5 Things TO DO In Times of Crisis

Strategy crisis concept as a businessman standing on a three dimensional maze or labyrinth with confusing direction road signs as a metaphor for facing difficulties in business and the stress of daily life.

In my last post I shared 5 things not to do in times of crisis. I am writing this with the leader in mind, but I suspect they may be life applicable regardless of the crisis.

As stated, I began with the negative, because in my experience that’s where most people begin when crisis occurs. (Read: 5 Things NOT To Do In Times of Crisis) We often tend to run in the opposite direction from where we should run. Some of the worst decisions I have observed people make (including me) are during the crisis-mode times of life.

Obviously knowing what to do in these times is equally important. How you respond and what you do will greatly determine future realities after the crisis has subsided.

Here are 5 things TO DO in times of crisis:

Stay. I love Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” where he explains how important it is to know when to quit and that time may come. At the beginning of the crisis is not the time. Until you have been able to evaluate the crisis from every angle and you clearly know there is no way out, stay the course. Godin’s book also talks about how those who succeed learn to push through the hard times. Stay in it long enough to know which time it is for you. I share this from very hard personal experience. We sold a business — walking away simply to start over — and looking back we may have recovered had we suffered through it a little longer.

Stand. Stick to your moral convictions and the vision you have for your life. Don’t allow the crisis to keep you from doing the right things, even if those choices seem to be the quickest solutions. Stand with the moral and personal convictions you had before the crisis began. You’ll be glad you did when the crisis is no longer a crisis.

Glean. Learn from others who have gone through similar crises. Someone else’s past situation may not be identical to yours, but the emotional and decision-making process they went through probably will be. Most people after a crisis can tell you things they wish they had done differently. And, most leaders who have led for any significant period of time have either endured through a crisis or, even if they failed miserably, learned valuable lessons they would do for the next crisis.

Examine. I said in my last post not to do this immediately. We tend as leaders to quickly want to blame someone — mostly ourselves. This is never a helpful process initially, but at some point you’ll need to ascertain how you got in the crisis in the first place. If it was a matter of bad decisions, how can you keep from making those same mistakes again? If you keep finding yourself in the same crisis, shouldn’t that tell you something? Sometimes the answer will simply be because we live in a messed-up world or things were out of our control. Don’t be afraid of that answer, but don’t default to it either. We all make mistakes and we have to own them.

Learn. Allow every crisis to teach you something about God, yourself and others. If you have this ambition and mindset you will be surprised how different your approach to suffering through it and dealing with it emotionally will be. God is always willing to use the hard times to teach us important principles about life, ourselves, and ultimately about Him.

I’ve got one more list to come about the times of crisis. And, It’s the one all of us in crisis want to get to eventually. Next post I will share 5 things to do after a crisis.

5 Things NOT To Do In Times of Crisis

Business Man sitting on Office Chair on Street in stress asking for help

In my profession, I encounter a lot of people in crisis. Since this is mostly a leadership blog, I tend to think of leaders I know who are currently or have been in crisis. They may be a personal crisis or within a group or organization in which you lead, but the way you respond will almost always determine the quality of recovery from the crisis.

For the next few posts, I want to address this issue with some thoughts on how to respond during these times of crisis in life.

If you don’t need them now, store them away for future reference. In a fallen world, working with people, times of crisis are sure to come.

I will start with the negative, because typically we begin there when crisis comes. This post will be followed by some ideas of what you should do and then finally, I’ll share some thoughts on what to do after the crisis period has subsided.

Here are 5 things NOT to do in times of crisis:

Panic. The word panic means “a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior” (Dictionary.com) If you panic when crisis occurs you’ll almost always make bad decisions and cause yourself more pain. Calm down, come to your senses, and
think and pray so you can make wise decisions.

Quit. When I was in a business that was struggling the worst reaction to my situation, which was the one I chose most often, was to run from the problem. I would disappear for hours. Looking back, it never solved anything. Reflecting on those days I wish I had stayed the course, because when I gave up, so did those I was supposed to be leading.

Blame. This includes kicking yourself for being in the crisis. Figuring out who is at fault when you are in crisis-mode is probably not as important as figuring out what to do next. There will be time to analyze later — and that should happen — but don’t become paralyzed with it now.

Refuse Help. I have learned by experience — sometimes when God is allowing a crisis to occur He is also stirring people to intercede on behalf of the suffering. It’s amazing how it happens. He may have prepared someone else, through their own season of crisis, intentionally so they can help others — people like you. Don’t deny someone their opportunity to be obedient to what God calls them to do, even if it means swallowing your pride, raising the white flag of surrender and letting them help.

Deny God. People (including pastors and leaders) either run towards God or away from God in times of crisis. You can probably figure out which option works best. This is a time to pray like never before and learn to fully rely on God. He’s never taken off guard or by surprise. He always has a plan. It’s always good. Lean into Him.

In my next post I’ll share 5 things TO DO in times of crisis.

7 Characteristics of the Backside of Leadership

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One critical part of leadership is what I like to call the “backside of leadership.”

It’s the part that is unseen. Or unknown at the time. It’s the unspoken, unclear, has-to-be-tested side of leadership.

So critical.

Years ago I had a leader I could never predict. One day everything was wonderful and the next day nothing was right. It was frustrating. I could never read this leader and whether or not he was happy.

Some have probably accused me of this at times. Probably all of us.

Leading well means sometimes what a leader does when the team’s back is turned is more important than what they do in the team’s presence. When they don’t know what the leader is thinking or how he or she will respond — they can still trust the leader.

The backside of good leadership means a leader does what is best for the team and the organization — not for his or her personal gain — regardless of who gets credit. 

Even if no one saw it coming.

That’s the backside of leadership.

Still trying to understand what I mean?

Here are 7 characteristics of the backside of good leadership:

Protects you.

When critics rise against you or your work a great leader stands behind you. Better yet, they stand in front of you to take the first bullet. They are predictable and consistent with their support. 

Won’t back you in a corner.

Good leaders don’t hold you accountable for unreasonable expectations, especially when you didn’t know what the expectations were. They make sure you have the resources you need. They never put you on the spot. They make sure the team operates with a plan.

Forgives easily.

You gain good favor quickly after you make a mistake under a good leader. They extend grace knowing the greatest lessons in life are learned through failure. And, the investment made in people when they fall often yields the greatest return.

Empowers you.

The leader doesn’t have to know everything you do and every decision you make — before you make it. They are okay with the unknown. They invest trust in you. They empower you to make decisions without their direct oversight.

Invests in others.

The team receives more from the leader than the leader takes. No one feels used or like they’re building an empire for the leader. Rewards are shared and celebrated together.

Never stabs you in the back.

People don’t feel threatened in their position. They know the leader can hold a confidence and will never say one thing to one person and something else to another.

Responsiveness.

Everyone has been in a situation waiting for a leader to make a decision. It can be a frustrating experience. Impatience can rise. Good leaders are responsive. They don’t make people come to their own conclusions. They communicate in a timely manner. 

The backside of leadership. Have you thought about how you lead on the backside — when no one knows what to expect. 

A Day No Leader Wants to Face But Every Leader Must

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There is a day every leader has to face. But, no leader necessarily wants to.

I have walked through this with dozens of leaders over the year sand it’s never a fun process.

It’s the day when it’s time to no longer be the leader.

That hurts.

Just seeing it in print may sting a little if you know the time has come for you — but you haven’t yet said it aloud.

It could be for a variety of reasons. Still hurts.

Could be retirement. A season has ended. Or, you’re no longer the best fit to be the leader.

Either way — wrestling to this point is a difficult, sometimes grueling decision.

It’s one I’ve faced in my own career. In our last church plant, I knew God was releasing us to something new. That didn’t make it easy. I couldn’t even see what would happen next. I just knew my season there was ending.

Some handle this well. Some resist it and don’t. Some kick and scream and it has to be forced upon them. Never pretty.

A pastor friend of mine Shawn Lovejoy seems to be doing a brilliant job of leaving the church he planted. I loved the message where he shared it with his church.

My friend and co-worker Dan Russell, our senior adults pastor, got to a point at his church where he sensed they needed someone different to carry them to the next level as a church. It was in his season of wrestling God brought him to my attention. He was still young, with (hopefully) years ahead of him in his career, but he sensed it was time to step aside. And, God rewards obedience. As hard as it must have been for him to come to his realization, his addition to our team has been one of the best things to happen in my tenure. I can’t imagine the last few years without him here.

Recently I learned of two other mega churches where the senior pastor stepped aside — sensing it was time for a change. Both seem to be handling the transition well. I’m going to follow them to see how it goes.

Yet, we all know stories of when it didn’t go so well.

They stayed too long. They became ineffective. They made the transition more difficult than it had to be. And, I’m convinced it makes things hurt even more.

There’s a day every leader must face, but no leader really wants to face it.

The day when it’s time to no longer be the leader.

Listen, leader, here’s some advance caution for you — before that day approaches. That’s my only purpose of this post.

When you no longer have the passion.

When you just don’t care anymore.

When things are plateaued beyond your ability to move them forward.

And, when you simply can’t seem to get motivated again.

I’m not saying it’s time. I’m not saying there are not answer or solutions or help for you to stay in the position. I’m not even suggesting any of these are indicators you should leave now. That would totally be out of line and inappropriate for me.

I’m simply saying — there comes a day — for every leader. Discerning and determining the day before the day is determined for us protects everyone. The organization. The church. And, the leader.

(This is not a paid endorsement, but I recommend my friends William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have written a great book on pastoral succession called NEXT when the time comes.)

An Encouragement To Be A Dad (Happy Father’s Day!)

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Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Psalm 128:3

The role of a father is so important in the home.

God bless the fathers of the world today!

A friend told me once about an incident at her daughter’s house. Her son-in-law was really excited about finishing a book in a series of fiction novels. He was so anxious to finish the latest release that he stayed up most of the night, doing nothing other than read. Normally very interactive with his family, this night he did nothing but read. Seated comfortably in his favorite chair, his back was to the rest of the house. The first time he got up was well after midnight. He was startled to stumble over something on the floor — one of his sons. His son was sleeping behind his chair, just to be close to “Daddy”.

What an impact a father has on his family!

The statistics of fatherless homes are astounding. Sobering. Scary even. (Read some of them HERE.)

One of the greatest gifts I could give my boys when they were home was to simply spend time with them in the backyard. They loved to pass a ball together. I fully believe God used these times to mold their character and help shape them into godly young men.

Children love to spend time with their fathers. They long for male attention, male interaction, and a father’s approval. They learn from dad how much they can accomplish and how secure they are in this world. They learn to love in strength. They learn to take risks and get up after failure. And, so much more.

Fathers, please, don’t neglect your greatest responsibility. I know the world is demanding much from you these days. I know you are tired from the pressures and stress of life, but your family’s health depends so greatly on the important role you play.

I know men who would love to be a dad if God allowed and I know those who have lost their dad or never knew him. It’s a deep pain. I know moms who had to play both roles. I know those who have lost children. Can’t imagine. If you have the opportunity — or if you’re dad is in your life — take advantage of the blessing.

I’m praying for you! Happy Father’s Day!

A 4 Step, Simple Strategy To Have a Less Stress-Filled Life

Business, card, mock.

Are you ever stressed?

Silly question, right?

We can never remove all the issues of our life that bring us stress. We have to somehow learn to navigate our lives through stress.

I have some easy suggestions. I have shared this strategy so many times. I hope you find it helpful.

Let me warn you, this isn’t some deep, researched system. These are simple. But, in my experience, they are powerful suggestions.

Here are 4 steps to a less stressed life:

Get a set of index cards. Write on each one what you are most concerned about in life right now. Only one concern per card, but use as many cards as necessary. Everything you’re concerned about — worried about if that’s your word — goes on a card. (You can grab a cup of coffee if you want — since that’s in the picture.)

There is something cleansing about writing out your concerns. It is a therapeutic exercise. (Insider information — you’ll find some of the things don’t merit a card once you have to write them.)

Place cards. After you’ve completed your cards, lay them face up on a table in front of you. This is a bare your soul moment. Now, share them with God. He knows them already — better than you — but do it anyway. It is freeing to give your recorded burdens to your Creator.

Pray. Pray something like this, “God, this is what I have before me which I can’t handle. I’m asking You as my Father, who loves me more than I can imagine, to give me direction, success, wisdom, patience and understanding in every area of my life. Lead me along the path you would have for me. I’m trusting completely in you. If this season is a success in my life it will depend on You. I love You Lord. In Jesus name, Amen”.

Do the best you know how to do. And, then leave the rest in God’s hands.

Please understand this is not a formula for success. I don’t believe those exist.

And, this isn’t simple. I used the word simple earlier, but that was just to keep you reading. There’s nothing simple about walking away from your right to control your outcome and leaving things in God’s hands. Even though we ultimately have very little control over the way things turn out in our life — we still naturally want to try. Worry often comes easier than faith.

Also, understand God is certainly not defined by our prayers. God will do what is best for us and His will — even when that disagrees with what we think we want.

This “system” is, however, Biblical — in my opinion. I based it on Hezekiah’s actions in response to receiving a letter that threatened his entire kingdom. (Talk about stress.) Read that story again in 2 Kings 19:14-19.

I have tried this numerous times and God always responds to my humble attempt to surrender my fears, stress, and concerns to Him.

Sometimes this response has relieved me of my stress. Most of the time, however, this process helps me refocus and feel a sense of calm among my circumstances knowing my God is ultimately in control.

Try this and see what happens.

10 Ways To Be A Great Non-Profit Board Member

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I believe in public service and giving back to the community. While I was in the business world, serving in an elected office, and now in ministry I have continued to volunteer in the community in which I live. I believe it’s truly the best way to be a Kingdom-builder.

Along the way, I have served on dozens of non-profit boards at the state and local level. I have worked with nationally known organizations, such as Boys Scouts, Red Cross, United Way, and YMCA and numerous other local non-profit ministries and service organizations. I realize the value of non-profits in community development.

It could easily be said that the success of any non-profit is directly related to the strength of its board. Finding, training and keeping good board members is a critical part of non-profit leadership. With this recognition, I have also helped develop non-profit boards over the years.

With that experience, I share a few thoughts for those who set out to serve in such noble ways.

Here are 10 ways to be a great non-profit board member:

Find out what’s expected. Determine what they expect a board member to do — preferably before agreeing to serve. Know what the role of a board member  is, how they define a “great” board member, and consider how the requirements fit with your talents, abilities, and schedule. Don’t agree to serve unless you know you can meet the expectation.

Live up to expectations. If you agree to serve, serve well.  Work the meetings into your schedule, participate in activities expected of board members, and fulfill the obligations expected of you. Don’t make them feel awkward about you being on the board. I’ve served on boards where no one knew where the person was and yet no one wanted to have the awkward conversation in order to learn. Granted, they should, but, in my opinion, the weight of responsibility to shift to the one who is supposedly a good enough leader to be considered for the position.

Learn the organization. It’s hard to lead what you don’t understand. I’ve seen board members who just sit in meetings and vote. They don’t learn the language of the organization or ever feel a deep commitment to the cause. Don’t be that member. Participate. Show up when things are most exciting. Ask questions. Learn the “lingo”. It’s the responsible thing to do and you’ll make better decisions.

Don’t micro-manage. You are there to advise and hold accountable — not to run the place. You should check your power at the table of decision-making. There may be times when you need a more active role in day-to-day operations, but those should be rare — not a regular occurrence.

Invest your strengths. You bring qualities to the board no one else has. Figure out why you are there and what your unique purpose is for the board and organization. Then leverage yourself for the good of the organization. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so you may not be a good fit for the board.

Be a connector. This may be one of the best roles for a board member. You have influence places the organization may not yet have. Use your network of connections for the good of the organization.

Ask good questions. In the end, even though you shouldn’t micromanage, it is your job as a board member to protect the integrity of the organization. That may involve asking hard questions — the ones you may not even feel comfortable asking. You may be the only one who is thinking the way you are, but you may not be. You may regret not asking later. There are no bad questions, but there may be some great questions, which protect the mission, and you may be the only one brave enough to ask them. Be kind always. Believe the best in others. But, do the right thing.

Willingly be a fundraiser.  If it is part of the assignment – work to raise money. Remember, you are not asking for yourself, but for a cause in which you believe. Money is the leading need of most every non-profit. Not every board is required to raise money. Every organization appreciates when a board member recognizes the need.

Don’t overstay your welcome. When it’s time to go — go! Most boards will have some board rotation, but do everyone a favor and leave when you lose enthusiasm to be effective and useful.

If the board agrees — replace yourself. Finding a good board member is hard for any non-profit.  Leave them well by recommending quality people to replace the spot you leave void.

What am I missing? What would you add to the list?

7 Ways I Gain Influence with My Team

Business team

John Maxwell says leadership is influence. If that’s true, then how does a leader develop that influence with the people he or she leads?

I have had the opportunity to build my own team — that’s easier — and to inherit a team I was supposed to lead. That’s hard. But, either requires intentional effort on the part of the leader. Influence is never gained simply by holding a position.

I’ll never forget the first week in my current position. We have a large staff and it seemed everyone was on edge around me. It was awkward. I’m a pretty easy-going guy. I can appear intense at times, because I’m very driven, but I genuinely like people. My door is always open. But, it was tense. Eerily tense. The church had experienced a couple difficult years and they were obviously resistant to give immediate trust. I would have to earn it. 

If John Maxwell is correct that leadership is influence — and he certainly is at some level — I knew I had to gain influence with my team. I can’t lead people if I can’t influence them.

Influence is always based on trust. So, ultimately, that’s what we are discussing in this post. Building trust that gains influence.

Here’s are 7 ways I attempt to gain influence with my team:

Treat people with respect. I expect to be respected as a leader. Most leaders have that expectation. I know, however, that I can’t demand or even expect respect without displaying it. If I disrespect people it doesn’t build influence, it fosters control. People need to know they are valued members on the team and that they will be treated fairly, professionally — with grace and truth.

Take risks on people and give opportunities to fail — or succeed. I like placing faith in people. I love to recruit people who start their ministry career with us. And, if a team member comes to me with a dream, I’ll try to help them attain it. The risk is almost always worth the return. People need to know they are free to explore — even if it’s into unknown territory. More importantly, they need to know you’ll back them up if it doesn’t work. Team members need to be able to learn from mistakes — and success — and continue to grow and develop.

Recognize and reward efforts. I’m not afraid to single out exceptional work for individual recognition. Texting or emailing everyone to compliment one should not be forbidden. Yes, you may miss someone — and I try to discipline myself to look broadly for areas to applaud — but individuals need recognition just as he collective team does. What I’ve learned is a culture which recognizes achievements of others is contagious. As you do, so will the team.

Allow the team to know me personally. This is huge. I’m very transparent. In fact, with my entire church. I try to be clear about my weaknesses and own my mistakes. I’m also not afraid to be the brunt of the jokes. The fact is I miss details. I see only the big picture sometimes. I need people around me who can cover-up for my short-comings — and ground me. They need to know they serve a role on our team — to make me and the team better. 

Be responsive and approachable. I return phone calls and emails to our team quickly. It’s part of building trust which leads to influence. They can get in touch with me and on my schedule before anyone other than my family. I keep the door open when I’m in the office and welcome walk-ins. I don’t make them wait long for an answer and follow through on requests.

Be consistent and reliable – I keep lots of lists so I don’t forget things I’ve committed to do. I have an Evernote folder with different teams and member’s name in it. It helps me keep up with things relative to them specifically. I want to always do what I commit to do, so I don’t make many promises. If I tell a team member I’ll do something, I make it a priority in my schedule until it’s accomplished.

Help others achieve personal success. I love to learn a team member’s goals and help them achieve it. Recently we had a staff member who felt God was leading them to another position — one we couldn’t accommodate at our church. I actually served as a sounding board for him, a personal reference for the new job, and coached him through the interview process.

I think it’s vital to a healthy team that the leader be continually conscious of his or her need for influence and ways to improve upon it. Most of what I’ve learned in leadership came from doing the wrong things first.

Keep in mind, I’m not perfect and this is not an attempt to brag about my performance. As with all my posts, I’m trying to be helpful in developing good leadership. I continue to ask my team how I can improve. Frankly, three years into a new position, I probably have influence with some of our team more than others. It’s a work in progress — always.

When the Employee May Have to Go — The Hardest Decision a Leader Makes

Unemployment

One of the hardest decision a leader makes is to release someone from employment. I’ve only known a few very callous people who weren’t extremely burdened by having to fire someone. Making any kind of employment decision comes with the sobering reality, regardless of what the person did wrong, that the decision will likely impact others who are many times innocent.

In working with pastors this issue is one of the hardest they face. The church is often notorious for delaying these type decisions — often in the name of grace. (I’m always equally concerned about being good stewards of the Kingdom investment people make in the church.)

And, it’s an issue few seem to want to talk about. Yet it’s one we all struggle with personally.

I’ve heard great leaders say repeatedly that we should “hire slow” and “fire fast” — and I agree — but that’s much easier to say than it is to do. In fact, it’s painful to follow this principle. The opposite seems more appealing. Most of us would rather rush someone in the door and then be very slow to get rid of them even when we know it’s needed. 

Sometimes the decision is made for us. Or at least is made clearer.

If someone is caught stealing.
If someone continually defies authority.
If someone is blatantly lazy.

Those aren’t easy decisions either, and due process, fairness, and grace should still play a part, but they are often easier to clarify what needs to happen. (And, I’m not saying termination is always the case. The offense is made clearer though.)

One of the harder decisions for me (and other leaders I’ve spoken to), but one I’ve had to make numerous times, is when I have to release someone for less obvious offenses. They aren’t clear-cut, black and white issues.

Years ago, I had someone on my team who was a tremendous producer. One of our best. He could sell anything. Taking a strictly bottom line approach — on paper — he made the company money. But, it was some of the external, not as easy to define aspects of his employment that made him a poor fit for the team. He was disrespectful, never attended meetings, bad-mouthed the company, etc.

It was hard to lose a top performer, but there were larger issues at stake. I had to make a hard decision.

And, there are multiple situations where a hard decision needs to be made, but it is from a seemingly gray area. It isn’t always clear when to make the decision.

Here are a few examples I have personally experienced or walked through with other leaders:

The person has lost all credibility with the team. This could be with peers, a team he or she leads, or with volunteers (this is especially true of volunteers). At this point  the energy trying to repair their relationships would be too overwhelming. Everyone else is wondering why you haven’t moved sooner to make a hard decision. Sometimes it’s best for everyone if we simply start with a clean slate.

The person refuses to support the overall vision. They may have the skills to be outstanding, but their attitude causes them to serve as more of a cancer to the team than an asset.

The person’s heart has “left the building”. They are ready to move on to something else, so they no longer give their full heart to the job. And, everyone knows it. It could be bringing down the morale and work ethic of the rest of the team. It could just be that the best is not being achieved anymore. Best is never achieved without a heart for the work.

The person’s actions or reputation discredits everything the mission claims to be. Sometimes the integrity of the organization is at stake. Sadly, I’ve seen this with people who go through personal life changes, such as having an affair. They bring their drama to work. Everyone goes through bad seasons — whether self-produced or of no personal cause, and grace should be applied generously, but a healthy team can’t live in high periods of drama for long. Some people simply never recover, they continue making bad decisions, or their heart never returns to the job they were once doing. It may even be that they need a change forced upon them before they can recover.

Again, hard decisions. Not always easy to define. Not clean and simple. This doesn’t mean you fire in each of these scenarios. I’m not advocating that at all. No two situations are alike. It does mean the red flags are drawn. And, as a good leader you don’t ignore the situation or pretend it doesn’t exist. You have to do something or nothing will ever change — and will likely get worse.

But, making the right decision protects the organization, the teams involved, and, often, the ability of the team to respect your leadership. At times, people are wondering why you’ve waited so long to do something.

If you find yourself in one of these situations – – bathe it in prayer, seek wise counsel, whether that’s in the church or outside the church. I almost always consult with a Christian attorney or employment expert. Ask confidential advisors — not many — but people you know are trustworthy and wiser than you in these situations. Never make these type decisions alone. (The hard fact is the problem could be your leadership and you need to be open to that.)

Do you have a hard decision you need to make these days? It won’t be easy. It may even be a temporary setback in your leadership. But, your credibility and success as a leader may depend on the quality of decision you make.