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?”


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?


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.

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?

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?

Tweet Compilation from January 2015

@WILLIAMATTAWAYDaily, I tweet links to articles on leadership that I think others who follow me might find helpful.  My goal is to inspire leaders to lead with all diligence, and I think the more we can learn from others, the better leaders we can become.  Check these out, and you can also follow me on Twitter at @WilliamAttaway if you’d like to see more articles I’ve curated.

Here are some of the articles I linked to on Twitter in January:



Inspiring Courageous Decisions

Karate MottoEarlier this week, I had breakfast with a friend who is part of an organization that is focused on helping leaders lead better. Their tag line is “inspiring courageous decisions.”  The way they do that is by helping leaders to accurately assess the current state of the business, church, or organization that they lead.  By defining reality, facing what is, they can begin to move toward what could be.  He wants to inspire leaders to make courageous decisions, and that always starts with an honest look at the current reality.

It was a very inspiring meeting; I caught his enthusiasm and passion for helping others.  He is definitely working in his “sweet spot” where his spiritual giftedness, passion, and skills intersect.

How about you?

When I meet someone who LOVES what they do, it is so obvious to me.  As Ben Zander says, “their eyes are shining.”  Are your eyes shining?  Are you working and serving in your sweet spot?  Or are you working what my friend Mark calls a J-O-B, just counting the minutes till the workday ends?

I believe leaders should be passionate about what they do and what they lead.  If they’re not, who will be?  Passion is catching, just like vision.  If we are excited about what’s going on, our team will be FAR more likely to be as well! If we’re not, we can’t expect them to be.

I want to see leaders grow and develop and learn.  I want to see them use their leadership gift to lead with all diligence (Romans 12:8).  I want to see them inspire others.  And like the friend I had breakfast with, I want to see them make courageous decisions.  That begins with knowing the current reality.

What is your current reality?  Are you leading from a place of optimistic passion?  Are you leveraging your leadership gift for the benefit of others?  That’s the way to find real fulfillment and growth as a leader.

How can you get there if you’re not already?  And how can you stay there if you are?  Here are 3 suggestions.

1) Learn from other leaders who are passionate about what they’re leading.  I make it a habit to regularly get around other leaders who are farther down the road than I am and learn from them.  Sometimes that’s in a one-on-one or small group setting, and sometimes it’s at a conference where leadership is being taught and discussed.  This year Southview is hosting two leadership development conferences – the Leadercast in May and the Global Leadership Summit in August (you can register to attend using those links).  If you’re not being intentional about your own personal leadership development, who will be?  Make the investment of time and resources to get better as a leader.

2) Find a hobby or interest (other than your main job) that inspires passion in you.  I love to teach, and for the last five years I’ve taught online courses in Old and New Testament Survey for Itawamba Community College.  This year, I’m teaching an “in person” class once a week for Washington University of Virginia.  I love to teach and help people unpack the historical, linguistic, archaeological, and societal context of the Bible so that they can better understand and apply it to their lives, and in teaching college classes, I get to use a gift outside my normal traffic pattern of life and use that gift to help others.  I find the discussion and insights of a classroom invigorating, and it generates a higher level of passion in me that I then bring back to my work in the local church.

3) Be careful who you allow to speak into your life.  We all know there are people who speak life into us, and they are people who do not – I’ve heard the latter called very draining people (VDPs). You choose who you will allow to speak into your life.  You determine, in most cases, who you will spend the majority of your time with.  The people around you can have a huge impact on your passion level and optimism.  Choose wisely who you will allow inside, whose words you will internalize and truly listen to.

What other suggestions would you add to help leaders get and stay passionate and optimistic about what they lead?

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?

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.