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?

7 Ways to Help Introverts Better Engage in Meetings

By | Church, Family, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 23 Comments

I have frequently been asked how to engage introverts on a team in meetings. I guess because I am an introvert, and have written extensively about the subject, people assume I know how. I try to remind them other people are different from me – even other introverts.

Although it is a common perception that all introverts are reserved, constantly quiet, and unsocial, introverts are a diverse group, with varying degrees of introversion. For example, if you give me authority, I’ll lead the meeting with no problem. It is not uncomfortable for me to speak to a crowded room – especially if I’m the scheduled speaker. That would never be comfortable for some introverts.

So, my best advice for leaders about engaging people into meetings would not be to consider the introverts, but to consider everyone different. When it comes to meeting dynamics, everyone has something to add and does so in their own way. It takes me time to understand the team.

Part of my job, if I’m leading a meeting, is to analyze the people in the room, as much as I can, before the meeting begins. If it’s “your” team this is done over time – getting to know the team. If the meeting involves people you don’t know or know well it’s more difficult, but good leaders learn to study people – such as the way they respond before the meeting, when they are introducing themselves, or their posture during the meeting.

But I do understand the introvert question. Many introverts don’t engage in meetings. They keep to themselves, especially in large group settings surrounded by extroverts. They aren’t as easy to get to know. And, yes, I can certainly be that way if I’m not in a leadership position where I have to force myself out of my introversion.

So, here’s my attempt to answer some of the questions about engaging introverts in meetings. Again, we aren’t all alike, even though we share the introvert characteristic, but try a few of these and see if they improve your meeting dynamics.

And, by the way, some of these can help extroverts make better decisions in meeting too.

7 suggestions to help introverts engage more:

Give them time to respond

This is huge. Introverts typically reflect inward, so they respond only after they have thought through their answer. This can actually be a great characteristic if used well, because it usually means their answer has already been tested – at least in their own mind. They are likely to share some of the most valid options on the table if you give the process time to work.

Ask specific questions – ahead of time

Give them a problem, and time to solve it, and most introverts will enjoy the challenge. If you want them to brainstorm effectively, tell them exactly what you are going to brainstorm about prior to beginning.

Let them respond in writing

When I know there are numerous introverts in a group, I will usually find a way to let them put something in writing. If there is a whiteboard in the room that could work. You could let them respond on their own paper and then share later in the meeting. I have even allowed them to text or email me during the meeting. It’s amazing some of the suggestions I’ve received when an introvert doesn’t have to say it aloud.

Don’t put them on the spot

If you call on them for an immediate response you might get an answer, but it won’t necessarily be their best answer. And it will often make them more introverted the rest of the meeting. Many introverts are not huge fans of being singled out to answer a question. They may be better prepared if you ask a question, let people respond who have instant answers (usually the extroverts), then call on the introverts later in the process. And, again, giving the questions ahead of time is an added bonus.

Separate them from the most extroverted

If there are too many extroverts in the group introverts are even more likely to shut down communication. Try putting a group of introverts together, give them plenty of time and thought provoking questions to stimulate conversation, then allow the process to work on their time. Then you can often prepare to be amazed.

Give them an assignment they can control

Many introverts (this one included) can perform to task if we are put in the seat of responsibility. It could be speaking to a group or working the crowd at a banquet, but when it’s purposeful and I have an assigned responsibility, and can control how I do it, I’m more likely to perform like an extrovert. Before the meeting (with as much notice as possible), and if they are willing, give introverts an assignment where they are responsible for sharing.

Express genuine and specific interest in their ideas

All of us, introverts and extroverts alike, love to be respected for our thoughts and ideas. If you want an introvert to share more, remind him or her how valuable they are to the team and how much their thoughts are needed. This is best done before the meeting starts.

By the way, some of these suggestions might help if you lead a Bible study at church also.

As already stated, this isn’t an exact science. We are all different. Knowing introversion, however, as I do, it’s a little easier for me to land on these points. Don’t overlook the introverts on your team as if they have nothing to add to the discussions. They do. They will simply share that information differently. They may not talk as much as some or seem to have as many opinions, but when they do, it will often be golden.

Are you introverted? What tips could you share?

The Difference in Popularity and Trust in Leading People

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 7 Comments

In leadership, its important to know the difference in popularity and trust.

I’ve seen leaders – whether pastors, politicians or in business – try to take people places, even worthy places, and believe people would follow because they are popular as a leader.

Yet people didn’t follow, because the leader hadn’t developed enough trust in the people he or she was trying to lead.

Misunderstanding this one principle can dramatically damage a leader’s performance. (This is especially true for newer leaders.)

Many leaders assume they are trusted because they are popular, but many times this is not the case. A leader may be very popular – people genuinely like the person – but this doesn’t always translate into trust.

People follow closest those they trust the most – not necessarily those they like the most. 

Popularity has some importance in leadership. It is easier to follow a leader we like personally. But popularity may be seasonal and temporary. Popularity can be altered by current successes or disappointments. Popularity can cause followers to cheer or jeer, because whether it is good or bad, popularity is mostly built on people’s emotions.

Trust is what is needed for the biggest moments in leadership. Major changes depend upon trust. Times of uncertainty need established trust in leadership. Long-term success requires trust.

And trust must be earned. Popularity can happen with the next great thing the leader does. I used to say the pastor is only as good as their last good sermon. (And that is semi-true.)

Trust, however, develops with time and experience. Trust invokes a deeper level of loyalty and commitment which helps people weather the storms of life together. Trust develops roots in a relationship which grow far deeper than popularity ever could.

Leader, I encourage you to know the difference between popularity and trust. And to not confuse the two.

Here is something else to know. Popularity often disguises itself as trust when people appear to be agreeing with you. And it may fool you into thinking you can do anything, because you are, after all, popular. But, if you are not careful, you will cross a line of people’s level of trust and see a backlash towards your leadership.

It will make you a more effective leader – especially when it comes to leading change – when you can begin to discern when you are simply popular and when you are truly trusted.

7 Dangers of Prideful Leadership

By | Leadership, Team Leadership | 22 Comments

I have frequently preached on the danger of pride.

If you follow this blog, you know I tend to think a great deal about leadership. I have a heart for developing good leadership in the church and in ministry. As I wrestle through this particular Biblical subject, I always think about places I see pride creep into leadership – even my own leadership. If we are not careful, our attempt at good leadership will be derailed by the pride of our hearts.

Remember, “Pride goes before destruction”. (Proverbs 16:18)

Have you ever known (or been) a proud leader?

Here are 7 dangers of prideful leadership:

Refusing to listen to advice from others – Proud leaders “know it all”. Of course, not really, but it’s often their perception of reality. Pride causes people to want you to believe they know more than they actually do. Sadly, their attempt to perpetuate the perception of superiority causes them to ignore the wisdom of others.

Making excuses for mistakes – Proud leaders refuse to admit their errors. They scoff at any insinuation a mistake was theirs and refuse ownership of the team’s failures. It’s always someone else’s fault when goals aren’t reached, mistakes are made or momentum stalls. They don’t learn from times of failure – they try to hide them.

Protecting position at any cost – Proud leaders try to keep others from gaining power or influence. They limit people’s exposure and stifle leadership development. They tend to curtail information and keep power within an arms length of their control.

Taking complete credit for a team’s success – There is only one clear winner on a proud leader’s team…the proud leader. Proud leaders take the microphone first. They have their name on every award. They keep the prime, attention-gaining assignments for themselves. They make sure they are in the “right place at the right time”, so no one steals their potential for applause.

Failing to see personal shortcomings – The proud leader becomes immune to his or her own deficiencies. Pride keeps him or her from getting honest about their weaknesses with anyone, including themselves. Proud leaders are careful to present themselves as flawless, whether in personal appearance or job performance. They may go to extreme measures to cover up any hint of an insufficiency.

Solicit grandstanding on their behalf – You’ll know about a proud leader’s accomplishment. They’ll be the first to start the cheers on their behalf. Proud leaders say things which promote the receiving of positive encouragement or feedback. They’ve been known to stage things so it doesn’t look like they initiated the recognition.

Removing God from the supreme position – Of course, God is supreme; regardless of the leader, but the ultimate danger of a leader struggling with pride is their attempt to remove God from His seat of control. Proud leaders refuse to submit to the will of God, preferring to chart their own path.

What other dangers have you seen in proud leaders?

Be honest – with yourself and God – do you see yourself struggling in any of these areas? Is pride an issue for you?

Remember, “Pride goes before destruction”.

Great Leaders Share Why as They Share What

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

I have learned a secret to getting better results as a leader. It’s huge. When I interviewed Zig Ziglar years ago, he repeated this principle to me over and over during our conversation. It’s paramount to getting buy-in from people and helping them feel a part of a team, project, or organization.

  • When you are leading people
  • When you are introducing change
  • When you want people to follow
  • When you want people to own the vision
  • When you want to build or maintain momentum
  • When you are experiencing growth
  • When you are experiencing decline

Don’t bother with the what. It simply doesn’t matter much. No one cares.

Unless you share the why.

People won’t hear the what as well unless they know the why.

In fact, when you share the what without sharing the why:

  • There will be unnecessary resistance
  • People have separate agendas
  • Misunderstandings become common
  • The vision is clouded
  • Motivation is absent
  • The leader stands alone
  • Progress stalls

Paint the why – as you share the what.

It makes all the difference.

Be honest, are you less likely to want to do the what if you don’t know the why?

5 Ways a Mature Leader Responds When the Team is Stressed

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 25 Comments

Every organization and team has times where everyone is stretched, stress abounds, and even times where it seems things are going backwards for a while. It could be in a time of crisis for the organization or during an exceptionally busy season. It could that be internal or external issues  are causing the stress. In these seasons, good leadership is more critical than ever.

Mature leaders have learned (often the hard way) that the way they respond in stress will directly impact the organization and everyone attempting to follow them. Ultimately the care for the organization greatly depends on the leader’s response during the stressful seasons.

Here are 5 mature ways for a leader to respond in stressful times:

A sense of calm

A leader must display a calmness in the midst of crisis. If the leader panics everyone panics. Trying times test a team and the leader needs to add a calmness to the situation, helping assure people everything will be okay.

This does not mean that the leader should give a false hope. People should understand reality, but it does mean helping people find a sense of balance and hope in the midst of what may seem hopeless in their minds.

Steadfastness

There will always be temptations to give up under stress – for the team and the leader. A leader must walk by faith and keep the team moving forward. Through good times and the bad times the leader must stand firm.

You can read the hard lesson I learned about this issue in my post of advice to the leader when things are going wrong.

Integrity

Character is most tested during stressful times. A leader must remain unquestioned in his or her integrity for the health of the team and organization.

People will watch to see how a leader responds. What a leader says or does in these seasons will be taken even more seriously (and subject to people’s own interpretations), so the leader must strive to be above reproach.

Strategic-thinking

Decisions are harder to make but more important during stressful times. The leader must think strategically for the organization – helping to steer towards clarity and progress.

(Read a post about thinking strategically in the moment HERE)

Personal well-being

Leaders must remain healthy personally in order to continue to lead the organization. There will be a tendency to never leave the office, but during times of stress, the leader must continue to exercise, eat well, and be disciplined in rest. The leader must guard his or hear heart spiritually, knowing temptation is especially powerful under duress.

The personal health of the leader directly impacts the health of the team.

Leader, have you ever had to lead during especially stressful times? Are you there now?

What would you add to my list?

7 Ways the Leader Sets the Bar for the Organization

By | Church, Leadership, Team Leadership | 6 Comments

The leader sets the bar for the organization.

If you are a leader of any organization then you have the awesome responsibility of establishing the parameters by which your organization will be successful.

I feel the need in every post like this, Jesus sets the bar for the church. Period. He is our standard. But it would be foolish to ignore the fact God allows people to lead, even in the church. And, as Christian leaders, we set the bar in our church for many of the things which happen in the church.

A mentor of mine always says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. He didn’t make up the saying, but he’s learned in his 70+ years experience how true a statement it is. Are you leading with the idea that you are setting the bar for the people you are trying to lead?

Here are 7 ways the leader sets the bar:

Vision casting – The vision, even a God-given vision, is primarily communicated by the senior leader. Others will only take it as serious as you do. Keeping it ever before the people primarily is in your hands.

Character – The moral value of the church and staff follows closely behind its senior leadership. Our example is Jesus, and none of us fully live out His standard, but the quality of the church’s character — in every major area of life — will mirror closely to the depth of the leader’s character.

Team spirit – If the leader isn’t a cheerleader for the team, they’ll seldom be any cheerleaders on the team. Energy and enthusiasm is often directly proportional to the attitude of the leader.

Generosity – No church — and no organization for that matter — will be more generous than its most senior leadership. There may be individuals who are generous, but as a whole people follow the example of leadership in this area as much or more than any other.

Completing goals and objectives – The leader doesn’t complete all the tasks — and shouldn’t — but ultimately the leader sets the bar on whether goals and objectives are met. Complacency prevails where the leader doesn’t set measurable progress as a value and ensure systems are in place to meet them.

Creativity – The leader doesn’t have to be the most creative person — seldom is — but the team will be no more creative than the leader allows. A leader who stifles idea generation puts a lid on creativity and eventually curtails growth and change.

Pace – The speed of change and the speed of work on a team is set by the leader. If the leader moves too slow — so moves the team. If the leader moves too fast — the team will do likewise.

Team members will seldom outperform the bar their leader sets for them. Consequently, and why this is so important a discussion, an organization will normally cease to grow beyond the bar of the leader.

Be careful leader of the bars you set for your team.

Leader, 5 Ways to Increase Your Productivity Today

By | Church, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 9 Comments

I see part of my role as a senior leader as a developer of other leaders. As a pastor, as much as I was called to make disciples, I felt called to disciple disciple-makers.

I have tried to take this role seriously in every leadership position I have held. I am consistently thinking how I can encourage people around me to be better at what they do. Several years ago, with another staff, someone who once worked with me mentioned my intentionality in developing leaders on his blog. (Read his post HERE.)

Here’s my theory on the subject.

Many leaders limit their capacity as a leader, because they try to do too much on their own. Rather than develop people, they control people. Rather than growing the organization, they only grow their personal workload. In the end, under this type scenario, everyone loses. The leader burns out, potential leaders are never developed, and the organization fails to be all it could be.

If you want to increase productivity as a leader, you have to think bigger than what you can do. In fact, I would say, you have to change some of your title roles as a leader.

Here are 5 ways to increase productivity as a leader:

1. Change from being a manager of people to being a leader of people.

Don’t just manage current systems. Lead people to greater realities than they can imagine today. Don’t rule by policies. Free people to explore, create, and imagine. (And, in turn perhaps even make a ton of mistakes.)

2. Change from being a doer to being an encourager. 

Make it your ambition to encourage people everyday. Be a people builder. I find my best energies are spent away from my desk and in the halls or other offices. When I invest in others everything grows around me.

3. Change from being a list keeper to being a chief supporter of list keepers.

I love lists! I live by them. But, you can’t be a great senior leader and only manage your own. This would be the easy way – but the least productive way. Instead, you should help people develop their own lists – their dreams – the things they want to accomplish. Encourage. Empower. Celebrate.

4. Change from completer of tasks to being an investor in people who complete tasks.

Again, my best time is away from my desk. Like anyone I can get very tied to my desk, my email, and my own tasks. I have learned I can spend a little more time investing in people and the results return exponentially.

5. Change from being an implementer to being an enabler for people to implement.

The less “hands on” I am the more our team seems to get done. When I try to help I often get in the way. This doesn’t mean I do nothing. I often take orders from people on our team as to what I should do. It does mean, though, I try very hard not to get in their way.

These are not a play on words. They are intended to be a change in perspective. And, again, please understand, these are also not an excuse to do nothing. The attempt is working smarter. It’s making an intentional decision to develop others.

It boils down to believing in the purpose and power of delegating, learning how to delegate properly, and actually letting go. For more on delegating, see HERE and the related posts.

If you are struggling to complete all required of you as a leader, in my experience, it will almost always have more to do with how well you do in this area of your leadership. And, for those who are wondering, this is regardless of whether your team is paid or volunteer.

Structure Can Impede Progress

By | Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 2 Comments

I once received a question about a post entitled “7 Enemies of Organizational Health“. One of those “enemies” I listed as “structure”. The person’s question was, “Are you referring to micromanagement?” He went on to say that we need structure to prevent organizational chaos.

I answered.

Well, yes and no. Micromanagement is an impediment to organizational health, but really I simply meant structure. Let me attempt to explain.

I do agree we need some structure, but not for structure sake, but for progress sake. And there is a difference.

I see it as similar to the concept of grace, freedom and the law. We don’t need laws if we are bound by grace. Grace is actually a higher standard than the law. But, we have to have an established order in our world for progress. It is a wicked world and we could never get anything done without some sense of structure.

In an organizational sense, think about it, if we all did the right thing we wouldn’t need structure. But structure allows for progress. When structure becomes a problem – when it gets in the way – and the kind of structure I was referring to in my post is when a well-meaning structure impedes progress.

Consider this example:

Imagine a rule that says everyone has to be in the church office from 8 to 5. So, because I want to respect authority, I obey the structure and am dutifully at my desk from 8 AM to 5 PM. The fact is, however, that I work best at 6 in the morning out of the office. Sticking to the structure in this case would limit my ability to be at my best. At the same time, because I’m following the structure, I may not go to the emergency hospital visit at midnight. After all, office hours are over by then.

I would personally rather have an understanding that people need to get their work done. They need to have clear goals (they helped develop) that stretch them and moves the organization forward. They need to be held accountable for reaching them, but once they are established we can allow the individual to figure out how to accomplish them.

Or one more:

What if there was a rule which says no one can serve on a committee in your church until they’ve been in the church a year? (This one is a real scenario with churches I’ve known.) What if one of the committees was the garden committee – which includes, in part, pulling weeds? What if someone shows up at the church ready to pull weeds – but not yet ready to join the church? What if them serving is what connects them to the church? (Theoretically someone could actually come to know Christ only after they’ve pulled weeds in the church.)

I personally would rather save the “committee” slots for jobs help by people who’ve been there for a while, but let newcomers serve where they are equipped to do – based on the time they’ve been there. (So, I’d get rid of the garden committee.)

The bottom line is that structure should enhance not impede progress.

Structure should never get in the way of accomplishing what God plants in your heart to accomplish.

7 Enemies of Organizational Health

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

I love organizational leadership. I especially love attempting to lead healthy organizations. I have been in both environments – healthy and non-healthy. I prefer healthy.

If truth be told I’ve probably been the leader in both extremes. And there are seasons when every organization is healthier than others.

Over the years of leading, I’ve observed a few things which can be the enemy of organizational health. They keep health from happening and, if not dealt with, can eventually destroy an organization – even a local church.

Here are 7 enemies of organizational health:

Shortcuts – There are no shortcuts to creating a healthy organization. I’ve known leaders who think they can read a book, attend a conference, or say something persuasive enough so everything turns out wonderful. Organizational health is much more complicated. Success is not earned through a simple, easy-to-follow formula. It takes hard work, diligence and longevity to move things forward in an organization. Leaders must be committed to the process through good times and bad.

Satisfaction – Resting on past success is a disruption to future growth, which ultimately impacts organizational health. When an organization gets too comfortable – boredom, complacency and indifference are common results. The overall vision must be attainable in short wins, but stretching enough to always have something new to achieve.

Selfishness – Organizational health requires a team environment. There’s no place for selfishness in this equation. When everyone is looking out for themselves instead of the interest of the entire organization – and this starts with the leader – the health is quickly in jeopardy.

Sinfulness – This one is added for those who feel every one of my posts must be spiritual. Seriously, healthy organizations are not perfect (and we all sin), but it doesn’t matter if it is gossip or adultery – sin ravages through the integrity of the organization. When moral corruption enters the mix, and is not addressed, the health of an organization will soon suffer. This is why it is so important a leader stays healthy spiritually, relationally and physically.

Sluggishness – Change is an important part of organizational health. In a rapidly changing world, organizations must act quickly to adapt when needed. Some things never change, such as vision and values, but the activities to reach them must be fluid enough to adjust with swiftness and efficiency.

Stubbornness – Let me be clear. There are some things to be stubborn about, again, such as vision and values. When the organization or it’s leaders are stubborn about having things “their way”, however, or resistant to adopt new ways of accomplishing the same vision, the health of the organization will suffer. Most people struggle to follow stubborn leadership, especially when it’s protecting self-interest rather than organizational interests.

Structure – As much as we need structure, and even though we should always be working to add better structure, bad structure can be damaging to organizational health. When people feel they are being controlled by rules, more than empowered by their individuality and passions, progress is minimized and growth stalls. People become frustrated under needless or burdensome structure.

What enemies of organizational health would you add to my list?