May 27, 2015

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?

3 Declarations That Have Guided My Leadership for 30 Years

Where there’s clarity, there’s forward movement.

This theme recently emerged in a conversation with a younger leader.

He asked me, “What decisions did you make as a younger leader that had the greatest impact in your life?”

My mind went back immediately to a time in my 20’s, when I was first told by an older leader that I possessed leadership gifts and potential.

Soon afterwards I settled on three fundamental personal declarations that have guided my leadership ever since. The clarity these declarations provided seemed to create a new level of forward movement.

Leadership Declaration #1:

I will take responsibility for my own development as a leader

I have had the privilege of having many wise and generous leaders pour into my life. But while I have gratefully received this mentoring, I have always held to the belief that I am personally responsible for my own development.

As I was now telling this young leader, “Learn from as many leaders as possible. But at the end of the day, no one else is responsible for your own growth. That’s your job.”

Leadership Declaration #2:

I will squeeze every ounce of productivity out of every day

Right from the start I purposed to master the use of time. Some would later call this “energy management”, versus “time management”, but whatever the term, the principle has remained the same; I wanted to extract as much production out of every single minute of every single day as possible.

My message to this young leader was clear; maximize your time.

Leadership Declaration #3:

When it comes to sheer effort, I will push myself to the limits.

In my younger, less mature days I put it this way; “I will work harder than anybody.”

Later, with a bit more seasoning, I learned to compete with myself, not with those around me. I have now learned to say, “I will continually strive to exert maximum effort in all I do.”

As I told this young leader, “There will be many reasons some plans don’t work out. Don’t let lack of sustained effort be one of them.”

Well, these are the declarations I made early on that had the greatest impact in my own leadership.

These might not be yours, but let me urge you to take the time to clarify your own leadership declarations.

Because where’s there’s clarity, there’s forward movement.

What declarations have guided your leadership?

Leadership Getting Hard? Resist These 3 Shortcuts

This week we held the semi-annual meeting of the Willow Creek Association board of directors, and once again I found myself taken aback by the level of leadership excellence in the room.

As the members of the board tackled issues of considerable complexity, at one point I wrote on my notepad, “These leaders are real. They are getting it done!”

By this I meant that they had a singular focus of moving the organization forward. And they were doing the hard work of real leadership to get the job done. No shortcuts.

By contrast, it brought to mind examples of leaders who might shirk the hard work of leadership and instead, take one of these leadership shortcuts…

1.  Creating policies

Moving people or organizations forward requires the hard work of leadership. It requires vision casting, team building, and difficult conversations.

But instead of doing this hard work, some leaders will opt instead to simply churn out a few policies.

Policies might have their place. Just don’t confuse them with leadership.

2.  Losing your cool

When a leader loses their cool, it’s like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Both are frustrated that they’re not getting their way. And so they pitch a fit.

If people give in to this, it can create the illusion that there has been a leadership accomplishment. But ‘powering up’ isn’t the same as leadership. It’s more like bullying.

And it’s just another shortcut.

3.  Creating a new org chart

…or reorganizing anything.

A leader paralyzed with indecision will sometimes whip out a piece of paper or run to a white board and start drawing boxes, circles and lines with abandon.

In time a brand new exciting organization chart can emerge, and the resulting change in reporting structures can provide yet another illusion that real leadership has taken place.

But, once again, it hasn’t. It’s just another shortcut.

Face it. Sometimes leadership is just hard. Moving a group of people forward requires tremendous effort and tenacity.

And in the midst of it all it can be very tempting to simply take one of these shortcuts.

But resist these easy ‘outs’. Stick to the hard work of leadership.

The results will be worth it.

What other leadership shortcuts have you seen?



5 Sorry Sorries to Avoid as a Leader

Updated from April 15, 2013 post

This week I watched some news coverage of yet another leader who was caught in a compromising situation, requiring him to issue a public apology.

The problem was that, like so many leaders, this person didn’t seem to know how to apologize.

Authentic leaders must learn the difference between an authentic, humble apology, and mere image management.

And this has brought to mind an earlier post where I outlined 5 sorry “sorries”…

One reason leaders sometimes struggle with the apology is that many fall into one of these five apology blunders. If you need to issue an apology, avoid these sorry “sorries”.

1.   The “I’m Sorry to Everyone” Apology

An apology should be limited to the person or people directly offended by the offense.

If you wronged a member of your board, you don’t have to apologize to the entire congregation.

2.   The “I’m Sorry for Everything” Apology

A friend of mine was asked by his church to issue a public apology for a series of leadership mis-steps, most of which were well beyond his responsibility.

Own your stuff, but don’t own everyone else’s stuff.

3.   The “I’m Sorry If…” Apology

Some celebrities and politicians have become masters of this one.

It usually goes like this: “I’m sorry if my drunken behavior caused you any offence…”

We hear the word “sorry”, so we think that was an apology. But it really wasn’t.

Let your “sorry” be “sorry”. Take out the “if”.

4.   The “I’m Sorry, But” Apology

Ever heard one like this?

“I’m sorry for being so rude, but I was really tired.”

Again, it sort of sounds like an apology, because it contains the word “sorry”. However, as soon as you insert the word “but”, it really isn’t an apology anymore.

5.   The “I’m Sorry…Eventually” Apology

The expression “justice delayed is justice denied” has a cousin; “An apology delayed is an apology denied.”

Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long to issue your apology. Own up as soon as reasonably possible.

Let’s face it. If you’re in leadership for any length of time, you will blow it at some point. And you will need to issue an apology.

But by avoiding these sorry “sorries” you can make your road back to credibility much smoother.

What have you learned about saying “sorry” in your leadership?

6 Suprising Words Leaders Should Say More Often

Updated from February 15, 2013 post

4 days of strategic planning with the leadership team from the Willow Creek Association has reminded me of many important leadership truths.

But none have been more important than this- “Words matter”.

And, as I wrote in this earlier post, the types of words leaders use can make all the difference in the world.








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?

3 Surprising Truths about Leading Leaders

Updated from September 30, 2013 post

This week, the leadership team of the Willow Creek Association is meeting to review our progress year to date, and to check in on our long-term plans.

Looking around the room has reminded me yet again about the quality of leaders that has been assembled on this team.

And it has reminded me again of one of the most crucial learnings I ever acquired about leading leaders.

Hopefully my (painful) experience can help you in your role as a leader of leaders too.

Years ago I was assigned with a relatively simple task during my first week as executive pastor of a large church in Canada.

My assignment? Lead an off-site retreat of our senior pastoral team.

This team of highly seasoned leaders were gathered around me, waiting for my opening words. I knew we should open in prayer, so I shrugged at this group of 20 or so leaders and said, “Why don’t you break into groups and spend time in prayer.”

My reasoning was sound, or so it seemed to me. “These are leaders; they don’t need me to tell them how to organize a time of prayer.”

Several awkward moments of shuffling about ensued, and eventually a few muffled words of half-hearted prayer could be heard being whispered about the room.

There was no energy. There was no unity. There was no momentum.

It was, to put it mildly, a less than auspicious debut of my season as a leader of leaders.

But as with any setback, there were leadership learnings to be gleaned. And in this case I came away with three vital principles that must be embraced in order to become a leader of leaders:

1.  Leaders want, and expect, to be led.

Leaders more than anyone understand the value of good leadership. And they look for it in those who step forward to lead them.

2.  Leaders respond to leadership language.

Instead of such a vague, meandering opening, I should have addressed them with leadership language like this: “Team, there are opportunities before us that will only be realized by the mighty hand of God.”

3.  Leaders demand clarity.

Instead of “break into groups and spend time in prayer” I should have said, “Break into groups of 3 and spend 10 minutes praying for these 4 items…”

If you’ve been given the opportunity and responsibility to lead a group of leaders, don’t shrink back. Lift your leadership to the next level and lead them well.

You could be amazed at the passion of their response.

What have you learned about leading leaders?

The Leader’s Hope, Because of Easter

Updated from March 29, 2013 post

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

1 Corinthians 15:14

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless. And so is:

  • Your leadership development
  • Your vision
  • Your team building
  • Your bold initiative
  • Your upcoming staff retreat
  • Your registration at the Global Leadership Summit
  • Your blog subscription list
  • Your Twitter account followers
  • Your upcoming speaking gig
  • Your next sermon
  • Your last sermon
  • Your courage
  • Your vulnerability

If Christ has not been raised, NONE of it matters.

But Christ HAS been raised. So it all CAN matter.

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

What Happens When Leaders ‘Squeeze the Stick Too Tight’

In the game of hockey it is not uncommon for even the most talented players to hit a scoring slump. For a period of time it can suddenly become increasingly difficult for a player to put the puck in the net.

Usually the prescribed solution is for the player to work harder.

But in some cases this extra effort can have a most unusual, and disconcerting result. Sometimes extra effort can result in ever worse goal scoring production.

This phenomena is called “squeezing the stick too tight”. This scenario will see a player exerting ever increasing effort, only to see this effort translate into poorer and poorer results.

There is a huge principle here for leaders to understand.

I became acutely aware of this principle in the days when I helped to lead the Willow Creek Association in Canada.

During one particular season we were preparing for a conference which I knew would be of tremendous help to leaders. But for reasons I couldn’t understand, as conference day approached we didn’t have as many registrations as I would have liked to have seen.

And so it was that we threw almost twice as much effort in the final days leading up to the event as we had earlier. We spent more money on marketing and made more phone calls than ever.

As you can probably imagine, the results were negligible.

In the future we never abandoned our hard work ethic, but we did learn to stop squeezing the stick quite so tightly.

In short, these were the leadership learnings I came away with;

1.       Hard working teams will usually out-perform other teams.

2.       Leaders set the pace when it comes to effort. No one will ever out-work the leader.

3.       There comes a point where greater effort ceases to produce greater results. Leaders must discern when this point has been reached and respond accordingly.

4.       If a push for greater efforts continues to be exerted beyond this point, extra effort can actually have an inverse effect.

When you face your next leadership challenge, maintain the highest standards of hard work. But recognize the point where hard work is no longer producing the desired results.

At that point, it might be time to stop squeezing the stick so tight.


Why Leaders Must Hold the Decision-Making Key

If you’ve ever stood with a group of people at a locked door, with everyone wondering, “Who has the key?” you’ve faced a classic leadership conundrum.

Because when there is fuzziness on the question, “Who holds the decision key on this?” entire organizations can grind to a halt.

This leadership principle hit me full in the face many years ago when our organization had partnered with a local church to present a leadership conference.

The schedule was set to go all day Friday and all day Saturday. But noticing that there was nothing scheduled on Friday evening, a leader from our partner church said we should program a concert for that timeslot.

I disagreed.

And there we stood; standing at the door, not sure who held the decision key.

Ultimately I deferred and allowed our partner to program a concert for that evening. It turned out to be a disaster. It was very poorly planned and executed.

But the real learning happened Monday morning. The disaster that was this concert had absolutely no lasting impact on this church leader, nor his church. But I was digging myself out of this mess for weeks afterwards.

Because at the end of the day, the programming for the entire conference, including Friday evening, was my accountability. Not his.

And because I held the accountability, I held the decision key. But I gave it away, and paid for it dearly.

In short, here’s what I learned.

1.       Always be clear who holds the decision key

Whoever is ultimately responsible makes the call.

2.       You can’t share the key

As I’ve written before, there are no “team decisions”. One person makes the call, because one person is responsible.

3.       Never give away the key

Just because someone demands the key is no reason to give it up.

4.       Key-holders should be collaborative, but ultimately stand alone when making the call

At the end of the day, leadership is all about making decisions. But before you can make the call you need clarity on whose call it is to make.

So take a lesson from my experience.

Because when you know you hold the decision making key, leadership doors start to open.

How do you determine who makes the call?

Finding the Right Bucket to Solve Unsolvable Leadership Challenges

Updated from January 12, 2015 post

Having just returned from a four-week, 30,000 mile global leadership tour, I have blissfully (and perhaps naively) imagined waltzing back into the office problem-free.

Of course, reality was far different.

Immediately I’ve been faced with problems that require leadership solutions. And as I’ve begun tackling each one, I have first determined which bucket I need to dip into.

In an earlier post this year I unpacked my approach to solving unsolvable leadership challenges. Take a look, and let me know what you think.

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?

Big Decision? Who’s Holding The Key?

I’ve spent the last several weeks meeting with outstanding Global Leadership Summit (GLS) leaders around the world, giving me a front-row seat on outstanding leadership.

One important principle I’ve seen over and over is that before any decision is made, these leaders make sure they know who should be making the call.

They start by asking, “Who holds the decision-making key?”

This leadership principle hit me full in the face many years ago when our organization had partnered with a local church to present a leadership conference.

The schedule was set to go all day Friday and all day Saturday. But noticing that there was nothing scheduled on Friday evening, a leader from our partner church said we should program a concert for that timeslot.

I disagreed.

And there we stood; standing at the door, not sure who held the decision key.

Ultimately I deferred and allowed our partner to program a concert for that evening. It turned out to be a disaster. It was very poorly planned and executed.

But the real learning happened Monday morning. The disaster that was this concert had absolutely no lasting impact on this church leader, nor his church. But I was digging myself out of this mess for weeks afterwards.

Because at the end of the day, the programming for the entire conference, including Friday evening, was my accountability. Not his.

And because I held the accountability, I held the decision key. But I gave it away, and paid for it dearly.

In short, here’s what I learned.

1.       Always be clear who holds the decision key

Whoever is ultimately responsible makes the call.

2.       You can’t share the key

As I’ve written before, there are no “team decisions”. One person makes the call, because one person is responsible.

3.       Never give away the key

Just because someone demands the key is no reason to give it up.

4.       Key-holders should be collaborative, but ultimately stand alone when making the call

At the end of the day, leadership is all about making decisions. But before you can make the call you need clarity on whose call it is to make.

So take a lesson from my experience.

Because when you know you hold the decision making key, leadership doors start to open.

How do you determine who makes the call?