Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. It was annoying, but was allowed to continue by leadership. Everyone talked about it outside of the meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team, but he insisted he had counseled with this person privately, and it never seemed to improve.

It led me to the conclusion:

Sometimes as a leader you have to address the “elephant in the room”…in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leaders may have to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room. It’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often, but it may be necessary.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume poor performance is tolerated.
  • The negative activity will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.

Address the elephant!

Everyone already knows it’s there. You can’t hide the elephant.

Do I need to repeat that again?

It’s time. Do it now.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team? 

The Question Behind the Question

You’re familiar with the common scenario where someone approaches you for advise for a “friend”. Everyone knows that “friend” is the person asking the question.

That scenario happens in leadership also.

Good leaders attempt to get to the question behind the question.

The question behind the question may be the most important question.

When someone is asking the leader a question, the leader needs to consider if the question is the real question or a disguised question to get to an unspoken question.

Confused?

Sometimes, whether because of fear, insecurity or intimidation, people are hesitant to share what’s really on their mind. They ask questions or make statements that are really innuendos of a bigger issue.

Good leaders look beyond what’s being verbalized. They attempt to discern the motive and intent of the question or statement. They ask follow up questions to make sure they understand the concern or input being given.

The health of the organization may depend on knowing what’s really being communicated…or not being communicated.

Next time someone asks you a question…or makes a statement…consider whether there is a question beyond the question.

You may now want to read “10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader“.

10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader

A couple years ago there was a consistent problem in one of our areas of ministry. It was something which I would have quickly addressed, but no one brought it to my attention. Thankfully, I’ve learned the hard way that what I don’t know can often hurt my leadership or the church the most, so I’m good at asking questions and being observant. Through my normal pattern of discovery I encountered the problem, brought the right people together, we addressed the problem and moved forward.

End of story.

It reminds me though that the leader is often the last to know when something is wrong. I tell this to our team consistently. You only know what you know and many times, because of the scope of responsibility of the leader, he or she isn’t privy to all the intricacies of the organization. Some people, simply because they would rather talk behind someone’s back than do the difficult thing of facing confrontation, tell others the problems they see before they share them with the leader. Without some systems of discovering problems the leader may be clueless there is even a problem.

Not knowing is never a good excuse to be unaware.

It’s not a contradiction in terms. I’m not trying to play with words. I’m trying to make an important leadership principle. As a leader, you may not know all the facts, but you should figure out how to be aware enough as a leader to discover the facts which you need to know.

Not certain if you are an aware leader?

Here are 10 symptoms of the unaware leader:

  • Not knowing the real health of a team or organization.
  • Clueless to what people are really saying.
  • Unsure of measurable items because they are never measured or monitored.
  • Not asking questions for fear of an unwanted answer.
  • Not dreaming into the future; becoming content with status quo.
  • Preferring not to know there was a problem than that there is one.
  • Ignoring all criticism; dismissing it as negativity.
  • Not learning anything new, relying on same old ways to consistently work.
  • Making every decision without input from others.
  • Assuming everyone supports and loves your leadership.

There are some things the leader will never know. That’s okay. Walking by faith is a good thing. I highly encourage it. There are issues within the life of an organization, however, that while the leader may not know readily, or even want to know, he or she should explore continually.

Want to test your awareness?

Try this simple experiment. Send an email to a fairly sizable group of people you trust…key leaders…staff members…friends…. Make sure there are some people on the list who you know will be honest with you. In fact, tell them you want them to be. Tell them that you are trying to be more aware as a leader and need their help. Ask them: What am I missing? What do you see that I don’t see? What should I be doing that I’m not doing? What are people saying that I’m not hearing? Who on my team is keeping from me how they really feel?

Now, to really make this experiment successful, let them answer anonymously. You trust them, right? Set up a Survey Monkey account and let them respond without having to add their name.

See what responses you receive.

Not ready to do that? You could simply address the symptoms above and see how that improves your awareness as a leader. Whichever you choose…here’s to knowing what you do not currently know! :)

What other symptoms are there of an unaware leader?

Five Decision-Making Lessons for Leaders

This is a guest post by Tor Constantino. He is a former journalist, has an MBA, and works in public relations where he has directly reporter to several CEOs in his career. He lives near Washington, D.C. with his wife and two daughters. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Not all decisions are created equally – some are much tougher for a leader to make than others. Consider the recent decisions surrounding National Football League quarterback, Peyton Manning.

A Gordian Knot of Decisions

The future NFL hall-of-famer recently left the Indianapolis Colts to become the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.

Prior to that decision, Manning had only played professionally for Indianapolis. The team drafted him out of college more than 13 years ago. During that tenure, Manning won a Super Bowl, was selected for multiple Pro Bowls, was named league MVP and never missed a game.

However, he missed the entire 2011 NFL season due to a series of spinal surgeries and physical rehabilitation to alleviate neck pain and weakness in his throwing arm that had developed over time. When Manning and the Colts ownership decided to part ways, there were no less than 12 different NFL teams that were lined up waiting to woo the QB to their respective franchises.

How Did He Decide?

While each team had its pros and cons, each was unequivocally willing to open their respective checkbook to corral the superstar player. According to media reports, within a week the final three teams Manning was considering were: the Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers and the Broncos.

Less than 14 days after his release from the Colts, Manning signed a life-altering deal with Denver for $96 million over five years. While some questioned the move, many applauded the decision.

While nobody knows all drivers of Manning’s decision…

There are some general lessons to be learned when big decisions must be made.

1. Relationships Trump Talent

Initially,sports experts believed that Manning would select the resurgent 49ers organization since the team is loaded with a slue of talented players, a top-rated defense and an aggressive, young coach. However, insiders reported that Manning developed a strong relationship with Broncos General Manager, John Elway who led the Broncos to multiple Super Bowls as a QB in the twilight of his career – very similar to Manning’s situation. It seems that the trust and common bond that was fostered between these two men, trumped a decision based purely on a team’s raw talent.

2. Trusted Advisors are Essential

Anyone who’s followed his career knows that Manning has a tight circle of counselors. Those have included his agent Tom Condon, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and General Manager Bill Polian as well as Manning’s dad, QB legend Archie Manning and others. Once he was released by the Colts that circle tightened to only include his most experienced and trusted advisors who helped him consider and evaluate all the decision variables to ensure nothing was fumbled.

3. Not Every Decision is a Long-Term Decision

Most management books stress the need to make decisions with the long view in mind. However, in the Manning example, he took a decidedly short-term perspective. A few weeks after signing with the Broncos, Peyton turned 36 years old – for an NFL quarterback that’s nearly retirement age. Manning clearly wants to add to his legacy and win as many championships while he physically can. The Titans had even offered him an ownership stake in the team once he left the game, but Manning believed he had a better chance of winning in the short-term with Denver – which seems to matter to him more.

4. Removing Barriers Helps Solidify Decisions

One of the most interesting, yet under-reported, aspects of Manning’s contract negotiations was that he was willing to release the team that signed him from financial obligations if he was unable to perform as a result of any complication related to the neck surgeries or previous nerve damage he suffered. Shrewdly, once Manning knew the team he wanted he removed the most serious objection – his health – before it became an issue, which saved time and helped solidify his decision.

5. Decide Based on Your Strengths

Manning is unique amongst NFL quarterbacks in that he is often compared to an on-field offensively-minded coach or veteran offensive coordinator as well as player. As such, he has complete command of the offense both on and off the field. Interestingly, the two head coaches for the Titans and 49ers were both offensive players in the NFL, while Broncos head coach Jon Fox has a decidedly defensive-focused approach to the game. Manning knew his personal strengths and understood that Denver afforded him the greatest opportunity to lead and play the game his way, while helping the entire organization.

While few of us will have to decide between NFL teams to play for or the value of intangibles beyond a multi-million dollar payday, we can clearly see the benefits of a thoughtful decision process that, if applied, can help anyone make the right call in the game of life.

Question: What tactics help you make decisions?

4 Tips to Make Your Meeting Memorable

This is a guest post from Ami Dean. Ami is the CEO and Mailroom Clerk at The Rally Point, a creative meeting space and conference center in Peoria, IL. For 20+ years she has trained & developed corporate teams in high performance. Visit her blog at www.amidean.wordpress.com

Here are 4 tips to make your meetings memorable:

Make Your Meetings Memorable

According to surveys by Wharton Center for Applied Research, managers report that only 56% of their meetings are productive – and that 25% would have been more effective as conference call, memo, or voicemail. Conclusion: the cost of misguided meetings is high.

Meetings are the window to the soul of your business or team. If developed and managed correctly, meetings can give you insights, ideas and direction that can propel your goals and objectives into another realm. So how do you keep our meeting from becoming a universal joke about useless and ineffective meetings? Here are 4 tips that will help and, create results you’ll love!

Let Them Contribute – This is the one thing that will make or break a meeting. It’s so hard to do and absolutely must be a rule you follow to keep ideas flowing and to allow people to contribute in their way without a filter being applied or any kind of judgment on their ideas. You shouldn’t moderate anything in an effective meeting and really anything goes. All ideas. Weird, difficult, unrealistic and any other ideas must be allowed. These, in fact, allow people to be comfortable with the creative process and you want to promote and encourage ideas, not instill fear of blurting out a dumb idea. There is no reason to have any criticism in a meeting (or anywhere else for that matter) and if you see that happening at any time, put an end to it and reinforce that you welcome weird, and what even seems like bad ideas.

Let Them Talk To Thy Neighbor – Encouraging participants to idea build during your meeting can substantially increase outcomes. NO IDEA IS OFF LIMITS (see #1 above) and all thoughts should be received well and listened to. You never know when that magical moment of playing off each other’s idea is going to spark the next big swing in direction your team moves in – so squelch the Shhhhhhhh’s and watch the creativity fly!!

Let Them Think Ahead – How many meetings have you attended that started out with the meeting facilitator passing out a ream of handouts or projecting a PowerPoint slide for discussion. The mere thought makes me cringe – it’s uber frustrating! A group read along is hardly productive for goal accomplishment. For MAX productivity and assurance of results – send all participants the PowerPoint deck 48 hours before the meeting time and let them prepare AHEAD for your discussion. Allowing your participants to do pre-work on charts, graphs and reading material is a sure fire way to gain maximum engagement in your meeting and will hands down give you the “Best Presenter of the Day” award.

Let Them Focus – When at all possible, get them out of their natural office surroundings. THINK DISTRACTION FREE! You may think that being “close to home” is the way to go and will cut the cost of your meeting, but email, phone calls and co-worker interruptions COST YOU AND YOUR MEETING PRODUCTIVITY more than a day at an offsite. Find venues that know how to cater to your meeting objectives and agenda. Those venues are worth their weight in gold.

Meetings aren’t going away (we don’t think they should). They are a necessary part of our every day work life. Creating effective meetings however, take time and a little creativity to improve morale, increase productivity and substantially increase engagement. When those three benefits happen – you’ll never go back to that boring old PowerPoint deck again (Thank goodness!!)

How does your team make meetings more memorable?

10 Ways to Be a Good Follower

I have a strong desire to help improve the quality of leadership in churches and ministries, especially among the next generation of Christian leaders. My youngest son, Nate, who has already proven to be a great leader in the environments where he’s served as one, consistently encourages me that I need to develop good followers, along with developing good leaders.

He’s right.

We aren’t all called to be leaders, although I have a contention that we are all leaders in some environment in our life, even if it’s self leadership. The point is clear though, that not all of us will lead at the same level. Equally true is that it is difficult to be a good leader without good followers.

I’ve listed qualities of good leaders in several post; most specifically in THIS POST. I suppose there is room for a companion post. So, I set out to make a new list. Now, granted, these are important to me as a leader. You may have your own list. In fact, I’ll welcome you to share your thoughts on characteristics of a good follower in the comments. If there are enough added, perhaps I’ll do another post.

Here are 10 ways to be a good follower:

Help me lead better – You see things I don’t see. You hear things I don’t hear. You have experiences I don’t have. Help me be a better leader in the areas where I may not have the access to information you do. I love something our children’s ministry does frequently. They alert me of people who are hitting home runs in their area so that I can personally thank them. I’ve made some great connections this way. I should be recognizing individual contributions anyway and this helps me do that more often. Help your leader do his or her job better. Good followers find ways to make the leader better.

Do what you commit to do – One of the most frustrating things for a leader is to assign a task, practice good delegation, and then watch the ball drop because the person didn’t follow through on what they said they would. It could be an issue of not having the right support, resources or know how, or it could be the person doesn’t know how to say “No”, but good followers find a way to get the task completed, whether by personally doing it or through further delegation. If you aren’t going to complete it, or if you find out along the way you may not, let me know in plenty of time to offer help or find someone who can.

Don’t commit if you won’t put your heart into it – If the leader strives to be a good leader, then he or she wants the task completed well. That won’t happen with half-hearted devotion. Good followers give their best effort towards completing the work assigned to them, knowing it reflects not only their efforts, but the efforts of the leader and the entire team. I need that from those who follow my leadership.

Pray for me – I don’t have all the answers. In fact, some days I have none. I sometimes wonder why God called me to be the leader. I rely on the prayers of others, especially from those I am attempting to lead.

Complete my shortcomings – The reason we are a team is because you have skills I don’t have. To be a good follower means you willingly come along side me to make the team better, bringing insights, talents and resources I can’t produce without you. Don’t get frustrated at something I may not understand or be gifted at doing, but realize this is one way God is using you on the team.

Respect me – There will be days when I’m not respectable, but I do hold the responsibility to lead, so encourage me when you can. Chances are I’ll continue to improve if I am led to believe I am doing good work. In public settings, even when you don’t necessarily agree with my decisions, honor me until you have a chance to challenge me privately.

Love the vision – Genuinely love the vision of the team. You’ll work hardest in those areas for which you have passion. Ask God to give you a burning desire to see the vision succeed, then become a contagious advocate of that vision.

Be prepared – When bringing an issue to me for a decision, do your homework and have as much information as possible. Know the positives and negatives, how much it will cost, and who the major players are in the decision. Be ready to open to having your idea challenged in order to make it better. I also believe in consensus building and a team spirit and don’t want to make all the decisions, so it’s probably wise to have a solution or two in mind to suggest should you be asked.

Stay healthy – I admit, sometimes I run at too fast a pace. I believe a healthy organization is a growing organization and that requires a lot of energy. I also think we are doing Kingdom work, which is of utmost and urgent importance. You can’t be as effective on the team if you are unhealthy physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. You can’t always control these areas and life has a way of disrupting each of them, but as much as it depends on you, remain a healthy follower.

Leave when it’s time – I realize this is a hard word, but when you can no longer support the vision or my leadership, instead of causing disruption on the team, leave gracefully. If the problem is me, certainly work through the appropriate channels to address my leadership, but if the problem is simply differences of opinion, or something new God is doing in your heart, don’t stay when you cease being helpful to the team. (Don’t simply stay for a paycheck.) God may even be using your frustration to stir something new in your heart.

What else would you add? What makes a good follower?

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?