Sunday, December 29, 2019

Asking the right questions at the start of a new year

This week is a time to ask questions that allows us to evaluate the past year and plan for the coming year. There is no growth without change and change comes from evaluating the past, planning for the future and acting on that plan. 

So here are some questions to ask or issues to evaluate. The rest is up to us!

  • List the major accomplishments of the past year.

  • What are the three key goals you have for the coming year?

  • In order to meet those goals - What do I need to stop doing, what do I need to keep doing and what do I need to start doing?

  • How will you evaluate your progress in these three areas over the course of the next year?

  • Are there any relationships I need to leave behind because they are life taking rather than life giving? Are there boundaries with people that need to be established for your well being?

  • Are there relationships I want to nurture that I have not paid enough attention to?

  • What books did you read this year and what books do you want to invest your time in this coming year?

  • Time and focus are the key to all goals. How can you free up time this coming year to focus on what is truly important to you?

  • We frequently add obligations to our lives but often don't eliminate those that have run their course. Are there obligations you can and should shed? 

  • Our faith journeys matter. What can you do to take the next step in that journey?

  • All of us have "shadow sides" that dog us. What shadow sides do I need to learn to manage and how will I do that?

  • If this was my last year on earth, what would I do? How should my answer impact my plan for the coming year?
The most successful people ask the best and deepest questions. Finish this year and start the coming year by asking the questions that matter. I would love to hear the questions that you ask. Those who ask the best questions and act on them are the largest winners in life.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christianity Today, Donald Trump, Evangelicals and Christmas

I find it ironic that Christians of differing stripes are doing battle over President Trump and the impeachment proceedings during Christmas week. That in a moment.

Here is what I suspect. I suspect readers of this blog fall on both sides of the fence. That is good since God does not carry a card for any political party. I suspect that there is plenty of hypocrisy in Washington by those who want to impeach the President and those who are defending him.  Hypocrisy in Washington is not limited to either party and anything seems to go in the political arena. For those who know American history this is nothing new. The fact that this process is almost entirely along political lines should indicate that it is a political process.

Here is what I am glad for. At least CT has started a conversation about issues that matter to many. It is right to be unhappy with the public statements, tweets, attitudes and behaviors of our President. We are the laughing stock of the world over his behavior. Most of which we would not permit in any evangelical church or any sane place of business. So to say this doesn't matter is not possible. 

For those who believe that a national leader should be a general role model for those they lead, the behaviors of our current President are deeply problematic. Yes, our President is not our national pastor but there are standards of decency that we have in society that are not remotely followed by our President.

For those who focus on issues such as the judges appointed to our courts, religious liberty, abortion and freedom of religion, Mr. Trump has been a Godsend. Those matters are as important as that of his behaviors - so there is no way to insist that the former views are more important than the latter views. Both are true and we live in a fallen world.

I suspect that neither side has the option of being smug regarding their views (as many are) as there is plenty to be said on both sides of the equation. And it might just be that we need to find another source of our hope for the present and the future.

Many evangelicals have not been willing to speak out regarding issues they have with this administration because of how polarizing those opinions are. I tweeted this a few days ago:

Regarding #ChristianityToday it is clear that politics is just as divisive among evangelicals as it is elsewhere. What we lack is the ability to have conversations around our national leader and still stay connected to one another. It is why so many choose to say nothing. Peace!

We have good leaders and bad leaders who end up in power. And their policies do matter. Look for instance at the policies of President Xi of China where the government is causing all kinds of difficulty for the church. So, policies and laws and appointments have real life consequences.

The irony is that no political figure can be the savior of a nation, a society or a man or woman. That role belongs to Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this week. My confidence, hope and faith is not in any party or any person but in the sovereign God who chose to invade this universe surreptitiously to redeem men from their sin.

"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

"The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the father, full of grace and truth." John 1:10-15.

Christmas gives me great hope because Jesus is the only hope of the world. The two pictures at the top show the difference between the two sources of hope. One is that of power. The other is that of God becoming man. Too often we believe power is the answer when in reality the humble baby born two millennia is the answer.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

A Story Stranger than Fiction

No story is better known. No story better captures the heart of a child - small or grown - than the one we celebrate today. No matter how many times we hear the story it never grows old, it never disappoints, never ceases to evoke deep emotions of wonder, awe and comfort. An angel’s proclamation to illiterate shepherds, a teenage unwed mother, a loyal carpenter fiancee, the evil king Herod, a cold, clear, Bethlehem night without a place to stay. A messy birth in an animal’s stall, alongside a dirty alley in the dark of night. Confused cows watching unknowing as the Son of the universe stares back unknowing at the very animals He had created eons before. A mother, a child, a carpenter, a few agitated animals and the pungent smell of manure.

This is a story so absurd that it could only have been scripted by a Divine hand. No other writer would have attempted such a script. If they had they would not have claimed it to be true: fiction maybe, but not reality. This is not how the One whose voice had echoed off of a billion galaxies would make His entrance. Without CNN and Fox News, into a hovel known affectionately today as Bethlehem but then nothing more than a tiny village on the path to Jerusalem. 

His entrance was marked not by a proclamation to kings but to astonished herdsmen sleeping with sheep. The heavens opened with ten thousand voices – not over Jerusalem the ancient capital – but over a tiny grazing field for a handful of insignificant shepherds. They would be the only witnesses of the grand entrance of a King. No other writer would have written such a script. 

No other author would have taken such a chance. For behind this story there are echoes of another story - equally incredulous. Centuries before in the vastness of eternity past – when infinity kissed infinity, The Master of Infinity spoke into being the universe in which we live - 3,000 of whose stars are visible to the careful eye, 30 billion visible from a large telescope, - the other 90% of the universe still hidden from our eyes. Its splendor an eternal testimony to the Author of the story.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render: O help us to see
Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.
(Walter Chalmers Smith)

The Author’s heart had love that could not be contained. A heart full of love is not easily satisfied. Transcendent goodness longed to give away infinite love. Again the Author spoke: A planet was expertly crafted. One among billions. A people wonderfully created – in the image of the Author. Free to love, free to experience the infinite goodness of the Author. Free to revel in His infinite Love. But above all free. Love cannot be forced and remain love.

We are not the sole owners of broken hearts. No heart suffered such sorrow as Infinite Love rejected. Image bearers rejected the Image Maker. The story’s characters fired the Author to write their own script. Unmatched, searing pain

pierced the Author’s heart as the loved jilted the Lover.

Chaos infiltrated beauty. A planet was hijacked and spun out of control. Poverty of spirit supplanted endless joy. Unfulfilled hearts realized the pain of lost love. Without the Author, individual story lines faltered – and failed. Sadness reigned. Darkness descended in seeming endless gloom.

Truth can be stranger than fiction. For in the pained heavens the grieving Author plotted love’s revenge. An awesome revenge that only Divinity could contrive – that only Divinity would contrive. Having lost His loved, the Lover would send His most loved to reclaim His heart’s desire. The rejected Creator would kiss the unfaithful created. Tender mercy in place of deserved destruction. An astonished heaven broke into unbelieving applause. Image bearers would be reclaimed by the Image Maker. Light would once again prevail over darkness. Brokenness would be made whole. Peace would triumph over chaos.

All was silent in the heavens on the chosen night. Angels held their corporate breath. For nine months the Son had been absent, resident in a young girls womb, coming to us not as a king but incognito, just one of thousands of children that would be born on a lonely planet that night – into the darkness that our word had become. Placenta covered the Son of the universe arriving to claim back His beloved: this time, one by one, heart by heart. Tender mercy arriving in disguise: one of us, one like us. On that night, the Author personally entered our story. 

Such humility our world has never known. A stunning reversal for a world gone astray. A Heart full of love is not easily satisfied. Transcendent goodness longing to give away infinite love, arriving under cover of night in order to “shine on those living in darkness…to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:27).

When an author writes, each character is unique; each has his or her own story-line. We, each have a story – unique, unrepeated, singular. Each story has its own joy, its own pain, its own pathos and unmatched quality. But each shares one singular, astonishing feature. We are made in the Author’s image, and He will not rest until we have invited Him to join in our story. 

More astonishing than the script He has authored, the story we celebrate today is that He also wants to enter into your story. This is the most ancient of stories but it is also the most contemporary of stories. The Christmas story is but one chapter in the Author’s divine script. The Author is still writing. And every person who invites Him into their story becomes a separate and unique chapter in His unfinished book. And into each story He brings His light and peace. 

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17.)

Have you invited Him into your story? 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Why congregations distrust their leaders and love to second guess them

I have noticed in my years of consulting with congregations that there one of the common dysfunctions in the church is an underlying distrust of their leaders. 

Sometimes this mistrust manifests itself by those loud voices that love to be heard in congregational meetings where behind the opinions and complaints one can often hear distrust. At other times this mistrust manifests itself in criticisms of leadership and their decisions that is like a low level dissonance that is always present.

Mistrust of leaders is one of the reasons that it can be difficult to convince the right people to serve in church leadership. It is a hard job in the best of circumstances and in the difficult times thankless. When there is mistrust there is no healthy appreciation of the work or challenges that leaders face. 

I am not speaking here of criticism when leaders have done a poor job, have failed to act, don't face up to realities that are evident to others or make foolish decisions. What I am speaking of is the all to often default position of congregations to constantly second guess their leaders and view them through a lens of mistrust. Even here, however, our attitude counts and the words we use do as well.

Where does this come from?

In many cases it is a reflection of our national polity where we are trained to distrust leaders. That is precisely why our government was established with three co-equal branches of government to provide checks and balances against any one branch having too much power. Not a bad idea given the corruption of power in national polity. We learn early not to trust leaders in the political arena. We are jaded by corruption, misuse of power, use of office for personal gain, and personal agendas that are not always good agendas for the population at large. 

But notice the context here. It is a secular context in a fallen world. 

We actually live in two worlds simultaneously. The fallen world and God's Kingdom and in His Kingdom the attitudes and are different than in society. For instance, the Fruit of the Spirit is what should flow from His people. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control are all attitudes and results of living in Christ. 

The same should be true of attitudes of trust for leadership in the church. We ought to start from a place of trust rather than the place of mistrust that is often the case in society at large. Kingdom leaders should act in ways that are trustworthy and Kingdom people should respond in kind. 

The ugliness of attitudes toward leadership that we see in the political arena should not characterize the attitudes toward leadership in the church although it often does. Where it does, we have not done an adequate job of teaching what it means to be God's people living together under Christ and His leadership. 

Furthermore, even when church leaders don't live up to our expectations - how we address those issues matters. When congregational meetings or attitudes reflect anything else than the Fruit of the Spirit we have failed. By that standard, many congregational meetings fail the test. When ungodly attitudes are on full display in a congregation, it says more about the congregation's spiritual condition than it does the decisions of leadership. 

All of this goes to what we teach our congregations about attitudes in the church and God's expectations for our conduct with one another. It would be a powerful moment in any congregational meeting if someone nicely rebuked those whose words and attitudes don't reflect Jesus. We are God's people so it is worth teaching God's people how we ought to live with one another and how we ought to treat those called to the often tough job of church leadership. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

5 Practical Indicators of Spiritual Transformation

Spiritual transformation is the goal of our lives as Christ followers - and something all healthy church leaders think about for the congregation they lead. I am often asked whether spiritual transformation can be measured. The answer is yes! In fact there are some very practical indicators of spiritual transformation in the life of a believer and corporately as a congregation. These five indicators or the lack of them speak directly to whether spiritual transformation is taking place.

The first indicator is kindness. This is about being friendly, generous and considerate to others - those we naturally like and those we don't. Kindness is a trait of God and is often translated "loving kindness" in the Old Testament. It is God's posture toward us and therefor as we become transformed by Him, we grow in our loving kindness toward others. It is an attitude that is reflected in our words and actions toward those around us.

Congregations characterized by kindness indicate a high level of spiritual transformation. They are generally peaceful, friendly and exhibit love for one another. They care about one another and show that care in practical ways. You cannot be kind and ignore needs that those around you may have. Kindness and grace have much in common. 

The second indicator is forgiveness. Those who are quick to forgive - and willing to forgive even the hard things and hard people exhibit the character of God. This is not a human trait but a divine one. Untransformed people hang on to their grievances and bitterness while transformed individuals choose to forgive, leave their bitterness and hurt behind and live in God's forgiving grace. 

Forgiveness is not easy and often must be done over and over again, hence the words of Jesus that we must be willing to forgive many times. In forgiving we shed our bitterness and choose to live in peace.

How many congregations are characterized by factions, gossip, harsh attitudes and conflict? These are all indicators of a people in need of God's transformation. Churches can be mean places with mean people! Where forgiveness is the hallmark, however, none of the above are usually present because an attitude of forgiveness rules them out. Every time we forgive we demonstrate the attitude of God toward us. And we choose His way over our way.

The third indicator is generosity. This is an unselfish attitude toward others characterized by generous attitudes where we think the best, generous actions where we help those in need - or those we simply desire to bless. If a selfish attitude is all about me, a generous spirit desires to bless others. It is an unselfish life. Generous people always want the very best for others.

Congregations marked by generosity are contagious because generosity is contagious. Generosity of spirit, time, encouragement, help and forgiveness. This is something you feel and experience from someone who has it and congregations who live it.

Then there is the indicator of humility. Not thinking too highly of ourselves. In fact this is one of the most powerful traits of one who has been transformed because they understand that life is not about them. Humility indicates that we are not primarily focused on ourselves but on Jesus and others. We don't need to fight for our own way or prove ourselves to others. It is a heart at peace because we have nothing to prove, nothing to lose and nothing to hide.

Congregations marked by humility have very little conflict, look out for others and as a congregation are not pretentious but service oriented. Humble congregations are those that are focused on God, His will and plans and serve others generously. Even other congregations in the community that need help. Pride says, life is about us. Humility says we are here to serve.

Finally there is the mark of patience. Here is something to consider. Impatience is a sign that my needs were not met, that my agenda was not kept, that someone did not live up to my expectations, or that someone's spiritual life is not growing at the pace I want. The common word here is "my" and "I" which is not an indicator of transformation. It is a focus on self and what I want without an appreciation of others and their situations. Patience is a character trait of God who is infinitely patient with us on a daily basis.

Congregations marked by patience are generally full of grace and give one another great latitude. They are understanding, kind and not easily irritated. Oh, and they are patient with their leaders and their leaders are patient with the congregation. What a joy that would be in many congregations.

Can spiritual transformation be measured. It can be! By the growth of these traits in ourselves and in our congregations. It is hard work but with the help of the Holy Spirit it is all about becoming more about Jesus.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Every church needs a big dream

We talk much of needing clarity in any organization. I write and teach and help organizations find that clarity. But one of the pieces of clarity is a dream - a big dream that captivates, inspires and in some way changes the world for the better. There is something deep within the human heart that desires to make a difference. Give people that opportunity and they will run with you. Too many of our plans and dreams are small and uninspiring. Every organization needs a big dream.

Every church needs a big dream. Something rooted in the Gospel that changes lives and communities and regions of the world. One church I am aware of trained evangelists and pastors in rural India but discovered that their mode of transportation - bikes was terrible. They dreamed of building a bike that would be tough, strong, and navigate bad roads well. Challenging their congregation resulted in $300,000 raised in one day and thousands of bikes are now traversing India for the sake of Jesus. Oh, and they started a company to build the bikes through a 501.C3.

Where there is no dream, there is little incentive for people to invest their lives, finances and energy for something that has eternal value. Too often the local church leaves the big dream to other organizations. The dream to change a child's life fuels Compassion International. The dream to provide clean water fuels part of World Vision's funding efforts, raising massive amounts of money through marathons. These are big and meaningful dreams that change lives.

Why should the church not be at the center of big dreams? Where that dream exists there is a vibrancy and opportunity to see the Gospel change lives and communities. Does your congregation have a large compelling dream to bring people together for the sake of being the love and truth of Jesus. 

The local church has massive potential to impact lives, local communities and society but it takes a dream, a vision to see something important happen. To bring people together around the gospel. When that happens we put aside our petty conflicts and politics to focus on Jesus issues and dreams that Jesus inspires.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Leaders and their ability to speak truth to staff

Many leaders struggle with the desire to be liked by those they lead. It is after all a basic human need and none of us want to be disliked. Leaders often try to be "one of the boys or girls" with those they supervise. And while collegial relationships are a huge plus on any team or or in any organization, there is a subtle but critical distinction for those in supervisory roles. Kevin Kruse says it this way in "Great Leaders have no Rules."

"In friendship, your relationship isn't tied to anything other than the pleasure of the social interaction itself. When you're the boss, your relationship with a subordinate is about achieving specific goals. Whether that goal is closing a million-dollar sale, or finishing the new software module, or assembling a thousand smartphones, having an objective in your relationship changes everything.

"If you're the boss, its easy to say that you and your direct reports are 'equals' or peers. 'Hey, I'm just like all of you, I just have a different job.' It's easy to believe that you're the same as your team members and your role is just to coach. But it's just not true."

The desire to be liked keeps leaders from having tough conversations that need to be had, to making changes that need to be made, and from holding people accountable for results when they are lacking. When a leader cannot be honest with staff or deal with issues that need attention because they don't want to disappoint those they lead - they have lost the ability to lead.

I have watched divisional leaders blame senior leaders when they had to make a tough call because they didn't want to be seen as the bad guy. Senior leaders, likewise can blame the board for decisions they need to make but don't want to be seen as violating the "friendship." Our desire to be liked can directly impact the quality of our leadership.

Here are some things to remember.

One. All of us should be likable in that we treat those around us with respect and dignity. That is not driven by our desire to be liked but by our commitment to treat others with honor.

Two. Not everyone will like us and that is OK. The drive to be liked is an addiction to please people rather than to lead well and leading well will always mean that at some junctures we will make some people unhappy. 

If everyone you lead always likes you, chances are that you are not leading well. Leaders make decisions for the sake of the organization which are not always universally accepted or liked. 

Three. The goal of leaders should be to be respected rather than liked. Leaders who are clear, honest, direct and fair will be respected even when their actions are not always liked. They are respected because they are leading with clarity, fairness and truth. 

To lead well, one has to be willing and able to speak truth to staff without their desire to be liked getting in the way. Leadership is a stewardship to a mission, an organization and staff. Not all will be happy with all leadership decisions but all will be healthier when leaders lead well. Any time a leader puts off critical conversations because of their fear of disappointing a staff member, they are allowing their desire to be liked to get in the way of their responsibility to lead. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The society of the Bent and Broken

We live in a broken world. Some of us know it better than others. In many churches there is a Celebrate Recovery ministry which ministers to those who know they are broken. Ironically, many others in the church are also broken but they hide behind a facade of "respectability" - pretending and posturing to prove all is well. 

Those who are broken but choose to hide that brokenness not only don't get better but they live double lives, torn between who they want to be and who they know they are. Unfortunately, the very place that was designed to be the place of transparency and healing is most often a place of hiding and judgement. In many churches grace is very hard to find - if you are broken. 

Without grace, there cannot be healing. Without transparency and the safety of sharing ones brokenness there is no healing. We are great in the evangelical world of shaming the broken which is a defensive mechanism to keep people looking at others rather than looking at ourselves. Why is there Celebrate Recovery? Partly because it is a safe place to admit brokenness. Most of the church is not safe and many are hiding those places where they are bent out of fear of what people will think. And say. And judge. And shame. And shun.

The pharisees were like many in the church. Yes, there are many pharisees in the church. They objected to Jesus spending time with prostitutes, tax collectors and the general riffraff of his day. Why did he spend his time there? Because these people knew and admitted their brokenness. Leaving Jesus to say that he came for the sick, not the healthy. Of course, the pharisees of that day or this are not healthy either but are good at pretending. And when a woman poured expensive perfume on his feet and someone objected at the waste of money, Jesus looked at him and said those who have received much grace appreciate that grace. Those who don't think they need it don't appreciate.

There are churches here and there that break the mold: places of safety, transparency and healing. Having worked with many churches, however, I believe them to be a small minority. I no longer expect churches to play the role of healing. Rather, those who know their brokenness and have found healing reach out with amazing grace and come alongside those who need love, help and grace. 

Read the Gospels and see how Jesus interacted with sinners. Ironically the only people he was judgmental of were those who refused to admit their brokenness. Again the pharisees. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Five practices of healthy church boards

It is an interesting thing that church boards are quick to evaluate what is happening in the ministry of the church but slow to evaluate themselves. This lack of self evaluation is ironic given the expectation of a healthy staff while they do not apply the same expectations to themselves. I am speaking of how the board deals with one another and the issues they face.

Some of the dysfunctions of church board internal dynamics include:

  • An inability to deal with known issues in the church because raising the issues would cause controversy.
  • In the interests of "harmony" board members are unable to candidly evaluate their senior leader or other issues in the church.
  • Board members have distinct skill sets but are often unwilling or unable to tell a board member that they are "out of their lane" of effectiveness. 
  • A lack of periodic discussions as to the overall effectiveness of the board and the contribution that each board member is or is not making.
  • Ineffective conflict resolution and unresolved tensions.
  • Board members who take disagreement personally and allow their ego to become bruised.
  • An unwillingness to submit to the will of the board as a whole.
  • A lack of candid, truthful but loving dialogue with one another.
  • Passivity toward ministry issues.
  • An inability to speak the last 10%.
  • Not fully resolving issues because of an avoidance of conflict.
If you have served on a church board for any length of time you undoubtedly could contribute to this list. All of these dysfunctions are avoidable if boards would adopt the following practices.

One: Set aside a board meeting annually or twice a year to specifically ask how the board itself is doing. This might include ways to measure health from board development materials. One set of questions you may find helpful are these 15 questions. White- board areas where the board is doing well. And, where the board has challenges and can become better. For those areas that you need improvement, list concrete steps that will help you improve.

Two: Do not gloss over relational difficulties on the board. Usually where these exist, no-one wants to take the risk of speaking about it. It is often the elephant in the room: We know it exists but don't talk about it. That is a mistake because if a church board cannot biblically resolve conflict one cannot expect the congregation to do so. The health of the board does spill over into the congregation as a whole.

Three: Understand that ego is the enemy to healthy boards. Ego pushes us to want to get our way, to put down others or their ideas, to be slow to resolve conflict (I am right after all) and often those with ego issues work the back room with politics to achieve their goals. Jesus blesses humility but hates pride. Many relational issues are related to pride. 

Four: The better the board, the better their work. Ongoing continuing education in how a healthy board functions is just as important as it is for the staff of the church. Often boards don't do their ongoing learning but the best boards do so on a regular basis.

Five: Learn to evaluate issues in the church honestly. One of the barriers to honest evaluation is that board members don't want to speak ill of anyone. There is a difference, however between speaking ill of a person and honestly evaluating their performance. When we are not honest about what is truly happening, boards do a disservice to the church that they are responsible for leading. Allowing issues to exist without honest discussion contributes to elephants in the room and elephants always hurt a board and a church.

Healthy boards do not just happen. They are crafted through hard work and honest dialogue. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Five powerful accelerators of organizational growth and effectiveness

Organizational leaders work extraordinarily hard in most cases to see the mission of their organization flourish: long hours; endless meetings; strategic initiatives and all those things we have been taught to do.

But. In all of our activity we often forget those basic building blocks of organizational growth and effectiveness that are the most powerful accelerators! In fact, no amount of energy and activity can make up for these keys to organizational growth.

One: Know what your priorities are. Clarity is the number one accelerator of organizational effectiveness because a diffusion of energy also diffuses results while focused energy brings focused results. Clarity in a general sense is not enough. The more clear you are on what you are about the more results you are likely to see.

Two: Insist that your staff, leaders and departments are in alignment with, supportive of and focused on the clarity of the organization. How does their work contribute in a specific way to the missional agenda of the organization? Not in a general sense but in a very specific sense. 

Clarity without alignment means nothing yet many leaders do not insist that the parts of the organization are contributing in a real way to the missional direction as defined by its clarity. Acceleration happens when all the arrows of the organization are pointed in the same direction.

Three: Innovate regularly. Innovation - finding new and better or more relevant ways of doing what we do is a key accelerator. One can judge the health of most organizations by the amount of innovation that it sees. 

Innovation is an indication of the level of creative thinking that is going on as well as the level of empowerment that leaders give their staff. High control organizations tend to see far less innovation than those who empower staff. A culture of innovation will lead you to finding the game changers that change everything. Lack of innovation will do the opposite. 

Four: Build a healthy culture. People in healthy cultures flourish while those in sub standard cultures languish. Aggressive leaders who push their staff for results miss the point. If the culture is healthy, there is clarity, alignment and empowerment you don't need to push staff - which is usually counterproductive. Healthy workplaces are in themselves powerful accelerators because they create the environment out of which innovation occurs. 

Five: Get the right people into the right seats. Having the wrong people or people in the wrong jobs is an anchor to any organization. The end result is like an anchor dragging on the sea bed while you are trying to get wind in your sails. The wrong people in the wrong seats are a barrier to acceleration so solving this issue is imperative if you want to move forward. The higher the level of responsibility the more important this is.

It is the neglect of these five disciplines that keeps many organizations from accelerating their growth and effectiveness. These are the basics of acceleration. Starting with the basics will get you to where you want to go far faster. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Self awareness in life and leadership

Self awareness is the ability to understand how our actions, words, and attitudes impact those around us. This is true in our marriage, relationships, leadership roles and with the colleagues we work with. This is one of the most important elements of EQ (Emotional Intelligence) because where there is low self awareness, relational issues usually ensue while a high level of self awareness usually leads to a higher level of relational health.

How often in a marriage relationship one of the parties says or does something that causes irritation to the other without them being aware of how their behaviors impacted the other. A marriage relationship is a journey toward greater self awareness so that they minimize relational issues between spouses. 

For leaders, self awareness is a significant factor in their leadership success. I have on occasion worked with leaders who have a very low level of self-awareness. The result is high turnover of staff, a high level of frustration over the unpredictable actions of the senior leader and the loss of the best staff. Why? Because a lack of self awareness prevented the leader from understanding how their actions or words impact those around them. Don't be one of these leaders!

One of the marks of leaders with low self awareness is that they move through life at a fast pace, making decisions on the fly, changing their mind quickly and all the while thinking they are pretty good leaders. After all they do stuff - a lot of stuff. The problem is that because they don't pay attention to how their action impacts others it creates chaos around them.  

Here are some suggestions for raising you level of self awareness.

First, slow down and think carefully about the unintended consequences of your decisions, who they impact and who needs to be consulted. Talking with those affected by your decisions will raise you level of self awareness because you will hear from your relevant staff. 

Second, listen more than your talk. Those with low self awareness at less likely to be listeners and more likely to be talkers. The only route to understanding and avoiding unnecessary issues is to learn to listen carefully to those around you. The less we listen the more likely it is that we will create issues.

Third, ask a lot of questions. Want to know what the unintended consequences are or what people are actually thinking? You need to ask questions - lots of them and then listen and dialogue. My observation is that those with low levels of self-awareness don't ask many questions. They just act - to their own detriment.

Four, invite those around you whom you trust to give you feedback on your words, attitudes and actions. This will not happen without an invitation and an openness to hearing what they have to say without defensiveness. 

Five, create an open atmosphere on your team where all can speak their minds honestly. I call this robust dialogue where any issue can be put on the table with the exception of a hidden agenda or a personal attack. Anything else is fair game.

The question is often asked as to whether an individual with low self awareness can grow in this area of their EQ. I believe they can, to a certain degree. But I also believe that whether or not they grow in this area, they can manage their issue by practicing the above actions. These practices will help mitigate against creating issues for people around you.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The art of negotiation and how to ensure that you get what you really need as a leader

Good leaders are highly flexible on most things but very inflexible on a few things.

In fact, it is their flexibility on the majority of issues that makes it possible for them to be inflexible on a few truly important issues. 

Where should we be flexible as leaders? On those issues that are a matter of personal preference! Many decisions are not critical to the success of an organization. They could be decided in a variety of ways and still accomplish what needs to be accomplished. The best leaders don't insist on their way or their preferences in these areas. They save their powder for those few areas where they need to be inflexible. Their flexibility on most things gives them the coinage to be inflexible on a few things.

Where should we be inflexible as leaders? On issues that go to the heart of our mission, our culture, our non-negotiables and our central work. These are not areas of preference but of driving the mission of the organization. If you compromise here you lose effectiveness and momentum. Your organization may even go into free fall. On these things a leader must stand firm. Staff will usually give leaders that privilege when they know that on most things their leader is flexible. The fact that they are inflexible on these few issues tells staff it must be important.

Flexibility on most issues allows leaders to be inflexible on the truly important issues. 

This is part of the art of negotiation over the long haul of leadership. You give up your preferences on the less important things so that you can realize your preferences on the most important things.

Don't confuse the two!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Mentoring: A gift that lasts a life time

One of the most unselfish things we can do is to mentor the next generation of leaders. Our knowledge, wisdom and lessons learned over the years can cut the learning curve significantly for younger emerging leaders. Mentoring is a gift that will resonate through the next generation of leadership. For those who intentionally practice it, mentoring is a major part of our legacy.

Think for a moment of what you wish you had done differently as a young leader. Think of the dumb tax you paid for mistakes and inexperience. Consider the things you wish you had known back then. Now take all of that and help the next generation avoid some of the pitfalls you encountered and shorten their learning curve as a young leader. That is a gift!

Mentors can literally shave years off of the growth curve of younger leaders through their encouragement, coaching, counsel, training and developing. 

It is not only the beneficiary who benefits from this relationship. For the mentor there is a deep sense of satisfaction that you are able to make a significant difference in the life and work of another. It also reminds the mentor of things that are important to them and causes them to think more deeply about the issues they are giving advice on. It keeps the mentor sharp as they think about the issues they are advising on. It also bridges the divide between generations and gives the mentor insight on the generation they are influencing. There is learning on both sides.

Those who choose to mentor are living unselfish lives. After all, life is not all about us. The unselfish individual realizes that helping others is good and right and contributes to a better workplace and a better society. At some point in our lives, our greatest influence is in passing on the wisdom, knowledge, experience and dumb tax that we have accumulated. 

Who are you mentoring?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Overcoming the sin of boring meetings in ten steps

Meetings are a core part of what many of us do. The problem is that it is estimated that half of the meeting time in the United States is wasted time. Thus the love hate relationship with meetings. If they go well they can be the breeding ground of new and innovative ideas and strategies. If they go badly...well, you know the drill.

If you are not willing to engage people in a meaningful meeting you should not call one. But what constitutes a meaningful meeting?

One: You know when you go into the meeting what the outcomes need to be and you can articulate those outcomes at the beginning of the meeting - or better yet before the meeting. For each agenda item there is an articulated outcome. Are you desirous of a decision, are you simply sharing information, are you looking for robust dialogue around a strategy? Whatever it is, everyone ought to know what you are looking for.

Two: You have an agenda with time parameters. That goes without saying except all to often it does not happen. The agenda is your road-map that keeps you from interminable meetings that go nowhere. It also keeps you on tract with the time parameters. Good meeting facilitators don't allow the meeting to stray far from the agenda. That is what a parking lot is for: listing issues that arise but that need to be addressed another day.

Three: Everyone is present! I am not talking physically but mentally. Cell phones are put away, computers are not for reading email but for meeting purposes only. Way too much time is wasted by participants who are not truly present or participating. 

Four: Robust dialogue is encouraged: Any issue can be put on the table with the exception of a hidden agenda or a personal attack. If you call a meeting you must be willing to hear what people actually think rather than what you want them to think. There is nothing more disheartening than a meeting where there is not true freedom to speak one's mind. If there are elephants in the room - issues that cannot be discussed it is not a true meeting. So, no elephants!

Five: Never substitute dialogue and discussion for a decision that needs to be made. Make the decision or accomplish the outcome you have identified and move on. Meetings are designed to drive your missional agenda, not simply be a place to air your opinions.

Six: Record all decisions made or action items discussed and at the beginning of your next meeting review those decisions and action items. Build a culture where participants are responsible for doing what they promised to do. 

Seven: Send out prior to the meeting any context, reading or assignments so they don't have to be covered in the meeting itself. Don't do in the meeting what can be done prior to the meeting. 

Eight: Start on time and end on time. Coming on time is a courtesy for everyone. Ending on time says that you value the time of the participants. 

Nine: If you are the leader of the meeting you are responsible for crafting the meeting so that the time is well spent. If you have ten participants in a two hour meeting you are spending 20 hours of time and it needs to be well spent. Your preparation for the meeting will make the difference as to the quality of the meeting. Preparing on the fly is not going to yield a good meeting. It should be anathema to bore those in the meeting or to wasting their time.

Ten: Evaluate the meeting when it is over. Take five minutes to give a red, green or yellow to the following:

  • We achieved our outcomes
  • We had creative conflict
  • We listened well
  • The facilitator keep the meeting on track
  • Everyone came prepared
  • Assignments from the last meeting were finished
  • We made decisions
  • We had action items
  • The meeting leader was prepared and facilitated well
Don't settle for boring and ineffective meetings.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Everyone has a story and to understand another individual you need to know their story

I am a great believer in ways that we can understand ourselves and others. Our wiring is unique and tests such as Strength Finders, Disc and other means of evaluating ourselves and others help us understand who we are and why we react and respond the way we do. 

One of the most powerful ways to understand others, however, is not found in a test but in taking the time to listen to and understand their personal story. Our story defines much of who we have become and a great deal regarding our world view. 

Let me illustrate with a synopsis of my own story. I am the second of ten children, raised in Hong Kong as my parents were missionaries (my father a medical missionary), went to an international school with kids of 22 different nationalities and my first 15 years were defined by an international world view. My parents were strict and fairly legalistic in their faith - and expectations of me. As a child I had the run of Hong Kong, a port city and we regularly had people from all over the world at our dinner table. For several years I assisted my father in surgery as they did not have enough trained assistants. 

There have been many more years of story since them but you can imagine how much of who I am today was formed in the years I lived in Hong Kong. It explains my love of foreigners, my love of the world, a global world view and an innate need to travel. I am one of those folks called a "third culture kid." Our family of origin stories leave a stamp on our lives that is long lasting.

Beyond our childhoods which leave an indelible imprint on our lives for good or ill there are the seminal moments of life that change us and mold us. Deaths of those we love, marriage or divorce, children, jobs and job losses, personal illness. No serious event in our lives leaves us untouched in some way or our life perspectives the same.

Furthermore, the events that have molded me give me the ability to empathize with others, even though their particular story lines are not mine. That common bond of empathy and understanding shapes a deeper relationship between two individuals. And, if you think deeply about their story lines you gain valuable insight into those things that have molded them, their attitudes and reactions to situations they face. 

Because people usually love to tell their story, questions about their lives, sensitively asked in an informal setting is rarely a problem. People like to be understood and hearing their story gives them value and mutual insight. Perhaps the greatest impediment is our own busyness which keeps us from interacting over deep things. 

Take the time to share stories and listen deeply. It will help you to understand and appreciate those around you.