5 Ways to Fuel Creative Thoughts

ideas spinning

I’m an idea guy. No on has ever accused me of not having an original thought. Most of the time the opposite is more accurate. The teams I lead usually fight overload with the number of ideas I produce. I have to discipline myself to “unthink” and give teams permission to tell me “bad idea”.

But, even idea people have lulls in their creative process. We grow stagnant. Get bored. Need help spurring thought.

So, how do idea people get new and original ideas?

Here are 5 ways that work for me:

Get up and walk – If it is cold I walk inside, but outside is my preference. Several times throughout the day I take a hike. My best ideas rarely happen sitting at my desk.

Whiteboard – Diagraming or drawing my thoughts makes me think. I have one wall in my office covered  with idea paint. If thoughts get stale…I play with dry erase markers. Literally. Start writing or drawing and it leads to more ideas. Every time. (I also have several doodling apps on my iPad.)

Exercise – Whenever I’m in a lull, exercise triggers my brain. And, it’s good for my health. Sometimes a mid afternoon sweat will make the last half of the day my most productive in thought.

Hang out with creatives - Iron sharpens iron. Creatives sharpen me. I like to occasionally hang out with random thinking, highly creative types. I’m random, nut structured, so I have to pace my time with the over-the-top creatives, but they always trigger new ideas.

Different environments – Going somewhere I’ve never been always fuels me. A new city. A new park. A new restaurant. A new coffee shop. A different library. Change the space…expand the pace (of thought).

Those are a few that help me.

What triggers your creative process? 

5 Suggestions When Firing Someone in Ministry

Unemployment

My post on firing people in ministry created a great deal of interest. As I expected, some felt it made the church seem too much like a business. I get that, but the other fact, and many understood although sadly through difficult experiences, is that if we don’t address this very serious issue, Kingdom dollars are often misused. And, if we are honest, that has been allowed in ministry far more often than it should be. Our command to love or even to be kind shouldn’t cause us to waste Kingdom dollars.

Please read THAT POST before reading this one.

The fact is, in nearly every situation I’m aware of where this type decision is made, it’s not an issue of likability. It’s not that we don’t love the person or their family. If that was the case, all this would be easy. It doesn’t always even mean the person did something wrong. At times, it is a simple issue of chemistry or fit and often the person proves later to be a great fit elsewhere. Making this difficult decision has many times proven best for all parties involved, but admittedly, getting to the point of release is sometimes a most difficult process. As hard and delicate an issue as this is, it is poor stewardship, in my opinion, not to address the issue.

With that in mind, I’ve had several ask me to expand on that post. If you have to release someone from a ministry position, what are some best practices to protect the church and person?

Here are 5 suggestions when you have to fire someone in ministry:

Be certain – Not as much from a legal sense, but from a moral sense, we need to be sure this is the right move. (You need to be legal too and if you aren’t sure in that area ask. I have always consulted an attorney before anyone is released.) The fact is it will be difficult. It may even be messy. There is usually some damage done to the body. You shouldn’t hide from the right decision because of it, but you should make sure you’re making the right decision.

Be generous – This will differ depending on the person’s tenure with the church and the reason for dismissal, but be as generous as you reasonably can be. This could be financial, but it could also be in the way you allow an exit to take place. I’ve had some unique situations to accommodate. Knowing how hard this is going to be for the affected party, as much as possible, be overly generous.

Be graceful – I’ve been involved in a few messy situations involving the release of a staff member. Many times the most gracious thing to the departing staffer is the information that’s not shared. There is always more to the story and everyone wants to know the “more”…sadly many times for the wrong reasons. Keeping that information as confidential as possible extends grace to the person, the person’s family and the church. Grace should also be extended in creating an exit strategy that protects the person’s future employment possibilities, as much as possible. There may be moral or legal issues you feel obligated or legally have to share, but as much as possible, extend grace.

Be honest – Here, I am talking about what you communicate to the person being released. Don’t sugarcoat. Now is not the time. What’s the real reason? Hopefully, by this point, there has been sufficient due process and fair warning, except in cases where an immediate exit is the only option. Either way, tell the truth. I’ve seen churches disguise the real issues in an effort to land a “softer blow”. Many times this only creates more tension, because of the ambiguity and uncertainty of the dismissal.

Be helpful – How can the person improve for their next position? What are the areas they do well? In what ways can you help them land better into their next role? The person won’t always be open to your “help”, but you should be available to help them wherever and however they might be.

This is admittedly hard. No one enjoys this discussion or this process. I don’t even enjoy writing this blog post. We should be Biblical in our approach always, but it’s not Biblical to avoid hard issues hiding behind a label of ministry.

What other suggestions would you have when you have to release a person in ministry?

The Transition of a Founder: Handing off the Reigns

Meeting handshake

Starbucks Howard Schultz had to return to the helm at Starbucks. Apparently, according to numerous reports, he tried to leave, but came back to attempt to reverse the suffering the company experienced. Dell’s Michael returned to help steer Dell back to health. Steve Jobs once returned to Apple. Other companies, who have founder with lesser known names, have seen their founding fathers return to the helm of leadership. Companies like Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Vonage saw founders return. They all returned to help the company succeed again. In some of these cases things were never the same after the return, but my point is they were forced to return to the companies they founded.

I have a theory.

Companies today will face this dilemma more than companies founded in years past.

Could it be that because companies today begin with such an imprint of their founder in their DNA that it is becoming more difficult to pass the reigns of the top spot to another person? Study Starbucks and you have to study Howard Schultz. (He even wrote a book about it.) Look at Dell computers and you see Michael Dell all over the company philosophy. Even today, as he is trying to rebrand the company that holds his name with a newer identity, his personality appears to drive the process. Companies today are very much an impression of their founders. Google’s corporate “fun” environment apparently IS Larry Page. Every time I’ve heard Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, interviewed he describes the social network with a passion that only a founder could exhibit.

Companies are launching into their niche faster than ever before. The information age and technology allows for growth at a pace unknown in previous generations. Much of that growth is a direct reflection on the personality and passions of the founder who is seen in the public as the chief representative of the company. Social media fuels that even faster. I’m not sure building around a personality has been the case as extreme as it seems to be today.

As I view this phenomenon within corporate America, I can’t help but wonder if there are implications for churches as well.

Doesn’t Northpoint have the personality of Andy Stanley? Lifepoint certainly embodies the imprint of Craig Groeschel.

What will happen when these leaders attempt to retire? The answer to that question remains to be seen. I have no doubt these two mentioned are thinking about those issues, but are their lesser known counterparts? We certainly are planting lots of churches. And, that’s a good thing.

But, certainly also, we are planting many churches today that share their DNA with the founding pastor. The world of social media elevates the role of the founder in churches too. People follow leaders…personalities. We can agree Jesus is to be that personality…it is Him we are to follow…but even still, society tends to look for individual leadership to follow these days. Hopefully, those churches are preparing to be churches that will last for years to come.

This thought process encourages a few things churches (and organizations) may want to consider in their beginning years:

  • We must be thinking transition of the founder from the founding.
  • We must be careful not to elevate people or personalities over a vision.
  • Whenever possible, we may want to consider easing a leader out gradually, rather than allowing a fast exit of the founder.
  • We must make sure our visions are easily transferable, if we want the church (or organization) to exist long-term.

As with most posts, I don’t have all the answers. I’m, hopefully, just triggering thoughts.

What are yours?

7 Unique Abilities of Good Leaders

man looking

Leadership is never easy. To lead well requires unique abilities.

Here are 7:

Ability to stand alone – You don’t have to always stand alone as a leader. In fact, that should never be the goal, but there will be times it takes others time to catch the vision you are certain you have been called to lead. There will be days when everyone appears a critic. You’ll still have to lead. That’s why not everyone is willing to lead.

Ability to see what others can’t see – Leaders are taking people into the unknown. They see beyond the clutter of today into a bigger picture; a brighter reality. Many times they can view the end goal…as blurry as it may be…before others can. That’s why people need a leader.

Ability to think beyond today – Leadership is different from managing. It’s not about maintaining systems. It’s about what’s next. What’s ahead. What’s yet to be realized. That requires a more heads up rather than heads down approach. Not everyone has that ability.

Ability to cast a vision – People need to know the why behind the what. They need something to inspire them for the difficult days ahead. Good leaders can communicate effectively, share passion and motivate others to endure and succeed.

Ability to include people in the process – Leaders have a unique understanding that they can’t complete the task without the assistance of others. Genuine leaders share credit and acknowledge the contributions of those they lead. There is little room for selfishness or dictatorial control in good leadership.

Ability to make the first move – Leaders aren’t intimidated by fear or the unknown. They aren’t emotionless, but they know the journey to victory begins with the first step…and they will lead others in taking that step. This ability alone eliminates many from the field of leadership.

Ability to stay when others are leaving – There will be times of chaos when everything seems to be falling apart. The leader holds the banner of stability, pointing people back to the vision, reminding them of the rewards for staying the course.

Certainly there are others and I welcome you to share them. I’m also certain there have been great leaders who don’t have all seven of these, but good leadership will requires each of these at some point. And, great leaders, in my opinion, display each one often or when required.

What unique abilities would you add for good leadership?

Leader, do some soul-searching. Upon which of these do you need to improve?

3 Ways to Develop as a Leader…Without a Budget

power meeting from above

I was meeting with a young pastor recently who wants to grow as a leader. He lives in small town. He is young, but his staff is even younger. There are not a lot of seasoned leaders in his church…or at least not that he has discovered. (I usually think there are leaders who simply haven’t been tapped, but I understood his dilemma.) The church looks to him to lead.

His question. Who invests in him? He recognizes the need to grow as a leader, but he’s not sure where to find it. His church can’t afford (or doesn’t think it can) to send him to conferences or hire a coach.

What should he do?

Here were 3 suggestions I gave him:

Form a peer leadership group – There are people in the community who own small businesses. They meet a payroll. They have guided an organization to success. Even in the smallest communities, someone owns (or manages) the local grocery store or serves as the bank brach manager. For a group like this, I like to keep it relatively small, no more than 12, and 4-6 6 might be a better number. I would share stories, talk about experiences, and learn from each other. It will be mutual beneficial. I have such a group currently…and have had many times before. These groups are usually comprised of believers, but not professional ministers. I’m trying to learn leadership and management practices…not theology…in these groups.

Start a book club – Recruit leaders in the community to read a leadership book together. These can be mid level managers or senior executives. The learning is from the book being studied and the reflection of the group based on personal experiences. In this type group, the size can be as any size between 2 and 25 people. The larger groups often provide the broader range of perspective. The only cost is the book. Everyone buys their own. You can assign one person each session to guide discussion on what they learned from the book and open for discussion. With a large enough book…people will discuss, and the learning experience is rich. For this group, you might use a Christian leadership book (such as a John Maxwell book), but I wouldn’t limit the group to believers only. It’s a great way to interact with the community in a non-threatening way, while gaining valuable leadership and management insights.

Ask a community leader to mentor – There is one leader in every community (usually multiple leaders) who is further along than you are in the process of leadership. There will always be one leader in the community from whom I can learn. Always. While some may disagree with me, this usually is a believer for me, but doesn’t have to be. I want them to be honest, moral and have a good reputation, but knowing in advance their specific walk with Christ is not a prerequisite for this type mentor. (I have multiples in my life, depending on the need.) Again, I’m seeking development in the areas of leadership and management. I have other spiritual mentors.

You don’t have to live in a large town or spend a lot of money to develop as a leader. You simply have to possess a desire to grow and be intentional.

What you’re looking for is people skills…how to handle conflict…how to delegate and how to motivate and cast a vision. You can learn those things from hearing other leaders’ experiences.

What suggestions do you have?

The number one step in good delegation…

Handshake - extraversio

…Trust the one to whom you delegate.

I hear from leaders continually who say they don’t delegate, because they don’t trust that the work will be done to their expectations. I get that. But, even if you don’t trust the people to whom you should be delegating…don’t avoid delegation. You’ll be very ineffective as a leader if you do that.

You just have some bigger work to do, so you can effectively delegate.

Your work first:

  • You’ll have to develop the people to whom you need to delegate.
  • You have to take a risk on people who haven’t been tested.
  • If the other two won’t work…and you’re fully convinced of that…you’ll have to get new people.

You simply can’t afford to lead without delegation. In fact, I’m not sure it’s leading if you’re doing all the work.

5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication

man woman talking 2

In my career, I work with a lot of people in a lot of settings. You might say my job involves a lot of relationships. And, in the process, I have learned the key to healthy relationships is communication. Communication is an art of sorts. Some are better at it than others.

I have seen relationships destroyed because of poor communication. I know marriages that could improve if we improved the communication in the marriage. I’ve seen people avoid other people, because they know how the communication will go when they encounter them. I’ve known people who are short on quality relationships, and, honestly, many times it is because they never learned or don’t practice healthy communication.

So, sincerely, this post is intended to help. We are all guilty or some of these at times. This blogger/pastor included. So, this is a reminder to me also.

Here are 5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication:

Don’t always have a bigger story. This is the one I’ve been guilty of the most of these five. Someone is telling you their story and their experience reminds you of your experience. So, naturally, you interrupt their story, or don’t appear to be listening closely, because you want to share your story. But, remember, right now they are sharing “their” experience. It is important enough to them to share it with you. Don’t try to trump their story. It is rude and it shuts them down. Discipline yourself to wait for the right opportunity…and be okay if it doesn’t come…sometimes your only role is to listen.

Don’t talk more than you listen. This will address the person you’re thinking of in the first point that is always sharing their story. They never listen. They don’t give you a chance to share yours. If this is you…stop talking and listen. Ask questions. Show genuine concern. Be interested in what others have to say too. You’ll find people more interested in what you have to share when it’s your turn.

Don’t always be negative. All of us are negative at times. Life is hard and it impacts us. That’s partly what friendships are for…to share our burdens with one another. But every conversation and every comment we make shouldn’t be negative. That makes it difficult to build a sustainable, healthy relationship, because sometimes the other person needs you to be positive on the day they are especially negative.

Don’t consistently have the last word. Sure you’ve got one more word to share. We get that. You’ve already proven that point. But, sometime let them say the final word. It’s humbling for you. And, good. For you and them. And, the conversation. And, the relationship.

Don’t speak before you think. This is so important. Maybe the most important. It includes the saying, “If you can’t say something good…don’t say anything…or nothing if you want to be like Thumper…at all.” If we could catch our words before they exit our mouths, filter them through the power of love and grace, then release them, we could keep from injuring those with whom we are trying to communicate. And, relationships could thrive apart from the injury of inappropriate or awkward…often even mean-spirited words.

Okay, be honest, upon which of these do you need to improve? What others would you share? Remeber, I shared mine. Now your turn.

7 High Costs of Good Leadership

Cost increase concept.

Leadership is expensive. Costly. Cheap leadership is never good leadership.

Here are 7 high costs of good leadership:

Personal agenda – Good leaders give up their personal desires for the good of others, the team or the organization.

Control – What you control you limit. Good leaders give freedom and flexibility to others in how they accomplish the predetermined goals and objectives.

Popularity – Leading well is no guarantee a leader will be popular. In fact, there will be times where the opposite is more true. Leaders take people through change. Change is almost never initially popular.

Comfort – If you are leading well you don’t often get to lead “comfortably”. You get to wrestle with messiness and awkwardness and push through conflict and difficulty. It’s for a noble purpose, but it isn’t easy.

Fear – Good leadership goes into the unknown. That’s often scary. Even the best leaders are anxious at times about what is next.

Loneliness – I believe every leader should surround themselves with other leaders. We should be vulnerable enough to let others speak into our life. But, there will be days when a leader has to stand alone. Others won’t immediately understand. On those days the quality of strength in a leader is revealed. This one should never be intentional, but when you are leading change…when it involves risk and unknowns…this will often be for a season a significant cost.

Outcome – We follow worthy visions. We create measurable goals and objectives. We discipline for the tasks ahead. We don’t, however, get to script the way people respond, how times change, or the future unfolds.

As leaders, we should consider whether we are willing to pay the price for good leadership. It’s not cheap!

I’ve identified 7 costs of leadership. Help me identify a few more.

What costs of leadership have you discovered?

How long do I spend editing a blog post?

typing laptop

On my recent post “How a blog post becomes reality…” I shared ways I’m able to blog almost daily and keep bringing new topics to the blog.

One of the comments asked a great question in blogging today.

Could you give insight into how long you spend editing a post on average? 

Probably not long enough.

  • I normally edit as I go,…
  • Do a quick edit after it’s written…
  • Then right before it goes out in the morning I read over it again (sometimes this is as I walk the dog)…
  • and then often the best “catch” edit is just after it’s gone live. (Wish that was different, but it’s true.)

That’s my total process.

I am not a great editor, because I naturally read for content more than detail, but my total editing time is fairly minimal. I have actually caught errors in a post that has been live for months…even more than a year…when someone brings an old post back to my attention.

Occasionally, if I think a post has special implications…will be popular or could be misinterpreted…I’ll have my wife edit before it goes live.

Bottom line for me. I’m not editing at the level some would expect me to be. A single post on average has less than 15 minutes editing on average.

One thing I have observed is that blogging seems to have played a part in changing the demand for editing. So has all online writing. The fast environment…the desire to get an idea to “print” seems to overrule the need for perfection.

I realize this is a real problem for some people who are especially close readers, but it appears to impact book publishing also. Again, I am not a close reader, yet even I have found typos in a few books I’ve read in the last few years. I found one in a newer Bible I received. I have seen typos in some of the better blogs I read. And, some of the better bloggers have found typos in my blog. I’ve had others tell me they’ve discovered the same in books. Certainly, to me, it seems the modern digital era…texting for example…has lowered the demand for good editing.

I’m not sure the right balance. Being perfectly edited or getting an idea expressed. For me, I want to be edited enough to not be obnoxious to the average reader. I don’t want to consistently make the same mistakes. I want to do some editing. But, I want my time mostly spent on writing…not editing.

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Have you seen a decline in good editing? Does it bother you?  Is it more important to get an idea online or make sure what’s online is perfect first?

Weigh in and…feel free to edit this post.

3 Seemingly Non-Productive Activities that are Always Productive

Green extra mile sign

Here’s a secret about my life you may not know.

Some of the most productive activities in my life can seem non-productive.

When I consider the fullness of my calendar…as a busy pastor and leader, every moment counts. I live by a schedule and a mound of checklists.

But, I’ve learned there are some things, which may take time from other things, which make the other things even more productive…and life more meaningful.

Here are seemingly non productive activities that are always productive:

Quiet time – If I start my day quietly reflecting on something (really Someone) bigger than the world I’m about to face, I feel better prepared to meet that world. I’d love to say every morning is an earth-shattering, Jesus rock my world experience. It’s not. But, when I discipline myself to slow down before I hit a fast pace, the balance of my life seems in place.

Exercise – I know, by experience, that the way I feel physically impacts the way I feel emotionally and spiritually. I can’t imagine being able to separate one from another. I don’t always feel like exercising. Even though I love running, sometimes my body doesn’t want to cooperate, but when I do, I always…I mean always…have a more productive day. (Because of this, sometimes I exercise twice in one day.)

Nap – I know. Talk about unproductive. Imagine taking a break from a crowded calendar to sleep. One might even say I’m lazy. Actually, anyone who knows me would never say I was lazy. They’d more likely use phrases like workaholic or, at least, very productive. What they don’t know perhaps is that one secret to that is when I feel the afternoon blahs coming…no amount of caffeine seems to help. I’m not afraid to stop everything, close my eyes for 15 or 20 minutes, and recharge my batteries. It works wonders for a tired brain. I’m always ready to go at the calendar again after a quick shuteye.

So there. You have some of my secrets to being productive. These help me go the extra miles in life.

Do you have any secrets you would share with me?