August 30, 2014

4 Ways Leaders Turn Conversations into Strategic Learning Opportunities

How do leaders turn a conversation into a strategic learning opportunity?

For a room full of leaders this week in downtown Chicago, that was the lesson on full display during the annual Global Leadership Summit (GLS) debrief.

From across the United States, many of the host pastors from the approximately 300 GLS sites gathered to discuss learnings from the 2014 event, held August 14-15.

But under the careful leadership of Bill Hybels, they also had front row seats for a leadership clinic on how to turn a conversation into a strategic learning opportunity.

Specifically, they saw Bill demonstrate four vital feedback skills.

1.  Affirm everything affirmable

As soon as the debrief session opened these leaders wanted to tackle every element of the Summit which could be improved.

But before he would allow the conversation to go there, Bill insisted that we take time to chronicle everything that had gone right.

The payoff is a much more well-rounded, and accurate, view as to what actually transpired.

2.  Ensure candor and kindness

Bill made the ground-rules abundantly clear. Feedback was to be provided with utmost candor. This would be a room of truth-tellers.

That said, it would also be a room of kindness. Individuals would not be attacked; only ideas would be under the microscope.

With that established the free-flow of opinions became rigorous, and safe.

3.  Discern what is actionable immediately

From time to time an idea would be shared that required no further debate or consideration.

All that was required was action.

“I think we can move on this right away. Would you all agree?” Bill would say.

Leaders never miss a chance to nail an immediate action step.

4.  Discern what you need to let simmer for a while

Several times during the debrief an idea would be raised which sounded good, but which wisdom dictated required further consideration before being acted on.

Bill demonstrated that leaders must have the discernment to know when an idea needs this extra seasoning.

Leaders have dozens of conversations every day.

But effective leaders know that, with a little intentionality, you can gain far more than a simple exchange of pleasantries.

Try employing these skills that Bill displayed with such mastery.

You might just discover a leadership nugget in the conversation.

How do you get the most leadership milage out of your conversations?


3 Reasons NOT to Accept that New Leadership Role

Updated from August 29, 2013 post

Before you jump at that new leadership position you’ve been offered, consider three reasons you should consider staying right where you are.

I once interviewed a leader in his mid-30’s for a position in the large church where I served as executive pastor.

He was bright. He was professional. He was educated. He was personable.

But something on his resume concerned me.

“Tell me about your leadership experience,” I said to him.

“Well,” he began with a sense of confidence. “I have 15 years of leadership experience.”

I looked back at his resume.

“I’m not so sure about that,” I stated slowly. “You’ve worked in 5 different churches so far, correct?”

“Yes,” he said.

I looked up from the resume and said, “Well, it seems to me you don’t really have 15 years experience. It seems that you have what others have called ‘ three years experience, repeated five times’.”

This leader was so talented, it was no wonder that every few years he would receive job offers from other ministries. But the fact that he seemingly accepted these offers each time meant that he was missing out on a critical component of a leader’s development.

He was missing out on longevity.

You see, there are certain elements in a leader’s development that only accrue when one has remained in the same organization for six, seven, eight years or more.

When you stick it out in your leadership role over a long period of time, you benefit by developing:

  • Fortitude

Leadership can knock you around a bit. Staying in the same leadership role for the long haul can “toughen you up” as you survive the hard times.

  • Deep loyalty

Anyone who has remained in a leadership role over many years has learned to develop fierce loyalty to those they lead, and those they lead up to.

  • Time-tested momentum

There’s just something that happens several years into a leader’s time that produces exponential results. And you only realize these results when you stay in your role over time.

My point is not that you should never look for greener pastures. Just be sure to factor in your own development before you jump at that next offer.

You might develop most by staying right where you are.

How has longevity (or frequent movement) affected your leadership?


4 Signs You Should Drop Your BHAG

Updated from August 26, 2013 post

Everyone loves a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, but sometimes you should drop it and play Small Ball.

When Jim Collins introduced leaders to the idea of the “Big hairy audacious goal” (BHAG) in his 1994 classic, Built to Last, he changed the vocabulary of leaders everywhere.

Almost overnight leaders became obsessed with coming up with the BHAG for their company, church, or organization. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to cast a vision for a dream that was outlandish, fantastic and, indeed, audacious.

Perhaps you’re one of them.

And perhaps you’re one of the countless leaders who has been trying relentlessly to conjure up a BHAG, only to find that sometimes it just doesn’t seem to come together.

It could very well be that the problem is that not every season is ripe for a BHAG. Sometimes you need 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 BHAG, 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!” (BHAG), 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” (BHAG), 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 BHAG just isn’t galvanizing your people,
  • Your BHAG is distracting your team from immediate opportunities,
  • You haven’t seen meaningful progress towards your BHAG in some time.
  • You are already seeing more momentum being generated from small wins than you are from your BHAG

BHAGS can be very important, so don’t drop yours on a whim or at the first sign of struggle. But if your BHAG 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?


What to do When the Things That Drove You Crazy No Longer Drive You Crazy

Updated from July 29, 2013 post

What have you come to accept as “normal” that used to drive you crazy?

 Take a moment and think about this.

Think back to a stalled project that at one time drove you bonkers. But now you’ve just gotten used to its sluggish performance.

Think back to that section of worn out, wrinkled up carpeting in the lobby that made you cringe every time you walked by. But now you hardly notice its dilapidated condition.

Or what about the staff person whose toxic attitude infuriated you to your core? But now their ongoing negativity has just become part of the culture.

The term for what you’ve experienced is “habituation”.

And left unchecked, this can be deadly for leaders.

Habituation is natural. It occurs when a person becomes increasingly desensitized to things that used to provoke a reaction.

And chances are, you have become habituated to some things that used to drive you positively up the wall. And the more things you get habituated to, the more your organization, your church or your team is going to feel stuck.

But just as you can drift into habituation, you can also fight your way out of it.

In my experience, these are the three steps to get you started:

1.  Act like a consultant

Take a day or two, and show up at your own organization as if you are a consultant, hired to come in with fresh eyes.

There’s a good chance you’ll see more than one cringe-inducing element.

2.  Unleash your senior team

This is a great leadership team exercise. Ask your team the same question that started this post- “What have you come to accept as “normal” that used to drive you crazy?”

They’ll have a ball with this assignment. And you’ll discover a lot.

3.  Ask brave questions

Talk to people in your organization whom you can trust to give you straight answers. Ask them to point out anything that you have left unchecked for too long.

Be prepared for harsh, but important, truth.

Don’t be surprised if some of those things that used to drive you crazy are suddenly driving you crazy again.

But that’s a pretty good place to start driving change.

What have you come to accept as “normal” that used to drive you crazy?

Top 30 Leadership Quotes from the 2014 Summit


  • “Great leadership is, by definition, relentlessly developmental.”
  • “Resourcefulness is the most important weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”
  • “The grander the vision, the greater the price-tag.“


  • “Managers produce results within the existing order of things. Leaders change the order of things.”


  • “Throughout my career there’s never been a job that’s been beneath me.” 
  • “Your peers ultimately decide how far you go.”
  • “We can tell a lot about culture and leadership when times are tough.”
  • “The best leaders keep their people safe, but they keep moving forward.”
  • “Excuses turn everybody off. Excuses say “you’re not going to learn.”


  • “Stop the madness of constant group work.”
  • “We need to restore quiet to our cultures.”


  • “Do not relegate leadership to a little theory.”
  • “Our vision as leaders has got to be more than the stuff that will perish.”


  • “If we’re doing it (leadership) for ourselves we’re going to leave a trail of tears behind.”
  • “Our people don’t expect us to be perfect. They expect us to be human.”
  • “Being a leader means sacrificing yourself for the well-being of others.”


  • “The power of a group is a function of the purity of its motives.”
  • “Your job as a leader is to identify the 2 or 3 crucial conversations that most affect your culture.”
  • “People never become defensive about what you’re saying. They become defensive because of why they think you’re saying it.”


  • “My day begins with prayer for my company that it would be a signpost for the Kingdom of God.”
  • “The company will not be more truthful or graceful than I am.”
  • “Challenge without confidence creates fear. Confidence without challenge creates complacency.”
  • “The world will not form distinctive Christians. It’s the job of the church to do that.”


  • “God doesn’t know the division between church and business. We’re the ones who build these walls.”
  • “I am so convinced that if we invite the Kingdom of God into the public areas I believe that God will take over and will begin to see better societies.”


  • “As a business you cannot let your budget dictate your faith.”


  • “There is no such thing as leadership without power. The real question is ‘how should leaders manage the privilege of power?’”
  • “The true secret of any great leader’s power is that when you feel the weakest that’s when you are the strongest.”


  • “The doorposts of the Kingdom of God are humility and honor.”
  • “You don’t have to know everything about how to get up the mountain in front of you. You just have to take the first step.”

Top 15 Leadership Quotes from Day 2 of the Summit

  • From Joseph Grenny
    • The power of a group is a function of the purity of its motives
    • Your job as a leader is to identify the 2 or 3 crucial conversations that most affect your culture
    • People never become defensive about what you’re saying. They become defensive because of why they think you’re saying it.
    • You can measure the health of a team by measuring the number of un-talkables
  • From Don Flow
    • My day begins with prayer for my company that it would be a signpost for the Kingdom of God
    • The company will not be more truthful or graceful than I am
    • Challenge without confidence creates fear. Confidence without challenge creates complacency
    • The world will not form distinctive Christians. It’s the job of the church to do that
  • From Allen Catherine Kagina
    • God doesn’t know the division between church and business. We’re the ones who build these walls
    • I am so convinced that if we invite the Kingdom of God into the public areas I believe that God will take over and will begin to see better societies.
  • From Wilfredo De Jesus
    • As a business you cannot let your budget dictate your faith
  • From Ivan Satyavrata
    • There is no such thing as leadership without power. The real question is “how should leaders manage the privilege of power?”
    • The true secret of any great leader’s power is that when you feel the weakest that’s when you are the strongest
  • From Louis Giglio
    • The doorposts of the Kingdom of God are humility and honor
    • You don’t have to know everything about how to get up the mountain in front of you. You just have to take the first step

Top 15 quotes from day 1 of the 2014 Summit


  • “Great leadership is, by definition, relentlessly developmental.”
  • “Resourcefulness is the most important weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”
  • “The grander the vision, the greater the price-tag.“


  • “Managers produce results within the existing order of things. Leaders change the order of things.”


  • “Throughout my career there’s never been a job that’s been beneath me.” 
  • “Your peers ultimately decide how far you go.”
  • “We can tell a lot about culture and leadership when times are tough.”
  • “The best leaders keep their people safe, but they keep moving forward.”
  • “Excuses turn everybody off. Excuses say “you’re not going to learn.”


  • “Stop the madness of constant group work.”
  • “We need to restore quiet to our cultures.”

From Bryan Loritts

  • “Do not relegate leadership to a little theory.”
  • “Our vision as leaders has got to be more than the stuff that will perish.”

From Patrick Lencioni

  • “If we’re doing it (leadership) for ourselves we’re going to leave a trail of tears behind.”
  • “Our people don’t expect us to be perfect. They expect us to be human.”

Summit update- Why Effective Leaders are Always Great Step-Takers

Updated from April 14, 2014 post

With the Summit just days away I looked back this week on an encounter I had with a fantastic leader from Goa, India. I trust the story of how the Global Leadership Summit sparked his leadership will inspire you as you prepare for this year’s GLS…

Leaders are step-takers.

Faced with a challenge, sometimes of overwhelming proportions, the instinct of effective leaders at first might not to be to solve the entire problem; usually it begins with a burning drive to simply take the first-step.

For this to happen typically there are three elements than converge, and leaders need to constantly be on the lookout for these elements.

1.   A pressing need

2.   A “holy discontent”

3.   A catalyzing event

No more powerful example can be found than that of Maruti Pujari.

Maruti lives in Goa, India, and I recently sat down with this remarkable leader to discover how these three elements had converged to move him from the sidelines and towards taking a powerful step to alleviating poverty.

1.   A pressing need

Maruti described his reaction upon first visiting the largest slum in Goa. “When we first came here, so many children were on the street. They had no shelter, no homes, no education.”

2.   A “holy discontent”

Bill Hybels’ teaching on a leader’s “holy discontent” has given new language to that gut-level drive that grips effective leaders.

That’s exactly what happened with Maruti Pujari.

“A burden came in our heart to do something for good, to help the people.”

3.   A catalyzing event

But, as is so often the case, a third element comes into play that drives the leader to becoming a step-taker.

For Maruti Pujari, that catalyzing event was the Global Leadership Summit (GLS).

“At the GLS we began to learn how we could take care of the people,” Maruti explained. “It gave us the courage to find out how we could take care of the children.”

Spurred on the by courage he and his colleagues found at the GLS, Maruti launched a Community Center in the heart of Goa’s largest slum.

“All the things we learned at the GLS we applied in our lives, and we started this Center. All the materials, all the teaching, all that we learn, we apply here”

Today, five years later, this Community Center is transforming the Goa slum, providing education, food and medical services to hundreds of families.

But it all started with one step.

In your leadership, watch for these three elements to converge.

They could be preparing you to take the biggest step of your life.

How will you leverage this year’s Global Leadership Summit to help you in your leadership?


Summit update- How Effective Leaders Change the Odds

Updated from April 2, 2014 post

Every leader faces situations where the odds just seem overwhelming.

But effective leaders know that the best way to shorten the odds is to raise up more leaders to tackle the problem alongside you.

Case in point- Meet Ivan Satyavrata, senior pastor of Assembly of God Church, Kolkata, (Calcutta) India.

Pastor Ivan leads a growing congregation in one of the most desperately poor cities in the world. In addition to the despairing poverty, this is also one of the least-Christian places in all of India. With a population of 20 million, less than 1% are Christian.

In April I visited Pastor Ivan in his church in Kolkata, and I asked him about how to overcome such tremendous challenges.

“I came here to Kolkata just under eight years ago,” he began. “And to be honest, one of the things I became most acutely aware of, what I found was, a lacking in leadership.

If you were to ask me, ‘What is the greatest need for the church in India?’ I would say it’s leadership.”

By developing hundreds of leaders, today his ministry feeds 10,000 children every day, operates schools and hospitals, and is a shining beacon of Christ’s love in the heart of impoverished Kolkata.

With such a passion for leadership development, it’s no wonder he was so enthusiastic about seeing the Global Leadership Summit come to his city.

“When I heard that the Global Leadership Summit was coming to Kolkata I was so excited. I said, “Wow Lord, this is an answer to the cry of our hearts.”

He went on to explain, “I think with the GLS coming to us, it’s going to galvanize the city. It’s going to create a buzz. I think we’re going to see not just information, I think it will begin to change the social equilibrium.”

But pastor Ivan is doing more to change the odds than to merely “cheer on” the GLS in Kolkata. Pastor Ivan is one of the speakers at the Global Leadership Summit, taking place next week at Willow Creek, then moving around the world to some 200,000 leaders in more than 100 countries.

Check out the full GLS lineup here, and make plans now to be a part of the GLS when it comes to your community.

To register for the Summit in the United States click here. For Canada click here. For locations outside North America, click here.

It’s just one more way leaders can stack the odds in their favor.


7 Status Symbols of the Effective, Authentic Leader

The BMW.

The Rolex watch.

The Armani suit.

We all recognize these as status symbols of success.

While there may be nothing wrong with owning nice things, for effective, authentic leaders, so-called status symbols look very different.

Effective leaders tend not to acquire expensive items in order to impress.

If anything, they simply find themselves surrounded by the inevitable results of their leadership.

If you want to project yourself was an effective, authentic leader, see how many of these status symbols you possess:

1.  An expanding circle of growing leaders in your orbit.

Effective leaders are marked by the way in which they are constantly pouring themselves into the lives of developing leaders.

2.  A remarkable track record of “wins”

When there’s an effective leader in the house, things just get done. Projects, and people, move successfully from one place to another.

Effective leaders carry this track record with them where ever they go.

3.  A heart of genuine humility

This is not a manufactured pretense of modesty. Effective, authentic leaders simply project a very real sense that “it’s not all about them.” They are far more interested in the success of those around them, and it shows.

4.  An infectious passion

This status symbol is easy to spot.

Effective, authentic leaders exude energy towards whatever it is they lead. You can spot this a mile away.

5.  A diligent work ethic

This is light-years away from being a work-a-holic. Effective leaders simply know that getting the job done requires just rolling up your sleeves and getting at it.

6.  A bright, positive demeanor

This is not the same as being naively optimistic. It simply means that one of the marks of an effective leader is an attractive winsomeness.

7.  A refreshing transparency

This doesn’t mean these leaders share everything with everyone all the time. But one of the status symbols of authentic leaders is a manner which conveys that you’re getting the ‘real deal’ from them; no guile.

As you look at your own leadership consider which of these are true of your leadership.

Believe me. Any of these listed above will do you more good than a fancy car ever will.

How many of these reflect the status of your leadership?


How to Turn a Summit Chair into a Seat of Transformation

The 2014 Global Leadership Summit in the United States and several Canadian cities is just days away. As I find my own anticipation rising for this year’s event, I went back to some “a-ha” moments I captured September 12, 2012.

As you get ready for this year’s Summit consider how you might see your own Summit chair become a seat of transformation…

You’ve heard the comments before at the Leadership Summit.

With great flourish a renowned leader points to a chair in the auditorium as he passionately thunders, “That’s the chair where everything changed. I remember sitting in that very chair many years ago at a conference when my life was forever changed…”

Image via

When a Summit speaker makes such a statement, guests typically have one of two reactions. For some they think to themselves, “I can relate. I had a similar experience at a Summit.”

But for others the response is, “Huh? I’ve never come close to that kind of moment.”

Why the difference?

I’ve learned that if you want to experience the Global Leadership Summit in such a way that is more likely to lead to a transformational moment it all comes down to what you take with you into the event.

Specifically, I believe there are at least 3 vital tools every leader must bring with them to the Summit:

1.   An expectation of transformation
If you arrive in a posture of expectancy that your world could be rocked, you stand a much greater chance of experiencing one of those “a-ha” moments.

2.   A willingness to wrestle in “real time”
In each talk, be constantly asking, “Do I agree with this? What is my immediate take away? What will I have to change in my own leadership?”

3.   A team-learning approach
Leaders who attend the Summit as part of a team always have a richer experience. They huddle up at breaks, over meals, anywhere they can to work through learnings. If you haven’t done so already, make sure your entire team is on board for this year’s Summit.

There can be many reasons for registering your team for an event like the Global Leadership Summit. Perhaps it’s a team-building exercise, or maybe it’s just for a well-deserved break from the grind of ministry!

But if your expectation is to actually experience growth, change and development, come prepared with these three tools.

Perhaps one day you’ll point to a seat in the auditorium and say, “That’s the chair where everything changed.”

What have been your transformational experiences at the Summit?

To register for the August 14-15 event in the U.S. click here

To register for the August 14-15 event in Canada, click here




3 Reasons that Progress Depends on Process

Originally posted September 11, 2012 

A leadership lesson I learned almost 20 years ago has not only stayed with me for two decades, it has become embedded in my leadership.

In leadership you can’t have progress without process.

As a much younger and inexperienced leader I found myself serving on the board of our church, and along with other board members I was growing increasingly concerned as to the space pressures caused by rapid growth.

Our church was, at that time, sitting in an auditorium which sat about 1200 people and we were fast approaching 1000 each week in our single Sunday service.

To us the solution seemed obvious; we needed to add a second weekend service.

The rest of the board quickly came on board and with the support of the senior pastor we notified the congregation at a hastily-called members meeting.

The new service motion was voted down.

I was stunned.

But a well-spoken, reasonable member of the congregation articulated the concern. “This is a major decision for this church, and you’ve really surprised us with this. There are some considerations we need to understand. What will happen with Sunday School? What will happen if there isn’t even distribution at the 2 services? What is being planned to ensure we don’t devolve into two separate congregations?”

They sent us away to do more homework. We called another meeting several weeks later, answered their questions, and received almost unanimous support.

What did I learn?

1.   Great ideas are important; they’re just not enough
Simply knowing what needs to be done isn’t in and of itself effective leadership.

2.   People might reject a good idea if process has been violated
The resounding “no vote” was a loud message that we hadn’t brought the people along on the journey.

3.   The best route between two points is not a straight line
Our pastor Tim Schroeder taught me this gem. Effective leadership isn’t measured by the speed or simplicity of the journey. It’s about bringing everyone safely to the destination. Even if that means things move a bit more slowly.

You might have the solution to your organization’s problem clearly figured out. But coming up with that brilliant plan is just the start.

If you want to see the plan successfully implemented, the hard work of leadership is just beginning.

Because without process, there’s no progress.

What other processes are necessary to consider?


The 3 Most Common Recharging Mistakes Leaders Make

Ever thought you were charging your smart phone, only to discover that one end wasn’t properly plugged in?

Instead of that beautiful, full green bar, all you had was that pathetic, useless little red bar.

The same things happens to leaders all the time.

Effective leaders know the importance of recharging; of taking the time to properly refill their emotional, physical, mental and spiritual batteries.

But sometimes they’re not properly plugged in, and when that happens they’re quickly on the short little red line of burnout.

How do these recharging snafu’s happen?

In my experience these are the three most common mistakes leaders make when they’re trying to recharge their batteries.

1.  They use the wrong charger

The best way to fill your tank is unique to you. What charges up your battery could be very different to what charges up mine.

In church leadership circles it has become widely known that Bill Hybels recharges his batteries by sailing. It’s amazing how many leaders took up sailing after learning this.

But for many, particularly those with no real affinity for the sport, they found their batteries down at the red line faster than you can say “abandon ship”.

Know what it is that fills your tank, and stick with that.

2.  They confuse recharging with escaping

Recharging is an activity that gives you tremendous soul-filling, healthy pleasure.

Escapism is simply retreating into an artificial world of stimulation. Common forms include mindless channel surfing, unhealthy social media habits, binge shopping, and so on.

But like a smart phone that’s simply been left sitting on the counter, escapism doesn’t charge you up. If anything, it further drains your tank.

Don’t be lured by the seduction of escapism.

3.  They overcharge

Ever heard someone return to the office after two weeks’ vacation who announced, “I’m more exhausted now than when I left!” Chances are they took a soul-filling activity, and did it to death.

Too much of a good thing can be counter-productive.

Whatever fills your tank, know when enough is enough.

In order to remain fresh and effective as a leader, it’s vital that you take the time to keep yourself charged up.

So develop good recharging habits.

If you do, that green battery line can remain fully charged for years to come.

How do you recharge your leadership batteries?

Why Leaders Must Stop Feeding the Dragons

Originally posted June 17, 2013

How much time, energy and money do you spend feeding your organization’s dragons?

Whatever you lead, you could well be feeding dragons you’re not even aware of.

I’m talking about one of the biggest reasons your church or organization might be struggling to gain traction.

I define a dragon as “An institutionalized drain on resources”.

Yes, believe it or not, there may be elements right under your nose which could be devouring resources…and which have been intentionally created by you, your team, or leadership predecessors.

These elements not only fail to move things forward, they drain so many resources that they can actually prevent you from moving ahead.

Examples of these dragons include:

  • The mortgage on a building that no longer suits your needs,
  • The program which continues to exist despite no longer aligning with your vision,
  • The staff person whose development has not kept pace with the growing demands of the ministry,
  • The old way of doing things that is out of touch with your present reality.

You get the idea.

These are all dragons that must be fed.

You can either keep feeding them, or you can pay attention to these 5 reasons you need to slay your dragons.

If you don’t slay them:

1.   It could be hard to recruit top leaders

Leaders can tell when a place is “top-heavy” with this kind of baggage

2.   Donor fatigue could set in

Donors want to see forward motion

3.   Staff could be de-motivated

Who wants to devote their time and talent to something increasingly outdated?

4.   Lethargy could settle into your constituents

A “here we go again” culture can quickly develop

5.   You could find yourself at risk of burnout

Burnout doesn’t come from working hard. It comes from working hard and not producing results

None of this is to say that buildings are bad or that traditions should be avoided.

But you need to ruthlessly examine the flow of resources for which you are accountable, and identify those which are moving things forward, and those which are merely dragon-feeders.

Consider placing this at the top of your agenda for your next lead team or board retreat. Ask your key leaders, “What are our dragons…and why are we feeding them?”

Because if you want to move forward, you might need to slay a few of these.

What are the dragons you might be feeding?


How Leaders Prevent Falling Off the Arrogance Cliff

My favorite cartoon has always been The Roadrunner.

Every week I’d anticipate that moment when, without fail, the Coyote would find himself running full-speed along a mountain ridge, only to look down and discover that the road had ended. He had run straight off the cliff.

When it comes to leadership character, I’ve also seen too many leaders run straight off the cliff without realizing what was happening.

The cliff I’m talking about is that point where a healthy, growing sense of self-confidence suddenly turns into arrogance.

Leaders need confidence. They need to grow in their sense of assuredness and personal resolve. But too many leaders I’ve seen have failed to stop short of the cliff where self-confidence turns into arrogance.

Unlike healthy self-confidence, arrogance is destructive. It is a deep character flaw that forces all attention onto one’s self, minimizes the contributions of anyone else, and ultimately results in eroded trust.

And when that happens, a plunge to the canyon floor can’t be far behind.

So how can a leader grow in confidence, but not step over the cliff into arrogance?

The best way is to invite truth-tellers into your life who will let you know when you’re getting a little close to the edge.

Effective leaders I know surround themselves with truth-tellers from these three circles:

  • The circle of close advisers

Set up a small group of trusted leadership advisers whom you can trust to “speak the truth in love” when they see character flaws appearing. These can be members of your own board or others higher in the organization.

  • The circle of senior team members

There are likely a few key people on your own team who would have the wisdom, insight and sensitivity to serve you in this way. Give them permission to take you aside when they sense the cliff is approaching.

  • The circle of trusted outside voices

The best leaders I know develop a key circle from well outside the realm of their leadership. Such people are interested only in your development and can therefore speak with great candor.

There’s no question that as you grow in your leadership, you’ll grow in your self-confidence. That’s as it should be.

Just be sure you stop well short of the cliff that leads to arrogance.

Because when you plunge off that cliff, not even Acme might be able to save you.

How do you self-confidence from turning into arrogance?

3 Character Warning Lights Leaders Must Recognize

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a “check engine” light for a leader’s character?

Those of us who are mechanically dis-inclined rely on our car’s dashboard warning lights to remind us to pay attention to a small engine problem early on, before it grows to become a big, expensive calamity.

When it comes to issues of a character, leaders also need to pay attention to the early warning signs so they can take corrective measures before things get out of hand.

The key to maintaining your sterling leadership character is to recognize the early warning signs so you can take corrective measures.

Here are 3 of the most important character warning lights for leaders:

1.  The “humble-brag” warning light

Long before over-the-top arrogance sets in, subtle hints can appear in the form of the humble-brag (highlighting personal accomplishments under a thinly-veiled veneer of humility). Leaders using social media must be especially careful of this; for example, “Can’t believe we’re growing at a 25% rate while so many others are struggling. #humbled.”

It’s a short walk from a humble-brag to full-blown arrogance.

2.  The exaggeration warning light

Out-and-out lying often begins as innocuously as simple exaggeration.

In an earlier post I pointed out that leaders who succumb to the temptation to use hyperbole in their communication (“That was our best event ever!”) they run the risk of taking a credibility hit.

But a larger concern can also loom. Because when hyperbole and exaggeration appear, it can be a slippery slope to utter fabrication and deception.

3.  The rationalization warning light.

Corruption rarely begins with a calculated plan to extort massive of funds from one’s own organization.

Usually it begins as innocently as shaving a few minutes off the work day or getting a bit sloppy with one’s expense report.

The warning light appears when you begin to rationalize these indiscretions. “No one will miss a few sheets of paper” or “I work hard at other times; why shouldn’t I take off a few minutes early?”

When you start rationalizing like this you can end up disqualified from leadership.

Character loss creeps up on you, one unchecked minor indiscretion at a time.

But if you learn to recognize the warning lights you can keep the character of your leadership right on track.

3 Unlikely Reasons Leaders Must Spark New Ideas

Someone on the team has a shaky-sounding new idea.

Try it.

A brainstorming session results in an idea that would seem to have limited chance of success.

Try it anyways.

Effective leaders understand that green-lighting new ideas does not always have to do with the idea itself.

Indeed, the best leader I’ve ever worked with had a knack of creating idea-generating machines in their organizations. And it wasn’t because the ideas were necessarily world-changers.

Instead, these leaders recognized the 3 unlikely reasons to constantly green-light new initiatives:

1.  New ideas keeps innovation in the cultural DNA.

Organizations and teams are either creating innovative solutions, or else they’re falling behind. There are no flat-lines when it comes to innovation.

And the best leaders know that idea-generation is a muscle that must be constantly flexed and developed.

And the best way to do that is through the act of innovation itself.

2.  New ideas sharpens and develops your people.

Let’s face it. In order to have an idea-generating culture you need idea-generating people.

And the best leaders instill this skill in their people by encouraging them to try their hand at it.

By the way, a lot of their ideas will likely be turkeys, especially at the beginning.

That’s okay. Let them run with the idea, let them discover its merits and faults. The more they do, the better they’ll get at it.

3. New ideas tend to reproduce themselves.

You might need to follow the bouncing ball on this one, but stick with me. This is important.

History is replete with innovations that emerged from the ashes of a failed innovation.

3M tried to create a new super-glue, but ended up with an adhesive that could barely hold paper together.

Voila, the Post-It Note was born.

The point is, many great ideas result from looking at a failed idea in a unique or innovative way.

And it all starts with a leader who creates an idea-generating culture.

The goal is not to have your people constantly wasting their time developing can’t-win screwball ideas.

But nor can you say “yes” to an idea purely on its 100% guaranteed prospect of success.

Sometimes you need to green-light an idea for reasons that are not immediately apparent.

The result can be more “wins” than you dreamed possible.

How do you create a culture of innovation?

6 Suprising Words Leaders Should Say More Often

Originally posted February 15, 2013







These are some of the power words of leadership.

But effective leaders know there are also other words that must be part of their communication repertoire as well. They tend to be counter intuitive, and they may not seem to have the same sense of drive.

Yes, there are many times when leaders must use the “power words” to drive organizations and movements to achieve goals and to hit targets.

But if you’re going to lead a healthy organization, and more importantly, if you’re going to lead healthy people, these words are essential.

What are these surprising leadership words?

1.   “Sorry”

Sometimes leaders just get things wrong. And when they do it’s a mark of a leaders’ character when they can authentically stand before their people and simply apologize.

2.   “Think”

Effective leaders call the best out of their people by challenging them to engage their most important skill; their mind.

3.   “Relax”

From time to time the best way to improve performance is to recognize when it’s time for people to simply take a break.

4.   “Help”

In healthy organizations a leader will easily and comfortably ask for assistance from his team mates, and will be just as quick to offer help.

5.   “Enough”

When is it time for your people to stop tinkering on a project? Sometimes your job is to let them know the project is fine as it is.

6.   “Enter”

Usually this word is expressed far more informally, such as “Come on in” or “My door’s open.” Effective leaders create an atmosphere of trust and understanding by keeping the lines of communication open. And one of the best ways they do that is by encouraging personal interaction.

Pay attention to the words you use.

Do they convey urgency and a drive towards achieving goals?

Good. Leaders’ words should do that.

But remember, they should also create the environment in which healthy teams can flourish.

And while that might require a whole new set of words to master, the results will be worth it.

What would you add to this list?

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

Updated from July 26, 2013 post

A half truth.

A questionable use of time.

Poor judgment concerning the use of ministry resources.

If you’ve ever seen this kind of behavior pattern emerge with someone on your team, you know you’ve had to deal with a character issue.

Finding leaders for your team who exhibit the highest standards of character is the ballgame when it comes to building a world-class, God-honoring team.

The question is, how do you find these people?

You don’t look at the resume. Resume’s don’t reveal character.

You don’t look at the person’s skills or even record of achieving results. Even the most unscrupulous person can deliver results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow up by talking with every reference, and talk to the references of references. Talk to their former employer. Ask of they’d hire this person again.

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

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

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


The 5 Absolutely Worst Ways to Instill Organizational Values

Effective leaders are 24/7 Values-Driving machines.

Identifying and promoting core values is so central to the health of the organization, that leaders are constantly driving organizational values in everything they do.

And they know the stakes are so high, they strive to be as effective as possible in values-installation.

And that can begin by avoiding these 5 values-killers…

1.  By establishing policies

If you’re churning out policies to guide team behavior, you’ve basically run up the white flag on values.

If you want people to show up for meetings on time, instil the value of “honoring your teammates’ time”. Don’t just set a policy stating that you’ll dock the pay of anyone who shows up late.

2.  By under-modeling the values

By modeling the values of your organization, I’m not just talking about maintaining the bare minimum requirements.

If you want these values to permeate your team you need to noticeably exceed the expectations by a healthy margin.

Want your team to live out a “caring for one another” value? You need to set the pace by being the first to respond to challenges they face.

3.  By mentioning values just once a year

Most leaders will dutifully crank out the core values speech once a year; usually at the Annual Kick Off staff meeting or perhaps at the Christmas party.

But that talk, as well intentioned as it might be, won’t penetrate your culture.

You need to build on that stirring speech with daily values-affirmations.

4.  By only catching people doing something wrong

There’s no question that sometimes it’s necessary to point out a values-violation to a member of your team.

But you’ll get a lot more values-mileage by celebrating loudly and publically when someone on your team exemplifies a core value.

For example, the next time someone creates a brand new way to solve a problem, proclaim to everyone that the value of innovation is alive and well.

5. By delegating values to H.R.

Classic leadership mistake.

Values-driving cannot be offloaded to H.R., your assistant, nor anyone else.

That job stays on the leader’s shoulders.

The point is, driving core values through your organization isn’t simply one of the leadership functions you have to play. It must be something that is a part of everything thing you do in leadership.

Avoiding these value-killers could be just the starting place you need.

What values-killers would you add to the list?