7 Bad Decisions in a Declining or Plateauing Organization

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Recently I wrote a post about 7 tensions in fast growth situations. I have had the pleasure of leading (and am today) in churches and a business in fast growth mode. Thankfully. As exciting as those seasons are, they do produce some tension.

But, I have to be honest. Equally important, in the formation of me as a leader, is that I’ve had great experience in leading through difficult days also. Mostly in the business world — although I’ve entered a church in the midst of these days — I’ve led on the other side of the equation too. I’ve been in the decline. I’ve let when we were stagnant. It hurts. It isn’t fun.

I talk to churches every single day that are declining or plateaued. Apparently, according to some statistics, that represents about 75-80% of churches these days. And, I know there are many struggling businesses also. (I’ve been there.) So, a post addressing organization in this season is equally — if not more — needed.

And, much of what I’ve learned in this post I learned through suffering through my bad decisions. When we are in decline, or feel as if we are about to enter that season, we make some bad decisions — out of a natural reaction — during those days.

Here are 7 bad decisions in a declining or plateaued organization:

Rejecting the vision. You’ll start to question the reason you once existed. That’s normal. And, maybe it was an ill-conceived or short-sighted vision from the beginning. Something tells me, however, that’s not true and you’d be offended that I even made the suggestion. If that’s the case, maybe you just need to get more passionate again about that which you were once very passionate.

Playing the blame game. Declining hurts and our natural tendency is to blame someone for the pain. Who wants to own this — right? But that game never has a winner. And produces a whole lot of losers. Eventually, as leaders we’ve got to own the problems — their ours to deal with now — regardless of how they started or where the original fault rests.

Trying a 1,000 bad ideas. We scurry. We scramble. We anxiously move from one idea to another . And, it’s not that the ideas themselves are bad, it’s that we go into them with no real plan and we never really locking down on anything solid. We are just punching in the air looking for any blow that lands. We will try anything and everything — if we hear it was successful elsewhere let’s do it — but we never really implement any of them well. People get confused. Staff gets frustrated. Nothing moves forward.

Not taking any risks. The opposite is also true — sometimes at the same time, but in different areas of the church or organization. We lock down. Everything. We play it safe — afraid of losing what we still have. We stop investing in anything new. We go back to the same bad ideas we left years ago. We stand still hoping the earth will eventually stop shifting. It doesn’t. It just permits the earthquakes to keep trembling and eventually get bigger. People get bored. Tradition sings loudly as a tired, worn out system, but we are too afraid to change it causes further decline.

Failure to admit there is a problem. We make excuses. We pretend everything is awesome. We label everything amazing. Even when it’s not and we wish it were. Listen, if everyone knows there’s a problem own it. Don’t run from it. That never helps. Own it.

Not addressing the real problems. We get rid of the low hanging fruit, but we never tackle the real roots of the issue. Leading towards revitalization requires hard choices. Good leadership with full punches. There’s no time to waste.

Focusing only on the losses. Things are bad, aren’t they? You know it and so does everyone else. Some days it seems nothing could go right and you go home many days feeling defeated. (I’ve been there leader — it’s tough and I’m praying a general prayer for you as I type this.) But, that may be the loudest story but it’s not the only story. There are likely some wins occurring. And, not everyone is seeing things as bleak as you are — most likely. There are people who still believe in you and the vision and they just need a leader who will re-energize them, create a good, strong, healthy plan and lead them out of the mess. Start by celebrating something. Make it genuine. Don’t overkill. But look for some half full glasses. They’re hidden behind the cloudy ones. Maybe it’s simply the good vision and foundation upon which you were formed. Celebrate that. Maybe it’s that there are some people who have weathered lots of storms and stayed in the boat. That’s worth shouting victory about — isn’t it? Focus on a win! Now! Do it! Then let’s get the rest of this party started. This is not a time for belly-aching. This is a time to get busy again!

Have you been — or are you in — a declining situation?

Please take note of these. Good days can be just around the corner if you stay faithful, don’t act stupid, and hold on for the return. I’m pulling for you leader!

(And, for the one who says, “You didn’t use any Scripture or talk about prayer at all.” I say this — having been in a declining situation before, I’d say prayer is not absent. And, most pastors in a declining setting know the Scriptures as well as in a growing setting. This is a leadership post (and mostly a leadership blog). And, that’s what this post is addressing.)

7 Tensions You Can Expect in Fast Growth

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I’ve been blessed to be a part of several organizations experiencing exponential growth. Once in business and with a few churches, we had what was considered explosive growth.

As wonderful as growth is — and as much as we enjoy it as leaders — there are tensions associated with fast growth.

Here are 7 tensions you can expect in fast growth:

Miscommunication. There is too much activity to keep everyone informed about everything. That bothers those who are used to “being in the know”. The organization will need to improve in this area, but during fast growth, expect mishaps in communication.

Changing roles. Jobs will change. People will do things they never expected to do. There will be lots of “all hands on deck” opportunities. No one gets a reprieve from doing what needs to be done.

Power struggles. There will almost always be turf scuffles during fast growth. One potential reason is what used to be a small, controlled group of people making decisions now needs to broaden to include more people. That feel uncomfortable to some. Providing clarity of roles can help some, but continually reminding people of the vision seems to work best. Still, some simply may not like the new size of the organization — and may not last.

Burnout. There will never be enough leaders or people during times of fast growth. It’s fun for a while, but begins to wear on people after an extended period. New leaders must be recruited and developed.

Confusion. “I don’t know.” You can expect to hear that phrase a lot during times of fast growth. And, many times the person saying that will be the leader. And, that’s okay. It’s part of the process. Still, this is a matter to continually work to improve upon over time.

Complacency. When people don’t know what to do — they often do nothing. That’s where leadership is needed, but in seasons of fast growth there aren’t always enough leaders to cover all the bases. If you’re not careful, excellence suffers — and few care. During seasons of fast growth, leaders need to help streamline focus, give clear expectations and hold people accountable for agreed upon goals and objectives. (Don’t ignore all structures — especially in times of fast growth.)

Stretched structures. Current structures will almost never be sufficient to sustain fast growth. The organization will never be the same. New systems and structures will be needed. Leadership must focus on development as much as it does the growth and maintenance of the organization.

None of these are reasons to avoid fast growth, but awareness is the first step to addressing problems.

And, now you know.

Here’s to fast growth! The tension is worth it.

5 Things I’d Do Differently If Raising My Family Again

Little Girl on a Swing

What would I do differently I were raising my family again?

I’ve been asked several times recently for my advice on raising a family.

The only advice I have is from personal experience. My boys are grown. On their own. Self-sustaining. Independent young men. But, everyone who knows them is impressed with my two adult sons. They are incredible.

But, I’ve been honest with all of them. Cheryl is too when she’s asked. It’s all been grace.

I do have the opportunity, however, of looking back on that experience. Parenting looks different to me now than it did then. Isn’t that how all of life works? We can only see what we can see, and when we are in the middle of something, it’s harder to see the whole picture.

And, if I had it to do over, I’d do some things differently.

Not every thing. I have great adult children. The best, in fact. Seriously. Let’s compete. I’ll win.

Okay — it’s not a competition, but if it were — just saying. :)

But, if I had it to do over — I’d do a few things differently.

Here are 5 examples:

I’d control more early. I’ve said this before and I get push back, but so much of life is built upon how those beginning years. And, every parent knows things that are best for the child early, that the child may not choose correctly left on their own. You have much control early in life. Parents often act like they have no control — they do. I’d control what they watch. What they listen to. Whether they attend church — or not. I know — bad dad. You may not think you can’t, but you can. There will be days when you can’t — and shouldn’t try — to control them. While you can — do! And, I don’t know that age when you have to move from more control to more influence, but I know it isn’t 3. I’d give them a strong foundation to pull from their rest of their life.

I would limit outside interruptions. There’d be less travel ball and outside activities. And, just less everything where lots of other people were involved. I know. That would be unpopular. Families are always on the go it seems. But, I’d make sure there was less time with a coach and more time with us, the parents. And, that’s just it. We are the parents — and those parenting opportunities pass too quickly anyway. And, it seemed the dynamics of family always changed when others were around. It often became more about others than about us as a family. And, it’s harder to really parent well in those settings. I’d be more selfish with our family time so I could increase our individual time with our kids.

I’d be more selfish with my time too. My personal time. My play time. And, my work time. I’m not saying that would be popular with my friends or even with my work — but I would be more concerned with my influence on my kids than what other people think.

I’d plan our week around church. Okay, you think this one is self-serving to me now. And, I know it’s not as culturally relevant anymore, but I’ve never met a family who was sorry they did this. (Including us.) I’ve met several families who — when it was too late — wish they had.

I’d get less upset about minor annoyances. Each of my boys did things that upset me at times. And, I often over-reacted. (Please don’t tell them — although they’ve outgrown them.) Like squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle or always waiting to go to the bathroom to the most inopportune time — even though we asked a dozen times before. (See, minor.) But, they have outgrown them. And, it wouldn’t matter anyway. They are minor now and looking back — they were minor then. I would react differently to the minors, so I could major on the majors — things like character — that really matter — then and now.

Those are quick thoughts. Parenting is hard. I’d never want to put more pressure on a parent than they already feel. Each parent has to own their parenting.

But, quick thoughts are needed in parenting. Parenting happens fast. But, the results of parenting last generations.

Three Actions to Communicate Love to My Wife

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Communicating love to a spouse should be considered a never-ending, life-long commitment. If I’m honest, however, my wife is usually better at this than me.

Partly because of her personality and partly because she has a stronger relational aptitude than me and partly because she is awesome — but, for whatever reason — demonstrating love seems to come easier for Cheryl than for me at times.

I’m not talking about the quality of the love. I think I love Cheryl deeply. It’s that I’m not as good at “showing” my love.

I’m a work in progress. (I hope its okay to be honest that way.)

Plus, I’m to lead others. By example. I’m a pastor and teacher. People are trying to follow me. And, I believe, that should be in my marriage also.

So, how can I — how should I — communicate love to my wife?

And, just to be fair, I don’t think I’m alone in that question.

I am actually asked this type question frequently by other men who — like me — sometimes wonder how to communicate love to their spouse.

That’s what this post is about — communicating love in a marriage.

For men who want to do likewise with their wives…

Here are three suggestions:

Continually learn her. The wife knows when we’ve stopped. All of us are changing. Our needs, wants and dreams are continually adapting to our experiences, circumstances and the world around us. We demonstrate love by desiring to know even more the one we love. Great couples ask questions of each other. Routinely. Intentionally. They explore each other’s hearts and minds on deeper levels; uncovering the unspoken desires of the heart. They spend quantity time together; even learning to love each other’s activities.

Constantly pursue her. All women want a certain amount of romance in the relationship. Many men would never consider themselves romantic, but the good news here is they get great credit for genuinely trying. Strong couples keep dating on a regular basis. They pursue one another; giving no other human relationship preeminence over this one. They avoid sameness and boredom – which is one of the leading causes of marriage failure. They explore together. Try new things. Refuse sameness in the relationship. When men intentionally lead this effort, we demonstrate our concern for the relationship and our intent to keep the spark alive.

Consistently out-serve her. This one will be hard for most men, but this is a great way to use our competitive nature. Which is strong for most of us. When the goal is to out-serve our wives, we at least make progress towards doing so and it generates a desire to be a servant leader in our homes. Equally important in serving our wives is to serve them in an area that has the greatest value – not necessarily only the things the man likes or wants to do. It is hard not to love someone who strives to understand you enough to serve you at this higher level of commitment.

None of those are “easy” — if they are done well — and none of us ever master any of them. Some of us are better than others — like Cheryl. Some of us — like me — keep trying.

Here are 5 ways I Expand My Leadership Potential

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I think the best leaders expand their influence and leadership potential by continuing to learn and grow in experience. It takes an intentional effort to improve as a leader. You can read books, follow blogs and Tweets, attend conferences, and hang out with other leaders. These are all good practices to improve as a leader.

In my experience, however, my leadership influence grows the fastest when it grows through the people I’m supposed to be leading. Let me explain.

Here are 5 ways I expand my leadership potential?

Invest in other people. It’s amazing, but when I invest in others, they invest in me. I have had several mentoring groups or relationships — where I am supposed to be the mentor, but I feel I learned as much as they did.

Allow someone you lead to lead. When I get out of the way of my team amazing things happen. Now, first, I surround myself with people smarter than me about their area of expertise, but they make my leadership better. I may even get credit for the overall success of the team — but I’m quick to admit — I couldn’t have done it without them.

Promote someone else’s agenda. I’ve learned people have better ideas than me. A lot better ideas. Actually, I’m an idea guy. I have lots of them. But, if the team is bigger than one — there’s always one more idea to consider. I’m a better leader — with more potential — when I open the idea generation task to more people than me.

Celebrate a team member’s success. When I hog the stage — or the recognition — I limit other people’s willingness to contribute to the success of our team. When I share the lime-light I expand my own capacity as a leader — and everyone wins.

Invite other people’s opinions. One of the most dangerous things I’ve seen a leader do is to build an atmosphere of elitism, where no one else is welcome at the table of decision-making. When a leader values a range of thoughts and opinions it makes people feel valued and expands the leadership base of the senior leader and the entire team.

The best leaders I know understand that when the people they lead are growing in their leadership, it spills over into their personal leadership potential.

As a team improves, so improves the leader.

When others who are following a leader grow in their leadership capacity and influence, the senior leader’s capacity and influence increases. It truly is one of the win/win scenarios of leadership.

Invest in others and watch your leadership potential expand.

5 Characteristics of an Antiquated Leader

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What’s important in leadership has changed from when I entered the field of leadership.

Have you noticed?

Leadership principles and practices have had to change because organizations and people have changed.

The fact is that many leaders who are in senior positions these days developed their leadership style in another generation. This has produced a plethora of what I call antiquated leaders.

Antiquated leaders create tension in many organizations, including many churches today.

Perhaps you’ve worked for (or even been — or even are) an antiquated leader.

Here are some characteristics:

Keeps people in a box. People won’t stick around in a box these days. They demand opportunities for growth. There was once a day when you could pay a decent wage and, through policies and rules, control an employee’s actions. That’s not true anymore.

Controls information. Information is king, and these days people have information available to them in the palm of their hands — literally. Today’s leaders must be free with transparent and current information — including what’s stirring in the leader’s mind and where the organization is going.

Enforces a waiting period on young leaders. Young leaders today want an opportunity to explore, take risks, and make an impact in the world — NOW — TODAY. Successful leaders learn to tap into this energy. Keeping young leaders at a distance won’t work anymore.

Assumes a paycheck is enough motivation. That may have been enough at some point, but today’s workforce demands to know they are doing good work. They want to know that what they are doing is making a difference and is valued on the team. The annual company picnic won’t cut it anymore.

Makes the work environment strictly business. The generation entering the new organizational world mixes business with pleasure. They want to enjoy their workplace environment. Today’s leaders must learn to celebrate along the way to success.

Now, take a minute and improve this post with your thoughts.

What would you add to my list?

The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

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There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand — most of these people are leaders now — they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader — but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn — and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team.

It’s a fine line — or a quadrant of the circle — as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership — when you’ve lived in the tension for too long — it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, that frustrates you  nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership — all senior leadership — good or bad leadership — because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be — if you were in the leading position — than what could be — if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for that jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college — it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

That’s why it’s a fine line — hence the tension.

7 Reasons People Are Not Leading Who Could Be

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We need leaders. When Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…” — I’m convinced — some of those workers should be leaders of other workers. Throughout the Scriptures God used men and women to lead others to accomplish great things — all to His glory.

But, I’m equally convinced, that just as their are not enough people working who should be working — some of the workers who should be leading are not leading.

Why?

Here are 7 reasons people are not leading who could be:

They weren’t ever willing to face their fears. Fear failure, fear of rejection, and the fear of the unknown are very real fears. But, fear is an emotion — not necessarily based on truth. Faith is a substance based on a certain — though unseen — reality.

They never had the self-confidence to allow people to follow. I know so many people who sit on the sidelines — even though people believe in them — but they just don’t believe in themselves.

They felt it was self-serving to step into the role of leadership. One of my new favorite sayings (I wrote about it recently) is “Don’t trip over your own humility by refusing to do the right thing.” Yes, leaders can be in the center of attention, and some people are too “humble” to step into that role, but in the meantime, we are missing your leadership.

They waited for someone else to do it. They had a call — or, at least, they knew what needed to be done, and they could have taken the initiative and made it work — but they never did — hoping, waiting for someone else to make the move.

They tried once — it didn’t work — and they gave up too soon. Failure is a part of leadership. Certainly its a part of maturing as a leader. If you give up after the first try you miss out on the best of leadership.

They couldn’t find their place — and didn’t make one. Find something to lead! The world is full of problems. Choose one you are passionate about and start leading. We need you!

They thought they didn’t know how to lead. I’ve been a student of leadership for over 20 years — in leadership positions for over 30 years — and you know my answer to that one? Who does know how to lead? Sure, there are skills to be acquired, leadership is an art to be shaped, but leadership is new every morning, because there world is ever changing. Leadership involves people. When we can completely figure them out — we can completely figure out leadership. Until then – Watch, listen, read, learn, ask questions. Leaders are all around you. You can learn some skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still learning how to lead.

Are any of these the reason you’re not currently leading — but you know you should be?

What are you going to do about it?

5 Suggestions When the Senior Leader is Unpopular

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Making the right decision isn’t always appreciated. If a leader is going to do anything of value, it will involve risks and be subject to the opinions of others.

There will be days, weeks and seasons where it feels as if everyone is against you — even though you know, because of insight you have — that others don’t have or because of a calling of God — that you are doing the best thing for the organization.

These are hard days for the leader. I once wrote about the loneliness of these times in leadership HERE.

How do you respond when your position of senior leader is not that popular?

Here are a few suggestions:

Make sure you are following your heart and God’s will

The two should almost always go together because if you are seeking His heart He will align your heart to His. Notice I didn’t say your emotions. I’m talking about your gut, your conviction, that inner peace and assurance to follow Him that only He can provide. But — even if not — follow God’s will as best as you can discern it. Remember that men and women throughout the Bible and church history have been persecuted even when they were in the center of God’s will. (Remember Jesus? He was too!)

Surround yourself with those who believe in you

You have supporters — even if it is just a remnant of people — but they are somewhere to be found. Sometimes those people may only be found among your immediate family, but even though you may feel you are alone, you are not. Open your eyes to those who are still on your team, believe in you and are in your corner. (Remember Elijah? He thought he was alone also…Read 1 Kings 19…he wasn’t.)

Be flexible

There are some things that are not worth arguing about. You may have to alter some of what you want to do in order to do what’s best for everyone and to be obedient to God. (Remember Peter’s vision — Acts 10 — he had to alter his plans and it was likely unpopular with his comrades.)

Don’t compromise truth

Being flexible does not mean altering the vision God has given you. Stay true, without wavering, to the call of God on your life, even when that’s uncomfortable to do so. (Read the commitment of Joshua in Joshua 24 — in spite of the decisions of others, Joshua was sticking with God)

Push forward

Once you know you are heading in the right direction and you’ve surrounded yourself with a few people who support you, move forward without looking back, regardless of who you leave behind in the process. (See Nehemiah chapters 4 through 6 for a reminder of a leader who moved forward in spite of opposition.)

When you begin to see the reality of God working in your life, you’ll be glad that you stayed the course. The sense of loneliness is real — it’s hard — it’s uncomfortable — but more than that, it’s normal. It’s a natural part of the process of leading.

Read THIS POST or THIS POST if you need more encouragement.