Questions for Brainstorming

Businesspeople

Brainstorming often leads a team to the answers you can’t seem to find any other way. The best brainstorming begins with great questions. For example, what if the team is trying to discern what went wrong on a project? Perhaps there has been some major fall out and the team has suffered damage, either financially, in reputation or in morale. The questions you ask could determine how well you recover.

Using that as our example, consider the questions in this post, some will apply and some won’t. Add some of your own, and see if they will lead you through a helpful brainstorming session. By the way, I talk almost weekly to churches in some crisis mode. This process may help with that scenario also.

Below are 4 words and sets of questions to lead your team in brainstorming. If I were leading you through this process, we would take time on each section, stopping to summarize our findings along the way. Depending on the size of the group, we may break into sub-groups to brainstorm, then come back together to summarize.

The words and questions are simply a strategy to get the group talking. Depending on what you are trying to discover, you would change the words and the questions.

Words and questions:

Reflect – What went wrong? How did it happen? What’s the damage? Who is impacted? How much did it cost us…in capital, momentum, morale and reputation? What are the long-term and the short-term ramifications?

Recalculate – How can we improve? How can we keep it from happening again? What’s the best way to recover? Who are the right players in our recovery? What are the immediate, mid-range and long-term decisions we need to make, as a result of this?

Recharge – Why are we doing what we do? Why are we needed? What’s our motivation to begin again? What are some of our examples of success? What can we do to spur new momentum?

(Don’t skip this set of questions. Regardless of the issue, this type thinking is needed every time. You’ll be tempted to ignore them, because you assume you know these, but you always need the energy this type dialogue produces. Depending on the issue, you can’t usually do this immediately as well, because the previous issues are usually clouding people’s minds.)

Reignite – How soon can we begin again? Do we need a relaunch or do a complete overhaul? What’s our strategy moving forward? Who does needs to do what? Who is our spokesperson? Who are the teams assigned to each task? When is our target date for celebration?

Asking the right questions may determine the success or failure in the days ahead.

What questions are you currently asking your team?

7 Thoughts on Managing Conflict as a Leader

team conflict

As a leader, there are many times I feel like the mediator between opposing viewpoints. I’m steering towards a common, shared vision, but there are a myriad of opinions in how we accomplish the vision.

I’m not afraid of conflict on a team. In fact, I think it can be healthy for the team if handled correctly. It keeps tension from building unnecessarily, simply because emotions and opinions were hidden rather than addressed. It brings new ideas to the table and welcomes input from everyone. When conflict is ignored or stifled, it makes people feel devalued and controlled. I’ve written previously on managing conflict HERE and HERE.

When faced with conflict on my team, I realize the way I handle it will go a long way towards allowing the disagreement to work for the overall good. In fact, I must learn to better manage the conflicts rather than attempt to kill them.

Here are 7 thoughts for managing conflict on a team:

Interfere sparingly – I try not to take sides in conflict anymore than I have to, even when I have my own opinion. If the conflict isn’t a vision issue, and it seems to be resolving on it’s own, I’ve found it is best if I allow the process to take it’s course. When the leader gets involved in conflict it takes on a new life; often unnecessarily.

Listen carefully – I try to hear both sides of the conflict. Normally there are valid points on both sides. It’s important that I hear not only what is said, but also what is unspoken. That takes asking questions, getting to know the members of my team, and not assuming I know what people are thinking simply by what they say. Understanding the basis of conflict and the opposing viewpoints is critical to understanding the conflict.

Communicate – During times of conflict, it’s even more important that communication be clear and consistent. Many times, conflict is simply due to a lack of clarity or miscommunication. Information often makes conflict easier to resolve. As leader, part of my responsibility is making sure the team communicates effectively.

Discern the real issue – Conflict develops for a number of reasons; not all of them good. Beyond miscommunication, conflict also develops over power struggles, weak leadership, or simply personality differences. Discerning the nature of the conflict and if there is a root issue (often unspoken or undefined) helps me avoid trying to solve the perceived conflict, when the real issue is something completely different.

Monitor impact – As I said, conflict in and of itself is not bad, but part of my job is making sure conflict on a team doesn’t begin to harm rather than promote health of the team and it’s members. When individuals begin to attack each other personally, act in anger, form sides within the team, or distract from progress, it’s time for the leader to interfere.

Vision – Ultimately, my job as a leader is to maintain the integrity of the vision. Conflict can enhance or interfere with attaining the vision. My job is to continually direct the team’s attention back to our purpose.

Don’t be afraid of conflict on a team. Good leaders learn to manage it for the overall good of the team.

Leader, how do you manage conflict on your team?

What Does “Healthy” Mean in Church Leadership?

silhouette of friends jumping in sunset

I was talking with a young hurting pastor recently. He resigned after several years of trying to turn around a dying church into a healthy church. The church brought him in with definite goals. He felt he had a mandate. The church began to grow. Things were exciting…or so it seemed. But, with every change there was growing resistance. Eventually, only a few people with power still supported him. when they refused to back him with changes they had agreed were needed. He was continually reminded this was not “his church”. He felt it was best that he leave rather than divide the church. (This church has a long history of short-termed pastorates.)

In the course of the conversation he asked some sobering, and honest questions.

He asked, “Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy mean, anyway?”

Great questions. I understand. Sadly, I hear from pastors continually asking the same questions. There are many unhealthy environments in churches.

But, yes! There is such a thing as a healthy church. There are some healthy church staffs.

I don’t know if I know completely what “healthy” means, but I’ve given the issue some thought.

The reality is that the church is the Body of Christ. In the purest form, the church is always “healthy”, because it represents Christ. We are promised that nothing will ever destroy what Christ has established. But, local churches are made of people. And, some of those people, even well-meaning as they may be sometimes, work together to form unhealthy environments. Some work together…for the common good of honoring Christ…and form healthy environments.

So, with that in mind…

A healthy church culture…

  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days
  • Doesn’t mean you won’t have tension or stress.
  • Doesn’t mean everyone always agrees.
  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t relationship struggles.
  • Doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
  • Doesn’t mean the pastor is always right.
  • Doesn’t mean problems or issues are ignored.

A healthy church culture…

  • Does mean you can disagree and still be friends.
  • Does mean tension is used to build teamwork..when one is weak another is strong.
  • Does mean meetings are productive and purposeful…not ritualistic or boring, and certainly not hurtful.
  • Does mean rules add healthy boundaries, rather than stifling creativity or controlling actions.
  • Does mean you work as a team to find solutions.
  • Does mean the pastor (and his family) is never attacked publicly or continually stabbed in the back.
  • Does mean the rumor mill is never allowed to form the dominant opinion.

I’m praying for my new pastor friend that he finds a healthy church, in which to serve out his calling. They do exist.

Have you been in an unhealthy church or organizational environment?

Have you been in a healthy one?

What do you think it means to have a healthy?

4 Suggestions for Developing Trust as a Leader

Elegant leader

Trust is like gold in leadership. Without it a leader will fail to build a healthy following. Developing trust takes time. It is seldom granted with position alone. Most people have been injured in relationships that keeps them from trusting blindly. But, developing trust is critical for leaders to pursue and maintain.

In full disclosure, I’m 7 months into a new leadership position as this post is written. I recognize that with many in the church I pastor I’m still developing levels of trust.

How does a leader develop trust?

Here are four suggestions:

A Compassion for others that is personal and goes beyond what they bring to the team.

A Competence in a subject matter, or a willingness to yield to those who know more than the leader knows about a subject.

A Consistent approach or methodology, as well as consistency in character, that can be depended on through good and bad times.

A clear and frequent Communication process that shares in transparency and full disclosure.

Those are some of my suggestions.

What can you offer?

7 Issues that Distract a Leader from Success

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I recently wrote 7 ideas which will help you attain more success. It seems a counter post is merited.

Here are 7 issues that will distract you from success as a leader:

Trying to plan every detail – Ecclesiastes says you won’t plant if you watch the wind. Risk is always necessary for meaningful success.

Lack of flexibility – Things change. Have a great vision, but realize the road to accomplish it may change many times along the way.

Shunning or controlling other people – You can’t do it alone. You don’t have the corner on ideas. You need help.

Holding on to a grudge or attempting to get even – The wasted energy of an unforgiving spirit slows you down from meaningful achievement.

Worrying more than you pray – The unknown brings doubt but faith goes without seeing. Take your pick. Only one answer allowed.

Being stingy with your time, money or influence – The more you try to control what you hold in your hand, the stingier your heart becomes. Stingy hearts are burdened by unnecessary distractions. (The one who loved money is never satisfied with his wealth. Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Having to do things “your way” – When you limit the input of others you rob the team of expanded imagination and you discourage potential leaders from rising.

What would you add?

Are one of these keeping you from accomplishing all you could?

One Suggestion to Take Stress from the Hiring Process

Handshake and teamwork

There is so much stress involved in hiring the right person for the team. I have a suggestion with may help.

We recently did this with several new staff positions on our team.

Build the job description around the person.

Set the vision for the job, hire the best person you can find (and/or afford as the case may be)…then build the job description…with the person’s help…around that person.

If they excel in administrative tasks…the job description may have more administrative tasks.

If they excel in creative tasks…the job description may have more creative tasks.

Find the right people and you can shape a team around them. This is true whether they are paid or volunteer.

This approach allows you to hire for character, competence, experience and fit with the team, but doesn’t limit you to finding an exact replica of a clearly defined, narrowly focused job description.

Here’s the deal. I ultimately just want a strong team. I want people who share an overall vision with me. But, I don’t want to script how they accomplish their specific part of the vision. This way of hiring allows me to be a leader instead of a manager. It frees people to be leaders instead of employees.

And, I best of all…it makes for a much happier, more productive team.

Find the right people and you can build the right team.

Do you have any hiring tips you could share?

A Sign You’re On a Healthy Team

power meeting from above

I’ve often said that good leaders never assume silence means that everyone is in agreement.

I still believe that. Leaders and situations can be intimidating. Some team members simply choose not to participate.

There is one caveat to this principle, however.

When a team is healthy, the leader is approachable, and team members are encouraged to participate in discussion:

Silence can be interpreted as agreement.

That’s because:

  • The freedom to challenge is present
  • The fear of retribution is absent
  • The power of unity is prominent
  • The spirit of cooperation is elevated
  • The synergy of differences is celebrated

When you are on a healthy team, people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they don’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.

I’ll be candid, as i write this, I’m six months into leading a new team. I’m not sure we are there yet, but in the months to come, I’ll be looking to measure progress in this way.

Ask yourself this question: What does silence on the team indicate?

In that answer, if you’re honest, you may find the answer.

Are you serving on a healthy team?

7 Leadership Default Zones

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There are a lot of gray issues in leadership. Having a default zone when things on both sides appear equal or you are uncertain about a decision may help you make better decisions. These aren’t foolproof, as many things in leadership are not, but having a general idea which way you would “default” to in common situations that occur most frequently in leadership may prove to be helpful.

If you consistently have to make the same type decisions as a leader, think through which way has over time proven to be best. That becomes your default zone.

Here are some of my leadership default zones:

In matters of hiring…default to no over yes – If in doubt over whether the person is a good fit, I vote no. It’s not worth taking a chance when adding to the team and when I haven’t followed this one it has usually turned out to be a mistake.

If you think you shouldn’t say it…don’t – I often don’t follow my own advice here, but I’ve learned if my gut is telling me to “keep a tight rein on my tongue”, it’s likely to be a Biblical conviction. The more I discipline myself in this area the more respect I garner as a leader.

If it’s between empower or control…choose empower – Except in cases such as vision or a moral issue, letting go of control and empowering others almost always works out better than expected. Even if the person isn’t successful, I have seen that the learning curve for them and the team is huge and often some of the best discoveries for the team are made when I get out of the way.

My preference or the team’s preference…go with the team – There are times I have to make the hard decision to stand alone, but I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. If I am clearly outnumbered, I tend to lean on the wisdom of the team. You won’t keep respect as a leader if you continually stand opposite your team and keep being proved wrong.

In person or by email…choose in person – By far, email is my most frequent communication tool. It has to be, just because of the sheer number of communications I have in a given week. But, when I can, especially with our staff, I choose the personal touch. Get up from the desk and walk down the hall when it is an available option. Email and text are misunderstood far too many times.

If there’s doubt…ask for clarification – If you aren’t sure you understand what someone is thinking…if it doesn’t appear they understand you…rather than assume…ask. I’m continually asking my team something such as, “When you said _____, can you help me understand what you meant by that?” Misunderstanding leads to strained relationships and unhealthy teams.

Grace or dismissal…choose grace – There are times when you simply have to make the difficult decision. But, when you can….extend grace. Some of my best, more loyal team members became that way only by grace.

Learning some of your leadership default zones may make you a better leader.

Do you have any you would add?

7 Pitfalls of Leadership

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In years of studying leadership, both in the business world and in ministry, I’ve seen some consistent traps that get in the way of a leader’s success. I’m calling them pitfalls.

Here are 7 pitfalls of leadership:

Pride – When a leader ever feels he or she has all the answers…watch out! Pride comes before the fall. Great leaders remain humble, knowing they didn’t get where they are on their own nor will they stay there without the help of others.

Passiveness – I don’t believe in tyranny, but a leader can equally be too “nice” or overly friendly with a team. Leadership is hard some days…most days. Good leadership isn’t a popularity contest. The leader afraid to challenge will create an environment where mediocrity, chaos, and unhealthy team environment prevails. Leaders should be willing to address known concerns, not be afraid of healthy conflict, and challenge status quo even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.

Isolation – A leader who removes his or herself too much from the actual work being done, isn’t visible to the team, or doesn’t bond well with them team, will never gain significant influence with the team. At every level of leadership, regardless of the size organization, the more a leader can do “hands on” work, even if only occasionally, the more “in touch” the leader will be and the more respected he or she will be by the people being led.

Loneliness – Leadership is naturally lonely. Every leader I know struggles with it at some level. If it’s not addressed, however, especially during extremely high stress periods, the leader will head towards crash and burn territory. Leaders should seek out other leaders, take risks on trusting a few people, and ask for help before it’s too late.

Boredom – Leadership is about going somewhere. When things get routine for too long, the best leaders will get bored. That’s dangerous. Leaders who last for the long haul are always seeking new opportunities for growth and development.

Success – Just as failure can hurt a leader, so can success. If not kept in check, success can lead to complacency. A leader can begin to think it will always be this way and eventually start taking success for granted. Disaster! Great leaders are always cognizant that the success today isn’t guaranteed tomorrow.

Elitism – When a leader becomes “too good” for the people trying to follow…they stop serving a team and start managing people chasing a paycheck. They quit finding willing followers and are only surrounded by employees. Leaders, especially today, have to be authentic, real, and believable…and there are always people on a team who believe they could do a better job than the leader at times. And, the reason they feel that way is because it’s probably true. Teams are developed by mutual respect and appreciation. Great leaders never see themselves better than the people they are trying to lead.

What other pitfalls have you seen in leadership?

7 Warnings for Aspiring Leaders

Alert

Almost on a weekly basis I hear from a young pastor who wants to grow as a leader. He feels the pressure placed upon him and knows that others are looking to him to steer the church on a healthy course. Most of these leaders are humble, knowing that ultimately Christ is the head of the church. What they also know is that there are expectations of their position, decisions that have to be made which are not clearly defined in Scripture, and that seminary didn’t train them to make.

Sometimes it seems I’ve given the same advice many times; either reminding myself or to another pastor. The more times I share the same concept, the more it becomes a short, paradigm shaping idea that summarizes the basic issue the leader is facing. What isn’t always clear is that I’ve learned these concepts mostly by living these concepts. I’ve made more mistakes in leadership than I’ve had success. That’s what this post is about. These are some warnings I’ve observed first hand in leadership positions I’ve held. I’m trying not to continue to live them and I’d love to help other leaders avoid them.

Here are 7 warnings for aspiring leaders:

What you “settle for” becomes the culture.

Mediocrity isn’t created. It’s accepted.

Your actions determine their reactions.

Don’t assume they agree because they haven’t said anything.

You’ll never get there just “thinking about it”.

If you’re the leader, they are likely waiting on you to lead or release the right to lead.

What the team values becomes apparent by your actions, not your words, no matter how well spoken they might be.

What warnings would you share to aspiring leaders?