5 Quandaries of Leading Creative People

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Innovation, Leadership | No Comments

I love having creative people on teams I lead, but, honestly, they can make leading much messier. Leading creatives can be difficult.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the top Google definition of a creative: relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creative minds are always wandering. They get bored easily. They are never completely satisfied with their work – and often with the work of others. It makes leading a team meeting harder.

And, before you creatives get too defensive, just so you know…

I’m a creative.

Not an artsy creative. I don’t paint, do music, etc. But I’m a dreamer. I have a vivid imagination. I’ve never met a day I didn’t have a new idea. My mind wanders quickly — randomly — often.

The main reason I love creatives being on the team is they bring new ideas. They stretch others, add energy and challenge mediocrity.

One huge paradigm for me, however, was realizing the quandaries of being a creative. I think this is the word I’m trying to illustrate. A quandary — “a state of perplexity” — confusion.

It is in some of these quandaries which might makes us creatives more difficult to lead.

Consider what I mean – and see if this is familiar with you – or the creatives you lead.

Here are 5 quandaries of the creative:

We don’t like boundaries, rules or policies (and we may test them or rebel against them)  but we need them in order to be effective.

The fact is we need deadlines. We don’t like deadlines, or being held to them, but deadlines are usually the only way to keep us on task, so we actually crave someone to give them to us. Creatives need to know what a win looks like. We need structure. I’m not suggesting you give us needless rules – we need healthy rules which empower more than limit or control – but we produce our best for organizations and teams under some restrictions.

Sometimes our minds wander in so many directions, with no clarity, that we can’t even catch a single thought, and nothing makes sense other times the idea is laser-focused, and we can’t write, paint, draw, or sketch it fast enough.

Which is why even within the deadlines we need freedom to decide how and when we do our work. Creative flow doesn’t always happen in cooperation with standard office hours.

We have lots of ideas – they are endless. Ideas come fast; really fast, too fast sometimes.

As fast as they arrive they’re gone if we don’t record them quickly, but sometimes we can’t get them out of our head and onto the canvas, or put them into a format which helps you understand what we are even thinking.

Which is why having us on teams can be beneficial, especially when there is more than one creative on the team. We like to process our ideas – often out loud – with others. And, even when we don’t feel like it – we probably really should. It helps eliminate confusion later. Brainstorming can be loads of fun and beneficial with a room full of creatives. (We will need more structured people to help make sense of things.)

Nothing we observe is ever wasted, every new thing we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, can lead to another idea but it also means our mind is never still, and if we are forced still long enough, we become very bored.

Long meetings lose us. Long emails never get read. Details make our heads explode. Leading creatives really does necessitate creative methods of leading.

We are tremendously flexible in our imagination – in the things we can dream about or create, but we can often be dogmatic in protecting our original ideas, and inflexible when it comes to changing them.

It’s true. I admit it. We actually like change, but can resist on changing our “masterpiece”. Don’t be afraid though to challenge us to improve. It is often just the push we need to get to our best work.

Do you see how we could be more difficult to lead?

Within each quandary is a decision I have to make as a leader — knowing when to place boxes around them and when to give them free reign, etc.

But it often begins with an understanding – of the quandary – and ultimately of the people we are attempting to lead.

Life Cycles of an Organization: And the Team That Leads Them

By | Innovation, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | No Comments

Every organization has a life cycle. In fact, over time an organization will likely be many separate cycles. I have written about organizational life cycles before.

But I have observed another dynamic within these life cycles. In each life cycle the most successful organizations I have been a part of had a team skilled at three separate functions.

The three functions are:

Starters

Starting involves those who can dream, vision-cast, and recruit people to follow a new idea or initiative. These are the people who embrace change and are always ready for something new. (BTW, this is the group where I typically fit.)

Maintainers

Maintaining involves setting up and managing systems in an effort to continue the progress usually begun by others. These people may be slower to embrace change; valuing things which are organized, structured, and understandable. (BTW, every team needs these people to be successful.)

Finishers

Finishing is different from starting or maintaining, because it’s not beginning new, nor is it staying the same, but it involves taking an established idea and carrying it to the next destination. It could be to improve things or to close them gracefully. These are people who have the ability and desire to make existing things better and to finish things well.

Here’s why this matters in an organization:

In my observation, people tend to lean towards one of the three, and may be comfortable in two of them. I have found it rare for someone to be gifted in all three. But on successful teams, all three are operating together within a life cycle.

I love being a starter. Since I was in high school, I’ve wanted to start clubs or initiatives, alter the direction of something, or stir up some intentional change. It is one reason I’m consistently tossing out new ideas to our team. (It’s also how I frustrate them most.) I can live in the finisher role for a time if it involves development or innovation, but I always drift back to starting something new. And I burn out very quickly in the maintaining position.

One goal of a team could be to balance the strengths of the team members around each of these, so the team is always starting, maintaining, and finishing. The most important thing is that the team and leaders recognize that each of these functions of a life cycle are equally important.

Every healthy life cycle requires all three.

Which one are you wired for best?

(If you say all three, you might want to ask people around you to help you evaluate your answer.)

Where Many New Ideas Come From

By | Change, Innovation, Leadership | 6 Comments

In my experience, many of the new ideas for our organization…and for my life…have come while I was doing something else.

Usually when we are working on planning a service it’s when the best ideas for a service develop…

Often when I’m working on a blog post, I get several new ideas for a blog post…

Look at most great inventions and they were discovered while doing something…many times while doing something totally unrelated to what was discovered…

That’s because…

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One Tip to Help You Meet Your Goals

By | Business, Encouragement, Innovation, Leadership | 3 Comments

Do you ever struggle to complete a project?

You have a goal, you may even know what needs to be done for the goal to become a reality, but you never seem to accomplish the necessary tasks that will bring you success. Your dreams remain simply dreams and you remain frustrated with yourself.

Sound familiar?

Let me share a quick tip to help you avoid this scenario.

Many of us, perhaps even most of us, work better under a little pressure.

Earlier this year I wrote about writing a life plan. (You can read that series of posts HERE.) I’ve found that setting a deadline for the specific action steps in a plan like this helps me be more productive…

If I have a major project I need or want to complete I will:

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4 Benefits of Empowering People in an Organization

By | Business, Church Planting, Innovation, Leadership | 13 Comments

I recently posted on the need for leaders to delegate and some steps to doing so. (Read those posts HERE and HERE) Following this post, I asked a supposed leader in an organization for a decision from his organization. It appeared to be a minor decision. It certainly would be in our organization. I have held leadership positions in larger organizations, and it would have been a minor decision in either of those places. This leader, however, had to pass the decision up a chain of command. We eventually received a yes answer, but it took a great deal of time through several layers of people to get there. By the time we got the answer, I didn’t need it anymore. (True story.)

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Great Customer Service Empowers People to Think

By | Church, Innovation, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

Several years ago I had problems with my cable service. I made numerous phone calls and several trips to the company all in an attempt to correct the problem while politely obeying what I was told to do. I realized as a pastor my community reputation was on the line, so I tried to be extremely respectful in dealings with the public – even when I was frustrated. (Actually, I am reminded it’s Biblical to guard the tongue.)

But I was frustrated. This adventure went on for weeks with each phone call and visit ending with no solution to my problem. I was simply given another step I needed to take. One more phone call. One more visit. No solutions. 

And, yet, the most frustrating part of all – each unresolved phone call and visit ended the same way. The service person who had not yet solved my problem, and had actually prolonged it, asked me the same question.Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

It soon became obvious the company policy required them to ask this question at the conclusion of every service encounter. I get it. Give people a script and you perhaps help ensure uniform customer service.

As I reflected on each conversation, however, it was apparent the customer service people did not have freedom of what to say in their responses. They were trained what to say for certain situations, but couldn’t alter how they ended the conversation. How was I supposed to answer this standard closing question?

I hadn’t received any help. I had received absolutely NONE. 

In fact, it seem I was being delayed from getting help. How could they help me with “anything else” when they hadn’t help me with anything?

I realize without some scripting most employees wouldn’t have a clue what to say, but instead of making me feel better about my situation, it only incited a negative emotion. (Which I tried – successfully for the most part – to control.)

Then recently I was traveling on a major airline (Okay, it was American. This is a good story, so I’ll share the name.) My flight was delayed – again. And again. The “rules” of my flight would not have allowed me to change flights, yet the ticket agent saw my dilemma. In fact, she picked up on the fact that I had been on several delayed flights over the last couple days of travel. She offered to try and help. She went away for a few minutes and when she came back she had us on a new flight.

Honestly, I would have been pleased even had she not been able to shift my flight. At least she would have tried. And I don’t know if she had authority to do this or took initiative outside the rules, but it appeared at the time she “broke the rules” to accommodate a weary traveler. What great service!

These were both minor incidents, and honestly not a big deal in the story of my life, but it reminded me of an important organizational principle.

The best customer service a company can offer empowers employees the freedom to think for themselves.

They allow individuals to make the best decision – say the right things – at the moment for the setting they are in, realizing the best person to make a decision or determine what to say is the one having the conversation with the customer. In my cable situation, for example, it may have been better to say something such as, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you this time. We will continue to work to resolve your problem.”

I would have at least felt I had been heard. Instead, I was recited a standard, pre-written line from a company handbook which really didn’t even apply to my situation.

There are organizational lessons here. 

If a leader wants his or her team to make the best decisions, train them in vision, mission, overall philosophy. Teach them good customer service skills and how to ask the right questions to determine the real problem. Help them understand how to gauge customer attitudes and emotions.

Then give them the right to think for themselves!

I have heard the motto of Nordstroms Department Store is to instruct employees to always make a decision which favors the customer before the company. They are never criticized for doing too much for a customer – they are more likely criticized for doing too little. Love it.

When a person has the authority to alter the script, they are more likely to provide a positive experience for the customer.

By the way, I believe this is an important principle in the church as well. Our goal should be to help volunteers understand the vision, basic teachings and philosophies of the church – then empower them think!

Do you want to know how my cable situation was resolved? Do you like the “end of the story”?

I finally got in touch with an employee from the company I knew personally. I asked him what he would try if it were his house. He gave me a suggestion to try for myself. We went with this and the trouble was solved – in a matter of a few minutes. (And, since it was a conversation among friends, he didn’t even ask me if he could help me with anything else.)

Leaders, does your team feel freedom to make the best decision at the time? Have you freed your people to think?

5 Questions to Ask When Facing Rejection as a Leader

By | Change, Church, Fear, Innovation, Leadership | 11 Comments

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 always involves change – and tension always accompanies 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 is 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.

3 Ways to Fuel Momentum

By | Church, Innovation, Leadership | 3 Comments

I am frequently asked how to spur momentum. Every leader wants it, yet it often seems hard to attain – and once we experience momentum we always want more.

I have been blessed to be part of some tremendous seasons of momentum in churches where I served as pastor or planter. We are beginning to experience some momentum again with Leadership Network.

I am always quick to point out that God is ultimately in control of His Kingdom – whether the church or a Christian nonprofit. I get no credit and don’t want it.

But I have also never been afraid to point to what God has done through His people. In my experience, He often allows people to lead. I believe He has gifted each of us with uniqueness and imagination for a reason. I believe the parable of the talents is an example of the way God wants us, especially as Kingdom leaders, to make wise decisions with what He has given us. (That even sounds Biblical. 1 Corinthians 12:27)

So how do we stir momentum? How does the body, functioning together, spur momentum?

In my observation, there are 3 basic ways momentum is usually encouraged.

Here are 3 ways momentum is fueled:

Innovation – I’m using this term to highlight improving what is currently existing. This could also be called development. When you take what you have and attempt to make it even bigger or better people notice and it makes room for more excitement and more enthusiasm.

Something new often creates more momentum.

Creativity – Dreaming. Brainstorming. Ideas. Intentional randomness. This part of stirring momentum can be temporary or even one time activities.

The fact is we can’t be more creative than the Creator so don’t be afraid to “think outside the box”. Creating something unusual or something that has never been tried before gives momentum an explosive potential.

Change – Change means altering something that currently exists. It creates immediate energy. Momentum. Every time. Change the classes you offer. Change the times of your services. Change the people in leadership.

Change spurs momentum.

Those are the 3 fuels of momentum I’ve observed.

It should be noted that not all momentum is positive momentum. There is such a thing as negative momentum and it can often grow stronger and faster than the positive kind. Sometimes you can get momentum without doing anything. It could be through inactivity, disregard, or tragedy. So beware of negative momentum.

Be careful, smart and consistent with trying to spur positive momentum. And, in my experience, you can often reverse negative momentum with more positive momentum. Which, by the way, requires more innovation, creativity or change.

I’m not pretending that’s easy. In fact it’s hard. That’s why it requires leadership. But figuring out what causes momentum isn’t difficult either.

Of course, with any principle, knowing and doing are two different issues. But, at least now you know what I have observed, by experience, about fueling momentum.

And I’m confident someone has better observations than me.

So share!