April 1, 2015

Finding the Right Bucket to Solve Unsolvable Leadership Challenges

Updated from January 12, 2015 post

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

Of course, reality was far different.

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

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

Years ago I inherited the task of trimming $400,000 out of a $3,000,000 budget.

The first $200,000 had been relatively painless. But now the job needed deep cuts; I needed to trim another $200,000, and I had run out of ideas. I was stumped.

But a leadership mentor of mine asked me the question that changed everything.

“Scott, what bucket are you looking for your solution in?”

I pressed him to explain.

“Well, it seems to me you’re looking for answers in your ‘easy fix’ bucket. You’ve already emptied that one. That’s how you trimmed the first $200,000. But to finish this job, you need to learn about 3 different buckets.”

The Radical Innovation Bucket

“Supposing I were to tell you that you had to run the entire organization next year with only $1,000,000,” he continued. “What would you do? I’ll tell you exactly what you’d do. You would figure out a way to run the organization for $1,000,000. But you would figure it out using radical innovation.”

He was right.

The “easy fix” bucket doesn’t solve unsolvable problems. You need utterly new approaches.

Those are found in the radical innovation bucket.

The Uncommon Courage Bucket

“I’ll bet you faced little push-back with your first round of cuts,” he went on. “The next round will face serious opposition. That’s when you need uncommon courage.”

Unsolvable problems are always faced with that kind of bravery.

The Emotional Intelligence Bucket

“When you start implementing your radical solution, you need to find a way to navigate some tricky relational waters,” he concluded. “People are emotionally invested in their work. Keep your emotional wits about you at all times.”

The higher the stakes, the greater the need for emotional intelligence.

So when you next need a solution for an unsolvable problem, start by looking closely at the kinds of solutions you’re bringing to the table.

If the problem is still overwhelming, it could be because you’ve been looking in the wrong bucket.

What other leadership buckets do you dip into?

Big Decision? Who’s Holding The Key?

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

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

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

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

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

I disagreed.

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

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

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

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

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

In short, here’s what I learned.

1.       Always be clear who holds the decision key

Whoever is ultimately responsible makes the call.

2.       You can’t share the key

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

3.       Never give away the key

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

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

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

So take a lesson from my experience.

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

How do you determine who makes the call?

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

Updated from November 27, 2014 post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That simple, but profound starting point, was huge.

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

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

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

3.       Leaders align time with values and priorities

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

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

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

Develop leadership thinking habits about time.

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

What have you learned about how leaders think about time?


Why the Big Picture is Such a Big Deal for Leaders

Updated from November 24, 2014 post

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

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

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

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

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

“7, coach,” came the reply.

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

“9 points, coach,” he responded immediately.

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

“5 points coach.”

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely. Here are three of the biggest indicators.

1.  Your culture replaces collaboration with competition

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

2.  The team has little interest in celebrating group accomplishments

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

3.  Water cooler talk centers on individual accomplishments.

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

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

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

How do you keep the big picture front and center?


The Secret “One-Two Punch” of Effective Leadership

Updated from November 10, 2014 post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, passion and discipline create a formidable leadership combination.

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

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

2.  Passion attracts a team. Discipline builds the team

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

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

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

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

7.  Passion creates priorities. Discipline executes the priorities.

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

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

10.             Passion drives innovation. Discipline drives implementation.

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

Rather, passion and discipline are dependent on each other.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Updated from November 3, 2014 post

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

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

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

It only takes a second.

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

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

It’s no different in the game of leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  You are being sidetracked with “busy work”

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

4.  You’ve been avoiding difficult conversations

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

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

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

Watch vigilantly for these indicators.

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

How do you keep your eye on the leadership ball?


Are You a Leadership Hoarder, Lender, or Giver?

Updated from October 9, 2014 post

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

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

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

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

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

The hoarding leader

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

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

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

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

The lending leader

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

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

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

The giving leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you give away your leadership?


3 Warning Signs of an Impending Leadership Train Wreck

Updated from September 18, 2014 post

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

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

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

Have you ever witnessed a leadership train wreck?

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

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

Warning signal #1: Talking is trumping listening

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

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

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

Warning signal #2: Action is trumping discernment

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

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

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

Wise leaders do the same.

Warning signal #3: Emotions are trumping passions

Leaders are people of passion.

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

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

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

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


What To Do When Your Leadership Has Been Rattled

Updated from May 19, 2014 post

I’ve just embarked on a month-long trip to meet with leaders from Brazil, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and across Latin America.

And based on my experience from years of such connections, I know that some of these leaders will be in a season of tremendous “wins” and momentum. Others, will sharing with me that their leadership has recently been shaken.

In preparation I have re-visited a blog post I wrote on how to respond when your leadership has been rattled. 

I thnk there’s some good reminders here for all of us.

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?


4 Surprising Disciplines Effective Leaders Must Master

Update from May 5, 2014 post

I am in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this week, meeting with the leaders of the Global Leadership Summit sites from the U.S. and Canada.

Being around such extraordinary pastors has reminded me of one distinguishing feature of effective leaders- that of tremendous personal discipline.

But these leaders have reminded me that the kind of discipline is also what sets them apart. And this has prompted me to re-visit an earlier post where I tackled this very principle.

In his celebrated leadership book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins unpacks the profound wisdom of the leader’s “20 mile march”.

Collins argues that the discipline of consistency is one of the leader’s greatest allies.

He writes, “The 20-Mile March imposes order amid disorder, consistency amid swirling inconsistency. But it works only if you actually achieve your march year after year. If you set a 20-Mile March and then fail to achieve it — or worse, abandon fanatic discipline altogether — you may well get crushed by events.”

So what are the fanatic disciplines a leader must master?

Volumes have been written about the disciplines of team-building, vision casting and strategic planning.

But I believe that there are at least 4 often overlooked disciplines that effective leaders must master.

1.  The discipline of not working

By this I simply mean that effective leaders know the value of ending the day, of putting down the phone and the laptop, and of saying “Team, we’re done”.

The day of the all-nighter is over.

2.  The discipline of fun

Many driven leaders find that simple fun does not come easy, and that it has to be placed in their Outlook calendar.

That’s ok. Whatever it takes, effective leaders must find a way to keep the discipline of laughter and light-heartedness alive in the organization.

3.  The discipline of celebration

The natural instinct of every leader is to look forward at the distance still to be traveled towards the goal.

But don’t forget the discipline of looking back at the ground that’s already been covered.

Celebrating the progress already achieved builds tremendous momentum for the team.

4.  The discipline of “counting your blessings”

Effective leaders make a regular routine of stopping just to notice how fortunate they, and their organization, really are.

These leaders know that one of the best ways to combat the daily pressures inherent in the role of leadership is to take regular stock of the things that are just going well these days.

So keep diligently focused on the disciplines of number crunching, attendance counting and budget analyzing.

But along the way don’t forget the importance of these other disciplines too.

They’re some of the best ways to keep a spring in your step along your 20 mile march.

What would you add to this list?


What Leaders Can Learn from the Growing Church in Cuba

Leadership nuggets can come across your path anytime, any place.

If you’re looking for them.

This was one of my huge take-aways from my recent visit to Havana, Cuba, where the Willow Creek Association has been supporting a group of local churches to help develop Christian leaders.

One of the friends I spent time with is Reverend Joel Dopico, the President of the Cuba Council of Churches.

And as he described the current changes in Cuba I was busily jotting down leadership nuggets I was picking up from this tremendous leader.

Scott with Reverend Dopico in front of GLS banner

1. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality”

This classic quote from Max De Pree is being fully lived out by Reverend Dopico, as evidenced by the passion with which he seeks to clarify the spiritual condition of Cuba.

“Sometimes people in other countries think that Jesus Christ is not in Cuba. He never left Cuba,” Reverend Dopico said, with a warm smile. “Jesus Christ is in Cuba. The Cuban church is a powerful church, it is a growing church. And it is a church that was tested, and a church that has a great testimony of the Spirit of God in our lives.”

2.  Be quick to recognize moments of opportunity; and act fast.

The proposed policy changes discussed by President Obama have obvious implications for the church in Cuba. And Reverend Dopico has been quick to respond.

“This is a very important moment for the church in Cuba,” Reverend Dopico began, “It’s a time of opportunities but it is also a time of challenge. And we need to respond to the call of God.

It’s not just about what we want to do, but it’s about what God wants us to do.”

3.  Opportunities come to those who are prepared

For Reverend Dopico, this means that Christian leaders in Cuba must be equipped now, for whatever new opportunities come in the future.

“It is important that the churches be receiving capacity. It is very important that churches receive training, like the Leadership Summit.”

I came away from my conversation brimming with optimism for the future of the church in Cuba.

And I also came away with a strong reminder that you can find leadership nuggets anytime, and any place.

If you’re looking for them.

How ‘Bandwidth’ Can Expand Your Leadership

Recently I completed a two week leadership coaching trip with Bill Hybels, who was building into leaders from Hong Kong to New Delhi.

One teaching in particular left an indelible mark in my own leadership.

How broad is the bandwidth of your leadership?

That question might have been the most impacting of all of the leadership challenges posed by Bill Hybels on our 2015 leadership coaching tour in Asia.

A leader had been attempting to nail Bill down on a “this or that” kind of leadership question.

“Should I be a tough-minded leader or more of a relational leader?” he had asked.

Bill quickly responded with a much better leadership perspective.

“What you should really be focusing on,” Bill began, “Is ‘What is my elasticity as a leader?

I’m talking about your bandwidth as a leader. For every growing leader this is a huge concept to master.”

As Bill went on to explain, I was busily taking notes.

“The bandwidths of leadership refers to the tension leaders must constantly monitor in various leadership situations.

You need to know when to be passionate, and when to be dispassionate.

When to be clear, and when to be ambiguous.

When to launch, and when to delay. These are all questions of a leader’s bandwidth.”

And that, I noted to myself, was a masterful leadership insight.

All too often leaders try to let themselves off the leadership hook by reducing leadership to a set of formulas or simplistic extremes. “Leaders must be tough”, one leader will say. “Leaders must be quick to act” another will declare.

But for growing, leaders, Bill reminded us, effectiveness lies in the nuances in between. They recognize that some situations, some seasons, and some people, require leadership that is quick to act, decisive and blindingly clear.

At other times, in other seasons, and perhaps for other people, leadership requires patience, seasoning, even a bit of ambiguity.

Here are the key points I scrawled on my notepaper that day.

  • Leadership can never be reduced to a set of inflexible formulas
  • Leadership requires the ability to read a situation and respond to its unique circumstances
  • Leadership is much more fluid an art than it is an exact science

Keep these concepts firmly in mind, and your leadership bandwidth can experience tremendous elasticity, and effectiveness.

How broad is your leadership bandwidth?

How to Spot Insecurity in Leadership, And Why it Matters

Updated from February 17, 2014 post

“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?


Are You a Bridge-Builder or a Wall-Erector?

This month I am traveling with Bill Hybels in Asia, who is coaching leaders in 7 different cities. During our stop in Delhi, India, Bill asked a leadership question that immediately grabbed everyone’s attention, and which should resonate with leaders everywhere.

”Are you a bridge-builder, or a wall-erector?”

Bill asked this question to a group of fired-up leaders at a coaching session in New Delhi, India this week; the final stop on a two week leadership tour we conducted throughout Asia.

Bill raised this vital question in response to a leadership issue that was apparent among some churches in this part of India, and which applies in leadership circles globally.

As a leader, Bill was reminding us, our energies and focus will either result in the bringing together of people, organizations, ideas and communities, or it will drive things further apart.

Effective leaders, Bill taught with great urgency, must devote themselves to being bridge builders.

He used an example of Bridge-Building leadership by talking about a group of churches in Buenos Aires, Argentina who collaborate at a jaw-dropping level. For example, when one of these churches begins a building program, each of the other churches in the community will provide financial support out of their own resources!

As Bill continued to teach about this I began funneling this principle through my own leadership lens. On my notepad I created two columns; one called “Bridge Building” and the other “Wall Erecting”. I then began to list all of the ways my leadership might contribute to each of these outcomes.

Wall Erecting:

I become a wall erecting leader when I:

  • Say anything negative, even in private conversation, about another leader or organization
  • Do anything less than offer whole-hearted, enthusiastic support and cooperation to other leaders and their organizations
  • Fail to pro-actively build intentional relationships with these leaders

I become a bridge-building leader when I:

  • Season every conversation regarding other leaders and organizations with words of affirmation,
  • Pro-actively reach out to offer support and resources
  • Make it my personal leadership mission to seek the success of those who can’t offer anything to me in return

My huge take-away was that, whether we realize it or not, every day as leaders we are either erecting walls or building bridges.

I came away with renewed resolve to leverage my own leadership to be an intentional bridge builder.

How do you build leadership bridges?

Why Leaders Must Avoid the Unilateral Power Play

This month I am traveling in Asia with Bill Hybels, who is coaching leaders in 7 different cities. During our stop in Manila, the Philippines, a question was raised during a question and answer forum that prompted Bill to respond with another huge leadership principle.

“I know that, as a leader, I need to build consensus. But sometimes I feel like I just need to declare a decision. Is it ever ok to do that?”

That was a question asked to Bill Hybels at a coaching event this week in Manila, the Philippines.

For some, Bill’s answer was a game-changer.

“Every time you make a unilateral leadership power play, you cash in some trust chips.” Bill said with great emphasis.

Bill went on to unpack the deeper leadership truths.

“If you have positional power and authority, you have the right to simply make the call. You can bypass the messiness of aligning people around a vision, or building consensus and so on. And if you do this consistently you will pay a price.

And the price you will pay is the erosion of trust.”

Was Bill saying that it is never appropriate for a leader to simply “make the call”?

Not at all. There are those occasions when the leader must step up and simply declare a decision.

However he was pointing out the leadership truth that you need to be very careful about how often you make a unilateral power play.

When Bill was making this point, I quickly jotted across my page these 5 problems leaders create when they make a unilateral power play too often.

1.  Your team will wonder if their contributions matter, or will you simply make the call regardless of their input.

2.  Your team will begin to doubt their own effectiveness.

3.  You will create unhealthy distance between you and your team.

4.  You will create a culture of followers instead of leaders.

 5. You will slow the pace of productivity. If you have to make all the decisions, you will create a production bottleneck.

Leadership requires the ability to make decisions.

But as Bill reminded these leaders in Manila, a little too much decision-making can get in the way of some big-picture team-building.

How do you keep from making too many unilateral power plays?


Why Leaders Must Avoid These 10 ‘Credibility Killers’

This month I am traveling in Asia with Bill Hybels, who is coaching leaders in 7 different cities. During our first stop in Hong Kong, a question was raised during a question and answer forum that prompted Bill to respond with a huge leadership principle.

Are there “credibility killers” undermining your leadership?

That crucial question flowed from a recent leadership interaction between Willow Creek Community Church’s pastor Bill Hybels and a marketplace leader in Hong Kong.

The question? “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?


The Surprising Voice Influencing Your Leadership Decisions

Updated from October 6, 2014 post

Every time you need to make a leadership decision there’s a little voice whispering in your ear.

So, who’s been whispering in your ear?

And just as importantly, do you know what it’s saying?

This whispering voice has tremendous influence over whether you hire this person or that person. It informs whether you drive for growth or lean towards quality control.

The little voice I’m talking about? It’s your hidden values.

Your hidden values are different than the corporate values you espouse, like “Excellence”, “Integrity” and “Innovation”. Hidden values lie much deeper.

Hidden values are found in the hot-wiring of “who you are”; they are the basic make-up of your character, and ultimately they drive the dozens of leadership decisions you make every day-  whether you’ll hire, or fire…whether you’ll act or wait…whether you’ll buy or sell.

Let me give you an example.

A while ago I was admiring a beautiful red Ferrari, and the friend I was standing with said, “Wouldn’t you love to own that?”

“Who wouldn’t?” I answered. “But I could never afford it.”

“Sure you could,” my friend replied. “You could buy that car today. Just sell your house. You’d have plenty of money to buy that car.”

Then he explained the power of hidden values. “The reason you don’t buy that car is not because of lack of money. It’s because deep inside you cling to a different value; security and well-being for your family.”

The point is that effective leadership requires understanding these hidden values, what they’re whispering in your ear. Because when you are aware of these hidden values you can recognize whether they are helping, or hurting, your decisions.

So what are your hidden values, and what are they whispering in your ear?

See if any of these resonate with you…

  • “I like to be in control”
  • “I like to take risks”
  • “I prefer to play it safe”
  • “I like structure”
  • “I don’t like surprises”
  • “I’m a people-pleaser”
  • “I power up when I feel cornered”
  • “I need my decisions to be affirmed”
  • “I thrive on change”
  • “I need to see every detail before I sign off”

Bottom line- learn the hidden values you carry with you every day, and recognize how they are influencing your decisions.

It’s the first step to making those decisions the best they can be.

What hidden value influences your decisions?


10 Ways of Thinking that will Impact Your Leadership

Take 40 seconds and watch (or more likely, re-watch) this classic commercial.


Well, primarily for a good laugh.

But also because it raises one of the most important questions a leader will ever face.

We are sinking

What are you thinking about? (Or, what are you sinking about?)

The reason this question is so important is that leaders simply think differently than do other people.

At least, growing, effective leaders think differently.

As a younger, inexperienced leader, the kinds of thoughts that tend to dominate the thinking of many people are,

1.  How can I advance my way through this organization?

2.  What are people thinking of me?

3.  Who do I need to impress in order to make a good impression?

4.  Am I being adequately compensated?

5.  Are people showing me enough respect?

But growing, effective leaders really do think differently. And if you want to lead at your very best then your thinking must increasingly develop along these lines.

1.  Are we making progress towards our organizational goals?

2.  How are the individuals on my team doing these days?

3.  Is the culture of the organization becoming healthier?

4.  What do I need to do to protect the best interests of the organization?

5.  Are we adding enough value to the people we seek to serve?

6.  How can I make a positive contribution to someone’s life today?

7.  Where will this organization be in 3 or 5 years?

8.  Are we still on course, or has any mission-drift set in? 

9.  Are we moving at an efficient but sustainable pace?

10.             Am I accessible enough to my team?

Leaders who are growing and maturing in their leadership simply learn to think differently.

They’re thinking moves further and further away from self-interest and self-preservation. And it moves further and further towards the needs of the organization, its people, and the people it serves.

So, do you want to know how you’re doing in your leadership? Want to know how far along on your leadership journey?

Start by paying very close attention to one over-riding question.

What are you thinking about? 

3 Lies that can Shipwreck a Leader

Updated from January 16, 2014 post

“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?

The Power of Drawing a Leadership Line in the Sand

Have you drawn a leadership line in the sand recently?

A line in the sand where your core values intersect with real life situations.

Several years ago I was called in to help turn around a non-profit organization which had been in a financial tailspin.

About three months into this journey the Chief Financial Officer came into my office and delivered some very bad news. “Scott, it looks as though we’re not going to make it.”

He explained that there was not enough money on hand to meet the next payroll. At the point where an organization misses payroll, you are basically finished.

I asked him for options.

“Well,” he began, “We are sitting on a trust fund containing more than enough money. To be clear, it’s not our money, but we do have access to it. If we were convinced that things would turn around, and that we’d be able to replace those funds later, we could dip into that account and cover our shortfall.”

I’m not going to lie to you. This was tempting.

But then, almost in unison, the C.F.O. and I said, “Wait, what are we doing? This goes against everything you and I believe in. No, we won’t violate our principles and use funds that are not really ours.”

This encounter had reminded us of three vital “line in the sand” leadership truths.

1.  A line in the sand must be drawn before you need it.

When you’re in a moral dilemma it’s too late to start figuring out your principles.

2.  A line in the sand must be shared.

Being able to say, “I won’t cross that line” is good. But it’s nothing like the power of an entire team saying, “WE won’t cross that line.”

3.  A line in the sand must be absolute.

A line in the sand must be peppered with words like “always” (“We will always…”) and “never” (“We will never…”). Not “sometimes” or “usually”

By the way, the following week an unexpected donation arrived which covered our shortfall, and the turnaround went on to be a success.

But maybe more important than salvaging the organization was the satisfaction of maintaining our own integrity.

Do you have clear core values? Good. Now, put them to work in real-life situations.

It starts by drawing a line in the sand.

When have you needed to draw a line in the sand?