Some helpful tips on inspiring excellence from the Harvard Business Review blog. Here are three that are especially key:
- Regularly, genuinely, and specifically acknowledge and appreciate people’s successes
- Create and protect periods of uninterrupted focus
- Tie the pursuit of excellence to a larger mission
David Murray has done an excellent service by listing more than 200 of the top leadership resources he’s collected over the last few years. They are divided into (1) Christian leadership posts and (2) other leadership posts. As he said, “there is much to learn from both.”
A helpful chapter on speed leading in the book Taking Control of Your Time points out that leading in the midst of highly ambiguous environments requires a different approach than we typically think.
The typical approach for setting direction is geared for relatively known territory. It goes like this:
This is basically a “ready, aim, fire” approach.
But in unfamiliar and ambiguous territory, a “fire, ready, aim” approach is usually more effective. Here are the steps:
The essence of this approach is that, since the environment is ambiguous, you don’t have a map and can’t even see very far ahead. Hence, you have to move forward by trial and experimentation — similar to the scientific method. As the article says, “speed leaders experiment in order to advance knowledge.”
Many of our problems in leadership come from trying to use an approach for known territory in the midst of unknown territory.
Here are four principles of leadership we see in Matthew 20:25-28, Matthew 23:8-11 (note: that text is on leadership!), and 1 Peter 5:1-5:
- Leaders are not an elite class with special privileges (that’s Matthew 23:8-11).
- Leaders should not see themselves as privileged or entitled.
- Leaders should not use their power for personal enrichment or to unfairly maintain their power.
- Leaders are not to approach people from above, as a virtuoso. Instead, they are to take a position alongside, as a fellow traveler, a partner sharing the same burdens. They look across at others, not down. (Note Peter’s approach in 1 Peter 5:1-4.)
After doing a lot of research on an area, I often create a document that synthesizes the most significant principles I’ve learned on the subject. A few years ago I did this on the subject of organizational health. I thought it might be useful to share them with you. In this case, I focused mostly on one book, Patrick Lencioni’s excellent The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. So these are essentially my notes from his book, organized for the purpose of making them as easy to follow as possible.
Organizational Health Principles
Notes from Patrick Lencioni’s The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, and a few other things.
- It is the appreciation for simplicity and discipline that makes one an extraordinary executive.
- Success is not so much a function of intelligence or natural ability, but rather of commitment to the right disciplines.
- We can become poor leaders if we let ourselves become distracted by overly tactical and political matters.
- Organizational health is one competitive advantage that is available to any company that wants it, yet it is largely ignored. And, it is highly sustainable because it is not based on information or intellectual property. It should occupy a lot of time and attention of extraordinary executives (139).
- “A healthy organization is one that has less politics and confusion, higher morale and productivity, lower unwanted turnover, and lower recruiting costs than an unhealthy one” (140).
- The core idea of organizational health is to create, communicate, and reinforce organizational clarity.
- There are four components to creating a healthy organization: create a cohesive leadership team, create organizational clarity, over-communicate organizational clarity, and reinforce organizational clarity through human systems.
A great post from Dave Kraft’s blog. They are:
Keith Ferrazzi has a good post summarizing a study IBM recently did to identify the traits of their highest impact employees.
Their findings were very interesting. Here’s how Ferrazzi summarizes them:
The term originated in an IBM study that sought to identify the traits of their most high-impact employees. Turns out that ambition alone is mediocre; ambition plus intellectual humility is the winning combination.
- Do no damage
- Get people to care
- Change the way people see the world
A friend of mine recently asked me, “What would you say should be the top five guiding principles for ministries?”
Here’s what I listed, slightly updated to make sense in a blog post. This is off the top of my head, so I wouldn’t say this is comprehensive, and of course every ministry also would have its own principles that express its individual uniqueness and calling. So this is a general, high-level list.
- Prayer and the word. Seeking to do all things in God’s power, which comes most as we trust his promises and are built up by his word, and fellowship with him in prayer. This includes asking him for the impossible and being set free from bondage to small dreams.
- Radical generosity. This is about others and the church first, not us! We are to be liberal and abundant in using all our resources for the good of others, even at sacrifice to ourselves.
- Servant leadership. This includes humble authenticity (not going after position, but becoming the lowest servant; this isn’t about our name but Jesus’ name), and along with this a leadership approach that explicitly seeks to build others up and unleash them, not control everything from the top.
- Love. Sort of repeating points 2 and 3, but it’s critical. Related to this is “respect for the individual.” Seeing people, especially employees, as valuable and letting that be the governing principle for how you treat everyone.
- Trust. We need to trust our people and be trustworthy ourselves, as trustworthiness is the foundation of trust. Trusting your people is what enables you to lead from values, not detailed rules, and lead in a way that unleashes their creativity and initiative.
Fruitful Leadership in the Marketplace: A Mini-Conference if you are in the Louisville Area April 14
On April 14, the Saturday right after T4G, I will be speaking at the Engage@Work Spring Mini-Conference held by Sojourn Community Church from 8 am to noon.
I’ll be talking about fruitful Christian leadership, especially in the marketplace, and will cover about six main things:
- Why we must care greatly about leadership as Christians
- Can there even be a Christian view on leadership? Or, how to learn from secular thinking without infecting the church with the “managerial model”
- What is the essence of good leadership and how does the gospel transform it? The two core principles at the heart of effective gospel-centered leadership
- Leading for the good of others: Transactional leadership versus transforming leadership
- How do you lead well — especially in the marketplace? 8 things you can start doing right now
- Leadership and how the gospel changes our organizations, cities, societies, and the world
Also, bring your questions — the harder the better. Answering difficult questions on leadership, the Bible, theology, and anything else is one of my favorite things to do. (But don’t worry if your question seems more simple — I like those questions as well!).
Everyone is welcome, and the event will be held at Sojourn’s New Albany campus. Registration is $10, and the first 50 registrants will receive a 40% discount on my upcoming book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done when it releases.
It would be great to see you there!
This is a guest post by Loren Pinilis, who blogs on time management from a biblical perspective at Life of a Steward.
In Exodus 18, Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, offers sound advice that all leaders should take to heart.
From morning to evening, Moses would judge the disputes of the people. And from morning to evening, they would stand around waiting to have their cases heard. Jethro counseled Moses: “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you.”
Moses was essentially micro-managing things by allowing all decisions to be funneled through him.
Note that Moses had good intentions. He wanted the people to know and understand the law, and he took his influence and responsibility over the nation seriously. He judged each case personally because each case mattered to him and to God.
It’s the same for leaders today, particularly in ministry roles. We have a reverence for even the smallest areas under our influence, and we have a healthy respect for our duties as leaders.
But there are very serious consequences when we let our concept of a sacred duty turn into micro-management.
Jethro could see that this pattern of behavior would cause utter exhaustion for Moses, and that’s what most people focus on when they mention this passage. But Jethro also realized that Moses’s leadership style would have a negative effect on the people. The court would get backlogged, the nation would be frustrated, and eventually many would abandon the idea of receiving justice.
When a leader insists on making or approving every decision, an organizational bottleneck is created. The limiting factor for that organization’s effectiveness becomes the time and attention of the leader.
An interesting thing then often happens. The leaders recognize that they can only do so much. But rather than delegate some of their decision making (often out of a well-intentioned respect for their responsibility), they engineer the system to accommodate for their limited time.
Teams prepare proposals and reports to pre-digest the information for those who have the ability to pull the trigger. It seems sensible: you’re minimizing the time the leaders spend on approving decisions and therefore maximizing what your organization can do.
But this is designing the entire organizational structure around the limitations of the leader. It’s the exact opposite of how leadership should work.
Imagine how many hours the team spends preparing reports to save the leader a few minutes. Imagine what else could have been done with that time and energy. This is the price of micro-management.
Jethro’s advice wasn’t to streamline the court. It wasn’t to appoint people who would summarize the information for Moses so he could render quick verdicts.
Instead, Jethro’s wise counsel was to delegate: to train up leaders who could take a portion of Moses’s authority and participate with him in caring for the nation. Moses could lead instead of holding everyone back.
He could handle his workload. The people wouldn’t be frustrated. Leaders would be trained for greater things. And Justice would be administered.
A great podcast by Michael Hyatt on how better productivity practices don’t help unless you are headed in the right direction in the first place.
Here’s his summary:
In this podcast episode I talk about the relationship between vision and productivity. I share the story of becoming a divisional leader at Thomas Nelson. Better productivity would not have improved our operating results. We needed a better vision.
And here’s his outline:
I discuss how any leader can develop vision by following these seven steps:
- Get alone with a journal and a pen.
- Make sure you won’t be interrupted.
- Close your eyes and pray.
- Jot down your current reality.
- Now write down what you want to see happen.
- Share your vision with those who have a stake in the outcome.
- Commit to reading your vision daily.
This was funny, and insightful. It discusses five leadership mistakes embodied by the Galactic Empire in Star Wars.
Here’s a key part:
Mistake #2: Depriving people of the chance to have a stake in the organization.
By consolidating his power, the Emperor didn’t just ensure that his organization wouldn’t survive his death. He also deprived a key motivation for both his employees and the public-at-large: a feeling of having a stake in the success of the organization. The Emperor disbanded the Galactic Senate, removing the idea of any democratic stake in the government. He wiped out all references to the Force, so there was no longer any guiding ideology. His sole idea for maintaining control of the Empire was building the Death Star, on the theory that, in the words of Grand Moff Tarkin, “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.” Similarly, while in the first Star Wars film, there was a scene showing officers in the Imperial Navy discussing strategy, byReturn of the Jedi, it was clear that no feedback was being solicited anymore. The Emperor or Vader gave orders and that was it. No further discussion.
But as was ably demonstrated in this exchange in the movie Office Space, this is the worst possible way to get the best work out of your employees. Fear, combined with a sense of powerlessness, only inspires the bare minimum amount of work:
Peter Gibbons: You see, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
Bob Porter: Don’t- don’t care?
Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s another thing, I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Porter: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
Key Takeaway: In order to get the best work out of people in your organization, you need to solicit their feedback, engage them in the decision-making process, and ensure that they have a stake in the success of the organization.
Is your organization led like the Galactic Empire?
This is a helpful list from online universities.com. Here’s the intro:
If you want to get to the top in any field, whether it’s business, science, or even construction, you have to have some pretty solid leadership skills. Unfortunately, these kinds of skills often aren’t the sort of thing you’ll find being taught in your college courses, and may take some extra effort to learn and apply outside of your classes.
While there is little substitute for leadership experience through campus organizations, hearing from experts on psychology, leadership, and business can also be a big help in giving you a basic leadership education. TED is one of the best places to find all of these diverse subjects in one place, and here we’ve collected some of the best videos for anyone, young or old, hoping to hone their leadership abilities
There’s a great article over at WorldChristians called “So, Your Office is Restructuring Again?“.
Here are two good reasons for restructuring:
- When you notice communication problems are creating mistakes. This often occurs in larger organizations when departments focus on their own projects resulting in conflict or competition with other departments. A restructuring may be necessary to better communicate, coordinate, and unite efforts.
- When several new staff are added, it is necessary to create new structures for communication, connection, and accountability.
And, here are two bad reasons for restructuring:
Reasons that weak leaders use to restructure; if you are in an organization like this, watch out: weak leadership alert!
- When you want to show that you can take charge and lead, but aren’t really sure what to do; restructuring gives the appearance of leadership and buys time until you figure out what in the world you are going to do. If this is your main motivation, don’t do it. Better focus on real, rather than cosmetic, accomplishments for the organization.
- When you don’t have the courage to confront other leaders in the organization; restructuring can get them out of the way without having to confront them personally.
Paul commands us to be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). One thing this means — among many others — is that we should be deferential to others (see also James 3:17; Titus 3:2).
To be sure, we shouldn’t sacrifice matters of core principle, or central doctrines, or ethics of the faith. But when it comes to the arena of Christian freedom, we should have a willingness to defer.
Nonetheless, there is still a need here for wisdom to guide us, because sometimes deferring to others is not the best thing — and it’s not selfish to stay the course.
I made the mistake of “wrong deferring” the other day when I was playing baseball in the street with my kids and some of their friends. They are new to baseball and just coming to understand it. A bit into the game, one of them said “let’s not play in teams, but just individually.”
I thought, “OK, doesn’t sound good, but I guess we’ll give that a try.” And, it went horrible. It wasn’t like a game of home run derby, but was confusing. So about an inning later, I said “let’s go back to the other way,” and I explained some basics of the game that are easy to take for granted. Then it went better.
I think it’s important not to have a “the leader always knows best” mentality. That’s why I went ahead with the suggestion that we change the structure of the game around a bit, even though I had a reservation. But, at the same time, sometimes the leader really does know best. So how do you avoid deferring in those cases, without being a squelcher?
In those cases, you need to ask: “Does this person actually know what they are talking about?”
It’s a simple question. If their suggestion comes from actually knowing a bit about the area, even if it sounds a bit outlandish, go ahead and give it a try if the consequences don’t risk sinking the ship.
But if their idea simply comes from not understanding the area, then be gracious, and don’t defer.
But don’t merely stay on track, either (which often equals discounting the suggestion). Rather, stay on track and do some teaching.
That’s critical, because the point of leadership is not just to go places, but to build people up in the process.
Suggestions are often a time for the leader to learn something. Many leaders need to do a better of job of knowing when it’s time to learn.
And then other times, suggestions and ideas are an indication that the person making the suggestion just might be clueless. In those cases, don’t discount them. But don’t defer, either. Take the time to teach.
Good words from Marcus Buckingham. Completely right:
Criticism has the power to do good when there is something that must be destroyed, dissolved or reduced, but it is capable only of harm when there is something to be built.
Here’s one application of this: If an employee (or family member!) comes to you with an idea, you don’t first ask yourself “what’s wrong with this?” You first focus on what’s right.
Even when there is something to be dissolved, criticism still has dangers. For example, in his book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters talks about how studies showed that if employees in a call center were criticized on how they handled customers, the result was not better customer service. Rather, the employees sought to avoid customers (that, is their job!) altogether.
The point: criticism typically creates unpredictable and strange behavior. It rarely does good, and frequently backfires and undoes the very thing that ought to have been built up.
This is especially worth remembering if you have the “gift of criticism.” If you have that talent, go, bury it right now, as fast as you can. That’s one gift the Lord does not want you to steward for his glory.
Jonathan Edwards, in Charity and Its Fruits:
Especially will the spirit of Christian love dispose those that stand in a public capacity, such as that of ministers, and magistrates, and all public officers, to seek the public good.
It will dispose magistrates to act as the fathers of the commonwealth, with that care and concern for the public good which the father of a family has for his household. It will make them watchful against public dangers, and forward to use their powers for the promotion of the public benefit; not being governed by selfish motives in their administration; not seeking only, or mainly, to enrich themselves, or become great, and to advance themselves on the spoils of others, as wicked rulers very often do; but striving to act for the true welfare of all to whom their authority extends.
And the same spirit will dispose ministers not to seek their own, and endeavor to get all they can out of their people to enrich themselves and their families, but to seek the good of the flock over which the great Shepherd has placed them; to feed, and watch over them, and lead them to good pastures, and defend them from wolves and wild beasts that would devour them.
And so, whatever the post of honor or influence we may be placed in, we should show that, in it, we are solicitous for the good of the public, so that the world may be better for our living in it, and that, when we are gone, it may be said of us, as it was so nobly said of David (Acts 13:36), that we “served our generation by the will of God.”
I’m preparing my points for the seminar tonight, and ended up typing up my first two points in full. For those who can’t attend, I thought I’d post them here for you. And for those who are able to attend, this gives you a bit of a flavor of some of the things I’ll be talking about:
[Why I'm Talking About Leadership and Not Productivity Per Se]
When Bethlehem first contacted me about leading this seminar, they asked if I would talk about productivity in relation to short-term missions teams. My response, though, was to ask if I could talk about leadership instead. They said, that’s fine.
But here’s the question: when they asked me to talk about productivity, and I said let’s talk about leadership, was I taking things off in a totally different direction? Are you not going to learning anything about productivity as a result?
The answer is no. Here’s why.
Recently a friend of mine who pastors down in Iowa emailed me, asking for the top book on productivity I would recommend to a busy pastor. I responded to him with a book on leadership, not productivity. Here’s what I said in the email to him explaining why:
For a busy pastor, with just one book that I can recommend, I would actually recommend a book on leadership, because even if you get productivity down well, your efforts only scale widely through leadership. Personal productivity is necessary to make one’s leadership as effective as it should be, but personal productivity hits a dead end without leadership.
That’s why the title of this seminar is multiplying our productivity through biblical leadership. Productivity is important. But if you want to have the maximum impact, you need to not only be personally productive. You have to lead. Leadership multiplies your productivity.
[By the way, the book on leadership I recommended for him was The Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley. Stanley “gets it” when it comes to leadership, and as a pastor he has a biblical point of view that explicitly informs his thinking. And, like everything else Andy Stanley writes, it’s an enjoyable read.]
Who Should Lead?
Now, the first question we need to ask is simple and basic, but the answer is not obvious. The question is: who can lead? Or, perhaps better, who should lead?
Mark Sanborn is another good leadership author that I’ve benefited from greatly. I like Mark’s work a lot because he emphasizes that the role of the leader is first of all to serve others, not advance himself or herself. He really underscores the point that the aim of leadership is to promote the good of others, which I think is radically biblical and central to the nature of not only good leadership, but effective leadership.
Now, Mark has a book called You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader, and that’s the first point I want to make about who can lead.
The first and most important thing to know is that leadership is not first about your formal title or role. It’s not first about being told that you are charged with a formal position of leadership. Rather, you can lead from wherever you are. Further, not only can you lead from wherever you are; you should lead from wherever you are. This is because leadership is, first of all, influence. That needs to be nuanced a bit, and I will do so later in this seminar, but in the first place, leadership is positive influence, and we are all to be a positive influence for good.
If you take a formal leadership class, they will also talk about this. Standard leadership theory today points out that there are different types of authority. One such type is formal authority—the authority of your position. But this is not the only type of authority. In fact, it is actually the weakest type.
Don’t get me wrong: having a formal position of leadership is a good and important thing, and a critical responsibility to steward well. But it is not the only type of authority, it is not the only type of leadership. There is also authority that comes from your expertise, which can exist fully independent of any formal role, and the authority that comes from having made a positive difference in the lives of others.
There are other types of authority as well, but the point is: you don’t need a formal title to be a leader. Further, even if you do have a formal title, the essence of leadership is that people follow you because they want to, not because they have to. I would go so far as to say that you can actually have a formal title of “leader” and yet not be a leader if you aren’t stewarding your position well and if people are only following you because they have to—because they are afraid they will lose their jobs, for example, or suffer other consequences—rather than out of respect and esteem and confidence that you are leading and the right direction, seeking to do them good, and competent to do so.
So, regardless of your particular role or position, you can lead. You don’t need a title to be a leader.
For anyone who is going to be in or around the Twin Cities this weekend, you’re invited to attend a leadership seminar I’ll be teaching at my church, Bethlehem Baptist, this Friday night and Saturday morning.
The title of the seminar is Multiplying Our Productivity Through Effective Biblical Leadership. There will be a special emphasis for those leading Short Term Mission trips this year.
- Why we need to care—greatly—about leadership in the church
- Can there even be a Christian view on leadership? Or, how do you keep from infecting the church with the “managerial model?”
- What is the essence of effective biblical leadership? Or, what are the two core principles at the heart of good leadership?
- How do you lead well? 8 things you can start doing right now
- Leadership and global missions
Location: Bethlehem Baptist Church, Downtown, Rm 203
Date & Time: Friday January 27 7:00–9:00pm, Saturday January 28 9:00am–Noon
All are welcome! If you plan to attend, you can RSVP to Tina Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Lencioni’s latest book is available for pre-order, and it looks fantastic: The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business. I’ve found everything Lencioni has written to be incredibly enlightening and, best of all, wise. Lencioni writes from a foundation of virtue and character — which is what sets his books apart from so many others.
Here’s the short description of The Advantage:
In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are, and more to do with how healthy they are.
And here’s the longer description from Amazon:
There is a competitive advantage out there, arguably more powerful than any other. Is it superior strategy? Faster innovation? Smarter employees? No, New York Times best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are and more to do with how healthy they are. In this book, Lencioni brings together his vast experience and many of the themes cultivated in his other best-selling books and delivers a first: a cohesive and comprehensive exploration of the unique advantage organizational health provides.
Simply put, an organization is healthy when it is whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations and culture are unified. Healthy organizations outperform their counterparts, are free of politics and confusion and provide an environment where star performers never want to leave. Lencioni’s first non-fiction book provides leaders with a groundbreaking, approachable model for achieving organizational health—complete with stories, tips and anecdotes from his experiences consulting to some of the nation’s leading organizations. In this age of informational ubiquity and nano-second change, it is no longer enough to build a competitive advantage based on intelligence alone. The Advantage provides a foundational construct for conducting business in a new way—one that maximizes human potential and aligns the organization around a common set of principles.
My post last week at the Willow Creek Association blog.
This is simple, and it reflects John Dickson’s definition of humility in Humilitas (“willingness to hold power in the service of others”). From Jim Collins’ latest, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All:
The greatest leaders we’ve studied throughout all our research cared as much about values as victory, as much about purpose as profit, as much about being useful as being successful.
To say that is not to say it is the best article on leadership ever written, though it certainly ranks up there.
Rather, it’s the most important because of discipline-altering conversation it started and change it created.
The article is “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?,” (pdf) by Abraham Zaleznik. It was written back in 1977 and published in Harvard Business Review.
As HBR later summarized, Zaleznik argued that “the theoreticians of scientific management, with their organizational diagrams and time-and0motion studies, were missing half the picture — the half filled with inspiration, vision, and the full spectrum of human drives and desires. The study of leadership hasn’t been the same since.”
The conversation that Zaleznik’s article started, for example, is behind John Kotter’s classic 1990 article “What Leaders Really Do” (pdf) — which may take the title for the best article on leadership ever written.
Both articles remind me of Churchill’s point that “the hard part is not winning the war; it’s persuading them to let you win it.”
And, to be honest, the biggest obstacle to “winning the war” — whether that means accomplishing your mission as a ministry or non-profit, or transforming your industry and creating great products worth talking about as a for-profit — is often managers.
It just has to be said.
There is a paradox in my saying that. For I agree whole heartedly with Marcus Buckingham that the manager plays a critical, essential role in the modern organization. We need managers, and they are key to creating strong organizations.
But what we need, as Buckingham also shows (see his fantastic book on management, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently) is real managers. That is, managers who trust their people and don’t have an inflated sense of control and risk aversion.
The problem is not management, but management gone bad. Managers too often focus on obstacles and what can’t be done rather than what can be done and how to find creative ways around the obstacles.
We need good leaders, and we need good managers — managers who manage right. And the last I checked, a militant commitment to mediocrity was not part of the definition of management.
Perhaps understanding leadership a bit better will help us all become better leaders and managers. To that end, I offer both of these articles.