The Question I Ask When Receiving a Complaint or Criticism

When I have complaints or criticism I ask a question:

Is it individual or representative?

In other words:

Is it one person with an problem or is it multiple people?

Is it a personal issue or a public issue?

Does this complaint or criticism represent one person’s opinion or is it representative of a larger number of people?

The answer is critical before responding. I know I can’t please everyone. Some individuals are simply going to disagree with the way I or our church does something. I will listen to the complaint and respond to even the individual criticism, but when there is a growing tension among the masses, the issue demands more attention. It may not alter my response, but it does alter the intensity of my response. I realize when a larger number have the same complaint or criticism that it may lead to a “bad culture that eats good vision”. (I wrote about that principle HERE.)

To read more of my thoughts on responding to criticism see:

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism

What do you think? Do you ask similar questions when responding to criticism?

7 Ways I Gain Influence with My Team

John Maxwell says leadership is influence. If that’s true, then how does a leader develop that influence with the people he or she leads?

Here’s how I gain influence with my team:

Treat people professionally and with respect - I expect to be treated likewise, but for me to demand it without displaying it doesn’t build influence, it fosters control. (I wrote a post about that HERE)

Take risks on people and give opportunities to fail (or succeed) – Several on our staff started their ministry career with us…in large roles. I like placing faith in people. If a team member comes to me with a dream, I’ll try to help them attain it. The risk is almost always worth the return.

Recognize and reward efforts – I try to find ways to invest in our team, based on the individual needs and desires of the team member. I’ve been known to be creative in rewarding a team member for doing exceptional work. I’m also not afraid to single out exceptional work for individual recognition.

Allow them to know me personally – I’m transparent. I try to be clear about my weaknesses and own my mistakes. I’m also not afraid to be the brunt of the jokes.

Be approachable - I return phone calls and emails to my team quickly. They can get in touch with me and on my schedule before anyone other than my family. I keep the door open when I’m in the office and welcome walk-ins. (I have candy in my office too!)

Be consistent and reliable - I keep lots of lists so I don’t forget things I’ve committed to do. I have an Evernote folder with each team member’s name on it for things relative to them specifically. I don’t make many promises, but I try to honor my commitments, even when it’s costly at times. If I tell a team member I’ll do something, I make it a priority in my schedule until it’s accomplished.

Help others achieve personal success - I love to learn a team member’s goals and help them achieve it.

Keep in mind, I’m not perfect and this is not an attempt to brag about my performance. As with all my posts, I’m trying to be helpful in developing your leadership. If you read this blog regularly you know that one way I improve what I do is that I annually ask my team to evaluate me. (You can find out about that HERE and the consulting I offer in that area HERE.)

Of course, my team is free to comment on this post as well, so that should humble me. :) Most of what I’ve learned in leadership came from doing the wrong things first. I think it’s vital to a healthy team that the leader be continually conscious of his or her need for influence and ways to improve upon it.

You may also want to read my post 12 Ways to Keep an Organization Small

What would you add to my list?

If a leader always…

If a “leader”…

  • Always has to be feared…
  • Always has to have the final word…
  • Always has to be coddled…
  • Never empowers others…
  • Never takes ownership for a mistake…
  • Never steps up to lead…

Then he or she is not a leader…

  • May have a title…
  • May be the boss…
  • May have power…
  • May draw a larger paycheck…

But is not a leader…

In fact, in my opinion, he or she may even need to get out of the way and let someone lead…

Have you known people with the title of leader who weren’t really a leader?

A Quick Tip for When You Can’t Find the Courage Needed…

Here’s a quick tip I’ve had to use many times in life…

When I can’t find the courage to do the thing I know I need to do…

Instead of trying to muster the courage…

I often need to renew or grow my passion for the thing that needs doing…

It’s a bigger picture approach…

Dave Ramsey says that if you want to get out of debt that you have to “Get angry about it...”

That’s the same idea here…

Emotions often fuel courage…

Grow your passion…grow your courage…

As an example, if you need to address a difficult employee situation, but don’t have the courage…fall more in love with the vision of the organization and it’s effectiveness, and you’ll find courage to have the hard conversation…

You take risks to achieve those things for which you are most passionate…

Think of it this way…if your child was in danger, you’d find the courage to save him or her, regardless of the risks involved…

Fall more in love with what you hope to accomplish and you’ll find more courage…

Are you in a situation now that is requiring more courage? I’d love to hear your story…

(I’ve written previously about the courage of a leader HERE and HERE.)

The Larger an Organization Gets…

Bad leadership is bad leadership. It’s usually easy to recognize.

It’s easier, however, to hide bad leadership in an organization, which isn’t growing. (I wrote recently that it’s easy to keep an organization small. Read that post HERE.)

The larger an organization becomes and the more growth, which occurs, the more bad leadership becomes apparent.

As an organization grows:

  • More people ask questions and challenge the process…
  • More decisions need to be made…
  • More and better systems are needed…
  • More people are required in the process…
  • More leadership development is needed…
  • More delegation and management is necessary…
  • More responsibility is placed on leadership…

…and the better leadership must be.

Continuing to grow an organization requires a growing leader.

How are you growing as a leader?

What is your personal leadership development plan?

Opinion question: Do you think some organizations often outgrow a leader’s capacity to lead well? Have you seen this happen?

7 Attributes of a Wise Leader

I write and speak a lot about wisdom. I think wisdom is critical to good leadership. Leadership demands consistent decision-making and a wise leader has developed certain attributes that protect the leader and the organization during this process. A leader learns wisdom from the personal experience of success and failure and from the insight of other leaders.

Here are 7 attributes of a wise leader:

Timing – The wise leader using sound judgement and is patient, knowing there is a right time to act and and there are times to wait…

Morality - The wise leader places a high value in character and integrity, knowing that ultimately everything rises and falls on these qualities…

Vision - The wise leader understands the value of a big picture, and therefore keeps an eye on something worth attaining…

Initiative - The wise leader is risk-taking and intentionally encourages innovation, change and forward progress…

Diligence - The wise leader continues in spite of adversity, knowing that reaching a goal is worth the struggles to get there…

Strategy - The wise leader realizes that no dream becomes reality without proper planning…

People - The wise leader knows that people are the key to any organizational or team success and works to develop and empower others…

Which of these do you need more experience in developing?

What am I missing? What would you add to my list?

Leading an Organization is Like Driving a Car

Leading an organization is just like driving a car…

Okay, it’s not exactly like that, but leading an organization is hard work, regardless of the size of the organization or even the strength of a team. It is often difficult to think through all the issues that the leader should be considering. I have found it helpful at times to compare organizational health and success to other things I may understand even more; things I do everyday. For example, I can consider the health of the team in an organization by comparing it to the dynamics of family relationships. This type exercise helps me clarify principles of organizations I might not otherwise think about and create a paradigm of leadership that hopefully makes leading easier. It’s simply a tool to help you brainstorm.

Recently I thought about how organizations have a great deal in common with the road system most of us use everyday. I began thinking how leading an organization can at times be like driving a car and it helped me process some issues relative to our organizational health.

For example, any organization has:

Freeways - Sometimes the organization can proceed quickly, with limited interruption. (We like those times.)

Potholes - Small things often slow the organization down, but progress continues. (We should take time to address potholes before they become major road damage.)

Detours - Often the organization is still heading for the same end goal, but may be forced to go at it from a different direction. (Too many times, instead of detouring we change our destination.)

Speed bumps - There are times we need to slow down, reflect on where we are, adjust our speed, and continue forward. (We can’t always keep the pace of the freeway, so we consider when a speed bump is in order.)

Exits - These provide a safe way off the freeway to refuel, relax, and readjust the direction. (We shouldn’t wait too long to find the needed exit, even if it’s for a short bathroom break! I learned that one from my wife :) )

Accidents - Accidents can be our fault or the fault of another, but they often set us back for a period of time. (See what needs repairing, what needs replacing, and when to call it a “total loss”.)

Flat tires – At times, team members can be injured by simply wearing out, a serious puncture wound, or damage caused by another. (Leaders should always be watching the health of the tires.)

Road signs - In every organization, there are signs which the leader needs to learn to recognize…when momentum slows, when people are stressed, or when the vision needs refueling. (Don’t ignore the directional or the warning signs.)

The list of these imageries could continue much longer. You could attach ideas to things such as stop lights, reverse, neutral, intersections, road rage, etc…anything that helps you think, but by now you should have the idea I’m working with…what other road illustrations could you make as they relate to organizational success?

You can carry these thoughts even further than I have, with how to address each issue, how addressing them with your travel would relate to how you address them in the organization, and how each one impacts you safely reaching your destination. Again, this is just a framework by which to help you think through more complex organizational issues about which you may not otherwise think.

Can you see how an exercise like this can be helpful in thinking through organizational health and success?

5 Tips for the Leader When Conflict Develops on a Team

As a leader, one of your primary roles is developing and maintaining the health of the team. What do you do when team members aren’t getting along with each other?  How should you handle conflict on a team?

I previously wrote “10 Tips for Handling Conflict“, which is directed primarily at team members individually working together to address conflict. What happens when conflict escalates to the point where a leader’s input is needed?

Here are 5 suggestions:

Don’t ignore - Conflict never goes away on it’s own. Conflict is a necessary aspect of a healthy team, so to avoid it keeps the team from discovering the best answers to issues and allows unhealthy tension to remain. I like to give conflict some time to work itself out among team members, but not long enough to disrupt the team’s progress or jeopardize the health of the team. When the team starts choosing team member’s sides of an issue and the conflict begins to be disruptive I know it’s time for me to address it as the leader.

Protect the vision – The vision of the organization or team should be the common ground for everyone on the team and it’s my role as leader to protect it. In times of conflict, I want to make sure everyone is still committed to that vision. I realize that some conflict develops naturally, just because of differing goals, objectives, and personalities. The leader must balance the bigger picture objectives. (Read THIS POST for more on that subject.) If the conflict involves a support of the vision or is disruptive to accomplishing the vision then addressing it becomes more serious. If the vision is fully supported, then conflict can be addressed among the individuals involved.

Talk it out - Once it is obvious issue is not resolving, as difficult as it may be, I like to bring the individuals in conflict together to discuss the matter of conflict. Make sure the conflict is clearly identified. Often there were simple misunderstandings that need clarity or viewpoints that a team member feels the need to express. At this point, don’t make the mistake of being too nice as a leader . (Read THIS POST about that subject.) Again, healthy teams and relationships involve healthy conflict and when it isn’t resolved or addressed it remains a stumbling block to the future health of the team. For this step, I like all parties to be in the same room when the conflict is discussed. Addressing an issue separately opens the door for misunderstandings and choosing sides and many times the discussion brings communication to the issue which helps solve the conflict.

Establish mutual respect – Sometimes team members have to agree to disagree if it’s not a disagreement at the vision level. The leader, at times, may have to serve as a third party mediator and should remain neutral in issues of conflict in order to maintain organizational health and keep the organization on track towards attaining it’s vision. The bottom line for me is that team members in conflict must be willing to respect each other and continue to work together, even if there isn’t complete agreement on an issue. Ask the question, “Can we move forward without this affecting the team?”

Move forward – After the issue has been addressed, the vision is secure, and mutual respect is established among team members, the leader needs to make sure the team moves forward from the conflict. There are times, especially in key leadership roles, where people can’t push past an issue and continue to work together, but most of the time conflict can make the team better, as team members learn to work together towards a common vision in spite of disagreements.

Leader, what would you add to my list? How do you handle conflict on your team?

Have you seen times where conflict produced healthy results? Have you seen conflict destroy a team? Share your experiences.

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

Let’s be honest! Criticism can hurt. No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves or finding out that something you do isn’t perceived as wonderful by others as you hoped it would be. Criticism, however, is a part of leadership and, if handled correctly, doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership. There is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.

Recently I posted 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism. A companion post is in order.

Here are 5 right ways to respond to criticism:

Consider the source – In a stakeholder sense, how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. Our church meets in two schools, for example, so if the Director of Schools has criticism for me I will invest more time responding than if it’s a random person who never intends to attend our church.

Listen to everyone – You may not respond to everyone the same way, but everyone deserves a voice and everyone should be treated with respect. This doesn’t necessarily include anonymous criticism. I listen to some if it, especially if it appears valid, because I’ve learned from that too and always wonder if my leadership prompted an anonymous response, but I don’t “criticize” leaders who don’t. I don’t, however, weight it as heavily as I would criticism assigned to a person. (Feel free to leave a comment about anonymous criticism and how you respond.)

Analyze for validity – Is the criticism true? This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important, because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with at the time. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement.

Look for common themes – If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.

Give an answer - I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer even if the answer is that you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, I save answers to common criticism received because I know I’ll be answering that same criticism again.

The picture with this post is from one of my favorite movies “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In this scene, George Bailey responds to criticism that the Bailey Building and Loan is going to collapse. I love how he takes the criticism serious, considers the importance of the critics, responds as necessary, attempts to calm their fears, and refocusses on the vision. What a great leadership example during times of stress! Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it points to a reality that happens everyday in an organization. Many times people simply don’t understand so they complain…they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.

What would you add to my list? Where do you disagree with me here? I’ll try to take the criticism the “right” way!

5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism

Criticism accompanies leadership. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. If a leader is taking an organization somewhere, and really even if he or she isn’t, someone will criticize his or her efforts. The way a leader responds to criticism says much about the maturity of the leader and the quality of his or her leadership.

Here are 5 wrong ways to respond to criticism:

Finding fault with the critic – Instead of admitting there might be validity to the criticism, many leaders immediately attempt to discredit the person offering it.

Blaming others – Many leaders realize the criticism may be valid, but they aren’t willing to accept personal responsibility, so they pass it along to others.

Throwing back criticism – Often a leader will receive criticism and instead of analyzing whether there is validity or not, the leader begins to criticize other organizations or leaders.

Ignoring an opportunity to learn – This is a big one, because criticism can be a great teaching tool. It needs a filter and the person, circumstances and … need to be taken into consideration, but with every criticism rests an opportunity to learn something positive for the organization or about the leader.

Appeasing – Many leaders are so fearful of conflict that they attempt to satisfy all critics, even if they never intend to follow through or make changes because of the criticism. If there is no merit to criticism then don’t act like there is merit.

What else would you add as a wrong way to respond to criticism?

I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another. Awareness is half the battle. Identifying the wrong ways to respond to criticism and working to correct this in your leadership is part of growing as a leader.

I’ve written about criticism previously in these posts:

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

Accommodating Versus Ignoring Criticism

Ignoring Advice Can Be Costly

Three Reasons to Never Respond to Criticism in Anger