May 6, 2015

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?

For Leaders, It’s Not About Time; It’s About How You Think About Time

Updated from November 27, 2014 post

As I wrap up this Global Leadership Summit “Vision Tour” here in Panama, I find myself thinking back to the hundreds of leaders with whom I’ve connected this month. From Brazil to South Africa, Australia, and on here to Panama, the passion of these leaders has certainly filled my vision-tank.

The best of these leaders have each demonstrated one of the most critical of all leadership disciplines, and that is the ability to wisely use time. More specifically, they have demonstrated the distinctive way that effective leaders think about time.

As I noted in this earlier blog post, this is what sets pace-setting leaders apart from everyone else.

When people ask me about the biggest leadership lesson I’ve learned, my mind quickly races back to a critical moment fairly early in my leadership.

It was when I learned that the effectiveness of my leadership was tied to how I think about time.

I had recently been moved up into my first middle manager position in a medium-sized company.

Those early days overwhelmed me. I couldn’t seem to get anything done on time.

Everyone was upset with me. The sales department was upset with me. The clients were upset with me. My staff was upset with me.

Fortunately, one person who was not upset with me, was my boss. Taking me aside one day, he told me that if I was going to find success I would need to start thinking about time the way a leader does.

He would instill in me three crucial ways leaders think about time:

1.       Time is the great equalizer; we all receive the same 24 hours every day

“Scott, you might not have the same talent as all other leaders,” he would say, “You might not have the same level of financial resources. But I can guarantee that you started today with the same 24 hours as every other leader in the world. Learn to master your time.”

That simple, but profound starting point, was huge.

2.       Leaders don’t merely manage time; they invest it

“Here’s what great leaders know, Scott,” he would go on. “Time is not something to be managed. It’s a precious resource to be invested.”

That took my thinking from “management” to “leadership”.

3.       Leaders align time with values and priorities

“One reason you’ve been struggling is that you’ve bought into the ‘first things first’ mindset,” he would say. “Leader don’t think that way. They think, ‘IMPORTANT things first.”

I learned that leaders must be crystal clear on values and strategic priorities, and then drive their time investments through those priorities.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by all that’s on your plate, perhaps it’s not about your time. It could be how you think about your time.

Develop leadership thinking habits about time.

Because the effectiveness of your leadership is tied to how you think about time.

What have you learned about how leaders think about time?


Why the Big Picture is Such a Big Deal for Leaders

Updated from November 24, 2014 post

One of the benefits of grabbing a few days of family time here in Australia in the midst of my month-long Vision tour, is the opportunity to step back and reclaim the “big picture”.

In the daily grind of leadership it’s easy to lose focus of what really matters most. For leaders, taking the time to clarify the big picture is a vital discipline.

In fact, as I noted in this earlier post, this discipline can be a leadership game-changer.

The importance of the Big Picture was vividly demonstrated a few years ago in the locker room of a pro hockey team. It was late in the season and the team was battling for a playoff spot. At the same time, several players were closing in on individual point totals that would qualify them for performance bonuses.

After practice the coach gathered the team around and said to one of the players, “How many points do you need for your bonus?”

“7, coach,” came the reply.

The coach looked at another player. “And you?”

“9 points, coach,” he responded immediately.

The coach nodded and looked at the next player. “You?”

“5 points coach.”

The coach nodded and silently walked around the room. After a few minutes he looked back at the team and said quietly, “We are fighting for our playoff lives. Who can tell me how many wins we need to secure a playoff spot?”

Each player slowly cast his eyes to the floor. No one would look up. No one knew the answer.

“…and that, team,” the coach quietly concluded, “Is our biggest problem.”

There’s nothing wrong with individual performance goals. In fact, they’re very important. But the job of the leader is to help each person understand how their individual accomplishments fit in to the bigger picture.

Can you tell if the big picture is fading into the background?

Absolutely. Here are three of the biggest indicators.

1.  Your culture replaces collaboration with competition

Not all competition is unhealthy in your culture. But when it trumps collaboration and team work, it’s a sure sign the big picture needs to be reinforced.

2.  The team has little interest in celebrating group accomplishments

Watch the energy when the accomplishment of a team goal is being celebrated. Low energy tells you the big picture isn’t being embraced.

3.  Water cooler talk centers on individual accomplishments.

Again, individual accomplishments should be recognized. But if that’s all people are talking about you need to polish up the big picture for your team.

So keep the big picture front and center for your team.

That might be the most important picture you’ll ever paint.

How do you keep the big picture front and center?


The Secret “One-Two Punch” of Effective Leadership

Updated from November 10, 2014 post

I am coming away from this week’s Brisbane meetings of Global Leadership Summit (GLS) leaders from Australia and New Zealand with many lasting impressions.

But none has been more impacting than to see both their passion as well as their strong sense of drive and purpose.

This powerful combination is foundational to effective leadership. And as I reflected in this earlier post, it’s a combination leaders must strive to master.

It’s no secret. Passion is a required trait for any leader.

But effective leaders know that passion is only one part of a leader’s one-two punch.

For long-lasting impact to occur, a heavy dose of discipline must come along right after passion.

Discipline is the ability to systematically and methodically push through obstacles. It’s what enables a leader to channel all of that passion into a sustainable plan that delivers results.

Together, passion and discipline create a formidable leadership combination.

Here are 10 realities leaders know about the one-two punch of passion and discipline:

1.  Passion sees the vision. Discipline translates it into action.

2.  Passion attracts a team. Discipline builds the team

3.  Passion makes good decisions. Discipline implements the decisions.

4.  Passion establishes values. Discipline lives the values out.

5.  Passion envisions a healthy culture. Discipline makes it happen.

6.  Passion describes the goal. Discipline forms the strategy to reach the goal.

7.  Passion creates priorities. Discipline executes the priorities.

8.  Passion generates ideas. Discipline turns them into reality.

9.   Passion challenges people to grow. Discipline helps them do it.

10.             Passion drives innovation. Discipline drives implementation.

The point, of course, is not that one is more important than the other.

Rather, passion and discipline are dependent on each other.

But the reality is, passion gets more press. Passion is flashier. But without the discipline to translate all that passion into action, you’re left with nothing more than hype.

So by all means, be sure your leadership contains plenty of passion.

Just be sure it’s followed up by a heavy dose of discipline.

That’s the one-two punch you’ll need for long-lasting, high-impact results.

How do you make sure discipline always accompanies passion in your leadership?


5 Signs You’ve Taken Your Eye Off the Leadership Ball

Updated from November 3, 2014 post

I think what has impressed me most about the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) leaders we’ve met with this week in South Africa is their clarity and focus.

This gathering of leaders from some 40 GLS sites across southern Africa has reminded me again just how important focus is for a leader. And it has reminded me of a time when I lost focus, and took my off the leadership ball.

In case you missed it, here’s that story again; and what I learned from it.

It only takes a second.

A brief moment when, just for an instant, a receiver in an (American) football game takes his eye off the ball.

That fleeting moment of lost focus can not only result in a dropped pass, sometimes it can cost the team the game.

It’s no different in the game of leadership.

One of the most important roles of the leader is to ensure that they, and their team, are keeping their eye on the ball at all times.

That means providing clarity of focus and helping each person know which priorities require attention.

In one of my early leadership roles I found myself second-in-command in an organization with about 40 employees. One day a department head came to me with a plan to relocate her team’s offices to a different part of the building.

The basic idea made sense, so I took the proposal to the senior leader.

His feedback? “Scott, your job is to keep everyone’s eye on the ball. That department is under-performing, and rather than helping them get on track you want their energy to go towards an office relocation?”

I’ve never forgotten that counsel, nor the lesson it taught me.

Leaders must keep their eye on the ball at all times.

Here are 5 indicators that you might have taken your eye off the ball:

1.  There is no alignment in your “to do” list

A clear, direct line should run between your daily activities and your most important goals.

2.  Your team is vague on today’s highest priorities

Every member of your team should be able to state unequivocally how their assignments are furthering the organization’s objectives.

3.  You are being sidetracked with “busy work”

Busy work are tasks you indulge in which keeps your time occupied, but which does little to advance key objectives.

4.  You’ve been avoiding difficult conversations

In order to keep your team on track it requires the occasional tough conversation, where you correct mission-drift.

5.  You haven’t noticed measurable movement towards key goals

If neither you, nor your team, can point to recent “wins” with respect to key goals, you’ve likely taken your eye off the ball.

Watch vigilantly for these indicators.

Because when the game really counts, your focus matters more than ever.

How do you keep your eye on the leadership ball?


Are You a Leadership Hoarder, Lender, or Giver?

Updated from October 9, 2014 post

Having meetings with dynamic church leaders this week in Cape Town, South Africa, I’ve been reminded once again of the kind of leadership that delivers impact.

Against significant odds, these leaders have been giving selflessly of themselves in order to achieve the greatest possible impact.

These generous leaders reminded me of an earlier post, where I examined how generosity in leadership is key to extraordinary results.

In your leadership, are you a hoarder, a lender or a giver?

How you answer that question will go a long way to determining what kind of impact you’ll have.

The hoarding leader

This is someone who devours leadership learnings, but keeps it all to themselves. Rather than investing their knowledge and experience in other rising leaders, the hoarding leader will simply amass more and more leadership knowledge.

Sometimes they’ll toss out some leadership nuggets they’ve picked up someplace, or they’ll casually mention the title of the latest leadership book they’ve read, but this will be more to impress people than to build into them.

Ultimately the hoarding leader will have almost no impact. They’ll just keep reading leadership books (and blogs), they’ll listen to leadership podcasts and they’ll attend leadership conferences.

But no one else will derive any benefit from any of it.

The lending leader

This person is a notch better than the hoarding leader. But not by much.

They will indeed share their leadership insights with others. And these lending leaders will do so in the hope that others will develop as a result.

But lending leaders have an agenda. Like a money lender, lending leaders expect something in return. While they will invest in rising leaders, their hope will be that this investment will yield dividends that will benefit themselves in some way.

The giving leader

Ultimately, it is only the giving leader who will make a lasting impact.

That’s because giving leaders selflessly invest all of who they are in the development of others, with no thought to any personal reward.

Giving leaders are driven only by the desire to see other leaders grow, mature and develop. Giving leaders recognize that the investments they have received are not meant to be either hoarded or exchanged. They know that their experiences and learnings are a gift that must be shared.

So they’ll study leadership and they’ll learn everything they can from their own experiences. Then they’ll take this rich investment and they’ll pour it into the development of rising leaders around them.

So, once again, what kind of leader are you?

If you truly desire to make a positive, lasting impact, the only route is to be the kind who gives it all away.

How do you give away your leadership?


3 Warning Signs of an Impending Leadership Train Wreck

Updated from September 18, 2014 post

We’re wrapping meetings with our Global Leadership Summit partners here in Sao Paulo where leaders from 36 sites have been planning and dreaming about the future of the movement in Brazil.

I came away encouraged by the both the energy of these leaders, alongside their strong emotional intelligence. 

And it took me back to an earlier blog, where I warned of the impending leadership train wreck that can be expected when leadership aggression outstrips leadership emotional intelligence.

Have you ever witnessed a leadership train wreck?

It can leave carnage and destruction that can sometimes be beyond repair.

But if you know the warning signs to look for, these train wrecks can be completely avoidable.

Warning signal #1: Talking is trumping listening

Leaders are communicators. But before launching any course of action, seasoned leaders will listen to, and even solicit, the opinions of trusted voices.

“Is there another way to look at this?” “Have we considered all of the angles?” Effective leaders want answers to these questions.

If you don’t stop talking long enough to hear them, a train wreck could be coming.

Warning signal #2: Action is trumping discernment

A bias towards action is a vital component in the make-up of a leader.

But if that bias toward action is increasingly drowning out the need for discernment, a train wreck won’t be far behind.

In his book, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven Sample notes that when presented with a problem the first thing he would ask is, “How much time do I have?” Despite a desire to move to action, Sample wanted as much time as possible to think through the issue facing him.

Wise leaders do the same.

Warning signal #3: Emotions are trumping passions

Leaders are people of passion.

But that’s not the same as being overly emotional. Because when a leader is fueled by raw feelings of anger or frustration it can be very easy to make unwise, even foolish, decisions.

If you want to avoid a train wreck keep your passion high, but your emotions in check.

None of this is to suggest that leaders should be passive or afraid to act.

But watch for these warning signs. They’ll keep your leadership securely on the right track.