5 Ways to Listen to Different Voices as a Leader

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One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is forgetting everyone doesn’t think like them. I have personally made this mistake many times. We assume what we are thinking is what everyone else is thinking.

Wrong.

And time has proven this to me repeatedly.

The fact is people are different. They think differently, have different desires and, thankfully have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are often different from the leader.

This can be frustrating if we allow it to be, but with intentionality it can also be extremely helpful. As a leader, I limit the organization when I limit it to my ideas or abilities.

So, if you recognize the need and want to lead with people who are different from you, you’ll often have to lead differently from how you wish to be led. Make sense?

I’m just being candid here, but frankly, I’d be comfortable leading by email, but how healthy would such an 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, worst of all, 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 the term, because I think better leadership is a “we”, but I want you to see how I try to be intentional in this area.)

Welcoming input.

This has to come first and is more about a personal attitude. I have to actually want to hear from people on my team – even the kind of information which hurts to hear initially. Personally, I want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office, at any time, and challenging my decisions. Granted, I want to receive respect, and I also expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Intentionally surrounding yourself with diverse personalities.

One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me everyone isn’t introverted like me.

On any church staff where I have led, I found some different personalities to compliment mine. I try to consistently surround myself with different voices, so I receive diversity of thought. 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.

Personally, I ask lots of questions. If you come to me with a question I am likely to answer with a question, such as, “What do you think we should do?” I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. Periodically, I like to set up focus groups of people for input on various issues. I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible.

Most important, I place a personal value on hearing from people who I know respect me, but are not afraid to be honest with me.

Never assume 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. It is important 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 this approach works better for some who may not provide their voice otherwise.

Structuring for expression of thought.

Here I am referring to the DNA and culture for the entire team. There has to be an environment where all leaders are encouraged to think for themselves. This 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”.

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?

Communicating Personal Vision – A Huge Challenge for Senior Leaders

By | Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 3 Comments

The Challenge

One of the greatest challenges I have felt as a senior leader is to regularly communicate the big picture vision I own in my head.

Of course, this is the idea behind vision and mission statements, but those are very broad statements. I am referring to the dreams I am currently dreaming. There are often specific goals and objectives I think we should currently be attempting as an organization.  

The importance:

I know I need to share what I’m thinking for people who can’t read my mind.  It is hard for those we lead to get inside our head, but so important if we want to lead well. If we want to earn and keep trust and credibility in our leadership, then we must make sure people understand our broad visions.

In fairness, they are thinking about their own individual responsibilities. Their role may not be to think for the entire organization. That’s usually the role of senior leaders.

What I attempt to do:

Sharing my heart for the personal vision I have requires more intentionality in communication. Many leaders assume others are following. It isn’t until people don’t accomplish what the leader hopes they will that they realize the people trying to follow never fully understood what a leader was expecting.

This is always a work in progress for me, and more difficult in a new position, but here are some things I try to to communicate my personal vision as a senior leader:

  • Communicate regularly
  • Keep notes to myself of what needs communicating (and I do that in categories of the people that need to hear it)
  • Utilize different communication styles for different listening types
  • Use understandable language – and explain when it is not (I like to draw a lot of diagrams to flesh out my ideas in front of people.)
  • Do not assume others know what I am talking about – they may not
  • Speak openly and transparently
  • Allow people the freedom to ask me anything they want

And the greatest suggestion I have – Ask lots of questions of others! Make sure people understand what you are saying.

What about you?

Does anyone else struggle with this challenge?  What suggestions do you have for a leader sharing their heart with those around them?

How I Blog about Current Leadership Issues

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All the leadership examples I post on my blog come from real life situations – either mine or yours, collected through years of leadership experience. 

I get asked frequently, “How do you post about people you know? Don’t they figure out you’re talking about them?”

And, truthfully, sometimes they ask, “Is that post about me?

The reality is, however, that every situation seems to repeat itself – many times. (There is nothing new under the sun.) In fact, I will seldom post specific details of a specific situation. I wait until I observe it more than once and I keep posts as broad and general as I can.

Many of the situations from which I draw principles come from readers of this blog sharing their stories with me. And I have received lots of them over the years. Some come from other churches with whom I’ve worked. Many of the situations from which I develop leadership principles happened years ago when I was in secular business and management. Sometimes the details are cloudy, but the principles are still quite clear.

I do have a system (informal that is), however, of how I post about current leadership issues, especially those real life to me, where I know the people involved.

Here is my “system”:

I wait until some time has passed – The principles learned will still be good. It could be a month or several years, depending on how easy to discern the details would be. (Evernote is where I mostly keep my notes.)

I also try to make sure I have removed my emotions before I post about a situation. I’ve been burned a few times (and burned others) by posting in anger, so I’ve learned to never post until I’m back on even ground emotionally.

I consider all parties involved – I want to make sure I’m telling the story correctly. The point is trying to capture the facts as they happened, not as someone felt (or I felt) as they were happening. If it’s a personal issue for me, I never share any situation I wouldn’t be comfortable discussing with the people involved.

I especially don’t want people I lead feeling slammed through my blog, so I make sure to address leadership problems outside this blog. Frequently, I mention upcoming posts so they know in advance I’m writing about a certain topic.

Examine what was learned – I always want to learn from experiences; good or bad, so I ask myself how the teams involved are better and how things could improve because of this situation. Again, I try never to post out of personal frustration, but I do try to share that which can benefit others from my experience or the experience of others.

Change details – I never share names, unless I have permission and it’s necessary for the story. Also, I change enough details to keep people guessing as to the characters in the situation.

Post – Eventually I use the story or situation to write about a leadership problem or principle. My theory is that all leadership principles develop somewhere – and there is always a story behind them.

Where did you learn some of your best leadership principles?

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

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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.)

7 Ways a Leader Can Invite Constructive Feedback

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 8 Comments

I remember an especially hard year as a leader. It was so bad several members of our staff had told me where I was letting them down. So much for having an “open door policy”. The next year I closed the door. 🙂

Not really, but this was a year where staff members said to me, “I have a problem with you.” They may not have used those exact words, but the point was clear – I can be an idiot at times. There were significant areas where I needed to improve. Thankfully, I haven’t had many of those years, but I’m glad now I had the ones I have, because they have taught me a lot about my leadership.

There is room for improvement with any leader and maturing leaders welcome instruction from the people they are trying to lead.

Most of the time when I’ve been corrected by someone I’m supposed to lead, I deserved it. Plus, anytime someone on a team is brave enough to rebuke their leader, you can be assured he or she is either:

  • Desperate and willing to do anything.
  • Ignorant or doesn’t care.
  • Feels welcome to do so.

In my opinion, good leaders try to create environments to live within the third option. I hope this was the case in my situation.

I should also say, especially on behalf of my fellow senior leaders, that criticism comes easily to leaders. We don’t have to ask for it. Do anything at all in leadership and someone will have a problem with it – and they won’t always be kind in how they voice their complaint. I like to say “you can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit”. Leading is hard and I am not suggesting we make it harder.

But I’m not talking about the negative type of criticism. I am referring to constructive feedback from people I care about and who respect me. We all need that at times.

Here are 7 ways to welcome correction from the people we lead:

An open door.

My work environment is somewhat different now, because we have a very remote working environment. As pastor of a large staff, it was even more important to keep the door to my office open. But it was more than than simply the door. As a leader, I try to make my schedule available to the people I lead. And, if I’m in the office, my door is “open” and I want people to know they can walk in anytime. In addition, I try to help teams I lead know that I consider responsiveness to be of highest value to me. If they contact me, I will attempt to answer in a timely manner.

Include others in decision making.

If a decision affects more people than me, then I want more people helping to make the decision. This is true even if it’s a natural decision for me to make. The more I include people in the decision-making, the more likely they are to want to follow the decisions made. In fact, I seldom make decisions alone.

Ask for it.

Consistently, throughout the year, I ask people to tell me what they think. I ask lots of questions. I solicit opinions on almost every major decision I make. It’s a risky move, because many will, but it’s invaluable insight. And, the more you ask, the more freedom people feel in sharing.

Admit mistakes.

It’s important that I recognize when decisions made are my fault. People feel more comfortable approaching a leader who doesn’t feel they are always right.

Take personal responsibility.

In addition to admitting fault, I must own my share of projects and responsibility. The team needs to know that I’m on their side and in their corner. When they are criticized I own the criticism with them. I have their back. (By the way, this is only learned by experience.)

Model it.

It’s one thing to say I welcome correction, but when correction comes, I must model receiving it well. If I overreact when correction comes, I’ll limit the times I receive it. If I chooser retribution, I’ve shut further feedback off before it comes.

Trade it.

The best way to get a team to offer healthy correction of the leader is to create a relationship with the team where there is mutual constructive feedback. The goal is not for the leader to receive all the correction. The goal is for correction to be applied where correction is needed.

I should also say all these are still not enough. Constructive criticism from people who care about you and want your best, especially from people you lead, only develops over time as trust is developed. They have to trust you and you have to trust them.

Receiving correction – or constructive feedback – is difficult for anyone, perhaps seemingly unnatural for most leaders. I believe, however, when a leader is open to healthy correction from his or her team, the team will be more willing to follow the leader wherever he or she goes.

Leader, are you open to correction? Is your leader open to correction?

7 Things Which Drive Me Crazy in Leadership

By | Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 11 Comments

There are some things in leadership I could almost say I despise. Those things are almost always the ways people misuse or even abuse their leadership power – or the way other people respond to any attempt at good leadership.

And I have probably been guilty of many of these in my career. But, mostly looking backwards at the results, I hate when I did them as well.

Perhaps you have your own list, but this is mine.

7 things which drive me crazy in leadership:

Responsibility without authority – If you ask someone to lead something – let them lead. Don’t make them jump through humps, constantly come back to you for approval, or second-guess everything they do.

Small-mindedness – I like big dreams and those who dream them. It wears me out to be around people calling themselves leaders, but limiting themselves or their organization to mediocrity. I know I’ve never once out-dreamed God. Nor has any of us.

Naysayers – There is always someone who says it can’t be done, it hasn’t been done this way before, or no one will support your idea. It could be the result of their own misfortunes or it could be the way they are wired in general. Listen to wisdom, even constructive criticism, but don’t fall victim to people who resist every change.

Power protectors – Leaders who are easily threatened by others, always try to control people, or only say what they think people want to hear in order to be liked limit people and the organization.

Caution motivated only by fear – Some leaders refuse to take any risk if there is a chance it might not work. They take the safe route – especially when any outside pressure rises against them or the idea. Many times this is seasonal and based on circumstances, but sometimes it is a personal wiring of the leader. (By the way, I can be guilty of a number of these, but this one can impact me the most. I personally prefer a bold move of faith, but many times I let fear get the best of me.)

Bully management – Some leaders attempt to get results by force. They beat people into submission, never appear to be satisfied, or badger people to perform. This has always seemed like cowardly leadership to me.

Passion squelchers – I’ve known leaders who never liked an idea – unless it the idea originated with them. These leaders tend to say no to people more than they say yes. They don’t encourage growth in those around them unless it directly benefits them. Good leaders energize others to realize their individual dreams, even if there is no immediate benefit received to the leader or the organization.

What are some things you despise in leadership?

7 Default Zones Every Leader Should Implement NOW!

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 16 Comments

There are a lot of gray issues in leadership. So many times I simply don’t know what to do. I try to lead by consensus building, but even with the strongest teams there will always be decisions about which we just aren’t certain what is the best decision.

This is why I like to have some default zones in leadership. When I can’t make a decision – I know where to default.

Having a default action when things on both sides appear equal or you are uncertain about a decision may help you make better decisions. These aren’t foolproof, as many things in leadership are not, but having a general idea which way you would “default” in common situations, which occur frequently in leadership, may prove to be helpful.

Based on the team you lead, where you lead, and your past experiences as a leader, your defaults may be different from mine.

If you consistently have to make the same type decisions as a leader, think through which way over time has proven to be best. This becomes your default zone.

Here are 7 of my leadership default zones:

In matters of hiring – default to no over yes.

If in doubt over whether the person is a good fit, I default to no. It is not worth taking a chance when adding to the team. When I haven’t followed this one it has usually turned out to be a mistake.

If you think you shouldn’t say it – Choose not to say it.

I don’t follow my own advice here often enough, but I’ve learned if my gut is telling me to “keep a tight rein on my tongue”, it’s likely to be a Biblical conviction. The more I discipline myself in this area the more respect I garner as a leader – or the less respect I lose.

If it’s between empower or control – choose empower.

Except in cases such as vision or a moral issue, letting go of control and empowering others almost always works out better than expected. Even if the person isn’t successful, I have seen the learning curve for them and the team is huge and often some of the best discoveries for the team are made when I get out of the way. The area I control always limit us in this area.

Choosing my preference or the team’s preference – go with the team.

There are times I have to make the hard decision to stand alone, but I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. If I am clearly outnumbered, I tend to lean on the wisdom of the team. You won’t keep respect as a leader if you continually stand opposite your team and keep being proved wrong. And if you believe in your team – prove it.

To do something in person or by email – Choose in person

By far, email is my most frequent communication tool. It has to be, just because of the sheer number of communications I have in a given week. But when I can, especially with our staff, I choose the personal touch. Get up from the desk and walk down the hall when it is an available option. Email and text are misunderstood far too many times. And we need personal connections to build strong teams.

If you have to assume or ask – ASK for clarification.

If you aren’t sure you understand what someone is thinking – if it doesn’t appear they understand you – rather than assume – ask. I’m continually asking my team something such as, “When you said _____, can you help me understand what you meant by that?” Misunderstanding leads to strained relationships and unhealthy teams. The best leaders I know ask the best questions. And they ask lots of them.

Commit or don’t commit – Choose don’t commit.

Leaders usually have more opportunities than time can allow. I’ve learned – the hard way – no one will protect my calendar as well as me. I’ve also learned when I over commit – I become less effective, I burnout easily, and, over time, eventually I’m useless. I disappoint less people when I don’t commit on the front end.

These may not be the ones you need – you may have your own, but learning your leadership default zones may make you a better leader.

Do you have any you would add?

7 Casualties of Being a People Pleaser in Leadership

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | 26 Comments

Leadership is hard and every decision a leader makes is subject to opinion. Different opinions. Lots of different opinions.

Every hard decision a leader makes excites some and upsets others.

At the same time, most of us who have positions of leadership want people to like us personally and in our role as a leader. We all like to be liked. This leads many leaders, however, into becoming victims of people-pleasing. When pleasing people becomes a goal, we seldom lead people into what is best and are led more by opinions of others than by vision.

Every pastor and leader I know agrees people-pleasing is not a good quality for a leader. Talking with hundreds of pastors every year, however, I’d have to say this has to be one of the most frequent weaknesses pastors admit to me. For the pastor, when our aim is to please people, many times we are motivated more by what people want than even what God wants for the church. This is obviously dangerous. Hopefully, I don’t have to build the case here.

But what are the casualties of people pleasing? What are the organizational casualties? How does it ultimately play out among people in the church or organization we are attempting to lead? Knowing these answers may help us be more determined not to allow people-pleasing to be our motivation in leadership.

Here are 7 casualties of being a people pleaser:

No one is really ever satisfied.

When the leader tries to please everyone the reality is no one on the team finds fulfillment in their work. No one. In an attempt to let everyone win – no one really does.

Tension mounts among the team.

People pleasing pits people against one another as the leader attempts to please everyone and team members are conditioned to jockey for positions with the leader aimed at pleasing them. It creates a political atmosphere among the people who should be working together.

Disloyalty is rampant.

One would think people pleasing builds loyal supporters, but actually the reverse is more true. The people-pleaser says what people want to hear more than what needs to be said. Consequently, people don’t trust a people-pleaser, because they quickly learn what the leader says isn’t necessarily the whole truth, but what will keep the leader popular.

Burnout is common.

I’ve observed team members trying to function under a people pleaser. They feel they have the leader’s support, but then it’s pulled from under them as the leader tries to please someone else. It’s tiring.

Frustration abounds.

People-pleasing leads to fractured teams and fragmented visions.

Mediocrity reigns.

Second best under a people-pleasing leader becomes the new goal not a consolation. Lackluster results ultimately lower standards. In an effort to please everyone, the team compromises what “could be” for what keeps people temporarily happy. (Emphasis on the temporarily.)

Visions stall.

Visions are intended to take us places. Noble places we’ve never been. This involves change. Always. And change is hard. Always. People don’t like change. People-pleasers like people to be happy. You see where this one is going?

Be honest. Ever worked for a people pleaser? Ever been one?

What results did you see?

The Tension Between Being Available and Being Accessible as a Leader

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership | 38 Comments

As a pastor, the larger the church grew the greater the tension I have felt between being available and being accessible. That has been equally true every time God has given me more leadership responsibility.

Leader, have you ever felt this tension?

And I’ve learned to be effective – and to protect my family and to avoid burnout, I can’t always do both.

Truth be told, there are usually too many demands on my time to always be available. Sometimes there are more requests for my time than hours in the day. As a pastor, Sunday was always coming. Even now, as the senior leader of an organization, I received dozens – some days hundreds – of emails, texts and phone calls – every single day.

As a leader, I simply always be available.

  • I must make the most effective use of my limited time.
  • I may not be the best person to meet with everyone.
  • I must spend time investing in the staff with whom I work.
  • I need to reserve ample time for future planning – and even dreaming. (It is not a luxury, but a necessity.)
  • I may sometimes need to refer people to someone who is more available at the time.

Some weeks, just being honest, sadly, I end up saying “No” more than I get to say “Yes”.

If time were limitless – I’d rather always be available. As with most leaders, it’s easier for me to say yes than it is to say no. I’m always more popular when I do.

But popular isn’t a good goal. It’s seldom an effective goal.

I can’t always be available, but this shouldn’t mean I’m unreachable.

I try to always be accessible.

  • I genuinely want people to be served and to serve people.
  • I can easily be found online. (I don’t hide my contact information.)
  • I respond to all emails and return phone calls in a reasonable time – hopefully by the end of each day.
  • I hold responsiveness as a huge personal value and lead our team to do likewise.
  • I always try to help people get the help or answer they need.

I realize even this doesn’t make everyone happy. Some want me always available to them. But the goal of leadership is not to make everyone happy – it’s to lead people to a better reality than today. To do this, I must make effective use of my time.

I share this because there are so many pastors facing real burnout. They are struggling with effectiveness. Their family life is suffering. All because they tried to always be available, when all they needed to be was accessible.

(By the way, the church leaders in Acts 6 understood this tension. Read it again to see how they responded.)

Pastor/leader – the tension is real. But realize you can be accessible even if you’re not always available.

Pastors, do you ever feel the tension between being accessible and being available?

One Simple, But HUGE Way to Better Empower a Team

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

Leader, let me share one of the best things you can do to better empower your team.

And, in full disclosure, I can be the worst at this, but it’s something I’m always striving to do better. (And try to help my team learn about me.)

You want to fully empower your team?

Here’s what you do:

Release people following you from a responsibility to accomplish the ideas you are simply processing.

Often as leaders we are constantly coming up with new ideas – some of them which seem to compete with ideas we’ve already shared. Sometimes as we dispense new ideas our team begins to feel overwhelmed, because they are still processing the last “new idea” we shared.

And it is not bad at all that we have new ideas. New ideas lead to new initiatives which can lead to new growth. When we are growing and learning personally the team with whom we serve will often be where we prefer to process our thoughts and ideas. That’s a healthy and natural part of leading people.

But that can also be where we can cause problems, if we are not careful. 

The team only knows what they know. If we as the leader don’t tell them, they can assume an idea we have is a project we are mandating. They can mistake something that is simply a new and untested thought – perhaps even randomly produced by something we read or something we thought about in the shower – is something we want them to act upon immediately. They sometimes hear ideas as directives.

And if we do this frequently it can begin to feel they have more to do than they have time to do it.

So, here’s the simple, but HUGE advice.

If something is not their current responsibility — let them know it’s not.

If it is just an idea and nothing more, simply let them know. And it is that simple.

You see, the team is always wondering.

  • What is the leader thinking here — as it relates to me?
  • What do you want me to do with that new idea?
  • How do you want me to help?
  • What will I stop doing if I start doing something else?
  • What’s my role going to be in this?
  • Are you going to hold me accountable for this?
  • Do you expect something from me here?

The reality is that as leaders we are often processing and presenting a lot of new ideas to our team. Again, that’s a good thing. But sometimes we are simply “thinking” – maybe processing out loud. Sometimes we aren’t assigning anything — we are simply exploring.

And it is in those moments we need to let our team know what is going on in our minds.

The more we can release the people trying to follow us from accomplishing something that is currently only in our minds the more they can focus on things for which they are actually being held accountable. And the more willing they will be to process new ideas with us.

The bottom line is to tell people what we expect and what don’t expect. Communicate more. Say words like:

  • “You are not responsible for this.”
  • “I don’t expect anything from you on this.”
  • “I’m not saying this is a good idea yet.”
  • “Feel free to push back on this one.”
  • “This is just for information.”
  • “I’m simply thinking out loud.”

Sounds simple. For people trying to follow it is huge.