Don’t Address the HOW until you Address the WHAT

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I have a simple leadership principle. Don’t address HOW you are going to do something until you decide WHAT you are going to do. Or if you’re even going to do it.

I’ve seen it many times.

You have an idea – it’s not a bad idea – it may even be a great idea. You just don’t know yet. As soon as you present the idea the team instantly starts to ask tons of question, begin implementing the plan, and gets bogged down in details.

And then, after time of discussion – sometimes hours – the team decides its not a good idea after all.

Here’s my advice. I use this with the teams I lead.

Spend your energies at first on deciding whether it’s an idea worth pursuing.

The WHAT.

The what is “what” you are going to do. The current dream you have moving forward. The overall objective. The big picture of what’s next.

Decide the what – what are you doing or not doing – before you spend a lot of energy on the mechanics of the idea.

The HOW.

The how is how you are going to do the what. These are the details. The nuts and bolts working plan. You may have to talk about some of the how to decide the what, but spend your first, best and most energy on the what.

For example, let’s say you have an idea to add a third church service to allow for more growth – or maybe you are thinking of going multi-site – or the idea could be to launch an online campus. Don’t spend too much time on the how, until you decide the what.

Ask hard questions such as:

Is this an idea worth pursuing? Are we willing to give it a try? Has this been birthed in prayer? Do we believe this is something we are supposed to do?

Yes or no?

Spending too much time on the how before you address the what:

  • Gets you bogged down in details you may never need.
  • Wastes energy which could be used elsewhere if you aren’t going to do the what.
  • Solves problems you don’t yet and may never have.
  • Creates division about change prematurely.
  • Builds momentum before it’s time. (And, it’s harder to build momentum a second time.

When you know you’re going to do the what – you have to, you’re called to, it’s what or bust – you’ll figure out the how. You’ll find a way to make it happen. You’ll have more passion, clarity and energy to address the how.

Try that next time an idea surfaces and is discussed by your team.

Note: This is assuming, of course, you already know your “why” as an organization. You know why you are doing whatever you are doing. This post addresses a more specific aspect of realizing the vision. If you don’t yet have the why – start there.

Check out our new podcast where we unpack leadership issues in a applicable and practical way.

3 Critical Ways Every Leader Must Spend Their Time

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Time is one of the greatest assets of any leader. In my experience, every leader has three critical segments where they must invest their time on a regular basis.

Learning to balance a leader’s time effectively is often a key in determining the level of success the leader attains.

It also seems to me leaders tend to do one of these especially well, so by default they spend most of their time on that one – often to the neglect of the other two.

All three are needed. 

Learning to balance a leader’s time in each of these three areas will greatly enhance the leader’s productivity, so the leader must discipline for the other two.

Here are the 3 critical ways every leader must spend time:

Time reflecting on past experience

If as a leader you don’t evaluate where you have been and what has been done, you will soon be disappointed with where you are going. Leaders must spend ample time in personal, team member and organizational evaluations. This includes celebrating success. People need this too.

Evaluation should be done after each major events but also on a regular basis evaluating overall activity of the organization should be considered.

As leader, we can’t get frozen on this one though – always thinking of what has already happened. At some point it’s time for us to move forward.

Time focusing on current obligations

As a leader, you must be disciplined to take care of the immediate needs of the organization. The busier a leader becomes, unless a leader is naturally wired for this one, the more he or she tends to naturally neglect routine tasks. Things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, for example, remain critical at every level of leadership. This may also include simply catching up with co-workers, even in social conversation.

Therefore, I find personally if I don’t operate with some scheduled time for current obligations I will get dreadfully behind and end up not being effective for anyone.

Honestly, this one is a drag for me at times, because I’m wired for what’s next. But sometimes the routine stuff I do is huge for other people. And, necessary for me.

Time dreaming about the future

As a leader, you must spend time dreaming about the future. If a leaders doesn’t, no one else will either. This is critical to an organization’s success. I believe the larger an organization grows or the leader’s responsibilities expand the more time must be spent on this aspect of time management.

This comes natural for some leaders and not for others. Personally, I love this one. So, again, if it’s not natural it must be scheduled. Perhaps planning a few hours a week to read, brainstorm, interact with other creative leaders can make a big difference. Several times a year it may be important for you to spend a day or more away from the office with the sole purpose of dreaming of what’s next.

The season you are in will often determine which of these get the greatest attention at the time, but none of them can be neglected for long periods of time. Again, a leader learning to balance these three components of time is a key aspect in determining the ultimate success of the leader.

Here are a few questions for personal evaluation:

  • Which of this are you more geared towards as a leader? (Please don’t say all come naturally.)
  • Which of these needs your greatest attention at this time in your leadership? (Be honest.)
  • How do you balance your time between these three areas? (Be helpful.)

Check out our latest podcast where Nate and I discuss two critical things every leader must do for their team.

7 Actions Which Can Quickly Cripple A Leader

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There are some things that can quickly cripple a leader. 

I’m constantly thinking how I can help people on our team improve as leaders. Of course, in order for that to happen it means I must constantly be improving as a leader. I realize our team’s potential to get better at leading others is limited to the extent I am willing to become a better leader.

I’ve learned along the way to being a better leader that there are some things which simply keep leaders from being effective. I used the word “cripple” in the title and I don’t think that is too strong a word. The things I’m going to list have all crippled me during seasons of my leadership. There are some actions or characteristics which can simply derail a leader’s potential for success if not identified and addressed.

Understanding these and disciplining ourselves to avoid them can make us better leaders.

7 actions which can cripple a leader:

Trying to personally handle too much.

Too many changes at one time. Or having too much on your plate. Refusing to delegate. You can only do so much and when you try to do more you almost always lose efficiency and effectiveness.

Years ago, I realized this as our church plant was growing quickly. I was trying to meet with people, be active in the community, lead our staff and organizational structure and still preach effectively on Sunday. Something had to give. I started giving some things away and it was amazing how much better my messages became on Sunday – and how much more effective I was in my other responsibilities.

Refusing to rest.

Resting isn’t just a nice quote on a 10 commandments plaque. It’s a command for a reason. Our bodies and minds need time to rejuvenate and recover. Burnout is almost always a result of leaders who fail to say no or are never still.

I have had more than one hard learning curve in this area. Thankfully, I’ve matured and now I can say the more stressful the season the more I discipline myself to exercise and get away from the office. In the busier than normal season I don’t have to work harder, but smarter.

Allowing critics voices to dominate.

You will always have critics. And, you shouldn’t ignore learning from them – even when you don’t agree with them. As leaders, we must remain humble and teachable. But, this doesn’t mean we allow the dominant voice to be those who aren’t even supportive of leadership or where we are leading. In my experience, most of the time there are some people that are critics regardless of who is leader.

I’ll never forget the time this one lady continued to blast me about the “satanic” music our church sang. It wasn’t satanic at all. In fact, we were careful with our lyrics on every song we used in our worship services. The problem was it wasn’t her style. For a while I let this haunt me every Sunday. I was paranoid what others might be saying. But then I realized there were lots of people who were better engaging in worship because of our style. Plus, there were plenty of other churches which might have more closely aligned with her preference. I couldn’t allow her preference to control what was leading a couple thousand other people in worship every week.

Ignoring the hard decisions.

Leadership isn’t needed if we simply manage status quo. Leadership takes people to unknown places. This requires change – and change can be uncomfortable. Let me correct that – change is always uncomfortable – to someone. In my experience, leadership is often crippled until someone is willing to make the hard decisions. As leaders we must not lead to be popular, but to do right things to achieve the worthy, pre-established visions of our organization.

This has been true so many times as we have had to change or stop programming in an established church. I’ve learned “we’ve always done it this way” is rarely true. When a church is over 100 years old there’s nearly nothing done the same way it was when the church started. They’ve simply done it that way long enough to be comfortable. But, part of our success has been the willingness to move forward – strategically and cautiously – with needed improvements towards our vision. This has included hard decisions involving programming, but even harder decisions regarding people. (And, the people decisions are always the hardest – but, sometimes the ones most needed.)

Controlling everything.

When the leader has to know everything happening in the organization or when they are paranoid because they don’t, we know there is crippled leadership somewhere – either with the leader or those being led. Most leaders don’t want to be surprised on major things, but when they have to be intimately involved in every decision and every detail it usually indicates they don’t trust their team. That’s crippling to any leader – and the team.

I’ve always been pretty good at delegating. It may have come when we bought a small manufacturing company and I was completely in over my head as a leader. I quickly realized if I was going to have any success I had to release control and trust other people – often people more qualified in areas than me. That learning experience has surely helped me as a pastor.

Impatience.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. And, neither are healthy organizations. Leaders must learn to have patience and perseverance, even when those on the team are growing weary. Many times we quit just before the turnaround.

I have sat with so many pastors – especially attempting revitalization – who were short-term at their churches – not because the work was finished, but because they were not patient with how long the process of change was taking. The best leadership happens over seasons and years – not over days and weeks.

Developing a sense of entitlement.

The leader who ever feels they’ve “arrived”, stops learning, or begins to take all the credit for success in the organization has become a very crippled leader. The team will no longer support the leader fully. They will trip on their own ego. It’s simply the quickest way to failure.

I could spend a whole blog post – and probably should – on how I have personally witnessed egos lead to moral, spiritual and professional failure. Chances are, however, you have witnessed this plenty of times also. Pride always goes before the fall.

Those are a few actions or attitudes which I have seen cripple good leadership. It’s always sad to me to see a good leader fail. My prayer is this could be a check for any leaders who may be struggling in any of these areas.

Check out our new leadership podcast where my son Nate and I unpack issues like this in a practical way.

7 Indicators It’s Not a Good Time for Change

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I’ve never been a proponent of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sometimes you need a change and nothing is “broken”. It just isn’t as good as it could be, it’s keeping other things from being better, or it’s soon going to be broke unless you change. But there are indicators of times not to change.

Here are 7 times not to change:

When there isn’t a compelling purpose.

There should always be a why. It might be as simple as if you don’t change you’re going to be bored out of your mind, but have a reason before you introduce change.

When there are no good leaders behind it.

You need people who buy into the change. If a change has value you can usually find supporters. They may be few and may do nothing more than speak up for the change. If no one can get excited about the change except you, you probably need to raise up some supporters before moving forward. (There are rare exceptions to this one, but again, they are rare.)

When you haven’t defined a win.

Changing before you know what success looks like will keep you running in a lot of ineffective directions without much progress.

When the loss is more expensive than the win.

Sometimes the cost just isn’t worth it. You can’t justify the people and resource expense for the potential return.

When the leader isn’t motivated.

There are times to wait if senior leadership can’t get excited or at least support the change if push back develops. Eventually, without their support, you’ll be less likely to experience sustaining, successful change.

When too many other things are changing.

Any organization or group of people can only handle so much change at a time. This requires great discernment on the part of leaders to know when there is too much change occurring and it is best to wait for something new.

When an organization is in crisis mode.

If a ship is sinking, fix the leak or bail some water – before choosing your next destination. When things are in crisis, is not the time to make a ton of changes. Catch your breath first, make sure a core of people is solid behind the vision, and take careful steps to plan intentional, helpful and needed change.

This isn’t intended as a checklist of indicators of times not time for change. I would never want to stop someone from making needed changes. In fact, I love change. I do try to encourage better change and I hope this helps. Check out my leadership podcast where we discuss issues/topics like this in a conversational format.

7 Signs It Is Time For Organizational Change

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Healthy organizations maintain an unchanging vision that they sustain long-term. One way they do so is with a willingness to change their organizational structure as needed.

If the structure is impeding the accomplishment of the vision it is time to make changes.

How do you know when organizational structural change is needed?

7 considerations to discern it is time:

When you continually encounter obstacles trying to move forward.

If every decision you try to make hits roadblocks or dead ends, it may be time to repair the potholes. When it takes layers of people and weeks to make a decision it may be time to change the structure of how decisions are made.

Example: Leading in two churches I have identified multiple committees that are included in almost every decision made. When we worked to combine those committees into one stronger committee efficiency and accountability greatly improved.

When the steps to make the change are more exhausting than the value the change provides.

Change should be exhilarating. It is what brings momentum. When the process to get there is so long or difficult it wears you out and you’ve got no excitement left – it may be time for some structure change.

Example: I was coaching a pastor in a church where change is painful to accomplish. He said to me, “In the end, it’s not worth the battle.” My advice – changing that culture IS the battle worth pursuing if he was going to stay long-term.

When you can no longer attract leaders.

If people are controlled more than empowered you will attract doers, but you won’t attract visionary leaders. Creative leadership will die, because genuine leaders rebel against controlling environments.

Example: I learned early in church revitalization that because leaders want something that is moving forward, we had lost many over the years. We had to make changes to attract them again.

When you spend more time discussing than doing.

Granted, we need to meet about some things. We need to plan, strategize and organize. The best structures help you get busy doing not attending another meeting. When people feel drained by meetings it probably means you need some change in how, when and why you meet.

Example: In my current context, we are advocating structural changes in the bylaws to allow for decisions to be made quicker and more efficiently. We did this in our last church also. This gives everyone more time to do the “real” work of the church.

When the structure you have now isn’t sustainable long term.

Structure based upon people, for example, rather than progress, will eventually need changing as people change. Ask yourself will this structure work 10 years from now? If not, the time to change is now.

Example: In our last church, we recognized our system of business meetings was not sustainable. Younger generations weren’t coming. As an older generation slowly grew smaller there were fewer people making decisions for the church, and some of those didn’t want change of any kind. We went from monthly meetings where 2% of the Sunday crowd attended to higher quality quarterly meetings where some 20% attended.

When all creativity is structured out of the system.

If the process is so clearly defined nothing new is needed. There is no room for different ideas or opinions. When people fall into routines, they get bored and complacency becomes the norm. Change is needed, which allows more freedom and creative expression.

Example: I love to empower the staff to create their own goals and objectives. We let new people write their own job descriptions. We sign-off on what they say they want to accmplish – to make sure it lines up with overall goals – and we hold people accountable by what they say they wanted to accomplish, but they get to be their own creatives.

When there is no longer any confusion.

Most people like clarity, but if everything is so carefully scripted the organization has probably become stale. Some of the best discoveries are found amidst chaos. Andy Stanley says “a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved”. Good organizations have some of those.

Example: We once decided to take one of our largest events of the year and break it down into dozens of smaller events. Our goal was to take the energy invested in a big event and hopefully spread the energy throughout our church to better live our vision of getting more people involved. There were a lot of unanswered questions. It’s harder to manage many events than it is one. We certainly made some mistakes and learned from them, but the unanimous decision afterward is it was a good change.

Does your organization need to make some changes? Let me know if I can help.

8 Ways Some People Have a Hard Time Fitting on a Team

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Have you ever heard the phrase “odd person out”?

I’ve been odd man out numerous times. Some people assume because I’m a pastor I can’t also be fun. So, there are many social events I don’t get invited to attend.

We’ve all been excluded at some point in life for some reason. 

It’s a bad thing to be “odd person out” by no choice of your own, but some people actually place themselves in the position by decisions they make and how they respond to others on the team.

In fairness, it may or may not be a conscious decision they’ve made, but they simply don’t fit well with the rest of the team.

If unaddressed it can be dangerous for organizational health. Trying to build consensus or form team spirit becomes more difficult. Morale is infected by the intentional “odd person out”. Spotting this as the problem can avoid further issues.

8 ways people don’t fit well on a team:

Resistant to every change – Whenever a new idea is presented, these team members are always the first to say it won’t work.

Negative – about everything – These people see the glass half-empty. Always. They have a hard time seeing anything good about the organization, the leader, an idea – and sometimes life.

Always have an excuse – It’s not their fault. It’s always someone else’s.

Never have the solution – These team members see their job to point out problems, not to help solve them.

Hold opinions until after something isn’t working well – When something doesn’t turn out as hoped, they make sure everyone knows they were opposed to the idea from the start.

Talk behind people’s back – Rather than going to the source, they stir drama by talking about someone rather than to someone.

Refuse to participate in any team social activities – Who needs them, right? Why would they want to hang out with people they work with? They might get to know them – and let others get to know them. 

Don’t buy into the vision – And this often translates into working against the vision.

These people distance themselves from others on the team by the way they respond on the team. Have you ever worked with anyone like this?

It should be noted, this doesn’t mean these are bad people.

Many times, I’ve learned, these people were injured in some way previously. It could have been on the job or in their personal life. They may have social disorders, which need to be addressed. Sometimes they are negative about their own life and bring this attitude into their professional life.

Understanding why they feel as they do can help address their performance on the team. 

I should also note, I’m not advocating always agreeing with a team. It’s okay to have different opinions, challenge the system – and even the leader. Differing viewpoints help make us all better. The key is to do so in a spirit of cooperation, not a spirit of disruption. You don’t have to be the odd person out – even if you’re different from everyone else.

What characteristics would you add to my list?

The People Doing the Work – A Leadership Principle

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I have a number of pet peeves in leadership. Leadership is hard. But there are some principles in leadership, which simply need to be adhered to for good leadership.

Let me share a story as an illustration of one of my pet peeves.

Years ago, I had a boss tell me who to place on my team. He told me how to conduct sales meetings with my department. Then he told me what each person’s assignments would be. Finally, he told me how to conduct the meeting – going as far as to write out my agenda.

He wasn’t going to be at the meeting. In fact, he didn’t actually know the people on my team. He was holding me accountable for results in sales, yet he continually gave me a script for how to do my job. I had to turn in reports, which indicated I had followed his agenda.

I hated it. It made me feel so controlled. My team, with whom I was very open and honest, were frustrated. And I can say this now, but when I could, I secretly altered things to script my own way. Maybe it was rebellion – okay, it was rebellion, but I never thought he was practicing good leadership. And I experienced direct results in employee morale. (I eventually quit.)

Here’s the principle, which developed from this experience.

If you aren’t going to be doing the work, don’t script how it’s done.

As a leader, you can share what you want accomplished. That’s vision-casting.

You can set reasonable boundaries. This actually helps fuel creativity.

You can share your thoughts and ideas. It’s helpful. You probably have good ones.

You can monitor progress. This is your responsibility.

You should hold people accountable for progress. It ensures completion.

But the people who are actually doing the work

The ones carrying out the plans – Getting their hands dirty –

Should determine how the actual work gets completed.

8 Things That Kill Motivation and Momentum

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I have found that regardless of how motivated I am, if the people around me are unmotivated, we aren’t going to be very successful as a team.

This is why it is important a leader learns to recognize when a team is decreasing in motivation.

And here’s the greater reason.

Motivation is often a catalyst for momentum.

When a team loses motivation, momentum is certain to suffer loss. It’s far easier to motivate a team, in my opinion, than it is to build momentum in an organization.

So, as leaders, we must learn what destroys motivation.

Here are 8 killers of motivation and, ultimately, momentum:

Routine – When people have to do the same activity repeatedly for too long they eventually lose interest in it. This is especially true in a day where rapid change is all around them. Allowing people to change how they do the work needs to be a built-in part of the organization.

Fear – When people are afraid, they stop taking risks. They fail to give their best effort and stop trying. Fear keeps a team from moving forward. Leaders can remove fear by welcoming mistakes, lessening control and celebrating each step.

Success – A huge win or a period of success can lead to complacency. When the team feels they’ve “arrived” they may no longer feel the pressure to keep learning. When leaders begin to recognize this they should provide new opportunities and introduce greater challenges or risks.

Lack of direction – People need to know what a win looks like – according to the leader. When people are left to wonder, they lose motivation, do nothing or make up their own answers. As leaders, we should continually pause to make sure our team understands what they are being asked to do.

Failure – Some people can’t get past a failure. As leaders, we sometimes fail to accept failure as a part of building success. Failure should be used to build motivation. As a person strives to recover, lessons are learned, which can help the team.

Apathy – A team that loses their passion for the vision will experience a decline in motivation. That’s why leaders must consistently cast vision. Leader, you should be a cheerleader; encouraging others with a high level of enthusiasm for the vision.

Burnout – When a team or team member has no opportunity to rest, they can’t maintain motivation. Good leaders learn when to push to excel and when to push to relax. Everyone needs to pause occasionally to re-energize.

Feeling under-valued – When someone feels their contribution to the organization isn’t viewed as important, they lose the motivation to continually produce. Leaders must learn to be encouraging and appreciative of the people they lead.

If you see any of these at work in your organization, address them now!

The problem with all of these is that we often don’t recognize them when they are killing motivation. In fact, we fail to see them until momentum has begun to suffer. Many times this makes it hard or, at times, too late to fully recover.