Tortoise and Hare Principle in Organizational Leadership

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A few years ago I was running in Philadelphia. It is one of my favorite cities in which to run. I love the Fairmount Park System, because I can run for miles in new territory.

On this particular day, I set out to explore a several mile loop around a portion of the park. Shortly into my run, I entered the park in front of a young college-aged girl running at the same pace with me. (I assumed her identity based on the college sweatshirt she was wearing — and the proximity to a local college.)

We had been running at the same pace for about a half-mile when she apparently became impatient with my pace and decided to run faster. She gave me a look that seemed to speak “get out of my way old man” and quickly disappeared from my sight. I continued my steady pace through the park and encountered her again a couple miles later. She had looped around the park and was heading back, still continuing at her faster pace. We smiled at one another as we passed.

And, then the story took a change in my favor.

After 3 or 4 miles I returned to the place we had originally met and who did I see? My college “friend” was walking, out of breath, holding her stomach and in obvious pain. She couldn’t finish the track.

I realize some people are sprinters and some are long-distance runners, but I have to be honest. As the old guy, I got a boost in my adrenaline when I was still running with plenty of fuel in my tank.

Now, before you think I’m awful, the reason I share is that it reminded me of an important leadership principle.

It’s the tortoise and the hare principle.

There are certainly times an organization needs to sprint. Run like a hare.

Organizations need times of stretching to take leaps forward. Healthy organizations continue to grow. That requires fast decisions at times — the ability to adapt quickly. Momentum is built when energy and excitement combine and things are running at full speed ahead. Every organization should continually have periods of sprinting.

But, that can’t be the only pace of a healthy organization.

There are also times the organization needs to slow the pace down to tortoise speed.

It may sound boring to a driven leader, but long-term, sustainable health of an organization depends on establishing systems and strategies. And, as much as we may resist it — even structure. Yes, structure.

Take a church plant, for example. In the initial days, it seems like a sprint. Everything is new. Exciting. Fast-paced.

But, over time, to continue as a healthy church, at some point there becomes a need for structure. Systems need to be implemented. There may even be a need for a few rules. Yes, rules.

The fact is most of us would rather sprint. I wished I could that day in Philadelphia. It can almost become “cool” to be sprinting — so much so that we never really attain a healthy foundation upon which to build long-term, sustainable growth. And, hopefully all of us ultimately want to finish well. Go the distance. That requires that we learn to pace ourselves — like a tortoise.

You can’t sprint forever.

Be honest.

What pace is needed most right now in your world — tortoise or hare?

7 Things I’ve Learned About Successfully Leading Change

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Bottom line: Every organization — whether a church, business or nonprofit– needs change in order to continue to grow and remain healthy.

But here’s the thing about change. If you’ve ever been in leadership you know this.

Change is hard. Very hard.

And, it’s especially hard for some people. In fact, in my experience, the most common reaction to change — at least initially– is rejection or rebellion.

And, that’s what makes change difficult to lead.

Learning to lead change successfully may be the single most important challenge of any leader.

I’m not an expert. But, I’ve led some change. Some successfully. Some not.

And, along the way I’ve learned a few things.

Here are 7 principles that can help you successfully lead change:

Establish trust.You can best lead change from a pre-established trust in your leadership. New leaders should be careful not to implement a lot of major change early unless that change is vital to the organization. Major change will be easier if the leader has established some credibility.

Introduce change early. This is where “early” comes into the process. People need time to warm up to the change that is coming. The less you surprise people the greater your chance for success can be. Change always comes with an emotion attached and giving ample notice allows people a chance to acclimate those emotions.

Communicate often. Inform people along the way by keeping them updated with the progress during a period of change. Include the good news and the bad news in these updates. Hold nothing back. I’m not sure you can over-communicate. And, use different means of communication to make sure you catch everyone and every style of listener.

Widen the distribution. Get buy-in from as many people as possible. Sometimes leaders have to lead alone. People can’t understand where you’re taking them that they need to go, but may not even know yet or want to go. But, those times of loneliness should be rare. Wherever possible, include others in decisions concerning change.

Follow through on commitments made. The quickest way to lose trust is to say one thing and do another. Likewise, do not make commitments you cannot keep. Be true to your word.

Be consistent. You will keep people’s trust through the change if it is easier to figure out where you are as a leader, what you are thinking, and why you are making the decisions you make. And, pay attention to the word “why” — it’s critically important. People need to learn you and seeing a consistency in you over time and testing and they more they understand why the more accepting they will be of change.

Change continuance. Do not make change a rare occurrence. Build a culture of healthy change so that it will be more naturally accepted when it comes. That takes time. And experience. You need some wins so people learn to trust you when you are trying to lead change.

There are a few things I’ve learned about leading change. What have you learned?

3 Reasons a Leader Should Never Respond to Criticism in Anger

What do you mean?!

Over the years in leadership, I have experienced my fair amount of criticism. When I was in business, it could come from employees, former employee, customer, supplier, or the public. When I served in political office, every vote seemed to bring critics from the opposing side. Now, after being in ministry for over a decade, I have learned that criticism comes from outside and inside the church. 

And, with an added bonus, we now get to receive criticism through online and social media — making it so much easier to deliver. (Please read my sarcastic, poor attempt at humor in that last sentence.)

I suppose criticism is a part of culture — a part of our nature. And, because I work with lots of leaders who receive criticism, I’ve addressed it a number of times on this blog.

Here’s the reality. With every decision a leader makes some people will agree. And, some won’t. Now I spend most of my time on this blog thinking through how we can be better leaders. And, we should spend most of our energies there, in my opinion. But, learning to navigate through criticism is a part of leading. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve watched as the way a leader receives criticism begins to shape the leader. I know young pastors, for example, who give up on a church because of a few very vocal critics. I know some politicians who grew so tired of the criticism that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. In fact, in my opinion, some of the best people never run because they don’t want to face the critics.

Our first reaction to criticism is to lash out in anger towards it. 

That’s natural. As, natural as it is for some to criticize, it is normal to want to defend ourselves. Especially when we feel the need to correct inaccuracies and promote the truth. 

While I believe we should always speak truth in love and correcting false statements against us may have a place, I do not believe responding to criticism with immediate anger is ever appropriate.

Here are 3 reasons why:

It’s not right.

I always hear the example of Jesus in the temple, but Jesus wasn’t dealing with their criticism of Him, but their misuse of the temple. (And He apparently took time to think through His response according to John 2:15. He made a whip. How long does that take?) I view Jesus’ response as a very calculated, righteous anger. That’s much different than the spur of the moment rise of emotion anger.

It may be true.

That’s a hard reality, but the fact is that as difficult to receive as criticism may be, maybe even based on faulty information at times, often there are things in the criticism for us to learn. I have found that even in the most unfair type of criticism, and from people who don’t have a clue how to be nice when giving it, there is sometimes something I can learn. Even if it’s nothing more than how to handle mean people. (Because often mean people have a story that has made them so mean — and the answer to dealing with them might be grace, and truth, delivered in love.) We have to be willing to humble ourselves to examine where we might be wrong. It takes time to analyze the criticism before we know how to respond with the appropriate emotion. And, sometimes, the right response will be anger — but I’ve found those cases to be rare. (See Psalm 139:24, or Matthew 7:1-5)

It doesn’t work.

That’s the bottom line leadership principle. Responding to an emotional person with another emotion backs people into a corner and ultimately produces even more criticism. The leader who wants to lead well through criticism will take a more calculated approach.

Jesus offers a great remedy for handling criticism. Consider Luke 6:27-28. Jesus said we should bless those who curse us. What if the next time you receive criticism you stopped and prayed for them? And, while you were at it, prayed for your response. That may take a few minutes, an hour, or a day.

The way to navigate through criticism in leadership greatly depends on our response — especially our initial response — to it.

I realize that’s often an unnatural response, but with discipline, and practice, a leader can learn to better handle the critics — and — hopefully — keep leading.

10 Permissions a Great Leader Grants

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Does your team have permission?

To dream – Give your team permission to dream the seemingly impossible. The lid of possibilities will often be when your sense of realism trumps your sense of imagination.

To fail – People need to know they can mess up and still have another chance on your team. Do they?

To have fun – Let’s get this party started! Work hard, but take time to laugh along the way.

To experiment – It might work. It might not. Let’s give it a try.

To ask questions – People only know what they know. Let them ask about that of which they are unsure?

To collaborate– Build a team. That’s the healthy view of leadership. Isolation can lead to destruction.

To gain recognition – Those who own all the acknowledgement limit people who will ever attempt to achieve it.

To be challenged – People perform up to the expectation. Seldom beyond.

To own – Ownership leads to stewardship. The more you give people a seat at the table the more responsibility they will assume for overall results.

To create – Original thoughts are welcome here. Are they? Make sure your team knows it. And, believe me, they will.

Where do you need to permit?

How a Young Leader Develops as a Leader

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This is a guest post by Tyler Crosson. Tyler is student pastor where I serve. He’s an excellent communicator and has a passionate heart for Jesus and for ministry. He knows God is preparing him to a more lead role in a church and it’s been fun to watch him in this journey. Part of our development time together led to me asking Tyler to write this post.

I am a young leader. The kind that desires to not only improve my own leadership capacity, but one day grow into a great leader in a great position. I recognize that I have a long way to go in developing my own leadership skills, and I recognize that I have plenty to learn about leadership in general. There are many excellent resources out on the topic of leadership, and I definitely try to be the kind of leader that is a reader. There are books, articles and blogs, the one you’re reading is the best (Ron is my boss, so I figure a little plug for him serves us both :) ). If you’re anything like me, the vastness of it all seems a little overwhelming and a little impersonal.

One day, through a discussion about leadership with Ron, I stumbled into what has served as a gold mine of wisdom and has changed the way I pursue learning about leadership. I wish I could call it a secret, but I’m willing to guess that this method is also staring you in the face. Want to know what the “secret” is? Here it is: leaders. Yep, leaders. All over my city, and I’m guessing leaders are all over your area, too. Good leaders. Some are even great leaders!

I decided to tap into this gold mine of leadership wisdom that is in action right here in my community. People that are busy making the community I’m invested in better every day. Here’s what I did: I asked if I could meet with some of these leaders. Earth shattering, huh? Yeah, not really. I just began to seek out people that I (and others I trusted) appreciated as leaders, and I asked for an hour of their valuable time. I let them know that I respected their leadership and I simply wanted an opportunity to ask them a few questions about their leadership in an effort to learn for myself.

I take 7 questions into the meeting (which seems fitting, since Ron is a 7 points kind of guy), and I have yet to struggle to quickly fill an hour of time in discussion.

Here are my questions:

1. What are some of the biggest learning curves you have had as a leader?
2. If you were me, planning for a lead role one day, what words of caution would you give me?
3. What are some words of challenge or encouragement you would give to a young leader?
4. What’s the biggest stress you deal with as a leader?
5. How do you navigate change?
6. How do you handle criticism?
7. Who do you think I should meet with next? (this one keeps the gold mine available)

I ask those in no particular order. Rarely do I even get through all the questions, and I have yet to find someone that wasn’t willing to share. In fact, what I’ve found so far, is that the leaders I’ve spoken with genuinely want to see young leaders in their community succeed, too. And remember how reading books seemed impersonal? Well it would hard for these meetings to be less personal. They are face to face! I get to hear their successes and their failures. I’m grateful they are willing to allow me to grow with them, even through their mistakes. I’ve learned to not fear failure because of how much you can grow from it. Every one of them has reminded me of the priority of leading my family first. Many encourage me to network well, which is awesome because that is taking place at every meeting! I’ve been reminded of the importance of listening, developing trust and relationships in order to move people along a vision. They have taught me the importance of being a lifelong learner and seeker, and are helpful in providing more resources or leaders to seek.

I honor them by communicating my appreciation for their time, their work and effort in our community and their wisdom. In turn, they seem to genuinely want to invest in me. And invest in me they do (some even bought my lunch…bonus!). The wisdom they share is valuable. If I’m being honest, this is a strategy I will probably try to use the rest of my life. Wherever I end up, there will be leaders. I’m guessing there are leaders where you are, too!

That’s my secret. I hope it serves your journey in leadership, too.

What question would you ask a leader if you sat down with them? Or what piece of leadership advice would you offer to a young leader?

What You Can Do To Be Productive On A Snow Day

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We had a snow day this week. As I type this, actually two snow days. Who knows if there will be more?

If you’re wired like me, a snow day can be very disruptive to what you hoped would be a productive week. My weeks are full and if I don’t go into the office on a day I had planned to be in the office, everything I had planned on that day backs up to a future day. I feel so trapped and unproductive.

I’m not sure it has to be that way. I’ve discovered if I can give a few hours to work on a snowy day at home I will feel incredibly productive, and keep from feeling miserably behind when I can get back to work.

Here are some ideas to be productive on a snow day:

Special projects. What is a new project you’ve wanted to think about and haven’t had time? Spend some time putting a strategic plan together for implementation.

Life planning. Work on your life plan. Here’s my easy version. (There are better ones.)

Encouragement. Say a prayer — ask God to lay some names on your heart — send an encouraging note or email to them. Spend some time crafting a life-giving note.

Read. Find a challenging and instructive book. Take notes as you read.

Get ahead. Work on routine projects that you know you’ll eventually have to do. It’s a great time to catch up on the routine so you can be more effective on return.

Maintain. Keep up as much as possible. The computer makes us so much more connected. One good smart phone almost brings our office home. Returning emails and phone calls when possible help you go back to the office with less stress and feeling more on top of things.

Relax. Have some fun. Rest. Prepare for a more productive day in the future. Even build a snowman. (That’s the hardest one for some of us.)

What ideas do you have?

And, if you’re wired opposite of me — enjoy the couch — or whatever it is you do. No pressure from me.

4 Reasons Every Pastor Needs a Good Pastor Friend

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Every pastor needs at least one good pastor friend.

I’m thankful to serve and have served in churches with a good number of staff members I consider not only co-laborers, but friends. It’s a blessing to do ministry with people you actually enjoy being with each week. But, I also have several good friends who are pastors in other churches. And, it’s like gold in my pocket for me.

Just like only a police officer can fully understand the work of another police officer; or only a nurse can fully understand the work of another nurse — only a pastor can fully understand the work of another pastor.

That’s not to say a pastor shouldn’t have friends who aren’t pastors. Absolutely. I have many.

But, every pastor needs at least one pastor friend.

A part of my online presence affords me the tremendous opportunity to interact with dozens of pastors every month. One thing I’ve observed in recent years is that many of the pastors I encounter aren’t really looking for advice on how to lead a church. They are looking for a friend.

Sadly, many pastors don’t have any friends — not the kind who know them well enough to speak into their life. Perhaps even sadder is that some don’t seem to want one until they really need one.

And, I don’t know all the reasons pastors avoid close friendships. (I know some and maybe that’s the subject of another post.) But, so many pastors — in large churches and small churches — feel isolated in ministry.

I know some large church pastors who don’t even socialize or know their church staff. I know some smaller church pastors who don’t have anyone else serving with them during the week and haven’t made friendships with other pastors.

It simply isn’t healthy. And, it’s probably not sustainable. Isolation almost always leads to something undesirable, whether ineffectiveness or total destruction.

Here are 7 reasons every pastor needs a good pastor friend:

Accountability – Here’s the fact. Many pastors could hide if we wanted. We have flexible schedules. And, that’s just one example of where we need accountability. We need people in our life — who know our life and the demands of ministry — and can hold us accountable to our calling and work and speak into the deepest places of our life and work. The pastor is usually not absent of people who can offer criticism, but every pastor needs a friend who can correct them in a healthy way when needed. “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” (Proverbs 27:6)

Protection – I did some professional counseling for a few years. (I wasn’t very good at it.) But, one helpful thing in counseling was the ability to glean from one another in, for example, potentially perceived ethical situations. Pastors encounter issues routinely that don’t need to be handled alone. (The push back of my zealot friends will be that we have prayer — Holy Spirit guidance. And, I say true, but even Jesus asked the disciples to pray with Him.) “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Companionship – Shall I quote the same verse again? “Two are better than one.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) Let me be clear that my wife is my closest companion. She should be. But, I need pastor friends who can just be my friend. They understand the uniqueness of my role. They laugh at the same things I laugh at — and some days all you can do is laugh, right? They understand the unique burden of being a pastor. And, on days when I simply don’t feel like being anyone’s pastor — they understand that too and are not offended by me saying it. I’m not trying to be cute with words — but I need a buddy in ministry. (And, I’m thankful I have several.)

Iron sharpening. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Biblical insight. Idea critiques. Brainstorming. Best practice sharing. Those and so many more. We can learn best from those who are attempting to do what we are attempting to do.

Pastor, you need a pastor friend. And, as much as I love connecting via Internet, certainly I am limited in my ability to “friend” everyone I encounter. You need one, two or three friends who you can get in a car or jump on a plane and actually spend some time with frequently.

And, to find one, for many pastors, it will take an intentional effort. It won’t happen just because you want it to happen. To make a friend you’ll have to be a friend. Take some positive steps. Ask a pastor to join you with coffee. Go through several pastors if you have to until you find the right one.

And, certainly, here’s a great place for prayer, ask God to guide you, help you discern, and give you the encouragement to seek out a friendship with another pastor.

I’m pulling from you.

9 Things You May Not Know About Introverts

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I’ve been an introvert all of my life. I was born that way — or at least I’ve been that way as far as my memory carries me. As a child, I remember at social gatherings people asking me if there was something wrong with me. Because to some people it’s “wrong” to not be talkative. I had to force myself to engage others all through high school. And, I wasn’t a recluse. I was elected student body president of my high school.

And, if you’re really an introvert. I just said some things you understand.

The major problem with introversion — which, by the way, is not a disease — and not a problem — is the misunderstanding of it. People act like it’s a personality flaw. But, it’s nothing like that. Introversion is a preference in how we respond to life. Nothing more. It’s a wiring. But, there’s no flaw in the wiring.

So, I’ve attempted to change the misunderstanding to understanding. Helping you understand introverts.

That’s the point of this post.

Here are 9 things you may not know about introverts:

We can be very social. You should see me on Sunday. We can even be the life of the party if we choose to be.

We have humor. We may even be very funny. It might be a dry wit. You may have to “wait for it” — and pay careful attention. We usually have time to think about it before we project our humor on the world. And, when we do be prepared to laugh. Laugh hard.

We love people. Seriously. We do. Deeply. Just because you may talk more than us doesn’t mean we don’t love as much as you do. Introverts are often very loyal to the ones we love. Just like extroverts may be.

We are unique. We are unique from other introverts. We aren’t all alike. And, we are somewhat offended with a stereotype. (Just as any other stereotyped person is.) Introverts have a realm of introversion. Some appear more extroverted than others. Some more introverted.

We aren’t afraid of people. We usually don’t need you to speak on our behalf to remove our fears. Fear is not the reason we are introverted. It’s a personality.

We don’t need help formulating thoughts. I realize it seems at times that we don’t know what to say — but usually it’s because we are processing, taking our time, or simply don’t want to interrupt everyone else who seems to be talking incessantly. Believe me — thinking is not a problem for most introverts. We do it quite well.

We don’t always want to be left alone. Yes, we may like our time alone – or at least our quiet time — but we don’t have to be alone. Personally, I don’t enjoy life as much when Cheryl isn’t around. Even if we aren’t talking non-stop, I like her in my company.

We can have fun. Some extroverts think we can’t. Because to them more fun is more conversation. But, we can have fun. Lots of it. And, there doesn’t have to be constant noise to do that. And, sometimes there does. And, my definition of fun may not be yours. And, that’s okay. But, let’s hang sometime and I’ll show you how it’s done my way!

We aren’t weird. Well, maybe. But, it’s not because we are introverts. Something tells me at least one of my readers of this post will be weird. (I’ve got some weird tendencies — I guess we all do.) You may or my not be introverted.

So,there are a few things you may not know about introverts. Anything else you could share?

7 Suggestions for the First 7 Years of Marriage

Portrait Of Loving African American Couple In Countryside

I’ve written previously about the first seven years of marriage. We don’t know why necessarily — I have some theories — but the years between 6 and 8 of marriage are often the most difficult. It seems so many marriages fail in the 7th year.

It makes sense then that protecting the marriage during those years is critical. And, it doesn’t take 7 years. I have lost count of the couples who are struggling — and ready to call it quits — just a few years into the marriage.

The way a marriage starts helps to protect the long-term health of the marriage. I believe the attention we place on new marriages in our churches is critically important.

Based on my experience, I have some specific advice for new marriages. Our first 7 years of marriage are long past, but if we had it to do over, there are some things I’d make sure we did as a couple to get a good, solid start.

Here are 7 things we would do in our first 7 years of marriage:

Recruit a mentoring couple. We would find a couple further along in years of experience and who seem to have a marriage like we wanted and ask to spend time with them. We tend to become like the people we hang around most. All couples could use mentors who can talk them through the rough patches that all marriages face.

Invest financially in the marriage. Keep dating. It could be a sack lunch at the park or a 5-Star steak dinner or a weekend in Paris depending on your income level, but we would just do fun stuff. Stay active. Boredom is one of the leading causes of marriage failure.

Protect your budget. The last one is important, but so is this one. You’ll need to balance the two. Debt causes huge problems in a marriage. And, it’s easier to avoid as you build than after you’ve accumulated it. You don’t have to have everything now. (Let me say that again.) You don’t have to have everything now. It’s not the key to a happy marriage. But, eliminating the major distractions is a key to a strong marriage. And, money problems are a leading cause of marriage trouble. We would get an agreed upon budget (and that’s key), and discipline ourself to live it.

Set a schedule. Life has a way of sucking time from us. It becomes very difficult for busy couples, especially once children come along, to find time to be together. And, yet it’s critical. Don’t neglect your time together. We would set a routine of intentional weekly time for just the two of us.

Limit outside interruptions. In-laws. Friends. Work. They can all get in the way. Sure, they love you. They want their time with you. But, let’s be honest — some of them also want to control your life. Don’t believe that other people will work to protect your marriage as much as you will. They won’t. The two of you are creating one unit. If we were starting over we would guard our marriage from any undue pressure.

Be active in church. Sounds selfish. I admit that. But, it’s also being strategic. You need community and especially a healthy community that can be there for you when things go wrong. And, things will go wrong. You’ll need a community of faith around you. And, you won’t know how much you need them until you need them. We would — and we did — commit to a strong church community.

Talk. Lots. Many times couples become so comfortable with one another that they fail to communicate at deeper levels. This becomes very common in the first years of a marriage. Routines and familiarity set in and the couple assumes they already know all there is to know about each other. I have talked to so many couples who just don’t communicate anymore. Or one spouse thinks they do and the other spouse thinks they don’t. They don’t share the details of each other’s day and life — their deeper, unspoken thoughts. The better you learn to communicate — the stronger the marriage will be. The best way to improve communication is with practice. We would practice this one a lot.

Of course, I’m pretty sure it’s not too late on any of these — even if you’re past the first seven years.

Those are just a few suggestions. Do you have more?