The Tragedy of Living Below Our Capacities

I came across a quote today that really resonated with me.

“The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.”—Benjamin E. Mays

I was not familiar with that name, so I spent some time reading more about this fascinating man.  Benjamin Mays was a pastor, college professor, dean, and college president.  His most famous student was Martin Luther King, Jr.  King referred to Dr. Mays as his “spiritual mentor,” and he said he saw in Dr. Mays “the ideal of what he wanted a minister to be.” Dr. Mays delivered the eulogy at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. (source: Wikipedia)

The quote by Dr. Mays above speaks to a common tragedy in the lives of so many: the tragedy of what could have been.  Too often, I believe we trade what could be for the comfort and supposed security of what is.  How many people, near the end of their lives, look back with regret over relationships not reconciled, decisions not made, or actions not taken?

Leaders are not immune to this.  Often, after a season of opposition, a leader’s tendency can be to throttle back, to coast and not make too many waves.  The tragedy is that when a leader begins to coast in complacency, so do the people they lead!  The mission is not advanced; the ball is not moved up the field; and a maintenance mindset begins to take hold.  Be careful — once that mindset takes root, its tough to dig it out.

Last Sunday at Southview, I taught on how God has wired us according to our spiritual gifts, our passions, and talents, and if we are serving in the intersection of those, we will find fulfillment that will last.  Our spiritual gifts are given to us by God for the benefit of others.  The question we should ask, concerning our gifts, is how can I use this for others?

The tragedy is “not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little.” How often is there a dream in the mind and heart of a leader that goes unseen, unheard, and unrealized? By playing it safe, you create fewer waves, sure, but the tragedy is that the dream is left in the land of potential, and all those who could have benefitted from it will not.

I don’t want to live “below my capacity” – I want to top out!  I want to see God use every gift He has given me for the benefit of others.  I don’t want to do too little – I want to leverage every moment I can for the work He has designed me to do.  I believe when I do that, He is glorified and I will find the freedom and contentment that come from being who God designed me to be.

And I want the same thing for you.

In 2015, what are you doing differently to top out your capacity for what God created and designed you to do? 

2 Actions to Help You Become a Better Leader in 2015

lightstock_167750_medium_user_2298620Do you want to be a better leader this year than you were last year?

Me too.

How do we get there?  Just like anything else – it takes intentional effort.

Here are two actions you can take to help you become a better leader in 2015.

1) Read.  Yes, I know.  Who has time to read all that they want to read?  Well, I know this.  You make time for the things that are important to you.  Your calendar reflects what those things are.

I’m being very intentional this year about the books I’m reading.  I want to grow in my leadership, so I’m shooting to read 2 books a week specifically focused on growing as a leader.  I’m currently reading The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey on deck.  What are you reading?  Write it down and review weekly where you are with this action.  An investment of 30 minutes a day can really make a difference.

2) Learn.  Learn from those who are farther down the road than you are – people who are better leaders that you can learn from.  I do this by reading, but I also do it by learning at conferences.

One of my dreams for Southview has been for it to be a place where leaders in our community of all kinds – church leaders, business leaders, non-profit leaders, and leaders of other organizations – can come for leadership development and training.  We’ve hosted a number of conferences and workshops in the past, and I’m very excited that in 2015 we’ll be the local host site for the Leadercast in May and the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in August.  Both of these conferences have been significant learning experiences for me in past years, and I’m very excited that we’re able to bring them to the Herndon/Reston area.

If you don’t already have on your calendar opportunities to go and learn from other leaders, to get around and listen to leaders who are farther down the road than you are, schedule them!  You can make this happen – you just have to choose to do so.

If you’re in northern Virginia and you’d like to join us for one of the leadership conferences above, you can get tickets and register using the links above.  It’s be great to connect with you at these events as we get better together!

What would you add to my list above?  What can you do to get better as a leader this year?

3 Lessons for Leading Through the Unexpected

IMG_2761Last Saturday, I woke up and started to get out of bed.  I immediately discovered something unexpected – my left foot did not want to operate normally without a LOT of pain.  What on earth?

I ran through a list of all the things that normally cause an injury, but none of them applied.  On Monday, I was planning to begin training for a 5K later this Spring, but I hadn’t begun yet.  Strange.

I made it through Sunday, and then came home to elevate and ice it.  So far, I’ve seen no improvement; in fact, yesterday and today I’ve barely been able to put weight on it.  I’m going to see a doctor later this week and hopefully get some answers. In the meantime, elevate, ice, and rest.

What does this have to do with leadership?  Quite a bit, as I’ve discovered in my forced time of rest and reflection.

1) Unexpected things happen.  If you lead long enough (more than a week usually), something will happen that you didn’t expect.  It could involve any number of things – business strategy, development, personnel, resourcing – but the unexpected is an inevitable part of a leader’s journey.  Sometimes they’re positive!  And sometimes they’re not.

2) How you handle the unexpected matters.  What do you do when something unexpected matters?  You have a choice – you can moan and groan about what’s happened, or you can get on the solution side of the problem.  On Saturday, I did my share of moaning and groaning.  In fact, I was downright grumpy (my wife can attest to this).  But eventually I had to move to the solution side and formulate a strategy for how to deal with this.  And so I did.

Leaders, your team and others around you are watching to see how you handle the unexpected.  It’s ok to vent a little at times, but you have to move to the solution side and model that.  If you do, they will too.  If you don’t, how can you expect those you lead to do so?

3) Find the positives in the unexpected.  This is easier for some than others, to be sure.  If you’re a natural optimist, then you will find this easier than someone who isn’t.  Regardless, I think it’s necessary for leaders to do.

As I sit with my foot elevated, I find that I have more time than I anticipated to catch up on correspondence, think, read, and write.  That’s a blessing!  I would not have gotten nearly as much of this done over the last few days if I hadn’t looked for a way to find the positives in this situation.  I’m not perfect at this, but I’m striving to get better at it.

How do you handle the inevitable unexpected things that happen?  What would you add to my list of lessons from the unexpected above?


Open-Handed Leadership

file4411238163360Last week I listened to the newest episode of Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast.  If you’re not a regular listener to this, let me highly recommend that you listen – it’s well worth your time.  The episodes are 20-25 minutes, and they publish one episode per month.

This month’s deals with open-handed staffing.  And as I listened to it in my car, I resonated with it more deeply than I think I have with any topic I’ve heard on the podcast.

One of their organization’s core values is to be open-handed.  That involves generosity (which I taught on yesterday), but it also involves people.

One of Andy’s comments hit home concerning being open-handed with the people who work or serve in our organizations – “everybody – paid and volunteer – is ultimately a volunteer, choosing to show up… it’s not like we own the people we lead.”

So true, and so challenging.

One of the most difficult things about the context I lead in is that this is a very transitional area.  The vast majority of the people who live here are not from here, and most people come here for 3-5 years and then are transferred to another part of the country (or the world).  That has positives, but it also has negatives.  Some people you really, really don’t want to see go!  And if we’re not careful, we can impose a level of guilt and pressure on those we lead that will create a culture of secrecy, where they don’t feel like they can share what’s going on in their lives, especially concerning potential moves.  And when that’s true of staff, that can create a very dysfunctional and secretive culture.

We have to lead open-handed, understanding that everyone we lead is placed in our organization by God, and almost all of them will be with us only for a season.  We choose how that season will end – in a positive, encouraging, uplifting and blessing way, or… not.

I can recall once many years ago being contacted by a church concerning a potential job opportunity.  I felt like the appropriate thing to do was to go to my current boss, who had mentored me and taught me a great deal, and share the opportunity, seeking his insights and sharing that I was struggling with the decision to stay or go.  Unfortunately, it was not a good conversation over the following weeks.  He saw my even considering the position as a lack of loyalty to him, and the transition was not a positive one at all.  I learned a great deal from that about the value of open-handed leadership when it comes to staff.  I’ve not always been great at it – to be sure – but Stanley’s podcast reminded me of the simple truth that everything I have been given – my leadership, my influence with others, my experiences – all of it is given by God for me to steward.  And when I lead in an open-handed way, encouraging openness and providing encouragement to and blessing those I lead when our season to work and walk together is coming to a close, I honor God and others.

In whatever context you lead, intentionally choose to lead open-handed, especially when it comes to the paid staff or volunteers who serve on your team.  That kind of generosity of spirit creates a healthy staff culture, and it truly honors God and inspires people.

Have you ever worked for an open-handed leader?  Would others characterize you that way?  How can you grow in this in 2015?

Restoring Quiet to our Cultures

lightstock_150776_medium_user_2298620At last year’s Leadership Summit, one of the most memorable quotes for me came from Susan Cain, best-selling author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and viral TED speaker on the Power of Introverts.  Susan said, “We need to restore quiet to our cultures.”

When she said that, it really resonated with me.  It’s far too easy to fill our calendars and our days with constant noise, sound, and people.  And my experience has been that when we allow that to happen, the times of quiet will eventually recede and disappear from our lives.

I learn from the Bible that God speaks most often not in a thundering voice that overpowers the rest of my life, but in a still, quiet voice.  How on earth am I going to hear that Voice if I’ve crowded it out?  I need times of quiet, of silence – it is in those times that I can quiet my heart and mind long enough to grasp those impressions that come from God.

As a leader, if we’re not modeling times of intentional quiet, we’re missing something important.  With 1/3 to 1/2 of the population being introverted, increasing the volume and the pace of life is not going to get the best from those team members.  Leaders set the tone and the pace, and if we want this to be an intentional part of our organizational culture, we have to lead out in it.

Susan’s book is on my ‘to read’ list for 2015.  I think there’s great value for leaders when they intentionally determine times of quiet.  John Maxwell says that every day he does 5 things: he reads, he thinks, he asks questions, he files, and he writes.  How many of those are best done in times of quiet?  For me, most of them.  And that’s ok.

In 2015, I’m choosing to have intentional times when I can read, think, listen, and write.  I think it might benefit you as well to consider how to “restore quiet to your culture.”

What intentional decisions, choices, or changes are you making in 2015?

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?