness”.

No, kindness is different. Kindness is a core leadership value that places the well-being of others ahead of yourself.

These leaders get the job done and do so in a way that is thoroughly kind.

As I wrote in this earlier post, each one of these leaders had managed to dispel 4 myths about leadership kindness…

Myth #1: If you’re kind people will take advantage of you

Being kind doesn’t mean being weak. Kind leaders are strong and hold people to account. But they do so in a way that doesn’t diminish people.

Myth #2: If you’re kind people will not be motivated to excel

People can respond to kindness with a deep desire to do their very best. Don’t be misled into thinking that motivation is the exclusive purview of the tough boss.

Myth #3: If you’re kind the organization will move too slowly

Quick decisions can be important in any organization. And being kind is absolutely no handicap when it comes to sizing up a situation, seeking input, and then making and communicating a fast decision.

Myth #4: If you’re kind you can’t make hard decisions

Perhaps no myth is more wide spread than this one. But there is no connection between being kind and the ability to make the tough call. The advantage to kind leadership is that you can communicate the tough call with sensitivity.

So as you develop your leadership, continue to be bold, daring, decisive and resilient.

But don’t forget a little kindness along the way too.

And if you find yourself thinking that kindness doesn’t belong in leadership, remember that’s just a myth.

How myths would you add to this list?


5 Ways That “Showing Up Leadership” Creates Huge Impact

Updated from December 12, 2013 post

For the past two weeks I’ve had the privilege of traveling with Bill Hybels, visiting some fantastic churches across Brazil, Paraguay and Mexico, meeting exceptional leaders in each city.

To a person, each of these leaders demonstrated the critical leadership skill of “showing up”. I saw that part of their effectiveness comes from their refusal to be isolated in a corner office. Instead they lead by naturally, and strategically, moving in and among their people.

I call this “Show Up Leadership”, and as I noted in this earlier post, there are at least 5 reasons it should be the part of every leader’s skill set.

And I’m not simply talking about showing up for the big meeting, the major conference and the staff retreat.

I’m talking about those unscheduled, unplanned sometimes impromptu gatherings that don’t show up on your daily calendar.

It’s the lunch room, where staff are pouring their morning coffee.

It’s the lobby where church members are chatting after the service.

It’s the factory floor where workers are going about the daily grind.

When leaders take the time and make the effort to show up in these unscheduled gatherings there are at least five huge leadership wins to be made:

1.   You learn a ton about what’s REALLY going on.

You could gain more organizational intelligence when you rub shoulders with your people than you will any formal staff meeting.

2.   You can noticeably boost morale.

Face it. When the leader shows up, people notice. And it matters.

3.   You can catch people in the act of doing something right.

The best way to blow torch an organizational core value is to catch someone living it out. No better way to do that than by showing up where they’re hanging out.

4.   You can provide real-time coaching.

When you saddle up next to a team member you have a unique opportunity to enhance their performance by sharing your own skills and experience.

5.    You can spot your rising stars.

On the look-out for talent within the organization? You’re far more likely to spot it when you’re walking about than you are in a staff meeting.

30 or 40 years ago this was called “management by walking around”. But what I’m talking about is far more nuanced than merely strolling through the organization with a clipboard and a checklist.

It’s about taking a genuine interest in your people where ever they gather and acting on that interest to lead in and among them.

And it all starts by just showing up.

What leadership gains have you made by simply showing up?


The Character Crisis that can Chase People Away

This month’s leadership coaching trip with Bill Hybels through South America and Mexico saw more than 3000 leaders impacted.

One of the recurring themes that emerged centered on “What kind of leader do people want to follow?”

To a group of leaders in Rio de Janeiro Bill emphatically underscored 2 chilling qualities people can’t stand in their leaders.

As Bill taught this point I recognized that if leaders fail to eradicate these qualities early they could have a full-blown character crisis on their hands…

 1.       “People can’t stand dishonesty in their leader.”

In my own notes I jotted down that the real danger is rarely in the telling of bald-face lies. For most leaders dishonesty seeps in through the most subtle of statements and actions. Some of the most common include:

  • Chronic lateness
    • “I’ll meet you tomorrow at 9:00 am.” Then you show up at 9:10.
    • Some leaders will dismiss their chronic tardiness as a reflection merely of their demanding schedule. But it ultimately communicates dishonesty.
  • Consistent lack of follow-through
    • “I’ll call you next week.” And no call is made.
    • When you consistently fail to follow through on even the smallest of commitments people come to doubt any commitment you make.

2.       “People can’t stand arrogance in their leader.”

Here I wrote down that such arrogance usually reveals itself in the smallest, but deadliest, forms of subtle behavior and speech.

  • The White-Knight complex
    • Implicitly, or explicitly, some leaders make it sound like they had ridden in on a stallion and had single-handedly rescued the organization from certain doom.
    • People withdraw their support from such leaders.

Consider using this checklist to form your own character audit.

Because if you can catch these indicators when they’re relatively small, you can avoid a full-blown character crisis later on.

How do you prevent these character crises from seeping into your leadership?

Want Game-Changing Results? Start with Game-Changing Questions

If you want game-changing leadership results, you need to frame game-changing leadership questions.

This crucial principle was driven home this week here in Brazil, as Bill Hybels continued to provide leadership coaching in key cities across the country.

The place; Belo Horizonte. The scenario; a keen young church leader asking, “How can I get more people to join my ministry program?”

The result? A game-changing turn of events.

Drawing on 40 years of leadership experience and expertise, Hybels encouraged this young leader and said, “To really help you out, I’d like to re-frame your question. Let’s ask instead, ‘What kind of leader do people want to follow?’ Because if you can nail that question, it doesn’t matter what kind of program you’re leading; people will want to join in.”

1.      People want to follow a leader with a Compelling Vision

“If you ask people to follow you, what’s the first question they’re going to ask? ‘Where are we going?!’

The first characteristic of a leader people want to follow is a clear, compelling vision.”

2.      People want to follow a leader with Inspiring Passion

“If you’re not excited about the thing you’re leading, no one else is going to be excited. People want to follow someone who can fire them up out of a genuine, inspiring passion..”

3.      People want to follow a leader who loves them

“It’s true.

The Gallup organization did some fascinating research that showed people are most loyal to a leader whom they know cares deeply for them.

Want people to follow you? Let them know how much you care about them.”

Getting the game-changing question defined was an ‘a-ha’ moment for this young leader.

Whatever challenge you’re facing, here’s how you can apply this in your setting.

1.      Huddle up with your team and clearly define the challenge. Bill Hybels often says, “Facts are your friends”. Don’t be fuzzy. Name the problem.

2.      Challenge your team to wrestle with the real question that needs to be addressed. Ask them, “What’s the game-changing question we need to go after?”

3.      Don’t settle for the first answer. Keep digging until you get that “a-ha” moment.

Because game-changing leadership results always begin by nailing the game-changing leadership question.

What challenge are you facing that requires a game-changing question?

How Leaders Know When to be an Optimist, Realist or Pessimist

Updated from October 21, 2013 post
An encounter I had today with a remarkable leader here in Brazil took my mind back to an important leadership principle.
This leader, in the town of Joao Pessoa, is one of the most upbeat, optimistic leaders I know. I asked him, “Are you always so optimistic about everything?”
He kept smiling, but he answered, “My outlook is always positive, but I choose when to be optimistic.”
And that is a huge skill for leaders to master. As I wrote in this earlier post, leaders must know when to be optimistic, pessimistic, idealistic or realistic.

This is not about being inauthentic.

The reality is, in some circumstances a leader must be a grim-faced pessimist, while in others it requires being a cheery-faced optimist.

How do you know? Here’s a basic guideline to help you navigate this.

1.   A leader must be a PESSIMIST when…

…making financial forecasts in a challenging season.

When the financial fortunes of the organization are at stake it’s time for the leader to put on the demeanor of a pessimist.

Perhaps a better word than pessimistic is “cautious”. Any leader who has led a turnaround will tell you that the first step is to stop the bleeding by taking a worst-case scenario approach to budgeting.

2.   A leader must be a REALIST when…

…developing the team.

A leader must not only be committed to the development of the team, the leader must also be ruthlessly realistic when it comes to the potential of each team member.

Nothing will crush the spirit of a rising leader quite like giving them too much responsibility too soon. Instead, effective leaders must be realistic when it comes to each one’s potential, and then design their development plan accordingly.

3.   A leader must be an IDEALIST when…

…casting vision.

Ideals have gone out of fashion in our culture. But effective leaders must embrace the ideals of their organization’s mission and vision and describe them with authentic passion.

Why does the organization exist? What difference will it make in the world? These are the organization’s ideals, and the leader must espouse them eloquently and proudly.

4.   A leader must be an OPTIMIST when…

…building a healthy culture.

When the going gets hard, the team wants to know essentially one thing: “Is all of this work worth it?”

The leader’s job is to remind the team that, together under God, things are going to get better…That the mission is worth pursuing…and that success will come.

The point is, effective leadership requires knowing when to be pessimistic, realistic, idealistic or optimistic.

Can you learn this skill?

I’d be optimistic about that.

What have you learned about being an optimistic, idealistic, realistic or pessimistic leader?


4 Leadership Challenges Today’s Grads Need to Hear

Updated from May 16, 2013 post

I am traveling in Brazil with Bill Hybels this month, as Bill brings leadership coaching to leaders across the country.

But even as we pour into leaders here, our thoughts are also with a new generation of leaders emerging from colleges and universities around the world, preparing to take on new roles and new challenges.

And, as I’ve written here previously, it has me asking the question, “In a world starving for Godly leadership, what would I say to the upcoming crop of college graduates?”

 1.   If you’ve been given the spiritual gift of leadership, then for God’s sake lead

This well-known leadership axiom has never needed more urgent application than today. What the world needs more than anything is fired up young people ready to take their leadership gifts out into the world to make a difference.

 2.   Learn the difference between a job, a career, and a call

Most grads will look for a great job. Some will aspire to a fulfilling career. But be among the select few who discern God’s call on their life, and pursue it with everything you have. Remember, God’s call is not limited to missionaries and pastors.

3.   Buck the trend- Engage in your local church more rigorously than ever

You are a part of a missing generation in most local churches. There is an unfortunate exodus from the local church for far too many sharp young adults. Resolve now to be a champion of your church, and if you move to a new city, make connecting to a local church your first priority.

4.   Devote yourself to fulfilling Jesus’ prayer; “Your Kingdom come…”

Where ever you go, view the world with a “Kingdom lens”. Whatever you see that is inconsistent with God’s desire for the world, take the lead and make it right.

When I look at many of today’s graduates in my circles, it fills me with optimism. Our world can be left in very strong hands with some of these Kingdom-minded leaders who are about to take their next step.

So, let me urge you to cheer these young people on, and challenge them to be all God has called them to be.

If they accept these challenges, the future can look very bright indeed.

What would you say to these graduates?

How I Learned the Importance of Tuning Fork Leadership

Updated from July 12, 2012 post

One of the most important leadership lessons I learned in recent years is to always walk around with a leadership tuning fork.

I learned this in conversation with a teammate who didn’t seem to understand the direction our organization was heading. Sensing his confusion I sat him down one day and helped him get back on track.

When I finished he said, “Scott, that was a tuning-fork moment.”

I loved that term. As I thought about it, here’s what I learned.

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 soon came to see 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?

Why Leaders Must Look Back in Order to Push Ahead

When you’re clear on your leadership call, you can persevere through almost anything.

I was reminded of that truth this week as I was rummaging through some previous blog posts. I came across a personal favorite, entitled “What To Do When Your Leadership Has Been Rattled”

In that post I related that one of the things a leader must do to regain their confidence is to “Remind yourself about how you first recognized that you had a leadership gift.”

In my case, one of those moments came in a most unlikely way, and in a most unlikely place.

I was a young man in my mid 20’s. I was at church prior to the start of the second morning worship service and happened to be nearby when an older gentleman collapsed from an apparent heart attack. Despite the best efforts of the paramedics, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Someone found his contact information in his wallet and called his wife, who had stayed home that day. The paramedics took his lifeless body to the hospital. The worship team prepared for the now-delayed second service. And I climbed into my car to drive home.

Two blocks away a series of thoughts suddenly gripped me:

  • In a few minutes his shocked and grief-stricken widow would arrive at the hospital.
  • She would have known that he passed away at our church.
  • With our pastors now fully engaged in our 2nd service, there would be no one at the hospital when she arrived.

“Someone from our church needs to be there for her,” I said to myself.

And I knew that the “someone” would likely have to be me.

I swung my car around, headed for the hospital, and found the widow sobbing alone next to the body of her husband. I simply said, “Ma’am, my name is Scott. I’m here from the church.”

There was no nobility in this. I did only what had to be done.

And that, I later realized, was the beginning of leadership.

Facing a leadership challenge? Take time to revisit the times and places where you began to recognize that you might have a leadership call on your life.

Because when you’re clear on your call, you can persevere through just about anything.

When did you first recognize your own leadership call?


4 Signs Leaders Should Go For a Base Hit, Not a Grand Slam

Updated from August 26, 2013 post

Baseball season is back, and each spring when the first sound of ‘Play Ball!’ is heard, my mind goes back to a leadership lesson I learned years ago.

A wise, older colleague named Jack would watch as several of us young bucks would expend enormous energy to come up with a huge win for our organization.

Then, with a nod to the baseball season, Jack would often remind us that wise leaders know that you don’t always win with a grand slam. Sometimes your best strategy is to play ‘small ball’.

In baseball, Small Ball is a strategy in which a team strives to win not by making big extra base hits, but merely by methodically, and consistently, getting on base and advancing runners.

Sometimes leaders need to recognize when it’s time to set aside the grand slam, and to focus on Small Ball; moving forward by regularly and consistently racking up small “wins”.

It means knowing when to cling to a goal to “Plant 20 new churches by 2020!” (grand slam), versus “Growing our existing church every year by 10%” (Small Ball).

It means knowing when to hang on to the plan to “Hold a stadium outreach event by next summer” (grand slam), versus “Training every adult in our church in personal evangelism” (Small Ball)

When should you consider a Small Ball strategy? There’s no hard rule on this, but you should at least consider a Small Ball approach when:

  • Your grand slam play just isn’t galvanizing your people,
  • Your grand slam play is distracting your team from immediate opportunities,
  • You haven’t seen meaningful progress towards your grand slam play in some time.
  • You are already seeing more momentum being generated from small wins than you are from your grand slam play

Grand slams can be very important, so don’t drop yours on a whim or at the first sign of struggle. But if your grand slam just isn’t catching fire with your people, consider whether now may be the time for a change in tact.

Because your biggest wins might not come from a grand slam, but from just getting on base.

How have you leveraged small wins to generate momentum?