July 24, 2014

Why Leaders Must Stop Feeding the Dragons

Originally posted June 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of these dragons include:

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

You get the idea.

These are all dragons that must be fed.

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

If you don’t slay them:

1.   It could be hard to recruit top leaders

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

2.   Donor fatigue could set in

Donors want to see forward motion

3.   Staff could be de-motivated

Who wants to devote their time and talent to something increasingly outdated?

4.   Lethargy could settle into your constituents

A “here we go again” culture can quickly develop

5.   You could find yourself at risk of burnout

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

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

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

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

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

What are the dragons you might be feeding?


How Leaders Prevent Falling Off the Arrogance Cliff

My favorite cartoon has always been The Roadrunner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The circle of close advisers

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

  • The circle of senior team members

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

  • The circle of trusted outside voices

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

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

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

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

How do you self-confidence from turning into arrogance?

3 Character Warning Lights Leaders Must Recognize

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

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

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

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

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

1.  The “humble-brag” warning light

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

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

2.  The exaggeration warning light

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

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

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

3.  The rationalization warning light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Unlikely Reasons Leaders Must Spark New Ideas

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

Try it.

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

Try it anyways.

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

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

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

1.  New ideas keeps innovation in the cultural DNA.

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

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

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

2.  New ideas sharpens and develops your people.

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

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

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

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

3. New ideas tend to reproduce themselves.

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

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

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

Voila, the Post-It Note was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you create a culture of innovation?

6 Suprising Words Leaders Should Say More Often

Originally posted February 15, 2013







These are some of the power words of leadership.

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

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

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

What are these surprising leadership words?

1.   “Sorry”

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

2.   “Think”

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

3.   “Relax”

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

4.   “Help”

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

5.   “Enough”

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

6.   “Enter”

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

Pay attention to the words you use.

Do they convey urgency and a drive towards achieving goals?

Good. Leaders’ words should do that.

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

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

What would you add to this list?

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

Updated from July 26, 2013 post

A half truth.

A questionable use of time.

Poor judgment concerning the use of ministry resources.

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

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

The question is, how do you find these people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The 5 Absolutely Worst Ways to Instill Organizational Values

Effective leaders are 24/7 Values-Driving machines.

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

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

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

1.  By establishing policies

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

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

2.  By under-modeling the values

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

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

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

3.  By mentioning values just once a year

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

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

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

4.  By only catching people doing something wrong

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

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

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

5. By delegating values to H.R.

Classic leadership mistake.

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

That job stays on the leader’s shoulders.

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

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

What values-killers would you add to the list?



How to turn “There was a day” into “I have a dream”

“We may be small now, but there was a day…”

“We may not have a lot of impact now, but there was a day…”

“We may be struggling now, but there was a day…”

When a leader begins to make these kinds of wistful, nostalgic reflections it’s a warning sign that vision has been replaced by a memory.

And that’s often an indicator that the organization is slipping into irrelevance.

The challenge for leaders is that accomplishments of the past are very often the “happy place” for people in the organization.

People love to relive achievements of a former time and they’ll cling to these memories at the expense of grasping a new, forward-looking vision.

So how do you move people past their former glories and towards a fresh, exciting new vision? Effective leaders handle this transition sensitively and masterfully.

1.  Don’t blast the past

It can be frustrating for a forward-looking leader to have to deal with all of this nostalgia. But resist the temptation to cast aspersions on those former glories.

If you begin ridiculing or ignoring earlier accomplishments you’ll only alienate those you need to bring forward with you.

2.  Celebrate the values, not the accomplishments

Remind people of the important values that were represented in those former achievements.

A leader I knew couldn’t get his people to stop wallowing in the memory of how they had rallied to provide community aide during a natural disaster…15 years ago!

Wisely, he began to remind people that what was worth celebrating was not the activity itself, but the value of community impact it had represented.

3.  Leverage this value to create forward energy

“We lived out that value before…It’s time to live it out again!”

That was the rallying cry my friend used to build a bridge between the former memory and the new vision. He created discussion forums where people could openly share their own perspective on what an updated, relevant expression of that value might look like today and in the future.

The point is, effective leader harness the energy of the memory to provide fuel for a new vision.

And when that happens, “There was a day…” will soon become “I have a dream!”

How have you been able to turn a memory into a vision?

3 Unmistakable Indicators You’re Growing as a Leader

Updated from February 1, 2013 post

Can you actually measure the effectiveness of your leadership development?


In fact, measuring your progress is not only possible, it’s imperative.

Imagine if you could somehow really tell if all the leadership books you are reading and the seminars you are attending are paying off.

Without a reliable set of indicators to gauge the impact of your development plan you could be spinning your wheels. On the other hand, when you can recognize the indicators of progress it can give you tremendous personal momentum.

So, how do you do it? How do you know if you are actually growing as a leader?

The key is to look for these unmistakable leadership development indicators:

1.   You are attracting higher capacity leaders into your orbit

John Maxwell has rightly pointed out that if you are a “6” or a “7” as a leader, you will never attract “8’s” and “9’s”. You will only be able to lead “4’s” and “5’s”.

But if you are actually growing as a leader, one of the first indicators will be that those high capacity leaders will begin to be drawn to you.

2.   Your opinion is not only being heard, it is being sought out

Watch what happens around a discussion table when it’s time for a key decision to be made.

Long before there’s a show of hands, long before the vote is taken, the discussion leader will say something like, “So, what do the rest of you think?”

At that moment, watch which way everyone’s head turns.

If you are growing in your leadership, then increasingly those heads will turn towards you.

3.   There are increasing numbers of leaders in your circle

This is not a function of leadership attraction, as much as it is a function of leadership production.

Because, growing leaders produce growing leaders.

If you are indeed growing in your leadership then you should see evidence of a growing number of leaders emerging whom you are building into.

So, over time, watch for these unmistakable indicators to become increasingly evident in your life.

They’ll be signaling that your leadership development efforts are paying off.

How else can you tell if you are growing as a leader? 


The 5 “Isms” of Insecure Leadership

Originally posted February 17, 2014

“A lot can happen when you have an insecure leader. None of it very good.”

That wisdom from a church leader with whom I served in Canada has stayed with me for years.

He was pointing out that an insecure leader will inevitably speak or act in ways that ultimately will do harm to the people or organization.

Ever since then I’ve learned to keep a watchful eye out for signs of insecurity in my own leadership, and those around me.

Here are what I’ve found are 5 of the most common indicators of an insecure leader:

1.   Me-ism

Me-ism is a particularly destructive trait among insecure leaders. It frequently shows up as an undeserved demand for esteem. Rather than focusing their energies on the needs of the organization, the me-ist leader sees everyone and everything as revolving around themselves.

2.   Stubborn-ism

The stubbornist is the leader who pushes an idea regardless of input being provided by the rest of the team. Even when an idea has been demonstrated as being unwise, the stubbornist will cling to it and push it even if only to save face.

All of this flows out of insecurity.

3.   Talk-ism

The insecure leader can often be spotted merely by the volume of words they feel compelled to spew. Talk-ists seem to justify their leadership by the word count; the more they talk, the more important they must be.

4.   Agree-ism

Insecurity often leads to people-pleasing, and one of the first indicators of this is an uncontrollable desire to agree with just about everyone.

Eventually of course, this gets the leader into trouble, when they realize they are agreeing with opposing views on the same topic. Such leadership will grind forward movement to a halt.

5.   Defensive-ism

The insecure leader will often respond very negatively to opposing views. Even when those views are presented with respect, the insecure leader will sometimes lash out, feeling that their tenuous position of authority has been threatened.

The reason? The insecure leader can’t separate the idea from their own identity. And the result is a team unwilling or unable to present genuinely fresh, innovative ideas of their own.

So keep on guard for these indicators of an insecure leader and learn to develop grow through these various “isms”.

Because as my friend said, as an insecure leader you can still accomplish a lot. But none of it very good.

What other indicators of insecure leaders have you seen?


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

Updated from November 4, 2011 post

Just before you pull the trigger on that change you want to introduce, ask yourself, “Is this worth cashing in my chips?”

cashing in my chips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What might this mean for you?

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

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

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

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

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


4 Measurements Leaders Need to Weigh, not Count

Leaders measure.

It’s part of what we do. It’s in our “DNA”. We want to know how many, how much, how often, how far and how fast.

But effective leaders also know that in addition to these metrics which require counting, there are also vital indicators that require WEIGHING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated from April 10, 2012 post


How Leaders Turn Good Decisions into Great Decisions

Updated from April 13, 2012 post

How do you help your team go from making good decisions to making great decisions?

It starts by understanding that there is no such thing as a team decision.

Every decision made in your organization must have someone’s name written next to it.

Someone must own the outcome. Someone must pace around their office thinking through every ramification and potential hurdle.

In his Harvard Business Review blog postIf You Think Your Team Makes Decisions, Think Again, Bob Frisch wrote, “Executive teams may discuss issues, debate courses of action, and even give their stamps of approval, but they actually don’t decide anything of moment as a group… It is the leader, not the group, who ultimately allows that particular decision to go through.”

So, if your goal is great decisions how should you work with your team?

1.  Start by clarifying roles and responsibilities.

Instead of saying, “Team, we have a decision to make today,” it should be, “Team, I have a decision to make today, (or “Susan has a decision to make today”) and your help is required.”

2.   Set the decision-maker up for success.

If you have given Susan the responsibility for a decision, you must also confer on her the authority to make that decision. Let the team know that it’s her call. And it’s her responsibility to ensure its success.

3.   Coach the team in how to support the decision.

Individual members of the team may, or may not, agree with the decision reached by you or Susan. Your job becomes coaching the team on how to support that decision even when they disagree.

One of the key members of our team will regularly consult with me when I’ve made a tough decision. If he doesn’t agree with me he will always say, “Scott, I see this differently. But I will support you 100%.”

That’s how you turn good decisions into great decisions.

Always make sure that every decision has a name written next to it. Make sure it is clear who has the responsibility and authority to make a call, and coach your team toward honest feedback and support of decisions made.

Committing to this process could be one of the best leadership decisions you’ll ever make.

How do you work with your team in the decision making process?

4 Risks that Exaggeration Poses to Your Leadership

Updated from May 3, 2012 post

How many of these statements, or statements like them, have you used in your leadership;

  • “That was the best (event, earnings quarter, meeting) we’ve ever had!”
  • “This promises to be the best  (board retreat, stockholders meeting) ever!”
  • “There is an unbelievable sense of momentum and excitement building in our (company, church, organization)!”

If you find that these types of hyped-up, hyperbole-filled statements are creeping into your leadership communication, watch out. Your leadership could be taking hits that you’re not even aware of.

As a leader you must certainly project optimism. But when you cross the line into hyperbole, you run four significant risks:

1.   You can be seen as inauthentic

Let’s face it. Not every event can be the “best ever”. If you use this kind of language excessively people will start to see you less as a leader, and more as a pitch-man.

Remember, you need to cast vision, not sell a ShamWow.

2.   You can lose credibility

You know that service you described as the “best ever”? Well guess what. Your people were there, and they know it wasn’t the best ever.

When your communication creates a gap between what your people know to be true, and what you claim to be true, you start to lose credibility.

3.   Young people start to tune out

Young people today have their radar on “full alert” for anything that smells like hyperbole, exaggeration or hype.

You can’t afford to alienate this group with your communication.

4.   You create a culture of “desperation”

As a leader your words have a powerful ability to form and shape culture.

When your communication is flavoured with constant hype you are creating a culture of desperation. For your followers it’s a short walk from desperation to suspicion.

Because of my own optimistic nature, I’ve learned that I need to be vigilant to ensure that hyperbole doesn’t creep into my own communication.

And I would urge you to be just as vigilant.

Because if you can keep away from exaggeration and hype it will be the absolutely greatest thing ever in the history of the world…

(And that, friends, is hype).

How do you keep from over-hyping your communication?


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

I hate to break it to you.

But if you’re a leader looking for the elusive work-life balance, brace yourself.

It 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 harmony or 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.

(Don’t ask “Where’s God?” in this. In my own life, God 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.




3 Ways Leaders Must Master the Details (Even if You’re Not a Detail Person)

“I’m not into the details- I’m a big picture thinker.” 

If you’ve ever said that in your leadership, here’s what you need to know; At the end of the day, that “big picture” you’re looking at is one made up of hundreds or thousands of details. And as a leader you need to know what they are.

Ultimately, it’s the details that provide you with the information you need to make big picture decisions.

You can fake it for a while, but in the end your lack of attention to the details will make it impossible to provide effective leadership.

So what can you do about it, if you’re not a details person?

Well, speaking as someone for whom detail work doesn’t come naturally, here are three vital ways I’ve learned to master the details that enable you to provide big picture leadership.

1.  Develop a disciplined regimen

Some people gravitate quite naturally to detailed analysis work.

For the rest of us it’s necessary to carve out time in our week to focus on the numbers.

For me, that can mean a daily 30 minute slot on my calendar to do nothing but crunching numbers. Others like to set aside a day a week.

Whatever system you choose, start by creating immovable time in your week.

2.  Surround yourself with experts

Early on in my leadership I learned to hand-select key advisors whom I could trust to develop my own skills in detail analysis work, and who could also help me burrow deep into the organization’s vital metrics.

One question I ask each time I meet with these advisors: “What do I need to know?”

That question can open a well-spring of vital leadership data.

3.  Let your team know you’re paying attention to the details

When your team is aware that you know the details it positions you for big picture leadership.

I recently saw a senior executive of a large organization notify his staff that certain staff expenditures were being submitted which could not be justified.

This statement not only corrected a problem, more importantly it let the entire staff know that their president was paying attention to the finest details.

So by all means, keep the big picture in mind. But pay close attention to the fine details too.

Because the big picture is made up of thousands of details.

4 Leadership Challenges Today’s Grads Need to Hear

Originally posted May 16, 2013

In a world starving for Godly leadership, what would you say to the upcoming crop of college graduates?

At universities across the country and beyond, young men and women are about to take a bold step into a world that is looking for leadership. As such, there are 4 leadership challenges I am hoping many of these rising stars will embrace as they move forward.

Perhaps you have influence with a young person about to graduate. I would urge you to speak leadership truth into their life.

If you want some ideas as to what you might want to share, let me give you a glimpse of the 4 leadership challenges I will be extending in my circles:

 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 for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

 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?


3 Lies that can Shipwreck a Leader

Originally posted January 16, 2014

“The water should be deep enough here.”

Many a ship’s captain has believed that lie, and many of their ships have ended up stranded on a sandbar or dashed against a reef.

In the same way, there are lies that leaders are tempted to tell themselves every day. And some of these can shipwreck their leadership too.

In my experience these are some of the most dangerous lies a leader can ever tell themselves. Start believing these and you could easily find your leadership dashed on the shore.

  • “I got away with it last time. I can get away with it this time.”

There might be nothing worse for a leader than to have once cut a corner and gotten away with it. Because the next time an opportunity presents itself to shave the truth or to take a financial short cut, the temptation can be almost irresistible.

“After all,” a leader can think, “Borrowing that money from petty cash last time was ok. I returned it before getting caught. I can get away with it again this time.”

Eventually, this will shipwreck a leader’s integrity.

  • “It’s just a one-time thing.”

The idea that an off-side action can be justified “just this once” is one of the worst lies of all.

Because leaders who believe this once can begin to believe it repeatedly.

And when that happens, a leadership shipwreck isn’t far behind.

  • “It’s okay. No one will notice.”

This lie is a doozy.

It happens when a leader has dropped a leadership ball and, rather than coming clean and owning up, the leader instead pins hope against hope that no one was watching.

Instead of accountability, this leader is counting on being able to fly below the radar. “After all,” they’ll reason, “If no one picked up on the financial blunders, I’m in the clear.”

No leader ever starts out wanting to abandon their impeccable character. Leadership shipwrecks happen one little lie at a time.

So keep your radar on full alert for lies like these.

Because if you can identify and resist these kinds of lies, your leadership can sail strong for years to come.

What are some other lies leaders are tempted to believe?

What To Do When Your Leadership Has Been Rattled

Ever been rattled as a leader?

Sure you have.

It’s happened each time a project failed miserably.

It’s happened each time you received a stinging criticism.

No leader is immune to having their confidence shaken. And when it happens, depending how hard you’ve been rattled, it can cause you to begin second-guessing your leadership. Decisions can become more difficult. You begin to feel unsure of yourself.

How do you get your leadership confidence back?

When you’ve been rattled as a leader and you need to regain your confidence, there are four places you need to go back to.

1.  You need to back to your inner circle

In his classic book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell writes about the Law of the Inner Circle. He adds, “A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him.”

Your inner circle are the ones best able to help you process your setback, and best able to help you rebuild your leadership confidence.

2.  You need to go back to your “call”.

Remind yourself about how you first recognized that you had a leadership gift, and about how it was you were called into your current role.

3.  You need to go back to your “wins”

This is not the same as feeding your ego. But it is important that you can draw to mind examples of times and places where your leadership has made a difference in the lives of people, or in the direction of the organization.

4.  You need to go back to your identity

“Who you are” is not defined by your latest setback.

For me, my identity is firmly rooted in who I am in Christ.

Know who you really are, and remind yourself of this the next time you’ve been rattled.

The kind of confidence you need to lead well is not the same as arrogance. It’s an inner resolve that is usually found in authentically humble leaders.

If yours has been rattled, try heading back to these four places.

You could be “un-rattled” before you know it.

How do you respond when your leadership has been rattled?






3 Ways You Can tell if You’re Creating Energy Or Just Urgency

One of the most important jobs of a leader is to infuse a team or an organization with energy.

Energy gives the team direction, motivation and the drive to succeed at all cost.

The problem is that sometimes a leader thinks they are creating energy for the team, when in fact all they are producing is urgency.

Urgency and energy are not the same thing.

Whereas energy is the driving force that creates forward movement, urgency, by contrast is a pale imitation. Urgency can look and feel like energy, but it is a very different animal and can burn out a team.

How can you tell if you are creating real energy, versus the counterfeit of mere urgency?

There are at least three ways you can tell.

1.       Urgency is driven by deadlines. Energy is driven by outcomes

You can create all the urgency you’ll ever want simply by constantly placing your team up against tight deadlines. Place a deadline sooner than can reasonably achieved and watch the fur fly.

But real energy, by contrast, is quite different. It is created not out of a sometimes artificially created deadline, but out of a shared, deep desire to see the team’s outcomes achieved.

2.       Urgency creates short-term excitement. Energy creates sustaining momentum.

I won’t lie to you. Urgency feels great. It can create a palpable euphoria in the team.

But it is almost always short-lived. As soon as the temporary crisis comes and goes, as soon as the deadline passes, it can be like experiencing a team-wide sugar crash.

Whereas genuine energy doesn’t nose-dive; it continues to build over time, resulting in ever-increasing momentum.

3.       Urgency produces panic. Energy produces resolve.

Take the mood-pulse of your team. Is it characterized increasingly by a sense of panic?

Chances are they are running on panic, fueled by urgency.

On the other hand if the tenor of your team is one of resolve, steadfast determination and conviction, it’s a good indication that they are not being fueled by mere urgency; it would indicate that your leadership is producing instead authentic energy.

So resist the temptation to settle for mere urgency and focus your leadership on long-term sustainable results.

That’s worth an infusion of energy any day.

How do you create energy for your team?