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


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?


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

4 Reminders For Sleepless Leaders

file0001662840435I mentioned last week how my valuing of sleep has ratcheted up several notches after going through a season where sleep was elusive.  And as I’ve thought more about that, there’s one more thing that I want to say about the subject of sleeplessness.

Sometimes sleeplessness is part of leadership.

As a leader, have you ever been kept awake because your mind is racing with possibilities?  Whether positive or negative, I think any leader who is truly invested has dealt with this issue.  We are by nature do-ers.  We are FILO – first in, last out.  We invest our heart and soul into what we lead.  And sometimes the challenges, the issues, and the future possibilities can cause our minds to rev up to the point we can barely close our eyes.  It’s not a medication that does that – it’s leadership adrenaline.

There’s a quote that I’ve got taped to the wall above my desk. One day I want to get it printed and framed; it’s one of those quotes that captures perfectly the essence of leadership passion.

 “Enough of playing small; enough of playing safe; it’s time for a grander vision.”  –Bill Hybels

I think any leader can read that and immediately their heart starts pounding a little harder and their body tenses for action!  That’s what leadership adrenaline does.  But what do you do as a leader when you start losing sleep because you can’t rev down and turn your mind off?

For me, there are four things I have to constantly remind myself of:

1) There are factors that I can simply do nothing about.

Guess what?  Every church, every business, every organization deals with factors that the leader does not have 100% control over.  We have to acknowledge that fact as reality and own it. Thus it has always been; thus it will always be.

2) I cannot fix everything.

For someone with a fixer mentality like me, that’s sometimes hard to admit.  But as a leader, I KNOW it’s true.  I cannot fix everything – I can’t even fix most things!  But I can lead teams to do so.  Which takes me to number 3…

3) I have a team that is MORE than capable of handling what arises.

Yes indeed.  I am privileged to work with a team that is MORE than capable, and it’s only when I forget that fact that I start to rev up and amp up.  The tendency in any type A leader is to want to do it yourself, but that’s NOT leading with diligence – in fact, it’s very poor leadership.  When I recognize this behavior pattern asserting itself, I have to take a step back, remember that the team I lead is incredibly capable (else they wouldn’t be here!), and allow/encourage them to lead.  And take my hands off.  That’s the hard part.

When I actually remember that and do that (far too seldom at first blush), I find that things go WAY better than if I had invested my limited time and energy in doing it my way.  Leaders invest in others – they don’t try to do it all themselves because guess what?  You don’t have all the gifts and skills and abilities, and neither do I.

4) God is sovereign.

I’m teaching a series on the book of Nahum right now, and this is a central point to that book.  God is sovereign.  Which means that I am not.  Shocking, I know.  Leaders, we are not the all, end all, be all.  The sun does not rise with our awakening in the morning, and the sun does not set when we lie down. When I remember that God is sovereign and I am not, it really helps me to put things in proper perspective.

Have you ever lost sleep as a leader?  What would you add to the list above?

3 Keys To Good Leadership Decisions

DecisionsFor the last twelve days, I’ve been on a medication called Prednisone.  For the first time in my life, I got poison ivy – bad – and the doctor gave me Prednisone to help my body fight it.  I’d never taken this medicine before, and boy, did it knock me for a loop.  It significantly affected my sleep cycle; some nights I was up till after 5 a.m. and then got up for work the next morning.  It was not pretty.

Sleep is something I take for granted.  Most nights, I put my head on the pillow and I go right out.  But for the last few weeks, I gained a new and much greater appreciation for this gift.

As I’ve reflected on this, let me offer you 3 keys I’ve found to good leadership decisions.

1)  Rest

When I was sleeping 2-3 hours a night, night after night, I found my head getting fuzzy and my decision-making getting more difficult.  I also found my patience getting shorter and my RPMs revving FAR too high.  All of that will contribute to poor leadership decisions.  I had to ask Charlotte and my team more than once for forgiveness and patience during this time.  Without sufficient rest, I found my mental capacity and clarity badly affected.  This is not just true for me.  Leaders, if you want to lead with all diligence, proper rest is not negotiable.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the one that has the most explanation is the fourth – the one involving rest.  Perry Noble has said it well: “The Bible calls those who will not work lazy.  The Bible calls those who will not rest disobedient.”

2)  Exercise

I’ve been falling down on this one lately, but I’m newly challenged and newly inspired to step it up.  When I’m exercising 3-4 times a week, I feel SO much better.  For me, this is running, but however you exercise, do it.  We tend to compartmentalize our lives and think that one area doesn’t affect another – that’s patently and demonstrably false.  We are integrated individuals – every part affects every other part.  My physical health WILL have impact on my emotional and spiritual health.  I forget that to my peril. Leaders, we have to set the pace on this.  Don’t think that neglecting this won’t affect your leadership – it absolutely will.  When your physical health is on track, you’ll find yourself making better leadership decisions.  I know I do.

3)  Proper nutrition

When I’m eating right, I know it.  When I’m not eating right, I know it.  It’s easy to come up with reasons and rationalize it – I can do it with the best of them!  Things like “I’ve been busy,” “life’s too hectic right now to plan my meals out/cook/eat right,” etc.  Here’s what I know – no one walks up to me and shoves food in my mouth.  I choose what I will eat.  Do I want my body to be performing optimally?  Do I want my mind to be fueled to make the best leadership decisions I’m capable of? Then I need to make sure that I’m putting the proper fuel in it.

You can go crazy with any of these.  What I’m talking about is disciplined living, choosing to make the wise choices in these three areas so that we can live well and lead with all diligence.  I’m committing to work harder on all three of these. As leaders, we set the example, and I want to lead well.

What keys would you add to the list above?

Nothing You Can Do? Really?

100_2161Last Friday, I was waiting on a package at the church.  Nothing unusual about that – just a normal Friday at the office.  I had tracked it, and it was supposed to be delivered on Thursday, but then inexplainably it got “rescheduled” for Friday delivery.  OK, I can be patient.  Things happen.

So Friday I’m waiting.  And 5 p.m. rolls around, but no delivery.  I’m not happy, but what do you do.  So I go home, and then I check the delivery record.  It said “Driver attempted delivery at 5:16 p.m. but the office was closed.”  Our office hours are posted clearly and have been for decades.  Do you really think people are going to be there after hours?  So I called the 800 number.

I got a young lady from a call center in Las Vegas.  I explained my problem – that the package was now two days late and that deliveries lately have been attempted after our posted hours.  I tried to be as nice as I could be, but also firm that this was not acceptable and we needed to find a solution.  I asked how I could help solve this problem.  Her response: “well, the driver has until 8 p.m. to deliver it and it’s still considered on time. There’s really nothing I can do for you.”  I asked her, “so you expect businesses to stay open till 8 p.m. to receive deliveries?”  Her response: “well, the driver has until 8 p.m. to deliver it and it’s still considered on time.  There’s nothing I can do for you.”


I explained that this was not acceptable, and I asked to speak to her supervisor.  After several minutes of being on hold, I was connected. I explained my problem, and the supervisor said, “I’m so sorry that happened.  Let’s see how we can get your package to you and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”  Her tone conveyed concern and a desire to help, and she ensured that I got my package.  Not only that, but within 30 minutes of talking with her, I got two calls from employees at the local shipment center offering me their direct number if such a problem happens again, and apologizing profusely for their mistake.

After my conversation with the first call center representative, my problem then was not as much about not getting my package.  It was about how I was treated by the representative of this company.

Leaders, there is a critical leadership lesson here.

There’s always something you can do.

Your job and mine is to get on the solution side of the problem.  We have to listen – we have to understand the problem – we have to define reality.  But once defined, we have to get on the solution side and NEVER just leave it at “there’s nothing I can do for you.”  That’s not serving people; that’s reading a script, and that’s not leading.

Understand that our solution(s) may not be what the other person wants.  It might not be within our power or within the organization’s power or mission to do that.  But that doesn’t give us reason ever to treat them as less than a person of value to the organization or to us personally. I find it helpful to ask “what would you like me to do here?  How can I best address this or resolve this for you?  What do you see as a possible solution here?”  Those questions get to the solution side, and you might just find that the solution that they would like is possible.

One note too: this is not about complaint management.  Our job as leaders is not complaint management – not at all!  Our job as leaders is to LEAD.  John Ortberg has said it well: “over time, a church [or any organization] can drift from mission to complaint management.  Once that happens, you start to die.”  That drift is not what I’m advocating at all.  But HOW we lead matters too.  Leaders, our words matter.

I got my package on Saturday.  But more than that, I was treated as a valued customer whose concerns mattered.

Let’s lead that way.

Have you experienced a customer service conversation like this?  What would you add to my list of helpful questions to ask?


Change The Story

What do you do when God surprises you?

Our focus at Southview throughout much of 2014 has been titled “Change the Story.”  We believe God has changed our stories individually and as a church, and we believe He has called us to be story changers in our community and in our world.  If we take the time to look, we can see the hand of God at work in our lives, changing our stories from despair to hope, from pain to healing, from being outcasts to finding a home with a God who loves us.

Last week, our worship pastor gave me a heads up on something that was frankly a new experience for us.  One of our former Chrysalis interns posted a clip called “How to Play Oceans on the Drums” from one of our services three or four years ago on YouTube, and it was discovered by Carlos Whittaker, a speaker, musician, and worship leader.  Carlos put it on his YouTube channel, and as of this morning, it has more than a million hits – you might have seen it shared on your Facebook or Twitter feed!  It has been featured in stories on the Huffington Post, Relevant Magazine, the Blaze, E!’s The Soup, the New York Daily News, MetalInsider, and even all the way in Australia.  The clip features one of our drummers, Trevell, who’s been a part of our worship team for three years or so.  Trevell, like all of us, has experiences in his life of brokenness and rejection by others, and when he came to Southview he told us how he finally felt like he was wanted and loved.  That’s what the church should be – a place for EVERYONE to call home, where they know they are loved by their Heavenly Father and by fellow followers of Jesus.

Yesterday Trevell shared his response to all the internet attention, and he shared part of his story.  You can check that out here.

We’re blown away at seeing what God can do with a story like Trevell’s – and lest you think otherwise, God can change your story too.  We see it happen all the time at Southview, and we give God the glory for what He does in changing lives, one at a time. Jesus was all about loving the unlovable, and we all know the church hasn’t always gotten that right over the last two thousand years – not by a long shot.  We’re trying to change that.  We see that Jesus paid the most attention to the “outsiders,” not the people you and I might think of as “normal,” and we want to be like Jesus.  That’s radical love.  That’s the church.

One of my favorite quotes from the posts linked above was from MetalInsider – “We’re also not all that familiar with church, but if we lived anywhere near the one where this drummer performed, that might have to change.”  I believe the church should be a place like that, where every life matters, where love is lived out and passion for God and for people is evident.  I’m so incredibly grateful to serve a church like that.

4 Ingredients For Special Blend Leadership

Special BlendMy wife’s mom has been staying with us for a bit lately, and she’s been a joy to have around.  She helps with the girls, and while she’s here Charlotte and I are getting the opportunity for more frequent date nights without the cost of a babysitter – a true treat when you don’t normally have family living close by!

She likes to drink coffee, and her favorite is a blend by Paul Newman.  I took this picture so I could remember the details when I went to the store to get it.  It’s called “Newman’s Special Blend.”  Not being a coffee drinker myself (unless it is loaded with massive amounts of chocolate and whipped cream to cover the coffee taste), I can’t swear by it, but she really likes the flavor.

Special blends are, well, special.  And when it comes to leadership, I think there’s a special blend that can make your leadership better.  Here are four ingredients I’d put into “William’s Special Leadership Blend.”

1. Humility

Jim Collins’ work on this topic in Good to Great, Built to Last, and Great by Choice is unimpeachable.  Humility is one of the major traits that separate Level 5 leaders from the rest.  Understand – humility is not being a doormat.  Humility is understanding that you are not the King – that you are a part of the team but not the whole team – and that your contributions to the team’s or organization’s efforts should be in those areas where you bring the most to the table.  It’s a hard lesson for leaders to learn, but you cannot do it all yourself – you don’t have all the gifts!  Humility is essential to true team building and collaboration, and that’s the key to success as a leader.

2. Integrity

Integrity is simply the integration of your whole life.  It’s the idea of the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ – complete wholeness.  I’m not one person in this area of my life, and someone completely different over in that area of my life.  There’s not one William on Sundays and a completely different person on Tuesdays.  I’m an integrated whole.  That should be the goal of everyone, but especially leaders.  Without it, we become fractured, fragmented, and inconsistent, and it’s impossible to lead diligently from that place.  Henry Cloud’s books Boundaries for Leaders and Integrity are must reads for this one – if you haven’t read them, seriously put them on your reading list.  You won’t regret it.

3. Drive

This is the internal fire that keeps a leader going – that white hot flame that explodes into action.  When a leader sees a vision of what could be, of how things could be in a church, a team or an organization, then they are compelled to move into action.  That passionate drive is essential – without that, we become simply managers of the status quo.  As John Ortberg has said so well, “Over time, a church can drift from mission to complaint management.  Once that happens, you start to die.”  That’s not just true for churches – it’s true for any organization.  Drive is what keeps you going in the face of opposition, of conflict, and of complaints. Those things WILL come; leaders with drive keep going because they know what could be, and they long to see the vision become reality.

4. A Teachable Spirit

This is especially important in a church setting, but I’d argue it’s important no matter where you lead.  It’s tied closely to humility, but I’m listing it separately because I believe it’s worth calling out specifically.  Leaders have a teachable spirit – they are continual learners.  They never stop learning because they are driven to get better at leading with all diligence.  No one this side of Heaven knows it all, and we can learn from anyone!  Without a teachable spirit, leaders get set in their ways and refuse to learn from others, and that’s a recipe for mediocrity, staleness, and disaster.  Since my first week at Southview ten years ago, one of my non-negotiable requirements for anyone in leadership has been a teachable spirit.  I think it’s absolutely critical.

Those are the four ingredients I’d put in a leadership special blend.

What ingredients would you add into a “special blend” for leaders?

Trees, Leaders, and Storms

Playground treeI took this photo in June at Southview.  We had a tree over near the playground that was not doing well, and after several expert opinions and several quotes, we made the decision to cut it down.  There was no immediate danger from it – yet. But because it wasn’t healthy, if the conditions were right, with the right storm, it was likely to fall, either on the playground or on the building and caused significant damage.  It wasn’t going to resolve itself, and it wasn’t going to go away.

As I was looking through some photos, I saw this one and thought about leadership.

So often, leaders are tasked with defining reality.  Not as we wish it were, not as it used to be, but as it is.  And leaders have to think forward, looking ahead of where the team or organization currently is so that problems, issues, or concerns can be identified well in advance and be dealt with before significant damage occurs.

I wonder how often we think of leadership that way.  I wonder how often we see leaders as reactive, not proactive.  I believe great leaders think forward, examining possible outcomes and determining the best course of action after diligent consideration.  Sometimes that’s even intuitive; I can’t tell you why I see a problem, but I see one down the road.

Here’s what I know after nearly two decades of leading and studying leaders: storms WILL come.  It is guaranteed.  Our job as leaders is to, as best we can, anticipate what’s ahead and plan diligently.  That requires trust on the parts of those we lead; they might not see what we see!  But over time, trust is earned and grows, and when exercised well, earns more.

On this Friday, take a few minutes and think about the team or organization you lead.  Can you identify the “unhealthy tree” issues or situations that threaten damage to the team or organization?  What are you doing to lead with regard to them?