Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dropping bread crumbs to the Kingdom

Mary Ann and I travel...a lot. And we meet a lot of people in the process. One of our favorite things to do is to engage them in conversation whether expats like us or nationals whom we meet. Our goal is to engage them in conversations about Jesus, or just love on them, tip them well and perhaps share some of the books we have written.

Mary Ann describes it as dropping bread crumbs for the kingdom. It may just be a simple conversation or an act of kindness. One of the things we love to do is to show our appreciation for those young men and women who serve us in our hotels. The truth is that they often receive no regard. So we love to go out of our way to show them kindness and appreciation monetarily. Often they make next to nothing and our gift is huge in their economy. They end up as friends on Facebook which transcends international barriers. 

We also ask questions to get their stories. As we do so we realize how blessed we are compared to so many. No one asks about their background or families so we do. We get email addresses so we can write and thank them and often they turn into long term relationships. If we can help them in some way we do. And it is a joy. 

All of us meet people in the course of our days where we can drop crumbs of the Kingdom. It is what Jesus did and it is what we can also do as we join him in His work of bringing His love and appreciation and message to those around us. Never forget how starved people are for genuine love and attention. Just last night Mary Ann and our son Chip stopped to visit with Johann, here in St. Paul who was from Germany. He was clearly hungry for community and love. 

We often do things like loan a car, or caring for a friends yard when he had a stroke. Small things that make a difference. Mary Ann will often bring our dry cleaner a cup of coffee and engage him in conversation. Small things that make a difference. Tonight as I came home from a three week trip, my driver asked what I do. I said among other things that I write books. He asked what kind of books and I said leadership books and one on the ten most important questions people can ask about their lives. He said, "I'd love to read that." I told him that if he would bring the luggage in I would get two books for him. Bread crumbs to the Kingdom. He thanked me profusely.

What crumbs are you dropping?

Posted from Oakdale, MN

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

One of the most critical responsibilities of organizational and team leaders that is often neglected

I know it is often neglected because I talk to too many staff in too many organizations who are unhappy in their jobs. Not necessarily in the job itself but in the culture that they work in. Often a culture of non-empowerment, micromanagement, unnecessary rules and regulations that demean and a lack of graciousness, openness on the part of leaders. 

What is one of the most critical responsibilities of organizational and team leaders that is often neglected? It is creating a culture where collegiality is present, empowerment is the norm, work is appreciated, barriers are removed, voices are appreciated and contributions are acknowledged. All too often this is not the case.

I suspect the reason for this neglect is that leaders often are thinking more about their thing than about the organization as a whole. They are more concerned about staff serving them than they are about serving their staff. And with a fair amount of hubris in the Christian world, they think more highly of their contribution than they do of the contribution of their team - who actually make them successful or not. 

Also, there is far less training on basic leadership principles in the Christian world than in the workplace in general. Or, there is more talk about the right things than there is delivery on the right things. I am always bemused by major Christian leaders who put on conferences on leadership but whose own leadership culture is deeply dysfunctional. It happens more often than one would think.

Because leaders lead people one of their primary jobs is to create a work environment and culture that is healthy and life giving rather than dysfunctional and life draining. Want to find out which is true of your organization? Ask some candid questions or engage someone like the Best Christian Workplaces Institute to receive feedback.  Whether we do it formally or informally, if we lead we are responsible for knowing, building and maintaining a healthy workplace. One of the most telling questions is whether your staff would recommend that others come and work where they do. 

One of the most helpful exercises with staff is to ask them what is most important to them in a healthy workplace. They will tell you things like fairness, collegiality, being appreciated, knowing they are listened to, being empowered and so on. Just asking the question opens a very healthy dialogue for improving what you have and making it the best it can be. Interestingly, while people want to be fairly compensated, that is usually not the highest on their agenda. There are far more important things but unless we ask we don't know.

There are no perfect workplaces but there are some that are much more satisfying to work in than others. My goal as a leader is to have the kind of culture where people love to come to work, feel they are doing something deeply important and are appreciated for their contribution. And, where they have the tools to do what they are asked to do. 

Published from Washington D.C.

Many leaders need to redefine their definition of loyalty

It is not uncommon in conversations with leaders and their staff to have the issue of loyalty come up. I have heard many leaders say, "my highest value for staff is that they are loyal." That statement, however it is made begs several questions: loyal to what or whom and what is the operative definition of loyalty?

Whenever I hear leaders talk about loyalty as one of their highest values, yellow flags go up in my mind. For many leaders, loyalty means that staff will agree with them or if not at least not take issue with them. And, that they will follow the party line with others. Disagreement means that the staff member is not loyal and that becomes cause for mistrust in the best case and dismissal in the worst case. This definition usually reflects either narcissism or at least deep insecurity on the part of the leader. 

I actually deeply believe in loyalty but strongly disagree with the definition that many leaders have. First, the best loyalty is to the mission of the organization not simply to an individual. We require our staff to live within the philosophical boundaries of our organization. They include our mission, our guiding principles, our central focus and our culture. These are well known, clearly articulated and critical if we are going to achieve our God given mission. When loyalty is primarily to a central leader rather than to the mission of the organization, what happens when the leader leaves? Healthy leaders build a commitment to the mission rather than to themselves.

This has implications for the ability or lack of ability to have candid and robust dialogue over critical issues. When loyalty is defined as agreement with the leader, any disagreement is seen by him/her as a threat and a sign of disloyalty (a highly dysfunctional view of leadership and loyalty).

On the other hand, when loyalty is to the mission of the organization, candid feedback, robust dialogue and the clash of ideas is highly valued because all are committed to seeing the best for the organization and the mission they together are committed to. Thus one's definition of loyalty has a direct correlation on the ability of staff to speak their minds and be candid in their assessments. When loyalty is defined as agreement with the senior leader it shuts down discussion. When loyalty is defined as a commitment to the organizational mission, it invites discussion.

I once worked for a leader who did not appreciate disagreement of any sort. The result was that most individuals told him what he wanted to hear - to his detriment. There were several of us who simply told him the truth as we saw it and we were called the unholy trio. What he did not understand is that we had the best interests of both himself and the ministry in mind when we were candid. Several times I told him that I was in the wrong place if I could not express my views with him.

I want a loyal staff. I want them to be as passionate and loyal to what God has called us to be and do as I am. It is not a loyalty to me but a shared loyalty to a calling to reach the world with the Gospel. That means that we need the very best thinking and dialogue as to how to achieve that within our non-negotiable framework. Therefore we invite rather than squelch differing opinions. After all it is not about us but about the mission.

Posted from Washington DC

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Church boards who live with their heads in the sand

More frequently than I like I receive calls from a church board member who gives me a litany of issues that are taking place in their church. All too often, as well, when I ask what the board has done about it the answer is "nothing." And they they will often say, "Can you help?"

I love to help churches but it astonishes me that boards often do not address known issues which are hurting their congregations. Let me give you some examples:

  • A loss of staff over time because of a dysfunctional senior leader
  • Toxicity on the staff because of an insecure senior leader
  • A recalcitrant board member who does not allow the group to move forward
  • A spiritual malaise in the church (which usually reflects a spiritual malaise on the board)
  • Lack of clarity for ministry which usually means things don't go anywhere
  • Bad decisions being made by senior leaders and the board does not have the courage to speak out
  • Group think where differing opinions are not allowed or valued
  • The poor treatment or firing of staff who don't agree with a senior leader
  • A gradual but steady decline in attendance
  • Lack of new people coming to Jesus
  • I could list many more
In one case, people have been leaving a church for years because of the loudness of the music and despite the fact that the congregation has multiple services and therefore could address the issues. The leaders have never addressed it and allow the exodus to happen - or tell congregants to stay outside the worship venue until the music is over. Really? It is not only ignoring a real issue but is very disempowering to those who cannot deal with the volume. But evidently they do not have the courage to address an ongoing and real issue.

Here is my challenge to board members - don't allow known issues to go unaddressed. They are elephants and elephants hurt the church. If there is an issue, name it, talk about it and don't pretend it does not exist. It does and it matters. It takes just one board member who has the courage to speak up to at least put the issue on the table. often, once they do, others who are uncomfortable will do the same.

Often when boards do not act on known issues, congregants do: with their giving and their leaving. One might say, "you should not do that." But here is the truth: When congregants cannot get the attention of their leaders (staff or board) because they will not listen you leave them no choice. And they will act. Often by the time the board wakes up to smell the coffee it is too late and ultimately it is the inaction of the board that is responsible for what happened. Most congregants will not fight a battle but they will act personally.

Posted from Panama City, Panama

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Eight reasons many supervisors do such a poor job of leading others

I suspect that many staff would not give their boss or supervisor high marks for their supervisory skills or stewardship. It is true in ministry settings as well as secular settings. I expect that in smaller organizations there might not be as much expertise in this area but poor supervision is found in organizations of all sizes.

Before I share the reasons why I believe this is the case, let me remind you of how I describe good teams as this is the job of supervisors to create. A good team is a group of missionally aligned and healthy individuals working synergistically together under good leadership with accountability for results. When you consider how rare these elements are on teams one has to conclude that there is a problem with the good leadership piece of the equation.

My own work with organizations around these issues has led me to conclude that there are eight principle reasons why leadership and supervision of others is lacking the quality it ought to have. 

First, we often put supervisors in their positions without giving them the training in how to build teams, empower people, lead others and resolve conflict to name just a few of the necessary skills. It is foolish to believe that anyone can take the leadership of others without some kind of training as it is a skill to lead. Moving from being an independent producer to an organizational leader is no easy step and without coaching and mentoring many never make the transition.

Second, there is rarely a specific set of expectations that are given supervisors other than the fact that others now report to them. In my book there are at least ten critical issues that leaders of others must pay attention to but how often is the case that no one has clearly laid out what it means to lead other people?

Third, supervisors often treat the supervisory role they have as a distraction from their own work without realizing that it is the focus of their new work. Leading others is never ancillary, it must be central. In fact, this is one of the expectations that is often never communicated. When supervisors or team leaders treat this as a necessary evil, their staff read it quickly and it does not encourage them.

Fourth, most supervisors or team leaders do not know how to create clarity for those they lead as to what they are going after, what the non-negotiables are and how they will interact with one another. Lack of clarity creates conflict, confusion, lack of common direction and lack of accountability. Yet many supervisors are not taught these important skills.

Fifth, many supervisors do not empower but tend to control. Empowerment within clear boundaries creates health while control without clarity creates disempowerment. Whether because of a lack of training or a controlling nature this deficit creates dysfunctional teams.

Sixth, when team is not central, supervisors do not develop their staff. After all, that takes time and energy and the team is not their highest priority anyway. Any leader who does not develop those they lead is neglecting the leadership stewardship they have. 

Seventh, many supervisors are not held accountable for the quality of their leadership of others. That means that many supervisors have no real incentive to pay attention to building the kinds of teams I mentioned above. Especially in the Christian arena (but not only) where senior leaders don't want to confront substandard work in the name of grace or niceness this situation continues to exist. 

Eight and perhaps at the crux of the whole matter, senior leaders are not themselves committed to leading others with health or taking the time to build the kinds of healthy teams we are talking about. When the example and direction does not come from the very top, it is not going to be a priority for the rest of the organization. Unless seniors leaders care about the issue, it will never become an important issue in the organization.

I know individuals with great talent and potential who are leaving their organizations for all of the reasons above. They have not been led well and they are disillusioned by it and want their lives and energy to count. The organization ultimately loses and I hold their leaders accountable for the loss. Don't let it happen in your ministry or organization. It is a net loss for all.

Posted from Havana, Cuba

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to influence others without telling them what to do or how to do it

Few people like to be told what to do or how they should do it. Leaders often inadvertently discourage their staff by being overly directive. While there are times when a hard or directive conversation must take place it should be a rare thing if one has good staff. The question is, how do we address issues without needing to be overly directive?

The answer is often a simple one. It is to engage them in dialogue and ask questions rather than to make statements. In fact, it is in the dialogue that questions engender that better solutions come about than even we might think should happen. I work very hard to not give direction through telling people what to do but to ask questions that help them come to appropriate solutions. It is not only better received but generally is a more honoring way to communicate.

Asking questions gives us an opportunity to think about how we approach sensitive issues so that those we are interacting with will hear us, lower their defenses and create an environment where we can get at these sensitive issues that need to be addressed. Since every individual is wired differently how we address these issues means that we need to think carefully about our approach.

Asking good questions that cause people to reflect also teaches those we are interacting with to do the same with their staff. Soon you have a culture that is more life giving and people who think more deeply. In fact, when we have to think about the right question to ask on a certain issue we are engaging in much deeper thinking than if we do not.

The bottom line is that asking good questions is almost always more helpful than simply making statements – although there are times when we should address behaviors or decisions head on. Generally, though, questions create dialogue and dialogue gives us an opportunity to come to good solutions and to influence others. 

Posted from Havana Cuba

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.