How Some of the Best Discoveries Are Made – In Life and Leadership

highland road

Don’t be afraid to take a wrong turn — or go where the path isn’t clear — or act when you don’t have all the details figured out yet.

Some of the best discoveries are made that way.

People are always asking Cheryl and me how we discovered a great new place to visit. Or to eat.

Don’t you love Instagram and Facebook for those postings?

Often it was on a discovery trip.

One time we were in Maryland. I said to Cheryl, “Let’s just take this road and see where it goes.”

It actually went to a dead end. At the ocean. Stop. No way out except where we came from. We may have even been in another state at that point. I never knew for sure.

There was one restaurant at the end of the road. It looked like a dump. Our cell service was so weak we couldn’t Google the place, so we just went for it. It turned out to be one of those memorable meals — in a good way.

We didn’t know where we were going or what we would find when we got there, but details don’t matter as much when you’re on a discovery mission.

We’ve actually used the discovery method to find dozens of great places. On most every vacation or trip we set aside some time just to discover something new. It gives us adrenaline as a couple, keeps things interesting (we’ve discovered some not so great places too) and — whatever we find — it gives us lots of great memories together.

I use the discovery method in leadership too. We try lots of new things. Some work. Some don’t. But, the ones that do prove to be some of our greatest discoveries. We found them by exploring.

Details are great. I know some people feel they need them. (Cheryl is that way.)

But don’t let not knowing them keep you from the greatest discoveries.

Explore. It’s often how the best discoveries are made.

And, it keeps life interesting.

In life and leadership.

3 Problems with Unspoken Expectations in Leadership

Expectations concept.

I was talking with a youth pastor recently. He is experiencing tremendous disappointment in his current position. He feels he is doing everything well, but his pastor never seemed pleased with his progress.

As we talked, it became clear to me that he and his pastor had different expectations of what makes a healthy youth ministry, but the youth pastor was uncertain what it would take to make the pastor happy. Unless the two of them get on the same page, this youth pastor is destined for many disappointing days ahead.

This is not a unique scenario.

In fact, if I’m not careful, this is one struggle I can have in leadership.

I have seen many leaders, including myself, who hold people accountable for a high level of success, but are never clear on what the success they are seeking even looks like. It’s actually hard to hold someone responsible for meeting an expectation you’ve never given them.

There are lots of problems created when we don’t give people clear expectations.

Here are 3 problems with having unspoken expectations:

Expectations are misunderstood – Many leaders assume everyone will come to the same conclusion they would, so they fail to give adequate direction. If left unspoken, however, the senior leader’s expectations are never met and team member’s remain confused and frustrated.

Expectations are never met – The team member will make up the expectations when not made clear. That’s okay when the leader delegates this task but when the leader has defined expectations, but they are never made clear, a team member has no choice but to move forward on their own.

Everyone is disappointed - One of the hardest times for a leader is watching his or her team or organization suffer through mediocre results. One of the most frustrating times for a team member is realizing they aren’t living up to potential or that they aren’t appreciated on the team. Both sides lose when expectations aren’t made clear.

If you want your team to achieve the expectations you have for them make sure the team knows clearly what’s expected of them. Don’t assume they read your mind. If you are not sure how to make sure they understand you, read THIS POST.

Have you worked for someone who didn’t give you clear expectations of what they expected? Tell me about it.

Leaders, how do you make sure your team understands what you expect? Share your secrets.

7 Examples of Lazy Leadership Practices

feet on the desk

Laziness is a sin.

Whoever is lazy regarding his work is also a brother to the master of destruction. Proverbs 18:9

It’s also annoying. And, ineffective in leadership.

The fact is, however, that many of us have some lazy tendencies when it comes to leadership. I do at times. This is as much an inward reflecting post as an outward teaching.

Please understand, I’m not calling a leader lazy who defaults to any of these leadership practices listed. The leader may be extremely hard working, but the practice itself — I’m contending — is lazy leadership.

Here are a 7 examples of lazy leadership practices.

See if any of them apply to your leadership.

Assuming the answer without asking hard questions. Or, not asking enough questions. It’s easier just to move forward sometimes — and sometimes it’s even necessary to move quickly — but many times we just didn’t put enough energy into making the best decision. Often its because we don’t want to know or are afraid to know the real answer. That’s the lazy way of making decisions.

Not delegating. Again, I’m not saying the leader is lazy. But this part of their leadership is. It’s easier many times just to “do it myself” than to go through the process of delegating. Good delegating takes hard work. You can’t just “dump and run”. You have to help people know the vision, understand a win, and stay close enough in case they need you again. New leaders are developed, loyalty is gained, and teams are made more effective through delegation.

Giving up after the first try. No one likes to fail. Sometimes it’s easier to scrap a dream and start over rather than fight through the messiness and even embarrassment of picking up the pieces of a broken dream, but if the dream was valid the first time, it probably has some validity today.

Not investing in younger leaders. There’s the whole generational gap — differences in values, communication styles, expectations, etc. It would be easier to surround ourselves with all like-minded people, but who wins with that approach — especially long-term?

Settling for mediocre performance. It’s more difficult to push for excellence. Average results come with average efforts. It’s the hard work and the final efforts that produce the best results. But, the experience of celebrating when you’ve done your best work is always worth the extra energy.

Not explaining why. “Just do what I say” leadership saves a lot of the leader’s time. If I don’t have to explain what’s in my head — just tell people what to do — I get to do more of what I want to do. But, I’d have a bunch of pawns on my team and one disrespected, ineffective and unprotected king (leader). (And, being “king” is not a good leadership style by the way.) Continual vision casting is often the harder work, but necessary for the best results in leadership.

Avoiding conflict. No one likes conflict. Not even those of us who don’t run from it. But, you can’t lead effectively without experiencing conflict. Every decision a leader makes is subject to agreement and disagreement. It’s why we need leadership. If there was only one direction who needs a leader? To achieve best — the very best — we have to lead people beyond a simple compromise that makes everyone happy.

If you’ve been practicing lazy leadership, the best response — as to any sin — is to repent — turn away — and do the hard work of leadership. You and your team will benefit greatly.

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Proverbs 6:6

 

7 Non-Negotiable Values for Teams I Lead

teamwork concept on blackboard

Leader,

What do you look for when you bring a person on to your team?

What expectations do you have for people who serve on your team?

I think it’s important to know yourself well enough that you understand the qualities in people with whom you work best.

Several years ago I took time to put together my own list of non-negotiables. I pretty much have to have these characteristics if we are going to work well together long-term. Keep in mind, these aren’t skills. These are values — the principles we use to interact with one another on a team.

I would assume a few of these, maybe most of them, would be non-negotiables on any healthy team. Some of them are things we may have to instill in people over time, but I’ve learned my leadership well enough to know that I’ll struggle with a team member who doesn’t equally value — or at least strive to display — each of these.

Here are 7 non negotiable values for a team I lead:

Responsiveness - It is a personal value, maybe even a pet peeve of mine, but I believe it is imperative to respond to people in a timely manner. Of course, this is a subjective value, but it’s one the entire team soon recognizes — and not with good results — if it is absent.

Honesty – Teams are built on trust. You can’t have trust without honesty. And, therefore, in my opinion, without honesty it’s just a group of people, but not a team.

Respect - A personal value for me is mutual respect on the team. When making a hiring decision — because I try to find leaders — I ask myself if I would respect the person enough to follow them as my leader. If I wouldn’t, it will be hard for me to respect them as a team member. Consequently, I hope they wouldn’t join our team unless they believe they could respect my leadership. I want to respect people I lead and, therefore, I believe it’s only fair they want to respect me.

Openness – I don’t like hidden issues. Drama destroys a team and, frankly, I’ve got little time for it. Gossip is a sign of immaturity. If it’s important to you or the team, let’s talk about it. Let’s certainly not talk about it behind each other’s back.

Work ethic – To the best of your ability, realizing that the best plans sometimes fail, do what you say you will do when you said you will do it. I extend lots of grace in leadership. We all make mistakes and we learn from them, but a value of mine is that each person does their best efforts and pulls their share of the load. It’s one reason I need clear goals and objectives for myself and everyone on our team. Ambiguity in what’s expected leads to frustration for all of us. I protect my family time and try to create an environment that allows that to be a value for everyone on the team, but when we know where we are going and who is responsible for what — when we are at work — let’s get it done.

Limited need for oversight- I can’t stand micro-management. I don’t want to do it nor do I want it done to me. I believe in setting some goals, assigning tasks, and celebrating at the finish line. I’ll even come back and hold your hand across the line if needed, but if you don’t ask, I assume you’re still running on your own. Yes, this is frustrating for some people at times who need lots of detailed directions, and we have to work through the frustration, but one of the previous values is openness. Ask if you don’t know or understand and tell me when I’m moving too fast.

Participation – A personal value for me is that everyone on the team feel they play a vital role in completing our vision. (I even think that’s Biblical.) We provide ownership of responsibilities, regardless of titles. I don’t want anyone sitting on the bench on a team I lead. There are plenty of innings ahead…let’s play ball. In fact, if I feel someone is hiding out in the dugout, afraid to get up to bat, I’m probably going to help them find a better position — and more coaching if needed.

So what do you think? Fair? Harsh? Reasonable?

Leader, have you thought through the values important for teams you lead?

I believe it will help you be a better leader, help you find people you can better work with to add to your team, and reduce frustration for everyone.

7 False Beliefs of the Leadership Vacuum

vacuum

Many times a leader can be clueless about the real health of the organization they lead. If a leader refuses to solicit feedback, doesn’t listen to criticism or stops learning, they can begin to believe everything is under control — when in reality — things are falling apart around them.

I once watched as a church crumbled apart while the pastor thought everything was wonderful. He always had an excuse for declining numbers and never welcomed input from others. It got bad enough for the church to have to ask him to leave. It was messy. It could have been avoided, in my opinion.

And, sadly, that could be the stories of hundreds of churches and organizations.

The best leaders, however, avoid what I call the leadership vacuum.

I have heard the term leadership vacuum used to describe the need for more leaders, but I believe the biggest void may be within leaders themselves.

The leader in a leadership vacuum believes:

Everyone on the team understands me. And, I understand them.

Everyone on the team thinks like I think. We are in complete unity. I know this without asking anyone.

Everyone on the team likes me. And, they are glad I’m the leader.

My team is completely healthy. And, so am I. We don’t need to worry about that kind of thing.

I am this team. This team needs me. In fact, they couldn’t do it without me.

The organization is headed in the right direction in every area. We don’t need any changes.

Our systems and plans are flawless. Nothing can stop us now.

Granted, any or all of these may be true at a given time, but if we always assume they are is when we get into trouble as a leader. When the leader is clueless to the real problems and needs in the organization, he or she is living in the leadership vacuum. The best leaders are aware of the vacuum trap and guard against it in their leadership.

Leaders, have you ever lived in the leadership vacuum? Are you there now?

Have you followed a leader in the vacuum?

7 Things That Weaken Leadership

image

There are times I’m a better leader than other times. Sometimes that my fault. Other times the cause is unavoidable. If we can begin to identify what interrupts strong leadership, we can become better leaders. I have personally experienced some things in my own life that weaken my leadership. I am consistently finding ways to guard against them.

Here are 7 things that weaken leadership:

Distractions – As leaders, we do our best work when we are pointing people toward worthy visions. Some would say that’s precisely what leadership does. It’s easy to get distracted with things that, while they may be good, they don’t help move the organization towards the vision. In fact, they delay progress towards the vision.  I’ve also learned that I need to be leading in my strengths and if I ever get weak in my courage to say no to some things, my yes will be far less valuable.

Lack of discipline – It matters not that there is a great vision if we don’t discipline ourselves to reach it. That includes having good plans  good goals. Good objectives. Good systems and strategies.

Ceased learning – Leading others to grow requires leaders who are growing. When I stop the creativity I feed my mind, I cease to have anything new to offer the team I’m trying to lead. Life becomes rather stale — quickly.

Negative influences – It’s hard to be the only positive in a room full of negatives. Sometimes as a leader I’ve felt like more cheerleader than coach. It’s one reason I surround myself with people who have a good outlook on life. I don’t want all “yes” people, but if everything is always an immediate “no” — or “I don’t like it but I have nothing better to offer” — that’s draining and it is only going to bring down me and the strength of the rest of the team.

Fear – Risk is involved in every leadership decision. Notice I said every. And I meant every. I didn’t say risk was involved in every decision a leader makes but every leadership decision. Leadership is taking people to an unknown. That involves risk. Every time. And every risk involves a certain level of fear. That’s natural. Fear keeps leaders from moving forward when they allow the fear to dominate the decision more than the opportunity of the risk.

Pride – Pride goes before the fall. Pride destroys. Absolute pride destroys absolutely. Okay I embellished that one, but you get the point. Prideful leaders are always weakened by that pride. No one truly follows a prideful leader. They may obey. They may even be infatuated for a season. But, they don’t follow.

Contentment – Leadership involves a sense of urgency. When we lose that we lose the inner drive to lead well. We become weakened by our own loss of personal momentum.

Success – All of us love to succeed. I think attempting to is a pretty good goal. We might even plan for it. :) Sadly, though, sometimes a little success can usher in complacency. We can begin to think we’ve figured out a system to success. Before long, we don’t think we have to be intentional anymore — maybe not even have to try as hard as we used to try. We can become weak quickly by our own delusions of grandeur.

Those are a few things that have weakened my leadership.

What would you add to my list?

A Word to the Introverted Pastor: Be Extroverted on Sunday

Man And Woman Shaking Hands

I have a strong word of encouragement to the introverted pastor.

Be extroverted on Sunday.

You can do it.

Every time I post about introversion I hear from pastors and church members who talk about how introversion negatively impacts the ministry of the church.

I get it. I really do. In fact, I am it. On a scale of 1 to 10 of introversion — if there were such a scale — I’m probably a 7 or 8. And, I can be a 9 some days. So, I understand.

But, the interaction we have with people is a key role we play in growing and leading the church. I’ve written in numerous posts that just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I don’t love people. There may be some pastors who don’t really love people — and I personally don’t see how they can be very successful if that’s the case — but introversion is a personality trait. It’s not an indicator of how deeply a person loves people.

I love people. Really. Especially people who are excited about what God is doing in their life. That motivates me. My introversion, however, if I’m not careful, can keep me from interacting even with people I love.

If you asked most people in the churches where I have served as pastor, other than those who know me really well, they are surprised I am an introvert based on my Sunday interactions with people. I’m very extroverted on Sundays. 

So how do I do it?

Here are a few thoughts.

You have to be intentional. You have to work at it. I’m not saying it will be easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? I realize that Sunday is coming. I plan my week around it. I have lots of introverted during my week. For example, I am very careful what I plan for Saturday night, because I know I need to be at my best for Sunday. It is rare for me to schedule a large social gathering on Saturday nights, for example. In fact, I’ve found that Cheryl and my Saturday date days are the perfect preparation for an extroverted Sunday. (Obviously that’s easier for us now as empty-nesters, but I was equally protective of my Saturday night when we had children at home.)

Your family will have to cooperate. This is the hardest one, because it obviously involves other people. The key for us is that my family knows me as I know them. They understand that Sunday takes so much out of me mentally and physically. They realize I need time to recover from a very extroverted Sunday. The ride to the restaurant for Sunday lunch is usually pretty quiet. Over the years, when the boys were home and now that it’s just Cheryl and me, my family has learned that if I have my introverted recovery time I’m more engaging with them the rest of the day. It is a way they partner with me in ministry. (I sense a need to clarify. My family understands my introversion — but I don’t think they ever feel slighted because of it. That takes intentionality too.)

Realize it’s for a purpose. When I taught a very large Sunday school class (over 100 people), every week I’d leave the room as I was praying at the close of my lesson. It seemed the humble thing to do, and I was sincere in that, but honestly, it was the “safest” approach for this introvert. When I came into ministry and was in my first church, I continued this practice. I would “escape” during my prayer to the back of the sanctuary. A dear older deacon pulled me aside one day. He gently, in a very helpful way, said, “Ron, if as you’re praying you’ll walk to the vestibule and be there to shake people’s hands as they leave, they’ll be more likely to return the next week.” I’ve been doing that ever since — and how right he was. One of the most frequent comments I receive from visitors is how they enjoyed meeting the pastor. I can’t imagine it any other way now. It fuels me and them. I remain thankful for the wisdom of that deacon.

Rely on Holy Spirit help. The pastor that inspired me most in my spiritual walk when I was a 20-something year old trying to figure out my life direction emailed me recently. He had read one of my introversion posts and wanted to echo the sentiments in it. He said he has always marveled at how many introverted pastors he has seen God call to lead in the church — even very large churches. He wrote, “I’ve been an introverted pastor of large churches for 39 years now. Before every service I’m saying the same thing, ‘God, I can’t do this—now what are you going to do about that?!'” His humble surrender to God’s hand has shaped some powerful ministries under his leadership. I loved being able to email back to one of my mentors that I’ve had a similar prayer every Sunday — for a few less years.

Just as Moses, Gideon, and others led through what they felt would handicap them in following God’s call, introverted pastor, you can do this. With God’s help, an understanding family, and some hard, purposeful, intentional work — if God has called you to it, He will equip you. Surrender to His strength and will.

And, the reward is worth it!

Are You a Boss or a Leader?

mean boss

Are you a boss or a leader?

I have to be honest I hate the term boss. When someone refers to me as their boss I almost feel like I’m doing something wrong as a leader.

Forgive me for making me think I’m the boss.

There are so many differences in a boss and a leader. If only in connotation.

A boss seems to have all the answers — even if they really don’t.
A leader solicits input to arrive at the right answer.

A boss tells.
A leader asks.

A boss can be intimidating — if only by title.
A leader should be encouraging — even if in a time of correction.

A boss dictates.
A leader delegates.

A boss demands.
A leader inspires.

A boss controls systems.
A leader spurs ideas.

A boss manages policies.
A leader enables change.

People follow a leader willingly. You have to pay someone — or force them — to follow a boss.

By connotation there is really only one boss.

In fairness, there are times I have to be the boss. Even the “bad guy” boss — at least in other people’s perception.

But I much prefer to be a leader.

And in any healthy organization there will be many leaders.

Do you work for a boss or do you serve with a leader?

Be honest.

The Biggest Challenge for Me in Leading Church Revitalization

balanced

When I left a very successful church plant (my second plant) to pastor a very established, more traditional church many of my friends in ministry told me I was crazy. It’s not that they didn’t think God could be in it — they just knew me well enough that it didn’t seem like something I would do. I’m a doer. I like progress. I like action. And change. I’m not afraid to push the boundaries.

Those qualities don’t always fit well in some established churches.

So, now my friends often ask me what the biggest struggle has been for me in leading church revitalization. And, it’s not what I would have expected it to be. We’ve actually had a great couple of years. There have been a few bumps along the way, but God has shown up every step of the way. (Imagine that!) I previously wrote about the balance of leading for me and leading for the organization . My greatest challenge is similar.

The biggest challenge for me in leading church revitalization has been…

Leading with purpose and intentionality without being arrogant or self-serving.

I want progress. Still. That hasn’t changed.

But, I don’t want it to be about me or what I think the church should look like.

I want the church to grow. There are lots of unchurched people where I live. (Where you live too I would assume.) And, I think we have an option for some of them.

But, I don’t think we are the only option. Nor should we try to be.

I want to see the church change — be healthy — grow again.

But, I don’t want the church to lose the heritage, history, or culture that has existed for over 100 years. (Long before I was alive.)

I want to spur momentum. I want to use the skills and experience God has given me to lead, cast visions, strategize and organize.

But, I don’t want my abilities to be what we are known for as a church.

I want to feel successful in my efforts. I want God to use me.

But, I don’t want to be the one to get the glory.

How do I do that?

Here are 7 ways I’m attempting to lead with purpose and intentionality without being arrogant or self-serving:

I’m attempting to guard my heart and stay close to Jesus.

I have a clear purpose and calling. I know what God has asked me to do and what the people have called me to do.

I allow others to speak into my life. (And, I’ve had to listen a few times during this process.)

I give others a part in the plan; trying to bring people along willingly, not because I bullied them into my way of doing things.

I am trying to be patient with those who aren’t with me yet, while realizing some never will be — and being okay with that.

I am trying not to allow the few negatives I receive (which have happened often) to overpower the larger audience of positives that the church is experiencing. And, thankfully, the great majority of people are happy with where we are going.

I am attempting to be strategic with change. Well positioned. Well planned. Well communicated.

How do you maintain the balance pushing for progress with humility?

7 Ways to Tell It’s Time for Change in the Organizational Structure

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

I’ve been a leader in an almost 200 year old company and a new business. I’ve led in a church plant and now in an over 100 years old established church. One thing I’ve learned is that there are many similarities in organizational structure — especially when it comes to the need for changing that structure.

Healthy organizations maintain an unchanging vision long-term by being willing to change their organizational structure as needed.

When it comes to organizational structure not everything needs changing. If the structure works. Keep it. It’s comfortable. People understand it. Progress is happening.

But progress is happening is key.

There are times to change. It’s important that leaders realize those times.

How do you know when organizational structural change is needed?

Here are 7 considerations to discern it is time:

When you continually encounter obstacles trying to move forward. If every decision you are trying to make hits roadblocks or dead ends, it may be time to build a new road.

When the steps to make the change is more exhausting than the value the change provides. Change should be exhilarating once you get to it. Change brings momentum. When the process to get there is so long or difficult that it wears you out and you’ve got no excitement left — it may be time for some structure change.

When you can no longer attract leaders. When people are controlled more than empowered you will attract doers but you won’t attract visionary leaders. Creative leadership will die, because genuine leaders rebel against controlling environments.

When you spend more time discussing than doing. Granted we need to meet about some things. We need to plan, strategize and organize. I suggest we have better meetings, but more than that we need action. Our visions are hungry for progress towards them. Meetings should create action. The best structures help you get busy doing not attending yet another meeting.

When the structure you have now isn’t sustainable long term. Structure based upon people, for example, rather than progress, will eventually need changing as people change. Ask yourself will this structure work 10 years from now? If not, the time to change is now.

When all creativity is structured out of the system. Sometimes the process can become so clearly defined that nothing new is needed. There is no room for different ideas or opinions. No one needs them anymore. Every question is answered. When people fall into routines, they get bored, and complacency becomes the norm. Development stops. Time for some structural change.

When there is no longer any confusion. If everything is so carefully scripted you may need some organizational structure change. Some of the best discoveries are found amidst chaos. I love what Andy Stanley says about “a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved”. Good organizations have some of those.

Those are some of my thoughts based on experience. What would you add to my list?