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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
Updated from April 10, 2012 post
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?
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?
Updated from January 6, 2012 post
Leaders are readers, And in my estimation there is no more valuable reading resource for leaders than the bible.
The question is, what is the best way for leaders to tackle a bible reading plan?
If 2015 is the year you commit to reading the bible through cover to cover, you probably know there are dozens of plans from which to choose.
Well, several years ago, after laboring through bible plans that just did’t work for me, I put together my own that has breathed new life into my personal daily bible reading for almost 20 years.
Perhaps this can work for you too.
1. Jesus’ story needs to be read…often.
Early on I realized that I want to revisit the life and ministry of Christ throughout the year. My plan places the four gospels in each season of the year.
2. Naming the elephant in the room – Some parts of the bible are boring.
Plowing through some sections of the Law or the minutia of genealogies can suck the life out of bible reading. I intersperse these sections with regular “bursts” of Psalms and Proverbs.
3. The Prophets come to life when they’re matched with their history.
I like to provide context for the major and minor prophets by positioning these readings as near to their corresponding history book as possible.
4. Grouping the Epistles creates context and texture.
I love working through the Pauline epistles, taking a “gospel break” then tackling the other letters a bit later in the year.
5. Wrapping up the year with John
I’ve always had a special appreciation for “the disciple Jesus loved”. I end the year with John’s gospel, followed by his epistles, then the Revelation.
John Ortberg has rightly observed that while getting through the bible is good, getting all of the bible through you is what really matters. That’s very true. Reading the bible all the way through is not in and of itself spiritually significant. But the discipline of spending time in scripture can yield marvellous results.
If you want to check out my plan click here.
Whatever plan you use, stick with it, and watch as God’s Spirit breathes His life into your leadership.
What leadership gift did you give this Christmas?
Beyond a year-end bonus, a staff party or retail gift card you slipped into someone’s paycheck, you gave something else far more important this year.
Because this year, and every year, you were distributing gifts of happiness…or unhappiness.
This is not to say that the primary role of the leader is merely to ensure the personal well-being of everyone on the team.
But effective leaders know that:
- Leaders influence the culture of the team
- As Bill Hybels notes, the team culture will never be more healthy than the leader wants it to be
- A healthy team is far more likely to produce sustainable positive results.
I am reminded of this each year at this time during my annual reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. For more than 20 years I have read this novella each December, and one description stops me in my tracks every time.
It is found in Stave II as the Ghost of Christmas Past escorts Ebenezer Scrooge on a visit to his former place of employment. There Scrooge experiences again the tremendous joy he received from his old employer, Mr. Fezziwig.
And as he reflects on the leadership of Fezziwig, Scrooge offers a powerful leadership insight;
He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words or look; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to count and add ‘em up; what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.
Of course, you know how the story unfolds.
Through the visit of the three spirits, Scrooge undergoes a dramatic transformation of character and emerges as a better person. And a better leader.
As Dickens describes him at the story’s conclusion;
He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world.
As leaders, may this be true of each of us in the coming year.
Originally posted December 17, 2010
Every year around this time I post a special “Leadership Christmas Card” to church leaders. Today’s post continues that tradition.
It stems from my years as an executive pastor of a large church. And it addresses a very practical issue for any church leader who faces the tension of balancing the pull of family responsibilities along with a demanding church schedule at Christmastime.
If you find yourself facing that annual tug-of-war, I trust this is of some help for you.
If you serve on the staff of a church with multiple Christmas Eve services, you may already feel the tension mounting.
You know that this is one of the highest-impact seasons on the church calendar, and yet if you have school-aged children (or younger) no season of the year demands more of your family’s attention.
It’s the classic Christmas tug-o-war.
In my early days as executive pastor in a large church, with six Christmas Eve services, I felt this tension mount every year at this time.
On the one hand, since Christmas Eve was like our church’s ‘Super Bowl’, I felt I needed to lead by example by being there for each service.
On the other hand, we had family Christmas traditions to uphold, and I didn’t want to let down my wife and children.
By my third year, however, I had learned that it really is possible to be fully engaged in multiple Christmas Eve services, and still be fully present with my family. And if you find yourself in the same stage of life, this can be true for you too.
The key, I learned, is to fully engage your family in your church’s Christmas Eve celebrations. Rather than looking at our Christmas Eve services as something that was taking me away from my family, all five of us became volunteer maniacs at Christmas, and it became an irreplaceable part of our family Christmas traditions.
Specifically we learned four vital ingredients to achieving this:
- Getting your children excited about the genuine fun of serving in the Christmas Eve services.
- Guiding them into volunteer roles that interest them and suit them.
- Reconnecting as a family during breaks between services.
- Throwing yourselves a family party when the last service is over.
Getting this right is of utmost importance for a leader in the local church. And I trust that this year you will indeed find a way to honor your roles both as a parent as well as your role as a church leader.
Because when you get this right you will not only survive the season, but indeed you will find that you will thrive in each of these roles.
How do you manage this tension?
This Christmas season, hopefully you can enjoy singing carols with no thought other than the simply enjoying these wonderful songs.
But if you simply can’t turn your leadership radar off for even a moment, you’ll no doubt spot timeless leadership truths in many classic carols.
None more so, than in Good King Wenceslas.
Though the song likely contains as much myth as it does fact, it is widely regarded as being based on a real person, and the events depicted in the song are a reflection of the “good King’s” character.
As such, the carol serves as a timely seasonal reminder of one of the highest callings of leadership; that of compassion.
According to the carol, Wenceslas observed a poor man gathering firewood on a bitterly cold winter night. Moved with compassion, the king asked his page to accompany him in bringing food and drink out to the man.
As they journeyed out, the night became too cold even for the page, at which point the King ensured that the page walk behind him, so that the page would be protected from the biting wind.
If this classic carol accomplished nothing more than to fill you will the yuletide spirit, it has done its job.
But don’t be afraid to delve into the leadership qualities it espouses too.
For here you’ll find here a leader who:
- Was aware of needs around him
- Was quick to move to action
- Could build a team
- Would not ask someone to do anything he wasn’t willing to do
- Was a servant leader
- Was driven to meet the needs of those he leads
(If you haven’t sung this carol for a few years, you can find the lyrics here.)
So at your next Christmas gathering, enjoy all that the season has to offer. And when the carols are being sung, join in with full gusto.
And should Good King Wenceslas be included, take a moment to reflect on the leadership principles it contains.
It could enrich both your Christmas and your leadership.
Updated from July 13, 2012 post
How important is the connection between where you invest your time, and the velocity of forward momentum?
Whether you’re leading a small team, a department, or the entire organization, where you choose to invest your time will have a direct bearing on the likelihood that things will surge ahead.
Here’s what it looks like in practical terms.
Your energy as a leader can be invested in any one of three “time accounts”; the “history account”, the “present account” and the “future account”. All three are important, and you as a leader need to spend some time investing in each of these.
The key to forward momentum, though, is in knowing how much of your energy to invest in each of these accounts.
Here is a basic investment guide.
The History Account
Activity in this account includes such practices as staff reviews, preparing or analyzing reports, and looking at last quarter’s financials.
Each of these activities has a place in the life of the leader, but in any given week aim to spend no more than 10% of your time here.
The Present Account
Another word for this account is “operations”. This includes all of your organization’s ongoing or immediate activities including most administrative functions.
As a leader you must invest some time here, but aim to invest no more than 40% of your time in the Present Account.
The Future Account
This is where momentum is driven. This is where vision happens. This is where dreams are birthed and nurtured.
Activities here include developing future leaders, strategic planning and long-term goal setting.
Effective leaders know they must invest their best time to this account.
Aim to invest no less than 50% of your time here.
Of course, these time suggestions are averages.
There are seasons in your year when you’ll invest more time in the History Account (such as year-end, or when preparing for an annual members meeting) as well as the Present Account (such as when conducting an off-site staff retreat).
But these seasonal variations notwithstanding, use these time parameters to guide your energy investment strategy.
The momentum dividends can be huge.
From which account do you generate the most momentum?
Updated from from May 30, 2014 post
“I’m not into the details- I’m a big picture thinker.”
If you’ve ever said that in your leadership, here’s what you need to know; At the end of the day, that “big picture” you’re looking at is one made up of hundreds or thousands of details. And as a leader you need to know what they are.
Ultimately, it’s the details that provide you with the information you need to make big picture decisions.
You can fake it for a while, but in the end your lack of attention to the details will make it impossible to provide effective leadership.
So what can you do about it, if you’re not a details person?
Well, speaking as someone for whom detail work doesn’t come naturally, here are three vital ways I’ve learned to master the details that enable you to provide big picture leadership.
1. Develop a disciplined regimen
Some people gravitate quite naturally to detailed analysis work.
For the rest of us it’s necessary to carve out time in our week to focus on the numbers.
For me, that can mean a daily 30 minute slot on my calendar to do nothing but crunching numbers. Others like to set aside a day a week.
Whatever system you choose, start by creating immovable time in your week.
2. Surround yourself with experts
Early on in my leadership I learned to hand-select key advisors whom I could trust to develop my own skills in detail analysis work, and who could also help me burrow deep into the organization’s vital metrics.
One question I ask each time I meet with these advisors: “What do I need to know?”
That question can open a well-spring of vital leadership data.
3. Let your team know you’re paying attention to the details
When your team is aware that you know the details it positions you for big picture leadership.
I recently saw a senior executive of a large organization notify his staff that certain staff expenditures were being submitted which could not be justified.
This statement not only corrected a problem, more importantly it let the entire staff know that their president was paying attention to the finest details.
So by all means, keep the big picture in mind. But pay close attention to the fine details too.
Because the big picture is made up of thousands of details.
How do you stay on top of the details in your leadership?
Updated from May 12, 2014 post
Where do you go when the pressure is on?
Every leader feels pressure; pressure to perform, pressure to achieve, pressure to succeed, and many, many other stresses unique to leaders.
And when the pressure is on, every leader, whether they realize it or not, wants to go someplace.
The important question is, “Are you aware of where you want to go when you face pressure?”
Because some places are very helpful, soul-filling, and healthy.
And many others are horrendously destructive.
Case in point.
King David faced tremendous pressures, which he wrote about in Psalm 55:
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught…My heart is in anguish within me. (Psalm 55: 2, 4)
And in response, David’s first instinct was to escape.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert.” (Psalm 55: 6,7)
Every leader who has faced pressure (in other words, every leader) can relate to David’s desire to go someplace.
The key is to be aware of where it is you want to go.
At first, David wanted to go hide out in the desert.
And every leader needs to be ruthlessly honest and figure out where their “desert” really is.
For some when the pressure is on, they want to hide out in the desert of social media. For others it’s the desert of busyness. Still others want to hide in the desert of pornography, alcohol or in unhealthy relationships.
David was aware that his first instinct might have been to flee to the desert, but he also had the presence of mind to be able to set that aside and to instead go to a much more healthy place.
As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.
As for me, I trust in you. (Psalm 55: 16, 33)
When the pressure was on, David recognized his first instinct to flee to the desert, but ultimately he recognized that the only place to go was to lean in to God.
May this be true for you when you face your pressures.
Where do you go when the leadership pressure is on?
Fans of the classic British tv comedy “Fawlty Towers” should be able to immediately remember this famous line:
“Stop bothering me. I am trying to run a hotel!”
John Cleese played Basil Fawlty a harried owner of a small English hotel. The central gag of the show was that Fawlty was forever arguing with hotel guests and staff, trying in vain to explain that he didn’t have time to deal with their concerns. He was, after all, “trying to run a hotel.”
But within this hilarious comedy gem lies a huge leadership issue that applies to each one of us.
Projects must never trump people.
Leaders must certainly carry out various solo functions, such as planning, financial analysis, emails, and so on. But when the drive to accomplish these jobs starts to make interactions with people seem like an inconvenience, you’ve fallen into the Basil Fawlty trap; Projects are trumping people.
Here’s how you can tell that projects could be starting to trump people:
1. You are keeping your office door closed a bit too often
Every leader requires some alone think-time. But if your people are finding themselves increasingly locked out of your world, it could be that projects are trumping people.
2. You are increasingly connecting to your own people via email.
Remember when you used to walk around and talk to your team? Don’t let that human interaction become replaced by inter-office email.
3. You are cancelling meetings in order to work on your projects
Too many meetings can be a bad thing. So too can too few meetings. If you’re avoiding meetings so you can work on solo projects, it’s time to re-think priorities.
None of this is to suggest that, as a leader, your people should have unfettered access to you. Your time is valuable and must be well managed.
But when the desire for solitude begins to take priority over real, live, human interactions it’s time to stop and recalibrate your leadership.
Whatever your leadership role, those people issues should never be a distraction from your leadership.
Because dealing with those people issues is at the heart of your leadership.
How do you prevent projects from trumping people?
When people ask me about the biggest leadership lesson I’ve learned, my mind quickly races back to a critical moment fairly early in my leadership.
It was when I learned that the effectiveness of my leadership was tied to how I think about time.
I had recently been moved up into my first middle manager position in a medium-sized company.
Those early days overwhelmed me. I couldn’t seem to get anything done on time.
Everyone was upset with me. The sales department was upset with me. The clients were upset with me. My staff was upset with me.
Fortunately, one person who was not upset with me, was my boss. Taking me aside one day, he told me that if I was going to find success I would need to start thinking about time the way a leader does.
He would instill in me three crucial ways leaders think about time:
1. Time is the great equalizer; we all receive the same 24 hours every day
“Scott, you might not have the same talent as all other leaders,” he would say, “You might not have the same level of financial resources. But I can guarantee that you started today with the same 24 hours as every other leader in the world. Learn to master your time.”
That simple, but profound starting point, was huge.
2. Leaders don’t merely manage time; they invest it
“Here’s what great leaders know, Scott,” he would go on. “Time is not something to be managed. It’s a precious resource to be invested.”
That took my thinking from “management” to “leadership”.
3. Leaders align time with values and priorities
“One reason you’ve been struggling is that you’ve bought into the ‘first things first’ mindset,” he would say. “Leader don’t think that way. They think, ‘IMPORTANT things first.”
I learned that leaders must be crystal clear on values and strategic priorities, and then drive their time investments through those priorities.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by all that’s on your plate, perhaps it’s not about your time. It could be how you think about your time.
Develop leadership thinking habits about time.
Because the effectiveness of your leadership is tied to how you think about time.
What have you learned about how leaders think about time?
If you do nothing else as a leader this week, keep the big picture front and center for everyone to see and grasp.
Because in leadership, painting the big picture is a very big deal.
This was vividly demonstrated a few years ago in the locker room of a pro hockey team. It was late in the season and the team was battling for a playoff spot. At the same time, several players were closing in on individual point totals that would qualify them for performance bonuses.
After practice the coach gathered the team around and said to one of the players, “How many points do you need for your bonus?”
“7, coach,” came the reply.
The coach looked at another player. “And you?”
“9 points, coach,” he responded immediately.
The coach nodded and looked at the next player. “You?”
“5 points coach.”
The coach nodded and silently walked around the room. After a few minutes he looked back at the team and said quietly, “We are fighting for our playoff lives. Who can tell me how many wins we need to secure a playoff spot?”
Each player slowly cast his eyes to the floor. No one would look up. No one knew the answer.
“…and that, team,” the coach quietly concluded, “Is our biggest problem.”
There’s nothing wrong with individual performance goals. In fact, they’re very important. But the job of the leader is to help each person understand how their individual accomplishments fit in to the bigger picture.
Can you tell if the big picture is fading into the background?
Absolutely. Here are three of the biggest indicators.
1. Your culture replaces collaboration with competition
Not all competition is unhealthy in your culture. But when it trumps collaboration and team work, it’s a sure sign the big picture needs to be reinforced.
2. The team has little interest in celebrating group accomplishments
Watch the energy when the accomplishment of a team goal is being celebrated. Low energy tells you the big picture isn’t being embraced.
3. Water cooler talk centers on individual accomplishments.
Again, individual accomplishments should be recognized. But if that’s all people are talking about you need to polish up the big picture for your team.
So keep the big picture front and center for your team.
That might be the most important picture you’ll ever paint.
How do you keep the big picture front and center?
Updated from May 8, 2014 post
“What is your God-sized dream?”
How many times have you heard a Christian leader challenge you with those words?
The concept of the God-sized dream usually equates to an expectation that a leader will devote their energies towards those things which are sizable, significant, and expansive.
These, by apparent definition, are the purview of God; therefore, such dreams are dubbed “God-sized”.
The problem is that this concept of the God-sized dream is fraught with errors. And further, leaders who buy in to this concept run the very real risk of hitting 3 leadership walls:
Wall #1: It creates an inaccurate view of the leadership God honors
Does the leadership which God honors really limited only to that which is large, significant, and expansive?
Scripture teaches nothing of the kind.
True, God gave many leaders in Scripture significant challenges and opportunities (Joseph, Moses, Paul). But was the widow who gave 2 coins in the temple offering any less honored by God? Was Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, any less honored?
Wall #2: It distorts the definition of leadership success
“God has not called us to be successful.” Mother Theresa once famously said. “He has called us to be faithful.”
A God-sized dream for a pastor could be to build a church of 5000 people.
But it could also be to steadfastly shepherd the flock of 100 people in a rural farming community year after year.
Wall #3: It can rob leaders of the call God really has for them
In Numbers 12 a group of leaders, including Moses’ own brother and sister, felt that they had a “God-sized dream”, which was to lead the Children of Israel.
The problem was that leading the Israelites was a dream God had already given to Moses. He had other dreams for these leaders.
Here’s the point. Don’t let culture’s version of what constitutes a “God-sized dream” rob you of what God might have in store for you.
I believe God does have a dream for each leader.
My encouragement for you is not to chase after what our culture considers to be a God-sized dream. Instead, seek for what God has for a “You-sized dream.”
It could make all the difference in the world.
How have you processed the idea of “God-sized dreams” in your leadership?