Friday, September 17, 2021

Practicing "normalizing conversations" when there is conflict


There are many things that can introduce conflict or awkwardness into relationships: disagreements; words spoken; actions or even second hand conversations that come back to us. It can cause us to back away from a relationship, suspect that others don't have our best interests in mind and create an invisible wall between two individuals. It happens in families, among friends and in the workplace - anywhere we have key relationships.

It is also very easy to allow that conflict, misunderstanding or break in the relationship to linger, leaving a break in the relationship. The truth is, however, that in most cases, this break in relationship can be resolved. And we should always try.

This is where normalizing conversations come in. Rather than live with our perceptions or assumptions about where the other individual is coming from, or the awkwardness that has been introduced into the relationship, normalizing conversations can clarify and remove relational walls that have been created. It is a courageous decision we make to seek peace, clarity and understanding by candidly talking to another about the events that have transpired.

Unaddressed issues between individuals create walls and distance while discussing those issues can remove those walls and bring parties closer together.

A normalizing conversation is very simple. It is taking the step to initiate a conversation in order to understand one another and remove the invisible wall that has been created by words, actions or assumptions. Choosing to initiate a conversation with another to clarify issues and create understanding  is a courageous and peacemaking practice. And too rare.

A normalizing conversation is not a confrontation but a conversation. It may or may not result in agreement but it can result in understanding. Because you have invited the other individual to be candid with you as you are with them, it removes future awkwardness in the relationship even if you did not come to agreement. It is simply a conversation to "normalize" what has become problematic.

The major barrier to such conversations is our own fear. In my experience, our fear is usually unfounded and we find the other party relieved to be able to lower the walls and understand each other. Even if the conversation is hard, it opens up the ability to communicate and creates greater understanding and that by definition almost always lowers the relational walls. It is about calming the relational waters.

I will often start such a conversation with something like this. "I know that there has been some awkwardness over (whatever the issue it is) and that it has impacted our relationship. Can we have a candid conversation about this issue and simply try to understand one another? I don't like where we are and really want to see if we can better understand one another." In almost every circumstance this leads to a productive conversation and usually the lowering of walls.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The words of a leader

The two boys God gave me were highly sensitive growing up to the words and reactions of their parents. I remember one time giving one of them my "look" and he responded "Don't yell at me!" Actually I had not said anything but I had communicated with my body language and he had felt the message! 

Leaders are not parents to those they lead but like parents, their words have extra weight than the words of others.

Leaders often do not appreciate how their words can hurt, wound, lift up or encourage those in their organization. Because they are leaders their words have extra weight which means that what they say and how they say it impacts people deeply, positively or negatively in significant ways. Their words carry more weight because people don't want to let them down and staff feel it deeply when words spoken carelessly come their way.

This means that leaders have a higher responsibility than others to filter and control their words (yes emails) and reactions so that they do not negatively impact others or send messages they don't want to send. While everyone has a responsibility to watch their words, this is absolutely true for leaders who set culture by their words. Their words have the power to uplift, help or wound and bring down,

Leaders should remember:
  • Words of affirmation are huge.
  • Careless passing words that construe disappointment or cynical can hurt.
  • You can say a lot with body language. Be aware and careful.
  • Measure your responses to control your emotions so that your emotions don't get in the way of the message.
  • Think before one speaks: both about the message and the way it is delivered.
  • If you are going to say hard things because you must, think carefully about how you do it and focus on behaviors rather than on motives. Your words carry extra weight so use them carefully!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Unspoken Discussions on church boards and work teams

Church boards as well as work teams are notorious for their unspoken discussions! Those unspoken discussions are the issues that are present, that people know are present, but that either individual board members or the board itself does not have the courage to discuss as a board. The elephant in the room - often key issues for the church that require being named and dealt with but the culture of the board mitigates against it.

Many individuals do not like conflict and their definition of conflict is anything that might cause individual or group discomfort. So there is subtle pressure put on board or team members to be nice and not rock the boat by naming issues that are out there and need discussion. (The same dynamics can be had on almost any team.) You know that you have breached a topic that makes people uncomfortable when you put an issue on the table and there is either silence, or someone jumps in to quickly deflect the issue from discussion.

I recently read an article about Patrick Lencioni suggesting that one of the reasons that major financial institutions have found themselves in so much trouble recently is the prevailing culture on company governance boards to not deal with issues that would make others uncomfortable. So the culture of nice sabotages a culture of truth and effectiveness.

Pastors, leaders, board members or team members who choose not to speak in the face of real unspoken issues do a disservice to the organization they serve. The irony is that everyone generally knows that there are unspoken issues - they just don't want the discomfort of naming them. The hope is that the issue will just go away!

How we speak to the issues is important. If I approach an unspoken issue and put it on the table it will be best received if: There is not a personal vendetta; my words are not meant to hurt; I don't have a hidden personal agenda; I want the best for the organization; I communicate in a way that invites rather than disinvites dialogue; I say it in love; and I acknowledge that the issue may make others uncomfortable.

The funny thing about "elephants" is that once they are named they are no longer elephants. I once worked with a group around a whiteboard and asked them to name every elephant they felt existed in their organization. We filled the white board (a bad thing) but once up there we could talk about all of them (a good thing). Once named an elephant is simply another issue that we are allowed to talk about. Unnamed it is one of the unspoken discussions that we know we need to have but don't have the courage to discuss.

Every board, team and organization is better off with a high level of candor coupled with a high level of trust which mitigates against the candor turning into anger or cynicism.

If you are brave, I would suggest that you ask your team or your board in a relaxed atmosphere to brainstorm on any unspoken board discussions you need to have, on any elephants that need to be named, white board them and then develop a plan to talk through them one by one.

Unspoken discussions are not discussions, just frustrations and they often hide real issues that unresolved will hurt the organization.

TJ Addington of 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 excellence

Avoiding the Activity Trap

One of the most strategic things each of us can do - and insist from our staff is that we
 not fall into the activity trap. Simply put, the activity trap is the mistake of believing that activity is synonymous with results. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Think for a moment about people you know. Some of them seem to be always busy but the results from their work are, well, meager. Others, may or may not seem busy but the results of their work are significant.

I have watched senior leaders and even CEO's fall into the activity trap, endlessly busy with "important things" but truly meager in terms of the results of their work. Often if it were not for some good folks around them they would be seen as the "emperor without clothes." Sometimes they can fool outsiders who see the activity but insiders have a hard time figuring out what they really produce.

What makes the difference between those who see meager results and those who see significant results?

The difference is that those who see the best results understand that activity does not equal results. Activity is simply being busy. But if that activity is not carefully focused on specific outcomes one is simply left with activity.

General or unfocused activity yields general and unfocused results. Specific and focused activity will yield specific pre-determined outcomes that help the organization realize its objectives. In the first case the activity is focused on activity while in the second, the activity is focused on outcomes. It is a critical difference.

I am not indicating that those who live with unfocused activity are not doing good things. The question is whether the activity is focused on the good things that will yield the results they are after.

A problem with typical job descriptions is that they actually are a list of activities rather than a description of necessary results. That is why I believe it is far better to have job descriptions with Key Result Areas which are the outcomes wanted for the position than to have a list of activity. With Key Result Areas any activity included in the job is actually focused toward a few definable results that spell success for the job.

One of the ironies is that those who choose to do less often actually accomplish more because they are more focused than those running at a heavy pace.

To avoid the activity trap we should be able to answer these questions:

Do I know what specific results I want from my work? For instance I have five Key Result Areas that spell success for my work. Can you define what spells success for you?

Is my daily, weekly and monthly activity focused on achieving the specific results I have identified?

Do I have a strategy for making sure I stay focused? After all it is very easy to drift and a strategy for staying focused is important.

If you are a supervisor, can your reports answer these questions?

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Overcoming tribalism and politics in the church: The challenge of our day

Politics today has become tribal, and frankly ugly. People demonize those who don’t think like them on Social Media with nasty, unkind comments. Christians likewise are not immune. I have been called nasty names when I have posted comments regarding racial injustice, for instance, that had no political intent at all. Our tribalism is invading the church, dividing congregations, killing friendships and creating divisions that saddens the heart of God.

This is not a new problem. Even the early church dealt with differing perspectives, world views and opinions. Paul addresses this in Ephesians 4:1-6 where he writes this: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Evidently there were squabbles, attitudes and opinions that threatened to get in the way of the unity of the church in Ephesus. Ironically he names four qualities that are in short supply today when political opinions are being discussed: Humility; gentleness; patience and love. In their place we often have criticism, sharp words, name calling, impatience, harshness and division. What a contrast between the two approaches.

Paul grounds this plea for unity in a far higher value than our political opinions. He reminds us of what binds us as believers together. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Do you catch the common word in this sentence. It is the word “one.”  We are bound together with a common savior, a common faith, a common baptism and a common savior. That oneness is far more important than our differences. 

This is why Paul tells the Galatian church “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, and I would add, neither republican or democrat for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As Christ followers we are one tribe. His tribe. And He is greater and higher and more important than all of our ethnic or political differences.

I am convinced that many believers have a more nation centric view of life than they do a Christian world view. In a Christian world view we understand that we have a dual citizenship with our primary identification with Jesus and His Kingdom. Subordinate to that are our political views and national identity. I would suggest that today, this order is often reversed. Our politics come first - justified by how we read Scripture - and our Kingdom citizenship second which is why we see so much tribalism in the church. If you doubt that, listen to what people say about politics and what they say about their followership of Christ. There is a lot of conviction on the first and too little conviction on the second.

Both Jesus and Paul had precious little to say about the politics of their day and there was plenty of that. They were far more concerned about what it meant to follow Christ and preserve the unity of His people.

The next time you are tempted to allow political opinions to get in the way of your relationships, remember Paul’s admonition to do all that we can to keep the bond of peace and to major in humility; gentleness; patience and love with one another. We have one savior and He is greater and higher and more important than all of our differences. We have our differences to be sure but the Spirit of God has made us one indivisible family with one Lord at its head. Let’s work to live as one rather than allow tribalism to divide us. This needs to be a major teaching point in the church. We are not about politics and parties. We are about Jesus and the Kingdom.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Four keys to productive conversations


It is amazing how quickly something said in a conversation can take the conversation south, or leave one or both parties thinking that they had not had a worthwhile dialogue. This is even more true today in the politically charged and divisive day in which we live. Productive conversations are a key to relational and business success, so how do we increase the possibility of healthy conversations?

I believe that there are four keys to productive conversations.

One: Rather than leading with pronouncements, lead with questions. Questions elicit dialogue and conversation while pronouncements often lead to misunderstanding and can easily shut down conversations. In the worst case, they create unnecessary conflict. 

I might have disappointment with a staff member and need to have a conversation around the issue that disappointed me. If I lead with a pronouncement of my disappointment I will probably be met with defensiveness. However, if I start by asking a few questions, I will not only understand better why something happened (or didn't) but will open up an opportunity to talk candidly about it. The best conversations are driven by questions and inquisitiveness rather than pronouncements or conclusions. I might even discover that what I thought happened had reasons that I had no idea of.

Two: Listen!!!! We talk too much and listen too little. Understanding comes when we actively listen to others. The more we listen to others the more clues we have to what they are actually thinking or saying. When I have practiced the discipline of listening I have been thankful that I did because my perception of what was real and what was actually real had been flawed. Understanding and empathy only take place when we listen and ask good questions. It changes the nature of the conversation completely. 

Three: Choose a posture of humility rather than one of expertise or "I know the answers." Even if you do know the answers, a posture of humility will allow your input to be heard. If we come across as the expert who has the answers, the conversation stops. There is nowhere to go. And, the best answers are usually found in dialogue rather than in our own heads. I am an expert in almost nothing but in the company of others I can help find answers to problems and situations. Narcissistic people make pronouncements, don't listen and let people know they have the answers. All these behaviors shut down conversation rather than facilitate it.

Four: Pay great attention to the tone, body language, reactions and emotional feedback from the individual you are talking to. Self awareness is a key to good Emotional Intelligence and we get ourselves in trouble when we are unaware of the reaction of the one we are talking with. Being aware of their reactions can help us have a more effective conversation. If what we are saying is being met with resistance, we want to be aware and potentially modify our approach.

Without these four practices, it is easy to approach conversations with only our assumptions. Those assumptions are often deeply flawed but they need not be hinderance to the dialogue if we will pay attention to these practices. They give dignity to those we are talking to and understanding to us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Never underestimate your influence


My wife, Cleo, grew up in a remote province of the Philippines. For many years the Philippines was a possession of Spain and her town was one of those deeply influenced by the Spanish. In fact, the town is built like a Spanish town with a Catholic Church from the 1800’s in the town Square. From an early age Cleo was taken to church by her grandmother. She remembers her grandma’s large Spanish-style skirts, the sweets that she would bring in her deep pockets and her grandma’s love for Jesus. 

Her grandma would tell her that she prayed for her daily. Her grandma, her church, and early faith were all part of the same picture. She gave to Cleo a great love for Jesus and an abiding love for the church. Her grandmother was a humble woman of humble means who passed on to Cleo a love for Jesus that Cleo has, in subsequent years, passed on and continues to pass on to others. 

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he tells Timothy how he remembers him in his prayers. And then he writes, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Later in the same letter he reminds Timothy of how, from infancy, he has known the Holy Scriptures, because of his grandmother and mother. Nothing else is known of Lois and Eunice but we do know that they passed their faith and love for Jesus down to Timothy who passed it on to others. 

We should never underestimate the influence that we can have with family, friends and acquaintances as we simply live lives of faith, love Jesus, and share that faith and love with others. This is evangelism 101. It does not take special training and it isn’t a program. It is simply influencing others through our lives and especially our prayers.

Cleo’s grandmother probably never travelled more than 100 miles beyond her village. She would be amazed if she knew that this little girl that she prayed for and took with her to church, has lived in Manilla, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and now the United States. And in each of these places, Cleo has pointed people to Jesus through her infectious personality, deep faith, loving compassion, and prayer for those around her. This is her grandmother’s legacy. Her grandmother’s simple faith and prayer has, at this point, touched the world long after her death. Her life mattered and her faith has now touched many.

Every day we have the opportunity to influence others for Jesus. Never underestimate your influence with those around you. The legacy of our faith, our prayer, and our love for Jesus can have ripples long after we are gone. Let your life ripple for Him in the lives of those around you. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

One thing that God is rich in


Few chapters of the Bible are more explicit about the amazing blessings we have in Jesus than Ephesians one and two. If you have not read them recently, you should. While there are many crazy amazing statements in these two chapters, one stands out and it has huge implications for you and I. It is Ephesians 2:4 where we read, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.”

Now there are many things that God is rich in but this is the only time in Scripture where he tells us what one of those things is. He says that He is rich, enormously rich in mercy. He is a billionaire when it comes to mercy and he loves to give it away. In fact, notice that this mercy is not given to us because we deserve it but is a result of His great love for us. As Micah 7:18 says, God delights in showing mercy. Mercy is His specialty. 

As I write this, the powerball total is 241 million dollars. How many people would love to win that lotto. In this case one or a handful of people might win all or a piece of it. With Jesus, the prize is infinitely greater and anyone who desires that prize can claim it because He delights in showing mercy. It is His specialty and he is rich in it. 

And we need it. Paul writes in the passage above that we were dead in transgressions. Dead! We had a sin problem that we could not fix. We were not sick, we didn’t lack something, and we didn’t have flaws. We were Dead! And Jesus came to bring dead people to life - because of His mercy. We didn’t deserve it, could not earn it and had no way to deal with it. Dead people cannot do surgery on themselves. 

And why would Jesus come to bring dead people like us to life? Because of His great love for us. His infinite, unfathomable, unexplainable love. I have often had people say to me about someone they were totally irritated or angry with, “I’m done with them.” “I’m done!” 

Now consider God. He created us in His image, created a perfect world for us to live in, and not only did we rebel and go our own way but when God became a creature in the incarnation many rejected Him as well and crucified Him. Yet God, unlike us, never said “I’m done.” Rather he actually came to die for our sin, yank our dead bodies to life and pour out His mercy on us. He is never done with us. He loves us with an infinite and unexplainable love and He is rich, exceedingly rich in mercy.

We never cease to need God’s mercy. Everyday we need mercy for sins of comission and sins of omission. But as Duane Ortlund writes, “If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on your way to heaven.” Between His love and His mercy we have become recipients of His amazing grace.

And those who have become recipients of and understand His mercy freely give it away to others. We cannot give what we have not experienced in a real way.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

God's thinking and ours: Be glad they are not the same



How often when things don’t go our way, or when our prayers are not answered as we would wish we think of Isaiah 55:8 where it says ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” In other words, we conclude that we cannot understand God or His ways and the reason He does not respond as we would is that, in the words of Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The conclusion is that we just cannot understand God. But what if this conclusion is not what God is saying here? What if He is not talking about the fact that we cannot understand Him but that He doesn’t act as we would expect Him to. Or to put it another way, He doesn’t act like we act in an important way.

Like all of Scripture, these verses need to be read in context. In verses 6-8, God says to us, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

In other words, if you have made a mess of your life, if you are in trouble, if you need God’s mercy and love and forgiveness, turn to me and I will have mercy on you. In fact, I will freely pardon you.” And then He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways”, declares the Lord. 

Why would He say this? Because He isn’t like us. If someone has offended us or hurt us or messed up their lives we have long memories. We expect them to get their act together, make up for their offense, pull up their bootstraps. We can be unforgiving, lack compassion and mercy, hold on to grudges and offenses and withhold our love, forgiveness or kindness.

God is saying, I am not like you. I don’t think like you think. My ways are higher than your ways. My heart is bigger than your heart. In fact, no matter how badly you have messed up, how often you have messed up or no matter what the mess you have created, come to me and I will have mercy on you and will freely pardon. While we would think He would withhold His love and mercy, because that is our way, He says, no I give it freely, every time. Come to me.

In fact, in verse 12, we read this: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Dane Ortlund writes: “He isn’t like you. Even the most intense of human love is but the faintest echo of heaven’s cascading abundance. His heartfelt thoughts for you outstrip what you can conceive. He intends to restore you into the radiant resplendence for which you were created. And that is dependent not on you keeping yourself clean but on you taking your mess to him. He doesn’t limit himself to working with the unspoiled parts of us that remain after a lifetime of sinning. His power runs so deep that he is able to redeem the very worst parts of our past into the most radiant parts of our future. But we need to take those dark miseries to him.” (Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, pp 160-161).

How lucky we are that His ways are not our ways. His heart of compassion and mercy is unlike that of any of us. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

A calm, peaceful and untroubled heart


I am one of those individuals who overthinks things. When I think about the past I ask the “what if” questions. What if I had done this or not done that? When thinking about the future I want to have it all worked out as if I can actually control what happens tomorrow. And on any given day I have loads of questions about my life and what is going on around me. And if I watch the news or read social media I am aware that our world is messed up and that messes with my mind and heart. 

What I desire most of all is to live each day with a peaceful, calm and untroubled heart. I’m guessing that you want the same. We also know that for many of us this seems to be an elusive goal but God says it is possible. 

In First Peter 5:7, the Apostle says this: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” We don’t need to carry around our anxiety! Jesus says, give it to me because I care about you and because I am the only one that is equipped to deal with it. 

The key here is that we need to actively choose to give our cares and anxieties to God. The reason that we don’t live with peaceful, calm and untroubled hearts is that we don’t give our anxieties and worries to the Father on a daily basis. 

The great women and men of the faith often had what were called the morning and evening office or prayers. It was a set time each morning where they came into God’s presence and gave their concerns to Him along with a time of confession and worship. It was an intentional discipline to acknowledge their failings, their need for Jesus that day, to give to Him their concerns and worries and receive from Him the strength and guidance they needed for that day. The evening office is a time of thanksgiving for His presence and protection for the day.

Drawing on the example of these men and women of God, I start each day by writing out a prayer to God. Much of it is the same prayer each day - written again each day because my need is new each day. It grounds me in my need for Him, my brokenness and need for His forgiveness and transferring my anxieties and worries to Him. 

These are the opening words I pen each and every day. “Father, Grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Grant me today a calm, peaceful and untroubled heart. Bless me and keep me, shine your face upon me and be gracious to me, turn your heart toward me and give me peace.”

The latter portion is the prayer that the priests of the Old Testament prayed over the people when they came to worship. It is beautiful because it represents God’s heart for us. He wants to give us peace and He offers to us His peace. Each and every day!

If you want to live each day with a peaceful, calm and untroubled heart, it starts with a practice of asking God for that very thing. It is what He offers us and it is what He wants to give us. That today He would give to us a peaceful, calm and untroubled heart and that He would bless us and keep us, shine His face upon us and be gracious to us and that He would turn His face toward us and give us peace. His peace.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Three questions and three disciplines that drive ministry forward


Workplaces are designed to keep people busy with activity but often that activity does not drive a meaningful missional agenda forward in a disciplined way. There are meetings without clear agendas, decisions that get made and forgotten, leaders who have their own priorities that are not necessarily connected to a larger overreaching goal, and employees who are busy with good things but not aligned and moving in the same direction.

This is especially true in the ministry or non-profit world where the disciplines related to profit are absent and it is easier to get away without discipline, alignment and focus. Of course that is not our desire: We desire to be mission driven and deeply effective, so what is the key to seeing this happen?

Meaningful work, alignment and focus always starts at the top of the organization. The senior team has the responsibility to set the organization’s agenda. This is not simply about mission or vision but about annual and quarterly priorities which will help move the agenda of the organization toward that mission and vision. Without this discipline of annual objectives and quarterly goals that contribute to that annual objective, there is simply activity without focus.

Leaders drive meaningful agendas and progress by asking three questions and establishing three disciplines. This is both simple and profound.

Question One: What is our picture of our preferred future? Everyone has a mission or vision statement. A picture of the preferred future is a written document of one to three pages that clearly describes the end result of the organization’s work and the practices and culture of the organization itself. In order to move your organization toward a target you must define the target. Once written this picture of your preferred future should be revisited once a year to clarify and make any necessary changes.

The first discipline is the writing of your picture of the preferred future. Leaders who have not defined in specific terms what their organization or ministry is about do not have a target to hit. They are like Charlie Brown who never used a target because that way he could hit it every time. Amusing but not fruitful.

Question Two: Once we have our picture of the preferred future in writing, what are the specific things we are committed to accomplishing this year to best move us toward that preferred future? In the absence of asking that question, many things will happen in the course of the year but it will not be focused in a laser way on moving toward your goal. Dozens of small “moves” without a target will not substitute for three to five organization wide moves toward a specific goal.

Thus the second discipline is that of identifying the three to five key initiatives that the organization must make in any given year to move toward the preferred future. This is hard strategic work that often does not take place precisely because it is hard and because with this work there is accountability that is inherent in making these commitments. This is what separates great leadership from average leadership. It is the discipline of moving the organization toward its preferred future on an annual basis with accountability.

Question Three: What are the specific “wins” that every department or leader is going to accomplish in the next 90 days by quarter? Large wins are made up of smaller wins and 90 day win cycles keep staff and departments focused on moving the agenda forward. They allow you to break down large goals into bite size goals that build on one another and make the annual “wins” possible. In this way, every department or leader is identifying what they are going to focus on in the next 90 days. Focus is everything!

So the third discipline is that of running 90 day “win cycles” where the “scorecard” is the 90 day plan. This takes discipline and a regular rhythm of work that is calendared and built into the fabric of the annual, quarterly and monthly work of the organization. While it may be hard the first few quarters, the ongoing discipline becomes easier and the wins make it all worthwhile.

Organizational leadership is always about asking the right questions and living with the right disciplines. These are three of both that will move your leadership and your organization’s results to the next level. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

What defines God's glory toward you?

Moses has been described in Scripture as the most humble person who ever lived. But that doesn’t mean that he was shy or lacked courage. In fact, at a critical juncture in the Exodus when the people had disobeyed God by making a rival god in the form of the golden calf, Moses, who was a reluctant leader said to God, “If you don’t go with us from here, I cannot lead the people.” God said to Moses, “My presence will go with you.” Unsatisfied, and wanting to know this God who was leading them better, Moses said, “Please. Let me see your glory.”

Now when you think of God's glory what comes to your mind? His holiness? His righteousness? His immense and unlimited power? His transcendence?  His immutability? Whatever it is that you think when you consider His glory, His response to Moses is stunning.

Here is what He tells Moses. "God said, 'I will make my goodness pass right in front of you: I'll call out the name, God, right before you. I'll treat well whomever I want to treat well and I'll be kind to whomever I want to be kind.' God continued, 'But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live.' God said, 'Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I'll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I've passed by. Then I'll take my hand away and you'll see my back. But you won't see my face.'" (Exodus 33:18-23).

How does God define His glory to Moses? "I will make my goodness pass right in front of you: I'll call out the name, God, right before you. "I'll treat whomever I want to treat well and I'll be kind to whomever I want to be kind." God defines His glory with two words: Goodness and Kindness!

His glory is to be good to you and His glory is to be kind to you. This is His character. It is why He said "I will call out the name, God right before you." God is good and He is kind and that in large part defines His glory. It is how He defined His glory to Moses.

In Matthew 11:29, Jesus defines His heart as gentle and lowly. Here in Exodus 33, the first words that God uses in Scripture to define His glory are goodness and kindness toward us. It is His disposition toward us, even when He disciplines us. He is all about goodness and kindness toward us.

And to prove His goodness and kindness along with His gentle and lowly spirit, this God who could not be seen by men and live, came in the incarnation to live among us so we could see Him and understand His amazing heart. It is in the Gospels that we most clearly see the heart of God toward us.

There are many, many things that describe God and His glory. But two of the most profound descriptors are His goodness and kindness toward us. It is who God is toward us. It is how God regards us. It is where we daily find goodness and kindness in a world that is often neither good nor kind. It is His description of His glory.

And why would this not be when He chose to die for the sins of His creatures who had rebelled against Him, including us - and offer us eternal life and full forgiveness if we believe in Him. That is astonishing glory. It is unexpected grace and mercy of the most amazing kind. In fact, It is amazing grace and that amazing grace is His glory.

Monday, July 19, 2021

What is your vision for you life?

It is amazing how quickly and easily we fall into the trap of living without a great deal of thought as to what we are after, the choices we are making or the significance of what we say yes and no to. Without a vibrant vision for our lives we end up living accidentally rather than intentionally - wasting the promise of our days.

God gave us gifts and purpose. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 2:10. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. (The Message translation).

He created us for something special and unique. I often talk to individuals who are searching for something that they can contribute to others, to society or to God's work. What they sense they are missing, without knowing it is the purpose that God created them for. When we don't live out that purpose, we sense that something is missing and we often try to fill that missing piece without realizing that what is missing is our living out God's vision for our lives.

We often make the mistake of thinking that we cannot make much of a difference in our world. The truth is that in God's economy, ordinary people like you and I make a profound difference for Jesus in the small ways that we answer His call to contribute to those around us using the ways that He has uniquely gifted us. 

How do we know how He has gifted us? Here are some ways to figure that out:

  • What am I most passionate about?
  • What am I really good at and when I do it I feel like I am in my lane?
  • What do others see in me and compliment me for?
  • If I could do anything with my life, what would it be?
The answers to these questions give us clues as to how He wants us to contribute to His Kingdom work. Our job is to find ways in which we can do that.

We need a vision for our lives that transcends just living. A vision that gives our lives eternal significance as we join Him in His work in our world. A world that desperately needs healing, hope, help, peace through the involvement of His people. 

The most happy and satisfied people I know are those who choose to live at the intersection of their God given gifting and God's call on their lives. 

Do you have a vision for your life that includes those places where you can contribute to God's work in our world? 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

What I have learned as a leader about my assumptions and evaluation of staff


Leaders evaluate their staff on a regular basis, both to themselves and in conversation with others. Our ability to do this fairly and with grace matters because our evaluations impact their jobs, sometimes their future and the opportunities that we give to them. In addition, when there are discussions about staff (in appropriate settings) it is important that we exhibit a generosity of spirit and are fair and balanced in our attitudes and comments.

As a younger leader I was more critical, less understanding and made faster judgements that were not always fair or balanced. From the perspective of many years in managing others I have several principles that I try to live by when it comes to my judgements of staff.

One: Be circumspect about what you assume and hear from others about staff members. All of us have biases and often what is shared about someone else may not be fully accurate, or based on second hand rather than first hand information. When I hear something negative and don't know all the facts I will "think grey" rather than make a judgement that I don't have enough information to make. Thinking grey means that I suspend judgement until I have all the information. This has kept me from making what would have been a poor decision on many occasions.

This means that we ought to give people the benefit of the doubt. When something does not go right, or there is conflict of some sort it is easy to make judgements about character, motives or competency. Often, there are explanations for what has transpired that give us greater perspective if we will wait to see what the facts are. Things are not always what they seem!

Two: I have learned that I should not judge motives because when I do I am almost always wrong. When we judge motives, we make assumptions about the intent behind some action. Ironically, we never judge our motives as being suspect because we know ourselves but we often judge the motives of others. 

I can say with confidence that 90 plus percentage of the time when I have judged the motives of others I have been wrong. So I try very hard to think grey, assume the best rather than assuming anything negative. With time and dialogue, clarity can be achieved.

Three: Remember that people can change and they do. Just because someone has deficits does not mean that they will necessarily stay that way. Most people want to grow and develop. The problem that I have observed in ministries is that in the name of "grace" we don't level with people on issues that they have so they have no way of growing and developing. This is particularly true in areas of relational disconnects or EQ issues where some truth telling and coaching could change the picture. All of us have areas where we need to grow. I try to assume that people will grow and develop unless experience tells me differently.

Four: Be careful of allowing "in" and "out" groups to develop because of our evaluations. In a healthy organization, everyone should be in the "in" group. If someone cannot do their jobs or have some sort of fatal flaw, they need to be graciously moved on. But, leaders should not create "in" and "out" groups based on their evaluation of staff.

Five: We should want everyone to succeed. This means that when there are developmental issues whether relational, emotional, or necessary skills, we ought to have ways to help staff members grow. As leaders, we are here to help people succeed and that means that we invest our own time and energy in doing so. If there are issues, let's figure them out if they can be figured out. Let's develop our staff if they can be developed. We need to value people and treat people with dignity and respect.

Six: We should display generosity of spirit. Leaders who are generous in spirit want the very best for their staff, believe the very best in their staff and will invest themselves to help their staff succeed. Generosity of spirit includes building cultures where people are most likely to succeed and where we can draw the best out of our people. 

If you are a leader, be generous in your attitudes and assessments of staff - and of their development and success.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Finding life satisfaction

All of us are on a quest for a life of meaning, purpose and satisfaction. But let's be honest. That quest can be frustrating and even seem pointless at times. Or elusive! We chase after the holy grail of satisfaction but often come up far emptier than we want.

Jesus had a lot to say about life and a satisfying life. In Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, Jesus talks to the crowd about real bread. The Bread of God that gives life to the world. This conversation came on the heels of Jesus feeding thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish. 

That got the attention of the people so as the crowds followed Jesus wanting to see more of that kind of miraculous fast food event, He said to the crowd, “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” (John 6:27). 

When they say, “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” Jesus gives us this clue to the key to life satisfaction. “The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. (John 6:35). There we have the secret. As we align our life with His, we experience life in a new and fuller way  that lasts and makes a real difference.

This goes beyond simply inviting Christ into our lives which is the first step of finding eternal life. A life of satisfaction and meaning comes progressively as we choose to align all parts of our life with His. For instance, why are people who are generous with God and others happier than those who are stingy with their resources? Very simply, they have chosen to align their lives with His and in practicing generosity they experience more of His blessing than those who keep it all for themselves.

I know many who claim to be Christ followers who are not happy or satisfied people. Some are downright ornery and unhappy. I suspect that much of the reason is that they have not chosen to align their lives with His except in a superficial way. There is a thief - the evil one who would like to steal our joy, passion and purpose and he is good at it if we let him. But Jesus said in John 10:10, "I came so that they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." That is the life we want and it comes as we align our lives progressively more with His.

Every choice we make to align our lives with His teaching and example leads to a fuller life and one that is more satisfying. Ironically, it is when we align with Him and give up our own control and life satisfaction schemes that we find the good that nourishes our lives the most. As Jesus says in John 27, “He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.”

The life long pursuit of satisfaction and meaning can be found in one place: The life long pursuit of aligning our lives with His teaching and His example. It is that simple but simplicity is sometimes our nemesis. Here is my question today. Where does He want you to align your life more fully with His? Figure out how you can do that and you will experience greater meaning in your life. Stay in alignment with Him and you will experience life and life abundant.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Seven characteristics of your best staff members

There are many things we look for in key staff. Some of those things are obvious such as whether someone can do their job or whether they have the needed expertise, or whether or not they fit in our culture. 

The best leaders and staff have another set of common characteristics as well. We don't always think a lot about these but as you will see, they are powerful personal characteristics.

One: They are evangelists for the cause they represent - they don't just buy in, they live the mission. There is a difference between believing in a vision or mission and being an evangelist for it. The former is a given but the latter attitude is one that brings others into the work of the organization with energy and enthusiasm. Evangelists sell the vision and mission to everyone around them in an infectious way. They embody the cause and live the cause in ways that other's don't. To be around them is to be influenced by their passion.

Two: They believe that great things can happen - they think big. There is a difference between those that believe something can happen through their efforts and those who believe big things can happen. Your best staff don't dream small dreams but they dream big dreams. They may start small but their vision is large because they want to see the organization accomplish big things. Too many staff are easily satisfied with the status quo and too few believe that much more is possible.

Three: They are optimistic and realistic at the same time - they see what can be and what is. You might think in light of the last characteristic that the best staff members live in an unrealistic world. That could not be further from the truth. They live with both optimism and reality in equal measure. They are highly realistic about what is but they also believe that with leverage, the right people and the right strategies, much more is possible. And, they are realistic about how they can get added momentum and what it will take.

Four: They have an action bias - they get stuff done. Your best staff are not dreamers but doers. They have the ability to get things done because they have a bias toward action. They think strategically but are always doing something to move the ball forward. The status quo is where one may be today but it won't be where one is tomorrow. Change, innovation, new ideas and new strategies are a part of their everyday focus. This is why the best staff will only work in highly empowered organizations where they have the permission to act, to try new things and to experiment with new strategies.

Five: They believe it takes a team - they develop a highly synergistic team. Your best staff are not lone rangers - no matter how brilliant they are. Rather, they believe in team and are always working synergistically with others toward agreed upon goals. Too often we hire brilliant people but don't ensure that they work well with teams. It is in team that the best ideas are generated and the best momentum and leverage happens. Teams multiply the power of any one individual in a quantum way.

Six: They empower and release - they give away opportunity liberally. Those who control others also "control forward progress" because they don't release others to do what they can do well. Momentum comes when progress is being driven by multiple individuals who are empowered and released. Staff who control rather than empower hurt the individuals they control and they hurt the organization's forward momentum.

Seven: They always leave the organization better than they found it - they improve continuously. A sign of a great staff member is one who is always committed to helping the organization get better. This is not about creating a better space for themselves but a better space for the organization as a whole. When thinking about their job they are always thinking about the organization as a whole and seeking to make it better.

Obviously we should look for these characteristics in staff we hire but we should also be training our current staff to live out these commitments.