Sunday, June 30, 2013

Trust busters and builders

There are practices that contribute to cultures of trust and those which contribute to cultures of mistrust. Leaders of others set the pace by choosing practices that support cultures of trust.

Trust Builder: Choosing to trust.
Trust Buster: Starting from mistrust

You can count on me to trust you unless you give me a reason not to do so. In the event that trust is broken, I will clarify how trust can be re-established.  I will always start from a position of trust rather than a position of mistrust

Trust Builder: Being candid and up-front.
Trust Buster: Being vague and fuzzy

You can count on me to tell you what I am thinking, what my expectations are, how I perceive your strengths and weaknesses and if there is a performance issue, what you need to do to solve it. You may not always agree with me but you can count on me to be clear a bout what I am thinking and why.

Trust Builder: Keeping my promises
Trust Buster: Breaking my promises

I will commit to those things that I can commit to and you can count on me to follow through with my commitment. If for some reason I find myself unable to carry through on a promise, I will tell you. I will not commit to those things that I know I cannot deliver on.

Trust Builder: Acting consistently
Trust Buster : Acting inconsistently

My life will match my words and you can count on me to be consistent in how I treat those who report to me, in the pattern of my life and in living out the commitments of the organization. Inconsistency will be an exception rather than the rule.

Trust Builder: Listening carefully
Trust Buster: Not engaging in real dialogue

I will respectfully listen to and dialogue with you and will be candid in my responses. This means that there is always opportunity for dialogue, questions, clarification and my commitment is to carefully consider your opinions and suggestions even if in the end I choose a different path.

Trust Builder: Being fair and equitable
Trust Buster: Giving preferential treatment

You can expect me to act with your best interests in mind and to always seek to be fair and equitable in decisions that impact you.

Trust Builder: Caring for people
Trust Buster: Using people

You can expect me to genuinely care about you as a whole person and never simply use you for my or the organization's purpose. This means that I will also seek to engage you in your sweet spot where there is convergence between your gifts and our needs.

Trust Builder: Self disclosing 
Trust Buster: Secretive or unable to 'read'

You can expect me to be appropriately self disclosing about who I am, what I am thinking, where I am going and my own challenges.

Trust Builder: Empowering
Trust Buster: Controlling

Where you are given responsibility I will empower you to carry it out within clearly articulated boundaries rather than micromanage you or control you.

Trust Builder: Clarifying
Trust Buster: Making assumptions

If it appears to me that you have violated my trust or acted inappropriately, I will ask you for clarification on what happened and why rather than assume that you deliverately chose to do something unwise or inappropriate.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Don't resaw the sawdust

How many of us live with high levels of regret: issues from the past that continue to haunt our minds, our hearts and our conscience! Yet we know intellectually that God has taken care of all that has been forgiven and sin which we have forsaken. But our intellectual knowledge often does not match our heart acceptance.

The regrets of life are like sawdust and you cannot resaw sawdust. It is dust that has already been sawn and now is good for nothing but to be swept up and left in the sawdust bin.

God's grace covers all of our sin and all of us have plenty of sin to cover, and his grace is always greater than the amount or severity of our sin. He has made sawdust of that sin removing it from us as far as the east is from the west.

The evil one wants us to continue in our guilt and shame. Both which have been lifted and paid for. Don't let him.

The next time you think of those regrets, remind yourself, "You cannot resaw sawdust." God shredded it, leave it in the bin. It is a simple reminder that can free us from what God has already paid the price for.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Healthy teams

Consider this definition of a healthy team: A high impact ministry team is a group of missionally aligned and healthy individuals working strategically together under good leadership toward common objectives, with accountability for results. All of these same criteria apply to healthy church boards as well.

A team is not simply a random group of people thrown together because there are slots to fill - at least healthy teams are not built that way. Think of the team you are on or the team you lead and consider these key elements of healthy teams.

Healthy teams are missionally aligned.
They are made up of people who are all committed to the same mission and understand with great clarity what that mission is (see the last blog on alignment). Mission is the true glue that holds the team together more than any other factor. Non aligned teams are not teams because by definition they cannot be moving together in the same direction (the arrows don't all point in one direction).

They are made up of healthy individuals.
Too often we ignore the issue of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) when building team. Healthy individuals are open to the opinions of others, lack defensiveness, are aware of who they are and how others perceive them, are able to release people rather than control them, can engage in constructive and robust dialogue and have the ability to abide by common decisions.

When you consider the definition of a healthy person above, you realize how critical that is for a team to function well because in the absence of that kind of health teams will be dysfunctional and dysfunctional teams are never high impact.

They work strategically together toward common objectives.
Good teams are those where the members are committed to working syneristically together rather than simply doing their own thing and showing up for meetings and pretending it is "team." This means that team members embrace the objectives of the whole team and take the whole team into consideration in decisions that they make. It is about "we" not "me." Teams that are about "me" rather than "we" are not true teams and do not see the same results.

They have good leadership.
Teams are not led by committee. Someone must lead and provide the necessary clarity and direction and accountability but in an open, collegial atmosphere where robust dialogue is practiced and the team has ownership of their objectives. But there must be leaders. In fact, good leaders are those who can do just that.

Passive leaders cannot lead healthy teams and in the absence of leadership someone else will step in or the team will exist as a "gathering" but will not be team.

This requires team leaders to put a lot of time into team meetings for the sake of missional alignment, increasing the health quotient of team members (development), white boarding strategy together, determining common objectives and ensuring that there are real results. Team leaders cannot treat team meetings lightly if they want to lead a healthy team.

They hold members accountable for results.
This is not very popular or common in ministry circles. We focus more on relationships than we do on ministry results and do not exercised the discipline which teams in the marketplace must exercise in order to stay viable. It is sad, however, because the mission of the church and other ministries has eternal implications not just quarterly returns. Thus results matter, quality matters, discipline matters and measurement of how well we are doing matters.

Where there is no accountability for results, there cannot be healthy team. Nor will you attract or keep high quality ministry personnel who want their lives to count.

How healthy is the team you lead or the one you serve on? What could you be doing differently to raise the level of its healthy and effectiveness?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nine Leadership Essentials

EQ matters a lot!
Emotional intelligence is one of the most overlooked issues when hiring or building a team. Those with poor EQ leave relational havoc in their wake while those with good EQ are able to maintain good relationships, are generally not defensive or arrogant and can play well on a team.

Clarity is critical
The first job of a leader is to provide maximum clarity to their team on what the organization is about, how the organization will achieve its ends, the values it espouses and the culture that it is committed to create. Clarity is job one.

Coaching is necessary
The intentional developing of staff cannot be taken for granted and is the job of its leader. Monthly check ins with a mentor/coach mentality focused on helping staff become all they can be is a non-negotiable for good leaders. Leaders who do this develop a world class staff.

Feedback is essential
Leaders both provide honest feedback to their staff and want it themselves. They are honest with what they see in their staff, and want their staff to be honest with them on issues they see.

Mission drift easily happens
Mission drift happens all the time and it is the leader's role to keep the team focused on what is most important. Leaders never take their eye off the ball and are always pushing the missional agenda and asking the questions that will keep the team on that agenda

Activity does not equal results
Leaders are not fooled by activity. Everyone is busy but not everyone sees the same results. Leaders ensure that they and their team are focused on the right kinds of activity that will bring maximum missional results.

Wiring must be understood
Leaders are students of the wiring of their staff and work to ensure that staff are in their sweet spot where gifts and strengths converge for the best results. Leaders don't fill slots with people. They put people in the place where they will be the most productive and successful.

Empowerment and accountability both
Leaders empower their staff to do what they are responsible to do in ways that align with their gifts and strengths. They do not micromanage! But they also hold staff accountable for measurable results. They know that empowerment and accountability are two sides of the same coin.

Consistency is key
Leaders are predictable. They treat people consistently, have predictable and consistent behaviors and stay the course they have chosen. Their consistency becomes an anchor to the rest of the team. They are seen as trustworthy

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What we know, think we know and don't know

Most of us believe we know more than we actually do – which is a dangerous position to be in. In fact, the greater our ability the greater the risk that we confuse what we know with what we think we know and minimize what we don’t know.

Jim, ranks as one of the brightest leaders I have ever met. Yet, he rarely makes a key decision without bouncing it off of a few key advisers who are in a position to tell him exactly what they think – some from outside of the organization he leads. With all of his skills as a leader, Jim wants to make the right call, not simply the call he thinks is right. In his use of a few key advisers in whom he has great trust he minimizes the risk of a bad call. It also demonstrates great humility and EQ.

There is a massive third category: what we truly don’t know! Here is one of the key distinctive between leaders with good EQ and real humility: those with it acknowledge on numerous occasions that they don’t have the answer and seek wisdom from those who might while those without it pretend or believe they have the answer and pay for that foolishness dearly.

I know many leaders who believe that they must have the answer and that their internal compass is always right. Thus, not only do they not solicit feedback or wisdom from others (with the exception of those who would agree with them) but they consistently get themselves into trouble with others because they went it alone (of course it is never their issue). It rarely occurs to these leaders that they don’t actually know what they ought to do. The result is that in a universe of possible solutions on any one topic, they are stuck in the small prison of what they actually know – or think they know.

Humble and healthy leaders do not assume they know the right course of action or that they can figure it out by themselves. In fact, they are by nature curious, always asking questions, desirous of knowing what others are doing and approach issues with an open mind that invites the best thinking to the table. They do not doubt their ability to get to where they need to go in the end but they are humble enough to realize that in the world of possible solutions, they know only a few and if there is a “game changing” solution they want to know about it.

For this reason, humble leaders rarely make quick decisions but “think grey” and solicit the opinions and ideas of the best people they know – in the area where they need to make a call. Often, they bring multiple voices together at once to think through an issue.

In the process they learn a lot – one of the reasons they are truly good leaders and they develop a cadre of highly competent people who they add to their circle of friends that they can call on in the future. Ironically, their history of making good calls my seem brilliant but if you peel back the process you realize that they did not make them in a vacuum but through their willingness to engage other bright people in the process and admit that they did not have the solutions themselves.

In contrast, prideful leaders – those who cannot admit their need for the wisdom of others either copy someone else’s solution (it may have no context in their case) or trust their limited wisdom never realizing how small their world of knowledge actually is!

One such leader that I know, believes that leadership is all about “making the directional call” and ensuring that everyone knows that they are in charge, in control and “the leader.” He actively resists the input of others and rarely solicits input. He lives with the allusion that he is a great leader when in fact, his ability to lead is seriously impeded by his pride and lack of openness to the feedback and wisdom of others. People around him are not fooled by his lack of wisdom - only he is. 

What we don’t know is a powerful stimulus to living with a spirit of humility. The more we understand what we don’t know the more open we are to soliciting the input and wisdom of others. And the more we learn from other bright people, the better our own leadership and decision making. Wisdom does not come to the insecure and prideful but to the secure and humble.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Attitudes of grace

There are few more important themes in Scripture than that of grace. One of the hallmarks of Christ is that He was full of "grace and truth" (John 1:17). The gospel is all about the grace of God applied to our lives, His unmerited favor given freely to us not only in salvation but on a daily basis!

As one reads the gospels, one sees Christ interacting with graciousness with all, with the exception of the Pharisees who were hypocrites. There was always truth in His conversations but it was a gracious truth.

Organizational leaders set an example and monitor the culture of the organization or team that they lead. In the Christian world, one of the hallmarks of our ethos should be a graciousness in our interactions with one another.

There are many attitudes that do not exude grace: gossip, cynicism, mistrust, assuming the worst rather than the best, anger, and impatience. These are often encountered but they do not reflect the character and attitudes of grace. In fact, they are the opposite of grace: ungracious judgement of others.

This does not mean that we cannot address questions, issues or press into dialogue on difficult subjects. Just the opposite should be true and Jesus certainly did not dodge the difficult conversations or issues. What it does mean is that as we interact with one another, the grace that Jesus gave to us ought to be evident in our interactions with one another. His grace to us ought to be our grace to one another. To not show grace to one another is to deny God's grace to us.

Grace and truth is a powerful combination that creates a unique and God honoring ethos in any organization. Leaders model it and call others to it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

It is policy

Last week I stayed at the Hilton Mexico City Reforma (yes they deserve to be named in this blog and I have kindly forwarded a copy on to them). On my first morning I was sitting with a colleague in the lobby with my eyes closed as we waited for our friends to arrive for the day. All of a sudden I was prodded by a security guard who proceeded to lecture me in Spanish for some unknown infraction. It turned out I was not allowed to “sleep” in the lobby which I was not in fact doing. Just because one’s eyes are closed does not necessarily constitute sleeping. My colleague will attest there was no requisite snoring.

Once I understood what he was adamant about I went to the front desk to share my unhappiness regarding my treatment.  The answer was, “It is policy sir.” I asked for the front desk manager, told her what happened and was told, “It is policy sir.” She knew that I wanted to talk to the hotel General Manager but he was unavailable and we left for the day.

Inexplicably, the General Manager did not attempt to leave a message for me although he had been told of the situation so I called him later that afternoon to dialogue with him about my treatment as a guest at his hotel. “Sorry sir, it is policy” he said. “We have had people from the street come and sleep on our chairs so we have this policy. It is unfortunate but it is our policy.”

I suggested to him that it would be fairly evident that I was not a homeless individual from the streets of his capital – I was wearing professional clothes including a white dress shirt, had a camera and was sitting with a colleague but that seemed to make no difference. After all, he said he had not met me personally so he could not make a judgment on that. Policy is policy. And this is the hospitality industry and I was paying to stay in his hotel. 

I asked him why I should consider staying in his hotel again for which he had no answer nor seemed the least bit concerned: So much for “hospitality.”  Incidentally, I have Diamond Status with Hilton which seemed to make no difference in any of the three conversations.

Now I stay in a lot of hotels around the world each year and this has never happened to me although I have had many adventures in lesser hotels – which is to be expected. When I shared this with the manager he just said, “I am sorry, but that is our policy.”

It got me thinking about policies. It is easy to write policies but harder to write policies that get the right outcome. In this case, in an attempt to stop street people from sleeping in their lobby the hotel developed a policy that disenfranchised their own guests. They were also evidently unable to differentiate between a street person and a hotel guest. How dumb is that? Yet we do the same thing in organizations all the time, especially when we write policies to solve problems that could and should be solved in other and better ways.

Following his lead, I will never stay at his hotel again. It is my new policy! I learned from the best. What policies do you have that are counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish?

Measuring our hearts against God's heart

There is nothing that challenges me more than to understand the amazing heart of the eternal God and then measure my heart against His. Think about this:

While I find it so hard to forgive at times, He forgives easily and quickly because He does not want to live out of fellowship with us.

While I can tolerate injustice small and large, His heart is broken by the injustices that are so much a part of our fallen world.

While I can become deeply engrossed in my own ministry, His heart is for all ministries - His is a big and generous and non-parochial heart.

While I quibble over fine points of doctrine, He is driven that all men and women and children hear the Gospel and find a relationship with  Jesus.

While I am loyal to my denominational brand He cares for His whole Bride.

While I pray for my own needs, His heart is for the needs of a world gone wrong through sin with all the brokenness that comes with that fact.

While I can marginalize some people who are not like me, He sees every human being as made in His Image and equally worthy of His love. His heart never marginalizes anyone.

While I like to hang out with people who are respectable His heart is for the unrespectable as well - just look who He hung out with in the incarnation.

While there are people I would pass by, there is no-one He would pass by.

While I am impatient, critical and condemning of those who don't meet my standards, He is patient and gracious and forbearing.

Take a moment this week and consider where your heart is against His heart. His greatest goal for us is that His heart would become our heart. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

We do solutions, not complaints, blame or excuses

In any organization or team there is plenty one can complain about. People and life and circumstances are not perfect which is why there are no perfect organizations. Unfortunately there are always those who enjoy complaining about what goes wrong or what could be better and those who cover their own issues with excuses.

My mantra is that "we do solutions, not complaints or excuses."

Actually, finding deficiencies is a good, not bad thing, as it allows us to get better. However, what one does with those deficiencies is the key.

If I complain, I am putting the onus of the issue on others which may make me feel good (it is not my issue) because it is someone else's issue to solve. That of course puts the one we perceive as responsible on the defensive with gets us no-where except into the realm of bad feelings.

If I cover up my own deficiencies with excuses, I am also usually blaming others because I have to find someone or something to excuse the fact that I did not deliver on something. Someone or something got in the way of my being able to deliver so it is not my fault. Again we enter the real of blaming others.

Both complaining and excusing are off limits in a healthy organization or team. What is encouraged is to find places where we need to do better and then work to find solutions. Solutions are not about blame, criticism or complaints but about solving problems. And problem solving is a positive exercise while the previous tactics are negative exercises.

Which do you allow in your organization? Complaints, excuses and blame or solutions?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Churches and group think

I have recently run into a number of situations where pastors of churches got into trouble with their boards and senior pastor when they disagreed with them or spoke their minds (in appropriate ways). 

In both cases, at least at the leadership level there was a high degree of group think with any deviation from the specified allowed thinking patterns labeled as disloyal, sinful and in fact grounds for punitive action. In both cases, the punitive action was to be kept "secret" and the staff members were not allowed to talk to anyone about the issues at hand. Nor were they given a proper hearing by leaders who demanded absolute loyalty.

These are obviously highly dysfunctional churches and border on cult like practices. In cults there is an absolute mandate to take the party line, no place for either dissent or independent thinking and when someone starts to think independently they are strictly warned of the consequences. There are also "secrets" because these are not open systems, secrets and lack of transparency are high. 

Paul obviously felt free to disagree with Peter in the early church. Unity in the church (a word that gets bandied about often in group think churches) does not mean that we all agree on everything. It does mean that we agree to work together - and the best working together happens when there is honesty, grace, transparency and the ability to speak one's mind. It never happens when these elements are missing.

Interestingly, in the latest example, the church in question is moving significantly downward in its attendance, there are secret board meetings taking place regularly, absolute loyalty being asked for, dissent being punished and and secrecy of all these issues from the congregation. My prediction is that the church will continue its downward spiral until it's leaders either get out of the way or choose a different leadership culture. 

Group think in the church is never healthy. Or in any organization and in some churches it comes very close to if not over the line into cult like practices. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Building efficient systems

Every ministry is made up of systems for the various things that they are engaged in. Each of those systems has the potential to be efficient and scaleable or, inefficient and unscaleable. When they are efficient you save time, money and frustration but when they are inefficient they cost you more time, money and frustration. Thus it makes sense to pay close attention to the systems we use.

One of the issues to remember about systems is that often they were put in place in a much earlier day when the issues were different than they are today. To say nothing of technological changes. Often our systems represent a different day that had different concerns which is why regular evaluation of our systems is so important.

How does one evaluate their systems? It can be done in several steps. Step one is to identify each of the major phases in the process under consideration. For instance, I travel a great deal and my air travel can be seen in 5 distinct phases: ticket purchase, check in, security, boarding process and deplaning.

Once you have the major phases it is helpful to walk through every step within each of the phases. Identifying every step brings to light a number of issues: clarity of what you are doing; steps that are not needed; steps that should be different; steps that should take place at a different time in the process and places where there may be better cooperation between parties. 

After identifying each step, give every step a color: Red, green or yellow. Red means that we are not doing that step well at all, yellow that we could do it better and green means there are no issues. Looking at the process visually gives one a good picture of  where there are issues. 

The final step is to ask what we should do differently in order to be more efficient. Certainly the yellow and red steps need to be looked at carefully. Often in this process you will find places where the system is broken or needs to be modified. Remember the goal is to save time, money and frustration and to develop scaleable systems.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Exodus International to shut its doors

Interesting article on a group that worked with helping individuals with same sex attraction leave the homosexual lifestyle as it closes its doors.

You heard what? Communicating well

I am often amazed at what people "hear" compared to what I thought we "said." It is a challenge in any organization (the church being one of the most complex) to communicate in a way that people actually understand what we are trying to communicate. It is not that people don't listen. It is that there are many messages competing for people's attention and the more complex the organization the more attention there needs to be to what and how we communicate.

Organizational trust is very much tied into good communication. When people understand where their leaders are taking them and what is important to the organization trust grows. When they do not, trust diminishes.

The first and most important job of any leader is to clarify for the organization who it is, where it is going and how they are going to get there. Indeed, one of the greatest frustrations of congregations and ministry organizations is the absence of clarity on these critical issues. Congregations and ministries become restless and unhappy in the absence of clarity. They are less concerned about what the direction is than they are about knowing the direction.

Good leaders ask several questions regarding communication on a regular basis.

One: They ask, "What do people need to know?"

People need to know with clarity the mission of the organization, the non-negotiable guiding principles, the culture you desire to create and the central ministry focus (what you do day in and day out to accomplish your mission). They also need to know any key directional changes that you are making (surprises are not welcome). And they need to know where you as a leader want to take the ministry.

Two: They ask "How do I communicate simply and clearly?"

Here is the rule: The more simply and clearly I can communicate what I communicate the better it will be heard. Leaders think carefully before they communicate so that their message is most likely to be heard and understood. Simple and clear communication wins every time. Complex messages will not be understood or are often misunderstood.

That is why I lead from a sandbox where the four sides of the sandbox represent the four most important things those in our organization need to know and live out (The book, Leading From the Sandbox explains the paradigm). Everyone can remember the four sides of our sandbox and if they do, they remember the four most important things for our organization.

This raises a second issue. When leaders do not communicate simply and clearly and when they do not communicate the same thing over and over, clarity is lost to confusion. Good leaders communicate the same key messages over and over and over with the same vocabulary so that the very vocabulary used becomes the vocabulary or short hand of the organization. Ambiguity fosters confusion. Simple clarity fosters understanding.

The greatest leaders are those who can communicate complexity with simplicity! It is a skill that can be learned but it takes the discipline of figuring out how to communicate the complexity of your ministry with simplicity. And then stick to it.

Three: they ask: "How can I know if they understood what we said?"

This is a very important question. Good leaders never simply assume that everyone understood what was communicated. Often people hear the message but make their own assumptions about what it means in the framework of how they view the organization. Especially, when leaders are bringing change they need to ensure that people really understand.

There is a simple way to ascertain the level of understanding. Good leaders find forums to dialogue with various staff teams on a regular basis where they again communicate with simple clarity those things the organization needs to know. Then they engage in dialogue, asking questions, answering questions, talking through the implications of what has been communicated.

Through dialogue leaders are able to understand where they are not being understood and therefore hone their message for greater clarity. They are able to clarify what is not clear and they pick up on areas where their people are having a difficult time grasping concepts or ideas.

Through extensive dialogue like this all over the world, I have a fairly good grasp on which issues in our sandbox are well understood and which are fuzzy. That gives me valuable information on where I need to continue to clarify and help simplify complexity.

Leaders communicate well when they are clear, when they simplify complexity, when they consistently communicate the same simple messages and when they dialogue with their people to ascertain what the level of understanding is. And, they never take communication for granted. It will either help them or hurt them in what they are seeking to do.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The faith of a child

It was about 25 years ago and Yellowstone National Forest had been burning for months leaving vast tracts of land barren and charred. My son and I were driving in Northern Minnesota and he was agonizing over that fire. Suddenly he folded his little hands squeezed shut his eyes and prayed, "Jesus would you stop the fire?" That night it snowed in Yellowstone and the fire was extinguished.

Coincidence? I won't attempt to answer that question but Jon knew in his heart that God could do anything He chose to do and in his innocence and faith he simply asked God to stop this enormous fire and God did.

Jesus loved the faith of children because it is so simple compared to the sophisticated faith of adults - so sophisticated that we often do not believe that God could or would do those things that we might ask for. Our innocence and simple faith has been lost, replaced by our complex ideas of who God is and how He acts. And as a result our prayers are often prayers of greater unbelief (He won't answer this) than they are prayer of simple faith and belief.

When at about four I invited Jesus to come into my heart and forgive my sin, I had no doubts that He had done just that. When I prayed for his help I knew that He would help. In my innocence I simply believed promises I knew to be true and that He was who He said He was. It was a wonderful, simple, profound, faith unclouded by doubts and all my rationalist thinking.

Jesus said, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). He desires that our faith be simple and profound, simply believing His promises and His forgiveness and His presence.

As a theologian, I know many nuances of theology. As a follower of Jesus I desire to have the innocent, simple, profound, believing faith of a child. These are not antithetical to one another. In fact, they are the trust of a child to a father.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Agreeing and disagreeing agreeably

Healthy relationships, healthy leadership and healthy teams are built on a culture of high trust and a culture of high trust requires the ability to engage in honest dialogue about important ministry and missional issues.

Honest dialogue, however, requires the ability to agree and disagree with those we work with without our agreement or disagreement affecting our relationship. In fact, in a healthy organization or team, honest dialogue is always of high value and encouraged because it is in the give and take of ideas, options and alternatives that a team will come to the best solutions.

In a healthy organization, opinions and ideas are seen as neutral, designed to get the team or organization to the best solution.

As neutral, they are not good or bad, they are simply puzzle pieces on the table that may or may not fit the final picture but which need to be considered. Because they are neutral entities, it is not necessary to see disagreement as bad or a challenge to us because we are simply trying to fit the puzzle pieces together in the best configuration. Thus it is not about me or you but about which solution is best for the team and its mission.

Where this breaks down is where a team member so holds their solution or idea as the right one that it is no longer a neutral option but becomes to them to only right option. Someone who must get their own way displays unhealthy emotional intelligence (EQ) and they infuse what should be a neutral option for the group to consider into a more charged issue of what is right (my way) or wrong (the other way). Once this dynamic occurs, trust is damaged for the give and take of options is no longer possible without a fight over right and wrong, rather than over different options.

This often happens on church boards where individuals with strong convictions insist that their way is the right way and what should be an agreeable discussion of options becomes instead a conflictual discussion of options where their is no way to resolve the issue without conflict because someone has drawn hard and fast lines that must either be followed or the conflict will continue.

In these cases, whether on a team or a board, what should be a discussion of neutral ideas and issues designed to get you to the best solution has instead been hijacked by an individual (well meaning or not) who has a personal agenda. Personal agendas hurt group process and decision making because there is no longer the ability to dispassionately discuss ideas and issues. They have now been infused with what is "right" or "wrong."

Those who believe that honest dialogue toward shared solutions means that they can fight for their personal agenda (the way it should be) misunderstand what healthy dialogue looks like. In fact, unless they can grow in their understanding of the give and take of ideas and issues toward a common solution, they do not belong on a team or a board because their agendas will sabotage the process, and damage trust because there is no longer a way to agree and disagree agreeably.

Remember, in a healthy organization, options and ideas are seen as neutral, designed to get the team or organization to the best solution. They are pieces of a puzzle that may or may not end up in the final picture and should be seen as valid options without being infused by personal agendas. Where a team member cannot do that, they don't belong on the team!

Monday, June 17, 2013

When one is hemmed up by their job

It is a common problem in the workplace: leaders who micromanage and control, leaving good people feeling disempowered, hemmed in and not trusted. Consider these true scenarios:

  • A supervisor tells their staff that every email they send must be copied to them so they know "everything" that goes on
  • Staff members know that most of their planning will be revised by their leader
  • Nothing can happen without the approval of the supervisor
  • Last minute changes to ministry plans by a leader continually complicate the life of a staff member
  • Leaders change their minds from week to week on strategy leaving staff members unsure of where they need to go
  • Staff members are publicly criticized for decisions they have made
  • There is an unspoken rule that staff cannot speak their minds on issues they feel strongly about if their opinion is not in sync with their leader
  • Staff are given responsibility but not the authority to do what they need to do
Actions like the above violate good people who are not released to use their full potential. They also convey an attitude of mistrust (why else would one need to control or micromanage). Lack of trust translates into major dysfunction on teams and within ministries.

There are many leaders who believe that to lead means to tell people what to do and how to do it. What they don't understand is that people may do what they ask but out of fear rather than out of trust. Those who respond out of fear rarely have great respect for their supervisor.

If you are in the spot of being hemmed in what do you do? The first suggestion is the hardest but it is to be candid with your supervisor by telling them that when they exhibit certain behaviors it makes you feel like.... and describe the feeling. In the best case scenario, you are talking to someone who is reasonable and does not understand how their actions affect you. Help them understand how you feel when they hem you in and what you would prefer their response to be

It often takes one courageous individual to carefully but honestly put an issue on the table so that the "elephant in the room" is named and therefore cannot live in the dark anymore.

It is often helpful to read as a team, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It can stimulate honest dialogue around issues that confront the team and hopefully bring some necessary change.

There are some leaders who will not listen, do not understand and whose narcissistic tendencies (yes even in ministry) simply continue to cause pain. Those who disagree are marginalized and find themselves without any influence whatsoever. It is a painful place to be.

My advice in that case? Leave when you can for the sake of your own emotional and ministry health. Find a leader who is empowering and healthy and you will feel like the walls that hemmed you in are gone. I spent time with one who did just that this week and it has made all the difference in the world for them. Life is too short to work for unempowering leaders who control, micromanage or marginalize good people.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The glue that holds good teams together

It is a fun game: how many cards can we stack on top of another until the house of cards comes down.

In real life, it is more serious - for leaders and team leaders. The measure of our leadership is not what happens when we are leading but what happens when we leave. Does what we built hang together and continue to flourish or does it come apart like a house of cards?

Some leaders build their team or organization on the force of their personality but once they are gone the glue is gone - the cards fall. Other, wiser leaders build their team or organization on values and principles and good people. When they are gone, the values, principles and good people remain and the organization or team continues strong. These leaders have not built a house of cards but a team of strength.

If you are a leader here is a question you should ask. If I disappeared today, what would happen? Would the direction and effectiveness continue in spite of my absence or would it flounder and come apart? In too many cases the reality is the latter rather than the former.

True team and organizational strength is built on a commonly held mission, set of guiding principles, central ministry focus and a carefully built culture that is held, believed in and practiced by everyone. It is in their bones, not just in their leader because their leader has brought alignment around beliefs and practices not around their personality or authority. One builds true long term stability while the other builds temporary but weak alignment.

The mission clarifies what you are about. The guiding principles clarify how you go about doing what you are about. The central ministry focus clarifies what you must do day in and day out to succeed and the culture clarifies the ethos that you are committed to creating. These are the four most important questions every leader answers for their team or organization and they are the glue that holds people together for maximum alignment and ministry passion.

Missional glue is far more powerful than the glue of one's personality - especially if one wants to build something that has influence beyond their time in leadership. It is also a sign of a humble leader when they build around a set of principles and values and a clear mission, rather than themselves. After all it is not about us but the mission God has entrusted to us. 

If you want help in building a ministry based on those principles that will last, read Leading From the Sandbox. It contains the secrets of clarifying those things that are most important for your team or organization. It will take you from a house of cards to a house intentionally built to last.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The leadership discipline of paying attention

It was a few years ago that an American submarine off of Hawaii managed to blow to the surface and smash into a Japanese fishing boat. Note to self: before surfacing, put up the periscope and look around! Carefully!

Healthy leaders pay close attention to what is going on around them. They regularly look around, ask questions, look in the closets and drawers as it were to understand the climate, mood, realities and issues that their team or organization faces.

Not to do so is to invite unhappy surprises! A pastor realizes one day that his staff have gone south on him and he has a coup on his hands (it happens). An organizational leader finds out that members of their board are unhappy. A team leader realizes that a staff member is undermining him or her in an unhealthy way. Or, something is going on that has the potential to create a crisis - like the submarine taking out the hull of the fishing vessel.

Organizational or team culture requires vigilance and care. Leaders who ignore threats to the culture are likely to pay a price for their lack of attention. The submarine captain lost his job!

I have watched leaders ignore significant staff discontent or lack of alignment because they didn't want to face an unpleasant reality. In the end they lost leadership capital because it was obvious to staff that their leader was not dealing with real issues in the organization that needed attention.

Some leaders are so self absorbed that they are clueless to what is actually going on around them. Then they feel betrayed when they realize that a collision has occurred. If they had been looking around and paying attention, they would not have been surprised.

Wise leaders ask questions and look for honest feedback in order to understand where people are at. Leaders who are threatened by honest feedback don't and find out what is going on the hard way.

Organizational culture and health is one of the primary responsibilities of leaders. But you have to look around and know what is on the water! Keep your periscope up and avoid surprises.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The right questions are more powerful than the right answers

Those who supervise others are often tempted to give answers to issues that arise in their conversations. It is often a mistake as it does not help the staff member think through the issues themselves.

It is far better to ask the right questions than to give the right answers. The right questions cause all of us to think, to focus and to evaluate. Those who ask us the best questions are those who often have the most influence in our lives.

Our natural instinct is to tell not to ask. Next time you are tempted to give an answer ask a question instead. An answer puts a period on the conversation. A question opens up a conversation. And, it causes people to think.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Uncluttering our lives

I often reflect on the prodigious output of individuals like Calvin and Luther who wrote in a day when there were no typewriters, computers, electricity or study aids. How did they do what they did?

The truth is that their lives were much more uncluttered than ours. Uncluttered by ubiquitous email, by cell phones, by television and the Internet, easy travel or the unending options we have for how we spend out time at work or at play.

Often, our conveniences become our challenge. Clutter is how I think of all the emails, communication, media, travel obligations, paperwork and meetings. Not that some of these are not important but because they are not all equally important, but we often treat them that way, to our detriment and frustration.

A personal goal of mine is to unclutter my life so that I don't live in the frustration of too much to do or the lack of time to do what I really should be doing well.


Email screams at us to respond. I set aside a specific time to go through the bulk of my email so that it does not distract me through the day. The delete button is wonderful. So are short replies. I respond personally to every email from my staff, but at a time that works for me. Just because others can talk to us any time does not mean that we need to respond at any time.

Paperwork is ubiquitous. I have a wonderful pile in my office that I call the six month pile. When I receive paperwork that is of questionable importance, it goes in that pile. Every six months or so I go through it and realize that 95% of it can just go in the trash. The rest I deal with. I love that pile.

Meetings waste tons of time. Lencioni's book, Death By Meeting, is a classic. I cannot control what others do but I have resolved not to waste other people's time with meetings that are unplanned, poorly run or waste precious time. Meetings are not social occasions but missional.

The cell phone is a blessing and a curse. My strategy is to answer those calls that are important (caller ID), to return other calls when it is not a distraction and to schedule phone appointments rather than to take calls at any time. I am available to those who I need to be available to but in a way that does not clutter my day.

Obligations clutter our lives. Many of those obligations are not obligations we feel but obligations others impose on us. Saying no to those things that are not necessary unclutters life and gives us breathing room for those things that are truly necessary.

Travel is time consuming. I have increasingly been turning to video meetings, even for consultations with church leaders or other organizations to save the wear and tear of travel and simplify my schedule. Sometimes being there in person is necessary. Often it is not. Video meetings can save major travel time.

Reading: Too many books, too little time. The key is to read more selectively - we will never keep up with the information out there but we need to keep up with the critical information out there.

Relationships: They are important. Uncluttering our lives gives us time for what counts more - people.

I suffer from the disease of not being able to work in a cluttered office or study. If things are not in order I feel that my life is not in order. But life itself can be cluttered as well. I am on a mission to unclutter my life. Order and the ability to concentrate on what is most important lightens the load, clears the brain and focuses my energy.

Back to Calvin and Luther: One of the greatest downsides of clutter is that it keeps us from deep thinking. And deep thinking is the key to successful living and ministry. When our clutter crowds out time to think deeply it has compromised our lives. Our business provides the illusion of importance and significance but it is only an illusion. Those who accomplish the most are those who think the most about what they do and how they do it.

How cluttered is your life and do you have a strategy to keep it simple?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

EQ potholes to avoid

Potholes can do a real number on one's alignment! That is true with our vehicles and for our personal lives. In both cases, it is better to avoid them rather than pay the price for hitting them.

Consider these personal potholes:

  • Getting sideways with someone and not doing all we can to make it right
  • Keeping a grudge
  • Assuming poor motives without clarifying those motives
  • Not listening to feedback that we don't like
  • Not asking for feedback from those around us
  • Blaming others for our mistakes
  • Taking credit for others work
  • Insisting on our way
  • Criticizing others to others rather than talking to those we disagree with
  • Easily taking offence
  • Defensiveness
  • Making life about me rather than about the mission of the organization
  • Taking on the offense of others and making it ours
  • Refusing to forgive an offence
  • Becoming enmeshed in the issues of others rather than insisting that they work out their own stuff
  • Listening to the issues of others without insisting that they go and make things right with those they have an issue with
  • Not being honest about our feelings and opinions
  • Telling people what they want to hear rather than what we actually think
  • Speaking truth without grace
  • Giving grace without truth
  • Not giving honest feedback when it is needed
  • Marginalizing people who are honest with us

Emotionally healthy individuals avoid these potholes and if they hit them make them right quickly. They understand that all of these are relational issues and that healthy relationships are the key to almost all ministry effectiveness. They take responsibility to the best of their ability to keep relationships healthy and to avoid relational breakdowns.

Unhealthy relationships and relational breakdown are the cause of a great deal of pain on ministry teams and within ministry organizations. Most of it would be avoided if we avoided these potholes and filled them in when they occur.

Emotionally unhealthy individuals often don't even recognize these as issues which is a tougher thing to deal with. They find ways to justify their behavior and denigrate those whom they disagree with. Where people with poor EQ create issues that hurt or distract from ministry, someone needs to help them understand the impact of their unhealthy behavior. Often that will fall to supervisors. To ignore it is to leave other team members in a no win situation.

Each of these potholes are discussed explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. If we are guilty of any of them we need to rethink our behavior. It will please God and it will keep us out of all sorts of personal alignment issues. Try not to hit these potholes and if you do, make it right quickly.

Healthy leaders work hard to ensure that healthy relationships are maintained on their teams. When they see potholes developing they work to get them filled in and relationships back where God wants them to be. Where that cannot happen, they move those who constantly create potholes off of their teams.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Loyalty: To the leader or to the mission of the organization?

Recently I led a retreat for a senior group of executives who desire to go to the next level. Each of them is fiercely loyal to their founder/leader. Yet, among themselves there is a fair amount of dissonance with sometimes poor cooperation, siloed departments and lack of cooperation. Why is that when there is such strong loyalty to the leader?

The answer is relatively simply. If my primary loyalty is to my leader I will do everything I can to please him/her but that does not mean that I need to relate well to my peers. It may even be that I jockey with my peers for the "affection" of my leader at the expense of relating and cooperating with my peers as I need to.

Now think about this: If my primary loyalty is to the mission of the organization I will have a different perspective on cooperating with others on the team. After all, for the organization to be successful it must have an integrated, results oriented, synergistic team all pulling in the same direction. Pleasing the leader is replaced by the success of the organization and the fulfillment of its mission.

It is a small difference in focus that has huge consequences for how we act and think. In this case, the leader was frustrated by the lack of commitment to a common mission. We clarified that mission and did a reset of the team's loyalty around that compelling mission which will necessitate that they think and relate differently than they have. A small shift with significant consequences.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Spiritual poverty

The greatest poverty of all is not physical poverty (as profound as that is in our world) but spiritual poverty, poverty of spirit and of the soul.  It is the poverty of being out of fellowship with our creator!

Satan delights in spiritual poverty for he knows that it robs life of its true meaning as men and women made in God’s Image. Anything he can do to encourage a substitute for the true God He will do. It may be an alternate definition of truth, the pursuit of stuff and wealth, the distractions of life or for believers, encouraging us to keep God on the periphery of our lives rather than in the center. Anything that keeps the created from the creator is fair game for Satan. For he knows that it is the creator who brings meaning to the created.

As a mission leader I have the opportunity to travel to many places in our world and we see first-hand the poverty of spirit that pervades our fallen world. It is seen in many forms. In India with Hinduism it is wondering which of the 30 to 40 million Gods one should worship and appease, never really knowing if you chose the right on. In Buddhism it is the endless cycle of existence in some form or another until you get it right.

In Islam it is either a fatalistic fear of God or trying to perform well enough to please Mohamed. In much of the former communist block it is atheism with no God at all. In each case there is a spiritual poverty that keeps people in fear or substitutes some lesser thing for the fullness that only Jesus can offer.

Solomon, with all his possessions understood how empty life was when lived apart from a relationship with God. In fact, he said that it is only God Himself who gives us the ability to truly enjoy those things God has given to us.

“Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).”

Even those who profess faith in Christ can experience spiritual poverty when Jesus is not at the center of their lives. It is He who gives our lives meaning and purpose but unless we are living out His call on our lives we can experience significant emptiness. Life is more than the abundance of our possessions, the toys we can accumulate or the leisure we enjoy. All of those can be gifts of God, according to Solomon but only when God is at the center for it is He who gives us the ability to truly enjoy all of life.

How do we defeat Satan’s attempts to diminish our lives? We keep Jesus at the center of all that we are and all that we do. This includes nourishing our relationship with Jesus through His Word and prayer, being attentive to the voice of His spirit in our hearts, using the gifts He has given for His purposes and the advancement of His Kingdom and loving others as Jesus loved them. When Jesus is central to all that we do Satan is robbed of his ability to deprive us of God’s goodness, joy and purpose. Everything that takes away from our relationship with our Creator should be resisted and everything that keeps Jesus central in our lives should be embraced.