3 Options When You Can’t Stand the Heat in the Leadership Kitchen

Chef fire fighter

When I was growing up I frequently heard the phrase.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Are people still saying it and I’m just not hearing it?

Either way, I love a good analogy to help me think through a topic. And, I think the phrase applies in leadership. And, I’m not sure getting out of the leadership kitchen when it gets too hot is the only option.

Are you experiencing the “heat” – the stress of leadership? 

Do you feel you are in over your head? 

Are you not able to keep up with the demands on you personally and are you, therefore, questioning your abilities as a leader? 

Do others have the perception you can’t accomplish what you are supposed to do? (Perception is often more powerful than reality.) Are you stuck and wondering what to do next?

I have been there numerous times as a leader.

At 20 years of age, I was thrust into a management position, because the manger left suddenly. By default I was given responsibility I had bluffed upper management into believing I was prepared to do. I wasn’t. When I became a self-employed small business owner I quickly realized the ball rested in my court, I was responsible for meeting payroll for others and myself, and I was in well over my head. As the pastor of fast growing churches, there have been many times I’ve not known what to do.

The heat in the kitchen was more than I could bear.

Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to admit it these days.

When you find yourself in over your head in leadership – use the analogy of the “heat in the leadership kitchen”.

I think you have 3 options:

Get out of the kitchen

There’s always that. Let’s be honest and admit you may be in the wrong kitchen. The heat may be too much for you. Sometimes you simply aren’t a fit for the role. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a fit for any role – just not this one – or in this organization. My leadership style wouldn’t work in many churches. Being willing to admit it saves you heartache, your team from destruction, and the organization from having to make difficult decisions regarding your leadership in the future – when everyone else discovers you’re out of your league or misfit. 

Learn from better cooks

Continuing with the kitchen analogy, perhaps the oven temperature is set too high. You may be using the wrong ingredients. Maybe you need better assistant chefs. I’m not trying to stir up a recipe simply to fit this point in the post (Okay, please admit that’s funny), but you may need to invite input from people who have been cooking (leading) longer than you have. Chances are good an outside look can see things you don’t see. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) done alone. Find mentors willing to invest in you. This often begins with the humility to admit you need help and the willingness to ask for it. But, the best leaders occasionally need help and great leaders aren’t too proud to ask for it. I’ve also discovered seasoned leaders feel honored to ask. (And, as a Christian leader, remember God is on your side and He may be waiting for you to surrender before He jumps in to help.)

Improve the kitchen

Perhaps it’s the environment you’ve created in the kitchen. You may need to change the people who are seated at your kitchen table or who are watching you cook. You may need to get a better stove or, as I’ve learned, even getting the right spatula will make me a better cook. Again, I’m not trying to overuse this analogy, but the point is in leadership we usually have to get better before we can get bigger. Sharpening our personal skills, growing the strength of our team, placing the right people in positions around us and improving the organization’s culture and environment can be helpful when a leader feels overwhelmed. You have to do what it takes to become a better leader. I got a second master’s degree to help me in leadership. You may not need to go to that extreme, but you should be intentional about gaining the training and experience you need to be a lead at a higher level.

Feeling hot in the leadership kitchen? You may need to get out – but there may be other options.

Got any other kitchen leadership analogies you’d care to share?

7 Things Every Leader Needs to Quit Immediately

young woman showing her denial with NO on her hand

I’ve often wished I could say something to every leader. Some things I’ve learned the hard way. I often share things leadership should do, but today I thought I’d share some things not to do.

Some things to quit.

Here are 7 things every leader needs to quit:

Measuring success compared to another’s success.

Your leadership will not be like someone else’s leadership. It’s not designed to be. You’ll likely be successful in ways other leaders aren’t. Some of those may be visible and measurable – some may not be. The goal should be to be the best leader you can be and measure your success by your obedience to being the leader God has designed you to be.

Pretending to have all the answers.

There’s an unfair expectation many leaders face to be the person with the answer in every situation. Seriously, how’s this working for you? The sooner you admit you don’t have all the answers, the quicker your team will be willing to fill in your gaps. And, surrendering is something God values in His followers.

Trying to be popular.

If you want to be popular, be a celebrity. If you want to be a leader, be willing to do the hard tasks to take people where they need (and probably want to go), but may be resistant along the way. Leadership can be lonely at times. Be prepared.

Leading alone.

Just because leadership can be lonely, doesn’t mean you have to lead alone. Good leaders surround themselves with people who care, people who can hold them accountable, and sharpen their character and their faith. If you have a tendency to separate yourself from others, stop now and reach out to someone. Take a bold risk of being vulnerable and release some of the weight of responsibility you feel.

Acting like it doesn’t hurt.

When people you trust betray you – it hurts. Be honest about it. When people rebel against your leadership – it hurts. On days where it seems you have more enemies than friends – it hurts. Don’t pretend it doesn’t. You won’t lead well if you’re a cry baby, but you should have some outlets where you can share your pain.

Trying to control every outcome.

Three reasons not to: 1) It doesn’t work. 2) It limits others. 3) It’s not right. Leadership is not about control. It’s about relational influence. When you control others you limit people to your abilities. When you empower people you limit people to their combined abilities as a team – and – keep in mind, there’s strength in numbers.

Ignoring the warning signs of burnout.

At some point in your leadership, if you really are leading through the deep waters of change, relational differences, or simply the stress of wearing the leader hat, you’ll face burnout. When you start to have more negative thoughts than positive thoughts, when the pressure of leadership is unbearable for a long period of time, or when your leadership starts to negatively impact your physical or emotional health or your relationships, it’s time to seek help.

Which of these do you most need to quit?

7 Common Ways Leaders Waste Time and Energy

clock

Wasting time and energy may be one of my biggest pet peeves as a leader. Some days I leave work and feel I never got off a treadmill. It’s physically and mentally draining.

Does it ever happen to you?

It can be frustrating to feel your most valuable commodity – time – has been wasted – or you invested good every on the wrong things. 

I firmly believe when we get rid of some common drains on our time and energy we dramatically improve our performance as leaders. With this in mind, I’ve observed in my own personal development some ways to eliminate time and energy wasters.

Here are 7 common wastes of time and energy in leadership:

Focussing too much attention on the naysayers.

I have found worrying over what critics are saying, especially the ones I have learned I will likely never make happy, delays progress and takes time and energy from me. Plus, it only detracts my focus from the positive people who believe in the vision and are supportive. Every decision a leader makes will make some happy and some unhappy. I need to be humble, make sure I’m not making decisions alone, and filter through the constructive criticism I need to hear – but then give my best attention to moving forward. 

Refusing to delegate.

When I make every decision, or become too controlling as a leader, I rob myself and our team of valuable extra time and energy a talented team could have provided. I feel overwhelmed more quickly, the team feels under-appreciated and we fail to accomplish as much as we should.

Second guessing decisions.

Sometimes I can wear myself out wrestling over a decision – even though I know I’ve covered all the bases I can – prayed, sought wise counsel, followed my gut. It’s often best just to make the decision. If I’m wrong, I find it is better to work to make better decisions moving forward rather than being timid about my next decision or living in a pity party of the bad ones already made.

Trying to have all the ideas.

Many leaders feel they have to be the originator of all the creativity of a team. Some do it it of pride and some mistakenly believe it’s what a leader must do. They waste time brainstorming alone and the energy created by expanding the creative process. Consequently, the best ideas often never surface. Original thoughts, better than ours, are usually in the room or the organization if we will welcome them to the table. This preserves my time and energy for more efficient uses and allows me to concentrate on things only I can do.

Living with bad structure.

Let’s face reality. Over time, rules take on a life of their own. What was once created to improve efficiency actually begins to slow progress and waste valuable time. Plus, bad structure is an energy-drainer. Change the rules – or, if possible, drop them. We need healthy guidelines, but the fewer restrictions we place on people the better they can perform – and you often free up valuable space for people to actually enjoy their work. Morale boosters are always good for productivity.

Disorganization.

Many leaders feel overwhelmed because they don’t have good organizational skills. Learning how to better handle routine tasks such as processing emails, calendaring, and scheduling work flow each week will drastically improve time efficiency and energy to do more work. Begin each day with a checklist of “must do” activities. Take time to plan out your week. Work from a pre-determined schedule as much as possible. Learn the value of NO and use it. Being organized helps handle interruptions, which naturally come for all of us.

Completing tasks not helpful in my overall productivity.

This could be any number of things. Even reading a book, for example. Perhaps a silly example, but I have discovered sometimes I can read too much. It may sounds strange, but really it’s because I read things I didn’t need to read. I start a book and within the first chapter I know it’s not helpful, or even enjoyable, my sense of completion wants to finish. It would be better to put it aside and pick up another book. Take the novel length email I just received – I try to determine first if I’m the one who should respond. Many times I’m not – before I read and try to process – I pass it on to someone more suitable. It could be attending a meeting or supervising a project. Whatever it is – if I am not the best person for the job or it is just a time or energy waster – the sooner I say no or hand off the task, the more time and energy I preserve for other tasks I should be doing.

What time or energy wasters have you seen in leadership?

12 Hard Things to Say – 5 Ways to Say Them as a Leader

men sitting on sofa at home and talking

In any relationship, there comes a time where it’s necessary to say things which are difficult to keep the relationship strong and make it better. This is also true in a healthy team environment. All leaders have things they need to say, which are hard sometimes.

For me personally, this often involves having a challenging conversation with a team member – someone I love being on the team, but know they need correction in an area, which is affecting the team. These are always discussions I’d rather not have, but I know are necessary for the continued health of the relationship, the team, and the individual.

Over the years, I have had many of these issues which required “tough love” to address them. I began my business leadership experience in retail management. At certain times of the year there could be 100’s of associates on the sales floor. It provided ample opportunity for problems I had to address with individuals.

But, those opportunities have continued throughout my career in leadership. And, dealing with problems has included me having to say things such as:

  • You’re too controlling as a leader.
  • You can be perceived as a real jerk to people.
  • Your laziness is dragging down the team.
  • You have body odor.
  • You’re making making too many mistakes and don’t seem to be learning from them.
  • You are non-responsive to your team members or others. It’s slowing down progress and it’s unfair to everyone else.
  • Your personal life is impacting your work. How can I help?
  • You don’t know how to take constructive criticism.
  • You are too critical of new ideas.
  • You are moving too fast.
  • You are moving too slow.
  • You are uncooperative.

I should note – most of these have not been said with my current team – thankfully.

Through my years in leadership, however, I have had to say each one of these statements to someone I was supposed to be leading. Those conversations, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, always prove to be good for the team and the team member.

In full disclosure, there have been times when someone needed to have similar “tough love” conversations with me and those discussions always made me better, as difficult as they were to receive at the time.

If you have to have one of those conversations, I have learned some principles to make them more palatable.

Here are 5 tips to have hard conversations:

Handle the conversation as quickly as possible – If the problem is clear in your mind (and usually everyone else’s mind), and you’ve witnessed the problem long enough to know it’s a pattern, don’t delay long in addressing the issue.

Be honest – This is not the time to shift blame, make excuses or dance around the issue. Be clear about the problem as you perceive it.

Be kind and helpful – You may read my post 5 Ways to Rebuke a Friend. Although this post deals more with a subordinate than simply with a friend, the previous post suggestions may be helpful here also. Your end goal should be to make the team member and the team better after the conversation. Don’t just blast a person. Use the “sandwich approach” when possible. Place the hard words in the midst of things which are good about the person and your commitment to them.

Have a two-way conversation – You should be willing to listen as much as you speak. You may not have all the facts exactly right – or you may have – but give the person a chance to respond to the criticism you are addressing. This also means you should have a two-way conversation, and not a multiple party conversation. You should address the issue with the person you have a problem with, not with others on the team behind his or her back. If you need someone in the room with you for perception issues or as a witness, make sure they are committed to privacy.

Move forward after the conversation – The person being corrected should leave with the assurance you are moving forward, and, provided improvements are made, do not plan to hold the issue against them. It will be important they see you responding likewise in the days ahead.

Know when enough is enough – You shouldn’t have to have these type conversations too frequently. Talk becomes cheap if there’s no backing to what’s agreed upon. If there seems to be no improvement over time, harder decisions or more intensive help may be needed. If you have done the other steps here, there is a time when tough love says “that’s enough – no more”. You are not doing your job as a leader if you continue to ignore the issues everyone else sees as critical to the health of a team.

One of the most difficult times for me as a leader is addressing issues like this with a team member I genuinely care about, but I know it’s one of my roles as a leader to address these most difficult issues.

What would you add to my examples of difficult conversations you have had with someone on your team?

When You’re The Pastor But Not The Leader

Funny scared man

I was talking with a 25 year old pastor recently. He is frustrated with the church where he serves. He was brought to the church because they wanted him to help the church grow again — or so the search committee convinced him — but they see him as too young to make decisions on his own.

They won’t take his suggestions, voting them down at business meetings. 

They consistently undermine his attempts to lead.

They expect him to speak each week and visit the sick, but they won’t let him make any changes he feels need to be made.

It has made for a very miserable situation and he feels helpless to do anything about it. He’s ready to quit and the situation is negatively impacting every other area of his life.

It isn’t the first time I have heard a story such as this. I hear it frequently from young leaders in churches and the business world. I didn’t want to be the one to tell him, but I didn’t want to mislead him either. The bottom line in this young pastor’s situation:

He is the pastor of the church but not the leader.

(Of course I’ll get kickback from those who want to remind me Jesus is the leader of the church. I couldn’t agree more, but He does use people to lead His work and this pastor is not the one.)

Perhaps you share this young leader’s dilemma. If no one is following your attempt to lead it could be because:

You haven’t been given authority to lead.
You haven’t assumed the responsibility you’ve been given.
No one is leading in the organization and no one wants anyone to – because that would mean change has to occur.

If this is your situation, you have a few options as I see it:

  • You can live with the power structure in place and complete the role within the authority you’ve been given. And, probably be miserable.
  • You can fight the power structure, lining up supporters, building a coalition in your corner – and be prepared to win or lose.
  • You can figure out how to “lead up” — build a consensus for leadership, confront where needed, win influence and the right to lead — even sometimes learning to lead people who don’t want to be led. (Read THIS POST on how to lead people older than you.)
  • You can leave.

Think through these options and see which feels best in your situation. Every situation is unique and this post is not an attempt to solve your problem — perhaps if anything it can help identify what the problem is in your unique circumstance. You will have to own your response to this information. Obviously, you should spend consistent time in prayer.

And let me add a few other thoughts. If you know God has you there then you must endure until He releases you. He always has a plan. But, I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in the call. Our call is to Him and to obedience. And, most likely, there are thousands of places where God could use your talents and abilities. As I read about the Apostle Paul, for example, there seemed to be more opportunities than Paul’s time would allow. I suspect the same may be true for most pastors today. The potential harvest is plentiful. 

With this in mind, I would say if you are miserable now and things are not improving you shouldn’t wait long without doing something. Life is short and many have left the ministry because of situations like this. Don’t be a casualty. Address the problem!

I would also say – and as hard as this is to hear you need to hear it – you will learn from this season. You may even learn more in this season than in a future season where everything appears wonderful and the church easily follows your leadership. Attempt to soak up wisdom now, which you will use later, rather than become bitter. You must protect your soul and the reality of your calling to Christ. 

One final thought, don’t handle a situation like this alone. Reach out to someone you trust, probably outside the church or organization; someone who has more experience in situations like this than you have. And, don’t let the stress from this destroy your family or personal health. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you were given the responsibility to lead without the power to do so? What did you do?

7 Steps to Thinking Strategically in the Moment

man thinking

Have you ever said something you wished later you hadn’t?

It was a quick response, they needed a decision now — or thought they did — so you fired off an answer. Looking back now — you might have answered differently with more information or time to process.

Happens all the time.

What the leader says can negatively impact other people or the organization. Good leaders have to learn to think strategically — even when making quick decisions.

Most leaders make hundreds of decisions a day and many of those require very little thought. If a leader is asked a question or has to make a decision where an answer has already been clearly defined, then the leader can move quickly. When the issue, however, has an undetermined solution, especially if the decision could alter the direction of the organization, impact other people or require a change in the organization’s finances, then the leader needs to learn to think strategically in the moment.

How do we make strategic decisions quickly? How can we make the best decisions in the shortest amount of time?

Here are 7 tips for a leader to think strategically in the moment:

Pray

I think we have devalued the short, urgent, sudden prayer. (I love to pray Psalm 69:1.) I don’t think God does. I think He responds to the prayers of His people. “If any of you lacks wisdom…”, James reminds us. Getting into the practice of sentence prayers invites God’s gentleman Spirit to join you in the decision-making process. And, I’m not devaluing the human mind or experience. I think God wants us to think. But, remember, this post is addressing making quick, important decisions strategically — decisions I’ve possibly never made before. I don’t want to make those on my own.

Take notes

I always take notes while listening. This allows me to see the situation in writing while I think through a response. If I’m not certain I understand the situation, seeing my notes allows me to ask for further clarification. If I’m in my office, I have a huge painted dry-erase wall. I may diagram different scenarios of the answer. If taking notes is not an option and the answer is not definite — I always postpone the answer. This helps me avoid making major decisions on the run.

Listen intently

This is a problem for some leaders — especially busy, highly creative leaders. It’s one I struggle with personally. Many leaders (this one included) have problems with details. Accustomed to making quick and many decisions, leaders often try to solve an issue on the spot rather than have to deal with it later. This is a great approach for the issues that have a defined solution already, but if it’s committing to something that hasn’t been decided yet, it could be dangerous. I try to listen for enough details to make a wise decision, but if I know I can’t make a quick decision based on the information I have time to hear, then I delay making one.

Think “NEXT”

This is really formed by habit, but it involves training yourself to always ask the question,”How will this decision impact other people and the organization?” If I am uncertain, I know it is be best to delay deciding on the issue until I can give it adequate time for consideration. Many leaders make decisions that others have to live with because they didn’t take time to think through the best answer. Thinking “NEXT” means I am thinking of the repercussions, which will come “next” after the decision is made.

Discipline Mouth

“Keeping a tight reign” on your tongue is actually a Biblical concept. Part of spiritual and personal growth is to mature in the area of what a leader says. The more responsibility a leader receives the more critical it becomes that he or she practice discipline with their words. This is a continuous work in progress for me, but over the years I have learned to hold my tongue until I have thought through a response.

Invite input

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) One of my favorite questions is, “What would you do?” I ask the person asking for a decision from me. I ask others on our team. I’m not afraid to pause and phone a friend. I ask my wife. I ask the people who have to live with the answer. The more time we have for an answer the more people I’m likely to ask.

Value Waiting

Waiting is never a bad idea if it leads to a better decision. I realize time is of the essence in most decisions these days – especially in an organizational sense, but equally important is protecting the vision, the morale of the team or the organization’s future. Plus, I have learned by experience there is a value in caged momentum — making people wait for the best time to give the best answer. Obviously there is an opportunity cost of waiting too long. The leader should not be a bottleneck as people wait for an answer. And, the leader should empower people to make the majority of decisions. But, when the answer has huge implications the leader should not be afraid to say, “give me a few minutes (or some reasonable amount of time) to process.”

There are a few of my thoughts on thinking strategically in the moment. Leaders, the better decisions we make the better our organizations will be. Let’s be strategic.

Could this be a discipline you need to practice?

5 Suggestions of How to Add Good Structure to an Organization

Constructor sujetando un ladrillo construyendo un muro.

I think there is value in unstructured growth. We shouldn’t be afraid of growth we cannot understand. It’s messier, harder to contain, even uncomfortable at times, but it also keeps leaders energized, maintains momentum, and helps spur exponential growth.

As the organization grows – as strategy changes – additions in structure have to be added. Adding structure, however, can be a painful and disruptive process if not handled carefully. We must add structure strategically.

Too many churches are stalled because when things got messy they simply added a new rule.

The fact is structure should never be too inflexible. It should change with the organization. It should even change at times with the people who are in the organization.

How do you add good, helpful structure?

Here are 5 suggestions to add good structure to an organization:

The change should make sense with the organizational DNA.

We have to be careful altering something in a way which could disrupt the fiber, core, or root foundation of the organization. DNA is formed fast, but changed slowly – and sometimes never. It’s who an organization is and who people have come to expect it to be. It’s hard to disrupt this without disrupting future potential for growth. The structure we will add or change in church revitalization will likely look different from the structure we had in church planting. And every church and organization is unique. 

The structure added should not impede progress.

This seems common sense to me, but I’ve learned this is not always the case. Structure should further enable the completion of the vision, not detract from it. Notice I said progress not grow with this suggestion. It could be you need some temporary structure which slows growth for a season. When I was in city leadership there was a time we needed to slow the pace of growth so we could catch up with infrastructure in the city. I can. We saw that as progress. If it slowed growth forever it would no longer be progress. An organization which never grows will eventually die – hence the following suggestion. The key is structure should consider the future potential for long-term sustainability of the organization. 

It should accommodate or encourage continued future growth.

Again, this should make sense. The problem is we don’t always ask those questions. Structure’s purpose should be to help the organization continue to grow over time. Structure should make things more efficient — not less. Enable not control. 

It should hit the center of acceptance.

Not everyone will agree with any change, but if the structure is universally opposed then it may need to be considered more closely before being implemented. This goes back to the suggestion about DNA. You shouldn’t make change based solely upon popularity – it needs a better thought process than simply what people like. Leadership is never about making people happy. But, at the same time, if you want the structure to be sustainable and helpful it must meet general acceptance – which leads to the last suggestion.  

People should understand the why.

This may be the most important. People are more likely to accept structure when they can identify the value to them and their area of responsibility — but at least the value to the overall organization. I once interviewed Zig Ziglar. He continually said, “If people understand the why they will be less opposed to the what.” I’ve learned how true this principle is over the years. We took a year to make one structural change so people could clearly understood why we were making it. Some still didn’t. Most did. And, it was a widely accepted change in our structure. 

What would you add to my list?

7 Attributes of a Wise Leader

Portrait of a senior man sitting in an armchair and thinking deeply.Shot with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

I write and speak a lot about leadership. I know lots of good leaders. In fact, I work with many good leaders. I hope some would even say I have days where I meet the standard – whatever the standard is.

I also write and speak a good deal about wisdom. And, I think wisdom is critical to the field of good leadership. 

A wise leader has developed certain attributes –  wisdom learned from the personal experience of success and failure and from the insight of other leaders – which sets them apart from other leaders. Wise leaders are valuable to any organization. 

But, I’ll be honest. There are few I know in leadership whom I would consider truly wise. Wise leaders have moved to a new stage in life from mostly learning from others to being looked to as a resource. People seek their input because they know they are seasoned leaders. They are investors in new generations of leaders.

I am going to list some attributes I have observed in leaders who have  wisdom. Think in your mind people you believe are “wise” leaders.

Here are 7 attributes of a wise leader:

The art of timing

The wise leader knows time is a commodity. They use sound judgement in decision-making. They have patience. They know organizations and individuals have seasons. Seasons of plenty and seasons of want. They have learned there is a right time to act and and there are times to wait.

Character Morality

The wise leader places a high value on integrity. They know ultimately everything rises and falls on the moral fiber of an individual. They’ve seen people lose everything with one bad decision. They know reputation is hard-earned and should be treated as gold.

Leads with Vision

The wise leader understands the value of a big picture. They keep an eye on something worth attaining. They continually motivate others by sharing the “Why”. They know momentum lost is hard to regain. They continually seek change which will spur energy around the vision.

Initiative

The wise leader is risk-taking and intentionally encourages innovation. They have witnessed a stalled organization. They know the dreadful feeling when there is no forward progress. They have personally experienced the cost of lost opportunity. They want to engage others by keeping things moving, people dreaming and the culture exciting.

Visible Diligence

The wise leader continues in spite of adversity. They tenaciously persevere. They know reaching a goal is worth the struggles to get there. They’ve been through storms before and have scars to prove you can come through them whole. They are seen as pillars. Strength under duress. People look to them for stability.

Strategic thinkers

The wise leader realizes no dream becomes reality without proper planning. They make sure plans are in place and people know what’s expected of them. They utilize healthy systems and structures. They aren’t burdensome with rules, but they are helpful in thinking through a process to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization.

Genuinely Love People

The wise leader knows people are the key to any organizational or team success and they work to empower others. Others know they are valued and appreciated under their leadership. They are true delegators. They invest in and develop the next generation. They look past the income statement to see the balance sheet — with people as the greatest asset.

What am I missing? What would you add to my list?

7 Causes of Team Idleness – and a Few Suggestions to Help

Businesswoman bored in office isolated on white

Team idleness

Team idleness is a term I use to describe when a team is failing to move forward towards its desired goals and objectives.

Team idleness does not always mean the wrong people are on the team — it could. It doesn’t always mean the team has the wrong goals and objectives or the goals and objectives are unrealistic. It could.

It simply means things have stalled. Period. The term means for a span of time there is no — or very little – forward progress for the team. Idleness. It could be a month or several months. Things aren’t desperate – yet. They’ve simply slowed.

Every team, regardless of their health, can go through times of team idleness.

I have witnessed team idleness many times in organizations with which I have been associated – in business and in the church. I can assure you most teams will deal with team idleness at various times through the life of the team.

What causes team idleness? What causes a team to stagnate?

Here are a 7 thoughts – and a few tips along the way:

No fresh ideas.

If new ideas are not coming to the table frequently the team becomes stale and progress slows. One way we address this is to periodically schedule times where the only agenda is brainstorming – dreaming – answering the question “what’s next?” Also, reading books together, attending a conference, or visiting other healthy organizations or churches can help generate new ideas.

Burnout.

If team members are overworked or in need of a break their energy level will slow. This has to be encouraged and allowed in the structure. For me it’s essential I discipline myself to rest frequently. I try to personally lead by example here. Shared values and shared workload help here. There should be no Lone Rangers on a healthy team.

Lost vision.

If a team loses sight of the big picture goals and objectives they can lose interest or get off course. Vision-casting is an essential task of every leader – and it needs to be done frequently. Celebrating also keeps what’s valued ever before the team.

Misplaced team members.

Again, I didn’t say wrong team members. It could be, but many times idleness is caused when a vision outgrows members of the team and other times when team members outgrow the vision. People sometimes need a reassignment of duties or a change of focus. They need new goals which further stretch them. It’s not a bad idea to occasionally shift the organizational structure and chart. 

Lack of Resources.

If there are not adequate resources to complete the task the work becomes frustrating and the team stalls. While we need to be stretched and walk by faith, it’s equally important not to push people beyond where the structure can support them long-term. Unreasonable expectations – over time – cause team members to naturally slow their individual productivity, which impacts the entire team. Leaders must make sure the team has the resources they need to do what they’ve been asked to do.

Poor training.

Sometimes people are asked to perform beyond their level of understanding. No one is helping them get to the next level and so they stall waiting for further investment into them. I have found it rare for people to voluntarily ask for more. Leaders must recognize potential in others and intentionally develop the people around them.

No accountability.

Teams idle when they stay the same for too long. Frankly, sometimes things stall because no one is pushing things to continually grow or holding people to higher standards of excellence. Growth and momentum are seldom self-produced. Change, at least good change, never comes without purposeful efforts. Leaders must become champions of new innovation and continual progress individually and for everyone on the team.

The problem with team idleness is it doesn’t stay simply at idle. You know that leaders. Idle turns to decline and often quickly. Idleness will come naturally. Our goal should be not to rest there long.

Have you served – or do you serve – on an idle team? Tell us about it.

7 Ways to Respond to a Lazy Co-Worker

Lazy person

I’ve always valued hard work and usually resented lazy workers.

There. I said it. I have a bias against laziness.  

I started working when I was 12 years old in a grocery store. I worked hard, gained the recognition of my managers, and was rewarded with all the hours I wanted to work. The store was a revolving door of workers it seemed. I worked with some much older than me who didn’t last long, because they really didn’t want to work. They wanted to sneak into the break room and have a coke or take an extraordinary amount of time taking the trash out each night.

Please understand, I’m not talking about people who protect their family time (I do that) or people who work smart so they can enjoy life. (I try to do that too.) I’m also not talking about people who honestly want to work, but can’t for legitimate health reasons. 

I’m talking about people who are lazy. People who don’t want to work. They often have a job, but give far less than their best to it. They want a paycheck, they want to eat well, but they don’t really want to earn their pay. 

(I told you I’ve usually resented people like this. Can you tell? 🙂 )

Something even more frustrating — if you are in a equal position to a lazy person, and you are not their leader and no one seems to do anything about it. You feel taken advantage of because of your hard work.

Not long ago I was stopped at a conference and asked if I saw laziness as a problem on church staffs. The questioner is in a large church where most of the staff work extremely hard, but a few barely get their work done. They are, in his opinion, lazy — and seem to get by with it. He wanted to know if this was unusual.

Of course, I assured this frustrated person, lazy people exist in every field. Wherever you find people you’ll encounter problems with people. Churches are places where people work, so some of the same problems that exist outside the church exist inside the church.

His real question, however, was “What should he do?” I shared a few thoughts and told him to read for a post to follow.

Here are 7 ways to treat lazy people:

Make sure it’s not a perception problem

Make sure you aren’t confusing a different work style with laziness. Make sure you aren’t lumping your overachiever mindset on them. People approach work differently. This is not always laziness. It could be they’ve found a way to work smarter and more efficiently. Look at the person’s performance based on results, not based on style.

Model hard work for them

This is your best offense. Some lazy people are encouraged by watching what they should be doing. Some will adapt to the environment if the environment is working hard. The completions will spur them. Certainly though, over time the lazy worker will be exposed. Then it is up to leadership to address the issue. (I know the question here — what happens if they don’t? That would be the subject of another post. This was is about co-workers.)

Pray for them to step up or leave

This sounds harsh, but if they are impacting your morale they are most likely impacting it for others. They are damaging the credibility and momentum of the organization for the rest of the team. Laziness is a sin. They need a heart change more than anything.

Don’t let them take advantage of you

You only enable them if you cover for them or do the work they were assigned to do. Lazy people seem to seek those out who will pick up their slack.

Challenge when necessary

If it’s clear a person is lazy and taking advantage of the situation, there comes a time when it’s right to challenge them. You should do so in love, but use the Matthew 18 approach — going to them first — then bringing along another if it continues. Work through the chain of command. It’s better to challenge lovingly than to let the resentment in your heart destroy your witness as you develop bitterness towards the other person. If you’re the senior leader — do your job to handle the problem.

Make sure it’s not personal to you or the organization

Could laziness be the result of something else? Could they be reacting to issues within their own life, or with a vision disagreement? That doesn’t mean they should stay or go, but it should impact the way you respond.

Help them with specific tasks

Sometimes you can help a lazy person, even if they don’t report to you, by helping them find things to do. Lazy people typically aren’t looking. If there is work to do they can do, ask them to help you or to assume responsibility for it. Structure is often the key need.

Have you ever worked with a lazy person? What did you do?