The WHAT Test – A Simple Strategy to Think Through Level of Commitment

Asian business people team drawing on white wall whiteboard with sticky notes creative real office

The WHAT Test.

Over the years, I have found numerous uses for this simple strategy of thought. The WHAT Test is an acronym of steps to force you to think through how committed everyone involved actually is to a project, relationship or goal. It doesn’t ensure success, but it can help you avoid the disappointment of not having thoroughly thought about the agreed upon direction and level of commitment before you begin.

Here’s The WHAT Test:Where

Where do you want to go? It sounds simple, but it’ serially not. Many times when one person is ready to celebrate success another thinks you’re just getting started. Talk through the end goal. What do you want to accomplish? Collectively define a win. Make sure it is very clear up front where you want to go and how you will know when you’ve “arrived” at your intended destination.

How?

How will you get there? What’s the plan? What are the steps to get us to our goal? Who is going to do what? Who’s responsible? Who’s in charge of what? What are the necessary steps involved? This is where you ensure there is a strategy in place.

Agreement

Are all parties in complete agreement with the previous two? This is critical. Don’t neglect this important step. Don’t move forward without knowing everyone is on board. Many times we agree to a vision on the front end and have reservations once the actual strategy is in place. It’s good to renew agreement before proceeding.

Tenacity

This may be the most important one. I always ask: Are you willing to pay the price to see it through? This is almost a covenant agreement type step – and may even involve an actual covenant. Most great ideas fail – not because they weren’t great ideas – but because no one had the commitment to see them through. This can be especially true when relationships are involved. Decide on the front end all parties have a “whatever it takes” attitude. This will save you many headaches and heartaches down the road.

Obviously, each of these have multiple layers to them, but this exercise always seems to shake out some of the initial reservations which may not have been spoken and avoids some of the personal obstacles which may otherwise occur.

Let me give you a few examples of when I’ve used this:

  • Working with a couple trying to rebuild their relationship – could be after an affair or serious breach in trust has occurred.
  • Prior to attempting a difficult project or assignment.
  • Before a business partnership is formed.

At the beginning of any important venture – Take the WHAT Test

WHAT you are trying to accomplish will seem more attainable when you can easily pass the The WHAT Test.

There are dozens of applications for this simple formula, but the point is strategically thinking through these steps will help protect, build or rebuild relationships – plus help all parties avoid disappointment.

Solving a Problem is Often a Matter of Perspective – and how this principle impacts leadership

glass milk

Solving a problem is often a matter of perspective.

Some days leaders feel as though all we do is address problems other people have. It could be a personal problem, a problem with a program, someone on our team, or it could be a problem no one can even identify – we just know it’s a problem. Leaders often serve the role of problem solvers.

It’s frustrating, as a leader, when you feel you’ve done your best to address a problem, but people still have a problem. The problem – from their perspective – still exists.

Ever been there?

That’s because fixing a problem – addressing the problem – doesn’t always solve the problem – at least in the mind of others.

Solving a problem is often a matter of perspective.

I have a humorous story to illustrate this principle.

One time my family ate at a very popular chain restaurant in Chicago. I won’t tell you the name, but if I did you’ve probably heard of it. It’s a wonderful restaurant, somewhat fancy, and people often stand in line for hours to eat there. We continue to patronize the restaurant today.

Anyway, my son, who was probably 10 years old or so at the time, ordered milk. I don’t know why – who orders milk at a fancy restaurant? But, he’s always had a mind of his own. When they set the milk down on the table, my son noticed a huge fly floating in his glass of milk. He wouldn’t drink it! He can be somewhat picky about certain things – and a germaphobe – but, I didn’t blame him this time.

We called the waiter over and showed him the fly. The waiter simply grabbed a spoon off the table, scooped the fly out of the glass of milk, and tossed the fly onto an empty plate on the table and walked away, leaving us to stare at a fly half-drowning in milk on the plate in front of us.

Problem solved, right?

Seriously, this story remains funny to us today. In no way did we feel this problem was solved. It may have been fixed – there was no longer a fly in the milk, which was our only concern at the time, but the problem wasn’t solved. My son wanted a new glass of milk. I know – he’s picky. 🙂 We decided we weren’t up for an argument and instead made a funny memory together. We simply ignored it, my son drank his water, and we left feeling as though we had an unresolved problem at our table.

Our server, on the other hand, felt he had fixed our problem, so everything was good – no fly in the milk – no problem. He never apologized or addressed it again, but continued serving us.

That story – as silly as it is reminds me as a leader – just because you fix a problem from your perspective, doesn’t mean you’ve solved the problem in the eyes of those you lead.

Solving a problem is often a matter of perspective.

Understanding this principle means a few things for me:

First, as a leader, whether or not you’ve solved a problem – or even addressed it in some people’s eyes – may be based more on a person’s perspective, their personal interests or desires, and even their emotional investment at times, than it is on some measurable reality.

Second, I should keep trying to fix the problems I agree need fixing. It doesn’t mean I ignore them – I just need to be conscious of the fact I may not solve everyone’s concern with the problem. I may never make everyone happy – as hard as I may try to solve their problems. In fact, the day I make everyone happy I think my job as a leader will be complete. We won’t need leaders if everything was already fully solved. I don’t see this happening any time soon. (We call this job security.)

Finally, and more importantly, I should always attempt to understand the real problem from other person’s perspective. As much as possible, I should discover what solving the problem would even look like in their eyes. At this point, I can determine whether I can truly solve the problem to their satisfaction. This involves a leader asking good questions, repeating back what you think you’ve heard, and following up to see how you’ve progressed towards addressing their real concerns. Sometimes I’ll be able to and sometimes not, but everyone should at least know what’s considered resolution to the problem. This keeps me from spending time and resources attempting to fix a problem I can never solve.

In the case of the milk, if the waiter had asked, “Do you want a new glass or should I just scoop the fly out?”” – he would have learned how to move from fixing the problem to solving the problem from our perspective. And, though we did still tip him (because we are people of grace), his tip would have been considerably larger.

Have you ever tried to fix a problem but still experienced upset people?

7 Times Leadership is at Its Best – A Delicate Tension

balanced

In my opinion, there are times when my leadership is better than others. I call them seasons. Seasons come a seasons go. Obviously, I would love for all of our seasons to be wonderful, but I have learned this isn’t realistic.

What I have observed is when leadership is at it’s best there is a delicate tension in place.

Let me share a few examples to describe what I mean.

Here are 7 times leadership is at its best when:

People follow willingly, not under coercion or force.

You aren’t leading unless people are following. We can find examples of people who did exactly what someone told them – yet, it wasn’t done willingly. The best leadership has willing participants – personally energized towards the vision.

People can keep up, but are still being stretched.

There is nothing worse than a leader who is too far ahead of the people he or she is trying to lead. Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car? Some people are good at leading you – some aren’t. But, the best leadership is always taking you somewhere you haven’t been before – stretching you towards something new. It’s a delicate tension between two extremes.

People feel valued, while being challenged to continually improve.

This is a tough one for me. I’m wired for improvement. I’m a development guy. I’m seldom completely satisfied – especially with my own efforts. So, I want to continually challenge people to get better – for their good no the good of the team. But, you can only push so much. Ephesians 6 gives this warning to fathers of children. Sometimes as leaders we can push too hard – and frustrate the people we are trying to lead.

People are assigned to their specific passion, but readily do what needs to be done.

I learned this in church planting. We needed people just to do what needed to be done. We didn’t have enough people to “specialize”. And, yet we also learned people are less likely to burnout and more likely to be passionate for their work if the work fits within who they are and how they are uniquely wired.

People have a clearly defined vision, but have freedom to invent and dream along the way.

This one is especially true for creative people. They need clear boundaries – clear instructions – they need to know what a win looks like. But, they also need freedom within those boundaries to create – to explore – to dream – and to fail.

People have real responsibility and authority, but don’t feel abandoned.

Delegation is a key to good leadership, but healthy delegation does not dump and run. There are adequate resources, feedback and accountability. People feel free to do their work without someone looking over their shoulder, but they know help is always nearby if needed.

People take time to rest and celebrate, but aren’t allowed to sit still for long.

Sitting leads to complacency, boredom and eventually stagnation. And, speaking candidly, it drives me crazy. We can’t sit still for long when there is so much which needs to be done. But, the tension is we need to celebrate. And, we definitely need to rest. The celebration and rest – done well – should fuel the other. As leaders we must protect both extremes.

Do you see the tension? It’s real. And, if you’re a leader you live these tensions everyday. Praying with you!

What would you add?

7 Ways I’ve Made Leadership Easy – And Learned to Make a Rhyme Along the Way

easy street

Leadership is easy. Seriously. All these years I’ve tried to complicate things. It’s really more simple than I imagined.

Once I discovered how easy leadership could be – my life even began to rhyme more.

See what I mean.

Here are 7 ways I’ve made leadership easy:

I’m no longer taking people where they don’t want to go.
Choosing instead to leave things status quo.

No more do I challenge worn out ways.
I’m simply embracing the good ole’ days.

I cave into critics, giving them the win.
I roll over easily – with a passive-aggressive grin.

I keep my voice silent, on issues which could divide.
Rather than build consensus, I pretend to enjoy the ride.

Popularity is my primary goal of the day.
Following the crowd or what the masses say.

I’ve quit pursuing my God-given dream.
These days I allow mediocrity to stifle the team.

I’ve stopped stretching people with new goals.
I’m simply ignoring the organizational holes.

See. I’ve discovered easy leadership. And, it rhymes, too. What more could people want?

Can you add a rhyme or two?

That is – if you can make leadership easy like I do.

5 Ways to Lead When You’re Limping

limping man

This is an encouragement to those who are limping in leadership.

I entered ministry after a long career in the business world. I had significant life and leadership experience, but honestly, some of it was learned through tremendously painful experiences. Not only did I not have the pedigree of most pastors, it was actually following a sizable business loss – where we were forced to sell our business and basically start over financially – where God called me into ministry.

I entered ministry limping.

The truth is, the best leaders I know have a limp of some nature. It may not be visible, but if you are around them long, they will display remnants of a previous injury.

They may have had a failure which crippled them for a season. They may have messed up. They may have made a mistake. They may have lost their way. They may have been injured by others. And, as a result, they may have even been tempted to quit, but they pushed forward, never to be the same again.

If this is your story – if you have a limp and you’re in leadership – I have a few suggestions.

Here are 5 ways to lead well when you have a limp:

Don’t hide your limp.

There is most likely a younger leader around you who feels they’ve lost their way – or will some day. They need your guidance. They need your encouragement. They need to see by example they can get up again and move forward. You don’t have to wear a sign around your neck or tell everyone you meet about your limp, but you shouldn’t pretend it isn’t true, either. Your story is your story.

Your limp may be God’s way of keeping you humble. Rahab of the Bible never lost her title as a harlot, even in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11). It reminds me the past is my past – I can’t change it or hide it, for long. A great leader never forgets where they came from.

Don’t be a martyr!

No one enjoys a complainer or someone who is always making excuses. You suffered a failure. You had a setback. You made a critical error. You sinned. Others sinned against you. Don’t wallow in your misery forever. It’s not an attractive characteristic in leadership. One of my favorite verses for those of us who limp is Ecclesiastes 11:3. Look it up – recognize it’s true – and deal with it. It’s what you do after you fall, which matters most.

Allow it to strengthen you!

You have two choices with a limp. You can allow your limp to make you a better person and leader. Or, you can let it keep you from ever being whole again – and never realize your full potential. Grace is available if you will receive it. There may be forgiveness you need to seek or extend. You may need to do other “right things”. But, let your limp strengthen your leadership abilities, even if it’s simply learning what not to do next time. Most of us learn more in the hard times than the easy times. Most likely, you will also.

Be empathetic.

There is nothing worse than one with a limp refusing to recognize others who limp. Always remember others have struggles too. If not now, they will. They’re finding their way, just as you did. Extend grace as grace has been given to you.

Keep limping across the finish line.

Don’t give up. Great leaders proudly limp to victory. They cheer on others who limp. They steadfastly keep going towards the goal. And, in the process, they encourage a lot of people and accomplish great things. 

Limp well, my friend. Limp well.

Are you leading with a limp? How has it shaped your leadership?

7 Signs of a Weak Leader (Or Pastor)

Rope about to break, a stress concept

A youth pastor emailed me. He’s frustrated his pastor continually caves into pressures of a few leaders in the church. They are not supportive of the youth ministry, even though it’s the fastest growing area of the church.

The complaint they have? The ministry is costing far more than it brings into the church. Young people are coming to the church in growing numbers, but without their parents. Young people don’t usually contribute to the church, so it’s causing an issue with some of the deacons.

The pastor was involved and supportive in the expansion of youth ministries and the church is financially sound, but a few deacons consider it an “unprofitable” ministry.

The pastor’s solution? Cut back on the youth ministry expenditures to keep the deacons happy.

I’d love to tell you this is an isolated issue, but I’ve written about these type situations before. Obviously, I don’t have all the facts, but based on what I do know, it sounds like the pastor is a weak leader.

And, I hate labeling a pastor weak on anything. Certainly I’ve been week on many things. Preaching. Shepherding. Staff development. And, yes, leading. You name it – I’ve been weak.

But, we have to label the problem before we can hope to find solutions.

Have you ever known a weak leader? They’re usually easy to spot.

Here are 7 signs of a weak leader:

Runs from conflict. They avoid it at any cost. They usually say what you want to hear. They are passive-aggressive. They cave to the loudest voices. They disappear when trouble develops. You’ll never see them in the crowd when there’s a controversy looming. They hide better than they engage when people are upset about something or things aren’t going so well. 

Hides all flaws. They have a lot of excuses – and, they often pretend to know it all. They don’t want you to know the “real” them – the them which may be lacking in some area. They will “try to” make you think they have it together more than they really do – and, you might believe it – for a while. These leaders are often afraid if they appear to be weak (how ironic) you may not respect them – or they might even lose their job. 

(Of course, wise leaders learn to build a team which can bring strength around their weaknesses.)  

Can’t accept criticism. They don’t take well to correction. They pout. Get angry, perhaps – may even seek revenge. 

Quick to pass blame. They can never admit a personal mistake. They are consummate fault-finders. It’s always someone else’s error. It’s the economy, or the culture, or the lack of volunteers. They keep people under their authority by labeling others with the faults of the organization. In fact, according to a weak leader, you probably couldn’t do “it” without them.

Leads by control. They want you to believe they’ve “got this”. They don’t, but it feels better to them than the alternative. They keep people under their authority, never empower, and seldom delegate, because they are afraid of losing their power position.

Shies away from difficult decisions. They can’t make the hard calls. They can’t lead in a new direction because the opposition will be too strong for them. They stay in the safe zone – sameness is their friend. 

Appeases critics and complainers. The louder you are the more likely a weak leader will cave to your demands. They don’t want you to be unhappy – especially with them.

I sound rather harsh towards a weak leader – don’t I? But, as I said, I’ve been – and sometimes can be – that leader. I share this as a check for our own leadership. We need strong, capable leadership – especially among our people of faith. Let’s lead. Let’s lead well. Let’s “stand firm” and “let nothing move us”. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

What would you suggest this youth leader do?

7 Enemies of Organizational Health

chess play

I love organizational leadership. I especially love attempting to lead healthy organizations. I have been in both environments – healthy and non-healthy. I prefer healthy.

If truth be told, I’ve probably been the leader in both extremes. And, there are seasons when every organization is healthier than others.

Over the years of leading I’ve observed a few things which can be the enemy of organizational health. They keep health from happening and – if not dealt with – can eventually destroy an organization – even a local church.

Here are 7 enemies of organizational health:

Shortcuts – There are no shortcuts to creating a healthy organization. I’ve known leaders who think they can read a book, attend a conference, or say something persuasive enough so everything turns out wonderful. Organizational health is much more complicated. Success is not earned through a simple, easy-to-follow formula. It takes hard work, diligence and longevity. Leaders must be committed to the process through good times and bad.

Satisfaction – Resting on past success is a disruption to future growth, which ultimately impacts organizational health. When an organization gets too comfortable – boredom, complacency and indifference are common results. The overall vision must be attainable in short wins, but stretching enough to always have something new to achieve. 

Selfishness – Organizational health requires a team environment. There’s no place for selfishness in this equation. When everyone is looking out for themselves instead of the interest of the entire organization – and this starts with the leader – the health is quickly in jeopardy.

Sinfulness – This one is added for those who feel every one of my posts must be spiritual. (Just kidding.) Seriously, healthy organizations are not perfect (and we all sin), but it doesn’t matter if it is gossip or adultery – sin ravages through the integrity of the organization. When moral corruption enters the mix, and is not addressed, the health of an organization will soon suffer. This is why it is so important a leader stays healthy spiritually, relationally and physically.

Sluggishness – Change is an important part of organizational health. In a rapidly changing world, organizations must act quickly to adapt when needed. Some things never change, such as vision and values, but the activities to reach them must be fluid enough to adjust with swiftness and efficiency.

Stubbornness – Let me be clear. There are some things to be stubborn about, again, such as vision and values. When the organization or it’s leaders are stubborn about having things “their way”, however, or resistant to adopt new ways of accomplishing the same vision, the health of the organization will suffer. Most people struggle to follow stubborn leadership, especially when it’s protecting self-interest rather than organizational interests.

Structure – As much as we need structure, and even though we should always be working to add better structure, bad structure can be damaging to organizational health. When people feel they are being controlled by rules, more than empowered by their individuality and passions, progress is minimized and growth stalls. People become frustrated under needless or burdensome structure. 

What enemies of organizational health would you add to my list?

 

5 Questions to Ask When Facing Rejection as a Leader

Rejected

When I started an insurance business from scratch, I made hundreds of cold calls. Lots of people told me no. I’ll be honest, I hated this part of starting the business, but in time I got accustomed to rejection. It still hurt sometimes, but I learned it was a natural part of successful selling. I couldn’t get to a yes (which paid the bills) without a lot of no’s. 

Life is this way also. People aren’t always going to buy-in to what you’re selling or presenting. This is never more true than as a leader. No one is going to love every idea you present. 

Leaders lead to somewhere they are hoping will be better than today. But, this in lives change – and there is always tension with change. Always.

And, for the leader – part of their success may be their tenacity through rejection.

The fact is no one likes rejection.

Your proposal. Your product. Your presentation.

You love it. You believe in it. You want it to go forward. How could anyone reject what you’ve put your heart into?

It’s difficult not to make rejection personal, but it should be understood rejection isn’t always against you. Many times – maybe even most times – people reject because of their own level of comfort or acceptance of whatever they are rejecting.

When my ideas are being rejected, I like to ask myself some questions.

Here are 5 questions to ask when facing rejection:

Is the rejection based on truth?

Many times rejection has no basis of truth. People may reject because of their own misunderstandings or their unwillingness to accept something new. If you are selling a product, they may not want what you have to sell. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a poor product, it simply doesn’t match their needs. 

And, then, there are rejections based on truth. The idea you are proposing is not good – or it has some flaws. You need to hear this rejection – discernment is a huge part of leadership. Be willing to listen and learn. If you will allow it, their rejection may actually make your idea better.

Is the rejection about you or your presentation?

If it’s personal rejection then it’s a bigger issue, but if it’s rejection of something you only represent then it should be viewed differently – not taken personally. You’re simply a messenger. This goes for a product you sell or a Gospel you tell. If someone rejects the Gospel they aren’t rejecting you as much as they are God. Let Him deal with rejection. 

If rejection is about you may need to ask yourself bigger questions, such as: Am I too pushy? Do I have a caring approach? Do others genuinely think I care for them? How can I communicate the importance of whatever I’m proposing, without devaluing them or their opinions?  (You may need to get coaching and insight from others if your ideas are constantly rejected because of your approach.) 

Am I the wrong person to present the idea?

Sometimes rejection comes because you’re not an opinion which matters to them. This may sound harsh, but you weren’t called to minister to or lead everyone. A mentor once told me to find my affirmation among the people God sent me to minister to. Great advice. As a church planter, I would have many ideas (ideas dealing with methods, not theology) which were easily rejected by people in established churches. But, they weren’t to whom God had called me to minister. Why should I be bothered by their rejection? 

I’ve learned I’m not always the one to propose something to an audience. I’ve had ideas, for example, which I believe could make our community better. I’ve learned those ideas are often more easily accepted when I can get some seasoned business or community leaders excited about them first. Their opinion often matters more than a pastor who has only been in town a few years. The same is true in the church. Some ideas come better from a volunteer than a paid staff member. 

Is the rejection permanent?

Sometimes people say no – even many times – before they say yes. They have to warm up to the idea. They need to process it in a healthy way. I’ve found these people often become the best supporters, because they have wrestled through their objections first. 

Persistence often makes the difference with great salespeople – and some of the best leaders. No one likes a pest or someone who can only see their ideas as valuable, but don’t be quick to dismiss an opportunity after initial rejection. It may prove to be the best idea ever if you wait. Timing is often everything. 

Is the rejection based on a part or a whole?

This can be huge. Did the rejection have more to do with the overall idea or just some aspect of the idea? This is where you have to learn to ask good questions, know your audience, and be willing to compromise on minor issues and collaborate on major issues. This is where good leadership is necessary. You may have to educate people on what they don’t understand. You may have to allow input to make the idea stronger and more acceptable. If it doesn’t impact your overall goal or mission, be willing to listen, learn and make the final result even better. 

Rejection doesn’t have to mean the end. Instead, it could only be an obstacle and be used to improve things in the end. The best destinations are met with many roadblocks. Standing firm through the rejections are a part of good leadership.