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?

Excellence Begins On Time

IMG_2825I was listening to a leadership podcast by pastor Perry Noble earlier this week while I drove.  It’s from last year, and has to do with the difference between excellence and extravagance in the local church.  Excellent listen – I’d recommend it to you.

One of the things Perry said in passing resonated with me.  “Excellence begins on time.”

Leaders, let’s be honest.  How often do our meetings start on time, and how often are we waiting till more people or “everyone” gets there?  And it’s not just meetings – it can be applied to events, training sessions, workshops, even worship services!

Last week I was at a homeschool convention in South Carolina.  I attended one of the workshops, getting there about 5 minutes before the published start time.  The presenter was there, had his slides ready to go, and we waited.  About 150 of us in the room.  Waiting.  At about 2 minutes past the start time, he said “we’ll just wait a few more minutes for those folks who are late today.”  And we did.  The workshop started 7 minutes late.  It was good, but what a way to start.

The next day I was going to attend another of that same presenter’s workshops.  I was running a bit behind walking across the convention center, but I thought, “no worries, he doesn’t start on time.”  And guess what.  He didn’t.  I was late but still there well before he started.

I hate to be late.  It’s been ingrained in me since I was a 9th grader in marching band – our director frequently would say “if you’re on time, you’re late!”  I’ve found that to be good advice both in the business world and now in the local church.  But not everyone shares that mindset.

I believe excellence begins with being on time, with beginning on time, and continues with delivering more than was expected.  I remember years ago being on staff at a church where we started late.  Every. Single. Week.  It drove me nuts. When I asked about it, I was told “people aren’t here yet – we’ll start when the room’s more full.”

Hear me – when we do that, we empower people to be late.  They will think, just like I did last week, “no worries – they don’t start on time anyway.”  And we will enable their habitual lateness.

It begins with us, leaders.  We set the tone – we set the pace.  Excellence begins on time.  I am far from perfect at this, but it’s always what I aim at.  Let’s encourage a culture of excellence that begins on time.  And see what happens when we do.

 Have you ever had an experience like I did last week?  What does lateness by a leader or organization communicate to you?

God Made Them Leaders, Male and Female

lightstock_146024_medium_user_2298620In Galatians 3:28, the apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Galatia:  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Much ink has been spilled and many pixels used to discuss the issue of leadership in the church with regard to gender roles.  Not everyone agrees with me that the reading of Galatians means that every role in the church is open to anyone gifted and called to it.  But based on my study of God’s Word, I believe that strongly.

At Southview, the church where I serve, the decision was made long before I arrived that every role is open to any believer who is GIFTED and CALLED to that role.  Those two words are important.

By gifted, I’m referring to spiritual gifts.  According to Scripture, every believer receives at least one spiritual gift.  That gift may change over time – it’s not static.  And we don’t receive it fully mature – what I mean by that is that our gifts have to be developed and grown, just like muscles.  If someone has the gift of teaching, or giving, or serving, they should strive to learn all they can about it, learn from others with that gift how they can utilize it better, and seek to use it regularly.  By doing those three things, the gift begins to be developed, and it’s utilization is more effective and stronger.

By called, I’m referring to that prompting by the Holy Spirit to step out into a role.  If you’re not called – if you just fill a slot – then you’ll find that as your excitement and enthusiasm wanes (as it does for every one of us at times), your obedience to serve others with that gift will wane as well.

This month, the Jewish people celebrate Purim, a festival set aside to annually remember one of the greatest leaders Israel ever had – a woman named Esther.  Because of her devotion to God and her courage, God used her to save the nation from annihilation.  She’s not alone – in the pages of the Bible we find leaders like the judge Deborah, the prophet Huldah, the deacon Phoebe, and the apostle Junia.  That’s just a sampling – and I believe that the Bible is clear that those God gifts and calls to a role, be they male or female, they should serve.

I think by freeing up people to serve as they are gifted and called, regardless of their race (Jew or Gentile), socio-economic status (slave or free), or gender (male or female), is the clear teaching of Scripture in this passage and many others.  Tradition has led the church at times down a different road, and while I can understand those who feel its tug, my question is always “what does the Bible say?”  I want to follow Scripture where it leads.  And I want to lead in a way that is consistent with that, even and especially when it’s difficult.

It is God who chooses what gifts are given to each follower of Jesus.  It is God who determines who is called to what role of service.  It is God who made them leaders, male and female – in the pages of the Bible and today.

When God gifts and calls someone to lead, may we never get in the way of that.

Where have you seen this issue dealt with in a positive way in the local church?  How can we as leaders help to empower and equip every believer to know their gifts and use their gifts to serve others?

4 Ways To Develop Your Leadership Bench

scottwilliamsOne of my favorite leadership blogs is by Scott Williams over at  Last week I saw a post titled “11 Key Attributes of Great Leadership.”  It’s worth your time if you missed it.  One of the 11 attiributes was a “spirit of development.”  Scott wrote: “Develop other leaders; without leadership development, the pipeline of leadership is halted.”  Boy, is that ever true!

Each year, I talk over with the Elders what my major areas of focus are going to be.  I love getting input from them and from the other pastors as to where they think my time, energy, and focus would best be spent. One of my goals for 2015 is developing Southview’s “leadership bench.” If we are not continually developing new leaders, we’re going to pay the price down the road.

This is a lesson I thought I had down, but as with most things, if you don’t stay focused, you can lose sight of the important by allowing the urgent to crowd it out.  Over the last few years, I have not been as diligent as I should have been, and we’ve seen fewer leaders stepping up – because we’ve been investing less in new and emerging leaders!  This is one of my major focus areas this year (and every year from now on) – I want to make sure Southview has a strong leadership bench.  Leadership matters, and if I’m not investing in and developing new leaders for tomorrow, it’s possible we won’t have the leaders we need when we need them.

I think leadership development should be done with a 5-10 year view in mind.  What kind of leaders do I want to see engaged in our church’s leadership 5 years from now? 10 years from now?  That’s the kind I need to start developing and investing in today.  And it doesn’t just happen – it takes intentional effort and focus (kind of a recurrent theme on this blog, isn’t it?).

Here are four ways you can begin to develop your leadership bench.

1. Reach out to new and emerging leaders.

Send an email, fire off a text, pick up the phone, or walk across the room – you take the initiative.  Let them know you see leadership potential in them and you want to help them grow.  If they’re not interested, no harm no foul – but don’t wait for them to walk up to you.

2. Provide leadership development opportunities.

At Southview this year, we’re providing two leadership development conferences – the Leadercast and the Global Leadership Summit.  Each of these simulcast conferences feature outstanding speakers who will help leaders get better and grow.  I’m going to invite as many potential and emerging leaders as I can.

3. Gather potential leaders into a small group.

This summer, I’ll be leading a small group for potential and emerging leaders called IMPACT.  This group is designed to be a safe place where we can discuss leadership challenges, grow in our own leadership, and learn from one another. I create a syllabus for each group based on who’s involved, using videos, books, articles, and other resources. It’s one of my favorite things to do all year.

4. Provide potential leaders with resources to help them grow.

I try to keep books and other resources on hand to give to potential and emerging leaders. If I find a book particularly helpful, I’ll use it with the IMPACT small group or put it in the hands of a new leader so we can discuss it once they read it.  This has proven to be invaluable over the years as it gives our leadership shared language, principles, and understanding.

If you’re not currently thinking through the leadership development process for your organization, today’s a great day to start.  And if I can help you, just ask.

How are you being intentional in your organization’s leadership development process?