Erosion, Weeds, and Riprap

The work continues this week at Southview on the stormwater drainage project!  (I’m adding the exclamation to try to make a project that is not all that exciting seem much more so!)

(Did it work?)

IMG_3590In my last post, I shared about the importance of a drainage pipe that runs under our driveway and how the “invisible” parts of leadership are critical.  Today I want to look at the other side of the driveway – the “out” side of the drainage pipe.

Our drainage system connects with that of the shopping center that is located behind our church.  You can see in the picture to the left the beautiful gray riprap that they installed in their drainage ditch to do two things:

1. Keep the water flow going the right direction and prevent blockages

2. Prevent erosion

IMG_3589On our side of the ditch, originally there was similar riprap, but that was over thirty years ago. Over time, weeds begin to sprout up, erosion overtakes the rock, and three decades later, it looks like the picture to the right.

Do you see any riprap? No, because it’s completely covered by dirt and weeds.  Thirty years have gone by, and what was evident on the surface, with a specific purpose, is now underground, covered over and unable to accomplish its purpose.

The contractors spent last week digging out the riprap by hand because of the underground gas pipelines. It was slow, back-breaking work that was no fun at all I’m sure. But it was absolutely necessary to return the stormwater system to health and vitality so that it can complete the purpose it was designed to accomplish.

It’s a lot like that with our leadership gift.  Over time, erosion happens, just like it did with the stormwater drainage ditch.  Over time, what was evident and visible in our lives – the gift of leadership and our passion for it – begins to slowly sink beneath the surface of the day-to-day task lists, meetings, phone calls, and emails.  What is important is overtaken by the urgent, but the urgent is not always important.

Erosion happens. And weeds sprout up. It’s true in nature and it’s true in every organization. Leaders have to learn to differentiate between what’s demanding our attention right now (the urgent) and what truly matters (the important).  We have to shore up against the erosion of our cultural values, mission, and vision. We have to pull the weeds that would distract from or obfuscate the clarity that is necessary to accomplish the mission and vision.  We can’t “go nuclear” and blow the whole thing up because of the weeds – we have to target the weeds, what’s growing and covering up the riprap, and get rid of that.

Andy Stanley often refers to the importance of walking up to the cage of the 500 pound gorilla and opening the door – that is, directly confronting the problems that we see and know about, but have been avoiding because of the fear we feel.  Here’s what I know: there is erosion and there are weeds in every one of our spheres of influence.  There are 500 pound gorillas we are pretending are not there. We’re avoiding them and hoping they will go away. But just like the erosion and the weeds in our drainage system, they don’t go away – they get worse and worse.  Problems don’t improve on their own most of the time.  As my friend Steve Kane says, “bad news doesn’t get better with age.” We have to square our shoulders, take a deep breath, and walk up to the problems – and deal with them.

When this project is done, the riprap will once again be visible and doing its job. The erosion will be held back for a season, the weeds will be removed, and the water can flow. It’s at a significant cost, but it will be far better because we dealt with it.

What erosion or weeds are you avoiding in your leadership right now? What’s the 500 pound gorilla you need to walk up to and deal with this week?

The Invisible But Critical Parts of Leadership

This week, contractors began on some work at Southview that the county has required us to do.  Two sides of our property are bordered by a stormwater drainage system that we are required to maintain.  It’s not something anyone really notices when they drive by or onto our lot, but it’s very important to ensure that stormwater flows the proper direction and into the proper places.

IMG_3586Every year, the county inspects 20% of the stormwater system on properties throughout the county, so every five years, we get a report from them with a list of what we need to do to maintain our piece of the system.  Last November, we got the report, and it was the most substantial list of needed work on this system that the church has seen in it’s history.  It’s about a $35K project right now, and not something we were expecting.

There is a pipe that runs under the driveway to the church – you can see it in the picture to the left.  This pipe was put in when the church was built in 1982/1983.  Over time, the pipe has degraded.  It’s normal wear and tear, and in this case, the bottom third of the pipe is gone – rusted away.

No one has really paid attention to this pipe.  It’s under the driveway, and it opens out into the drainage swale – not a place anyone really hangs out!  But when it stops working, what happens?

That’s right – nothing good.

IMG_2474Check out the next picture – this is what happened in a recent storm.

“Lake Southview” is the result of this pipe not doing it’s job.

How important is a pipe that runs under a driveway?  How important is something that almost no one ever sees or pays attention to?


And so it is with leadership.

The “invisible” parts of leadership are those parts that are not done on the stage or in the meeting.  It’s the foundational work, the internal work that is done in you before you step foot on the platform, write the first word, or speak the first sentence.  And, just like this pipe under the driveway, it is critical.

It’s easy for leaders to focus the vast majority (or even all) of our time on the deliverables – those things that people see, read, or hear.  But if we do so at the cost of neglecting the “invisible” parts – self-evaluation, intentional leadership development, being mentored by those farther down the road than we are, reading inside and outside our field, and so on – then over time we will find that we have less and less to bring to the platform, to the page, or to the meeting.  By neglecting the “invisible” work, we drastically and negatively impact the work that is seen and shared.

It takes time. It’s not going to just happen. I’ve never seen anyone wake up one day and magically find that they had grown as a leader accidentally – it takes intentional effort and focus. But it’s never wasted effort and focus.

Every year, I put together an intentional plan for my personal leadership development.  Have you done that for 2016?  It’s not just going to happen – you have to be intentional.

I spend time weekly reading books inside and outside my field, learning from others. I spend time weekly listening to podcasts or workshop recordings from other leaders (again, inside and outside my field). And a few times a year, I go to conferences to learn in person from other leaders. I believe you can learn from anyone, and that principles can cross fields and disciplines. We just have to apply the proper filters and contextualize what we learn.

I share what I do with you not to say “look at me” – I’ve got a long way to go as a leader!  But my hope is that by sharing some specifics from my life, it will encourage you to take a step and make one or more of these a staple in your own life and leadership. It won’t just be you that benefits – your team and those you lead will thank you for this!

Take a lesson from the pipe under the driveway.  Be intentional, and make sure you’re spending regular time every week on the “invisible” parts of your leadership.

What is your plan this week to spend some time on the “invisible” parts of your leadership?

Cultivating a Teachable Spirit

OilThe first month I was at Southview, I remember meeting with the adult teachers for the first time.  I shared with them one of the foundations of my philosophy of ministry – a teachable spirit is non-negotiable.  Skills can be learned, and knowledge can be gained, but without a teachable spirit, you will have a very difficult time in ministry.  I went so far as to say that it was a non-negotiable to serve in leadership at Southview, and I still believe it’s THAT important.  The Elders and I try very hard to live that value out as we lead – but sometimes, I forget…

Perhaps a year ago, maybe a little more, my wife Charlotte wanted me to try some essential oils that she had heard about.  Someone had told her about them, and she thought a more natural solution might be worth a shot.  I pooh-poohed it, saying I was not at all interested in such, and that I had no desire to turn into a triangle hat wearing sort.  (See this video clip from Seinfeld if you missed the reference).

Fast forward to April of this year.  My allergies were worse than I’ve ever experienced, and to top that off I was having trouble sleeping.  Not a great combination! My normal allergy medicine wasn’t working at all, and I was wondering what to try. One of the Elders mentioned that his wife had some oils that she’d had great success with, and suggested I give it a shot.  I was sleep deprived and feeling pretty miserable, so I was willing to try anything, so I did. She brought me some samples to try, and I rubbed several different oils on my feet every night before bed, thinking “no way this is going to work.” Lo and behold, after just a couple of days, my allergies were gone and I was sleeping like a baby.  I know – weird, right? I’ve continued the regimen, and I’ve had NO allergy trouble at all since I started. It’s hard to believe, but true!

Why do I share this story?  Well, there are several lessons I’ve learned over the last few months:

1) A teachable spirit is important, and not just at the office. Being humble and teachable should be something I strive for in every area of my life, not just in certain areas.  Leaders, you set the pace on this.  If you model a teachable spirit, it’s FAR more likely that those you lead will too.

2) Listen to my wife. Had I listened to my wife and given this a shot a year or more ago, I might have avoided months of allergy trouble and the cost of all that allergy medicine. My wife is brilliant, and I forget that at my peril.

3) Sometimes solutions can be found in unexpected places. I would never have thought those essential oils were effective – yet I am walking proof, despite my cynicism and disbelief at the beginning. Humility is being willing to listen.

Do you have experiences where you forgot how important a humble, teachable spirit is?  Share in the comments below!

(and if you are interested in trying these oils, let me know and I’ll connect you with my friend Nancy!)

Chess Not Checkers

When I was seven years old, my dad taught me how to play chess. I’m by no means great at it, but I do enjoy a good game and play whenever I have the opportunity. Over the last year, I’ve been teaching the girls how to play, using the same set that my dad used to teach me. Each piece has written on it how that piece moves. It’s a great teaching set because if you forget, all you have to do is look at the reminder on the piece.

This summer, one of the books our IMPACT group read and discussed together was Mark Miller’s new book Chess Not Checkers.  If you’ve read any of his other books, you’ll recognize the characters, as he continues the storyline.  The main character of the book, Blake, is learning leadership lessons from Jack, a retired CEO.  Jack talks to Blake during their first meeting about how checkers and chess are played on a similar board – 64 squares on both – but the games are vastly different.  To lead a high performance organization, you have to play chess, not checkers. “If you play checkers when the name of the game is chess, you lose.”

We had some great discussion around the table about the book in our group, and I’d highly recommend it to you.  The bold statement above is the one that captured my interest when I first read the book.  How often in organizations are we “playing” using the wrong set of rules?  How often are we playing a simple game when strategic thinking is needed and required?

This is a quick read, but worth your time.  Leaders, if you’re finding yourself reacting, making decisions in a frenetic pace, not thinking through strategic implications of decisions, and barely keeping your head above the waterline with the day to day eating your lunch, you’re playing checkers.  Thinking through what Miller teaches us in this book will help you grab on to the importance of moving to chess.  It’s through strategic thinking, planning, and executing that you will move beyond today and think about tomorrow.  Author Hans Finzel has said “Leaders are paid to be dreamers. The higher you go in leadership, the more your work is about the future.” Leaders know this – but sometimes, we just need to look at the reminder on the piece.

Right now, are you playing checkers or chess in your leadership? What intentional steps are you taking to grow into a better “chess player?”



NCThis week we’ve taken some time for R&R, and it’s been a very restful week.  My oldest daughter’s at Beta Club leadership camp for the first time, while Charlotte, my youngest daughter, and I came to North Carolina, where we are enjoying the generosity of some great friends who’ve invited us to stay in their home while they’re away.  The view in this photo is of the mountains as seen from their back porch. For me, few things are as relaxing as looking at the mountains.  It’s truly one of my favorite places to be.

Rest is SO important in life, and no less so for those in leadership.  In fact, if you’re a leader and you’re not regularly practicing rest/sabbath, realize that it WILL catch up with you eventually.  You are not designed to run and run and run with no downtime!  This is why God gave us the tremendous gift of sabbath rest.  And unfortunately, it’s one I’ve not taken the time to enjoy far too often in my life.

Sabbath should never be seen as one more “to do” on our list. Instead, it should be seen as a gift from the hand of the One who created us, who knows how He designed us and wired us. In the past, my view of sabbath rest was skewed.  I thought it was just laziness, or a luxury for those who could “afford” to take the time to rest. It’s neither. Sabbath is a gift from our Heavenly Father, and to neglect it is to neglect a gift from Him.

I find that when I am rested, I make better decisions. I don’t rush to judgment as quickly. I am more prone to listen. I think through situations more clearly. And the same could be true for you as well.

Don’t get me wrong. When I’m working, I unashamedly work hard – that’s what leaders do. But I’m also learning the immense benefits of regularly and intentionally enjoying the gift of rest that our Heavenly Father has given to us.

Are you intentional about your times of rest? In what environment do you find it easiest to find a restful frame of mind? 


IMPACT: Developing Leaders

impactThis summer, I’ve been leading a small group called IMPACT made up of new and emerging leaders at Southview who want to learn more about leadership and develop the leadership gift that God has given them.  The discussions that come out of this group are often significant, and to listen to leaders process what they’re reading and hearing, growing more and more, is truly one of my favorite things to be a part of.

During this session of IMPACT, we’re reading and discussing two books together (Chess Not Checkers by Mark Miller, and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell). We’re watching and discussing video of sessions from the Global Leadership Summit and Leadercast from years past. And we’re learning from one another as we each navigate various leadership challenges in wildly different contexts.

Leaders, if you’re not a part of a group where you are being challenged to grow, make it happen!  If you’re not sharing what God’s teaching you with others, make it happen!  This is a low financial cost endeavor – it really just takes time and intentional effort. My experience has been that every time I lead an IMPACT group, I learn a great deal, and my own leadership muscles are strengthened.

This session, I tried something new. Each time I do this, I adjust and adapt based on what I’ve learned from previous sessions.  I limited the size of the group for the first time, in order to make it more conversational and intimate, and I limited the time the group would meet to 8 weeks.  I sent out an email announcing this summer’s group, and the group filled up within a few hours.  I’ve found that leaders want to get better; they want to grow and develop their leadership gift, especially in the church.  Sometimes they just need an opportunity and an invitation.  You can do that!

How are you developing other leaders?  What tools or groups like IMPACT have you found helpful as you’ve grown as a leader?  What books would you suggest I consider for future IMPACT groups?


Picking Up Sticks

file1911272386365I’m continuing to read and enjoy Stephen Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  There are a lot of great principles packed into this book.

I’m still processing habit #2 – “begin with the end in mind.”  I’m chewing today on something Covey said on page 123: “We are free to choose our actions, based on our knowledge of correct principles, but we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions.  Remember: ‘if you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.'”

In my work as a pastor, I hear (too often) the phrase “what I do doesn’t affect anyone but me.  It’s my decision and mine alone, and it only affects me.”  Usually this is in the context of a decision or pattern of behavior that is unhealthy or spiritually unwise.  Covey’s right – we are free to choose our actions.  But if we think that those choices are isolated in their effects to just us, we’re not using our brain.

Every person I know lives in community with others.  I’ve never met someone who is completely isolated – who lives all by themselves, influences no one, and is influenced by no one.  Our choices – our decisions – WILL impact those around us.  Our actions and decisions have consequences – and we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.  We can only choose whether to do the action or not in the first place.

If you choose to make an unwise decision, or to continue in an unhealthy pattern of behavior, your choice affects the people in your life.  Your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, your neighbors, your extended family, your church family – all can be affected.

I love that statement – “if you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.”  When we make a choice or a decision and act on it, we choose the consequences that go along with it.  It’s just the way it works.

Our dog likes to play fetch.  If you throw a tennis ball or one of her dog toys, she will run after it and bring it back to you.  If I throw a stick, and she grabs one end in her mouth, the other end can’t stay where it is – it has to come with her too.  Consequences are like that.

Leaders, think about this in the context of your leadership.  When you make a leadership decision, you choose the consequences that come along with it.  “When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.”

Are you being as intentional about the consequences as you are about making the initial decision?  How can you begin to think farther out and take into account the consequences of your decisions?

Who Wants To Be A High Performance Leader?

raisinghandsMe, Me, Me!  As Oh says in the new kids movie Home, “Hands in the air, like I just do not care!”

I don’t know a leader in any context – church, business, non-profit, or wherever – who wants to be a low performance leader.  We have a limited amount of time, influence, and resources, and we want to make them count.  We want to be high performance leaders.  But how do we get there?

For several years now, I’ve been following the work of the Leap of Reason community.  From their website: “The Leap of Reason Initiative is aimed at inspiring and supporting great leaders and funders to build great organizations for greater societal impact. Realizing this mission will require us to influence a mindset change among leaders who play a significant role in the social and public sectors and who are motivated to create meaningful, measurable, and sustainable improvement in the lives of individuals, families, and communities.”

The two books they’ve released, Leap of Reason and Working Hard — And Working Well have both been excellent reads which have led to conversations among different leadership teams I’m a part of at Southview.  Like any other organization, we have limited resources, limited time, and limited influence.  How can we best utilize what has been entrusted to us?  How can we know we’re making a difference?  What metrics are we using to determine what’s working and what’s not?  How can we make a greater impact?  All of these discussions have come out of the Leap conversation.

“High-performance organization” is a moniker most organizations—private, public, or nonprofit—would love to earn. And yet who can say what “high performance” really means for mission-based nonprofits? More important, how do executives, boards, and funders get there from here?!

The Leap Ambassadors Community, a network of nonprofit executives, has spent a year developing clear, actionable answers to those two questions.

Earlier this year, they released The Performance Imperative: A Framework for Social Sector Excellence.  I’ll be honest – this is the best thing I’ve seen from them to date.  I don’t care if you lead a non-profit, a business, a church, or any other type of organization or team – this is PHENOMENAL and will really help you frame questions that fit your context and help you move toward high performance and better leadership.  It’s only 16 pages, but it will be of tremendous benefit to you and the teams you lead.

I’m using this to begin and frame discussions with the leadership teams I work with.  In it, they define high performance as “the ability to deliver – over a prolonged period of time – meaningful, measurable, and financially sustainable results for the people or causes the organization is in existence to serve.”  Yes.  A thousand times, yes.

The seven core concepts – or “pillars” – begin with #1 – “courageous, adaptive executive and board leadership.”  As John Maxwell says well, “everything rises or falls on leadership.”

I strongly encourage you to download this, read it, and use it in your team meetings.  As a leader, you know that high performance matters.  And you know that getting better doesn’t just happen – it takes intentionality.  This is a tool that can help you get there.  Get your copy for free here.

“I’m Just The __________”

Last Saturday, we had a big workday at Southview, the church where I serve.  We invited members to come out and help us clean up the grounds, limb trees, and make the grounds look as good as possible for the Easter season.  We had a pretty good turnout, and we all left tired but pleased with the aesthetic improvement.

IMG_2841In preparation for the workday, our church administrator Lynn called around and arranged for a roll off dumpster to be delivered on Friday so we could fill it on Saturday.  The arrangement was that they would then pick it up on Saturday afternoon, thus not having it taking up a lot of parking spots and being an eyesore right at our entrance.

You know where I’m going already, don’t you?

So at 10:30 on Saturday morning, the driver arrives to pick it up.  He happens to encounter me (lucky guy), and says he can’t get to the dumpster because of the cars and people loading the dumpster.  Surprise.  I explained that our rep has assured us that it would be picked up on Saturday afternoon (that is, after noon).  I told him that we would be done by 12 or 12:30 (we finished at 12:05 in fact).  He radioed dispatch, and came back and said that he couldn’t come back at 12 – that the drivers didn’t work all day and that it would have to wait until Monday.  At this point, I got focused and determined (also known as “banjo eyed”).  I explained why that was unacceptable – that our contract, in writing, clearly stated that it would be picked up on Saturday afternoon, and they were breaching the contract by not doing so.  Integrity matters. His response: “I’m just the driver.”

Here’s a simple, simple lesson for those who deal with people.  If you EVER use the phrase “I’m just the ______,” you have now lost all credibility – for you and for the business or organization you represent.

When you are dealing with customers, guests, or members, YOU are the representative of the organization.  You’re never “just” anything – you are representing that organization, it’s values, and what it stands for.  By using a phrase like that, you’re trying to dodge responsibility, and in so doing, you’re also dodging credibility, integrity, and leadership.

No leader should ever use that phrase.  And no staff member or volunteer should ever use that phrase.  It’s demeaning to the one who says it and to the person they’re saying it to.  It reflects your perception that you are less than what you are – a valued part of the team.

Instead of that, how about trying to own what’s wrong and helping the customer, guest, or member find a solution?  How about helping them instead of frustrating them?  It takes time – it takes effort – but at the end, you’re MUCH more likely to delight the person you’re dealing with instead of discouraging them from ever doing business with you again.

Leaders, if we ever hear someone on our team or in our organization use that phrase, we need to jump on it and use that as a teachable moment.  It’s never ok to use.

Have you ever encountered that phrase being used to deflect responsibility?  Have you ever used it?  What can we lead people to express instead?