Thursday, November 9, 2017

Investing in direct reports is a critical factor of a leader's success

Leaders have conversations all the time. It is what they do but not all conversations are equally important. Some conversations are far more important than others.

I am a firm believer that the most important conversations a leader has on an ongoing basis is with members of their team. These may be monthly meetings or as needed when issues arise. These are not random conversations but revolve around some carefully considered thoughts that are customized for each direct report.

The purpose of these conversations is to ensure alignment, think together regarding strategy, ensure results, and encourage the personal growth of senior team members. All four of these topics are critical for senior team members to pay attention to and the one who can ensure that is their supervisor/leader. This is also the way that a leader develops alignment through regular interaction with their key staff.

In order for these conversations to be meaningful a leader must become an exegete of their direct reports. What are their strengths? Where do they need to grow? What critical skill sets are they missing? What areas of their performance need to be reevaluated? And then, most importantly, how can I open a conversation about one or more of these issues to help my team member grow and develop? And, how can I convey my desire to help the team member grow in the areas where growth is needed?

This underscores the necessity of actively cultivating relationships with those we supervise. Relationship builds trust which in turn allows a supervisor to raise issues without being met with significant pushback or defensiveness. Over time such conversations become part of the fabric of the relationship and the leadership culture a supervisor brings to their team. The more we invest in our reports, the better our team will be.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Monday, November 6, 2017

Core issues every leader needs to pay attention to

Almost all leaders struggle with some core issues related to their leadership. Maturing in our leadership role requires us to resolve these core issues and manage them – if we cannot fully deal with them.

The first is the need to be loved and accepted. This is a universal need of course, but leaders who need to be loved and accepted by those they lead set themselves up to fail. Good leadership is about calling others to something higher than themselves. That will mean creating discontent in the status quo which will inevitably mean that leaders will not always be popular or loved. In addition, a need to be loved by those we lead makes it difficult to push into areas of needed growth by our subordinates. Fear of being unpopular will keep me from pushing into difficult subjects and difficult issues.

Remember, there are many ways to fulfill our need for love and acceptance: God, spouse, family, friends, and even our dog. But for a leader, while being loved by those we lead is a perk it is not always going to happen. Counterintuitively, respect comes to a leader when they have been willing to call the organization to a higher purpose, often against the grain of the status quo.

A second and critical issue all leaders must deal with is to train our minds and emotions to not take issues personally. We need to see issues as separate from us and allow free discussion regarding those issues without taking it personally. In fact, the warning signal that we are taking it personally is that we become defensive – which means that we have made the issue about us and thus feel a need to defend our position. Once we have made the issue about us, if we don’t get our way, we lose and none of us like to lose.

What usually loses when we make issues personal is the mission we are going after. If we can learn that the mission is not about us and to depersonalize differences of ideas and strategies, we will be able to invite the best of people’s thinking and remain free from defensiveness. Any time we are feeling defensive we have allowed the issue to be about us rather than the mission.

And then there is the issue of pride: thinking that my views are the best and my answers better than those of others. The problem with pride is that it becomes a filter through which we see life and leadership and the filter is faulty. It keeps us from hearing the truth when others share it, fools us into thinking that we are right when we are not and prevents our own growth and development.

Wise leaders, therefore cultivate trusted relationships where they can get honest feedback, cultivate an open atmosphere on their team where all ideas can be put on the table and cultivate introspection to ensure that they are developing humility over pride.

All three of these core issues for leaders need to be paid attention to all the time. Being able to manage them brings freedom, growth and allows us to lead from a healthier place.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Friday, November 3, 2017

The civility of a people is reflected in their discourse

If the civility of a people is reflected in their discourse we are in deep trouble. When a lack of civility becomes a way of life in the most public way possible through social media it is clear that there is no sense of shame anymore. From personal attacks to the foulest of language our public discourse has degenerated significantly in recent years.

As a reader of history it should be noted that there have been other periods when public discourse left a great deal to be desired. Ulysses S. Grant, for instance was dogged most of his career by outright lies regarding a supposed drinking problem he had. There has been fake news around for a long time as well as the denigration of others (to someone else's benefit) as a means of making us feel well by comparison. 

That being said, the level of discourse among a people is an indicator of the health or lack of health within a society. For instance, the crude language that was used by Nazi Germany to describe their enemies is a good example - or the hate group rhetoric of white supremacists in our own nation. In the past election, the name calling from the front was embarrassing along with the twitter wars that are increasingly crude and malicious - going not to the ideas that others espouse but to the personhood of men and women made in God's Image. 

This last point is an important one. Free societies have fought for the right to debate ideas, strategy and philosophy. That is what elections are to be about. However, when we move from a debate regarding ideas to the willful destruction of the character and/or personhood of another we cross a line that cannot bring positive results.

Politically, it moves discussion from philosophy to often non provable accusations regarding character. Morally, it moves into sketchy territory as it assumes motives that we cannot know. Theologically, it is often a trashing of others made in the Image of God. There is simply no good outcome to a descent into uncivil discourse! Lack of civility breeds attitudes that all too often move from hateful words into hateful actions - both of which seem to be trends in our world today.

All of us should be aware of our own discourse and its consequences. Words cannot be taken back and sometimes, they are not necessary to be said at all. But if said, civility is always a better choice than lack of it.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Three things to be aware of in leadership transitions

There are three things every leader who resigns or retires needs to be aware of. It is true in the for profit, nonprofit, political and ministry world. I have experienced all three and watched it play out in politics, business and ministry every day.  It is well to be aware of these issues because they are not going to feel fair, and often are not but they are reality in a world that needs scapegoats.

First, no matter how well you led, in most cases, the one who takes your place will blame you for all that they can as they chart their new course. I was amused when one of my successors took some cheap shots about my leadership style after I left (to my face). Amused because he had served on my senior leadership team for some time and had never expressed his concerns to me until I was finished and then I was fair game. Equally amused, because when he is gone, his successor is probably going to do the same to him and some who have subsequently left have already done so! Unfortunately, this is the human condition and it will happen when you leave to some extent or another. We lead and serve for a time and when we are gone, others will criticize us to attain their own ends. Witness the transition in Washington DC when a new President comes to office!

Second, many things will change from how you did things to how the new leader will do things. This is natural but not always comfortable. If we have done our job well, the general philosophy of the organization will be embedded and remain stable but the details as to how these are are carried out will change. A highly empowering leader can be followed by a highly controlling leader (or vice versa) which can be a challenge for those who make the transition. The reality is that we served our time and carried out our leadership responsibilities in the best way we knew how. What happens next is not our responsibility and our former colleagues will make their own judgements relative to the new leadership philosophy.

Third, former leaders are just that – former leaders and need to move on to their next assignment. All of us learn lessons, good and bad as leaders. Wise leaders take the time to reflect on those lessons as they transition to a new role. The best thing we can do as former leaders is to focus on our new assignment, whatever that is and leave the old (for us) behind. We will answer for the stewardship of our leadership and others will answer for theirs. For those who operate out of a faith perspective this means that we leave the results of our leadership to God and move on, confident in God’s evaluation rather than in our own or the judgement of others. This last point is very important. We will often feel as if the evaluation of our successor is not fair. But we can rest assured that God's evaluation of our stewardship is totally fair. 

Transitions are not easy but the come to each of us who lead. How we dealt with our leadership assignment is important, and how we deal with our leadership transition is equally important.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pesident Trump's leadership style could be his undoing.

I have watched with some bemusement the internal leadership dynamics of the Trump presidency and White House. Not his politics - the country voted for that. But his leadership style. In fact, I suspect that it is his personal leadership style that will prove to be the most serious challenge in his presidency. 

As a reader of biographies including many of world leaders, I am well aware that their personal quirks, often combined with very smart minds make them the leaders that they are or were. Those who know me know that I read everything I can on Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, whose leadership style combined with their personal idiosyncrasies made them the leaders that they were. Or, equally, Abraham Lincoln whose team of rivals made his presidency what it was through a tumultuous time in our history. That being said, I have some observations to make about the leadership style of President Trump that I believe could be his undoing. These issues go to the heart of great leadership.

One: The best leaders are crystal clear on their message. 
Clarity is one of the fundamental secrets of good leadership. Clarity means that one has thought through their position and will articulate that position with simplicity. When Roosevelt insisted that the only way that World War Two would end was with unconditional surrender of the Axis powers he clarified the endgame and made all other options of negotiated surrender superfluous.

When President Trump contradicts himself in his messaging he confuses the people around him, makes them look like chumps (especially when he has send them out to defend a prior position) and opens himself up for unnecessary attack. And frankly, it looks amateurish and foolish. Further, it undermines his credibility with other leaders in the world who wonder which Trump they should believe. Continually surprising your own staff will alienate them and eventually erode their trust in their leader.

Two. The best leaders ensure that there is a common narrative that is true, defensible and clear so that the team is on the same page. This is the responsibility of a leader and of his communications team. They need to talk, they need to agree on the message and not be in a position where one or the other is going to contradict their messaging. Clearly this has not been happening in the White House and Sean Spicer and staff have been left out to dry numerous times by the president they are trying hard to serve.

While Saturday Night Live has pilloried Sean Spicer nicely, at the core of Sean's challenge is a leader who loves to sow confusion at the expense of his staff. Sean became ineffective, I would argue, because of the individual he was working for and his dysfunctional leadership style. If I were Sean I would be bitter at how my leader had treated me.

Three. The best leaders support their staff in public and air their issues in private. Whatever one thinks of Jeff Sessions, he is currently being undermined directly and publically by the one who appointed him to his leadership role. Good leaders do not undermine their own staff! This week President Trump called Sessions a "beleaguered A G." Of course if he is beleaguered it is the President who has created the situation for Sessions. This is not only highly unprofessional but it is also disrespectful, counter productive and demonstrated that the "boss does not have the staff's back." 

I suspect that Sessions will choose to leave his role and I also predict that some others will choose to leave early because of their growing conviction that if this could happen to one of their team members it could just as easily happen to them. Of course, the President has also undermined others with whom he disagrees, which leads me to the next issue. 

Four, the best leaders respect differences of opinion and actively solicit alternate points of view. The reason that Lincoln's Team of Rivals worked as well as it did was that he wanted differing points of view, respected them and insisted that his team worked together. This was also true of FDR whose team members did not always like one another but who chose to work together through the issues of the depression and the war. 

This is not President Trump's modus operandi. Consider his ill advised early morning tweets. Almost all of them blast people or institutions that differ from his point of view including his own staff when he chooses (including other world leaders like the President of China, the leadership of Germany or the Mayor of London). While I believe there is huge bias in the news media against the president and all things conservative, I have come to the conclusion that "fake news" includes not only bias but anything that the President disagrees with. His issue with Sessions that has become so public is not with "fake news" but his unwillingness to allow Sessions to make a decision to recuse himself from the Russia inquiry. Ironically, Sessions is actively carrying out the President's policies even as the President undermines his authority and position.

Five. The best leaders take the blame in failure and give away the credit in success. One is hard pressed to find many evidences of this from President Trump. Failure, as a rule, is pinned on others, including members of his own staff and party while success seems to always come back to him. 

I suspect that many great leaders are narcissists and it appears that the President fits that description pretty well. Yet at the core of great leadership is a leader who has gathered a first rate team around him or her and it is because of the team (working synergistically together toward common objectives under good leadership) that the best things happen. That is why the best leaders give the majority of the credit for success to their team. And, since the "buck stops at the President's desk" he/she shields the team from responsibility for failure - at least in public. 

Does any of this matter? It actually does! Consider:
  • The best staff will not agree to serve and may not stay when these leadership dysfunctions continue to exist. Sure there will always be people who want positions in the government but the best people may well stay away given what they see.
  • These leadership dysfunctions are real downers for the staff that is working overtime to please their boss. It is demoralizing and it is leadership by fear and intimidation. In the long run it is not a healthy leadership paradigm.
  • At some point trust between the leader and staff begins to erode when this leadership style is present. I have to suspect that other good leaders on the President's team are watching the issues with Jeff Sessions with great unease. 
  • Senior staff do not need the chaos created by a boss who changes his story or contradicts what they have said in good faith. How, for instance, does Mr. Tillerson lead the State Department when President Trump tweets messages contradictory to what Mr. Tillerson has said or creates situations that Mr. Tillerson must clean up with other world leaders. 
  • Thinking people around the world including many world leaders are watching Mr. Trump's leadership style with consternation. What should they believe? And why does it seem that he is more critical of his friends around the world than America's enemies (Russia?). 
  • If senior staff come to the conclusion that the President does not listen to them they may well ask "Why then am I here?" And leave. 
  • Most important of all, there are real issues that face our nation that are largely being ignored because of (I would argue) the leadership style of the President. Yes the media goes after Mr. Trump relentlessly but his style and some of the people around him feed the media beast with reason to be suspicious (unreported meetings, inaccurate or incomplete information). Whatever the organization, when there is dysfunctional leadership at the top the staff of the organization and most importantly the agenda of the organization is sabotaged. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

If your board needs help, I can help

The quality of the work of a board whether a church board or other non-profit directly influences the ability of leaders to lead and the mission to be accomplished. If you want to gauge the health of your board's work, take the test below. If all board members take it and discuss the results it will be a good conversation.

With over thirty years of working with boards I am available to help your board be the best they can be. Whether remotely using technology or in person, together we can make substantial strides toward healthier and more missional board work.

As the author of High Impact Church Boards I have worked with thousands of board members to ensure that the right people end up on an organizations board, that the board is intentional in its work and that the culture of the leadership system is empowering rather than controlling. Cost is kept to a minimum by using technology like Go To Meeting, or I can join you in person for governance training or retreats.

Here are the links to all of my blogs on church boards.

I can be contacted at or 612.868.0487. I look forward to talking to and working with those who desire to raise the level of their board's effectiveness.

To assess the relative health of your board, take the test here.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Work harder or work smarter. Eight tips

Almost everyone I know works hard. Most, very hard. If we put as much attention into working smarter, however, we could accomplish more and free up time for other activities. After all, there is nothing more precious for most of us than time. And as we get older we realize that time with family and friends and our own development is a higher priority than spending more time in our work.

The premise of working smarter is based on a simple truth: Not all work yields the same result. The secret is knowing what practices will give us the largest return on our effort. Those individuals who are most productive practice these disciplines.

One: They prioritize and focus their energies. They take the time each day and each week to determine what are the most important tasks to complete and resist the temptation to be sidetracked by other issues that pop up and distract from the most important. They keep the main thing the main thing, stay focused and don't confuse mere activity with results.

Two: They keep track of their main priorities. They have a written or electronic system for tracking their priorities, their obligations and their progress. It is not "all in their head" which usually means we are not paying close attention to what we need to be doing. On any given day or week we ought to be able to quickly articulate what we are working on because we are keeping track of our priorities. Some will say, "But I like to multitask." Multitasking is overrated! Often it is an excuse for not staying focused and research shows that multitasking is actually a detriment to focused work.

Three. They delegate to others those things that they don't absolutely have to do. Many of us find it hard to delegate tasks we have traditionally done. Those who work smart are quick to delegate anything they don't need to personally do to capable people so that they can concentrate on what they do best. This is part of what it means to focus and to understand the unique role that we play and then make time for that role.

Four. They use their calendar to prioritize their work. If you look at the calendar of those who work smarter you see that they have put into their calendar those activities that are the most important to accomplish. They keep those commitments and use their calendar to prioritize their work. They realize that not all activities are equal. They also recognize that they must calendar their most important activities first, before other activities crowd them out.

Five. They understand the value of time
Time is the one thing that we cannot get back. Money comes and it goes but time just goes. It is a precious commodity because it represents opportunities to invest in what is most important to us. Therefor working smarter means that we use time wisely, focusing on what is most important at work so that we have time outside of work to invest in other meaningful activities and relationships. They don't waste time.

Six. They understand the value of relationships and nurture them
Healthy relationships are the foundation of life and work. Those who work smarter actively nurture relationships around them because relationships nurture trust, cooperation and teamwork.

Seven. They evaluate their work regularly
Working smarter means that we evaluate our own work critically and often. Are we focused on the right things? Are we neglecting key areas or are we spending too much time on peripheral activities because they are easier? Where do we need to recalibrate or adjust? Asking the right questions helps us to evaluate our work and adjust where necessary.

Eight. They take regular time to think
Taking time to think deeply about what we do, why we do it and how we do it is a secret of those who work smarter rather than harder. All it takes is  the intentionally to set aside time to think! Again, how we spend our time makes a difference in how we work.

TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at

"Creating cultures of organizational excellence."