August 3, 2015

The Leadership Blooper Reel Everyone Must Avoid

Updated from November 29th, 2011 post

With less than three weeks to go until the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, there’s a a clear sense of optimism and energy emanating from the team at the Willow Creek Association. Plans are coming together, indicators are positive, and momentum is building.

At the same time, nobody is high-fiving one another just yet.


Well, effective leaders know that there’s a right time, and a wrong time, for celebration.

And, as I wrote in this earlier post, if you get this wrong you can end up on a leadership blooper reel nobody wants to appear in.

Have you ever seen one of those sports blooper reels, showing athletes caught in “premature celebrations”?
Google these; you’ll have a great laugh at some of these episodes of athletes wildly celebrating a goal that wasn’t scored, a touchdown that didn’t count, or a home run that went foul.

When this sort of thing happens with an athlete, it might mean that they show up on a highlight blooper reel.

But when it happens to a leader, it can result in a severe credibility hit.

Think of the business leader who boldly announces that the failing company has “turned around” because of a single profitable quarter. And think of the egg on their face when what follows is a return to declining sales.

Think of the salesperson who informs their manager that they have landed the big account even before the contract has been signed. And think of the back-peddling required when the deal falls through.

Think of the pastor of the plateaued church who informs his board that last weekend’s attendance increase means “we’ve turned the corner”, only to see the numbers continue to slip the rest of the year.

Effective leaders I’ve known have managed to avoid the credibility hit of a premature celebration by following a few simple guidelines:

  • Don’t get caught up in the emotion of an early win.
  • Know the difference between a “win” and a normal trend.
  • Let others point out your successes before you do.

Avoiding the credibility hit of a premature celebration requires a tremendous amount of discipline. And I’ll admit it’s an area I need to monitor in my own leadership very closely.

But getting this one right is always worth it.

It sure beats showing up on a blooper reel.

Have you ever seen a leader get caught in a premature celebration?


Why Leaders Walk Towards Barking Dogs

Updated from April 1, 2011 post

This week the barking dog got pretty loud.

No matter how hard I tried to distract myself, it just wouldn’t quieten down. And I finally realized something I should have remembered much earlier.

When it comes to facing leadership problems, leaders must walk towards the barking dog.

I came across this earlier post, and it reminded me again that this is one of those principles that leaders simply must master. Perhaps this applies to your present leadership situation too.

You’ve just found out that conflict is looming in the finance department.

What do you do?

You’ve noticed that one of the key metrics is slipping behind projections.

What do you do?

You have the seen the performance of a key staff person slide.

What do you do?

You’ve picked up on the news that your board is spending a lot of time discussing matters that really don’t further the direction of the organization.

What do you do?

If you’re a leader, you walk towards the barking dog.

When I first learned this leadership axiom it immediately painted for me a vivid mental picture as to how leaders must respond at the first signs of trouble.

The expression, I’m told, comes from training postal letter carriers receive concerning what to do when a barking dog appears.

The instinct is to move (or run) away quickly. Instead, so the training apparently goes, sometimes the best move is to walk firmly towards the barking dog. Often this will cause the aggressive dog to ‘pull in his fangs’ and back down.

If you ignore the barking, distracting yourself with other more pleasant tasks, you might muffle the noise for a while. But sooner or later the barking will return. Only now it might appear not only as a barking dog, but possibly as a biting dog.

When the dogs begin to bark, remind yourself that;

1. No amount of avoidance will make the problem disappear,

2. Unaddressed problems tend to grow over time, not diminish,

3. Avoiding pressing problem weakens your leadership in the eyes of the team,

4. Tackling problems head-on builds leadership muscles that equip you to take on the next round of barking dogs.

So right now, stop and listen. Do you hear the barking?

Don’t turn away. Move boldly and purposefully towards the problem.

Pretty soon the barking will just quiet right down.

What are the barking dogs you can hear these days?


How Leaders Know When To Cash-in “Change Chips”

Updated from November 4, 2011 post

Do you know how many change chips you’re carrying in your pocket?

This week I found myself trying to figure out why I was having a difficult time introducing some necessary changes to a team. And then it hit me; I might have already cashed in my change chips on an earlier initiative.

And it brought to mind an earlier post when I described how I learned the key leadership principle of always knowing how many change chips you’re carrying around with you.

cashing in my chips

Leaders know that they possess a certain number of “change chips”. These chips are made up of credibility, respect, authority, good will and other essential intangible ingredients.

Leaders carry these chips around in their pocket knowing that at the moment when they must introduce change they will have to cash-in some of these chips.

But if you cash these chips in at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons it can make introducing real, meaningful change that much more difficult.

I learned this lesson in a painful way during my first weeks on the job in a new leadership role.

I led a staff of about 35 people, and soon after I was hired I saw that the office configuration was not optimal. Almost before I had settled into my chair I was moving staff around the facility from one office to another. Because I was the new sheriff in town, the staff dutifully followed my edict. And within a couple of weeks most staff were in new offices which, to me, was a marginal improvement over the previous set up.

But I had cashed in several credibility chips with only a marginal “win” for the organization. I had introduced irritation, confusion and distraction, and the only upside was a slight increase in the ergonomics of the office.

In hindsight I wish I had saved those chips for later on when I needed to call for significant change that could generate meaningful, positive results.

What might this mean for you?

Take a few minutes to actually make a list of the potential changes you’re contemplating. Perhaps it looks something like this…

  • Changing the day of the weekly staff meeting,
  • Dropping a well-established, but tired, program,
  • Introducing new ways for expense reports to be submitted,
  • Launching a new product or service.

For each item on your own list, carefully consider the change chips required to be cashed in.

To make lasting, significant change, you may find that you need to keep a few more chips in your pocket.

How have you learned when to cash in your leadership change chips?


Debunking the “It Doesn’t Matter Who Gets the Credit” Myth

Updated from July 8, 2011 post

It happened again this week.

I was on the phone discussing a new initiative with a leader, when all of a sudden he used one of the well-worn leadership axioms, “Well, just think of what our team can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.”

That quote is usually attributed to Harry Truman.

Well, both Truman and this leader who quoted him are just wrong.

It really does matter who gets the credit.

The sentiment underlying the statement is noble enough. The idea is that we don’t want our cultures to be infected by grandstanding players, vying for individual attention. I get that.

But the idea that you, as a leader, ought to be unaware as to who keeps coming up with your team’s best ideas is not in the best interest of your team, your culture or your leadership.

It really does matter who gets the credit.

You need to know the relative strengths of your team players. You need to know who it is that is consistently, and disproportionately, generating the initiatives that are creating the most ‘wins’ for your organization. And for that to happen it needs to be “okay” in your culture for those top performers to be recognized.

They need to get the credit.

Jack Welch calls this ‘differentiation’. On his website, Welch puts it this way; “Companies win when their managers make a clear and meaningful distinction between top and bottom performing businesses and people.”

If you have bought into the idea that “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit” step back and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know who is generating our best ideas?
  • Do I know who is launching our most successful initiatives?
  • Do I know who is producing the most results?

If you do, give them the credit.

The whole team will ultimately benefit if credit is given where credit is due.

How do you recognize the contributions of your people?


3 Warning Signs of “Watch Me Swim” Leadership

Updated from August 3, 2012 post

Have you ever encountered a “watch me swim” leader?

This is the person who insists on letting you know about every accomplishment they’ve achieved, no matter how small or insignificant.

I came across one such leader recently, and while this person is actually quite good in their role, the constant craving for recognition made me want to avoid them, rather than engage with them.

Image via

I first heard this apt description used by a good friend back in Canada. It’s a term that describes a leader who, like a child in the backyard swimming pool, is desperate for others to notice their accomplishments.

But in leadership it can quickly render you ineffective because:

  • It appears self-serving
  • It erodes trust in followers
  • It diminishes respect among other more secure leaders

Any leader is susceptible to “Watch Me Swim” leadership tendencies, but you can avoid it by watching out for these 3 warning signs:

1.   You embelish the significance of accomplishments
“Watch Me Swim” leaders are often quick to congratulate themselves. I heard of one leader who sent an email to his board celebrating the fact that “4th quarter results were up significantly over 3rd quarter results.”

But 4th quarter results were always up significantly over 3rd quarter results in that organization. It was merely part of an historical trend.


2.   You imply credit for achievements you had little to do with
I knew one senior pastor who announced to his board that, on his watch, “baptisms had increased 20%”. What he didn’t mention was that virtually all of those baptisms had come out of youth ministry, and he really had had no part of this whatsoever.

3.   You “spin” lack of results
“Watch Me Swim” leaders have a way of attributing poor results to any factor other than their own leadership.

Market conditions, a new competitor in town, a weakening economy, all of these can affect results. But to hear the “watch me swim” leader tell it, you’d think these were the only reasons for poor performance.

If you want to build your credibility as a leader, heed these warning signs, before “Watch Me Swim” turns into “Help- I’m Drowning”.

How do keep from sliding into watch me swim leadership?


5 Reasons Effective Leaders Avoid the “I’m So Busy” Trap

One of the things I love about the weeks leading up to the Global Leadership Summit is the sense of purpose and urgency that grips our team.

Every year at this time the Willow Creek Association staff gets seized with a powerful sense of resolve (mixed with a generous heaping of fun).

By contrast, I have visited many teams who seem to be caught not so much in urgency as they are in panic.

The tell-tale sign is when you ask someone how they are doing, and reflexively they respond, “Oh, I’m busy. I’m just so busy.”

That’s called the “I’m so busy” trap, and effective leaders avoid it at all cost.

You’ll never hear an effective leader get caught in the “I’m so busy trap” because they know it can actually communicate something quite unflattering…

1. “I’m so disorganized…”

Some people attach a misplaced sense of nobility to the notion of being busy.

But in a lot of cases that frantic pace is just a reflection of poor organization skills and lack of focus.

2. “I don’t have clear goals…”

Without clear goals, a precise strategy and iron-clad priorities it’s easy to just run around from one disjointed activity to the next.

It might look like hard work, but in many cases it’s just squandered energy.

3. “I can’t build teams…”

Show me someone who keeps telling everyone they’re busy, and I’ll show you someone who might not have team-building skills.

Because leaders who know how to build, empower and motivate teams also know how to spread the work around.

4. “I’ve mismanaged this project…”

Nothing will bring out the “I’m so busy” chants quite as fast as a project that has been allowed to run amok.

Rather than fessing up, some people will simply grab onto the “I’m so busy” lifeline.

5. “I’m just trying to impress people…”

Let’s face it.

Our culture has hoisted the notion of “busy” onto such a pedestal that many people have simply learned to mimic the “I’m so busy” mantra merely as a status symbol.

So keep your goals clear, your projects in-line and your teams on task.

You’ll not only be more productive, but you’ll be able to stay way clear of the “I’m so busy” trap too.

4 Measurements Leaders Need to Weigh, not Count

Updated from April 10, 2012 post

With the Global Leadership Summit just weeks away there is a flurry of counting going on at the Willow Creek Association.

We want to know how many people are registered, we want to know how many teams are attending, the average size of those teams and how many people are attending this year for the first time.

But these measurements that require counting are not the only metrics we’re interested in. They’re not necessarily even the most important ones.

Because throughout our organization there is a leadership culture that understands a very important principle. As I wrote in this earlier posts, some of the most important measurements require weighing, not counting.

While counting tells you some important information, that’s often only the beginning. The complete story is only found when you take the time and invest the leadership effort required to weigh less tangible data.

Here are four scenarios that call for weighing, not just counting.

1.   When you need to rally support around a cause
Counting may tell you how many are “on board”, but effective leaders will want to know WHO is on board. “Do I have the influencers on side?” In other words, effective leaders measure the weight of the voices.

2.   When you need to reverse a trend
Counting may tell you which way the trend is heading (sales are declining, donations are sliding, attendance is plateauing, etc). But effective leaders want to know who has stopped buying (and who has started), and who has stopped giving (and who has increased giving). These are questions of weight.

3.   When you need to respond to criticism
Counting may tell you how many complaints have been received. Effective leaders, though, want to know where those complaints are coming from in order to determine how much validity they might carry. They want to weigh the source of the complaints.

4.   When you need to know “who has your back”
Counting may tell you how many senior staff showed up for work today, or how many board members make up a quorum. Weighing, though, tells you who you can count on when the going gets tough. Effective leaders weigh levels of support among key stakeholders.

Is counting important? Absolutely. Just be sure your measurement doesn’t end there. If you really want to understand what’s going on behind the numbers, learn to develop the ability to weigh, not just count.

Because very often “who” is more important than “how many”.

What other areas do you find necessary to weigh, not simply count?


5 Times Leaders Need to Turn Their “Amp” Up to 11

Updated from January 3, 2012 post

With less than two months to go until the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, the level of energy in the hallways of the Willow Creek Association is on the rise.

At this week’s executive team meeting we reviewed some of what must take place within this relatively short period of time in order to ensure a successful event. With some 110,000 people expected to take in the event in the United States, and later another 140,000 around the world, the stakes are high.

These are the seasons when leaders must up their game, calling the most out of themselves and those they lead.

As I wrote in this earlier post, sometimes leaders must simply know when to punch their amp up to 11.

Fans of the classic comedy film This is Spinal Tap know exactly what I’m talking about.

This “mock-umentary” about an aging British rock band features a hilarious scene in which the lead guitarist (Nigel, played by Christopher Guest) tries vainly to explain the extra power contained in his guitar’s amplifier.

“You see, most blokes will be playing on 10…where can you go from there? Nowhere! Exactly…But what we do, if we need that extra push over the cliff, what we do is we go up to 11. One louder.”

As silly as that scene plays, leaders need to know when it’s time to go one louder; when it’s time to go up to “11”. In other words, leaders need to know how and when to call for the very best out of their team; even beyond the level of their normal level of performance.

How do you make that call? Here’s what I’ve learned from effective leaders.

It’s time to turn the performance level of your team up to 11 when:

1. The size or complexity of an approaching challenge requires extraordinary team effort to overcome,

2. A long season of “business as usual” has allowed the team to drift into cruise-control,

3. You want to provide an opportunity for new leaders to emerge,

4. The team hasn’t experienced a “win” in a long time,

5. A window of opportunity presents itself, requiring “all hands on deck” to seize the opportunity.

Effective leaders know that from time to time it is necessary to unleash the team’s full potential and to lead them to operate at a higher than usual level of energy.

You can’t over do it, or you’ll risk burning out the team. But if you want to get the most out of your team, you need to know when to call the very best out of them.

In the situations described here, it means cranking them up to 11.

How do you know when it’s time to go up to 11?


When It’s Okay to Punt a Core Value

Updated from April 15, 2011 post

This week I engaged in a robust conversation with a teammate on the subject of core values.

While we agreed on the importance of having organizational values, we saw things differently when it comes to whether you can ever let go of a value.

In my opinion, organizations change, values shift, and leaders must have the presence of mind to know when it’s okay to “punt a value”.

In this earlier post I explained why I believe this is important for leaders. 

Take out a copy of your team’s core values. You know the one I mean. It’s either filed away in a folder called “Documents”, or perhaps it’s in that binder labeled “2007 Off-site Retreat”. It’s possible that it’s framed and posted on the wall in your staff coffee room.

I’ll give you a minute while you go get it.

Read each value statement carefully. You probably have between 8 and 12 of them. They likely are peppered with phrases like “relentlessly focused on” and “wholly committed to”. Powerful stuff, eh?

The one I want you to zero in on is that one that jumps off the page, because quite frankly it just doesn’t fit. If the last time you did a review of your core values was more than two years ago, then in all probability there is at least one that simply doesn’t resonate with your present team.

You have three options:

1. You can re-cast vision around that value, “blow-torching it” until it once again is being lived out among your team, or

2. You can take out the white-out and simply eliminate the value, or

3. You can ignore the discrepancy and re-file the core values document back where you found it.

I’m going to build a case for option #2; that sometimes the best option is have the courage to hit “delete”. This sounds like leadership heresy, but hear me out.

Teams change. And sometimes along with those changes new values emerge and old ones become out-dated.

Recently our team did a review of our core values and discovered one that was clearly a reflection of a different time in the history of the organization. After trying desperately to make this value “fit”, we finally had to look at each other and admit, “This value simply no longer reflects who we are.”

Don’t take the idea of deleting a core value lightly. This is a big deal. But be open to the possibility that a value once held in high regard by a previous team may simply no longer be true for this present team.

And have the courage to hit “delete”.

How do you keep your core values alive and relevant?


The Level of Your Ownership Reveals the Level of Your Leadership

“So, who’s leading this thing, anyways?”

The question cut through all of the noise and caused each of us sitting around the table to pause, catch our breath, and re-assess everything.

At issue in this meeting of Willow Creek Association leaders, was the direction of a successful initiative. The initiative had been launched by a particular department a few years ago, and had since grown well beyond the scope of that one department. It now was a part of virtually every aspect of the organization.

But with this growth it was now realized that the department who launched it, and that department’s leader, were now merely one part of a much larger whole.

And so, the inevitable question was raised.

“So, who’s leading this thing, anyways?”

The answer to that question would come by delving in to 3 crucial leadership principles. And these are three pretty good questions that can bring clarity to your own leadership too.

1.      If you lead it, you need to own it.

To figure out who should be leading this initiative the first thing I looked for was “Who really owns this?”

“Who lives and breathes these results? Who lies awake thinking about this? Who kicks over trash cans when this initiative isn’t going well?”

Those are signs of ownership.

And the person who has the highest level of ownership needs to be calling the shots.

2.      If you don’t own it, you can’t lead it.

It doesn’t matter what the organization chart says. It doesn’t matter what the business cards say.

Just because an initiative happens to fall within someone’s job description doesn’t make that person the best leader.

If there’s just no ownership, there’s just no leadership.

3.      The higher your ownership, the higher your leadership

Ownership and leadership are inextricably linked. Want to raise your level of leadership? Raise the level of your ownership.

Here’s the point. When you look at the things you believe you’ve been called upon to lead, ask yourself, “Do I really have a sense of ownership over this?”

If the answer is “Not really,” take the high road and find out where that level of ownership really does sit.

Chances are, that’s where the real leadership is sitting.

Are you leading anything you’re not really owning?

Leadership Values- Going from Aspirational to Actual

It’s hard to make values-based leadership decisions when you’re fuzzy on your values.

A series of decisions I needed to make this week drove this principle home yet again, and it reminded me of a crucial leadership question- “Are my values real, or are they aspirational?”

I first wrestled with this question years ago with the help of a leadership coach.

He had challenged a group of us to write down the values we held as most important to our leadership.

I wrote down words like “Hard working”, “Integrity” and “Well Balanced”.

Then he said, “Next to each value, write either AS, for Aspirational, or AC for Actual.” In other words, which values are being lived out today in my leadership, and which are ones I merely aspire to embrace.

I quickly placed an AC for Actual next to such values as “Hard working” and “Integrity”, and placed an AS for Aspirational next to values such as “Well balanced”.

Next, the coach said, “Look at the list of values you have described as Aspirational. If these really matter to you, you need to find a way to change these into Actual values.

I would soon learn that there is no “one size fits all” way to do this. But for me, the key was to follow these three steps:

1.     Create a system

Without putting a tangible plan and system in place I learned it’s unlikely you’ll ever change an aspirational value into an actual value. You must institutional new patterns of behavior.

2.     Ask for help

I’m not a fan of “accountability partners”, (that’s for another blog post one day) but I am a huge believer in asking for help from someone who has demonstrated a skill I am seeking to develop.

3.     Make it measurable

It wasn’t enough for me to say, “I want to be more balanced.” I needed to say, “I want to increase my evenings at home from 2 nights per week to 4 nights per week.”

Try this exercise for yourself, and if you identify aspirational values consider how you might change them into actual values.

Because if you’re fuzzy on your values it really is hard to make values-based decisions.

Is Your Leadership Doing ’90 on Empty’?

Updated from February 19, 2011 post

In a recent executive team meeting here at the Willow Creek Association I witnessed a remarkable drama unfold.

Some data was presented that would help to inform an upcoming decision. And yet while each of us on the team were looking at the same pieces of information, we drew wildly different conclusions.

And I realized again that the way in which leaders arrive at decisions goes well beyond the data we’re provided. It’s as much about our inner wiring as it is about the information we process.

As I looked at what this principle means in my own leadership, my mind went back to an earlier post, when I reflected on this principle through the lens of a fascinating insight courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld…

Jerry Seinfeld“My parents had two constant arguments while they were driving, over how fast my father was going or how much gas was left in the tank.” Seinfeld wrote in his book Seinlanguage.

“My father had a standard defense for either one of these. It was always, “That’s because you’re looking at it from an angle. If you were over here, you’d see.

From where you’re sitting, it looks like I’m doing ninety on empty. But that’s because you’re over there. If you were over here, you’d know I’m in the driveway with a full tank.”

This dynamic plays itself out in leadership all the time.

You look at data and say,“Wow; things are heading in the wrong direction.” But someone else looks at the same information and says, “That’s because you’re looking at it from over there. From over here things look just fine.”

The bottom line is that when you’re looking at information, you need to know if you’re doing ninety on empty, or actually sitting in the driveway with a full tank.

Here’s what I’ve learned from effective leaders.

  • Know your business. Do you know the seasonal trends that can affect data? Do you know how other organizations are doing under similar circumstances?
  • Know your people. Who are the optimists? Who are the pessimists? Who are the realists? Knowing your people will help to filter their analysis.
  • Know yourself. Are you a “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” person? Being aware of your own inclinations can help bring clarity to how you view information.

The next time you’re looking at your metrics, try filtering it through these lenses.

Who knows? Maybe you’re doing ninety on empty…

How do you compensate for these dynamics when making your own leadership decisions?


The 4 Temptations of “Nice-People Leadership”

Updated from November 9, 2009 post

Today was an interesting day at the Willow Creek Association.

A group of leaders met to discuss future speaker possibilities for the Global Leadership Summit. Potential names were suggested, and then debate ensued.

Some members of our team loved certain speaker suggestions, others hotly disagreed. The debate was always passionate, but never personal. It was always heated, but never crossed the line of disrespect.

It was fascinating to watch the debate unfold, and in particular to observe how those who would normally be labeled as “nice” entered the fray.

Seeing these nice leaders engage with full vigor reminded me again that nice people really can be effective as leaders. As long as they remain on guard against these four temptations…

1. The temptation to avoid hard conversations.

Every leader needs to be able to tackle tough issues with those whom they are leading. As nice leaders we need to recognize our aversion to these conversations and compensate by being disciplined and focused.

2. The temptation to avoid clarity.

Nice leaders can be so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings that we’ll shroud our comments in vague euphemisms. Every time you walk away from a conversation ask yourself, “Did I get my message across with crystal clarity?”

3. The temptation to seek approval over respect.

Nice people can sometimes walk a path that’s dangerously close to “people pleasing”. In order for nice people to be as effective as possible in their leadership they must resist the temptation to attempt to please everybody.

Effective leaders earn respect. And out of that respect will flow approval.

4. The temptation to expect too little from people.

Nice leaders will sometimes lower the bar so low for their people that the organization flounders in a sea of mediocrity. Our people will accomplish more if we set the bar high and show them how to get there.

Avoiding these temptations doesn’t mean becoming someone you’re not. Don’t fake tough.

Instead, if you’re a fellow nice person trying to make it as a leader, start by being aware of these temptations.

You may well find that being nice doesn’t disqualify you from effective leadership.

What have you learned about being “nice” in your leadership?


The Painful Road to a Leader’s Character Growth

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

It’s during seasons of pain and discomfort.

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

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

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

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

1.     When you’ve committed a leadership blunder

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

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

These thoughts can cause considerable pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever zigged when you should have zagged?

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

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

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

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

No one welcomes pain. No one hopes for discomfort.

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

And for leaders, that’s the ball game.

When have you seen your character grow the most?

4 Ways to Seize “Real Time” Leadership Moments

Updated from February 24, 2014 post

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

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

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

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

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

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

Effective leaders can learn something from this.

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

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

1.   Intentionality

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

2.   Margin

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

3.   Flexibility

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

4.   Creativity

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.       Recognize the signs of peripheral leadership

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

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

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

2.       Resist the seduction of peripheral leadership

Here’s the reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep moving in that direction.

Some time spent in the periphery is inevitable.

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

That’s where the impact happens.

How do you keep away from peripheral leadership?

4 Myths about Kindness Leaders Must Overcome

Updated from January 31, 2014 post

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

Each one is a kind leader.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How myths would you add to this list?


5 Ways That “Showing Up Leadership” Creates Huge Impact

Updated from December 12, 2013 post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.   You can noticeably boost morale.

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

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

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

4.   You can provide real-time coaching.

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

5.    You can spot your rising stars.

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

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

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

And it all starts by just showing up.

What leadership gains have you made by simply showing up?


The Character Crisis that can Chase People Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider using this checklist to form your own character audit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The result? A game-changing turn of events.

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

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

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

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

2.      People want to follow a leader with Inspiring Passion

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

3.      People want to follow a leader who loves them

“It’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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