November 25, 2015

Why Effective Leaders Never Say, “I’m So Busy!”

Updated from June 29, 2015 post

Every leader has seasons on their calendar which are more intense than others.

I’ve just completed a season of trips seeing me visit Global Leadership Summit teams in eight countries, and each of these teams were steeped in the frantic pace that accompanies such an enormous effort.

But I didn’t once hear these leaders complain, “I’m so busy!”


Well, these leaders have recognized the “I’m so busy” trap, and they avoid it at all cost.

As I outlined in this earlier post, 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.


Which Team Are you Leading Anyways?

During a stop on my leadership trip here in Asuncion, Paraguay, a discussion with one of my South American colleagues reminded me of a key leadership truth.

Every leader leads two teams; there’s the team you inherited, and there’s the team you built.

The team you inherited were already in place before you showed up. They had been assembled by your predecessor, and you simply came along to assume a leadership function.

The team you built is entirely different. These are the people you hand-selected. They are the people you identified, recruited, brought on board and developed.

On the surface they might look remarkably similar.

But experienced leaders will know the two both have great potential, but they must be led with different leadership skills.

The team you inherited:

  • May have a very different core values than the ones you seek to develop,
  • May be devoted to a different vision and may not fully embrace the vision you bring,
  • May provide you with instant cordiality, but not necessarily instant loyalty,

The team you built:

  • Likely carries the core values you seek, because you screened for this when you recruited them
  • Likely carries the vision you cherish, because they helped you develop it.
  • Is instantly more loyal to you because you brought them on board.

What does this mean to the leader?

1. You can sprint with the team you built, but you journey with the team you inherited.

You patiently bring them along with you to the place where they inhabit the values, vision and, yes, even loyalty, you have created in the team you built.

2. You understand that the journey with the team you inherited takes time.

Some will come on board remarkably quickly, a few will drag their feet but eventually embrace your leadership.

3. You recognize that some on the team you inherited will never come around.

At some point you will need to decide that they will need to find their future on some other team, under someone else’s leadership.

The bottom line is that you want everyone to be on the same page with vision, values and loyalty. But if a few people seem to be lagging behind, check to see if they might be on the team you inherited.

If they are, just be prepared for a longer journey.

In the end, the journey will be worth it.



3 Ways Leaders Can Win the Entitlement Battle

Recently, at a leadership gathering overseas, a slight mix-up in logistics resulted in a colleague and I being left behind.

At the conclusion of the day’s meetings it seemed no one was assigned to give us a ride back to the hotel. We were stranded, for almost three hours.

At one point my colleague turned to me and asked me why I seemed so relaxed.

“I actually did find myself growing annoyed for a minute,” I confessed.

But I went on to explain that what had changed my countenance was the reminder that any sense of indignation would violate one of my highest-held personal values.

I am entitled to nothing.

I don’t at all mean to sound self-congratulatory. But it is true that I find the sense of entitlement so repellent, in me or anyone else, that over the years I have developed three perspectives that help me fight the entitlement battle:

Perspective #1: The View Looking Back

When I consider that I was born into a loving family of Christ-followers, in a well-resourced part of the world, with educational and employment opportunities aplenty, it’s difficult to think of myself as “self-made”.

The only thing I’m entitled to is gratitude.

Perspective #2: The View Around the World

The opportunity for global travel has brought me face to face with the most abject poverty imaginable. Being made to wait for a car ride back to my comfortable hotel pales into insignificance when held up to the light of such suffering.

Perspective #3: The View Looking Above

I am a man of faith, and my personal values have been built on a foundation of Scripture.

So when the Apostle Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment,” (Romans 12:3) I take this very much to heart.

The challenge for leaders to fight the entitlement battle is not an easy one. And, to be clear, this is not a battle I always win. On occasion I still find myself muttering, “Don’t they know who I am?”

But then I quickly remember these three perspectives and my sense of entitlement tends to evaporate.

If you ever find even the smallest sense of entitlement creeping into your attitude, try remembering these perspectives.

They could give you the tools you need to finally win this important battle.

How Great Leaders Respond When the Pressure is On

At the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels spoke of a season in which he found himself under enormous pressure.

The problem was, he explained, he tended to put everyone around him under tremendous pressure too. Bill’s self-awareness helped him to learn to cope with pressure in a way that didn’t cause everyone in his orbit to board his personal “crazy train”, as a colleague put it.

Rather than inflicting unbearable pressure on everyone else, I’ve learned that the most effective leaders raise their leadership to a higher level during times of pressure, by consistently demonstrating three counter-intuitive qualities:

1.       Heightened authenticity

One leader for whom I worked would take me out for lunch just prior to the onslaught of a particularly intense season. And he would have the same conversation with me each time.

“Scott, I just want you to know that I’m entering into a period of intense pressure,” he would begin. “And you might notice cracks in my armor during this season. You always have permission to point it out when my ‘jerk-factor’ is starting to rise…”

Such authenticity is a counter-intuitive quality of effective leaders during times of pressure.

2.       Uncommon composure

I was once called upon to say some words to our team on the final work-day of a beloved colleague, who was moving to a different city.

“This person probably had some bad days during her time with our team,” I began. “But if she did, the rest of us never knew. She was the very picture of composure and grace at all times.”

I don’t know if I could offer higher praise to a leader under pressure.

3.       Unwavering passion

I’ve had the privilege of serving under the leadership of Willow Creek Association president Gary Schwammlein for close to 15 years.

And during that time I’ve been aware of seasons when ministry and personal circumstances have combined to form a cocktail of pressure that would have incapacitated a lesser leader.

But in the case of this remarkable leader, such seasons have seen his passion seemingly increase, rather than waver. Counter-intuitive, to be sure, but nonetheless a mark of effective leadership.

The next time you face such pressure take a “pressure-response” inventory. Will you respond with composure, authenticity and passion?

Or will you invite everyone around you to join you on the crazy train?

Your Ownership Reveals Your Leadership

Updated from June 15, 2015 post

As the leadership team from the Willow Creek Association puts its final touches on our 2016 plan, it calls to mind a vital leadership lesson that emerged in a previous meeting.

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?


What Customer Service Reveals About Untapped Leadership

Looking for untapped leadership potential?

Try looking for the person who is providing outstanding customer service.


That was one of the key take-away’s I jotted across my notebook page at this year’s Global Leadership Summit.

The session featured Horst Schulze, COO of the Ritz Carlton Hotels. In his fantastic talk, Schulze challenged leaders to explore the relationship between leadership and customer service.

And as he built his case, it dawned on me that when you spot outstanding customer service, you may actually be seeing evidence in that person that there is remarkable leadership potential waiting to be discovered and developed.

Because those who provide exemplary customer service are;

  • Others-focused
  • Intuitive
  • Solution-oriented
  • Initiative takers.

In other words, the core qualities of someone who provides exceptional service are the very qualities you would look for in a rising leader.

Several years ago I saw this truth played out while waiting to pick up two conference speakers in the Calgary airport. This was before cell phones, and the speakers were arriving at the same time, on separate flights, at completely opposite ends of the terminal.

But a sharp thinking airport volunteer recognized my dilemma and offered to wait for one speaker, while I went to meet the other.

But she did much more than simply tell my arriving guest that I would be a few minutes late. When I returned to that part of the airport I found her sitting in a local café having coffee with my conference speaker. She made him feel welcome, at ease, and well cared-for.

That volunteer had exhibited not only exceptional customer service. She had demonstrated core leadership ability.

She recognized a problem, she took initiative to find a solution, and she executed her solution with excellence.

That’s leadership.

Ever since then I’ve kept a watchful eye out for people inside and outside organizations I lead who exhibit these qualities. And more often than not, I’ve discovered that inside the person who is providing such service, lies the heart of a leader.

Who have you encountered of late who has provided exceptional customer service? Perhaps there’s someone in your own organization whom you have observed going well above and beyond the call of duty in order to provide great service to a customer or to a member of your church.

You might well have found someone with more than great customer service skills.

You might have found your next rising leader.



3 Ways Leaders Can Achieve Much More than Mere “Balance”

Updated from June 2, 2014 post

We all have busy seasons.

I’m in one of mine right now.

It’s a season of the year with extensive travel, with tight deadlines, and with important events happening in my family, my church and in my relational world.

In such seasons the first thing many leaders aspire towards is “balance”. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about navigating these seasons, it’s this:

“Balance” doesn’t exist.

At least, not for effective leaders.

There are two basic problems with the quest for balance.

First of all, no one can really define it. Does it mean you spend equal amounts of time at work, at home, at leisure, at study, and so on?

That’s ludicrous.

Secondly, the pursuit of work-life balance assumes you can, and should, segment your life. It suggests your life has a segment called “Work”, another called “Family”, another called “Spiritual” another called “Recreational”, and so on.

Life just doesn’t work like that.

At least, not for effective leaders.


Effective leaders set their sights much higher than mere balance. They strive instead for alignment in every area of their life.

It’s the idea that the various areas of your life flow together, weaving in and out of your world, resulting in fulfillment in every area of your life.

But to achieve this, leaders must establish 3 key foundations.

1.  A crystal-clear sense of personal purpose

Your life must have a clearly defined goal that brings every area of your life into alignment. In my own life, I seek to honor God in all that I do. That’s the plumb line that runs through my home, my work, my exercise, even my hobbies.

2.  An unshakable set of personal values

You can’t have one set of values in your marriage and family, and another set you use for leading your organization.

3.  An ironclad structure of personal priorities

My wife comes first. My children are second. My church is third. My work is fourth. And so on.

Over-arching everything, in my own life, is God. He is in all, and through all.

Having a clearly defined set of personal values helps you to know where, at any given time, you should be devoting your energies.

None of this is to suggest you’ll never feel the pull to spend less time at the office, nor does it mean that every life decision will automatically be easy.

But it does mean that you can actually achieve a deep sense of fulfillment in every area of your life.

And for leaders, that’s a lot better than mere balance.

How do you juggle the demands of leadership in your busy life?

Beware of these 5 Fake Leadership Costumes

Updated from July 18, 2013 post

October 31st is Halloween in many parts of the world. In recognition of the day’s traditions, I’m revisiting the importance of leaders avoiding wearing certain “costumes”…


Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a hilarious routine about being given a Superman costume for a Halloween present.

Reading the box, he was surprised to read the disclaimer, “Do not attempt to fly!”

“I love the idea of the kid who’s stupid enough to think he really is Superman,” Seinfeld muses, “but smart enough to check that box before he goes off the roof.”


Thinking that by merely putting on the right costume it could somehow magically transform you.

And yet some people think that’s how leadership works.

They’ve seen the costume and believe that if they simply put it on then they too will be magically transformed into a leader.

These fake leadership costumes come in a variety of forms. Here are five of the most common:

1.   Bossy-ness

Simply barking out orders doesn’t make you a leader.

Usually it just makes a person a bit obnoxious.

2.   Busy-ness

This is a common one. Some people actually believe that by darting frantically from one disjointed activity to another, it must mean they are a great leader.

Often it means only that the person is either unfocused or a poor time manager.

 3.   Distracted-ness

This costume is easy to spot.

It’s worn by the person who keeps their smart phone on ready alert, even when they’re in a conversation with you. At the slightest vibration their attention is immediately diverted away from you and onto their device.

That’s no indication of leadership. Really, it’s just poor manners.

 4.   Crankiness

This one is a personal favorite. Some people actually believe that simply by taking on a frustrated disposition it indicates that they must be carrying huge leadership responsibilities.

Actually, it just means they’re not much fun to be around.

 5.   Talky-ness

While it’s true that effective leaders are good communicators, some people get this one all wrong. They believe that they can be a leader simply by being able to talk…and talk…and talk…and talk…and talk…

But anyone can talk. Leaders, on the other hand, communicate. Huge difference.

Bill Hybels has provided what I believe is one of the best definitions of leadership ever given. “Leadership,” he explains, “is being able to move people from here to there.”

In other words, the measurement of leadership is, “Are you taking people with you to a goal?”

If not, you might just be wearing the costume.

What other forms of leadership costumes have you seen?


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

Updated from May 25, 2015 post

My leadership trip in Mexico continued this week with a day spent with some of our Global Leadership Summit partners from this region.

One common characteristic of these leaders that struck me immediately was their focus on leading where it matters. These are leaders who understand that, for leadership to be effective, it must be applied at the very heart of an issue, not out on the edge.

As I wrote in this earlier post, this means leaders must learn how to move away from the periphery, and move straight towards the core.

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?


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

Updated from May 11, 2015 post

Budgeting and planning season continues at the WCA, and as it does a key leadership principle has been driven home to me yet again.

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

Each idea our team has put on the table has been improved through the relentless asking of great questions.

Earlier this year that principle was unpacked masterfully by Bill Hybels during a leadership coaching session in Brazil.

A keen young church leader had asked Bill, “How can I get more people to join my ministry program?”

As I wrote about in this earlier post, the result was 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?


3 Declarations That Have Guided My Leadership for 30 Years

Updated from April 20, 2015 post]

This week in Sydney, Australia, I was privileged to spend time with some young, emerging leaders whose appetite for personal development was inspiring.

One of these young leaders asked about my own growth as a leader, and I immediately thought back to this earlier post. Here I had outlined 3 critical declarations that have guided my own leadership development for 30 years.

When I was about 20 years old, 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?]


Why Leaders Must Hold the Decision-Making Key

Updated from April 1, 2015 post

My leadership tour through Australia continues this week with several days here in Sydney, connecting with our ministry friends at Hillsong Church.

As I’ve been spending time with the leaders of Hillsong I’ve been struck by the overall health of their leadership culture. One aspect of this is evidenced by the clarity I’ve seen in the area of decision-making.

And it has reminded me that, as I noted in this earlier post, when there is fuzziness on ‘who holds the decision key’, entire organizations can grind to a halt.

Here’s what I mean:

Several years ago 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

I’m currently on three week leadership tour through Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

And while the meetings have been tremendous, there have certainly been problems that needed to be solved; some of them seemingly unsolvable at first glance.

But at the point where it seems I just can’t find a solution, I find myself remembering an important leadership truth I learned years ago:

When you face an unsolvable leadership challenge, start by making sure you’re looking for the solution in the right bucket.

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?


The Character Crisis that can Chase People Away

Updated from May 16, 2015 post

I’m connecting with leaders in Australia this week, and today a question came up that goes to the heart of authentic leadership.

A sharp leader asked, “What character traits are the biggest obstacles for leaders to overcome?”

In response, I pointed back to an insight shared by Bill Hybels earlier this year, where he underscored two deadly leadership characteristics.

In a coaching session in Brazil, Bill talked about two qualities in leaders that will chase people away.

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

As Bill talked about this, 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?


3 Signs Your Leadership Requires a Self-Awareness Tune Up

Baby boomers will remember well the power ballad “Who Are You?” made famous by the British rock band, The Who.

Many of us from that era can recall cranking up our 8-track tapes to hear Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend and the boys bellowing out the lyrics, “Who are you…Who, who, who, who?”

Ya, on the one hand, the lyrics are pretty inane.

But for leaders these words pose a question that must be wrestled with on an ongoing basis.

You see, if a leader is going to have maximum impact, it requires a level of self-awareness. Leaders need to be able to fully understand:

  • Their strengths
  • Their weaknesses
  • Their areas of vulnerability
  • Their areas for potential growth
  • Tasks they can likely accomplish on their own
  • Tasks that will likely require them to call in some help.

In other words, it requires being able to answer that question asked by The Who, “Who are you?”

Here are 3 indicators you might need a self-awareness tune up.

1.      Your leadership style is more influenced by copying, than it is by authentic learning.

Self-aware leaders will have a broad spectrum of leaders from whom they will seek to learn leadership principles.

But lack of self-awareness can result in mere copying; a fairly shallow means of attempting to replicate the styles or mannerisms of other leaders, and of adopting these as one’s own.

2.      You receive no positive feedback in areas you believe to be your strengths.

Do you believe you’re a great communicator? How come no one else tells you that?

Do you believe you’re a powerful vision-castor? How come people don’t affirm this in you?

You could be powerfully gifted in other leadership areas. But if no one is giving you high-fives for what you believe is an area of leadership strength, it might not be. And it might be time for a self-awareness tune up.

3.      You always seem to have an excuse for lack of results

When projects consistently go off the rails, self-aware leaders will begin by looking in the mirror to see what role their own leadership played in the outcome.

But where there is lack of self-awareness there will instead be blame, excuses, and finger-pointing.

The good news is that lack of self-awareness can be overcome, and it might just begin by considering these three indicators.

And a pretty good starting place might be found in simply answering the song lyric question, “Who are you?”

3 Dimensions of Grit in Leadership Development

Would you use the word “grit” to describe your commitment to leadership development?

At this year’s Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels taught on the “5 Intangibles of Leadership”, starting off with the concept of “grit”.

In defining grit, Bill quoted psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth by saying, “Grit is passion and perseverance over the long haul.”

Can such grit actually apply to your own commitment to developing yourself as a leader?

To see if this applies to you, ask yourself these three questions:

1. How much effort would I expend to expose myself to leadership development?

With the international Global Leadership Summit season now upon us it is, I am reminded of how much leadership development grit we’ve seen around the world. In parts of Africa we have seen pastors who would walk for several hours, or days, to sharpen their leadership skills by attending the Global Leadership Summit.

That’s leadership development grit.

2. Over the years is my appetite for development growing or waning?

Not long ago I spoke with my friend Phillip Mutzelburg, who helped to found the Willow Creek Association in Australia more than 20 years ago

An accomplished leader in the church, business and the military, I asked him what keeps his drive for leadership development alive. His response? “I keep discovering how much I have to learn.”

That’s leadership development grit.

3. How far do you push your leadership development boundaries?

By that I mean, do you keep looking for, and learning from, new leadership authors and experiences?

One leader I spoke to in the Philippines told me, “What keeps me coming back to the Global Leadership Summit each year is the exposure it gives me to brand new concepts from leaders I’ve sometimes never even heard of.”

That’s leadership development grit.

To grow as a leader requires enormous tenacity and resolve over a long period of time. It is not, as Bill reminded us, for the faint of heart.

Let me urge you to evaluate your “grit level” through these simple questions.

Because as your grit towards development goes up, you can be sure your effectiveness in leadership will grow just as much.

How do you maintain grit in your own development?



Avoiding 10 Leadership Credibility Killers

Updated from February 5, 2015 post

Leadership is built on a foundation of credibility.

Take away a leader’s credibility and you’ve lost the platform from which leadership is built.

I’ve been focusing a great deal of late on the critical importance of credibility in leadership. And, as I noted in this post from earlier this year, in my opinion few leaders have captured the essence of this better than Bill Hybels.

While coaching a group of leaders in Hong Kong, Bill sounded a loud warning against, what I am calling, “credibility killers”.

A leader had asked Bill,  “What would you say about a problem I have that I believe is hurting my leadership. At work I tend to have a very bad temper and I think it is hurting my effectiveness.”

Bill let the comment hang in the air a moment or two, then responded with wisdom, clarity and kindness.

“First of all,” Bill began, “Thank you for the vulnerability you have shown in asking such a question. That shows courage. Now, to your question about losing your temper, I have two words you need to hear; ‘Understandable’, and ‘inexcusable’.”

Bill went on to explain.

“That lack of control will undermine your leadership at its core. It’s understandable, in that anger is a very human emotion. But it’s inexcusable in that when your teammates see you lose control your credibility takes an enormous hit.”

Immediately, I scrawled this line across my notebook, “Consistently losing your temper is a credibility killer.”

But I would later fill in my page with what I reflected were other “credibility killers”. Credibility killers happen when leaders consistently

  1. Fail to follow through on commitments
  2. Tell half-truths
  3. Avoid the hard conversations
  4. Don’t put in a full day’s work
  5. Blame others when goals are not met
  6. Display lack of competence in key functions
  7. Belittle others
  8. Claim credit for others’ work or ideas
  9. “Spin” bad news
  10.  Display arrogance

This list is merely the tip of the credibility iceberg.

The reality is, credibility is the currency of leadership. Without it effective leadership becomes almost impossible.

This is why, I believe, Bill took time to patiently explain the vital importance of this principle.

And it’s why every leader needs to take a close look at any credibility-killers that might be eroding their leadership effectiveness.

Because when credibility is gone, it’s tough to get it back.

What would you add to this list?


How I Learned the Importance of Tuning Fork Leadership

Updated from July 12, 2012 post

This week, the Willow Creek Association held our annual gathering of Summit host pastors from across the U.S., to debrief the recently held Global Leadership Summit.

One dynamic I found fascinating was to observe how many leadership “tuning fork” moments took place. These are moments when it appears that we could potentially veer off course, only to have another leader bring a note of clarity to the conversation, which serves to keep things on track.

As I wrote in this earlier post, I first learned the value of these tuning fork moments several years ago, and the value of these moments continues to guide my leadership to this day.

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 have learned 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?


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

Updated from July 26, 2013 post

Our Willow Creek Association team has been bolstered recently by the addition of a couple of high-caliber new teammates.
And in each case I have come to quickly realize that these new members of the team possess the same traits of strong character that have come to exemplify our culture.
How can I be so sure?
Well, as I outlined in this earlier post, there are at least 10 signs I look for that reveal the type of character that makes for a great team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you’re adding people to your team, follow up by talking with every reference, and talk to the references of references. Talk to their former employer. Ask of they’d hire this person again.

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

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

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


How Leaders Restore Sanity to the Excellence Value

Updated from March 13, 2012 post

In the aftermath of the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, one of the pieces of feedback I’ve heard over and over is an appreciation for the level of excellence in the experience.

While the fact that this was noticed is gratifying, somewhat less obvious is that it was healthy excellence that made all the difference.

What do I mean by healthy excellence? This earlier post unpacks some important principles.

If you want to move towards a healthy view of excellence,  here are three important distinctions that must be understood.

1.   Understand the distinction between professionalism and excellence
Professionalism is an often misguided attempt to mimic the sheen and polish of a Broadway production or Hollywood blockbuster. At its heart, professionalism is merely showmanship.

Whereas the heart of excellence, to quote Bill Hybels, “honous God and inspires people”. It’s reflected in a passionate desire to simply not settle for anything less than our best.

2.   Understand the distinction between individual excellence and corporate excellence
Individual excellence means “do your best”. Corporate excellence means “do OUR best”.

This shows up all the time in local churches. For example, if deacon Joe sings a solo at the weekend service, individual excellence would call him to do HIS best. But if he simply cannot sing well, and if there are others in the church far more gifted in vocal ministry, corporate excellence would call for that more gifted person to do the solo.

Corporate excellence calls for the organization’s best, not just an individual’s best.

3.   Understand the distinction between perfection and excellence
Perfection, almost by definition, is either unattainable or unsustainable. It can lead to an almost neurotic pursuit of error-free performance that can suck the joy out of your organization.

Excellence, on the other hand, creates an inspiring environment which sees teams spurring one another on. It recognizes that God has only ever given us His very best; therefore we ought to do no less for Him.

If the excellence value has been causing your organization undue angst, don’t discard the value. Instead, take it out, brush it off, and apply these three points of clarity to how you live it out.

Your sanity will be restored, and your organization may indeed move to new heights of excellence you never thought possible.

How do you apply the excellence value in your organization?