A cold start. A great run. A life lesson.


It was cold. Okay, not really, but it was a drastic change from the weather we’d been having. One of the first cold days of the season. I almost opted not to run, but bundled up and hit the road. 

Whoa! It was colder feeling than I thought. I was going to give up. For the first mile and a half I intended to turn around and head home. 

For some reason…I kept going. 

I ran 5 miles. I ran 5 incredible miles. Or at least 3 miles were amazing. It was a great run. 

It was a great reminder. 

Much of life is that way. 

The reason many of us never finish…the reason we don’t realize our dreams…is not because we don’t have them. It’s not even that we didn’t start. 

The problem is often that we gave up too soon.

We couldn’t endure the chilly start long enough. We opted too quickly for the warm recliner. We didn’t last the test of time. 

The last few miles is usually worth the misery of the first few. 

Are you tempted to give up your dream?

Not yet! Keep running. You’re getting warmer.

Beyond Leadership Quotes: A Quick Overview of the Well Balanced World Changer

WBWC Covers

My friend Sarah Cunningham recently released her new book, The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane While Doing Good, a few days back. The book has been getting a lot of attention, partially because it is packed full of leadership quotes–the kind you’ve probably seen shared on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest (here’s the Pinterest site: http://www.pinterest.com/sarahcunning/the-well-balanced-world-changer/).

But rather than pepper you with more leadership material, I thought I’d ask Sarah a few questions that get at the bulk of the content that goes way beyond pithy sayings and memorable illustrations.

Q: I see great quotes shared online all the time, but this book goes way beyond that. Would you tell us how it is set up?

A: Sure thing. The book is a 280 page collection of 2 to 6 page essays that offer sticky insights and wisdom gathered from all different sources. They’re memorable stories; stuff that offers a breath of fresh air and some often much needed recalibration for the leader who is slowly chipping away at a huge vision. On the practical side, the book is broken down into 10 sections–sections like Worth & Success to Desires & Frustrations–that were chosen to address the most common learning curves leaders walk through.

Q: So what about the leadership quotes? There’s a ton of great and rare ones. Obviously you did that intentionally. What’s your vision there?

A: I wanted to begin a collection of online wisdom where other people could add their own advice and wise insights to the hashtag #worldchangerbook. And I thought a good way to get started would be to comb the work of some of the most inspiring leaders from history and the faith and pull out some great quotes that would be worth passing along.

Q: Tell me about the reader who is going to love this book. Who is it perfect for?

A: The book is perfect for any leader who has ambitiously taken on some sort of mammoth goal. Maybe they are trying to start a new faith community or grow a mega-church, maybe they’re trying to start a non-profit or end some sort of world social issue. But whatever they are locked in on is hard and success doesn’t come overnight. And they chip away at their vision day in and day out, pouring everything they have into it, and some days it feels like even though they are pouring everything they have into it, they are barely making a dent.

The book is for that person and for that moment.

It’d be a liferaft especially for young leaders fresh out of college or the Peace Corps or for people in any stage of life who are just undertaking some new cause or ministry. It would also be a lifeline to someone on the verge of quitting.

Q: I know you’ve had the chance to write a few books and also to help produce some pretty notable Christian events. Is that what inspires the content?

A: I have been blessed, no doubt, to be part of some amazing projects and to learn from some incredible people. But honestly, no, most of the content comes from people I’ve known in ordinary life. A few of the insights come from my dad, who has planted a few churches out in rural Michigan. A few come from various local faith leaders who are slaving away at good things without the benefit of a big stage or national applause. This is like…the cream of the most genuine and honorable people of faith I know. It’s like putting everyone’s grandma and grandpa in a room and letting them talk and writing it down.

Q: Is it a book people can implement to become more balanced?

A: Well yes and no. It’s not a how-to and it’s not five-steps-to-becoming-balanced.

It comes out of a vulnerable but beautiful stage in my life when I walked through disillusionment and burnout with leading faith based efforts. During that time, I was embarrassingly under-equipped to walk through disappointments and find my footing. It took me way longer than it should have to get back on track and keep investing in faith and in good. At several points along the way, I came into new awareness (usually by mistake or through the graciousness of a veteran leader who shared advice with me) and I was able to grab onto a new principle that helped add health to my leadership habits and rhythms. Often times, I would think, “Why didn’t someone tell me this before?”

Slowly, I started to realize that even though hardships continued to arise, I was able to face them with more strength and resilience. That I could more quickly re-frame my expectations or more wisely boundary the way I invested my emotion and energy.

Along the way, I decided to start collecting those insights that I wished I had grabbed onto earlier so I could pass them onto other leaders who might be looking for them and not really even know it. Most of us have mentors, but we’re not always able to get together with them regularly and we’re not always even sure what questions to ask them to get the information we need. This book is like a paperback mentor.

I wouldn’t say you’d be fully well balanced after reading it, because if you are, you’re way ahead of me. But I will tell you this: I’m better balanced today than I was five years ago. And I think I’m on track to be more balanced five years from now than I am today. If you want to journey toward ongoing balance, if you want to find balance, and figure out how to readjust and find it again when your circumstances or goals change, I think this book will be like oxygen. That’s how the insights always felt to me.


The Well Balanced World Changer is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. You can also find great shareable content on this book’s Pinterest page or on Sarah’s website at http://www.sarahcunningham.org.

What Non-profits Can Learn from For Profits…Jeff Henderson

Jeff Henderson was one of my favorite speakers at this year’s Catalyst Conference. His talk was on what non-profits can learn from for profits. One reason I identify with Jeff is because of his background in the business world.

Here are a few thoughts Jeff shared:

  • The solutions non profits are trying to provide aren’t keeping up with the problems they are trying to solve. (For example, there are lots of ministries working with homelessness, doing good work, yet homelessness remains the same percent as it did a decade ago.)
  • Non profits think like non profits.
  • The deeper systemic issues are not being addressed.
  • The rule books are different in non-profits.
  • For profits put the best people on the front lines. They find the very best and put them to work.
  • Non profits sacrifice their best talent and put them on their boards, because they can’t or won’t pay them enough to work on the front lines.
  • Talents, system and strategies matter.
  • We pay a corporate executive that makes sugar water more than someone who is trying to cure the world of AIDS.
  • Charitable giving in US has remained at 2% of GDP since 1970.
  • Finances handcuff non-profits.
  • The number of organizations crossing the $50 million budget. 46,000 for profits. 144 for non-profits.
  • If we increased giving by 1%, it would generate $150 billion for causes.
  • Excellence matters. Excellent people. Visions. Systems. Strategies.
  • The common pushback. “Sounds like you’re taking God out of the equation.” At what point did we begin to think excellence is offensive to God?
  • If we’re not careful we can spiritualize laziness. (As we “wait on God”)

How to be as wise as serpents and gentle as a dove as non-profits:

1. Keep your character several steps ahead of your talent.

Walking with humility and confidence is a beautiful thing.

2. Ask more questions.

Such as:

What’s it like to be on the other side of me?

What would we do if we had no money?

Here’s what we are trying to do…will you help me?

(Told story of getting a near $50,000 bill paid for a church plant simply by asking this question.)

3. Listen more than you talk.

To God and others.

Great talk Jeff. Thanks for the wisdom.

I’ve added a supplement to this post with “4 Things For Profits Can Learn from Non-Profits“.

10 Sets of Words We Confuse in Leadership, Part 2


This is part 2. Read Part 1 HERE.

I’ve noticed we confuse a lot of words in leadership. They seem related, and are often used interchangeably, but they are very different.

Here are 5 words we often confuse:

Idea with initiative – Ideas are many. Actually working to make an idea a reality. Rare.

Leadership with management – Leading involves taking people somewhere, often into an unknown, where they may not go otherwise. It involves facing risk to achieve a vision, where the path to attain it is many times unclear. Managing involves helping achieve and maintain a known, predetermined vision, by implementing systems and procedures to effectively move people forward. Leaders thrive in tension and challenge. Managers thrive in details and structure. Both are needed, but very different.

Intentional with conventional – Okay, this might be a stretch in words, but the thought behind it is not. Intentional means we are doing things in the best way to get the job done…in the current context…with the current people…in the current setting. Conventional means we do the same things we’ve always done and hope progress continues. Both may be working towards a worthy vision, but one lasts for a season…the other lasts longer…much longer. We may not even use the words…but we certainly confuse the actions.

Change with progression – Progression is a form a change. Everything changes. People get older. There’s a change. Buildings wear out over time. That’s a change. Ignoring change is an impossibility. But, it’s one thing to let things progress naturally over time, and it’s another to make intentional changes for the good of the organization. Letting things progress is easy. Making intentional change…that’s hard work, but necessary if you want to continue to grow and remain healthy.

Promise with principle – A promise means it’s going to happen…as promised. A principle means this will generally work as stated, under normal conditions, provided the described conditions are met. Living as if a principle is a promise will make you very disappointed when conditions weren’t in place for the principle to perform like a promise. (I promise. In principle.)

I realize all of these could be blog posts of their own. I have expanded on some of them previously. Which would you like me to expand upon?

Add to this post. Who knows…maybe there is a part three? Can you think of any other words we confuse?

You’ll Understand…Someday

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 NIV

“This is the coolest hat I’ve ever had!”

That was the comment my son made years ago when he was in early high school. You would have to see the hat to clearly understand, but it had to be the ugliest hat I had ever seen. There was a new trend at the time with the teenagers to find the ugliest hat to wear. The most popular hats were the mesh back style (farmer’s hats) that were old, worn out, and would usually be found hanging on a back porch somewhere, having experienced many years of hard use. This particular hat had a blue bill and the mesh part was white. On the front of the cap was a “Tweetie Bird”. The hat just barely escaped being thrown away on several occasions due to its age and wear. My son, however, thought it was the “coolest hat” he’d ever had.

When he told me this the Lord gave me a great teaching moment. (When boys get 15 there are fewer and fewer of these times.) I asked him, “Jeremy, if I would have told you a year ago that this would be your favorite hat today, what would you have thought?”

“I would have thought you were crazy”, he said.

“So”, I continued, “in your wildest imagination, last year you could have never seen yourself liking this hat.”

“No,” he replied.

Then I went on to explain to him that this is the way it is sometimes when I had to discipline him or I gave him advice. At the time, it might not make sense. He may not always understand what I was doing…but one day…he would look back and see that my logic was well-founded.

It also served as a good teaching moment for me. God had something for me to learn too!

Sometimes, really many times, God has something for me to endure that I cannot understand. There seems to be no good benefit for the trial that I am enduring. Later on, however, the good God was seeking in my life will be more apparent. During the trial I will simply have to trust that God knows what He is doing.

Thank you, God, for teaching me through an ugly hat!

(Or through the coolest hat in the world…it’s a matter of opinion!)

One thing that separates the best leaders…

In my observation…

The best leaders learn from their mistakes.

They improve. They develop strengths and minimize weaknesses. They ask forgiveness, receive grace and move forward in spite of their past or their shortcomings. They attempt to do better the next try.

Poor leaders dwell in their mistakes.

They run from them. They attempt to control others reactions to them. They pretend they never happened. They try to hide their flaws and weaknesses. They let the future be determined by regret rather than by grace. 

Which scenario more closely resembles your story?

When it doesn’t make sense…


People complain.

We went to a restaurant in a major city recently. The only parking available was valet parking. The funny thing was that we drove to the parking lot where we would be valeted. We parked our car, got out of the car, handed the keys to the valet, and watched him drive it about ten feet into a parking space. Then we paid for parking and (felt obligated to) tip the valet.

It didn’t make sense. We didn’t complain out loud. (I’m a pastor, you know.) But, we did complain to each other. And, we heard others complaining.

Sure, the restaurant is good enough and is in a location where they are always busy and can “get away” with it, but it still was frustrating to out of town visitors.

It was a reminder to me in leadership. As much as you can:

  • Eliminate confusion
  • Share the vision
  • Give details
  • Allow questions
  • Answer questions
  • Don’t assume people know
  • Keep it simple and understandable

All that said, that doesn’t meant there won’t be times when you’ve done the best you can to explain and it still makes no sense to people. Leaders have to take people to unknown places at times. But, as best as we can, we need to bring people along to better understandings of the why behind what we are doing.


When it doesn’t make sense…people complain.

10 Most Admired Qualities in Leadership Today

Elegant leader

In my experience, the type of leader who gets followed closest has some distinct characteristics. I think that’s more defined these days than ever before, possibly because we live in the days of information. The leader is known well. It’s hard for a leader to hide true character.

Here, in my opinion, are the most admired qualities in leadership these days:

Servanthood – A willingness to do for others before (and if they never) do for you.

Responsiveness – Accessibility in a timely manner.

Humility – Not thinking too much of oneself.

Honesty – Telling the truth. All the time. Or not telling at all.

Transparency – Being real. Everyday. In every way.

Tenacity – Standing strong through the storms of life.

Visionary – Able to see beyond today.

Trustworthiness – Yes is yes. No is no.

Innovation – Finding new ways to do things. Doing things better than they’ve been previously done.

Compassion – Thinking much of others.

What did I miss?

Which of these are your strengths? In which do you need to improve?

5 Ways to Hear from People Different from You

Leadership Ahead

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is:

Forgetting that everyone doesn’t think like the leader.

People are different. They think differently. They have different desires. Thankfully, they have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are different from the leader.

If you want to lead people who are different from you…and you should…you’ll often have to lead differently from how you wish to be led. Frankly, I’d be comfortable leading by email, but how healthy would that environment be?

When you fail to remember this principle of leadership, that people are different, you frustrate those you are trying to lead. You get poor performance from the best leaders on your team and your team fails to live up to its potential.

Here are some thoughts to warrant against this:

(Please understand, I am using the word “I” a lot here. I don’t really like that term much, because I’m a leader in training too, but I want you to see how I being intentional in this area and provide a few practical examples.)

Intentionally surrounding yourself with diverse personalities. One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person, even outside or my work. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me that everyone isn’t introverted like me. On any church staff I lead, I know I want some different personalities to compliment mine. Building my comfort with this in my personal life helps me welcome it even more in my professional life. We will all share a common vision, but we should have some unique approaches to implementing it. Ask yourself, “Have I surrounded myself with people who think just like me?”

Asking questions. Lots of them. Personally, I ask lots of questions. I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. We do assessments as a team. I have quarterly meetings with direct reports. We have frequent all staff meetings. I periodically set up focus groups of people for input on various issues. I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible. I try to consistently surround myself with different voices so I receive diversity of thought. I place a personal value on hearing from people who I know respect me, but are not afraid to be honest with me.

Never assuming agreement by silence. I want to know, as best as I can, not only what people are saying, but what people are really thinking. To accomplish this, I periodically allow and welcome anonymous feedback. I realize, just because of position, and partly because of personalities, that some are not going to be totally transparent with me. I try to provide multiple ways for feedback. Even during meetings I welcome texting or emailing me (depending on the size and structure of the meeting) during the meeting. I’ve found that approach works better for some who may not provide their voice otherwise.

Welcoming input. This probably should have come first, but this is a personal attitude. I have to actually want to hear from people on my team. Even the kind of information that hurts to hear initially. I personally want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office, at any time, and challenging my decisions. (I keep candy in my office knowing it attracts them for frequent returns.) Granted, I want to receive respect, but I expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Structuring for expression of thought. Here I am referring to the DNA…the culture…for the entire team. And, it is very important. There has to be an environment with all leaders that encourages people to think for themselves. That kind of culture doesn’t happen without intentionality. As a leader, I try to surround myself with people sharper than me, but I want all of us to have the same attitude towards this principle of hearing from others. I believe in the power of “WE”. If we want to take advantage of the experience and talents in our church, we have to get out of the way, listen, and follow others lead when appropriate.

It’s not easy being a leader, but it is more manageable when you discipline yourself to allow others to help you lead.

How do you structure yourself to hear from people different from you? What are some ways you have seen this done by other leaders?