Sometimes It’s Not a Systems Problem…

In one of my first professional leadership roles, I managed a large retail division of a major department store. The division had several departments within it and each department had a separate department manager. Most of the departments were efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. One department, however, continued to fall behind the others. It was frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to get them to improve.

I was young and inexperienced, so I innocently thought the problem was me. If I could implement the right strategy in working with this department…find the right system…I could improve performance. I tested numerous systems to try to increase their productivity, but nothing seemed to work.

I was wrong. The experience taught me a valuable lesson. 

You can have the best systems…the best strategies…the best programs…and still struggle with the performance of a team. Sometimes it’s not a systems problem.

Sometimes it’s strictly a people problem.

I realized the problem was the leader in this department. This person always said what I wanted to hear. She was nice to me personally. She talked a good game, but she was grossly under-performing and bringing her department down with her. Through due process, and after trying to work with this leader to improve, I eventually had to replace her leadership and the department dramatically improved, almost instantly.

Since then I’ve always tried to remember:

Never try to handle a people problem with a systems approach.

Handle people problems, with people.

This doesn’t mean you’ll always need to replace the people, but you seldom improve people problems with better systems. You improve people problems by improving people.

Many times, in my experience, we try to create systems when the problem isn’t a systems problem, it’s a people problem.

Knowing the difference between a systems problem and a people problem, and being mature enough to handle it, will make you a better leader.

Have you seen organizations and leaders create systems, instead of handling the real problem? 

(Churches are notorious for this, by the way. We try to solve problems in people’s lives, for example, by creating rules, systems, programs, etc, designed to help make them better people. The problem is it’s not a systems problem. It’s not a program or committee problem. It’s a people problem. If their heart doesn’t change, the problem will continue. That’s the subject of another post.)

Where’s the Loyalty? How to get the most out of your team even in the most trying times

This is a guest post by Jeremy Kingsley. Jeremy is a professional speaker, best-selling author, and the President of OneLife Leadership. Since 1995 he has spoken to over 500,000 people at live events around the world. He has given over 2000 keynote speeches and his messages have reached millions through radio, television, and the internet. Jeremy holds bachelors and masters degrees from Columbia International University. He is the author of four books, his latest: Inspired People Produce Results – (McGraw Hill 2013). Jeremy lives in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife and two sons. Learn more at www.JeremyKingsley.com

Lack of loyalty is a serious problem in organizations everywhere today.

No longer do people join a company and devote the rest of their working lives to it. Companies are, of course, not exactly known for offering up thirty or forty years of employment, a gold watch and pension plan.

Organizations preoccupied with short-term, bottom line thinking often view their employees as little more than resources to be hired, fired, and manipulated as the need arises.

Both sides pay a price for this lack of loyalty. Workers are naturally less happy on the job when they sense little or no loyalty from their employer. I agree with Carmine Coyote about how the negative impacts on productivity are truly alarming:

People expect to be continually under threat of layoff, so they keep their resumes permanently on the market, changing jobs without concern for anything save their own short-term advantage.

Top level emphasis on quick, short-term returns (especially to themselves), permeates the organization as a whole, leading to everyone focusing on what will give them the biggest, quickest return—even if that means elbowing colleagues out of the way, playing the dirty politics, or hyping resumes to leverage a quick move somewhere else that is paying a few bucks more.
Loyalty to colleagues can turn into an us-versus-them attitude toward those higher up.

Worst of all, people feel devalued and see their work as less and less worthwhile. This creates emotional and psychological stresses and problems that go beyond the workplace and may last for some time.

What can you do to avoid this terrifying outcome? Learn from others.

A century ago, Ernest Shackleton was one of the most renowned explorers of his time. Today, however, Shackleton is best known for a failed mission. In January 1915, while trying to be the first to journey across the Antarctica, he and his men aboard the Endurance were trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea and forced to abandon the ship. They floated on icebergs and paddled three small lifeboats to reach a remote, deserted island. From there, Shackleton and five men embarked in one of the lifeboats on an eight-hundred-mile voyage through some of the planet’s stormiest waters, landing more than two weeks later at South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. After a rest, Shackleton and two of his men hiked and climbed across treacherous mountains to a whaling station, where Shackleton procured a ship and sailed to rescue his comrades. Every member of the twenty-eight-man crew returned home safely.

Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capprell, in their book Shackleton’s Way, list eight principles Shackleton applied to forge unity and loyalty among his team. As a leader, Shackleton was ahead of his time. His principles are just as important in today’s modern workplace as they were in the Antarctic a hundred years ago:

  • Take the time to observe before acting, especially if you are new to the scene. All changes should be aimed at improvements. Don’t make changes just for the sake of leaving your mark.
  • Always keep the door open to your staff members, and be generous with information that affects them. Well-informed employees are more eager and better prepared to participate.
  • Establish order and routine on the job so all workers know where they stand and what is expected of them. The discipline makes the staff feel they’re in capable hands.
  • Break down traditional hierarchies and cliques by training workers to do a number of jobs, from the menial to the challenging.
  • Where possible, have employees work together on certain tasks. It builds trust and respect and even friendship.
  • Be fair and impartial in meting out compensations, workloads, and punishments. Imbalances make everyone feel uncomfortable, even the favored.
  • Lead by example. Chip in sometimes to help with the work you’re having others do. It gives you the opportunity to set a high standard and shows your respect for the job.
  • Have regular gatherings to build esprit de corps. These could be informal lunches that allow workers to speak freely outside the office. Or they could be special holiday or anniversary celebrations that let employees relate to each other as people rather than only as colleagues.

If you demonstrate a strong measure of loyalty to your team, you’ll find that same measure of loyalty being returned to you. In these trying times – inspiring loyalty will help you get the most out of your team and lay the foundation for lasting success.

What do you think?

People are most productive…

When they enjoy their work!

I’ve lived under both styles of management.

One uses coercion, control and intimidation to motivate. 

One uses encouragement, incentives and cheers to motivate.

I prefer the latter.

In fact, I would go as far as to say the long-term success of the orginization is directly proportional to the contentment of the people in the organization. That doesn’t mean work is always fun. Work is work. But, when people feel they are making a difference and believe in the work they are doing, when they work in an environment conducive to enjoyment, the overall potential for success of the organization increases.

Agree or disagree? 

7 Statements Every Leader Needs To Use Often

Recently, I shared 7 questions every leader should use often. It opened some good discussion around the post. It also made me think there was a similar set of 7 phrases leaders should consider using frequently. These are not questions, but statements.

One of the goals of a leader should be to encourage, strengthen and challenge a team to continually improve. Almost as a cheerleader rousing the crowd at a game, the leader uses his or her influence to bring out the best in others.

How do leaders do that? One way is by the questions and statements we make as leaders. This post is an extension of that thought.

Here are 7 phrases leaders should memorize and use often:

I believe in you.

You are an asset to this team.

Let me know how I can help you.

You are doing a great job.

I need your help.

I want to help you reach your personal goals.

You are making a difference here.

You may not be able to use these phrases every day. You shouldn’t overuse them. They need to be genuine, heartfelt and honest. That may not even happen every week. But, as often as you can, slip a few of these into your memory bank and pull them out where appropriate. It will help you build a better team.

What phrases would you add?

The Reason Many Policies are Written

Many policies are written because someone didn’t want to solve a problem.

In her book “Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands”, Nancy Ortberg talks about the need to differentiate between “a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved“. One example for me is the constant tension between the administration/money side of ministry and the discipleship/hands on side of ministry. As pastor, I’m always going to have to balance tension between our business administrator working to conserve cash and our youth pastor finding legitimate ministry needs in which to spend it, for example. That’s a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved. On the other hand, an employee who is taking advantage of a more casual organizational structure, which I typically prefer…that’s a problem to be solved. Quickly. A system, which is not working, causing more harm than good to the organization…problem to be solved. Now.

Most of the time, however, in my experience, churches are notorious for creating a new policy to attempt to manage the problem rather than doing the difficult work of solving it. Solving the problem often involves getting personal with people. It involves challenging people. It involves change. It involves holding people accountable to a higher standard. That’s messy. It’s never fun. Most churches like neat, clean and seemingly easy. (Just being honest.)

Using my illustration above, if the youth pastor has a perceived spending problem, rather than addressing the problem with him directly, many times a policy is created to “solve” the problem and curtail spending. Every other staff member may be performing satisfactorily, but the policy controls everyone. Plus, without wise counsel, the youth pastor never learns principles of healthy budgeting or how to manage cash flow, for example, and it continues to impact his ministry for years to come. Problem not solved.

Policies are easy. They are a piece of paper. They may involve some discussion, perhaps a committee meeting (maybe even a tense committee meeting), maybe even a church vote, but they seldom specifically address the people who are causing the problem in the first place. They make people feel better about the problem, but they almost never solve real problems. In fact, they usually only create more problems…which later need to be solved!

For more of my thoughts on policies, see THIS POST. I realize this problem is not limited to churches. Even the best organizations and corporations struggle to address problems as needed.

My advice:

Manage the tensions, but solve the problems.

Do the hard work. It’s what leaders are supposed to do. Not always easiest. Always best.

Have you seen churches (or organizations) try to manage a problem that needed to be solved?

Bonus points if you give me an example.

7 Times Leadership is at Its Best

In my opinion…

Leadership is at its best when:

People follow willingly, not under coercion or force.

People can keep up, but are still being stretched.

People feel valued, while being challenged to continually improve.

People are assigned to their specific passion, but readily do what needs to be done.

People have a clearly defined vision, but have freedom to invent and dream along the way.

People have real responsibility and authority, but don’t feel dumped on or abandoned.

People take time to celebrate, but aren’t allowed to sit still for long.

What would you add?

8 Most Dangerous Leadership Traits

There are no perfect leaders…except for Jesus. For the rest of us, we each have room for improvement. Most of us live with flaws in our leadership. Good leaders learn to surround themselves with people who can supplement their weaknesses.

There are, however, some leadership traits, which a leader can never delegate away. If the leader can’t work through them, in my opinion, his or her leadership will be crippled. With these traits, the best the leader has to offer will never fully materialize.

These leadership traits will eventually wreck a leader’s success.

Here are 8 dangerous leadership traits:

Immoral character – If the leader’s character is flawed, the leadership will be flawed. A leader can never escape the quality of his or her heart.

Assuming everyone’s support – Leaders seldom hear the complete story unless they pursue it. Environments have to be created that produce transparency and honesty. Even in the healthiest organizations there will always be things a leader doesn’t know.

Assuming everyone understands – In my experience, most leaders think they are communicating effectively. What’s clear to them they assume is clear to others. It’s usually not as clear as the leader thinks. Good leaders ask lots of questions to identify the level of clarity.

Continually avoiding conflict – Conflict never, ever, ever, goes away. Ever. Unresolved conflict damages the strength and integrity of organizational health. It may get ignored, overlooked, or stifled, but until conflict is dealt with it continues to stir strife in an organization.

Pretending to have all the answers – The less a leader listens to others, the less willing others will desire to help the leader succeed. Arrogant leaders never attract the best from people. Great leaders invite input, knowing that with more people involved, decisions will be stronger and more buy-in will be achieved.

Allowing friendship to derail progress – Great leaders value relationships and recognize friendships with others as an important part of their personal well-being. At the same time, some leaders fail to separate their friendships from their callings as leaders. They confuse loyalty as a friend from their responsibility as a leader. A leader cannot allow personal friendships to negatively alter the course to success.

Refusing to let go of control – When the leader doesn’t delegate, he or she stifles the growth of the organization. Healthy delegation involves releasing authority over a project. If a leader continually maintains the right to control, the organization will be limited to his or her abilities, rather than the strength of the team.

Living in the past – Unless you’re a teacher of history, the leader’s primary focus needs to be on the future. Leadership is about moving things forward. That requires progressive thinking, welcoming change, and refusing to let past failures determine future success.

Be honest, of which of these are you most guilty? As difficult as it may be, until you push through them and improve in that area, you’ll never experience the leadership success you desire.

What examples would you add to my list of things you can change and things you can’t?

If you have to live by the rules

Write better rules…

That principle came to me recently in a personal illustration.

Cheryl and I love to travel, and we have done a lot of it together. Several years ago we realized that we were getting close to visiting all 50 states. Friends of ours had that as a goal of theirs, so we adopted it. Again, our goal was simple: visit all 50 states together. Since then we’ve planned many of our vacations around trying to get to all 50 states. At present count we are missing 9 states.

(I’m praying some churches in Alaska and Hawaii need me to fill in some Sunday or lead a retreat for them soon. :) )

Cheryl needs a plan, so we needed some criteria in her mind for the visits. So we developed the “rules” for a state to be considered “visited”. There were only two rules:

  • We had to be in the state together.
  • We had to spend the night there.

Pretty simple, right?

Recently we were on vacation attempting to cover a few more states. Our plan would allow us to mark four states off our list. As we started planning, however, we realized we could mark five states off our list, if only we didn’t have to “spend the night there”. Our own rule got in the way. As anxious as we are to mark off all 50 states, especially since we are so close, we still had a rule to follow.

Then the thought occurred to me. They were our rules. We could change them if we want to. We could say we had to eat a meal there. Or we could say we had to spend 6 hours there. But, the point I’m making:

We could change the rules and still not alter our original goal…to visit together all 50 states.

It was a huge relief. Cheryl agreed. We added the fifth state to our list. As it turned out, we were able to spend the night there, but not out of the pressure to obey a rule, but because we wanted to.

Now that’s a silly example, but it illustrates a much bigger problem we face in many churches and organizations.

Sometimes we confuse our rules for our goals.

Rules aren’t goals. Goals aren’t rules.

Rules are meant to help us attain goals, not keep us from them. We need rules. They guide our way to progress.

As much as rules are a part of the process…

Why live by rules that keep us from accomplishing our goals?

Many times we limit ourselves to doing things strictly according to rules we’ve set for ourselves, or others have set for us, but they actually hinder progress. Instead, we don’t need to change our end goal. We don’t need to lower our standards. Many times we really just need to write better rules.

Help this post. What’s a rule that’s currently getting in the way of progress?

5 Reasons Your Pastor may not be Leading Well

I was talking with a godly man recently about his church. He’s concerned that the church is wasting a lot of resources. They have a large building, a large staff, and a rich history of Kingdom-building, but the building sits empty most days of the week and there is a steady decline in baptisms and Sunday attendance. There is no momentum in the church and he’s concerned than in 20 years the church will be gone. He blames it all on the leadership of the pastor.

I don’t know if that’s completely fair, but certainly leadership is a critical part in the success of any organization, including the church. I’ll address this again later in the post, but I’ll make it clear here also. I believe Jesus is the head (and the leader) of the church, but God uses men and women to lead people within the church. It’s the subject of another post, but regardless of what you term it, leadership, as a concept among God’s people and the church, is exemplified throughout Scriptures.

About half of my readers are pastors. (I’ll apologize to you in advance for this post. My goal is to help pastors, not injure them more. I’m a firm believer, however, that until you identify the problem you have a hard time finding a solution.) I frequently hear from staff ministers and church members who are concerned about the direction of their church. The number one issue churches appear to face is that of leadership; specifically pastoral leadership. In fact, many would say if the pastor isn’t leading well, the church will likely suffer at some level.

When a pastor isn’t leading the church well, there’s usually an answer as to why. I’ve listed some of them I’ve observed here.

Here are 5 reasons your pastor may not be leading well:

Ignorance – I don’t mean this one to be cruel. Its just that most pastors don’t learn everything we need to lead a church in seminary or any other school…for that matter. Many pastors have never developed leadership skills prior to be assigned a position of leadership within the church, so much of pastoring becomes on-the-job training. Because much of a pastor’s job involves people, the realm of possibilities a pastor might encounter are as wide as the differences are in people.

The solution for this reason is training, mentoring, and growing by experience. The church should be understanding and supportive of opportunities for the pastor to learn from others and the pastor needs to be humble enough to admit the need for further training.

Innocence – Many times the pastor simply doesn’t see what you see…or for that matter, value you what you value. I’ve learned I’m often the last to know of a problem within my church. If there’s an issue in preschool ministry, for example, if someone doesn’t tell me about it, I won’t know about it. I don’t have preschoolers anymore, and most of the time, while I’m preaching preschool ministry is in full function. Now I value preschoolers, so I would want to know if there is a problem in that area. There may be other areas of ministry that the pastor doesn’t spend time thinking about, because it isn’t an area he’s passionate about. That doesn’t make the ministry wrong, or unimportant, but it simply may not have the pastor’s first attention. Many times the thing you think the pastor should be addressing is on the list of the things of which the pastor isn’t aware there is a problem or simply hasn’t been considering that area as an issue of importance.

The pastor needs to learn the art of asking questions to see what areas are struggling and what’s important to people in the church. The church needs to find ways to share information more readily with the pastor, without arguing and complaining (because that’s not the Biblical way :) ).

Burnout – In my recent survey of pastors, 77% of pastors said they were presently or had been in a burnout situation. Burnout is when you aren’t healthy enough to function at full capacity. When a pastor is facing burnout, leadership will suffer. The pastor needs to be diligent in remaining healthy physically, spiritually, mentally and relationally, and needs to seek help when any of those areas begin to slip beyond the normal stress of life.

Pastors need to learn how to recognize the signs of burnout and address them early, before they significantly impact their leadership. The church needs to be mindful of the amount of demands placed on the pastor, consider the needs of the pastor’s family, and build a structure that invests in and protects the pastor. One of the best things a church can do is give the pastor significant enough downtime to recover from the demands of ministry. That need will vary based on the level of demands placed on the church, pastor and pastor’s family at the time.

Structure – I hear from pastors weekly who feel they are handcuffed to tired, worn out, traditions that keep them from accomplishing their God-given vision for the church. Many times the restraints placed against a pastor prevent effective leadership. A pastor is restricted when there are too many unnecessary rules, the committee system is cumbersome and inefficient, or when the demands of the church on the pastor are unrealistic. Pastors and churches are often threatened by power hungry people and extreme resistance to any change.

If the pastor is expected to lead, then latitude and freedom to lead needs to be afforded to him without the constant fear of retribution. Church members should ask the question, if the church expects the pastor to lead, does the structure of the church allow the pastor to lead the church? If not, then the church will either need to adapt the structure or lower the expectations placed on the pastor’s leadership.

Arrogance – Let’s be honest. Some pastors confuse a call to a position for a mandate of dictatorship. Jesus is the head of the church. God allows men and women of God to lead in His church, but some pastors assume more control than has been afforded to them. If a pastor is not careful, pride will take over and humility will be absent. When this is the case, people naturally resist leadership, stir controversy, and resist change.

The pastor needs to build an accountability structure around him of people who have been given the authority to speak into his life. As for the church’s role, I believe this type issue is handled best with one or a few people approaching the pastor first, rather than making it a Sunday afternoon, “sit around the table and bash the pastor” event. If the pastor is struggling with arrogance, however, it needs to be addressed as it is not honoring to God and could be the “pride before the fall”.

I realize I’ve just scratched the surface on each of these. I’m happy to dialogue about them more in the comments. I’ll consider a separate post for those that stir the most discussion.

What are some other reasons pastors don’t lead well?

5 Secret Traits to Make a Better Leader

When I first became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility that stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, now a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter.

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few secrets, which helped me as I entered the business world, led in the corporate world, and later as I led my own businesses. Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

Here are 5 secret traits to make you a better leader:

Let go – The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST about empowering leaders.)

Give up – You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned that secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Don’t know – If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. If you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered, you’ll be dismissed as a respected leader, and you’ll close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new…many times from the people they lead.

Waste time – Great leaders have learned that spending time that other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Spend time investing in people, in ways that may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bounce off – The more you deflect attention from yourself to others, the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

What secret traits have you learned that make one a better leader?