When to Allow Failure and When to Rescue

I recently wrote 7 Impractical Leadership Principles and Why I Use Them. One comment on the post stood out to me, because admittedly, as much as I believe in the post, this is a difficult aspect of leadership.

Someone wrote in reference the principle “I watch people fail”:

I am in the middle of the last one you posted and it is tough. Many times I wonder if I should just step in, but I am trying to exercise patience.

That’s a delicate balance. When do you step in and rescue someone and when do you allow the person to possibly fail?

Here is my response:

The balance for me is in how much the failure will injure them versus how much it will teach them.

If I can save them unneeded heartache, then I’m likely to step in an try to help. There are failures we can learn without the need to repeat them. When I was in business, I had people give me fair warning about doing business with certain individuals. In ministry, it’s helpful if I can get a good (or bad) reference before I hire the right (or wrong) person. I am always appreciative of that type of protection and would want to offer it to others.

If, however, I would be stunting the individual’s personal growth by stepping in to rescue them, I may let them fail. Failure is one of life’s greatest educators, so most people grow through trial and error. If, for example, someone on my team wants to try something new. I may feel it isn’t the best decision, or it isn’t the way I would choose to do it, but I usually can’t guarantee it won’t be a success. Instead of going with my gut, I may let the team member follow his or her gut and take a chance. We may discover a home run and I would happily admit my hunch was wrong. Either way, the team member learns something.

The bottom line for me is to discern the greater value…growth of a team member by allowing failure, which ultimately helps the overall team, or protecting a team member from needless injury, which ultimately helps the overall team.

I hope this is helpful in addressing the dilemma. Keep in mind, there are no clear cut lines on leadership issues like this. Every situation is unique. We are keep learning and developing in these areas.

Wow, leadership is hard, isn’t it?

How do you decide when to allow someone fail and when to save them the agony?

The People Doing the Work: A Leadership Pet Peeve

It’s a pet peeve of mine in leadership.

I once had a boss who told me how to do my sales meetings with my department. He wasn’t going to be at the meeting. He didn’t know the people on my team. He was holding me accountable for results in sales, not in organizational leadership, but yet he continually gave me the script for meetings as he thought they should be led. I had to turn in reports, which indicated I had followed his agenda.

I hated it. And, when I could, I secretly altered things and scripted my own way. Maybe it was rebellion…okay, it was rebellion, but…

I never thought he was practicing good leadership.

As a leader…

If you aren’t going to be doing the work, don’t script how it’s done.

You can share your thoughts and ideas…

You can share what you want accomplished…

You can give input…

You can monitor progress…

You can even hold people accountable for progress…

But the people who are actually at the meetings…

Doing the work…

Carrying out the plans…

Getting their hands dirty…

Should determine how the work gets completed.

There, I feel better.

Any questions?

7 Things I Learned from a Poor Management Experience

Years ago I was working in retail. I was in college, but serving as an area manager for a large department store. I was responsible for ordering the basic items in my department, making sure we were always in stock with regular sellers. One of those items was a collar extender. I don’t know that those are even used anymore, and I never used one personally, but basically it was a metal button extender that allowed a man to wear a shirt as the man grew larger, by making the neck bigger. (You know you wanted to know that.)

Anyway, we normally kept a couple boxes with 12 extenders in each in stock. When we had sold one box I was to order another box. They weren’t fast sellers, so it didn’t happen often. I noticed one day that we were down to our last box, so I placed an order, but instead of ordering one box of 12, I incorrectly order 12 boxes of 12. That’s pretty much enough for a decade of extender sells.

I had made a mistake.

How did management handle the issue?

The morning after the arrival of our new case of extenders, a memo was sent to all area managers, in every department, throughout the store. It read something like, “From now on, all orders will need to be signed by a supervisor prior to completion.” I was instantly frustrated, since I knew the memo was a direct response to my mistake. No one had said anything to me. I had not been reprimanded. It was never mentioned otherwise, but now we had a new policy, which affected everyone, because of my one error. (BTW, extenders retailed for $1.25 back then.)

The new mandate slowed down the progress of everyone, because they now had to wait for approval before they could order basic needs. It was not accepted by other managers, proved to be more of an inconvenience than it was worth and soon no one practiced it at all.

What did this experience teach me?

Weakness in leadership never produces the desired result.

How should it have been handled?

In my opinion, I should have been called aside, made aware of my mistake (to let me know they knew), and allowed me learn from the experience. If I continued to make the same error, which I never did again, then further action could have been taken.

The incident helped shape some of my leadership.

Here are 7 things I learned from a poor management experience:

  • Never send an email (today’s memo) to correct an action.
  • Never over-react to a minor issue.
  • Never make a policy to correct a single error.
  • Never single someone out publicly who hasn’t been talked to privately.
  • Never punish everyone for the mistake of one.
  • Never act like it’s not a big deal if you think it’s a big deal.
  • Never be so weak as a leader that you fail to address the real issue, or the real problem, even if the real problem is a person.

I am certain I have repeated each of these myself at times, but the experience truly did shape my leadership and management practices. The best thing this experience did for me was give me a principle I have used and often shared with other leaders:

If you need to slap a hand, bring a ruler and show up in person.

BTW, need a collar extender? I know where you might can find one. :)

(In complete transparency, it’s been almost 30 years and I don’t remember all the specific details of this incident. Also, though this story is from actual experience, in fairness to others involved, I altered some of the details to protect identities.)

7 Ways to Raise up Young Leaders

I talk to pastors and leaders my age and older who want to see a new generation of leaders, but either don’t know how or can’t seem to find them. Frankly, some pastors I talk with are frustrated with what they see as a lack of leadership among the newer generations.

As a church planter, we hired several staff members into their first ministry position. We struck “gold” several times. I was frequently asked how we have managed to find so many talented young leaders at Grace Community Church. Much of the work God has done at that church plant was done through the leadership efforts of people 10, 15, and 20 years younger than me.

Here are 7 ways to raise up young leaders:

Give them opportunities – That sounds simple, but it’s not. Many leaders are afraid to hand off real responsibility to leaders half their age. I understand, because I made some huge mistakes as a young leader, but at the same time, that’s how I learned. Younger leaders want authority and a seat at the table now, not when they reach an expected age. Is it risky? Of course, but it awesome has the potential for awesomeness to occur.

Share experiences – Young leaders are open to learning from a mature leader’s successes and failures. They enjoy hearing stories of what worked and what didn’t. That’s actually one of the beauties of the newer generations. The young leaders on my team actually seek out my personal experience. They will still want the chance to learn on their own, but they are ready to glean from the wisdom of those who have gone before them, especially in the context of relationships.

Allow for failure – People of all ages will make mistakes in leadership, regardless of their years of experience. For some reason that seems magnified for the younger leaders, which is one reason older leaders sometimes shy away from them. An atmosphere which embraces failure as a part of the growth process, invites younger leaders to take chances, risking failure and exploring possible genius discoveries.

Be open to change – More than likely, younger leaders will do things differently than the older leaders did things. They want more flexible hours, different work environments, and opportunities to work as a team. It may seem unnatural at first, but let their process take shape and you’ll have a better chance of leadership development occurring.

Set high expectations – Having different working methods shouldn’t lower standards or quality expectations. The good thing is the younger leaders, from my experience, aren’t looking for a free ride, just a seat on the bus. Hold them accountable to clearly identified goals and objectives. Applaud them for good work and challenge them to continually improve. It’s part of their growth process.

Provide encouragement - Younger leaders need feedback. They seem to want to know how they are doing far more often than the annual review system of the past afforded. They are looking to meet the approval of senior leadership and the organization. Keep them encouraged and they’ll keep aiming higher.

Give constructive feedback - Again, younger leaders appear more interested in knowing they are meeting the expectations of senior leadership, so acknowledge that fact by helping them learn as they grow. Don’t simply share “good” or “bad” feedback. Rather, with the goal of helping them grow as leaders, give them concrete and constructive reviews of their performance. Help them understand not only what they did right or wrong, but practical ways they can get better in their work and leadership abilities.

Raising up younger leaders is crucial to a growing and maintaining healthy organizations and churches. We must be intentional and diligent about investing in the next generation, understanding their differences, and working within their culture to grow new leaders.

Young leaders, what did I miss?

Mature leaders, what else are you doing?

5 Traits of the Aware Leader

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize I don’t always know fully the real health of my team or organization. At least as much as others do. I want to know, but often, because of my position, I’m shielded from some issues.

I’ve learned, right or wrong, agree or disagree, that some would rather complain behind a leader’s back than tell him or her how they feel. Others assume the leader already knows and still others simply leave or remain quiet to avoid any confrontation. I’ve made the mistake of believing everything was great in an area of ministry or with a team member, when really it was mediocre at best, simply because I was not aware of the real problems in the organization.

It can be equally true that a leader doesn’t know all the potential of an organization. Some of the best ideas remain untapped for some of the same reasons. People are afraid of their ideas being rejected, so they don’t share them. They assume the leader already knows, or they simply never take the time to share them.

If a leader wants to be fully aware, there are disciplines he or she must have in place. For example, as a leader, do you want to easily recognize the need for change and the proper timing to introduce it? That comes partly by being a leader aware.

Here are 5 traits of the aware leader:

Asks questions – Aware leaders are consistently asking people questions and making intentional efforts to uncover people’s true feelings about the organization and their leadership. (Read 12 Great Leadership Questions HERE.)

Remain open to constructive criticism – Aware leaders make themselves vulnerable to other people. They welcome input, even when it comes as correction. They realize that although criticism never feels good at the time, if processed properly, it can make them a better leader. (You may want to read THIS POST and THIS POST about how to and not to respond to criticism.)

Never assumes everyone agrees – Aware leaders realize that disagreement and even healthy conflict can make the organization better. They expect differences of opinions on issues and they are willing to wrestle through them to find the best solution to accomplish the vision of the organization, even if that opinion belongs to someone other than the leader.

Never quits learning – Aware leaders are sponges for information. They read books, blogs, or they might listen to podcasts. They keep up with the current trends in their industry through periodicals and newsletters. They never cease to discover new ideas or ways of doing things.

Remains a wisdom seeker – Aware leaders surround themselves with people further down the road from where they are in life. They most likely will use terms like mentor, coach or consultant. They are consistently seeking the input of other leaders who can speak into their situation, make them a better leader or person, and ultimately help the organization.

Great leaders are aware leaders. Does that describe you or your leader?

What would you add to my list to describe an aware leader?

Making Decisions versus Finding Solutions

I was working with a church recently that has a leadership issue, which is causing harm to the church. One of the staff members is extremely popular with the people in the church, but he is considered a lousy team player by the rest of the staff. He’s lazy, divisive, and disrespectful to the senior pastor.

The pastor and key leadership realize a change needs to occur. He’s been counseled and threatened with his job, but he knows he is popular and therefore refuses to change. The pastor, who has been at the church less time than the other staff member, knows he could never recover from letting him go.

I was asked to help the church find a solution to the dilemma. If I were simply encouraging them to do the right thing…that would be easy, in my opinion. He needs to go, because of the flippancy he’s shown towards leadership. Unfortunately, what is easy isn’t always best.

It was a reminder:

The answer to problems is often easy, but the solution can often be hard.

Want an easy answer to the above scenario?

There can even be three options on the table. The senior pastor can either fire the associate pastor, quit as the pastor, or live with the problem. That’s easy isn’t it. Choose the one that seems best to you. You could even draw numbers out of a hat for that one if you can’t decide. (One for fire, two for quit, and three for live with…in case you weren’t following.)

Finding the solution to a problem is much more difficult.

I have my particular easy answer, but finding a solution is a more delicate process. It involves making hard decisions and dealing with hard consequences. It could be either of the three easy answers, but a solution is bigger than making a decision. To be a solution it would involve the follow through…clean-up…and the working of the situation for the ultimate good of the organization. That’s hard, messy, difficult work.

Making decisions…Easy

Finding solutions….More difficult.

By the way, great leaders don’t just make decisions…they find solutions.

Honestly, would you rather make decisions or find solutions?

(Please know I changed some details of this story to protect identities.)

If You Want to Attract Leaders…

One of the most frequent criticisms I receive from young leaders about their organizations is that they aren’t given adequate responsibly or authority. They are handed a set of tasks to complete, but they don’t feel they have a part in creating the big picture for the organization. Since most of the young leaders I talk to are in ministry, this means it’s happening in the church too. :)

Do you want to lead a successful organization (church) that attracts leaders? Here’s my best advice:

Hand out visions more than you assign tasks.

In order for the organization to be successful, you’ll need to attract leaders. You know that, right? You need to know something about leaders and potential leaders.

Leaders want to work towards a vision, more than they want complete a set of tasks.

Leaders don’t get excited about checklists and assignments.

Leaders want to join a great vision, then help develop the tasks to accomplish it.

Leaders get excited about faith-stretching, bigger-than-life, jaw-dropping acts of courage. That’s the kind of vision they want to believe in and follow. “To do” list often gets in the way of that kind of fun. Visions excite them, details to complete them don’t.

So, if you want to create a successful organization, recruit leaders, hand them a big vision, with lots of room on the implementation side, then allow them to choose how they will accomplish that vision.

Hand them the vision, then get out of their way and let them do their work.

That doesn’t mean your work is over. They’ll need your help along the way. They’ll still need your help to develop structure, discipline and follow through. But that’s way different than handing them a set of tasks. That’s practicing good leadership and delegation skills. (You can read 4 Critical Aspects of Healthy Delegation HERE.)

I realize this is especially hard for perfectionist leaders who want to control every outcome. (Leaders like me; just being honest.) You’ll have to take a risk on the people you’ve recruited to lead and discipline yourself to let them work in their own way. You’ll get burned a few times, but overall, you’ll find more success when you:

Paint big visions…not specific tasks…

When you do this you’ll attract and develop more leaders and a more successful organization will be built and sustained.

How are you at releasing your vision to others?

Would you rather be handed a vision or a set of tasks to be completed?

12 Great Leadership Questions

One of the best things a leader can do is ask the right questions. I love to say, “A leader can only see what a leader can see”. The leader can often be the last to know where there is a problem or what others are thinking, so asking questions is critical to good leadership. Great leaders ask great questions.

Here are 12 great leadership questions:

What can we learn from this?

Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?

How can I help you?

What’s next?

Where should we be placing our best energy?

What am I missing or forgetting?

How can we do it better next time?

What do you think?

What changes could we implement to make your work life better?

What would you do differently if you had my position?

Are you enjoying your work?

How can I improve my communication with you?

Pick a few of those questions, try them on your team, and let me know your results.

What question would you add? (See, there’s another great question.)

What’s the Greatest Killer of Motivation?

Did you catch it?

What’s the greatest killer of motivation?

You thought it was a lack of vision, didn’t you?

But, you can have the greatest vision ever and still see motivation dwindle and momentum die.

The fact is, we have an amazing ability to get bored with good things over time. It doesn’t matter how much we love something, time can cause us to lose interest. All of us can think of something we once loved, but now it’s old news. We have a the sad ability of tiring of wonderful things.

Buy a child a toy at Christmas and they love it…it’s the best Christmas ever…but a few weeks later…they probably aren’t as excited about it anymore. They are ready for some new toys.

Marketers know they have to keep changing things to keep us buying. We get bored easily. That’s why Apple’s stock is through the roof. They keep introducing new products because we get bored with the old ones.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll do that in our relationships too. One of the biggest obstacle in many marriages is boredom. We quit dating…we quit courting…we quit surprising each other… Over time, we get bored in the relationship.

That feeling of boredom comes into the church also. Greeting at the front door was great at first. We met lots of new people and genuinely felt we were making a difference. Now we know everyone and the job has become old. I’m bored. Time killed my motivation.

Going to small group? Working with students? Playing in the band? Fun at first, but time has made me bored.

Perhaps you understand by now. Maybe you’re bored with this post. It was great when it started, but time has taken away your enthusiasm. Let me get to some help. It’s time.

If time is a killer of motivation, what’s the solution?

Keep retelling the vision – Remind yourself and others of why you are doing what you are doing. If your mission is to reach people for Christ, then get excited about that again. Renew your passion for others.

Keep practicing the vision – Sometimes we get busy with doing that we don’t really do what we were called to do. I know, that doesn’t make sense…but perhaps it makes too much sense. I’m not sure what I’m saying, but I know this. If you want to restore your motivation, do the things you’re motivated to do. If reaching broken, hurting people for Christ was the original passion God called you to do, then step away from the routines and busyness of life to start winning a few broken, hurting people for Christ again. Drop the mundane and follow the heart. Renew your personal passion.

Keep sharing the impact of the vision with others – Most likely there are still some people motivated for the vision. Surround yourself with them. Share their stories. Let their enthusiasm rub off on you and others. Live out the vision with others who believe in it as much as you do. It will motivate you as you share the vision with others again.

Have you seen time destroy motivation? What are you doing about it?

10 Things in Leadership that Drive Me Crazy

There are some things in leadership that I could honestly say I despise. Perhaps you have your own list, but this is mine.

Here are 10 things that drive me crazy in leadership:

Responsibility without authority – If you ask someone to lead something; then let them lead.

Small-mindedness – I like big dreams and those that dream them. I’ve never once out-dreamed God. Neither have you.

Naysayers – There is always someone who says it can’t be done.

Laziness – Not only is it a sin, if it is allowed to fester it can be contagious or disruptive to an organization.

Settling – Even if it involves conflict, I want to push for best over mediocre.

Popularity seeking – Leaders who say what they think people want to hear in order to be liked drive me nuts. (Not sure they are technically leaders.)

Power hunger – Leaders who are easily threatened by others or who always try to control others limit people and organizations.

Caution out of fear – I prefer a bold faith every time.

Bullied management – Some leaders get their way from force. That seems cowardly to me.

Passion squelchers – Leaders should energize others to realize their dreams, not stifle them.

What are some things you despise in leadership?

(I posted this basic idea several years ago, but brought it forward again since my readership has grown substantially since then.)