Don’t Be Afraid of Good Management

Opinion: We have almost created a culture where the term management is seen as a negative. I believe this is dangerous.

With the rising interest in the field of leadership, the task of management is starting to get a bad name. Organizations don’t look for people with good management skills anymore, they look for leaders. It seems unpopular or not as appealing to say “I’m a manager” as it is to say “I’m a leader”.

In organizations today, leadership has overpowered management as the desired function. I have to be honest in saying I feel more qualified to talk about leadership than I do management. I’m frankly a better leader than I am a manager, but the reality is that good leadership includes a healthy element of good management and vice versa. Both disciplines are equally important for a healthy organization.   (Read my post on Three basic needs of every organization. Management fits in more of the maintenance category of those three and it’s my least favorite of them.)

The problem for the practice of management these days is that it naturally deals with an element of control, which is now seen as a negative. Read the current books and blogs on organizational health.  It is popular to talk negatively about any control issues. Leader types (like me) often rebel against any mention of control in favor of releasing people to dream and explore.

We want environments where team members are free to create, but every team also needs some guidelines and someone who can hold the team accountable to reasonable boundaries it sets for itself. Management’s role in implementing a vision is to ensure tasks and action steps are met. Good management helps the team stay on target. While leadership motivates the team to reach the vision, without management a team will have a lot of dreams but no measurable results. Managers help develop and maintain a structure that allows healthy growth to continue.

Don’t be afraid of good management. If you are a leader, part of your role is also to see that management is in place.  If you aren’t reaching the goals you have for the organization, it may not be a lack of good leadership, it may be a lack of good management.  For smaller teams, one person may have the responsibility for both functions, which is hard for many wired more towards being a leader or a manager type, but great organizations need good leadership and good management.

Have you seen this trend towards embracing leadership to the detriment of management?  How is your organization responding?  Do you see the difference in the two functions?

For further thoughts on this issue, you can read my post about leadership versus management HERE. You may also benefit by our experience learning of the need for structure and management in THIS POST.

7 Characteristics of the Backside of Leadership

This is a random post, but I was thinking recently about the “backside” of great leadership. Great leadership involves leaders who have matured in their approach to leading people. Leading well means that sometimes what a leader does when the team’s back is turned is more important than what they do in the team’s presence. The backside of great leadership is when a leader does what is best for the team and the organization, not for his or her personal gain.

Still not sure what I mean? Here are some characteristics of the backside of great leadership…

When a team member is doing good work, a great leader:

  • Protects your back when critics rise agains you or your work…
  • Won’t back you in a corner by holding you accountable for unreasonable expectations…
  • Welcomes you back to good favor after you make a mistake…
  • Backs you up when you attempt to make a thoughtful decision…
  • Gives back to the team more than he or she takes from it…
  • Never stabs you in the back with others on the team or in the organization…
  • Gets back to you when you need his or her input on a decision…

Are you following my thought process? Can you think of more characteristics of the “backside” of leadership?

Great Organizations Let People Think for Themselves

One of my pet peeves is when a representative of a service company hasn’t been given the freedom to think. Let me explain what I mean…

Recently I had problems with my cable service.  I made numerous phone calls and several trips to the company; all in an attempt to correct the problem while politely obeying what I was told to do.  Each unresolved phone call and visit ended the same way; with the service person who had not yet solved my problem, and had actually prolonged it, asking me a question. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

It soon became obvious that the company policy required them to ask this question at the conclusion of every service encounter. As I reflected on each conversation, it was apparent that customer service people are scripted in all their responses. They are trained what to say for certain situations, but how was I supposed to answer this standard closing question?  I hadn’t received any help. How could they help me with “anything else” when they hadn’t help me with anything?  I realize the scripted question was intended to ensure good customer service and without some scripting most employees wouldn’t have a clue what to say, but instead of making me feel better about my situation, it only incited a negative emotion.

This was a minor incident, and honestly not that big of a deal in the story of my life, but it reminded me of an important organizational principle. Great organizations allow people the freedom to think. They allow individuals to make the best decision at the moment for the setting they are in, realizing that the best person to make a decision as to what they should say is the one sitting with the customer.  In my situation, it may have been better to say something such as, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you this time.  We will continue to work to resolve your problem.” Instead, I was recited a standard, pre-written line from a company handbook that really didn’t even apply to my situation.  If a leader wants his or her team to make the best decisions, give them the right to think for themselves!

When a person has the authority to alter the script, they are more likely to provide a positive experience for the customer.

I love the motto of Nordstroms Department Store. I’ve read their philosophy is to instruct employees to always make a decision that favors the customer before the company. They are never criticized for doing too much for a customer; they are criticized for doing too little.

Leaders, does your team feel freedom to make the best decision at the time?  Have you freed your people to think?

Can you list any other examples where this principle is important?

Tennessee Titans Have a Leadership Problem

Yesterday I watched the Tennessee Titans seem to fall apart on the field. From being shut out from scoring to fighting on the field to the defeated look on the Titan player’s faces on the sidelines, this is obviously a team in difficult days.

The post game shows were saying, “this is a team in trouble” or “this team is going downhill fast”. As a student of leadership, I have tremendous respect for coach Jeff Fisher and, although I’m a more silent NFL fan, I have enjoyed watching his team since the Titans came to Tennessee. I’m wondering now what it will take to bring the team back together. I suspect it’s more than getting a new quarterback.

I wonder if the biggest dilemma for the team these days is a leadership issue.

In case you aren’t familiar with recent drama, quarterback Vince Young injured his thumb and is out for the season. Notoriously immature, Young apparently stripped off his jersey and shoulder pads and tossed them into the stands after Titans coach Jeff Fisher prevented him from returning to the field in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Fisher gave him a timeout, but Young reportedly got into a shouting match with Fisher in the locker room following the loss and stormed out of the stadium. Fisher responded by banning him from a team meeting Monday. Finally, I hear Young pulled a “class-act” by apologizing to Fisher via text message.

Anyway, here’s where the leadership battle starts. Coach Fisher is an old-school style of coach. He demands to be respected by his team, and he has the experience and reputation in the league to deserve it. It appears Fisher would be done with Young, except that owner Bud Adams says Young is going nowhere. Both Fisher and Young are under expensive contracts and the team can’t afford to buy out either contract. In my opinion, it leaves Fisher crippled as a leader.

What do you think? As a former business owner, I understand Bud Adams dilemma. He has a bottom line to protect. You can argue that point all you want, but if the team is no longer profitable, it can’t continue to operate as a business…and, make no mistake about it, professional football is a business. On the other hand, I am a leader of a team. I can imagine how it must feel to have a key player who has seemingly been given the freedom to do whatever he wants and knows the leader can do nothing about it. Fisher can sideline Young, but he can’t get him off the team. I also know that if you tie a leaders hands you cripple his or her leadership and the ability to lead well.

Do you see the problem? What do you think? Some of you football fans educate me if you want, but what am I missing? Is this a player/coach problem or a leadership issue?  Have you ever had a leadership issue where you were accountable for results, but didn’t have ultimate authority to do your work?   What would you do if you were Coach Fisher? What would you do if you were Owner Bud Adams?

Let’s talk about it…

7 Examples of Shallow Leadership

Growing in our leadership abilities, knowledge and relationships should be a goal for every leader. Many leaders settle for status quo leadership rather than stretching themselves as leaders. They remain oblivious to the real health of their leadership and the organization. I call it shallow leadership. Perhaps you’ve seen this before in leadership. Maybe you’ve been guilty of providing shallow leadership. I certainly have.

Here are 7 characteristics of shallow leadership:

Thinking your idea will be everyone’s idea…

Believing that your way is the only way..

Assuming you already know the answer…

Pretending to care when really you don’t…

Giving the response that makes you most popular…

Refusing to learn something new…

Ignoring the warning signs of an unhealthy environment…

Have you seen shallow leadership before? What would you add to my list?

Three Ways I Process Ideas

Perhaps this has happened to you…

You read a Tweet…you hear a message…you read a book, blog post or article…it gives you an idea, encourages you, prompts you to want to take action on the idea…

If you are like me, that thought can soon become lost in a sea of other thoughts and ideas and, as great as it may have seemed at the time, the idea never becomes reality in your life. Weeks, months, or even years later you may even hear the same idea again and remember that you never did anything with it the first time…

I often am asked:  How do you capture great ideas and make them useful in your life?

Here’s a simple system I use…there’s nothing extremely genius about this, but for me it had to become a habit to be successful. Others will have better systems, but this is what I do:

Record it – You are more likely to remember ideas that you write down. I’m always impressed (and slightly nervous) in the restaurants when the waiter doesn’t write down my order, but while this may work for short-term activities, it doesn’t for long-term. Find a system of recording the ideas that come to you. Right now, for me, that’s Evernote. I actually wrote an eBook about how to use it. Find it HERE.  I have used notepads, notes on my iPhone, notebooks, etc. It doesn’t matter what you use as much as that it be a tool you have easy access to throughout the day. Use the napkin method if that’s all you have, but I find having the same tool with me each time an idea comes to me helps me keep up with the ideas better. Ideas hit you randomly, so be prepared to record them as they come.

File it - Part of saving ideas is to have a system to process them effectively. This is an extra step where many people fail, but it is where I take my recorded notes and place them in a file that makes sense to me. One single idea can easily become a blog post, for example, but the sooner I get the idea in a specific file the better chance it has of becoming something useful. For me currently, Evernote allows me to do this seamlessly. If I have a thought for a blog post, I start a file that is for that specific post. New ideas for that same post can be placed straight into that specific file. If the idea is for a future sermon message, I have a file for that message. I have a file for staff meeting notes, lead team meeting notes, etc. The key here is to decide where it needs to go and to use file names that make sense and I will use and remember later. I also have a random file for notes that aren’t yet assigned to a specific use and I periodically go back to this file to attempt to place them in a useable file, but my first attempt is for ideas to immediately be placed in a useable file. (Prior to using Evernote, I took my handwritten notes and typed them into a Word document or Google document filing system. Again, Evernote make this seamless for me right now, but the key is to file them somewhere.)

Use it - The final step for me is to take the files of ideas, notes, and questions and work through the file until it becomes something of use. Again, for me, that could be a blog post, sermon message, meeting I’m attending, or even an email to someone, but I will process that file to make something of it. If I’m looking for a blog post for the next day, for example, the first place I go to is my list of files that I have saved. Normally I have a couple dozen of these waiting for me at any given time. I’m okay having long-term files, but I like to either do something with the file or delete it in a reasonable period of time. This means at some point during my week I discipline myself to look through my list of files and either update them, add thoughts, complete them into something, such as a blog post, or delete them. I have found that with this type of system I tend to gather more notes and ideas than I can use, so it’s okay not to do something tangible with every thought I have, but recording them in this way helps me ensures that I give ample time to process ideas instead of forgetting them.

That’s my system. What works for you? How do you keep ideas from being wasted?

When I Say I and When I Say We

I was talking with someone the other day about my early experience with church planting before anyone was on our team.  As I told my personal story, I kept using words such as “our” and “we”.  Towards the middle of the conversation the person stopped me and asked, “Who’s ‘we’?”  I was talking about me the whole time, (although I usually just answer my wife and I) but I confused him with my verbiage.  I wasn’t trying to be confusing.  It’s just a habit I’ve formed.  I have come to realize over the years that a team vocabulary is a large part of encouraging healthy teams.  I love teams and team-building so much that I’ve disciplined myself to always talk in a collective sense.

I cringe when I hear leaders use the words “I”, “me, and “my” when referring to their team, their church or organization.  To me it always sounds so controlling, prideful, and even arrogant.  As an example, Ben Reed is our small groups pastor at Grace Community Church.  He’s an amazing leader.  I would give anything to have been where he is at his age when I was that same age.  When I refer to him, I don’t say “He’s my small groups guy”.  He’s not!  He’s our small groups guy.  I don’t want to portray to him or others that I control him. I want the perception to be that “we” together are part of a team effort.  I would be limiting his potential if I refer to him in a possessive sense.

I understand it may seem to just be semantics, but to me it’s an important issue for leaders to think through, perhaps bigger than to whom some give credence.  If we truly want to create a team environment, then we must develop team vocabularies.

There are a few times when I use the personal words, such as:

  • When offering a pointed direction… “I am asking you to do this for the team…”
  • When offering an opinion that may not be shared by others…  “I think we should…”
  • When asking a question or stirring discussion… “I wonder if we could…”

When I am speaking on behalf of the team or referring to team members, I try to use a collective term…My advice is to default to words like “we” and “our” whenever possible…even if people have to ask you who the “we” is to whom you are referring. The more we talk like a team the more our environments will feel like a team.

What do you think?  Have you had a leader who abused team vocabulary as described?  Do you need to change the way you say things?

Every Organization Needs Some Good Bad Ideas

I love a good bad idea…don’t you?

The truth is…in a healthy organization…there really are no bad ideas…at least not in the organizational sense.

Here’s what I mean…

If you have someone on your team who is coming up with ideas…who is trying to do their best for the organization…who understands and buys into your vision…then every idea he or she has holds the potential to be a good idea.

Even the so-called bad idea usually triggers another better idea, which often leads to the best idea…

It launches discussion…it generates momentum…it spurs dialogue…

Sometimes the best ideas start because someone offered what others at first thought was a bad idea.

Effective brainstorming often involves a lot of bad ideas that help shape the best ideas.

Part of healthy team building is creating a culture where all ideas can come to the table, no idea is dismissed, and there is a freedom to critique, scrap and improve ideas.

If you start labeling bad ideas you shut down team member’s willingness to share more ideas…

Great leaders learn to welcome all ideas…bad ones and good ones…knowing that it encourages idea generation…and that ideas are a lifeline of a growing, healthy organization…

Perhaps the bad idea you’ve been tempted to dismiss is an open door to your next masterpiece idea.

What do you think? Does your organization welcome bad ideas?  Have you seen one bad idea stir a discussion that led to a good idea?

10 Characteristics of Good Leadership (Expanded Version)

It’s been a long time since I wrote the post 10 Characteristics of Good Leadership. It remains one of my most read posts, being found by readers through search engines. Shortly after I wrote the post my friend Jesse Phillips at Catalyst asked me to expand on each item. You can thank Jesse for this post.

In an expanded version, here are 10 characteristics of good leadership:

1. Recognizes the value in other people, so continually invests in others – Good leaders see a large part of their role as developing other leaders. Leadership development takes place in an organization as good leaders begin to share their experiences, good and bad, with others.

2. Shares information with those in the organization – There is a tendency of some leaders to hold information, because information is power, but a good leader knows that the more information the team has that collectively the team is better, which directly benefits the leader.

3. Has above average character – There are no perfect people, but for a leader to be considered good, they must have a character that is unquestioned within the organization. Leadership always draws criticism from someone, so a leader may not be able to get everyone to believe in him or her, but the people who know the leader best should trust the leader’s character.

4. Uses their influence for the good of others - Good leaders are as interested in making a positive difference in people’s lives as they are in creating a healthy profit margin. This doesn’t mean that balance sheets and income statements aren’t important, in fact they are vital for the success of an organization (even non-profits), but a good leader doesn’t separating a desire for helping others from the desire for financial success. Good leaders find ways to leverage financial health to strengthen the well-being of others.

5. Is skillful and competent - Good leaders can be depended on for their professionalism and follow through. You don’t question whether a good leader is going to be able to complete a task. If they don’t know how to do something, they will find someone who does, but they will ensure that a job is done the best way it can be done.

6. Not afraid for others to succeed (even greater than their own success) – Good leaders realize that some followers will outgrow the leader’s ability to develop them any further. Good leaders, however, aren’t threatened by another’s success. They are willing to celebrate as those around them succeed.

7. Serves others expecting nothing in return – Good leaders have a heart of service. They truly love and value people and want to help others for the good of the one being helped, not necessarily for personal gain.

8. Continues to learn – Good leaders are always learning and implementing those learnings into the betterment of the organization. That could be through reading, conferences, web-based learnings, or through other leaders, but also through people who report to the leader.

9. Remains accessible, approachable, and accountable to others – Good leaders don’t isolate themselves from people regardless of the amount of responsibility or power he or she attains. Good leaders willingly seek the input of other people into their professional and personal lives.

10. Is visionary: Thinks for the organization beyond today – Good leaders are always thinking beyond today. “What’s next?” is a common question asked by good leaders, knowing that someone must continually encourage change, growth and strategic thinking for an organization to remain healthy.

What do you think of the expanded list? Do you agree with my assessment of good leaders? What would you add to my list?

Preparing to Recover in the Moment

Yesterday morning I was scheduled to do the welcome at Grace Community Church. After the first song, I was scheduled to come on stage, welcome people to the service, and we would continue worship. It was that simple. Before the second service, I was in a meeting in another part of the building. All of a sudden I thought to look at the time. The service had started and I was late. I jumped up and started running for the auditorium. I arrived just in time to hear one of our worship leaders covering for my absence. I was mortified. Thankfully, Dustin covered for me.

The incident, however, served a purpose, because I was reminded of an important principle. No one on our team should be irreplaceable.

Is your staff prepared to recover in the event of a no-show? Do you cross train for every position?

Things can happen. People get sick. People leave the team…sometimes quickly. Scattered brained pastors get distracted.

Take a minute to review your organization. Where are the positions that would still be empty if key people aren’t in their place? What changes need to be made in your organization, so you can continue in spite of any absences?