You won’t believe what happened

It happened again. They did something irresponsible. Rude. Lazy.

They were wrong. You are right.

You can feel it. We’ve all felt it. The anger. The tension in the chest. The laser-like focus. The words you’re going to say running through your mind. The list of how they’re wrong.

Now what?

What feels good is to step into our justified, righteous actions. To blame. Vent. Expect an apology. Or at least some groveling.

You might be right to expect them to make it right. And they might actually follow through.

But if they don’t, consider whether it’s worth giving all of that power and control of your day to the very person you believe is wrong.

We can get stuck in the bad behavior of others. But what does that really do? What good does that create?

Instead, consider the alternative.

Rather than what’s deserved and what’s owed, what if you asked a different set of questions?

Questions like ‘what would great look like?’

‘Here’s what I need. What will it take?’

Even better yet, ‘what’s their perspective?’ ‘What led them to write/say that?’ ‘What if they’re right? Or what part of what they said is right?’

To let an email ruin your day is normal, but it’s not leadership.

When these moments happen – and, unfortunately, we all know they will – we can get even, or we can get better. Which option makes us stronger leaders a year from now? Which one puts our organization in a better place tomorrow?

Is vision a filter or a frame?

As I research senior leadership teams in higher education who have led successful, adaptive change, one thing that stands out is the strength of the vision the leader sets and the commitment of the team to pursue that vision together.

The shared vision and mission motivate the team towards unity and excellence.

But that’s not news. I get it. It’s boring. Pick up any book on leadership, and you’ll find a section on vision.

But when we talk about vision, it’s usually in the context of inspiration. It’s implied the (often inspirational) clarity motivates and unifies the team.

I’m beginning to think it’s the other way around. Rather than a clear vision helping a team unify around a cause, it seems like most often, a clear vision helps people opt in or opt out. Knowing what the team is committed to and fanatical about provides an immediate cue for people as to whether or not they’ll resonate with the work.

These teams talk a lot about hiring well. They respectfully share about folks who have exited because it wasn’t a fit. They recognize the courage it takes for a leader to set clear expectations and – at times – help someone leave who isn’t following through.

I know strong cultures can be polarizing. But successful teams usually have strong cultures.

Successful teams have clarity. But if it’s due to an opt-in/opt-out effect, we don’t want to be caught surprised when transitions happen. They may not signal failure. They may just show that the vision is taking hold.

Freedom from fake work

When I ask my son to clean up at night, he’ll sometimes start putting toys into the bin at a snail’s pace. Then, when I ask him to speed up, the motions turn frantic, but the toys keep hitting the bin at the same rate.

Lots more movement. Nothing extra to show for it.

Sometimes our workdays can feel that way. We’re busy all day, but when we look back, there wasn’t much accomplished.

It gets worse when we add a dose or two of social media into the mix. Skimming that feed involves reading, processing, and writing. It feels like work. It feels productive. So it must be, right?

The most successful leaders I know are relentless at prioritization. That doesn’t mean they’re heartless or task-driven machines. A top priority may be to connect with Jim over coffee and hear about his life. But they take the time to name what’s important, what’s valuable, and what’s scarce. They’re intentional about contributing there.

This can be as simple as starting the day by listing three things you’re grateful for and naming your intention or purpose. It might mean jotting down the top thee things that must happen today.

Bringing clarity to our “musts” makes the less important pieces stand out in contrast.

What if you committed to, as much as you’re able, identifying the fake work in your day, and relentlessly eliminating it?

You have one life. In it, you get to choose how you will connect and what dent you’ll make in the world. How was today an example of the impact you want to make?

Oh, and my son? He eventually gets the room clean. And the upside to all of that extra movement? He’s tired and ready for bed!

The attitude of leadership

People often talk about “leadership as influence.” If people are following you, you’re leading. But it’s less often that we talk about whether we’re worth following.

Brad Lomenick wrote recently about the call to leaders in Philippians 2:

Starting with verse 2: “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus….. who emptied Himself…. the form of a bond-servant…. humbled Himself…. by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

And then, in verse 14, Paul lays the smack down again- “do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent…. children of God.”

As leaders, it is our responsibility to model this. Quit griping, grumbling, disputing, and arguing, and start leading, serving, encouraging, and uniting.

So true. Michelangelo said to “criticize by creating.” The best leaders bring change by creating a new reality.

Leadership is influence


Was reading a post (part of a great series) by Jordan over at worshiptrench where he said this:

“If they cannot influence others, by definition they are not a leader.  The world needs facilitators, too. Just don’t put a facilitator where there needs to be a leader.”

Such a great reminder. We’re about to go through a process of choosing some leadership positions at my job (and I’m looking for some leaders to build a team at Oasis), and influence really stands out as something to look for. It’s tough to get a feel from a short interview and a little interaction, but through more relational time and a sense of past experiences it’s still something that can be seen.

I also love the difference he makes between facilitators and leaders. It’s important to get the right person for the job, and different jobs require different types of people.

I’ve always felt you should look for three things when hiring: character (who you are matters more than what you’ll be doing), chemistry (within the staff), and competence (finally, it’s important to be able to do the job well – but pieces can always be taught). But maybe for those positions that need a leader, influence should be added as a fourth. Now if I could just find a “C” word for it…

Teamwork means unity (or, boats don’t get anywhere if you’re paddling in 12 different directions)


“The successful company is not the one with the most brains, but the most brains acting in concert.” – Peter Drucker

The success of a team depends on unity and common direction. And that unity and common direction comes from intentional communication, building relationships, listening, sharing stories, and spending time together. It’s not easy work, but it’s work that can’t be ignored.

But the challenge is, this important stuff is the stuff that doesn’t feel like work. Talking about why we’re doing something doesn’t feel as important as planning the next event. Getting to know and understand a team member’s story doesn’t feel like we’re accomplishing much. It almost feels like wasted time.

But it’s not. Being a successful team means working together. And working together means getting the right people in the room, figuring out the problem or goals, and coming up with a solution that everyone has a stake in – that everyone can contribute to. Unity may come before or during the problem solving process, but for a group to become a team, that unity has to happen.