The One Question Leaders Need To Ask

This week I’ve been catching up on some episodes from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast.  If you’re a leader and you don’t subscribe to and listen to this, I HIGHLY recommend it.  It’s a monthly podcast that’s usually 20 minutes or less, perfect for commuting or other drive time, and I’ve found it to be incredibly useful and helpful over the years.

In last month’s podcast, Andy talked about his new book, Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions.  The title intrigued me, and I dug in.

You ready for it?  Here it is: “what is the wise thing to do?”

Incredibly simple.  And you might be thinking, I ask that as a matter of course – I always want to do the wise thing!

But here’s the kicker – ask the question in the context of your past experience, your present circumstances, and the future you envision and dream of.

For instance, say you’re faced with a possible new job.  It’s a lot more money – but it comes with a lot of travel and a move to a part of the country you’ve never been to.  It’ll take you away from your family for a significant part of each month, and you have young kids at home.

What’s the wise thing to do, in light of your present circumstances, and in light of the preferred future you envision and dream of?

The question is based on what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15-17, and Stanley does a great job communicating how this is a question we can apply no matter our life situation or our job or our position.

I’m teaching a series right now at Southview on questions from the Christmas story. Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, and the wise men all had questions that resonate with me; I find in their questions echoes of my own.  Questions can be powerful tools in a leader’s toolbag, but only if they’re the right questions.  Asking the wrong question will give you the wrong answer.

I can’t recommend this podcast episode and book highly enough. This is a keeper, and I want all of our leaders at SCC to read this, as well as my daughters!

What’s the best book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to lately?  

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?

4 Ingredients For Special Blend Leadership

Special BlendMy wife’s mom has been staying with us for a bit lately, and she’s been a joy to have around.  She helps with the girls, and while she’s here Charlotte and I are getting the opportunity for more frequent date nights without the cost of a babysitter – a true treat when you don’t normally have family living close by!

She likes to drink coffee, and her favorite is a blend by Paul Newman.  I took this picture so I could remember the details when I went to the store to get it.  It’s called “Newman’s Special Blend.”  Not being a coffee drinker myself (unless it is loaded with massive amounts of chocolate and whipped cream to cover the coffee taste), I can’t swear by it, but she really likes the flavor.

Special blends are, well, special.  And when it comes to leadership, I think there’s a special blend that can make your leadership better.  Here are four ingredients I’d put into “William’s Special Leadership Blend.”

1. Humility

Jim Collins’ work on this topic in Good to Great, Built to Last, and Great by Choice is unimpeachable.  Humility is one of the major traits that separate Level 5 leaders from the rest.  Understand – humility is not being a doormat.  Humility is understanding that you are not the King – that you are a part of the team but not the whole team – and that your contributions to the team’s or organization’s efforts should be in those areas where you bring the most to the table.  It’s a hard lesson for leaders to learn, but you cannot do it all yourself – you don’t have all the gifts!  Humility is essential to true team building and collaboration, and that’s the key to success as a leader.

2. Integrity

Integrity is simply the integration of your whole life.  It’s the idea of the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ – complete wholeness.  I’m not one person in this area of my life, and someone completely different over in that area of my life.  There’s not one William on Sundays and a completely different person on Tuesdays.  I’m an integrated whole.  That should be the goal of everyone, but especially leaders.  Without it, we become fractured, fragmented, and inconsistent, and it’s impossible to lead diligently from that place.  Henry Cloud’s books Boundaries for Leaders and Integrity are must reads for this one – if you haven’t read them, seriously put them on your reading list.  You won’t regret it.

3. Drive

This is the internal fire that keeps a leader going – that white hot flame that explodes into action.  When a leader sees a vision of what could be, of how things could be in a church, a team or an organization, then they are compelled to move into action.  That passionate drive is essential – without that, we become simply managers of the status quo.  As John Ortberg has said so well, “Over time, a church can drift from mission to complaint management.  Once that happens, you start to die.”  That’s not just true for churches – it’s true for any organization.  Drive is what keeps you going in the face of opposition, of conflict, and of complaints. Those things WILL come; leaders with drive keep going because they know what could be, and they long to see the vision become reality.

4. A Teachable Spirit

This is especially important in a church setting, but I’d argue it’s important no matter where you lead.  It’s tied closely to humility, but I’m listing it separately because I believe it’s worth calling out specifically.  Leaders have a teachable spirit – they are continual learners.  They never stop learning because they are driven to get better at leading with all diligence.  No one this side of Heaven knows it all, and we can learn from anyone!  Without a teachable spirit, leaders get set in their ways and refuse to learn from others, and that’s a recipe for mediocrity, staleness, and disaster.  Since my first week at Southview ten years ago, one of my non-negotiable requirements for anyone in leadership has been a teachable spirit.  I think it’s absolutely critical.

Those are the four ingredients I’d put in a leadership special blend.

What ingredients would you add into a “special blend” for leaders?

Words Matter

wordsLast week, I apparently got into some poison ivy somewhere.  Me.  The guy who rarely if ever goes outside for longer than it takes to walk from the car to the door or back.  I’ve never had poison ivy in my life, and let me tell you – it’s no fun.  I’ve been taking a steroid prescription (first time for that too), and it’s really messed up my sleep cycle, so Charlotte and the girls have been extra great to me this week as I’ve alternated between being really tired and wired for sound.

This morning before I left the house, Charlotte was telling me about something my youngest daughter Allison said to her yesterday while I was at work.  Allison’s been in question mode lately, asking questions about everything; I love the inquisitive mind of a child!  Yesterday, she looked at Charlotte and asked her “is Daddy going to die?”  What a question!  Where did THAT come from?  Charlotte laughed and said, why on earth would you ask that?  Allison said “because he has poison ivy.”

Poison.  What does poison do?  It kills you.  Of course.

In this instance, miscommunication is almost unavoidable.  I don’t think it ever would have occurred to me that my seven year old would think that poison ivy would kill me.  But how often IS miscommunication avoidable, simply by putting more thought into what we say?

Words matter.  The words we choose to use, especially as leaders, can inspire or discourage, build up or tear down.  And far too often, FAR too often, as a leader and a follower of Jesus I forget that.

How do we get a reign on this?  Here are a few things that I think can help.

1) Pause.  That’s a hard one for me.  I’m classic type A – why walk when you can sprint?  And yet I know that if I would simply pause before responding, often I could choose my words better.  I could choose life giving, affirming words.  I could choose words that lead well and inspire.  But if I just let fly whatever comes into my mind first, 50-50 odds and you pick ’em whether that will be true or not.

2) Fill your mind with good words.  Most people I think are familiar with the old computer acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.  It refers to the fact that if you put garbage code into a computer, you will get garbage results back.  How true is that of our minds (and mouths) as well?  This morning I read in Jesus Calling: “Live first and foremost in My presence.  Gradually you will become more aware of Me than of people and places around you.  This awareness will not detract from your relationships with others. Instead it will increase your ability to give love and encouragement to them.” 

That’s who I want to be.  And I believe it begins with what I put into my mind – that really affects what comes out of my mouth.  Jesus says it this way: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45, NLT)

Leaders especially have to be aware of this.  Words mean something; they matter. And our words matter far more than we think they do sometimes.  I want to be more intentional about this; I think that’s one way you lead with all diligence.

Have you ever encountered an instance where your words mattered more than you initially thought?  What would you add to my list above of things we can do?

 

Download My New eBook Today for Free!

97NuggetsCoverI’ve just completed my new eBook, and right now you can get a copy free!  Read below for more details.

I’ve been going to leadership conferences for 15 years now.  I’ve got notebook after notebook filled with scribbled notes, ideas for possible implementation, and random thoughts that speakers inspired as I listened.  Recently I took some time and went back through all those notebooks, and I put together an eBook with 97 leadership “nuggets” that I think every leader should know.  Whether you lead in the business world, in academia, in a non-profit context, or in a local church like I do, these principles can help inspire you and clarify your own leadership challenges and decisions.

You can get a copy free by subscribing to my blog updates via email in the sidebar on the right.  After you confirm your subscription, you’ll get an email with a link where you can download the eBook in PDF format that you can read on your tablet, e-reader, or computer.

My hope is that you find these nuggets to be as helpful, relevant, and inspiring as I did when I first heard them, and when I’ve reflected on and applied many of them in the days since.  My goal is to inspire leaders to lead with all diligence, and this is just one way I hope to help you.

What leadership nuggets, quotes, and principles would you add to my list?

3 Quotes For Leaders From Drucker and Me

I read a book this week called Drucker and Me by Bob Buford (thanks to my friend Cheryl for loaning it to me!).  I expect most people who read on the subject of leadership would be familiar with the name Peter Drucker.  Drucker was an incredibly prolific writer and speaker on the subject of leadership, who taught and influenced more on the subject of leadership than just about anyone else in the twentieth century.  From business leaders to non-profit leaders to church leaders, so many people (including me) have benefited from Drucker’s writings, and if you haven’t read this new book by Buford, I’d highly recommend it to you.

Drucker has always fascinated me.  He taught so many people in so many different contexts, and seemed equally comfortable in the boardroom, the classroom, and the church meeting room.  Did you know that he wrote 1/3 of his books before age 65 and 2/3 after?  Often I think people think of 65 as a magic number, and once you’re “retired” you just kick back and stop making contributions to organizations, churches, and the world.  Never let that be said!  Drucker ran his race to the very end.  When he died at the age of 95, he was still writing, working on his next book.  I hope and pray that I’m still making a contribution to other leaders and the church all the way to the end.  What a leader.

Three of my favorite Drucker quotes from this book for leaders:

1. “What have you quit doing so that you can focus more on those things that will produce results?”  The principle of planned abandonment – critical for every leader in any organization.

2. “Thinking small yields small results.” I’ve seen this to be true more than once in my leadership.

3. “Good intentions are not enough; always measure the results of your efforts to make sure you are getting the most out of your investment of time and resources.” We measure what’s important.  Without evaluation, how will we know if we’re getting better?

What’s your favorite quote from Peter Drucker?

Don’t Confuse Feelings With Reality

I’ve been reading a new devotional book during the last year called Jesus Calling.  It’s written from the first person as though Jesus were talking to the reader, and it is interspersed with Scriptures each day.  I’ve found it really, really good, and I’d highly recommend it to you if you’re looking for something fresh.

The opening lines of today’s entry really spoke volumes.  “I’m always available to you.  Once you have trusted Me as your Savior, I never distance Myself from you. Sometimes you may feel distant from Me. Recognize that as feeling; do not confuse it with reality.”

Jeremiah wrote “the heart is deceitful above all things – who can understand it?”  Our feelings WILL deceive us.  They WILL confuse us.  And the only way to battle against that successfully is to know what Truth is – what Reality is.   And that’s what we find in the pages of Scripture.

As a leader, you and I are not immune to feelings.  Feelings of inadequacy, feelings of failure, feelings of despondency – all of these were experienced by saints throughout history.  People like Moses, Elijah, Job, Peter – that’s a list of leaders that most of us would like to be like!  But like them, you and I are not immune to feelings.  How we respond to them, however, is our choice.

Listen to those words of Jesus again: “I’m always available to you.  Once you have trusted Me as your Savior, I never distance Myself from you. Sometimes you may feel distant from Me. Recognize that as feeling; do not confuse it with reality.”

Don’t confuse feelings with reality.  Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:20 – “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Remember what reality is, and when you’re tempted to feel alone, remember Jesus’ words.  When you’re tempted to feel inadequate, remember that you’re not alone.  Remember Whose you are, and remember Who you serve.  And speak words of revealed truth against those lies of the Enemy.

How do you fight against feelings that are contrary to the reality and truth revealed in Scripture?

Simplify

Earlier this week, I celebrated a birthday, and as such events can do, it has caused me to reflect a bit.  This is the last year I’ll be in my thirties, and as I look around my life, I find that there are complexities everywhere.  Over the last month, I’ve been staring more and more at a sign on my office wall that I put there four or five years ago – it says simply ‘SIMPLIFY.’ As I’ve been thinking about what that means and what it looks like at this stage in my life, I encountered a new book by one of my favorite writers, Bill Hybels, titled (you guessed it) Simplify.

Typically I read fairly quickly, but this book is “chewy” – I’m spending far more time than usual mentally digesting and processing the contents.  I can already tell this is going to be a book I recommend and refer to frequently.  It speaks volumes to the pace of life in our day and the need to intentionally choose to simplify.  What does that look like for me?  What does it look like for you?  Hybels’ insights will help us to make decisions that don’t just affect today, but the coming years and decades of our lives. This has significant implications for self-leadership, which will then impact organizational leadership. Get this book, read it, and learn how to practice one of the least utilized spiritual disciplines.

What Are You Reading?

I love to read.  Always have, ever since I can remember.  And I’m always on the lookout for new books to read.

One of my favorite things to do with my girls is go to the library.  We’ll make a morning of it, heading over there for an hour or so, browsing among the stacks and finding new jewels that we’ve not read before.  I love to see them get excited about new books; one of my goals as a dad when our first child was born was to impart to them a love for reading.  I think that can take you farther than just about any other skill, and far too few people in our world today avail themselves of the books that are available.  I read once that the average American reads three books between graduation from high school to death.  Three books total!  I want to do everything I can to teach my girls the value of learning by reading.

I often tell leaders that reading is a non-negotiable if you want to get better.  John Maxwell has said well that “leaders are readers.”  Right now, I’m reading Breakthrough Prayer by Jim Cymbala, and queued up next is E.M.Bounds on Prayer.  This is a topic that I’ve not read nearly enough on, and I want to remedy that.  I believe prayer is a skill, just like any other type of communication, and I want to get better and better at it. It’s too important to ignore, and leaders have to set the pace.  I’ve been convicted lately by what James wrote in James 4:2 – “you have not because you ask not.”  I never want that to be true of my life or of Southview’s.

What are you reading right now?

3 Takeaways from Essentialism by Greg McKeown

downloadA friend of mine loaned me a book that she said was worth my time – Essentialism by Greg McKeown.  She wasn’t kidding – wow.  This is going to be one of the top ten books I’ve ever read.  Very insightful, very challenging.

Among the many things I walked away from this book with, here are three:

  1. The importance of clarity. According to McKeown, essentialists say no to about 90 percent of opportunities.  That’s challenging.  90 percent.  If I am clear on what I do, then it becomes much easier to filter out and say no to what I shouldn’t. But that means I have to ask hard questions. And I have to exercise some serious discipline to make it stick.
  2. The freeing possibility of no. When I say no to what I need to say no to, I say yes to what matters most.  It frees me up to do what only I can do.  How many times have I said yes to something that I regretted saying yes to?  How many times have I completely filled my calendar to the point of no margin, then realized I wasn’t really doing anything well?  Essentialists understand that when you say no, you create margin and possibilities for what you have said yes to as a priority in your life.
  3. The power of choice. Oh man. When I forget that I choose what goes on my calendar and my to do list, when I forget that I choose what I will commit my time and focus to, I allow other people to determine what my calendar and to do list look like.  By remembering that I have the power of choice, I determine what I will (and will not) focus on.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to you.  Whether you lead in a small context or a large, or whether you’re in a church, non-profit, or business context, this book will be profitable and useful to you.  You can get it at Amazon here.

If you’ve read Essentialism, what were some of your takeaways?