Sprint Leadership

file0001282994686I like to run.  By that, I mean I really like the benefits of having run.  There are days that getting my shoes laced up and my running gear on is harder than at other times – like now.

From about October 1 until Christmas Eve is normally my busiest time of year.  From the typical administrative parts of leading a local church (budgets, annual ministry plans, annual reports) to the busyness that is inherent in the Christmas season, it feels like a sprint for about 10 weeks or so.  I’m at the end of that – after the Christmas Eve services next week, I’ll be ready to take some time off and reconnect with my family, and I’m really looking forward to that.

Leaders like to sprint.  During a sprint, a lot can get accomplished!   But if you try to sprint for an extended period of time, you will discover a new level of pain.  Not the good kind of pain either!

There’s a place for leaders to sprint – truly.  There’s a place for a season of long hours, big projects, focused times of moving the ball up the field.  But if that’s the only speed at which you ever run, you’ll find that your engines were not designed to run at high RPMs for long periods of time without a break.

The end of the year is a natural time for reflection for me.  I like to look back and think about the past year – what lessons did I learn?  What mistakes do I not want to repeat?

Something that keeps coming up in my reflective times is the need to better control my RPMs.  I like to lead from the front, and I like to run fast!  I like to get things done and see projects completed. But if I’m continually running hot, with my engines going full speed, I will burn out. That’s not a maybe.  That’s a definite.

Leaders, you are running a marathon.  There are seasons when it’s appropriate to sprint, but you need to build in rhythms in your life where you throttle back, enjoy time off, have fun, and relax.  If that’s not a normal part of your life right now, it can change!  And a new year is a great time to make that change.

One of my goals for 2015 is to be more intentional about building in times of sprinting, as well as times of rest and refreshment.  I want to seek out opportunities to renew and rejuvenate regularly, not just when I’m exhausted.  I want to pursue times where I can be inspired and invested in by other leaders who are farther down the road than I am.  I want to make sure that I’m not neglecting my family, and not neglecting my job responsibilities either.  You can easily swing too far either direction and sacrifice one or the other in a bad way.

Remember – it’s not only for you that you need to lead intentionally this way.  It’s also to be a good example for those you lead.

Do you find yourself sprinting too much?  Do you find it easy to unplug, relax, and unwind?  What changes are you making in 2015?

Proactive Leadership

proactiveIf you don’t read Seth Godin’s blog, I highly recommend it to you.  He posts regularly and on a variety of topics like marketing, advertising, leadership, sales, business, and more.  Today’s post really resonated with me – it was about reacting vs. responding.

Seth writes, “We can react or respond, as my friend Zig used to say. When we react to a medicine, that’s a bad thing. When we respond, it’s working.”

Think about that for a minute in the context of leadership.  As a leader, I choose whether I will react to something or respond to it.  My experience has been that far too often, my default seems to be reacting.

Whether it’s an email that I receive, a comment made to me, or an action that someone around me takes, my default response seems to be to live in reaction mode, simply reacting to the actions or words of others.

That’s not leading.

As a leader, my responsibility and yours is to lead proactively – that’s how we respond to the circumstances around us.  Not simply reacting to what others say or do, but proactively leading, determining in advance our course of action and staying laser focused on the vision and mission.  That’s how we lead best.

If we choose to live in reaction mode, we are at the mercy of those around us.  And that’s no way to lead.  Leaders see what could be; they have a picture of the preferred future in mind, and they pursue it diligently and proactively, leading the charge, not just reacting to what others might say or do.

One of my habits at year’s end is to reflect on the year – what went right?  What didn’t?  What do I need to start doing to get different results?  What do I need to stop doing?  That kind of evaluation leads me into a proactive stance to begin the year, and I’ve found that to be inordinately helpful.  If you’re not in the habit of doing such a review, try it this year, and see how this habit works for you.

Leaders choose to be reactive or proactive.  What’s an area where you want to be more proactive in 2015?

Hillsong Movie!

2015 is shaping up to be a year for some great movie releases.  I saw the preview for this one a few months ago, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do with it!  I’ve loved their music for more than a decade, and their impact on worship music around the world is HUGE.  Their songs are in 60 languages, with 16 million albums sold and 30 million people singing their songs every Sunday around the world.  You simply cannot deny the leadership and influence of this church in Australia when it comes to music in the Church.  Shout to the Lord, Mighty to Save, From the Inside Out, The Stand, Cornerstone, Oceans, With Everything – the list seems endless.  Check out the trailer below:

What Leaders Cannot Do

On a TV show we were watching the other night, I heard a reference to a king I was unfamiliar with, so I Googled it.  The king’s name was Canute (also known as Canute the Great), an 11th century Viking warrior who went on to conquer England and rule as King from 1016-1035.  He is thought to be the first king to rule over a united England; but he is remembered best for one particular incident in his leadership.

One day he heard his courtiers were flattering him, saying he was “so great, he could command the tides of the sea to go back.”  Canute was a Christian, and he knew this was in no way true.  So he had his throne carried to the shore of the sea, where he sat as the tide came in and commanded the waves to halt their advance.  They did not.

His point?  That though the actions of kings might appear to be great in the minds of people, they are nothing compared to the power of God.

Canute knew something that far too many leaders in our day do not – that leaders have limitations.  There are things they cannot do.

It is easy to begin to read your own headlines, to begin to think that those around you who speak kind words to and about you are telling the whole story.  The ego begins to puff up, and once puffed up, it’s tough to deflate!  Great leaders, though, know what they cannot do. They understand the limits of their power and their ability, and they don’t try to pretend to be something they’re not.

Leaders, when’s the last time you said “I don’t know” when someone asked you a question?  When’s the last time you apologized to a member of your team and said, “I was wrong?”  Don’t overlook the importance of those simple words – they reflect a heart of humility, and that’s critical to great leadership (as Jim Collins has written about).

Canute’s story was worth reading about – and I believe it’s a good lesson for those of us who lead, no matter the context.

Remember what you cannot do, and don’t try to pretend to be something that you’re not.

The One Question Leaders Need To Ask

This week I’ve been catching up on some episodes from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast.  If you’re a leader and you don’t subscribe to and listen to this, I HIGHLY recommend it.  It’s a monthly podcast that’s usually 20 minutes or less, perfect for commuting or other drive time, and I’ve found it to be incredibly useful and helpful over the years.

In last month’s podcast, Andy talked about his new book, Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions.  The title intrigued me, and I dug in.

You ready for it?  Here it is: “what is the wise thing to do?”

Incredibly simple.  And you might be thinking, I ask that as a matter of course – I always want to do the wise thing!

But here’s the kicker – ask the question in the context of your past experience, your present circumstances, and the future you envision and dream of.

For instance, say you’re faced with a possible new job.  It’s a lot more money – but it comes with a lot of travel and a move to a part of the country you’ve never been to.  It’ll take you away from your family for a significant part of each month, and you have young kids at home.

What’s the wise thing to do, in light of your present circumstances, and in light of the preferred future you envision and dream of?

The question is based on what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15-17, and Stanley does a great job communicating how this is a question we can apply no matter our life situation or our job or our position.

I’m teaching a series right now at Southview on questions from the Christmas story. Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, and the wise men all had questions that resonate with me; I find in their questions echoes of my own.  Questions can be powerful tools in a leader’s toolbag, but only if they’re the right questions.  Asking the wrong question will give you the wrong answer.

I can’t recommend this podcast episode and book highly enough. This is a keeper, and I want all of our leaders at SCC to read this, as well as my daughters!

What’s the best book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to lately?  

Are You A Patient Leader?

file9881272702167Leadership is a funny animal.  So much has been written about how to lead well, aspects of leadership, traits of leadership, how to grow as a leader, and more.  The goal of this blog is to contribute to this enormous corpus of material, but from the perspective of a local church pastor.  And patience is a non-negotiable for leaders, especially in the local church.

(Incidentally, I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for about a month as we prepare for our annual members meeting at Southview.  From October to mid-November is undoubtedly the busiest season of my year from an administrative perspective, and it’s good to be writing again!)

Patience is a virtue.  I think most everyone would agree with that. But for leaders, I believe it’s a non-negotiable, and I struggle with it as much as anything else.

By nature, leaders are always thinking ahead. They see what could be, the potential and the promise of the future, and they want to see that happen!  They work hard, cast vision, and lay framework for that preferred picture of the future to happen.  Sometimes, things seem to move quickly, but my experience has been that in the local church, that is not usually the case.  And slow movement means patience is required.

Have you ever seen a leader throw a tantrum because of the slow movement forward?  Yeah, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been that guy on more than one occasion.  That’s terrible, isn’t it!  And yet I find that many leaders could identify.  Patience doesn’t come easy when you know what could be, how the mission and vision could advance, but it seems to be taking forever!

I had the opportunity this week to speak with someone from another church not too far from here.  They’re considering changing their governance structure from a congregational governance model to an elder governance model, and she wanted to gather some information about the process we went through when we made that change.  I so thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing about the lessons we learned, what we would and would not do again, and how we’ve seen that change benefit the church over the last 7 years.  And in sharing some of our story, I got the opportunity to see with some fresh eyes what God has done at Southview over the last 10 years.

Change never happens fast enough for a leader, but it’s incredibly valuable to look back and see what has happened.  I think of SO many conversations, so many baptisms, so many times when people understood God’s gift of love and accepted Christ, so many prayers, so many smiles.  And I am blown away in a fresh way at how much has truly changed, not just at Southview, but in me too.  And it all required patience.

True, lasting, great change doesn’t happen in a microwave – it happens in a crock pot.  And leaders have to not only be ok with that and develop patience themselves, but lead others to be patient as well.

Do you find that patience comes easy for you as a leader?  How are you intentionally working to make that a keystone of your leadership practice?

Why Does Planning Matter?

file6151303951841I’m in a season of planning right now as we finalize the plans for the rest of 2014 and look into 2015.  Planning is one of my favorite things to do – I know, I know, I’m a little strange.  But I find great freedom in planning.

I’ve talked to leaders who like to lead by the seat of their pants, responding to what comes as it comes.  I’ve talked to pastors who don’t plan weeks or months out, but every Monday they are looking at a blank screen or a blank sheet of paper and wondering what they’re going to talk about on Sunday.

I cannot imagine living either way.

Leadership has enough surprises inherent in it to keep me on my toes.  Living my life reactively instead of proactively is just not how I’m wired.

I’ve experimented with different workflows and systems, and this is where I’ve landed right now.  It’s always subjects to being tweaked and I will adjust as needed. It’s based on David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, which if you haven’t read, you need to stop right now and go read it.  Seriously.  It completely changed my workflow and helps me to maximize my productivity every single week.

  • Each week on Sunday evening, I review the week to come.  I go through my current Projects list and my Next Actions list for the week (both in Evernote, which I HIGHLY recommend to you).  Does every one of my current projects have a next action that’s captured and on the list for the week? Do I have bandwidth this week to move any of the projects on my (separate) Someday list over to my current Projects list?
  • I plan my teaching in series.  A typical series will run from 3-6 weeks, with the occasional one running 7-8, but if it’s longer than 8, we’ve noticed it begins to drag.  As I’m planning the series, I need to have three things per week:  the Scripture I’m using, the title of the week’s message, and the big idea/takeaway for the week.  That helps Andy and our creative team to think ahead of time about ways that we can enhance the spoken message with music, videos, etc.
  • For years, I’ve planned my series 12-18 months out.  This helps me to make sure I’m providing a “balanced diet” of teaching that is relevant and helpful no matter your learning style.  I do exegetical verse by verse series through a book, topical series, felt needs series – whatever will help us communicate the message of the gospel.  Tying myself to one style doesn’t make sense to me – people learn in different ways, and I want our services and messages to be helpful to your spiritual journey no matter where you are on the path or what your learning style is.  This year, for the first time, I’m shooting to have a year ahead planned out to that level of detail.  Our hope is that this will help us to get even more creative and help the main ideas each week to be “stickier” in the minds and hearts of the listeners.

You might be wondering – how does any of this leave room for the Holy Spirit to work?  Aren’t you planning the Spirit right out of the picture?  That’s an excellent question.  I believe that the Holy Spirit can be as present in the planning process as He is in the moment  :)  See, He knows what will happen; past, present, and future are all the same to Him.  I bathe this whole process in prayer, and if I’m listening to the promptings of the Spirit, I believe that this planning can honor God by providing a path to excellence.  I believe that excellence honors God and inspires people.  I do all that I can do, and I pray that God would do what only He can do – change lives.  And if I get a strong prompting that we need to bump a series and insert one that wasn’t planned, we do it!  Twice this year we’ve done just that, and I find that inside planning there is tremendous flexibility.

I believe planning is essential in the life of a leader.  If we don’t, we will find ourselves simply responding to every fire and never getting on the proactive side of things.  It’s hard to be intentional without planning, and I believe that intentionality is one of the things that separate a good leader from a great one.

My planning process is obviously geared around what I do each week; yours will be different.  But I encourage you to develop an intentional planning workflow that helps you to maximize your efforts and your time.  You’ll never regret being intentional, and I believe it can propel your leadership to a new level.

What planning workflow tips would you share from your own experience? Do you recommend any planning tools other that the ones I mentioned above?

Get The Ball

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Saturday we watched Mississippi State University (ranked #3) beat Auburn (ranked #2) 38-23.  According to the commentators, it was the first time two top five ranked teams have played in Starkville, and it was a good match up.  My wife had her State cowbell out and it was ringing!

Early in the game, they showed a shot of a white board on the Mississippi State sideline.  The coach had boxed off a corner of the white board so that it would stay up all game.  The box was titled simply “Get The Ball.”  Every time a player got a ball on a turnover, recovered fumble, or interception, they went over and wrote their number in the box (and seemed pretty fired up to do so!)

I immediately thought of what a great leadership move that was by MSU’s coach.  Make the objective clear.  You can’t score if you don’t have the ball – so get the ball.  If you’re not playing offense, you’re playing defense – so get the ball.  Every player had the same goal, and every player had equal opportunity to get to write their number in that box – if they got the ball.

Leaders, how clear are we being on what it means in our organization to “get the ball?”

Every employee, from the mail room to the front desk to the C-suite, should be able to define what a win is for them.  Every person on the team should be able to define what it means to “get the ball.”  If they don’t know that, it’s on us, leaders.  We have to make that crystal clear – every time, every day.

Communication is our responsibility – as is clarity.  As professor Howard Hendricks used to say often, “if it’s a fog in the pulpit, it’s a mist in the pew.”  If it’s not clear to the leader what a win is, what it means to “get the ball,” it’s going to be far less clear to those we lead.  Clarity of communication with regards to what a win is isn’t optional – it’s SUPER critical.  And we need to do the work – whatever it takes – to make sure that every person on our team know what a win is for the organization and how they can contribute to it. When they do, we need to have a way to celebrate that – a box they can write their initials in might not be contextually appropriate, but we need to figure out what is and make it happen!

How are you communicating what it means to “get the ball” to your organization?  How are you celebrating when a member of your team does “get the ball?”

What Do Leaders Do When The Heat Is Turned Up?

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I’m teaching right now through the little book of Nahum.  Nahum is said by many to be the most ignored book in all the Bible; it’s even left out of the standard lectionary!  I believe that Nahum, like all the so-called “minor prophets,” has a very relevant and helpful message for us today – if we understand it in its proper cultural and historical context.

This Sunday I’m concluding the series, and like almost every week, there’s a lot of what I learn in the study that never makes it to Sunday morning – there’s just not enough time!  And since it has to do with leaders, I thought I’d share it in this venue.

The book of Nahum is all about God’s judgment on the nation of Assyria for their cruelty, for their atrocities in war, and for their disregard for people whom God created in His image.  In verse 17, we read (concerning Assyria’s capital, Nineveh), Your guards are like locusts, your officials like swarms of locusts that settle in the walls on a cold day— but when the sun appears they fly away, and no one knows where.”  The metaphor of locusts is applied to the military and political officials of the capital city – why?

Locusts are interesting creatures.  Feared in the ancient world for the destruction they could bring to agriculture, their swarms were the source of nightmares for many farmers and merchants.  A locust will settle down and be content when the weather is cooler, just as in the evening or in the early hours of the morning.  But when the sun comes up and begins to warm the earth, the locust feels the heat and will fly away.  The political and military leaders of Nineveh were content to stay and lead as long as things were good.  But when things started to turn against them, they fled!

Reading that verse makes me think of leaders that I’ve read about or known.  Leaders who are content to stay and lead as long as things are cool.  But when the heat begins to turn up, they fly away, running to another context where the heat is not present.

I read a study last week that the average tenure for pastors in local church is still less than 4 years.  The vast majority of pastors stay in one place 2-3 years and then move on to another church.  That’s so difficult for me to read. I don’t believe you truly earn the right to have the hard conversations in a church before you’ve been there 5 or 6 years!  In the local church, pastors deal with so many issues – with the organizational dynamics and change, with interpersonal issues, and with the community where the church is located, just to name a few.  And in my conversations with other pastors, I hear far too often that the heat got too hot and so it’s time to leave.

Now, sometimes it’s beyond your control.  Sometimes pastors are in toxic church environments where they don’t have the choice to stay – the choice to leave is made for them.  Sometimes business leaders are in toxic corporate environments where they don’t have the choice to stay – the choice to leave is made for them.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  In those difficult circumstances, leaders have to move on when the organization makes that choice.  I’m talking about leaders who jump when it starts to get difficult, when things are getting hotter and the conversations are getting more intense.  You could be leaving right before a breakthrough!

Leaders, if I can only communicate one thing to you in this post, it’s this – don’t immediately fly when it starts to get hot.  The challenges you have in the present place are likely to follow you wherever you go.  The human condition is the same all over – sin is prevalent in this world and in the human race.  Don’t for a moment think that by going somewhere else that things will be hunky dory and you’ll leave those problems behind, never to see them again.  That’s true in the church, in the business world, in your marriage – in every context.  Nahum speaks of those who fly away when the heat’s turned up, and that lesson is one that we can learn from as leaders.

The grass may look greener – but the same problems are in that yard too.  Leaders, make the choice to stay and work through the heat.  Yes, it’s difficult.  Yes, it means tough conversations.  Yes, it means hard work.  But the fruit of that work is worth it!  Last month I celebrated ten years at Southview, and while it’s been “hot” at times, the rewards of working it out, of persevering and sticking it out through the good times and the hard ones have been so worth it!

When you do work through the issues and persevere in your context, you might just find what I have – that the greatest cornbread is made in the hottest oven.

Have you ever been tempted to fly like the locust when the heat’s turned up?  What have you learned about the value of staying in one place for a long time?

Why Does The Local Church Matter?

This is why.  This video is from NewSpring Church in South Carolina.  This is the best video I’ve ever seen about why we do what we do at Southview and in every local church.

Thanks to Brian Dodd for posting this.

“The local church is the hope of the world, and it’s future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders.”  –Bill Hybels