A 4 Word Script to Evaluate Any Event

Smiling Asian businesswoman doing a presentation

I think evaluation is important. In fact, it may be equally important to the planning that goes into any event. And, for churches, just as we ask God to direct our thoughts and energies in creating and implementing an event in the church, we should ask God to direct us in evaluating what worked and what didn’t work.

We recently evaluated a major day (Easter) with some of our team. It flowed naturally. We got great feedback and learned some things to improve next year.

The evaluation process doesn’t always go that easily.

When evaluation isn’t being productive or your team isn’t in the routine of evaluating, let me share an idea that might help.

You need to script your evaluation process.

(Granted, some will struggle with the word “Event” being used to describe Easter weekend. And, I understand that, so you can call it anything you want. I’m using the word so that this idea can help you evaluate more than just Easter weekend.)

First, make sure the right people are in the room. I’ve done this in large and small settings, but you want voices at the table that can speak to most of what you were evaluating. For example, we since we were evaluating our Easter weekend, it would have made no sense if the only ones evaluating were the worship team and me. We were on the platform most of the time or only in our worship center. We needed people who could observe how guests were treated, what was happening in our parking lots, if children were cared for and whether or not the bathrooms were kept clean. Of this group, I also want positive-minded people who love the church and want to continue to see us improve — even if that means change.

So, after the right people are in the room, here’s something I’ve done when things aren’t progressing. It’s simple, but it works.

I’ve often gone to the board (I have one whole wall in my office painted with whiteboard paint) and written an outline for us to follow — a script if you will — to guide our thoughts to evaluate effectively.

Write down each of the words in bold, ask the questions — and you can think of better questions to add — and let people talk through each one.

Duplicate –

  • What did we do well?
  • What worked best?
  • What do we know we want to do again next time?

The goal here is to talk about and discover those things that need to be repeated next time. They worked. They fully helped you live out your vision and the goals for the event. These are often the “no-brainers” and are usually easily drawn out from the discussion.

Develop –

  • What was good, but could be better?
  • Where did we see the greatest energy, that with a little more effort could be huge?
  • What do we know is a part of our values for the event — or for our church (or organization) — but it didn’t get enough attention?

This is perhaps the most important part of the discussion. Here you want to discover those things that have the potential to really take your event to the next level. Try to keep discussion centered only on the development of existing things you do at this point — not new things — you will get there in a minute. You don’t want to add a ton to an event unless what you did was terribly bad and you need to start completely over with all new. Most of the time developing what you currently do and making it better is easier, more palatable for people’s tolerance to change, and more effective.

Dump –

  • What do we not need to do again?
  • What didn’t work at all?
  • What was the most draining effort, but produced little or no return for the investment?
  • What is tired, worn out, ready to be laid to rest before we do this again?

I tried to word those questions as pleasantly as possible, and if you prefer, use the word “delete”, but the idea here is what do you need to not do next time? You need to discover what needs killing. Don’t be shy here. This could be the hardest one, because this is where turf wars develop and feelings can come to the discussion, but you have to do it. If it didn’t work and it was expensive or labor-intensive — get rid of it next time. And, the reason it’s so important is that you can use that energy to pour into things you listed under the develop heading. And, that’s important too, because you don’t just want to take too much away from people without giving them something back that’s even better.

Dream –

  • What’s the wildest idea we could think of to do next time?
  • What could we add next time that has the potential to be a “signature” aspect?
  • If money was not an option, what would we do to make this better?

I love this one, but don’t put a ton of time into it — and don’t do it at all until you’ve done the others — but give some time to dreaming about the future. Honestly, I prefer the Develop one over this one as far as sustainability and productivity goes, but some really great ideas can originate here. Perhaps time this and stop when the ideas begin to turn really crazy, but allow people an opportunity to stretch the event into something no one has imagined.

Leader, you don’t have to be the moderator of this. Depending on the group someone else may be better at this and let you participate more in the discussion.

Make someone is the recorder in the room. We sometimes write ideas under the words and take a picture of the board — but I always suggest someone record these ideas into a document of some kind. We frequently create a Google Doc that we can share with others and store for later use. The more organize you are with your notes the more useful they will be next time you’re ready to do the event again.

Finally, I’d limit the time on this whole process. Maybe allot time to each one and then come back to them if you have time. It can grow stale if you linger too long in one of these discussions.

Hope this helps — and I’d love to hear from you if it does.

7 Critical Abilities of Senior Leaders

female leader

I have held a senior leadership position for over 20 years and been in leadership over 30 years. In this post, I want to express some things I’ve observed (and experienced) as some of the critical abilities that a senior leader must have to be effective.

The intent of this post is not to appear arrogant as a senior leader, as if I have qualities others may not have, although I’m confidant some will take it that way. (Isn’t being misunderstood part of being a senior leader at times?) I’m not afraid to admit my weaknesses — of which I have many — but there are certain abilities senior leaders need to do their job well.

And, you may not be able to understand that completely until you’ve served as a senior leader. That’s true of many things in life. Take parenting:

  • I remember how many people told me I wouldn’t understand parenting until I was a parent. They were right.
  • I remember how many people told me I should enjoy parenting at every stage of life while my boys were home. It passes fast. They were right.
  • I remember how many told me that I would adjust to being an empty-nester. They were right.

The point is that sometimes we can’t understand something until we experience it firsthand.

That’s the way it is with being the senior leader in an organization.

When I was a mid-level manager in a large corporation, I remember questioning why senior leadership made some of the decisions they did. Looking back — indeed — I would have made some of them differently. But, many times I can see why the view from their position motivated them to the decisions they made.

All leadership is challenging, but the senior position is a pressure unlike any other. Show me a small business owner, a president, a senior pastor or CEO and I’ll show you someone who carries — in an organizational leadership sense — a heavy burden.

I’ve learned — from observation — that some are qualified to lead from that position and some are not. Some want it. Some don’t. Some know it. Some don’t — often until they try.

I’ve also learned that a senior leader will struggle in the position when they lack some of these abilities — until they grow in them. And, one can grow in them — if they are willing to learn. To be most effective they must be aware of where they need to develop and continually be working towards them. These may be important abilities for all leaders — but they are critical for senior leaders.

Here are 7 critical abilities of senior leaders:

Ability to quickly and strategically think big picture

The senior leader doesn’t have a choice but to think big picture for the organization — at all times. There are lots of decisions made in a day and each of them could be huge. The impact of a senior leader’s decision often impacts everyone in the organization. He or she must learn to “think strategically in the moment“, realizing the impact — and the weight — of their decisions.

Ability to remain steadfast during adversity

The senior leader must continue to stand strong when everyone else is running from the problem. Especially in times of crisis or controversy, the organization and community around will look for leadership. A senior leader doesn’t have the choice of burying his or her head in the sand when troubles come to the organization. (By the way, I learned this one the hard way and wrote about that HERE.)

Ability to unquestionably keep a confidence

The senior leader usually knows things that aren’t ready to be released or talked about publicly. He or she must be trusted to keep these confidences. A senior leader must learn how to answer questions and address issues of importance to people without divulging confidential information. They must not say what people want to hear just to be “liked”. One of the quickest ways to lose trust as a senior leader is to develop a reputation as one who “talks too much”. (I wrote about that HERE.)

Ability to fully release control and delegate

The senior leader must wear many hats and oversee all areas of focus within an organization. He or she must be able to trust others and take risks on people to so growth can continue apart from the senior leader’s direct involvement. Delegation is important at all levels of leadership, but for the senior leader it is not an option. In fact, the best leaders I know give the implementation of the vision away freely. (I wrote about that HERE.)

Ability to see all sides to an issue

The senior leader can’t always have things their way — or play favorites for any one way, but must balance all the needs within an organization. This is another part of thinking strategically in the moment. Since an organization is built with many separate but equally important parts, the senior leader must view every scenario as it relates to each part of the organization. In a business, as an example, those who are in charge of sales and marketing are just as important as those who keep track of controlling costs. In a church, the music ministry is just as important as the discipleship ministry. (I wrote about that HERE)

Ability to make unpopular decisions

The senior leader must make the wisest decision possible — for the entire good of the organization — based on all the information he or she can gather — even when that means the decision will not be popular. And, that’s hard. In fact, at times it can produce a loneliness of leadership that keeps many from being able to handle the senior leader position. Leadership involves change and some people can navigate through the reactions people have to change better than others. (I previously wrote about the Emotions of Change. Senior leaders must learn to expect and deal with all of them.)

Ability to embrace healthy conflict for the good of the organization

Wherever there are people there will be conflict. The senior leader can’t shy away from conflict that is critical to maintain the health of the organization. The senior leader must recognize the importance of allowing times of conflict to strengthen the organization. They shouldn’t go looking for conflict, but not run from it either. It’s a delicate balance at times. (I wrote about ways to address healthy conflict HERE.)

If you don’t have these abilities — don’t quit leading. Although, if you would after reading one opinion blog post maybe you should. (Just saying.) I don’t have all of these perfected. I’m very much a continual work in progress. But, I do believe it’s important to recognize areas of improvement and seek ways to grow as a senior leader.

I’m sure there are others. These are from my observations and experiences. What is missing from my list? What would you add?

Make this post better: Share examples of ineffective senior level leaders you’ve known and which of these were lacking from his or her abilities.

10 Scenarios to Help Determine if it’s Time to Quit

Job loss concept

How do you know when it’s time to leave an organization?

In a previous post I wrote “Leave Before You Have To”. Sometimes it’s more damaging to stay than to quit.

I am asked frequently to help someone think through the decision of whether to stay or to leave their current position. Obviously, if God calls you to stay somewhere, you should stay. Period. No questions asked. If God calls you to it — even when you’re miserable — you stay.

But many times, in my experience, we stay for the wrong reasons. We stay for a false sense of loyalty. We stay because we are afraid. We stay because we don’t know what we would do if we left.

The following are some times to consider leaving. I think these may apply if you are in a church or business setting.

This decision should never been entered lightly. I believe in loyalty. But, when careful consideration and prayer has been given, there are some common indications it’s time to move on to something else.

Here are 10 scenarios that may indicate it’s time to leave:

When God has freed you from your commitment – I believe God’s call is ultimately to the person of Christ, not to a place, but there are times God has us in a specific place for a specific season. You may only be a leader for a season. If you sense God has released you to pursue other positions, it may soon be time to leave.

When your work is finished – It could be that you’ve accomplished what you were sent to accomplish. I once wrote about leaders needing a challenge to stay motivated. If you have become too comfortable, it may be a time God is preparing you for a change…a new challenge. (Read more of that thought HERE.)

When your heart has left the organization or it’s vision – Sometimes you need to reenergize your heart. If God hasn’t released you from the position, for example, then you have to find a way to make it work. In many cases, however, you are freed to move elsewhere. You shouldn’t harm the organization by staying when you no longer have a heart for the mission. If you’ve quit having fun, don’t keep making life miserable for everyone else.

When you can’t support the leadership – You need to know where the power rests in the organization. It’s nearly impossible to change the organization working against an ingrained power structure. Ask yourself, “If it’s always going to be like this here, would I be content staying?”

When your family or personal life is suffering, because of the demands of the organization – If you have to neglect one of them, your career or your family, in twenty years, which do you hope it will have been?

When your mind starts working against the mission of the organization – If you would rather see the place fail than succeed; it could clearly be time to go.

When your relationship with co-workers or leadership is damaged beyond repair – You should try to work out these differences, you certainly should offer grace and forgiveness, but when it is obvious a professional relationship cannot be mended, it may be time to move forward with your life.

If the organization or senior leadership is venturing into immoral or unethical practices – Don’t get caught in the next news scandal.

When you find yourself physically ill if work crosses your mind – On the weekend (or when you are off work), if the emotional stress is greater than you can handle, you may need to protect your health over your career.

When you don’t have the energy to pull your own weight – For whatever reason, whether it’s because you’ve given up, you are bored, or just can’t keep up the pace, if you are dragging down productivity and you don’t have the incentive to improve, perhaps it’s time for a change in your workplace.

Please understand. I’m not a quitter. God may leave you in the miserable environment for a season…or even years. He certainly did for some of the men and women in Bible history. I also believe that the times described above are not always to be viewed as negative experiences. Sometimes God uses the difficult experiences of life to draw us to Him and to open our eyes to the next opportunity He has for us. I would have never made some of the moves I’ve made in life…that I know now were of God…had it not been for my miserable situation at the time.

At the same time, I believe there are times a false sense of loyalty, co-dependency or irrational fear keeps us from moving forward even though God is not holding us to the position. In my opinion, protecting our heart is more important than protecting a professional position. I wouldn’t make a decision solely on just one of these scenarios, but if numerous of them apply…

Consider this list as it compares to your situation, then ask God to confirm in your heart:

  • If you are free to leave.
  • If now is the time.

What would you add to my list?

You might also read: Discerning a Change in Ministry Assignment

7 Suggestions for Challenging a Controlling Leader

Business People having conversation with colleague during break

After one of my posts about controlling leadership, I received this question:

Any chance there is an upcoming post or two on how/when/where to confront a controlling leader? Especially for those of us who have had it drilled into our heads from childhood to not question authority? Some practical, nitty gritty tips would be really helpful.

That’s a pretty big request and I’m not sure I can speak into specific situations with a general response, but I think it’s a topic worth considering.

I wrote previously. In my previous post I wrote about the 3 options with a controlling leader. They are Quit, Compromise or Collaborate. In order to get to collaboration — which most of us would want — there almost always has to be a challenge to the controlling leadership. This would be an expansion of the “challenge” thought.

I should point out that while I believe the Bible teaches to respect authority, I don’t believe it says we must ignore the abuse of authority. All children should honor their parents, for example, but respect is never an excuse for abuse. There are times when it is appropriate to confront authority. Jesus certainly did during His earthly ministry.

Here are 7 suggestions with how to challenge a controlling leader:

Discern the need – Pray about it. Talk it through with a select few you can trust with their confidence — emphasis on select few. You should make sure your perception of this leader is correct. Is it them…or is it you? Then ask this question: Is this my responsibility? Do I sense the burden to do this? Will it make a difference, and if not, do I feel compelled to do it anyway?

Consider the timing – When addressing any conflict, timing is everything. Pick a day when things appear to be going well — from the leader’s perspective. Find the least stressful, calmest time you can find. You want to catch the leader in the best mood possible. If necessary, schedule an appointment with the leader.

Plan your approach – What are you going to say? How will you say it? Will you do this alone or with someone else? You may want to write your response first and rehearse it. In stressful situations, I think it is okay to bring notes. It shows you came prepared and have thought about the issue. Make sure you show as much respect for the leader as you can. Balance your critique with ample and genuine compliments. (There are even times, depending on the expected response of the leader or your expected ability to keep your composure where I would recommend writing a letter. I wrote about how to do that HERE.)

Bite the bullet – You can keep putting it off, but at some point you’ll have to approach the controlling leader if you hope to see a change. It will never be easy, but who knows that you were not put in this place for “such a time as this” — and by this point you’ve already discerned the need to do this.

Couch in love and respect – This can’t be over-emphasized. People don’t listen to people who don’t show genuine love for them or at least the respect the things or people they love. Most controlling leaders are hungry for respect…it’s part of their problem…so if you want to gain their attention, be respectful. (Again, because I know this is difficult for some people, but being respectful does not mean being silent, just as being meek or gentle does not mean being weak.)

Be clear and direct – Know what you offer to the leader that can add value to the team — and to the leader. Have some specific areas where you can collaborate with the leader. This is very important. Vagueness accomplishes nothing. Don’t make the leader wonder what you are talking about when you confront him or her. Talking around the problem will not be clear to a controlling leader. Most controlling leaders think their control is a sign of good leadership. They don’t realize they are the problem. You will not want to take this step to confront more than once, so make sure you are clear with the issues as you see them and how you want to help. If you’re going through the stress and preparation to confront, make sure you address the real problem.

Live with your consequences – You’ve prayed and prepared. This is not something you will do very often in your career. But, if you know you are doing the right thing, you confronted the leader with love and respect, you were clear about the problems, then the response of the leader is out of your hands. You can’t control the leader’s response, but you can control your response to the leader’s response. Be willing to live with the consequences of your actions. That may be the one thing you end up modeling for the controlling leader.

3 Ways to Respond to a Controlling Leader

One,Two or Three list written on a blackboard

I have written a good deal recently about controlling leadership.

Read ways people respond to controlling leadership and some warning signs you may be a controlling leader.

Most of my posts stem from current or past experience in leadership. Since I’ve been blogging on leadership, I have talked with dozens individuals in ministry or business who experience this type of leader. It impacts their personal leadership, as well as the health of their organization — and honestly, even their own personal health. Many younger leaders have told me they feel a controlling leader not only controls their work — but their career and their life.

And, the issue of controlling leadership seems to be more in discussion now than ever in my leadership career. And, that’s true in the church also. I hear almost weekly about a senior pastor who controls every decision in the church — and most of the time the staff culture is very unhealthy — even toxic.

One theory I have is that younger leaders want a voice at the table early in their leadership. They are intersecting with seasoned leaders who are trying to hold on to power. I get that. But, how should a younger leader respond?

I previously wrote a post about “leading up“. Please read that post first. Although it addresses a more senior leader who may not be giving a younger leader a seat at the table — not one who is necessarily a controlling leader. But, some of those principles apply here also. For example, I do think it’s important to respect a leadership position — even controlling leadership — especially if you intend to continue in the position.

Controlling leadership appears to be a more difficult issue, however. A leader who attempts to control everything within his or her realm is much harder to influence.

So, here is my answer when I’m asked how to respond — long-term at least — to a controlling leader. You basically have three options, in my opinion. These three are summaries — and there are probably multiple points under each one — but three and no more.

Here are 3 ways you can respond to a controlling leader:

Quit

I have had people challenge me that winners never quit, but I disagree. If you were placed in a position by a call of God, this may not be an option until God releases you — and I personally would consider the other two options before considering this option — but sometimes the best thing for the individual and the organization is to make a fresh start. And, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that if that is indeed the only option. It should not be a rash or a vindictive decision, you should attempt to leave on the best terms possible, but you simply may not mesh with this particular leadership style. And, to be true to yourself and have integrity in your loyalty you may have to seek another environment that allows you to better grow as a leader and person. I have seen too many people stay too long. And, sometimes they stay for all the wrong reasons. It could be fear, a false sense of loyalty or just because they think they have no other options. It injures them, the rest of the team, and interrupts the progress towards a vision that hopefully is bigger than any one person.

(You might read my post on 10 ways to know it’s time to quit.)

Compromise

You can learn to live with what you’ve got in a leader. There are seasons where you have no choice. You can’t find anything new and you need the work. (Sometimes we call those seasons — life.) There are also times God has placed you where you are for a reason. You’ll learn a lot from the situation — even with a controlling leader. If nothing more, you can use the time to reinforce how you will someday lead differently. If you compromise — if you stay — you should remain respectful, even loyal. You should do your best work, have a positive attitude towards others, and attempt to make life better for those around you. That’s the right thing to do. We don’t get an excuse from Biblical principles because we don’t agree with the leadership. If you can’t, one of the other options should be your choice, in my opinion.

Collaborate

This is almost always the best option. Most leaders — even controlling leaders — have areas in which they are willing to admit they need help. Much of their willingness to do so will be based on the degree of trust placed in others or how important an issue is to them personally. Working to build a relationship of trust and seeking common ground on issues allows some people to excel under a controlling leader. If the leader sees you not as a threat, but as a compliment to their leadership, they may be more willing to invite your input.

To get there will require a risk on your part. You’ll have to gracefully challenge the controlling leadership. Like it or not, most complex issues do not disappear on their own. A good question to ask yourself: “Will I be content if this environment continues for the next year or longer?” Also, “Do I think it’s time to move on to something else?” If the answer to both questions is no, then the best option may be to challenge the controlling leadership — attempting to get to some collaborative work — where you can do meaningful work for which you feel valued — and less controlled. It should be noted that you can’t challenge anyone daily, so a challenge like this should be planned, considerate, and infrequent, but it may be this is the best option or the only one with which you can live. And, it may take one person to introduce change to the rest of the organization. (In my next post, I’ll get more specific with how to do this type challenge.)

Let me offer this closing reminder:

Every situation is unique and so no post can answer your specific situation. These are very broad, general responses. Your response may fit someone between one of them (probably between the second and third.) One thing that all situations share, however, is that regardless of how one responds, each of us have an obligation to be humble, kind, gracious people. In either of these three steps we should behave likewise. Also, remember that your response to a controlling leader often determines his or her response. Momma always said “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” The Bible says it another way…”A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

3 Team-Killing Church Cultures by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird

growing team

Folks often preach the value of teams and try to instill teams in their churches, all the while cheerleading and propagating organizational cultural dynamics that squelch any possibility for those teams to thrive. If you want to improve your team (especially your leadership team), don’t ignore these three cultures that will kill your team’s ability to thrive.

1. A CULTURE THAT UNDERMINES THE LEADERSHIP TEAM’S IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION

Even though many churches have a leadership team that leads the church on paper, it’s not uncommon for many churches to truly be led by the benevolent dictator lead pastor, or the lead pastor’s kitchen cabinet—a few confidants who run the show.

When this happens, the leadership team is not given the most important work to do, time is not allocated for the team to do its work, diversity is often squashed, and the team is reduced to mere information exchange. Talented leaders move on, because they want to be keenly involved in developing what’s next for the church. And the church suffers from a lack of quality leadership.

2. A CULTURE OF SPONTANEITY THAT LIMITS PLANNING AND STRUCTURE

No matter how much we talk about wanting teams to thrive in our churches, they won’t if teams don’t have the organizational environment that offers fertile soil for teams to thrive in. In particular, teams thrive in organizational contexts that privilege thoughtful, deliberative action and provide structures that allow for planning. As researchers Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson note in their book When Teams Work Best, fertile organizational soil typically exists when:

1. Leaders set crystal-clear mission, goals and priorities that guide team efforts and establish clear operating principles.
2. Organizational structures and systems foster effective group decision making.
3. Teams enjoy ample, planned time to stay connected and work jointly on problems.
4. Teams possess all the information they need to solve problems and make decisions.

These structures offer the support a leadership team—and all teams in an organization—needs to be able to truly lead the church. Without them, teams spin their wheels and don’t make progress. Before your team will be successful, you may need to engage some cultural change to enable the team to thrive.

At one less-than-exemplary church where we did interviews, the senior team’s culture fought hard against any sort of planning. One pastor stated, we are more comfortable “fighting fires than building safe houses.” As such, the team constantly deferred to the lead pastor rather than seek God together and work together to develop direction and strategy for the church. Church cultures that prefer to fight fires rather than do the proactive work to avoid and protect against those fires are infertile ground for thriving teams. In such cases, addressing cultural challenges might be the first step in enabling a team to truly lead the church.

3. A CULTURE THAT IGNORES BIBLICAL ACCOUNTABILITY

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov 27:6). Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and mutual accountability is the not-so-secret success ingredient of exceptional teams. But too often, for a variety of reasons, team members avoid lovingly wounding a teammate, neglect offering feedback and refuse to hold one another accountable for their contributions to the team. That behavior is often learned in the larger church culture, where biblical accountability and confrontation is not pursued.

If your church avoids confrontation and biblical accountability, chances are that your team will never gel or perform at its peak. Your team as a whole needs feedback on its collective performance, and individual team members need feedback about what they contribute to the team. Your team needs faithful friends who will tell the truth, even when it stings. Without confronting the (sometimes painful) truth, your team doesn’t have the insight to improve nor the fuel to do its job of effectively leading your church.

For more team-killing cultures and a host of other tips to help your teams thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.

Because I participated in the book project by writing an expert commentary, InterVarsity Press is offering my readers a 30% discount on the book. To access the discount, order online at ivpress.com or call 800-843-9487 and use coupon code 506-447. But don’t wait to do it. This offer expires April 30.

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Excerpted with permission from chapter 13 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.

7 Warning Signs You May Be a Controlling Leader

Warning

I regularly talk to young leaders through my blog and many of them feel they are working for a controlling leader.

In a recent post I talked about the 3 results of controlling leadership.

In full disclosure, one of my top strengths on the StrengthsFinder assessment is COMMAND. I’ll take over if no one else in the room will — so some of the young leaders on my team may have felt that way about me at times. I have to discipline myself not to be a controlling leader.

But, it’s a value for me personally not to be one, so I consistently try to evaluate. (And, I’ve let teams I lead evaluate me.) And, also granted, as I’ve posted previously, I believe there are some things a leader needs to control — especially early in their leadership. For example, I have controlled (or micro-managed) the hiring of key staff members during my beginning years of church revitalization. We are changing a culture. I am building a team — one I don’t have to control. And, that’s worked well so far.

The odd thing I find is that many controlling leaders never really know they are one. They may actually even believe they are being good leaders — making sure things go well for the organization.

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts about this issue, controlling leaders are ever present in the church.

So, maybe if you’re reading this, you are still wondering if you might be a controlling leader. Or, if you work for one.

Here are 7 warning signs that you may be a controlling leader:

Your team struggles to share new ideas. Are people sheepish around you when they have an idea that may be different from yours? Do they start apologizing prior to approaching you with a new idea? Do they appear timid, fearful, even reluctant to share a thought? This may be on them — it might be on you, leader.

You think you’re wonderful. I don’t mean this to be funny. When a leader is in the control position, because of their own confidence, they can often feel everyone approves of all they are doing. A controlling leader may not really know how people feel about them. They assume everyone approve of their leadership.

You always know you’re right. Because you are — right? Seriously, if you never question your own judgment — if you never even think you need to get other’s opinions on your ideas — you might be a controlling leader.

You control information. Do you enjoy keeping others with less information than you have? Do you like to be in the power position — if information is power? (And it is.)  If you control the information you’ll almost always control what is done with the information. And, you just might be a controlling leader.

You are part of every decision. Do you think you should be involved in making all the decisions your church or organization makes? Seriously. Be honest. A controlling leader can’t stand when they weren’t part of making the decision — especially if it proves to be a good one — or if people start getting credit for something in which they had no part. If you still can’t decide if you’re a controlling leader, use that as a scenario and judge for yourself how you would feel: The decision is made. It’s genius. Everyone applauds. You’re on the sidelines.

You can’t let go of the reins. Do you fear others being in control of a project? Does it make you nervous? Do you feel the need to continually step back in and check on things? I’m not suggesting a leader delegates and disappears. That’s not good leadership either. But, if you can never let someone truly be the primary leader of  a task, you might be a controlling leader.

You ARE the final authority — on every decision. Think for just a minute about the decisions made in the organization in the last year — or even the last month. Did you have to sign-off on all of them? Were there any significant decisions made that you weren’t a part of making? Again, be honest.

Have you ever worked for a controlling leader? Are you one?  How would your team answer these questions about you?

3 Results of Controlling Leadership

controlling leader

One of my pet peeves in leadership is the controlling leader. Because of that, I have written extensively on the subject on this blog.

Controlling leaders are in every type of organization — including the church. Some of my ministerial friends who have encountered this would say especially in the church. It could be a pastor, a committee chairperson, or a deacon who glories in their own power.

And, sometimes, just being fair, leaders control because they believe they are doing what’s best for the organization. Not every controlling leader, in my opinion, is controlling from a power trip. Granted, some are, but many just naively believe if they don’t control things will fall apart in the organization.

I recently worked with a church where I witnessed a controlling leader firsthand. Talking to members of the staff it reminded me of the main reason I’m so opposed to controlling leaders — because it is counter-productive to creating organizational health. And I love healthy organizations.

But, I would even go so far as to say controlling leadership violates some important Biblical principles — especially in the church. The Body is not comprised of one — but many ones — who work together to build the ONE local church. To do it any other way tramples on a lot of truth.

In terms of organizational health, there are some common disruptions from controlling leadership.

Here are 3 results of controlling leadership:

Leaders leave – You can’t keep a real leader when you control them — at least not for long. I find that especially true among the younger set of leaders entering the work world. Leaders need room to breathe, explore and take risks. Controlling leadership stifles creativity. A genuine leader will soon look for a place they can grow.

Followers stay – The flip side is equally true. You can keep those who follow the rules many times under controlling leadership. They will stay because of loyalty, or a sense of responsibility, or just because they don’t realize there is any other kind of leadership. But their fear of venturing out on their own keeps them under the leader’s control. And, most often their work life is unfulfilled and they are often miserable.

Organizations stall – The real detriment of controlling leadership is that it always limits the organization to the strengths, dreams and abilities of the controlling leader. One person — one leader — can only control so much — so many people or tasks. It’s one reason we see churches plateau and a business’s growth stagnate.

Dear leader, take it from a leader who has to discipline himself not to control — controlling leadership simply doesn’t work.

Have you learned that principle, perhaps the hard way?

Have you worked for a controlling leader?

7 Common Elements of a Healthy Team

Working at office

What fosters team spirit? What makes a healthy team?

All of us want that. I would even say especially leaders.

Most of us understand that progress towards a vision is more possible if a healthy team is working together.

Also, all of us want to go home at night feeling we’ve done our best, were appreciated for our efforts, and are ready to go at it again tomorrow. That’s part of serving on a healthy team.

How do we get there?

I’ve served — and led — many teams through my career. Some I would say were healthy, some weren’t, and some were “under construction”. I take complete ownership of each of those. Team spirit — healthy teams — are greatly shaped by the leadership of the team. (And, that’s a hard word when, as a leader, we know the team isn’t as healthy as it should be.)

Among the healthy teams on which I’ve served, there have been some common elements.

Here are 7 common elements of a healthy team:

Clear strategy. To feel a part of the team, people need to know where the team is going and what their role is on the team. An understanding of the overall goals and objectives fuels energy. When the big picture objective is understood each team member is more willing to pull together to accomplish the mission because they know the why and can better understand where they fit on the team.

Healthy relationships. For a team to have team spirit it needs to be filled with team members who actually like each other and enjoy spending time with one another.

Celebratory atmosphere. Laughter builds community. A team needs time just to have fun together. And, there needs to be a freedom for spontaneous (and planned) celebration. People need to feel appreciated for their work and that their participation is making a positive difference.

Joint ownership. This one is huge, because without it the team won’t be completely healthy. Some people are not team players. Period. They checked out years ago and are now just drawing a paycheck — or continuing to hold onto a title. They may be great people, but they aren’t building team spirit anymore. They don’t want to be on the team or not in the position they’ve been asked to play. Team spirit is built by people who are in it for the common win of the team.

Shared sufferings. A healthy team spirit says, “we are in this together” — through good times and hard times. In addition to laughing together, a good-spirited team can cry together through difficulties of life. Healthy teams are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.

Shared workload. There are no turf wars on a healthy team. Silos are eliminated and job descriptions overlap. Everyone pulls equal weight and helps one another accomplish individual and collective goals.

Leadership embraces team. This may be the biggest one. As a leader, it’s easy to get distracted with my own responsibilities — even live in my own little world. And, let’s be honest. Some leaders would prefer to lead from the penthouse suite. They give orders well, but do not really enjoy playing the game with the team. A healthy team spirit requires involvement from every level — especially from leadership.

It’s a challenge leaders. Why don’t you use this as a checklist of sorts to evaluate. How’s your team doing? Let’s build better teams.

7 Suggestions to Encourage Innovation on a Team

ideas spinning

Most leaders want to lead an innovative organization. We don’t necessarily have to be the first to do something new, but we don’t want to be years behind either. As conservative as we might be — as long as we remain true to our core values — we still want to be “cutting edge” to some degree. We certainly don’t want to be stuck in the last decade.

But, here’s the problem.

As leaders, we can’t force innovation. We can’t mandate innovative people. And, if our people haven’t been innovative in a while, then there may not be much innovation going on in our world.

Innovation, in its purest form, means change, and while change can be forced upon people, the best changes, the kind that make an organization excellent, come from the heart of a person. Great innovation comes from the gut. You cannot legislate those kinds of changes.

There are things leaders can do, however, to encourage team members to be more innovative.

Here are a 7 ideas to encourage innovation:

Get away from the office as a team. There is something about a change in surroundings that encourages a change in thought. Take a trip to another church — or if nothing else — around the city. Creative thoughts are fueled better outside your normal routine and environment. It’s a large investment, but we annually take our staff to visit with another church staff in a nearby city — far enough where must spend the night. Something huge comes from every time we do this.

Have a brainstorming session with open-ended questions. Ask questions such as, “What are we doing well?” “Where could we improve?” “What should we stop doing?” Bring someone in to guide this discussion if needed. Be sure to welcome diversity of thought. And, people know if they’re not welcome by the way you respond when they are shared.

Reward new ideas. If you recognize new thoughts and celebrate the success of innovation, people will want to be a part of it more. Make it a part of the DNA to elevate the value of innovation. Encourage thinking time. Don’t be afraid of “unproductive time” just to think. Teach the staff to discipline themselves to dream and plan. Make sure to build time to dream into your schedule as a leader. It helps if people know you do this — and if you actually share new ideas periodically — even often.

Have times together as a team that are simply fun. Something magical happens when you get people who work together out of their work zone and into their fun zone. They often still talk work — it’s what they share in common — but they share work in a more innovative and productive way. And, really in a more honest way. Take a day and go bowling. A college near us has a ropes course that we did together.

Remove obstacles to innovative thought. There are always communication barriers between team members and senior leadership. Discovering and eliminating them could be an innovation waterfall. One way is to get in the room, have a problem to be solved, and not always have the answers. In fact, have few answers. Let the answers emerge. Innovation will start to happen.

Invite new people to the table. It could be people on the team or people in the community, but new people equals new ideas. We’ve often brought staff spouses to the table to fuel our thoughts. And, it could be through a book you read together as a team. Discuss the author’s perspectives.

Set innovation timeline goals. If you want to eventually build a new website, for example, put a date on the calendar for when it MUST be completed. It’s amazing how creative we often become under deadline.

What are some ideas you have to encourage innovation?