What To Do With Information Overload

One struggle I’ve witnessed consistently with leaders – including this one – is we drown in information overload. There are more good ideas than we can ever implement.

We are constantly fed new information we can’t effectively analyze and implement. Whether from books, podcasts, conferences or what we come up with in the shower we just don’t know what to do with all the stuff in our heads. In fact, many times we fail to accomplish as much as we could simply because we have more information than we can adequately process.

Does this sound like your world?

  • You have a million ideas
  • You have so many opportunities before you
  • You don’t lack for information
  • Your desk is covered with tiny notes or stacks of notes to yourself
  • You have various notebooks full of ideas

But,

  • You are struggling to remember things
  • You can’t keep up with all the ideas coming at you
  • You see the note again and wish you’d seen it earlier – too late now
  • You sometimes forget what the note means when you see it again
  • You fail to act more than you cease the opportunity

Here’s a quick tip:

Process the information.

Get a system now. The more organized the information – the less stress you’ll feel – and the more useful the information will be to you later.

Here are a few ideas: 

Make a checklist of information in Excel

Go “old school” with a paper folder system

Learn Evernote

Find the best iPad app for information processing

Get training in Google docs

Those are just a few suggestions. There are so many others. I am by no means an expert on which system to use. I personally use the Notes app on my phone, iPad and laptop, because it quickly syncs with iCloud and then I transfer the information (if it’s worth keeping) into a more permanent Evernote system.

It really doesn’t matter as much what system you use as long as you find something which works for you. Developing and learning a system for processing information is a key to being effective in a world of mass information.

Here’s my suggestion. If you implement it then it will be worth your time reading this post. Invest some time setting up your method of handling information. If you’re like me that’s a laborsome process. It seems so unproductive for people wired to get things done. Get some help if you need it. But, the better the system the better you’ll be as a leader. The right system to process information can dramatically improve your leadership capacity.

Don’t let information overwhelm you. Become excellent at handling large loads of information.

The better you learn to process information, the better you’ll be at making information work for you.

There are certainly people reading this post who are better wired to process information than I am.

How do you process information?

4 Ways an Introverted Pastor is Extroverted on Sunday

In my book “The Mythical Leader”, I have a whole chapter on introversion – mostly because every time I post about introversion I hear from pastors and church members who talk about how introversion negatively impacts their ministry. And, I have heard from well-meaning (hopefully well-meaning) people who don’t believe an introverted person can serve effectively as a pastor.

And, obviously, as one who if there was a scale of 1 to 10 of introversion – I’m probably a 7 or 8. (I can be a 9 some days.) So, I understand the plight of my introverted pastor friends, and I don’t agree with those who think introversion prohibits one from serving in a senior role. (In fact, in my book, I share some thoughts on how I think it actually makes me a better leader in some ways.)

All that said, as pastors, the interaction we have with people is a key role in growing and leading the church. I’ve written numerous times that just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I don’t love people. There may be some pastors who don’t really love people – and I personally don’t see how they can be very successful if that’s the case – but introversion is a personality trait. It’s not an indicator of how deeply a person loves people.

I love people. Really. I love all kinds of people. One standard I have for my ministry is whether I’m loving the people who are difficult to love. I strive to do so. And, I especially love to help people get excited about what God is doing in their life. That motivates me.

My introversion, however, if I’m not careful, can keep me from interacting even with people I love.

The fact is, however, if you asked most people in the churches where I have served as pastor, other than those who know me really well, they are surprised I am an introvert based on my Sunday interactions with people.

I’m very extroverted on Sundays. 

The point of this post is to share a little of how do I do that.

Here are 4 ways this introverted pastor is extroverted on Sunday:

I am very intentional in my work.

I have to work at it. I’m not saying it is easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? I realize that Sunday is coming. I plan my week around it. I intentionally plan introverted moments during my week.

For example, I am very careful what I plan for Saturday night, because I know I need to be at my best for Sunday. It is rare for me to schedule a large social gathering on Saturday nights. In fact, I’ve found Cheryl and my Saturday date days are the perfect preparation for an extroverted Sunday. (Obviously that’s easier for us now as empty-nesters, but I was equally protective of my Saturday night when we had children at home.)

I work out of the office at least one day a week. This helps with my sermon preparation, but also gives me “down” time. Interruptions will always come, but the more intentional I am with my calendar the more prepared I am when Sunday comes.

My family understands me and cooperates.

This is often the hardest one, because it obviously involves other people. The key for us is my family knows me as I know them. They understand Sunday takes so much out of me mentally and physically. They realize I need time to recover from a very extroverted Sunday. The ride to the restaurant for Sunday lunch is usually pretty quiet. Over the years, when the boys were home and now that it’s just Cheryl and me, my family has learned if I have my introverted recovery time I’m more engaging with them the rest of the day. It is a way they partner with me in ministry. When our boys were home they knew I would intentionally give them some of the best part of my day, but they also knew there were times I would be quieter than others.

My family understands my introversion, but I don’t think they ever feel slighted because of it. Part of intentionality here is I can’t always slight my family for my ministry. So, with Cheryl and my time now, and when our boys were home, we had time together where we were very extroverted. (One hint here is for introverted – and, frankly often for men – get them doing something if you want them to engage.) Cheryl and I walk together almost every night and she was say I am far more talkative on those walks than she is – and she’s the extrovert. All this takes communication and establishing expectations in relationships. That’s part of any healthy relationship.

I realize my extroversion on Sunday is for a purpose.

When I taught a very large Sunday school class (over 100 people), every week I’d leave the room as I was praying at the close of my lesson. It seemed the humble thing to do, and I was sincere in that, but honestly, it was the “safest” approach for this introvert.

When I came into ministry and was in my first church, I continued this practice. I would “escape” during my prayer to the back of the sanctuary. A dear older deacon pulled me aside one day and gently, in a very helpful way, said, “Ron, if as you’re praying you’ll walk to the vestibule and shake people’s hands as they leave, they’ll be more likely to return the next week.” I’ve been doing that ever since – and how right he was. One of the most frequent comments I receive from visitors is how they enjoyed meeting the pastor.

I can’t imagine it any other way now. Again, I love people, so even though this drains my energy – it fuels me for ministry. That deacon has since passed away, but I remain thankful for the wisdom he gave me.

I rely on the Holy Spirit.

The pastor who inspired me most in my spiritual walk when I was a 20-something year old trying to figure out my life direction emailed me a couple years ago. He had read one of my introversion posts and wanted to echo the sentiments in it. He said he has always marveled at how many introverted pastors he has seen God call to lead in the church – even very large churches. He wrote, “I’ve been an introverted pastor of large churches for 39 years now. Before every service I’m saying the same thing, ‘God, I can’t do this – now what are you going to do about that?!'” His humble surrender to God’s hand has shaped some powerful ministries under his leadership. I loved being able to email back to one of my mentors that I’ve had a similar prayer every Sunday – for a few less years.

Just as Moses, Gideon, and others led through what they felt would handicap them in following God’s call, introverted pastor, you can do this. With God’s help, an understanding family, and some hard, purposeful, intentional work – if God has called you to it, He will equip you. Surrender to His strength and will.

And, the reward is worth it!

10 Commonalities of Healthy Teams

I am happy to serve on what I believe to be a healthy team. It’s amazing how many church leaders I know who say their team is not healthy. 

I have often been asked, however, why I claim our team is healthy. This is simply my opinion, but I can share some things I think healthy teams have in common.

Here are 10 commonalities of healthy teams:

  • A shared vision is embraced by everyone on the team.
  • Team member’s individual ideas are equally valued.
  • The organization readily embraces change.
  • Risk taking is encouraged.
  • Encouragement flows freely.
  • People enjoy their work and relationships are deeper than just the professional environment.
  • Mistakes are used to make the team stronger
  • The structure doesn’t limit growth, but provides healthy boundaries.
  • There is freedom to offer constructive criticism, even of top leadership, without fear of retribution.
  • Conflict is not discouraged, but handled in a healthy way.

There’s my list. Are we perfect in all of them – all the time? No. Do we see them consistently and value all of them? Thankfully, yes.

What would you add to the list?

5 Necessary Ingredients In Healthy Delegation

I have seen, and probably been accused of, dumping responsibilities on people inappropriately and calling it delegation. Also from experience, this form of delegation actually appears to do more harm than good for an organization. It leaves projects undone or completed mediocre at best. It kills employee morale and motivation and it keeps the mission of the organization from reaching its full potential.

In my book Mythical Leader, I share a few stories of delegation gone wrong when I was the leader. This post originates from learning I have experienced the hard way.

The bottom line of delegation is delegation involves more than ridding oneself of responsibility. You can’t “dump and run” and call it delegation.

Delegation is an international, methodical – an most important – part of leadership.

Here are 5 necessary ingredients in healthy delegation:

Expectations

The person receiving the assignment must know the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve. They need to know what a win looks like in your mind. People will want to know they did good work. The question “Why are we doing this?” and “What are we trying to accomplish?” should be answered clearly in their mind.

Knowledge

The delegator should be sure the proper training, coaching and education have been received. The delegator should remain available during the process so questions or uncertainties of details, which will naturally arise, can be answered.

Resources

Effective delegation means people have adequate resources and money to accomplish the task assigned. Nothing is more frustrating than being asked to complete a project without the tools with which to do it.

Accountability

Proper delegation involves follow up and evaluation of the delegated assignment. Did we achieve the objectives? What could we have done better? What did we learn from this process? This process isn’t meant to be threatening or make anyone fearful. Done well it is healthy for the delegator, the person receiving delegation, and the organization.

Appreciation

The delegation isn’t complete until the delegator recognizes the accomplishment of the one who completed the task. Failing to do so limits the leader’s ability to continue healthy delegation.

Delegation may be one of a leader’s most effective methods of success. Any leader I have known who is productive long-term has continued to grow and develop as a delegator.

Leaders Must Grow as the Organization Grows

In my experience, it’s easier to hide bad leadership in a place, which isn’t growing.

However, the larger an organization gets – the more growth that occurs – the more bad leadership becomes apparent.

As a leader for the last several decades, I’ve learned the times my leadership is stretched the most are the times we are growing – and changing – the fastest.

As an organization grows:

  • People ask harder questions and challenge the process.
  • More decisions have to be made.
  • There never seems to be enough time.
  • Better systems are needed.
  • The people required to do the work increases.
  • Leadership development becomes more important.
  • Effective delegation and management is necessary.
  • Resources are stretched.
  • Commucication is often messy.
  • Tensions are high.

I have even wondered if an organization can outgrow the capacity of a leader. (I certainly think it could outgrow me.)

Here’s the bottom line.

As the organization grows – as things get bigger – the leader must be equally growing.

This can be a sobering word for leaders. But, leadership is often a sobering reality. But, the leader must understand – continuing to grow an organization always requires a leader to continually grow.

Which leads me to close with an important question:

What is your personal leadership development plan?

7 Indicators Your Team Is Dysfunctional

Chances are, if you’ve served on very many teams, you’ve served on one which is dysfunctional. It appears to me we have many to choose from in the organizational world. There are no perfect teams. We are all dysfunctional at some level and during some seasons.

In case you’re wondering- my definition of a dysfunctional team – in simple terms – is one which cannot operate at peak efficiency and performance, because it is impacted by too many negative characteristics. There’s more going wrong than right more days than not.

In my experience, there are commonalities of dysfunction. If you have been on a dysfunctional team you’ve probably seen one or more of of the common traits.

See if any of these seem familiar.

7 indicators of a dysfunctional team:

Team members talk about each other more than to each other. The atmosphere is passive aggressive. Problems are never really addressed, because conflict is avoided. The real problems are continually ignored or excused.

Mediocrity is celebrated. Everything may even be labeled “amazing”. Nothing ever really develops or improves because no one has or inspires a vision bigger than what the team is currently experiencing.

It’s never “our” fault. It’s the completion or the culture or the times in which we live. No one takes responsibility. And, everyone passes blame. Will the real leader please stand up?

Communication usually brings more tension than progress. There may be lots of information, but it’s not packaged in a way which brings clarity. No one knows or recognizes a win.

The mention of change makes everyone nervous. Either change is rare or it’s been instituted wrong in the past. Any real progress has to be forced or controlled.

Only the leader gets recognition or can make decisions. Team members never feel valued or appreciated. No one feels empowered. The leader uses words like “I” or “my” more than “we” or “our”.

There are competing visions, goals or objectives. It’s every team member for his or herself. The strategy or future direction isn’t clear.

According to my observations have you served on a dysfunctional team?

Granted, every team goes through each of these during seasons. Again, there are no perfect teams. But, if there are at least two or three of these at work current I’d say it’s a good time to evaluate the team’s health and work to make things healthier.

How many of these can you currently see on your team?

One Thing You Must Do if You Want to Attract Leaders

One of the most frequent concerns I receive from young leaders about their organizations is they aren’t being given adequate responsibly or authority. Instead, they are handed a set of tasks to complete. They don’t feel they have a part in creating the big picture for the organization.

Since most of the young leaders I talk to are in ministry, this means it’s happening in the church too.

And, the other side of this dilemma is most the pastors I hear from are looking for leaders. They want someone to take the reigns of leadership and actually do something.

How do we solve the problem?

How do we find leaders for our churches and how do we allow younger team members to feel included? How do successful organizations (churches) attracts leaders?

Here’s my best advice:

Hand out visions more than you assign tasks.

In order for the organization to be successful, you’ll need to attract leaders. You know that, right? You need to know something about leaders and potential leaders.

Leaders want to work towards a vision, more than they want complete a set of tasks.

Leaders don’t get excited about checklists and assignments.

Leaders want to join a great vision, then help develop the tasks to accomplish it.

Leaders get excited about faith-stretching, bigger-than-life, jaw-dropping acts of courage.

That’s the kind of vision leaders – and those who claim to want to be leaders – want to believe in and follow. “To do” lists often get in the way of that kind of fun. Visions excite people. The details to complete them don’t.

So, if you want to create a successful organization and recruit leaders hand people a big vision with lots of room for them to choose on the implementation side.

Of course, they may indeed need to create checklists. I would even suggest they do if I were coaching them. They will need measurable action plans. They need to have a list of assignments in order to complete a project successfully. All those are necessary to accomplish a worthy vision. A vision is simply an idea until someone puts legs to it so it can walk.

But, start with the vision. Start with the big idea. Start with what you hope to accomplish some day. And, make sure you’re real clear about illustrating the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be seized.

And, then get out of the way and let people figure out how they will accomplish the vision.

This doesn’t mean your work is over, either. They’ll need your help along the way. They’ll still need your help to develop structure, discipline and follow through. But that’s way different than handing them a set of tasks in the beginning. And, it’s practicing good leadership and delegation skills.

I realize this is especially hard for some leaders who may want to control the desired outcome. (Leaders often like me – just being honest.) You’ll have to take a risk on the people you’ve recruited to lead and discipline yourself to let them work in their own way. You’ll get burned a few times, but overall, you’ll find more success when you:

Paint big visions – not specific tasks.

When you do this you’ll attract and develop more leaders and a more successful organization will be built and sustained.

7 Warnings for Aspiring Leaders

These I've learned the hard way

Almost on a weekly basis I hear from young pastors who want to grow as a leader. They feel the pressure placed upon them and knows others are looking to him to steer the church on a healthy course. Most of these leaders are humble, knowing ultimately Christ is the head of the church.

They also usually know three things:

1. There are expectations of their position by the people of the church. People are looking to them for leadership.

2. Decisions have to be made which are not clearly defined in Scripture. And, there are usually varied opinions already formed around the decision.

3. Seminary didn’t train them for all the decisions they need to make.

That’s often why they contact someone like me.

Sometimes it seems I’ve given the same advice many times – either reminding myself or to another pastor. The more times I share the same concept, the more it becomes a short, paradigm shaping idea, which summarizes the basic issue the leader is facing.

What isn’t always clear is how I’ve learned these concepts mostly by living these concepts. I’ve made more mistakes in leadership than I’ve had success.

And, that’s what this post is about. These are some warnings I’ve observed first hand in leadership positions I’ve held. I’m trying not to continue to live them and I’d love to help other leaders avoid them.

Here are 7 warnings for aspiring leaders:

What you “settle for” eventually becomes the culture. And, then it is much more difficult to change. In fact, you’re probably settling because you’re fighting against culture now. Leadership involves challenging people beyond their current confort level.

Mediocrity isn’t created. It’s accepted. Oh, how I’ve learned this one the hard way. People will be average if you allow them to be. It’s easier. In most jobs, they get paid the same. That’s not even to say it’s what they prefer. Most people prefer excellence, but it often takes leadership – or coaching – to pull out the best in people.

Your actions determine other people’s reactions. During stressful times the leader’s response dictates the level of stress on the team. When it’s time to celebrate, the team will seldom celebrate more than the leader. The leader sets the bar of expectations in how the team reacts to life as a team.

Don’t assume they agree because they haven’t said anything. I actually wrote about a whole chapter about this one in my book The Mythical Leader. But, silence doesn’t equate to agreement.

You’ll never get there just “thinking about it”. And, we do more of that as a team sometimes – it seems – than we do getting work done. Every good idea isn’t even something the team should do. But, if it is, there needs to be a plan. Who’s in charge? When are we doing it? And, how will we know when we are successful?

If you’re the leader, they are likely waiting on you to lead or release the right to lead. People seldom take initiative unless you lead – or unless you create the culture which gives them permission, freedom and encouragement to do so.

What the team values becomes apparent by your actions, more than your words. And, it doesn’t matter how well spoken you might be. People follow what the leader does.

What warnings would you share to aspiring leaders?

5 Things I Control as a Senior Leader

Having planted two churches anc two revitalization churches I am frequently asked about what things do I try to control and which did I release to others.

And, I love that question. I think its one all leaders need to ask themselves – frequently.

The leadership lid you will always create is in whatever area you choose to control.

I believe this strongly and it’s why I often discipline myself not to have an answer. I purposively choose to give things away to others on our team – things they can’t do better than me and things I simply shouldn’t be doing.

As much as I love delegation, however, there are some things I feel the need to control – maybe even continue to control.

Here are 5 things I control as a senior leader:

Vision – I believe senior leadership should make sure the vision of the organization is always in the minds of people, therefore I must continually reinforce it in what I say and do.

Staff culture – Senior leadership – always, but especially in the early days – plays a primary role in setting the culture. Things such as staff morale, approach to structure and the working atmosphere are greatly embedded and formed by the senior leader.

The organization’s pursuit of excellence – People will never push for more excellence than the level expected, led, and lived by senior leadership.

The moral value of the organization – The character and integrity of the organization will reflect senior leadership’s character and integrity. Period.

The velocity of change – Senior leadership sets the speed in which change and innovation is welcome in the organization.

As a leader, I realize the less I control, the more I can allow others to lead. The result is a healthier, happier organization that is more prone for growth. There are things, such as the above, which by default and for their importance, senior leadership should control. If control seems to harsh a word then choose another, but these should not be delegated too far beyond the ability to guide them.

Cyber Threats to Churches: What Would Your Church Do?

This is a guest post by my friend Lincoln Kaffenberger.
Lincoln was a member of our church plant, served as a military officer, and now works as an information technology professional in the financial sector. He has over a decade of experience helping organizations understand the threats they face and make informed, risk based decisions.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. -1 Peter 4:12

Cyber-attacks are already a common part of daily life for businesses. Unfortunately, they are becoming a common part of life for churches too. Many churches are unprepared for common cyber-attacks that businesses regularly experience. Too often church leaders simply consider cybersecurity an IT issue without considering the organization-wide impacts a successful cyber-attack could have on their church’s ability to function, its reputation, and its congregation. Times have changed. Cybersecurity is now an organizational issue that pastors and other church leaders must care about.

There have been several examples in the past few years of churches that have been victims of cyber-attacks. Churches have lost the money in their bank accounts, had their congregants’ and staffs’ identities stolen, have had their websites defaced and brought down, have had sensitive information put at risk of being exposed, and have been victims of an increasingly common type of cyber-attack – ransomware. Any one of these events can hurt the trust a church has with its people and community and hinder its ministry to those outside the church.

One way churches can improve their security in a meaningful, cost-effective way is to do tabletop exercises working through plausible cyber-attack scenarios. Churches should consider both the most likely and the most dangerous cyber threat scenarios to understand what the impacts of each could be. By working through these scenarios in a low stress environment before a cyber-attack happens, church leadership can rehearse their response plans, identify gaps in their plans, and ultimately improve their security. Additionally, table top exercises serve as educational events for those in a church who are not as familiar with cybersecurity.

Some questions church leaders should ask when they think of different cyber-attack scenarios are:

  • Could this scenario happen to us? What conditions would have to exist for this scenario to be feasible?
  • If this scenario happened, what would the impact be to our reputation and credibility? How would we rebuild our reputation and trust with our congregation and community?
  • How would we respond? Who would we turn to for help? Who could we call?
  • How could this attack have been prevented? Could we detect this attack at its early stages?

There are five possible cyber threat scenarios that have affected churches recently:
1. Cybercriminals empty the church’s bank account;
2. Hackers deface the church’s website with politically charged images;
3. The Church is a victim of a ransomware attack that denies the church access to their files;
4. Pastor’s accounts get hacked and the hackers publicly release sensitive information;
5. Church Staff and Congregants Identities Stolen After Church Database Breached.

These scenarios each represent a kind of attack or a kind of harm that a cyber-attack could bring to a church. If church leadership walk through these five scenarios and answer the questions as an organization, they will discover their level of exposure to cyber risk, better understand what the holes are in their cybersecurity, be better positioned to respond to a cybersecurity incident, and importantly be ready to adopt and create a culture of security within the church that allows it to do the Lord’s work securely.

Resources and Recommendations

In addition to conducting tabletop exercises with these threat scenarios, the following are other resources that can help improve your church’s cybersecurity. First, every leader should start by securing themselves by following the “Cybersecurity Basics for Individuals.” Next, leaders should ensure their churches are following “Cybersecurity Recommendations for Organizations.” These will not provide perfect security, but they are a good start to a more cyber secure online ministry.

Cybersecurity Basics for Individuals:

“UPDATE Protocol” from Marc Goodman’s “Future Crimes”:
a. Update frequently all operating systems, firmware, apps – everything
b. Passwords should be unique, long, strong, stored securely (e.g. password manager), and use multi-factor authentication
c. Download programs and files only from trusted sites; be wary of “free software”; enable “white-listing” settings on Windows or Mac so only approved programs run; pay attention to app ‘permissions’
d. Admin login has the highest permissions and shouldn’t be used to do normal activities like surfing the internet; have a separate ‘user’ account for checking email and surfing the web
e. Turn-off your devices (or at least their internet connection) when not in use, which reduces the opportunity for criminal attacks by 1/3rd
f. Encrypt your data while on your devices using Bitlocker and Filevault programs to encrypt hard disk on your Windows and Mac respectively. Encrypt your data while in transit using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Cybersecurity Recommendations for Organizations:

● Identify and protect your most important digital assets – your cyber crown jewels

● Establish policies and procedures for your church’s information security – here is an example

● Have a cyber incident response plan – Create an incident response plan if one does not already exist: NIST’s 800-61 is a good resource to begin with – https://www.nist.gov/publications/computer-security-incident-handling-guide

● Follow cybersecurity best practices by implementing the Center for Internet Security’s Top 20 Critical Security Controls. Many times, doing the basics of security such as properly configuring devices, requiring everyone to follow secure practices, and reducing exposure will require very little money but pay huge dividends. Other security measures such as malware protection may be discounted for churches. In some cases, churches can receive donated or discounted security technology – http://www.techsoup.org/bitdefender