Freedom Passes Develop Systems and Increase Creativity

When I was in school I had a love-hate relationship with math. I loved doing math, working to find an answer to a problem, but I hated having to solve it with the teacher’s methods. On tests I would do poorly if the teacher made us “show our work”. I could get the right answers, but using my own systems. I realize the teacher’s need to make sure I wasn’t cheating and that I knew how to think through a process but I wanted to invent my own process. The years I was on the math team and did best were when I had teachers who allowed me the freedom to do it my way.

Successful leaders understand this principle as it relates to organizational success. If you want creative team members to be energized towards progress the leader must allow team members to develop their own systems and strategies for attaining them. When you allow people to script the “how” they are more motivated to complete a task. Creative people especially need space to create.  They need to have input into the process of completing the vision of the team or organization.

Is your team stalled? Perhaps the system is too defined; too restrictive to allow changes and creativity. Try handing out some freedom passes. Hold team members accountable for progress, but allow them freedom to choose the process.

What about you…do you desire more structure or less structure to do your best work?

7 Ways Extroverts Can Better Engage Introverts

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I write a lot about introversion, because I’m an introvert.  Introversion is a personality preference, based on the way a person has been shaped by experiences and life. In very simple terms, it means we prefer a world of inner thoughts and reflections over a world of social engagements and interactions with others.  It’s not that we don’t like people, it’s that if we had a preference of how to use our free time, we would mostly spend it in quieter or more controllable environments.  Chances are you have lots of introverts on your team, in your organization, as your customers, or even in your family.

I will often get requests to write about extroversion. (Extroverted people are seldom shy about asking for what they want!)  The fact is, however, that I’m not as much help on understanding extroversion.  Perhaps someone can guest post here sometime.

I do want to accommodate the requests, however, so here is an attempt.  Allow me to share 7 ways that extroverts can better engage introverts:

Give us advance warning – Don’t put us on the spot for an answer or opinion. We have one, but need time to formulate our thoughts.  If you want our best answer, then you can’t demand it immediately from an introvert.

Don’t assume we don’t have an opinion – We do…and it may even be the best one, but we are less likely to share it surrounded by people who are always quick to have something to say and tend to control the conversation.

Don’t assume we are unfriendly or anti-social - We may not be talking, but that doesn’t mean we do not love people or that we don’t want to communicate with them. The opposite is probably more true. We just prefer to do it in less extroverted ways.  Plus, we talk one at a time, so if there’s someone always talking, we may not get a chance.

Give us time to form the relationship – Introverts don’t form relationships fast.  We may appear harder to get to know, but when we do connect, we are loyal friends with deep, intimate connections.  And we can actually be quite fun…even silly at times.

Allow us time alone - All of us need personal time, but we require even more time alone than an extrovert.  We energize during these times, not just relax…there’s a huge difference.

Don’t expect us to always love or get excited about extroverted activities – The social activities where you get to meet all the cool people you do not know…yea…that’s not too exciting for us.  It may even be a little scary.  We’ll find excuses not to go, even if we know we need the experience or will have fun once we do them.

Allow us to use written communication when available - We often prefer emails over phone calls.  We are usually more engaging when we can write out our thoughts ahead of time.

Are you an introvert?  What would you add to my list? Extroverts, is this helpful information?

7 Ways to Lead People Older than You

In my first management position, I was a 19 year-old college sophomore working full-time and leading a small staff of four people in the men’s clothing area of a major department store. I was placed in the position almost by default, because the previous manager left unexpectedly and I was already there and eager to lead. Everyone working for me was older than I was, including one man who was in his sixties.

Today, even though I have aged considerably since then, I continue to be in a position where people older than me, with more experience than I have in many areas, report to me by position. Since I work with many pastors and church planters who are starting out in their ministry and will likely encounter the same experience with either volunteers or paid staff, I am hoping this will be helpful information.

Here are 7 tips for leading people older than you:

Recognize the difference – When a person is 10, 20, or even 30 years older they likely have different needs and expectations from their leader and the organization. They may need different benefits, different work schedules, and even different leadership styles, depending on their age and stage of life. You should maximize your leadership by adapting your style to the person you are leading anyway. (For more about that idea read THIS POST.)

Give credit for wisdom – Most likely there will naturally be things the other person has experienced that you haven’t. Don’t let that intimidate you. Allow it to work for you by gleaning from that wisdom.

Stand your ground, but do it respectfully – If you are in the position, then do your job. They were probably raised in a generation where they expect you to lead, but as you should with any person you lead, be respectful. If someone is older, most likely he or she will be more sensitive to a younger leader being disrespectful and react negatively when you are not.

Learn from them – Be honest when you don’t know how to do something, such as leadership or handling difficult issue or people. If the older person knows how, let them show you. It’s okay that you have some things to learn. We all do. The older a person becomes the more in tune he or she becomes with the fact that no one knows everything.

Don’t play games if you are intimidated – I have seen this many times. The leader is intimidated by the older team member, so he or she dances around an issue or fails to handle conflict. The leader might make excuses for not knowing something or pretend they have more experience than he or she actually has with an issue. People with life experience can usually see through that type behavior.

Shoot straight with them – The fact is that the older team member will probably have handled worse situations. The age and maturity will make them less intimidated by you. Be honest with them (but respectful) and you will receive honest reactions.

Be patient with them – Sometimes the older team member may not be as culturally, technologically, or trend savvy, but he or she will make up for it by adding to the team in other ways. They may need a different form of communication or you may need to explain something in a different context.

There were many times in business where I would have never made it without someone helping me who had more experience than I had. That’s still true today. I continue to surround myself with mentors in life and church. Today there are several people older than me who serve on our church staff. I value their input and the maturity they bring to our team. One in particular has been a friend for many years. He consistently reminds me of the experience he brings to our organization.

Do you lead people older than you? What would you add to this discussion?

I also wrote 8 Ways to Lead People Younger Than You.

7 Ways to Prepare for More Effective Meetings

Successful projects and teams require meetings to accomplish goals and objectives of the organization. Busy leaders, however, are usually somewhat anti-meetings oriented because of the interruption they appear to be in getting actual work done.  I have found, however, that much of the frustration is in the lack of proper preparation prior to the meeting.  When done well, the time spent in meetings can actually make projects better and strengthen the work of the organization.  A large part of that is found in the preparation prior to the meeting.

Here are 7 ways to prepare for more effective meetings:

Ask the big question – The big question to ask before any meeting is scheduled is, “Do we need to meet?” For me personally, most meetings feel as if they are an interruption, even though I realize the importance of them. If the issue can be handled, without meeting, most will not argue.  Unnecessary meetings cause frustration and slow progress.  If people agree a meeting is necessary, they are more likely to come prepared to accomplish something.

Determine a win – The meeting will be more successful if before the meeting begins the purpose is clear. Ask the question, “What do we need to accomplish in the meeting for it to be successful?”  Working towards a defined win will help keep the meeting headed in the right direction.

Invite the right people – Not every meeting needs to involve every person on the team.  Decide who needs to be at the table and invite the appropriate people.  Those without a defined purpose will tend to drag the meeting away from its purpose and leaves them frustrated.  As a leader, I usually ask people on my team, “Do I need to be there?” when I learned of a meeting, before I place it on my calendar.

Decide on a time limit and frequency - I get very bored after an hour. Some of our meetings, such as our bi-weekly staff meetings take longer, but as a rule, I like shorter rather than longer and less frequent rather than more frequent.  If you are attracting leaders to your organization, they will want meetings to be kept to a minimum as much as possible.

Craft an agenda – The meeting should be purposeful, but not too tightly controlled by time.   Be sure to allow adequate time for brainstorming, questions and the necessary social interactions, which happen with healthy teams. For our team the social part starts the creative process and gets people to buy into the meeting.

Give adequate notice – This will not always be possible, but people who like to be prepared, have Introverted tendencies, or are highly organized will give better participation, if they are given enough time to prepare for the meeting.

Plan to start and end on time - People will be less hesitant about attending your meetings if they know their time will not be abused.

What tips do you have for preparing for more effective meetings?

The Best Person for the Job May Not Be the One Who Can Do It Best

Here is a principle you must understand for organizational efficiency:

Sometimes the best person for the job may not be the person who (you think) can do the job best.

Let me explain…

High capacity leaders struggle to let go of something they think they can do better. Most have a higher than normal sense of confidence in their abilities (this ego can be used for good or bad), so they believe they can best implement their ideas. Their drive for progress makes them doers by nature, so they often resist the process of delegation, even if they know it is the healthy thing to do for the organization, because they fear it won’t be done right unless they do it.

One key to solving this issue is for the leader to change visions from the specific project or function the leader desires to see completed to attention to the vision and overall success of the organization. Instead of seeing a project for the potential of pass/fail depending on who does it, begin to see the results of the total organization as the appropriate pass/fail scenario. In this approach, delegation becomes a key to moving projects forward, getting the entire team involved, developing new leaders, and completing all the tasks needed to successfully attain the organization’s goals and objectives.

Leader, if you tend to be a control freak, perhaps you don’t need to change your personality, as much as you need to change your vision. Delegating frees the leader to do those things he or she is most passionate about, most gifted to do, or things he or she never completes because there is never enough time to do them. Begin to see that the best person for the job may not be the person (in your most humble opinion…) who can do the job best.

Plus, chances are very good you will soon realize others can do the job equal to or better than you can.

Are you a control freak?  How do you deal with this?

Leading One Who Wants to be Led vs. One Who Wants to be a Leader

There is a big difference the way you lead someone who wants to be led and how you lead someone who wants to be a leader.

It requires a different approach.

The person who wants to be led desires structure. They want to follow the rules. They need someone to tell them how to do what you want done. He or she needs specifics and details, not ambiguities. They stress more during times of uncertainty.

The person who wants to be a leader needs space to dream, freedom to explore, and permission to experiment. He or she desires less direction and more encouragement. They continually need new challenges. They get bored easily.

There is nothing wrong with either person. Most teams need both types of team members. Know your team.

Do you see the difference? Which are you? What would you add to my descriptions?

Read THIS POST and THIS POST for similar thought processes.

How is Your Organization Handling Conflict?

Conflict can be healthy for an organization if handled appropriately and effectively.  It may even be necessary to keep an organization healthy.

Recently the staff at Grace Community Church talked through conflict and its benefit for us. Sometimes an organization can become too polite with each other and conflict is avoided or ignored in an effort to protect the relationship or to avoid the tension conflict creates. Other times one person tends to control a situation without allowing other people’s input, either for selfish reasons or to keep conflict from developing.   The problem with these approaches is that some of the best ideas are never implemented because we don’t push through the messiness of conflict to get to the right answers.

If your organization needs to learn to use conflict for good, HERE is an assessment I would recommend to you.  There are times for each of these approaches to conflict. Some issues are not worth the fight and other times the relationship is more important than risking the tension conflict can create, but many times the goal you are attempting to achieve and the relationship of the people on the team are both too important not to push through the conflict to get to the best answer. (Just so you know, in my experience, most people will score as a Collaborator, but as you talk through it, that may or may not be their first response to conflict.)

Just as in family relationships, organizational relationships involve conflict.  Learning to handle them in a healthy way is one key to creating organizations that thrive.

How do you tend to handle/view conflict?

How does your organization/organization’s leader view conflict?

For some tips on handling conflict, see THIS POST.

A Little Change (Drama) Can Spur a Team to Victory

It’s a classic example. You’ve seen it happen many times. Your ball team is behind in the game. The referee makes what you and the rest of your team’s fans believe is a bad call. It energizes the crowd and the team and helps spur your team on to victory.

That example illustrates a principle of organizational dynamics also:

Sometimes a little change, even a little drama, will motivate a team into action.

If things are becoming dull or routine in your organization, as the leader you may need to stir up some change, even if it seems disruptive at the time. There are times to change just for the sake of creating more energy. This doesn’t mean you change your overall vision and your attempt should be to make a positive change, but if things are stagnating some change may be needed. It would almost be better to have a change that didn’t work than to allow things continue at a standstill.

I fully believe this principle is true. Knowing when to use it is obviously critical, but don’t allow fear of making a mistake keep you from doing the right thing. Ask yourself this question: If nothing changes in your organization, where will the momentum on your team be a year or two from now? If the answer isn’t what you want it to be, it may be time for some change.

Is this a hard principle for you or are you a lover of change?

7 Ways to Keep a Leader on Your Team

One of the biggest challenges for any organization is to attract and retain leaders. Yesterday I posted 7 reasons leaders tend to leave an organization.  (Read that post HERE.)  The goal then is to find ways to keep a leader energized to stay with the team, so I thought a companion post was appropriate.  I never want to stop someone from pursuing a better opportunity, but I don’t want to send them away because I didn’t help them stay.

The reality is that leaders get restless if they are forced to sit still for long.  Good managers are comfortable maintaining progress, but a leader needs to be leading change.  I posted before that leaders even thrive in chaos at times.  (Read that post HERE.)

If you sense you have a restless leader on your team, here are a few suggestions to encourage them to stay:

  • Give him or her a new challenge…
  • Allow him or her to explore a new area of interest to them…
  • Let him or her lead a new area….
  • Give him or her more creative time to dream…
  • Don’t exhibit fear in him or her creating a mess while exploring…
  • Take the lid off his or her authority…(give him or her more)…
  • Allow him or her to help you lead/dream/plan for the organization…

What other ways can you think of to keep a restless leader longer at an organization?

10 Questions With Leader Steve Keating with @LeadToday


Steve Keating is an online leadership influencer extraordinaire. His Twitter posts are consistently re-tweeted and his insight is valuable for me and thousands of others who follow him. I decided it was time to get to know the man behind the leadership tweets.

Steve’s bio includes 25 years of sales and sales management experience, including 8 –1/2 years with the Dale Carnegie organization. You can follow Steve’s tweets HERE or connect with him on LinkedIn HERE.

Here are 10 questions with leader Steve Keating:

When you were growing up, is this what you thought you would be doing vocationally? If not, what did you want to do?

When I was growing up I wanted to be a hockey player. That plan was working well until one January day during my second year of college. It turns out, it’s kind of tough to play hockey with only one good knee. ☺ So business was my next choice and I knew early on that as much as I wanted to succeed it would be even more rewarding to help others succeed as well. That has lead me to where I am today.

What’s the most different job you’ve had from what you are doing now and how did that job help you with what you are doing now?

I fixed vending machines during college. It was hard kind of dirty work with a surprising amount of stress. But many of the lessons learned there carry forward to this day, particularly giving people bad news, dealing with unhappy people (nothing like dealing with people who have missed their morning cup of coffee to help you learn how unhappy some people can be) and seeing things from other people’s point of view.

Who is one person, besides Christ, who most helped to shape your leadership and how did they help you?

I have been so blessed to have good Christian men as mentors throughout my life. One of the earliest that stand out was my 7th grade teacher – Cyril Paul. My first close contact with a person of another race was with Mr. Paul, he was my teacher with Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. I saw the pain and anger but I also saw the grace & dignity with which he dealt with it. I learned from him that when things don’t go your way to remember, it’s not all about you. I watched him, in all his hurt, pray for our country & thank God for the work that Dr. King had done. Even at that young age you knew you mattered, you knew he cared. He instilled in all of us real hope for our futures. I learned from Mr. Paul that when you give someone hope, you really give them the opportunity to be everything they can be.

Besides the Bible, what is one book that has most helped to shape your thought process in life and ministry?

This one is easy! It’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Many people don’t realize it but I believe Mr. Carnegie drew many of the principles of his book straight from scripture. The book is well known as a “self-help” book but it’s really about helping yourself by helping others.

What are three words other people would use to describe your work style/ethic?

Caring – I hope this comes through. I truly try (I fail too often) to live for Christ. If the “caring” doesn’t show I have really missed the mark.

Perfectionist – I’m not sure I like this one but I know many people (including my wife) would describe me this way. I say I’m not sure I like this one because it can be a twined edged sword. Sometimes trying for perfection leads to frustration and frustration is a very short step from anger.

Diligent – The greatest compliment anyone could pay is would be to say my word is as good as gold. When I say I would do something I stick to it until it is done. I hate to disappoint people.

What is your greatest strength in leadership?

I would say my greatest strength is that I get more excited helping others succeed than I do succeeding myself. I don’t suppose I’ve always felt that way but as I grow older I feel more of a calling to give myself to others so that they might have some of the success that has been given to me.

What is your greatest weakness in leadership?

You might have noticed from my tweets that I love to give advice ☺ But my greatest weakness also comes from giving that advice. My weakness is frustration, I get frustrated when people ask for advice, when I carefully, thoughtfully coach, and then people do something almost totally opposite from my recommendation. The good news is that I forget the experience pretty quickly and become willing to help again as soon as I’m asked.

What is the hardest thing you have to do in leadership?

The hardest thing for me is telling someone they are wrong. I try to “paint them a picture” or share a story that illustrates where they might be wrong but sometimes you just have to say it, you’re wrong. I try to do it in a caring manner and to make the fault seem easy to correct. I try to do it in a way that reduces the chance of an argument but however I do it, it’s still never a pleasant experience for anyone.

What is one misconception about your position you think people in your church may have?

Interesting question! We were at a church for 15 years and left that church last August. We were accepted into membership at our new church home, John Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist, just yesterday. We were a key part of the leadership team at our former church and began to notice disturbing changes over our last 18 months there. “Seekers” became “customers” and the only way to honor God was by raising large amounts of money. It became man’s church and not God’s church. As these things started to happen many of the member’s come to me and asked me to “fix” them. I think the assumption was that I simple comment to the Pastor, from me would put things back to normal. In a way that was a great compliment but as it tuned out, my influence was way way over-rated.

If you could give one piece of advice to young leaders from what you’ve learned by experience, what would it be?

My best piece of advice would be to do what you love, whatever it is. From that love will come passion and that passion, when used for good, will often lead to excellence.

Do Steve’s answers trigger any thoughts in your mind about your own leadership?