7 Things Which Weaken Good Leadership

There are times I’m a better leader than other times.

Sometimes this is my fault. Other times the cause is unavoidable.

If we can begin to identify what interrupts the effectiveness of our leadership, we can become better leaders. I have personally experienced some things in my own life whigh weaken my leadership. One of my goals is to consistently find ways to guard against them.

Here are 7 things whigh weaken good leadership:

Distractions

As leaders, we do our best work when we are pointing people toward worthy visions. Some would say this is precisely what leadership does. It’s easy to get distracted with things which, while they may be good, don’t help move the organization towards the vision. In fact, they delay progress towards the vision. I’ve also learned I need to be leading in my strengths and if I ever get weak in my courage to say no to some things, the quality of my yes will be far less valuable.

Lack of discipline

It matters not if there is a great vision if we don’t discipline ourselves to reach it. This includes having good plans and good goals. Good objectives. Good systems and strategies.

Ceasing to learn something new

Leading others to grow requires leaders who are growing. When I stop the creativity I feed my mind, I cease to have anything new to offer the team I’m trying to lead. Life becomes rather stale – quickly. Whether through books, other leaders or conferences, I must find ways to continue learning.

Negative influences

It’s hard to be the only positive in a room full of negatives. Sometimes as a leader I’ve felt like more cheerleader than coach. It’s one reason I surround myself with people who have a good outlook on life. I don’t want all “yes” people, but if everything is always an immediate “no” – or “I don’t like it but I have nothing better to offer” – it is draining and is only going to bring down the strength of my leadership and ultimately the rest of the team.

Fear

Risk is involved in every leadership decision. And, I meant every. Leadership is taking people to an unknown. This always involves risk. Every time. And every risk involves a certain level of fear. This is completely natural. Fear keeps leaders from moving forward when they allow the fear to dominate the decision more than the opportunity of the risk.

Pride

Pride goes before the fall. Pride destroys. Absolute pride destroys absolutely. Okay, I embellished this popular saying, but you get the point. Prideful leaders are always weakened by their pride. No one truly follows a prideful leader. They may obey. They may even be infatuated for a season. But, they don’t follow.

Complacency and contentment

Leadership involves a sense of urgency. When we lose this we lose the inner drive to lead well. We become weakened by our own loss of personal momentum.

Success

All of us love to succeed. I think attempting to is a pretty good goal. We might even plan for it – what a novel idea. Sadly, though, sometimes a little success can usher in complacency. We can begin to think we’ve figured out a system to success. Before long, we don’t think we have to be intentional anymore – maybe not even have to try as hard as we used to try. We can become weak quickly by our own delusions of grandeur.

Those are a few things which have weakened my leadership. Let’s guard against them!

3 Simple Steps to Reproduce Church Leadership

It is called discipleship...

In every church I’ve been in, people want to reproduce leaders, but few think they know how. Sometimes we complicate things in leadership. In my opinion.

In fact, finding new leaders – in theory at least – may be one of the easier issues to solve in leadership. There are almost always leaders to be found if one is looking. The key is having a strategy of leadership reproduction in place and actually working it.

I’ve written more detailed posts on this issues. Lots of books have been written. My intent here is to be simple. Simple often works.

Here are three easy steps to reproduce leaders:

Recruit

The best leaders will almost always have to be recruited. They are already busy leading elsewhere. They don’t have huge egos that make them think they have to be leading in your organization. Be observant. Get to know people and their interests. Discover the hidden talent in your church. If someone is a leader with Boy Scouts, they have potential to lead at church. If someone leads in the workplace, they have beneficial skills for the church.

I’m not advocating you don’t screen them, but I’m not thinking they’re going to preach the first week either. How much of a litmus test is needed for the parking ministry? Yet, you need leaders there too. It’s the first place a visitor makes an impression about your church. If they can lead a little league baseball team, you think they can be e chief parking lot cheerleader? I think so.

Develop

You will need to acclimate people to your organization. Train them to know your church culture. Make sure they know what you are seeking for the position. Give them some freedom to create their own way, but most likely they’ll want your help getting started. The best way is usually by apprenticeship. Partner them with other leaders. Help them find examples in other churches of ministries that are working well. Answer their questions. Be intentional to make sure they feel prepared.

Release

Let them lead. You’ve asked them to lead. You’ve trained them. Now get out of the way and let them lead. They’ll make mistakes. They won’t always do it your way. That’s okay – they’re leading. (Despite the picture with this post – which is funny don’t you think?) 

You aren’t trying to produce leaders just like you. You are trying to produce disciples. They follow Christ, not you, so don’t be surprised when they come up with new – even better ideas. Follow up with them as needed, but let them be a leader. The best leaders won’t last long if you’re looking over their shoulder too closely. (This is probably the biggest mistake I see churches make in reproducing leaders. They control too closely.)

Now I realize none of these steps are necessarily easy, but I’m confident if you’re doing each of them well you’ll be reproducing more leaders. And, isn’t that what your church needs?

You may want to read 10 Steps in Having a Leader Replacement Culture.

How does your church reproduce leadership?

7 Ways Introversion Works Well for Me as a Senior Leader

As a pastor too...

I remember several years ago reading an article, which suggested the majority of senior leaders think extroversion is necessary to be an effective as a senior leader. Obviously – and hopeful I am correct – I disagree. And, I think we’ve come a long way in our thinking. Thankfully.

In fact, I see benefits in being an introverted senior leader.

I also know people who can’t believe I can pastor a large church and be introverted. I’ve written before about the false assumptions of introverts. Introverts can be just as caring, loving and “shepherding” as extroverts. It’s a personality trait, not a heart monitor.

But, again, I see benefits in being a lead pastor and an introvert.

Here are 7 ways introversion works well for me as a senior leader:

I think first and speak later.

I don’t stick my foot in my mouth very many times. I’m not saying extroverts do, but I am saying that as an introverts I tend to choose my words very carefully. One characteristic of the personality is we don’t speak quickly. We choose our words more intentionally. Understand, I do say things I regret, but it doesn’t happen often.

I’m less likely to struggle with the loneliness of leadership.

This is a real leadership emotion, and I certainly have it some, but I’m very comfortable being alone in a room to my thoughts. Long runs by myself are energizing to me. I know many extroverted leaders who can get very lonely – and some days for them are very difficult, especially when they are in the midst of harder leadership decisions.

I create intentional moments.

My introversion forces me to be very intentional about my time interacting with others. I say continually to introverted leaders – introversion should never be a crutch or an excuse for not engaging with people. Leadership is a relational process for all of us. But, my relational time is very focused. I tend to make the most of my time. A calendar is one of my essential leadership tools. Sunday mornings I’m the most extroverted person in our church building. It’s strategic, intentional, and I enjoy it – because I truly love people – even though it is draining.

It’s easy to concentrate on the big picture.

You’ll seldom find me chit-chatting. It’s not that I don’t have casual conversations – I certainly do when I’m connecting with people – but communication for me is usually very purposeful. As a result, I tend to be able to be very big picture oriented. Very strategic in my thinking. I step back and observe everything often. I’m a deep thinker. Those are traits especially strong with most introverts. That has proven to be very profitable for my leadership and the teams I lead.

Processed randomness.

People often wonder if I know how to have fun. “Pastor you seem so serious” or “What do you do for fun?” I hear comments like this frequently. Those are usually people who only see me when I’m working and don’t know me very well. And, I do work hard, but I can sometimes be seen as the class clown too – by those who get to know me. Some of this comes through online. But when those times occur, they are usually intentional times. My work is caught up, I have done all the things I have to get done, and I’m ready to “come out and play”. This quality can be in extroverts or introverts, but for me as an introvert, they are more intentional moments than spontaneous.

I network intentionally.

I recognize the value of every conversation I have. So, I have lots of conversations. Every Sunday is a gold mine of networking opportunities. Plus, I meet dozens of people every week in the community where I serve. I enjoy meeting people knowing that people are my purpose – and I love people – I really do. More than this, I love how God wants to develop and grow people, and I see my role in that as a teacher. People are the reason for everything I do.

I tend to listen well.

People on my team usually have a very good chance of having their voice heard, because in any meeting setting, I don’t feel the need to be the one always talking. My introversion allows me to be quiet, sit back, listen, and reflect and offer input when and where most needed.

Sure there are struggles with being an introvert at times, but I have found it to be a blessing in my leadership. It is who I am – it is NOT a curse. Much of that has to do with how I manage my introversion in an often very extroverted world.

How does introversion make you an effective leader?

Understanding The Power of Caged Momentum

This is huge.

In church planting, I learned an important leadership principle. I’m not sure you can learn this one without being forced into it, so learn from my experience.

Let me illustrate it with a practical example:

Launching Grace Community Church was an 18-month process from the time I agreed to obey God’s encouragement to start a new church, we met with a group of interested people in our living room, and actually held a first service. (I had resisted His encouragement to plant a church for 10 years – but that’s another post.)

I met with a dozen or so couples who would eventually serve as our core team, but we first asked them to wrestle in prayer if this was what God was calling them to do. Then we waited months before we had our first meeting or they even officially committed to the vision. After this, we made them wait nine months before we ever met as a church.

It was a difficult season of waiting, but it proved invaluable.

Waiting to implement God’s vision for excited people – people inclined towards progress – was difficult, but the result proved an important principle about human dynamics and organizational development.

That’s a fancy way of saying waiting stunk, but it worked – in an incredible way.

It taught me the principle I like to call:

The Power of Caged Momentum

So we repeated it – often intentionally.

For example, although we knew small groups would be a major part of our mission, we did “test” groups with a few people for months before we allowed the entire church to join a group. We used this time to train leaders, but it also served the purpose to generate enthusiasm among those who had to wait to get in a group.

Telling a person or a group of people to wait for something they really want to do and are excited about builds positive momentum. When we did launch groups officially we had huge numbers sign up the first day.

That’s the power of caged momentum.

Here’s another time we saw this principle work for our favor.

We didn’t launch a student ministry immediately after we launched the church. We had children’s ministries, but nothing for youth other than our weekly service. We knew if we launched something it wouldn’t be very good. (And, my sons were two of those youth.) Some participated in other youth programs. Some did things together on their own. My sons even launched their own service in our living room.

But, when we did launch we had a large, successful gathering. That student ministry today remains highly vibrant – often defying normal percentages of student service attendance compared to Sunday morning church attendance.

That’s the power of caged momentum.

This doesn’t mean you always make people wait simply to build momentum, but you shouldn’t be afraid to either. The reality is we are often quick to rush decisions. We move quickly when we have an idea. We don’t always take time to prepare for the change, bring people along, and ideally build the momentum we need before launching something new.

Since learning this principle I have intentionally used it to build momentum in our church.

Of course, there is always the balance between waiting too long you lose opportunity (which is called opportunity cost) and moving too fast you don’t build enough momentum. I can’t solve this for you in a simple post. Your situation and experience will be unique to you, but the principle here is important.

The point is this – don’t be afraid to make your church, organization or team (or even your family) wait before they get to experience something great. The power of caged momentum may even make the outcome better than you were expecting.

Have you seen this principle at work?

3 Ways to Help Creatives On Your Team Flourish

There are some lessons we only learn the hard way.

One of those for me has to do with working with creatives.

I used to think when leading creatives, the key was to free them to create. I gave huge blank slates, allowed them to dream, and gave them very few parameters of what I was thinking.

I’ve learned – the hard way – freedom alone for a creative can spell disaster. Nothing gets accomplished and no one is happy.

Please understand. I’m not a basher of creatives.

I am actually a creative. Not the artistic creative type, but an idea creative. I have millions of ideas.

And, it’s true for me too. I used to think I wanted and needed to be led with no boundaries. Wrong. It’s not a good recipe for me.

I’ve learned the tips I’m about to share the hard way by attempting to lead creatives — and attempting to lead myself.

Creatives don’t need freedom – or at least freedom alone – they need more.

Here are 3 ways to help creatives flourish.

Give clear lines of direction.

Give them a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish. Help them see what a win looks like. Help them draw a box around certain end goals or objectives. The clearer you can be of what you are looking to do the more creative they can be.

Grant the freedom to draw within the lines.

Here’s the freedom creatives love. Once the end product is defined, creatives like limited micromanagement and maximum empowerment. They want the freedom to fail and the freedom to dream. All within the broad – very broad – but defined boundaries.

Provide accountability along the way.

Creatives need someone to check in with them periodically. They like to be motivated and encouraged. Let them know they are making progress – they are doing good work.

Without any lines or accountability creatives don’t flourish – they flounder. Things aren’t creative. They are messy.

Creatives love freedomm but it works best sandwiched between clarity and structure.

When those 3 are combined – lines, freedom and accountability – stuff gets done – and everyone is happy.

(Actually I should clarify – mostly everyone is happy. If everyone is happy someone’s not leading – creatives or otherwise.)

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

I’m a reflective person. This time of year, when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

I think its a great exercise.

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so – get alone – and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating – sin can have an immediate pleasure – but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships – spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended – and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again – even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year – one decision – one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life – and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk – and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being – planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will – and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life – spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself. This can be a powerful exercise.

Try answering some of these questions and see how they help you start your best year ever!

5 Criteria for Making New Year’s Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

I love a fresh start.

Perhaps it’s because grace is the doctrine I’ve needed so much, but there’s something about a clean slate, which motivates me towards achievement.

I’m like this with my desk at the office. I create stacks. Magazines to be read. Notes to be written. Lists to be completed. Bulletins from other churches. (I am always looking for better ideas.) Stacks, stacks, and more stacks. When the stacks are at capacity – I call it organized chaos.

But, then one day I’ve had enough of the stacks and I go on a cleaning spree. I sort. I file. I trash until the top of my desk shows far more wood than paper. Ahhh… Finally, I’m inspired to work again.

I love a fresh start.

I think this may be why I’m one of the people who appreciates New Year’s resolutions. It’s like a line on the calendar, which screams to me: FRESH START!

But, as much as I appreciate the value in them – beginning new things, stretching myself, making my life better – I’m like everyone else. I find it easier to make resolutions than to keep them.

How do we make resolutions we will actually keep? 

Because resolutions – even the strongest ones – aren’t going to improve anything if you don’t follow through with them. And, they probably just make you more frustrated than before you made them. Who needs more frustration?

So, what can you do? Let me try to help. 

First, write them down. This is huge. I’ve heard people say you are twice as likely to keep a written resolution than one you simply state in your mind. 

Second, try not to have too many. You will be overwhelmed and give up before you start. 
And, then, here are some suggestions for the type of resolutions which seem to work. This help me. 

5 criteria for making resolutions you can actually keep:

Reasonable

Another word might be attainable. The resolution must make sense for you to actually be able to do this year. Saying you want to read 50 books in a year – because you heard someone else does it – and, yet you didn’t read any this past year is probably going to be a stretch. You might be able to do it, but it likely isn’t a reasonable goal. Don’t be afraid of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). The key is you’re trying to achieve something, which makes your life better. If you’re successful this year you can set a higher goal next year.

Measurable

To be successful in keeping a resolution you need some way to monitor success towards it – certainly a way to know when you’ve achieved it. If your resolution is simply to lose weight you won’t be as motivated as if you say you want to lose a pound a week. You can track that goal and see your progress. Obviously it will still require discipline, but there is something about a measurable goal which – for most of us – drives us to meet it.

Sustainable

This one doesn’t apply for every resolution, but does in many. Ultimately I have found I’m more motivated to reach goals, which change my life for the better over a longer period of time. It’s great to meet those milestone, once in a lifetime type of achievements – such as running a marathon, or writing a book. And, we should have those type goals in our life – and maybe a milestone resolution is reasonable for you this year. The problem I have seen is if we get off track on reaching them it’s easy to simply give up – maybe even write it off as an unreasonable goal. We feel defeated and so we quit making any resolutions. In making New Year’s resolutions, I find I’m more successful if it’s something which I possibly adopt as a new lifestyle. Some examples would be changing my eating habits, beginning to exercise more often, Bible-reading, journaling, etc – again reasonable and measurable – but something I will sustain beyond the New Year.

Accountable

This is key. Weight Watchers is a great example here of this principle. There is something about their system, which works, and part of it is the reporting portion – where you have to be accountable to others for your progress. If you don’t build in a system of accountability – whether it’s with other people or some visible reminder of your resolution and progress – it’s easy to give up when the New Year euphoria begins to fade.

Reward-able

And, this may be the most important and the least practiced. One secret to actually achieving your resolution may be to find the “carrot”, which will continually motivate you to stretch for the finish line. If losing weight is a goal it could be a new suit or dress when you reach a pre-determined number. If it’s running a marathon (and if this is a reasonable resolution for you this year) it could be you run the marathon in some destination city you can’t wait to visit. If it’s reading your Bible through in a year – promise yourself a new Bible at the end of the year. The reward should fit the degree of stretching and effort it took to accomplish the resolution, but this often serves as a good incentive to helping you reach your goals – especially during the times you are tempting to quit trying.

I hope this will help. It does for me. I have some daily disciplines in my life now, which started as New Year’s resolutions. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found resolutions can help me start the year with fresh goals, and the discipline towards achieving them helps me have more discipline in other areas of my life.

Here’s to a great New Year! God bless!

15 Lessons Life Has Taught Me

And you should learn...

The best principles we learn in life, apart from revelation in God’s Word, comes from life experience. Experience is a great teacher.

Here are some of my favorites. Granted, these are random.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying I live by these always, just that I’ve lived long enough to know they are true.

Here are 15 lessons I have learned from life:

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life..

Proverbs 4:23, Eventually it all boils down to the heart of the matter. If you lose your heart in a situation it becomes very difficult to regain momentum. Consider a sports team – at the moment they give up – as soon as they think they’re beaten – they have lost the game. Protect your soul.

God cares more about our character development than He does many of the individual decisions we make.

God cares more where you are going than where you are at or where you have been. If we are not careful we spend more of our prayer time focusing on current problems than future opportunities.

This principle works the other way also. If you spend too much of your energies on getting the next best thing you may sacrifice the best God has for you today. Being a good father is more important than buying the best house in town. 

You’ve got to know when to fold them; know when to walk away; and know when to run.

Kenny Rogers was right. There are times to fight and times you know you can’t win and times when you shouldn’t be fighting anyway. Learning the difference is huge.

If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.

Thumper knew a truth that Scripture plays out too. There are times when we need to “shut up” and say, email – or post – nothing. Don’t add fuel to a fire you know shouldn’t be flaming. Unless you’re responding to a calling to strike a match, be an agent of peace.

Humility is an attractive quality.

Pride turns people away from us. When the applause are solicited they are seldom genuine.

It takes time to mend a broken heart.

As believers we don’t grieve like a world without hope, but we still hurt. Healing wounds take time, prayer, and truth. Words and actions of others do hurt. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. (Some marriages need to know this principle.)

Letting people get credit for something I did is okay if the organization is moving forward.

In the end, if I’m leading, I’ll get all the credit I deserve and more. Great leaders understand this.

We don’t always know the good we are doing.

It just sort of works this way. It would be encouraging, and probably build more momentum for us to know more, if people would tell us how wonderful we are, but they simply don’t We have to live in the security of knowing we are doing good things. Plus, the reality is if we do a good job at anything for long, we eventually quit hearing as many applauds.

More of the same will not produce change.

You can’t keep doing the same things and expect to get different results. Didn’t someone (Einstein) say this was the definition of insanity?

Sometimes the greatest fear we have is the greatest opportunity God has to use us for His glory.

God seems to always call us to that which seems bigger than we are. This causes us to rely on Him more, gives Him glory, and builds our character more than if it was something easy to do.

God is faithful – you can trust Him.

This one comes with test after test, but He has proven Himself to be a God of His word in my life – every time.

We tend to end in the direction we are headed.

We shouldn’t be surprised if we end up in a bad situation, if this was the direction we were aiming our life.

You get more bees with honey than vinegar.

Being nice to people usually gets better results than beating them into submission. (Bible truth: It’s the kindness of God which leads to repentance.

People are different from me.

I tend to want people to respond to life and me as I respond to life and others. They don’t. And, they shouldn’t. I’m not always right.

Every life experience can be used of God for something which gives God glory.

Everything! Maybe even reading this post!

Any you would add?

5 Tips to Write Better Informational Emails

Which actually get read...

Can I be candid with you? I don’t read every email I receive. I’m not even talking about forwards of cute stories that get massed emailed. I almost never read those. I’m talking about informational emails. The emails which have information in them I probably need. I don’t often absorb all of it.

I know. It sounds awful. Hopefully, someone in the comments will let me off the hook of seeming cruel or weird and admit they are the same way. But, here’s the fact. I’m not detail-oriented. At all. If you send me a “book email” – one which appears exceptionally long and full of details – you often lose me before I really get started. (Again, just being honest.)

Keep in mind, I receive hundreds of emails everyday. Many times I am one of many recipients. I know it’s probably vital information. You wouldn’t send it to me unless you wanted me to read it, right? But, if I want to be effective at all, I simply can’t digest everything in an extremely long, detailed email. Sometimes, I have to email back and ask for a summary.

So, what can we do about it?

I could tell you I’ll change. I’ll bite the bullet and read all longer than necessary emails, but the truth is I probably won’t. History proves otherwise. Plus, there are only so many hours in every day. Show me more than a few paragraphs and I’m probably out of here. Again, time simply won’t allow it.

Frankly, sometimes when the email gets too long it’s time to have a meeting. But, when email is the only practical means, ultimately, we have to write better emails.

Let me give you a few suggestions.

And, I should tell you, I’ve given these to staff members who write really long – packed with detail – emails. Some have taken my advice and learned it actually increased their communication results. People seemed to more closely read their emails. They actually appeared to know more of the details the person emailing was trying to communicate. And, isn’t that the goal?

Here are 5 suggestions for better emails:

Personalize the email

This has to be said first. Mass emails get read less by me. If I see there are many people on the list of recipients, I figure I’m not that necessary as a reader. Someone else will respond. (I know, to some this seems arrogant of me, but at least I’m truthful. And, I suspect I’m not alone here either.) An email written just to me is far more likely to grab my attention. Thankfully there are programs now which do a mail merge type function for you.

Make the main point early

What is the point of the email? What do you want to communicate if I get nothing else. Say that immediately. If it’s multiple pieces of information, say that up front too. It might be helpful to bold or underline the main ideas, (but don’t use weird colors or oversized font.) Highlight the most pertinent facts you want to convey, dates or locations, especially if the email is very long. Here’s the bottom line, if you don’t capture my attention soon in a longer email, I’m probably less likely to absorb the key points you want to make sure I get. I realize that’s my fault, not yours, but if you want the information absorbed – you’d want to know your audience, right? And again, I suspect I’m not alone. If you write especially long emails, I suspect you are losing more readers than you think.

Highlight or bullet-point main ideas

People can often read lists easier than paragraphs when dissecting detailed information. The points you want to make will seem more streamlined and easier to follow if you number them, use bullet points or highlight them in some way.

I hear frequently people like how I do this with blog posts like this one. Some wired like me may only read the points in bold. I already know this, so I try to write accordingly. If that’s you, you’re not reading this right now – are you?

Another suggestion here is to offer the main points to consider, such as an upcoming meeting date and time, and then provide a clickable link to access additional information for those who want or need more details. I write a Saturday informational email to our church and try to use this one – as well as bold highlighting the main subject in each paragraph – often.

Consider an opening summary statement.

On especially longer emails, or emails with lots of details, consider opening with the main highlights for quick and busy readers, listing only the points you’ll expand upon later.

You could write something such as, “In this email, I hope to address several issues. I want to talk about…”. Then list the things which will later be expanded upon in the email.

Readers can scan down if they want or need more details, but this way your main ideas get attention and hopefully you capture the reader’s interest enough so they read what you have to say before they disappear.

Proofread

Before hitting the send button, read over it as if you were reading it aloud for the first time. Does it sound like you? Is it complete in thought? Are there obvious grammatical or spelling errors? Are there any lines or words you could cut and the point still be made? (If so, cut them.) You’ll lose some readers if it is not a tightly written email.

There might be more I could add, but this post is getting kind of long. And, I’ve already lost some of you. The main point is if you want to make sure the email you took time to write is read consider the reader and how it will be read – or not.

Here’s to writing better emails.

What suggestions do you have?

7 Ways to Fuel Creative Thoughts When You’re Stuck

Or When Your Brain Can Only Think Routine

I’m an idea guy. No on has ever accused me of not having an original thought. Most of the time the opposite is more accurate. The teams I lead usually fight overload with the number of ideas I produce. I have to discipline myself to “unthink” and give teams I lead permission to tell me when something is a bad idea.

But, even idea people have lulls in their creative process. We grow stagnant. Get bored. Need help spurring thought.

So, how do idea people get new and original ideas? How do you spur creativity when you’re stuck in routines or can’t seem to come up with anything new? 

Here are 7 things which often work for me:

Take a walk

I stop what I’m doing and go for a brisk walk. Several times throughout the day I take a hike. In fact, since I began using FitBit I set myself a goal to walk at least 250 steps every hour during normal work hours and 10,000 steps per day. I usually have nearly twice that number and I have only missed the minimum number two days in three years. Here’s the deal – the best ideas rarely come to me when I’m sitting at my desk – which, I never do anyway because I use a standup desk. (The added benefit to walking throughout the day is I better know my staff when I’m roaming the halls of the church.)

Whiteboard

Diagraming or drawing my thoughts makes me think. I have one wall in my office covered  with idea paint. If thoughts get stale – I start to play with dry erase markers. Literally. If I start writing or drawing always it leads to more ideas – every time. I also have several doodling apps on my iPad and a couple of mind-mapping apps. Mind Vector and Simple Mind are two I can recommend. (You don’t need both – I just get bored enough I switch back and forth.) 

Exercise

This isn’t just taking a walk. It’s sweating. I workout hard. Whenever I’m in a lull, exercise triggers my brain. Sometimes a mid afternoon sweat will make the last half of the day my most productive in thought. And, it’s good for my health. 

Hang out with highly creative types

Iron sharpens iron. Creatives sharpen creativity. I like to occasionally hang out with random thinking, highly creative types. I’m random, yet structured, so I have to pace my time with the over-the-top creatives, but they always trigger new ideas.

Change environments

Going somewhere I’ve never been always fuels me. A new city. A new park. A new restaurant. A new coffee shop. A different library. Change the space and you expand the pace (of thought).

Take a shower

Seriously, don’t the best ideas hit you when you’re in the shower with no good way to record them? Or, is this only me? I’ve been working on a message – get stuck – go take a long shower and I come back loaded with new thoughts. Try it. Who says you can’t take more than one shower a day? 

Play a game

This may seem so juvenile, and if it does, I’m sorry – though not really. You picked the wrong blog today, perhaps, but it often works for me. Before I tackle a writing project I’ll often first play a game of solitaire or a crossword puzzle on my iPad. If I’m really stuck I have found value in reaching into my playful self. I actually have toys in my office. I often challenge our staff in a game of putt putt through obstacles I have created. Playing brings out the kid in me – and the creative juices. 

These are a few which help me when I need to be more creative.

What triggers your creative process?