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.

Mentors needed


Ben Arment talks about mentoring, pointing out that most of the time, an apprentice asks a leader to mentor him/her. But maybe, there’s a better (and more Biblical) way. He writes…

Paul talked about the relationship between spiritual mentors and apprentices in 2 Corinthians 12:14 – “For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”

I read this as – “Spiritual parents, remove the barriers for your apprentices.”

To proactively mentor someone is not arrogant. It’s an act of service. Rather than “fielding questions” over a lunch you make them pay for… seek out apprentices and find out how you can serve them.

I love that last paragraph. Helping others grow should be an honor – an important thing we’re all doing. But more often it’s viewed as a momentary distraction from the “real” parts of life and ministry we’re doing.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m seeing it on both ends. On one side, I’m working to pour into college students. But on the other side, I realize I need the wisdom of others as well. I think there are three key areas we all need – mentors investing in us, peers we’re living life alongside, and apprentices (mentorees?) who we’re investing in.


A lot of times people hold back from mentoring others because it feels prideful. –  What makes me think I can speak into someone else’s life? I haven’t arrived yet!

But the truth is, the best mentors don’t have all the answers. They’re people who listen, who encourage, and who challenge others. Can you listen? Have you done stuff? You can start investing in someone else.

Honestly, I’m trying to grow in all three areas. I want to invest more in others. I need to open up and get closer with the peers around me. And I’m realizing that the more I’m living life and pouring into others, the more I need the wisdom of those around me. I need people speaking into my life.

So where are you with the three relationships?

Leaders see the good

Some people have a gift for seeing what needs to be improved in an organization or group. I tend to see ways to change things fairly quickly. But one thing I’m learning is that the best leaders are also great encouragers. They can see the strengths of others and draw them out. They cast a positive vision that people want to be a part of. They build a positive momentum.

I want to be the kind of leader who brings out the best in people. Sure, we have to confront problems. We have to bring about change. But it’s much easier to inspire change than to require it.

I have this verse on my desk. I’m trying my best to live it out.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. – Hebrews 3:13

Simple wins.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz writes that too many choices can actually be a bad thing.

Let’s say Ted to buy a new television. He walks into his local Buy More and is confronted not with two or three tvs, but with a wall of options. Now, he knew he wanted a new flat-panel. He knew what size he wanted. He even had an idea of price. But now he has to choose between plasma and LCD. He needs to decide whether he wants a screen refresh rate of 60Hz or 120 Hz. He even has to choose between models by Samsung, Sharp, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Insignia, Toshiba, Westinghouse, Dynex, Philips, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, HP, and Magnavox!

Faced with those decisions, Schwartz says that someone like Ted – with cash in hand – is more likely to make no decision at all. Rather than pick something, he’ll wait – thinking he needs more time to figure it out. Amazingly, studies have also shown that more options usually also means more regret. Ted may eventually get that perfect television for his needs, but he had to turn down many more. What if there was another one in that mix that was more perfect?

The truth is that most of the time we complicate things as leaders – particularly in church, where we want to offer something for everyone. But the truth is – simple wins.

Three ways simple wins:


Does your vision or plan pass the napkin test? Can you explain it by writing or drawing something on a napkin over a drink at Starbucks? Can you explain your purpose – or your discipleship process – or your ideas for reaching a city – in a sentence or two?

Some churches have pages of visions and values, but no one “gets” them enough to be able to explain them to others. A simple focus is more likely to stick. And before anything else can happen, an idea has to stick.


Maybe people understand an idea. What’s next? Simple makes the first steps easy. There’s no “decision paralysis” like with the television purchases.

Let’s say you’re looking at the core building blocks for a church. How many things are you going to do as a body? Will you have four different types of small groups, Sunday school classes, Wednesday night gatherings, Sunday night events, and more? Or will you say that the three things you do as a church are (some forms of) worship, community, and mission. Worship together. Get involved in a group where you can learn about God and apply that knowledge. And serve the community through your gifts and passions.

A simple vision or message levels the playing field. It lets someone know that “these are the two or three things I need to do right now. These are the three things I need to continually embody in my life.”

If I’m supposed to do one thing, I’ll probably start. If I need to do 12, I’ll spend all my time deciding where I should start and what’s most important.


Let’s say you’re looking at how small groups are structured. You can have a complicated leadership structure with multiple curriculum options and multiple styles. You can offer training classes and trained facilitators. You can set certain ways things should be done. But eventually, the systems can bog down the process.

What happens when you simplify it where anyone can lead? What if the focus is on a structure of mentors instead of a structure of processes? What if each group got together, studied the Bible, asked basic questions of the text, and worked to apply it to their lives? Every week. And repeat. Suddenly, if a leader moves, someone else knows what they’re doing and can pick it up. If a group gets too big, it’s easy to send a few people to start something new.

The same thing works with churches. The more we make it about the Sunday show, the less likely we’ll start more churches. It just takes too much work, specific talent, and resources. But if church is more about a community worshiping and following God in mission, then that’s something anyone can be a part of and a lot of people can help lead.

Linkage: Distractions, unreal suits, and leadership

  • The distracted life – “Kevin….chill out. When it comes to listening, really listening….you can’t be demanding.” And I immediately thought, “Oh…good lesson #1. Listening requires patience. Chill Out Kevin. Wait on God.”
  • WIRED on why Iron Man’s suit wouldn’t work in real life (or WIRED – ruining superhero movies since 1993)
  • A Leader’s Legacy by James Kouzes and Barry Posner – Some great quotes from the book from David Mays. “The legacy you leave is the life you lead. We lead our lives daily. We leave our legacy daily. The people you see, the decisions you make, the actions you take—they are what tell your story.”

Starbucks – refreshing the “original” third place

You know the story. Visionary leader builds a revolutionary brand. Visionary leader steps away and hands it off. Brand falters. Said leader steps back in to turn things around.

The first big changes are taking place since Howard Schultz stepped back into the head spot at Starbucks, and honestly, I’m excited to see if and how he makes the chain unique again. I used to love hanging out at the local Starbucks, but recently they’ve just been crowded places with cluttered stores and dirty bathrooms. I guess it deserves an apology to my Sbux barista friends, but hey, at least Peet’s smells like coffee!

That said, changes are underway! One of the first is the company’s new Pike Place roast, named after its first store. Unlike recent practice, the beans will actually be ground in the store (bringing back that coffee shop smell).

It looks like they’re also making the gutsy move of changing up the brand a little (at least for a while). According to Brand New and pictures from the chain’s website, they’ll be using their original logo in the store and on the cups. I’ll be interested to see how the general public takes to the look. People love their Starbucks, but I’m not sure if they realize that character in the middle of the green circle was originally a bare-chested, split-legged mermaid.

(Image from Brand New)

But hey, it signals change, and maybe that’s what’s needed. The store shots from Pike Place look great. If they can give other stores the same feel, it might bring back that original “coffee shop” ambiance. I’m tired of my local third place feeling like McDonald’s!

(UPDATE: Thanks to Jeff’s comment below, we now know the logo is “tweaked” a little from it’s original version. There’s a picture of the cup here. Looks like the mermaid has longer hair to cover herself a little more 🙂 )

For you Pasadena folks, the Starbucks tasting tour (where I guess they’re showing off their new blend) is stopping at Paseo this weekend. Here’s the info.

Paseo Colorado
280 E. Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91101
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

For everyone else, here are a few other posts about the changes…

Pieces of paper can’t tell the whole story


Today’s been an organization day in Sampson world. I’ve spent the morning sorting through piles of papers that have accumulated over the past few months as well as scanning some older files I want to keep around.

One folder I ran across was filled with church plant proposals from different church planters I’ve met with. Looking at the pile of proposals was interesting. Less than half of the churches are around today, and those that are look nothing like those sheets of paper.

I’ve heard many church planters say the end result will never look like that ministry prospectus. That’s not surprising. I guess what surprised me is that it was 100% true. Not often true. Not true most of the time. It was true in every case.

When starting something new in God’s kingdom, it’s important to have a vision and call. But maybe it’s better to start with a page or two of ideas and let God flesh out the book as we move forward following him.

Learning from other pastors…

David Fitch (author of The Great Giveaway) writes about the things he wished he’d done more of during the past few years as a missonal pastor. I found them enlightening and encouraging. The first three are below. Click through to his blog at the end to read the rest…

Over the past several years of church planting I wish I had done the following:

1. Spend less time writing sermons, more time listening and speaking truth relationally lovingly into people’s lives. My goal, when I am preaching, is to never spend more than twelve hours a week writing sermons. Preaching the Word is important. It takes skill and practice. Yet the sermon is for speaking truth over people’s lives, not for entertainment. Sometimes the “entertainment” piece takes too much extra work. The sermon proclaims the true reality as it is under the Lordship of Christ and calls people into Him. It is my opinion the reason why sermon prep takes so much time is that often pastors place too much self-importance into it. How many hours a week do you spend on sermon prep?

2. Spend less time reading-writing on leadership and more time walking with/mentoring young leaders, speaking into their lives, having them with you when you minister, in the hospital, in the coffee house… in the homes, in the neighborhoods. I am finding less and less time to do this but am aiming to make for more. How much time do you spend mentoring leadership? It is absolutely essential to missional community.

3. Spend less time planning the worship gathering – more time in silence before God on a quiet hill overlooking the missionfield of NW Suburbs (this place is Walter Payton Hill – Arlington Hts.) Sunday morning gathering is liturgy. It has its moving parts. It is people coming together organically to be centered in God thru Jesus Christ thereby being re-centered for Mission Dei. My theory is, that even if everyone who was participating in the service somehow came up sick 5 minutes before service, everything should be able to go smoothly. This makes possible more time for mission. How much time/energy does your church spend on the worship gathering?

Read the rest here.

[ht: pastorhacks]

Not in it for the money

Here’s a nice piece of wisdom Seth Godin wrote a while back:

Seth’s Blog: Doing it for free: “Woz wasn’t looking to make a lot of money when he invented the Apple computer, and Nolan Bushnell certainly didn’t imagine he was creating the video game industry when he invented Pong. Cory and the rest of the boingboing team had no revenue for years, and Digg and Yahoo! and dozens of other key websites were started without an eye on profit, never mind revenue. The same thing is true for Julia Child and Gene Roddenberry and Dean Kamen.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that pioneers are almost never in it for the money. The smart ones figure out how to take a remarkable innovation and turn it into a living (or a bigger than big payout) but not the other way around. I think the reason is pretty obvious: when you try to make a profit from your innovation, you stop innovating too soon. You take the short payout because it’s too hard to stick around for the later one.”

Two takeaways.

Do something you’re passionate about – something that will bubble up within you whether or not you’re getting paid.

Start now. Sometimes we wait until we can perfect something before beginning it. But the best innovations, projects, activities start because they’re something we’re going to do even if no one notices and grow into something powerful. I see it all the time with church planting. We see these healthy churches and think a new one has to look the exact same way on day one (big, mega, smooth, etc.). But almost anything started small and imperfect and moved forward as everyone learned, created, prayed, and obeyed.