A Reminder About Future-Tense Versus Present-Tense Thinking as a Leader

Future Present

The larger role of responsibility or the higher position you hold in an organization, the more you must discipline and free yourself for future-tense thinking.

I remember explaining this concept to a senior pastor. His church had stalled. As I learned more about the church, it wasn’t surprising to me. They were doing things the same way they’ve done them for many years. Nothing had changed. The pastor was busy – some would say too busy – but, in my observation, while he was working hard, he was not working smart.

The real problem? From my perspective this leader was so caught up in putting out current fires, he didn’t have time – or hadn’t taken time – to plan for new and better fire extinguishers. He was not thinking “What’s next?” for the church. He was drowning in present-tense issues. And, because no one else with think future-tense if the leader doesn’t, nothing is being planned to be done differently in the future. More of the same will never produce change.

I took a minute to draw the diagram above on a dry erase board. The four quadrants represent the amount of time given to either future-tense or present-tense thinking. The ratios aren’t important, but what is important is understanding the concept. Notice the amount given to future-tense gets larger as the level of responsibility increases. The more the organization looks to you for leadership, the more you must be thinking future-tense.

Think of it this way. The now when you started reading this post is now the then. If you aren’t thinking forward, you’re always thinking behind.

Some will ask in this diagram about “past thinking”. It is important to consider where the organization has been, but thinking about the past should be part of reviewing for improvement and growth in the future. I review our history continually, but only so we can celebrate and build from it towards a brighter future.

Have you seen an organization stall because the leader stalls?

If this is your situations, let me suggest you read 7 Ways I Keep Looking Forward as a Leader.

7 Thoughts on Managing Conflict as a Leader

Businessmen in a fight

As a leader, there are many times I feel like the mediator between opposing viewpoints. I’m steering our team towards a common, shared vision, but there are a myriad of opinions in how we accomplish the vision. This sometimes causes conflict.

Conflict is many times seen as a sign of unhealthiness on the team. I’ve learned, however, not to be afraid of conflict on a team. In fact, I think it can be healthy for the team if handled correctly. It keeps tension from building unnecessarily, simply because emotions and opinions were hidden rather than addressed. It brings new ideas to the table and welcomes input from everyone. When conflict is ignored or stifled, it makes people feel devalued and controlled.

What I’ve also learned – some through painful experience – is the way I handle conflict when it develops will go a long way towards allowing the disagreement to work for the overall good of the team.

Part of the leader’s job is to learn to better manage conflict rather than attempting to kill them.

Here are 7 thoughts for leaders managing conflict on a team:

Interfere sparingly – I try not to take sides in conflict anymore than I have to, even when I have my own opinion. If the conflict isn’t a vision issue, and it seems to be resolving on it’s own, I’ve found it is best if I allow the process to take it’s course. When the leader gets involved in conflict it takes on a new life – often unnecessarily.

Listen carefully – When I do get involved, it is vital all sides of the conflict feel heard. I have to listen to all opinions and attempt to understand their real concerns. Normally there are valid points with every opinion. It’s also important I hear not only what is said, but also what is unspoken. This requires asking questions, getting to know the members of my team (most of this happens before conflict originates), and not assuming I know what people are thinking simply by what they say. Understanding the basis of conflict and the opposing viewpoints is critical to understanding the conflict.

Communicate openly – During times of conflict, it’s even more important communication be clear and consistent. Many times, conflict is simply due to a lack of clarity or miscommunication. Information often makes conflict easier to resolve. As leader, part of my responsibility is making sure the team communicates effectively, openly and honestly.

Discern the deeper issues – Conflict develops for a number of reasons – not all of them good. Beyond miscommunication, conflict also develops over power struggles, weak leadership, or simply personality differences. Discerning the nature of the conflict and if there is a root issue (often unspoken or undefined) helps me avoid trying to solve the perceived conflict, when the real issue is something completely different.

Monitor the impact – As I said, conflict in and of itself is not bad, but part of my job is making sure conflict on a team doesn’t begin to harm rather than promote health of the team and it’s members. When individuals begin to attack each other personally, act in anger, form sides within the team, or distract from progress, it’s time for the leader to interfere.

Protect the Vision – Ultimately, my job as a leader is to maintain the integrity of the vision. Conflict can enhance or interfere with attaining the vision. My job is to continually direct the team’s attention back to our purpose. I have found, also through experience, the more aligned we are around a shared, common vision, the less we conflict and the more healthy the team operates together. We can even overlook minor disagreements, because we are energized towards the overall objective.

Don’t be afraid of conflict on a team. Good leaders learn to manage it for the eventual good of the team.

A Leadership Pet Peeve About The People Doing the Work

controlling leader

I must admit I have a good number of pet peeves in leadership. Leadership is hard. But, there are some principals in leadership, which simply need to be adhered to for good leadership.

Let me share a story as an illustration of one of my pet peeves.

Years ago, I had a boss tell me who to place on my team. He told me how to conduct sales meetings with my department. He told me what each person’s assignments would be. And, he told me how to conduct the meeting – going as far as to write out my agenda.

He wasn’t going to be at the meeting. He didn’t actually know the people on my team. He was holding me accountable for results in sales, but yet he continually gave me the script for how to do my job. I had to turn in reports, which indicated I had followed his agenda.

I hated it. I felt so controlled. My team, with whom I was very open and honest, were frustrated. 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. And, I experienced direct results in employee morale.

Here’s the pet peeve, which developed from this experience.

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

As a leader, you can share what you want accomplished. That’s vision-casting.

You can set reasonable boundaries. This actually helps fuel creativity.

You can share your thoughts and ideas. It’s helpful. You probably have good ones.

You can monitor progress. This is your responsibility.

You can even hold people accountable for progress. It ensures completion.

But the people who are actually doing the work

The ones carrying out the plans – Getting their hands dirty –

Should determine how the actual work gets completed.

There, I feel better.

Any questions?

The Value of Connecting People and 7 Common Connecting Points

People digital design, vector illustration eps 10.

One thing which has always come naturally to me and I love doing is connecting people with similar interests. I believe this is one of the best ways within the Body of Christ where “iron sharpens iron”.

From a strategic, discipleship standpoint, I know people are more likely to be connected to the church if they are connected to other people at deeper levels than simply attending the same church. If they can identify with people who understand them or embrace something they embrace, they feel more a part of things. And, connection is huge if we want to be effective at discipleship.

I love the move in the church towards being more diverse – and I embrace it and am working towards it – but connecting people with similarities is one of the more effective ways I’ve seen to do this. When two people have similar interests outside their age, demographics, or race, other barriers seem to diminish.

So, I’m always looking for ways to connect people to other people through commonalities.

Let me give you some examples of similar interests I look for in connecting people.

Here are 7 common connectors for people:

Common pain – One of the hardest losses in the church is the loss of a child. I know this is a pain I can’t fully understand the way someone who has experienced it does. Sadly, we have a number of parents who have experienced this in our church. I’m regularly connecting them as I learn of their struggles. No one can walk through pain better with you than someone who knows the exact pain you feel. And, there are lots of other common pains in the church – infertility, personal failure, and divorce – just to name a few. (When I was in a very small church early in my ministry I often looked for common pain connections for someone in our church if they were the only one with this pain in ours.)

Common struggle – Different from pain, these are people who share a common issue they frequently are wrestling with or are currently. One example is someone who is looking for work. Another is someone struggling with a wayward child. The whole success of Alcoholics Anonymous is built on this principle. Of course, there are safeguards you need to consider with this one. You want to make sure the people you’re connecting are going to actually help each other and not be a bigger temptation to them in the struggle, but there can also be great strength in people bonding together during common struggles.

Common passion – One of the issues of struggle in our society today is human trafficking. The statistics are astounding and all of us – especially believers – should be concerned about the issue. I’ve seen, however, some people have formed a passion for doing something about it. Whole ministries have started with this passion. If I run into two people who share this passion it makes sense for me to introduce them. And, I have many times in our church. This is just one example. It could be a cause, or a cure, or a dream which is driving a person. If I know someone else shares this passion I want to connect them.

Common vocation – This is one of the easiest connecting pieces for people. Teachers understand the unique issues other teachers face daily. So do policeman. As do bankers, attorneys, the self-employed and engineers. With so much of our life revolving around what we do vocationally this makes such a natural place to connect people with a similar interest.

Common hobby – I’m no longer a golfer. I used to be, but just haven’t found the time the last decade. I love to meet a golfer though, because I almost always know another golfer. The same is true with people who fish, hunt, crochet, play cards or are amateur chefs.

Common seasons –  If you are a parent of older children, do you remember the days of endless diapers and sleepless nights? We do, but not as well as someone experiencing it today does. I love connecting new parents together. Of course, we do some of this through the programs and Bible studies of the church, but this is also a way to connect people who haven’t yet “connected” to the church. Widows and widowers of the church are in a different season of life. One specific season where I’ve connected people is new empty-nesters. I’m familiar with this one and it is hard adjusting to this season, which makes it a great connecting point.

Common goals – This is where two or more people have a specific goal in mind they want to achieve. It could be to run a marathon, to write a book, or to learn to fly a plane. Recently I connected two women who were both trying to memorize the book of Philippians. (I’m so impressed by people who can do this.) One was a young mother and one was a grandmother. I knew they needed to know each other, and I didn’t think it a coincidence I had just heard each of them express this goal at separate times within the span of a few days. They began meeting together regularly and formed a wonderful bond and love for one another.

Of course, huge in making this happen is getting to know people – asking questions – listening for the things which are important to them and remembering some of those details. And, this has to be developed with discipline and time. It’s one way I remember people – even in a large church – is by the things I learn about them.

Pastors and ministry leaders, I cannot tell you how powerful and rewarding this has been for my ministry. To see people form lasting friendships and grow in their walk with Christ – knowing the connection I made helped it happen – is such an honor and blessing. And, again, while you are looking for commonalities, this is actually a way to build diversity into your church. I highly recommend the intentionality – and it does take intentionality!

What are other similar interests you have seen where you can connect people?

A Leadership Lid You Can Never Avoid

lids

There is a huge leadership lid I have witnessed firsthand. In fact, it’s one that has crippled my leadership in years past.

At some point, most leaders will face this one. It’s not insurmountable, but until you overcome it you will stall as a leader.

Every time.

Here’s the lid you can never avoid:

Your ability to respond counterintuitively – when needed – will determine the height of leadership you can sustain or achieve.

The leader is human. There will be times The leader feels like responding one way, but can’t respond the way he or she may initially want to . The leader must lead under stress – even when the temptation is to quit, endure through criticism – even when it would be easier to cave to pressure, and overcome failure – even when they feel like one – to continue to lead. Those aren’t always natural reactions, but it’s what separates a leader from everyone else.

We can make excuses all we want, but the one who claims to be the leader must:

  • Keep standing when everyone else wants to “sit the next one out”.
  • Continue dreaming when everyone else is satisfied with status quo.
  • Remain steadfast to a vision when critics want to derail the course.
  • Display strength during times of chaos.
  • Choose to move forward when everyone else is retreating.
  • Follow through when everyone else is stalling.
  • Stay positive when everyone around is in a pity-party. 

Regardless of how the leader feels personally or how they would prefer to respond, the leader must move forward if there is any hope to moving the team forward. 

You hit your lid as a leader when you give up, give in or sell out. 

Thankfully, leaders who are followers of Christ don’t have to find this strength on our own. And, His strength is perfect when ours is gone. 

Where’s your current leadership lid? Do you need to raise it a bit higher?

I always tell our teams: We must get better if we hope to get bigger.

Stand strong! (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The Tension Between Being Available and Being Accessible as a Leader

open closed doors

The larger the church gets, or the more leadership responsibility God calls me to, the greater the tension I feel between being available and being accessible.

Leader, have you ever felt this tension?

And, I’ve learned to be effective, to protect my family and to avoid burnout I can’t always do both.

Truth be, there are too many demands on my time to always be available. Sometimes there are more requests for my time than hours in the day. Sunday is always coming. I receive dozens – some days hundreds – of emails, texts and phone calls, every single day.

I can’t always be available.

  • I must make the most effective use of my limited time.
  • I may not be the best person to meet with everyone.
  • I must spend time investing in the staff with whom I work.
  • I need to reserve ample time for Bible study, prayer, and sermon preparation.
  • I may sometimes need to refer people to someone who is more available at the time.

Some weeks, just being honest, sadly, I end up saying “No” more than I get to say “Yes”.

If time were limitless – I’d rather always be available. As with most leaders, it’s easier for me to say yes than it is to say no. I’m always more popular when I do.

But, popular isn’t a good goal. It’s seldom an effective goal.

I can’t always be available, but this shouldn’t mean I’m unreachable.

I try to always be accessible.

  • I genuinely want people to be served and to serve people.
  • I can easily be found online. (I don’t hide my contact information.)
  • I respond to all emails and return phone calls in a reasonable time – hopefully by the end of each day.
  • I hold responsiveness as a huge personal value and lead our team to do likewise.
  • I always try to help people get the help or answer they need.

I realize even this doesn’t make everyone happy. Some want me always available – to them. But, the goal of leadership is not to make everyone happy – it’s to lead people to a better reality than today. To do this, I must make effective use of my time.

I share this because there are so many pastors facing real burnout. They are struggling with effectiveness. Their family life is suffering. All because they tried to always be available, when all they needed to be was accessible.

(By the way, the church leaders in Acts 6 understood this tension. Read it again to see how they responded.)

Pastor – leader – the tension is real. But, realize you can be accessible even if you’re not always available.

Pastors, do you ever feel the tension between being accessible and being available?

7 Default Zones Every Leader Should Implement

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There are a lot of gray issues in leadership. So many times I simply don’t know what to do. I try to lead by consensus building, but even with the strongest teams there will always be decisions about which we just aren’t certain what is the best decision.

This is why I like to have some default zones in leadership. When I can’t make a decision – I know where to default.

Having a default zone when things on both sides appear equal or you are uncertain about a decision may help you make better decisions. These aren’t foolproof, as many things in leadership are not, but having a general idea which way you would “default” to in common situations which occur frequently in leadership may prove to be helpful.

If you consistently have to make the same type decisions as a leader, think through which way over time has proven to be best. This becomes your default zone.

Here are 7 of my leadership default zones:

In matters of hiring – default to no over yes.

If in doubt over whether the person is a good fit, I default to no. It’s not worth taking a chance when adding to the team. When I haven’t followed this one it has usually turned out to be a mistake.

If you think you shouldn’t say it – don’t.

I don’t follow my own advice here often enough, but I’ve learned if my gut is telling me to “keep a tight rein on my tongue”, it’s likely to be a Biblical conviction. The more I discipline myself in this area the more respect I garner as a leader – or the less respect I lose.

If it’s between empower or control – choose empower.

Except in cases such as vision or a moral issue, letting go of control and empowering others almost always works out better than expected. Even if the person isn’t successful, I have seen the learning curve for them and the team is huge and often some of the best discoveries for the team are made when I get out of the way. The area I control always limit us in this area.

My preference or the team’s preference – go with the team.

There are times I have to make the hard decision to stand alone, but I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. If I am clearly outnumbered, I tend to lean on the wisdom of the team. You won’t keep respect as a leader if you continually stand opposite your team and keep being proved wrong. And, if you believe in your team – prove it.

In person or by email – choose in person

By far, email is my most frequent communication tool. It has to be, just because of the sheer number of communications I have in a given week. But, when I can, especially with our staff, I choose the personal touch. Get up from the desk and walk down the hall when it is an available option. Email and text are misunderstood far too many times. And, we need personal connections to build strong teams.

Assume or ask – ask for clarification.

If you aren’t sure you understand what someone is thinking – if it doesn’t appear they understand you – rather than assume – ask. I’m continually asking my team something such as, “When you said _____, can you help me understand what you meant by that?” Misunderstanding leads to strained relationships and unhealthy teams. The best leaders I know ask the best questions.

Commit or don’t commit – Choose don’t commit.

Leaders usually have more opportunities than time can allow. I’ve learned – the hard way – no one will protect my calendar as well as me. I’ve also learned when I over commit – I become less effective, I burnout easily, and, over time, eventually I’m useless. I disappoint less people when I don’t commit on the front end.

These may not be the ones you need – you may have your own, but learning your leadership default zones may make you a better leader.

Do you have any you would add?

A Leadership Experiment – The Little Things Matter

trash pickup

In making a first impression – the little things matter.

When a visitor shows up on our church campus for the first time – the little things matter. When a parent decides to trust us with their children – the little things matter. The way we follow up with guests – the little things matter.

Most leaders and pastors believe this, but we often don’t pay attention to the little things. Over the years, even as a very non-detailed, extremely big picture person, I’ve started to notice the little things.

A number of years ago, while I was pastoring another church, I felt I needed more buy-in from them in helping to lead the church. They were a great group of people who were passionate about reaching the lost, but they had begun to neglect some of the little things to keep a church operating. I wanted to encourage them to be more observant about what needed doing.

I conducted an experiment. I placed a Sunday bulletin on the floor of the men’s bathroom, right in front of the urinal. You couldn’t “go” without stepping on it or over it.

It stayed there through two Sundays and no one picked it up or threw it away. At the following Wednesday night leadership meeting, I brought the bulletin with me. I asked, “Does anyone recognize this?” (It was before I was a big a germaphobe as I am today.) Apparently – by the look on some faces – most of the men had seen it previously.

I wasn’t trying to be cruel, but it was a tangible reminder to them about making a first impression – the little things matter – and, more importantly, they play a role in this. We were a church plant. We didn’t have a custodial staff for the building we rented. We were the custodial staff. If the bulletin was to be picked up, one of us needed to do it.

They instantly recognized every man visiting our church in the last couple weeks had probably seen the bulletin on the floor of the men’s room. We only had one urinal – and we had very good coffee. Although it was a minor thing – just a bulletin on the floor – it had the potential to leave a larger impression. Imagine if the same visitor returned the next week to find the same bulletin still on the floor. (Of course, in a church plant, by the second week you may be plugged in enough to be picking bulletins off the bathroom floor.)

I’m not saying it was brilliant. It may not even have been nice. But, the experiment made some impact. 

From this point, some of the men became more observant about the little things which needed attention. They started to take ownership in their roles as church leaders. I felt I had more participation in leading the church. 

The point of this post is we must find ways to illustrate the importance of this principle – Little things matter.  

By the way, I have always been curious if this same experiment would have worked in the women’s bathroom or would someone have picked it up?

Pastor, feel free to try this experiment at your own home. Little things matter.

6 Steps to Finishing Well in Life and Leadership

finish line

Everyone wants to be successful in life, but the truth is many people never really achieve what they set out to accomplish. Many of us fall short of obtaining our dreams and goals. This is true in life and leadership.

After years of observing a lackluster success rate among some of the people to whom I minister and to leaders I coach, I began to examine why some people never seem to succeed.

What is it which keeps people from being achieving what they claim to want most in life?

Are there some steps which can be taken to enhance our chances of winning in this “game” of life?

If I am asked to coach someone to be a winner, these are some of the steps I will start.

Here are six steps I suggest to win in life and leadership:

Step One: Get in the right race.

Many people never achieve the success they wanted, because they entered the wrong competition. They are aiming for the wrong targets. We should ask ourselves “where do I want to go in life and what do I eventually want to accomplish?” Until we know how we want our life to end we will never know the steps to take to succeed. This is true for leaders. If you don’t have a vision for your leadership – where you’re leading people – you’re failing before you get started. Of course, I believe in life this starts with a decision to allow Christ to set your path. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Step Two: Discipline for the race.

Winning happens over time – not in an instant. The greatest athletes work hours outside the game in order to perhaps win even a single game. Victory doesn’t often happen without hard, painful work to get there. It takes diligence and consistency to be a winner. Many times victory was just around the corner, but the people gave up too soon. The best leaders I know also learn their individual skills and continue to develop them and they surround themselves with people who complement them – and cover for them in their weaknesses.

Step Three: Develop character first.

People who truly win in life spend a great amount of time on the development of themselves and others around them. Most of the successful business people and church leaders I know set aside time each week for personal development. They are frequently in the gym, reading a good book, and attending church on Sunday. They develop their mind, body and spirit. They recognize that they must be relationally, physically and spiritually healthy if they want to have success in life.

Step Four: Accept Failure

Most winners are built through brokenness. The greatest leaders have failed many times. Before inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison failed a thousand times. Babe Ruth had 714 home runs and 1,330 strikeouts. Abraham Lincoln was said to have failed so many times, in business, in his love life, in politics but finally became one of the greatest President of the United States. People who finish well in life and leadership allow failure to be their friend not their enemy.

Step Five: Ignore unnecessary distractions.

Winners don’t give up when obstacles get in the way of achieving their goals. They find a way to work around them. They don’t waste a lot of time and energy on the wrong things. They build upon the strength of others. Life is full of disappointments and set backs, but those who finish well learn to keep pushing forward – even through the darkest days.

Step Six: Stay in the race.

If a person wants to win he or she has to stay in the race. One cannot be a quitter and still win. Many times the winner is the one with the most heart. I know some leaders who need this encouragement – and, they will need it many times in their career as a leader. Often we see the underdog team come from behind to win simply because they have more passion. If you want to be a winner – if you want to finish well – stay in the game!

Choose today to be a winner! Finish well! Don’t let your “hope to do’s” become your “wish you had’s”.

The WHAT Test – A Simple Strategy to Think Through Level of Commitment

Asian business people team drawing on white wall whiteboard with sticky notes creative real office

The WHAT Test.

Over the years, I have found numerous uses for this simple strategy of thought. The WHAT Test is an acronym of steps to force you to think through how committed everyone involved actually is to a project, relationship or goal. It doesn’t ensure success, but it can help you avoid the disappointment of not having thoroughly thought about the agreed upon direction and level of commitment before you begin.

Here’s The WHAT Test:Where

Where do you want to go? It sounds simple, but it’ serially not. Many times when one person is ready to celebrate success another thinks you’re just getting started. Talk through the end goal. What do you want to accomplish? Collectively define a win. Make sure it is very clear up front where you want to go and how you will know when you’ve “arrived” at your intended destination.

How?

How will you get there? What’s the plan? What are the steps to get us to our goal? Who is going to do what? Who’s responsible? Who’s in charge of what? What are the necessary steps involved? This is where you ensure there is a strategy in place.

Agreement

Are all parties in complete agreement with the previous two? This is critical. Don’t neglect this important step. Don’t move forward without knowing everyone is on board. Many times we agree to a vision on the front end and have reservations once the actual strategy is in place. It’s good to renew agreement before proceeding.

Tenacity

This may be the most important one. I always ask: Are you willing to pay the price to see it through? This is almost a covenant agreement type step – and may even involve an actual covenant. Most great ideas fail – not because they weren’t great ideas – but because no one had the commitment to see them through. This can be especially true when relationships are involved. Decide on the front end all parties have a “whatever it takes” attitude. This will save you many headaches and heartaches down the road.

Obviously, each of these have multiple layers to them, but this exercise always seems to shake out some of the initial reservations which may not have been spoken and avoids some of the personal obstacles which may otherwise occur.

Let me give you a few examples of when I’ve used this:

  • Working with a couple trying to rebuild their relationship – could be after an affair or serious breach in trust has occurred.
  • Prior to attempting a difficult project or assignment.
  • Before a business partnership is formed.

At the beginning of any important venture – Take the WHAT Test

WHAT you are trying to accomplish will seem more attainable when you can easily pass the The WHAT Test.

There are dozens of applications for this simple formula, but the point is strategically thinking through these steps will help protect, build or rebuild relationships – plus help all parties avoid disappointment.