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? 


Where Do You Want To End Up?

DSC05900Last week I wrote that I’ve been reading a book that many consider a classic – Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  This is my first time to read it, and I continue to find great leadership principles that are very applicable to my life.  This is part 2 in a “mini-series” of posts here on the blog regarding some of my thoughts about these principles and how I think they are applicable in my context as well as in your leadership. (You can see part 1 here if you missed it.)

The second of Covey’s habits is to begin with the end in mind.  He writes “Begin with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.”

Any leader know that vision is a mental picture of what could be.  Leadership involves casting vision, painting a picture of the preferred future that creates passion in people.  But that process has to start – and it starts with this habit.  Begin with the end in mind.

I think back to when I first came to Southview.  I could see immediately that several things needed to change – starting with implementing background checks on volunteers who worked with kids or students. I began with the end in mind.  Ultimately, I wanted us to create environments for kids that were clean, safe, and fun, where they could hear truths from God’s Word taught at their level.  That was the “end” I had in mind; getting there involved multiple steps and multiple projects.

We talk a lot about environments at Southview, something Andy Stanley has written about extensively in his book Deep and Wide.  We don’t control the work of the Spirit of God in a person’s life, but we do control the environments at Southview – and we know that environments can be a key factor in someone hearing from (or not hearing from) God.  If they are distracted by clutter, disorganization, disorderly words or actions, a lack of harmony, or unkempt spaces, then they are less likely to spend time focusing on what we’re communicating verbally.  We want to create (as much as possible) distraction free environments, where people can come, see, and hear a message that is consistent in the environments, actions, and words of the people at Southview.  That’s the end we want to see happen.  By beginning with the end in mind, it helps us develop systems that get us there.  From our First Impressions team to our Hospitality team, from our Kids Worship team to our Kids check in process, we strive to have systems that are intentionally designed to help people focus on the message, not be distracted by something else.

Sometimes there are multiple “good” options – which do you want?  Either can be a good answer in some cases – but unless you choose, you’ll never reach the “end” you could have achieved had you focused.

Begin with the end in mind.  That’s helpful advice for visioning, for systems design and implementation, for leadership development – even for personal development!  What kind of man do I want to be?  What do I want said about me at the end of my life?  What kind of husband and father do I want to be?  By knowing the answers to these questions, we can then evaluate what we do now and see if it’s moving us in that direction or away from it.

Have you determined what you want the desired “end” to be in your leadership, organization, or personal life?  What steps are you taking to move that direction?

3 Ways To Be A Proactive Leader

proactiveI’ve been reading a book that many consider a classic – Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I’ve never read it, and I’m finding some great leadership principles that are very applicable to my life.  I’m going to do a “mini-series” of posts here on the blog regarding some of my thoughts about these principles and how I think they are applicable in my context as well as in your leadership.

The first habit is “be proactive.”  Of them all, I think this is the one I have the least difficulty with – and the most difficulty with. Let me explain.

Covey states, “Proactivity means more than just taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions… Highly proactive people do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

This was one of the most helpful and challenging parts of the book for me.  I typically don’t have problems taking initiative, which is what I thought when I saw the name of the first habit.  That’s what leaders do!  They don’t sit around waiting on someone else to solve problems; they jump in, define the problem, and move to the solution side.  I’m all about that.  Covey’s habit, though, is more complex than simply a bias toward action.  It involves our attitude – specifically, owning our lives.

Here are three ways this habit can be applied by leaders of any organization:

1) Don’t play the blame game. Far, far too often, I hear people in positions of leadership playing the blame game (for a great example of this, watch the speeches of members of Congress on CSPAN). Any problem always has someone who can be blamed – and it’s usually not the person speaking.  It’s easy to point and ridicule such behavior, but then I look in the mirror and wonder how often I fall into the same trap.

When confronted with a problem, is my first response to blame conditions?  To blame circumstances?  How often am I using phrases like “if only,” “I can’t,” and “I wish?”

When I make a mistake, the proper response as a leader is to own it, fix it if I can, and learn from it so I don’t repeat it.  When I play the blame game, I short-circuit that process and don’t learn from it.

2)  Focus on what I can control, not what I can’t. Instead of focusing and dwelling on those things I cannot control, I need to focus on what I CAN control – and often, that means me.  I can control myself, and so do you.

Paul wrote to the church in Galatia about the fruits of walking in the Holy Spirit.  Among the fruits listed is “self-control.”  That’s a critical aspect of great leadership.

Leaders, what’s our response to unexpected conditions or circumstances?  How do we handle the surprises that are unavoidable in leadership?  By focusing on my own attitude, my responses, my reactions, I focus on what I can control. And when I get this right, I find that this has a ripple effect beyond me.

As a leader of people, you set the tone.  You know you do!  And when you’re constantly focusing on what you can’t control, you will lead others to do the same.

3)  Watch what we say. As leaders, our words matter.  A lot.  Andy Stanley says it this way: “as a leader in the room, my words weigh 10,000 pounds.”  If you’ve been a leader in a meeting, you know what he’s talking about!  Watching what we say and how we say it matters far more than we think it does.  And so often, I tend to forget this.

Too often, I can simply “react” to something someone else says or does.  And when I do, too often it’s not the best reaction!  Covey gives examples of reactive language: statements like “there’s nothing I can do,” “I can’t do that,” and “I have to do it.”  Statements like those reveal what’s underneath our words. When we move to a proactive attitude, we’ll say instead “let’s look at our alternatives,” “I choose to take this action,” or “how can we empower others to take appropriate action?”

It doesn’t matter if you lead in the church, in a non-profit, in business, or in public service – these principles can transform how you lead.  And when you apply them, you’ll see others in your organization begin to follow your lead.

Can you remember incidents when you applied (or didn’t apply) these principles in your leadership?  What steps can you take to help you remember them when you need them?

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?

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?