Think Before You Ask

Startup Stock Photos

One of my greatest desires for Restoration City is that we would be known as a church that’s serious about developing leaders.  I pray often that God would give us the privilege of planting a church one day that’s pastored by someone who came to faith through Restoration City.  That means we need to be really effective in reaching the lost, making disciples and giving gifted people the freedom to lead.  It also means we need to create a culture where we’re regularly learning about leadership.

To that end, our staff team is currently working through Liz Wiseman’s incredible book, Multipliers.  It’s easily one of the most impactful books I’ve read over the last few years and I recommend all the time to people wanting to grow in their leadership.  The basic premise of the book is simple:  It’s better to be a genius maker than a genius.  The best leaders are the ones that tap into the genius of the people around them instead of relying on their own genius.  One of the implications of this idea is that as leaders, we all need to decide if we want to be the person with all of the answers or the person who develops other leaders.  You simply can’t have both.  Many of us think leadership development is nothing more than drilling our genius into other people’s heads.  Nope.  It’s about releasing the genius God has placed in others.

As good as that all sounds, it’s incredibly hard to do.  I know many leaders who think the only reason they have their job is that they know better than everyone else in the organization.  In that view of leadership, the organization exists to execute the genius of the leader but the leader has nothing to learn from the organization.  Two words of caution if that’s how you see yourself.  One, no one likes working for you and your best people will leave.  Ultimately, you’ll be left leading a talent free team that can’t think for themselves and that’s a recipe for disaster.  Two, decision fatigue will exhaust you and deteriorate the quality of your answers.  So, you end up leading a team blindly executing bad ideas.  You can figure out how that’s going to go, genius.

The real question is how we prevent ourselves from leading this way or make changes if we’re already leading this way.  Frankly, that’s what the book’s about, so you should read it!  But our team has latched onto one little anecdote and is working to ingrain it into our culture.  In chapter 6 of Multipliers, Wiseman tells a simple story from a summer internship with a management training company.  Her boss had asked her to edit a marketing brochure and next to one section she wrote “AWK” to indicate it was awkwardly phrased.  Her boss agreed but came charging back into her office and said, “Don’t ever give me an A-W-K without an F-I-X”.  He didn’t just want her to point out problems, he wanted her to think through solutions. As simple as that is, it’s an incredible leadership development moment.

We’ve tried to internalize that as a staff team with the following leadership plumline: Ask me anything, as long as you have a recommendation.  Or, if you would like a shortened version, “Think before you ask.”  It’s a plumline that helps us simultaneously pursue two goals: One, keep leaders engaged.  “Ask me anything” forces a leader to stay involved and accessible.  No one wins when we throw people into the deep end to sink or swim on their own.  Two, it forces team members to think through an issue and decide what they think they should do before bringing it to their leader.  You only get to ask the question if you have a suggestion.  We’re deliberately fighting back against the “hey, what do you want me to do?”  followed by, “Do x,y,z” interactions that dominate most workplace conversations.

That means as a leader I find myself using the following phrases more and more regularly:  Good question, what do you think?  I don’t know, what do you want to do?  If you had my job, what would you decide?  You’ve thought more about this than I have, where have you landed?  What do you think would best serve our leaders/people/mission?

When I answer my team’s questions with one of those questions I’m setting us up for one of three possible outcomes:

Outcome #1: Affirm their recommendation.  This is the best case scenario.  I basically get to say, “See you already knew what to do!  Next time, just do it.”  It’s a home run for your team  member’s morale and it gets one more decision off your desk.

Outcome #2:  Correct their recommendation.  This is the most valuable scenario.  As the leader, you need to understand why they arrived at the answer they did.  Once you understand that, you get to explain how you arrived at the answer you did and show how that solution better serves the organization. This is one of the most valuable forms of leadership development there is.

Outcome #3:  Change your mind.  If this isn’t an option on the table, don’t kid yourself, you aren’t really interested in developing leaders.  You’re just interested in being right.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming your answer is correct – the person you’re developing may well be right.  This is the invaluable scenario.  Nothing builds credibility with your team like being willing to learn from them.

You’ll know you’re getting the idea when you come to the conclusion that being a developer of other leaders is harder in the short run but far more beneficial in the long run.  It’s easy to spend all day enthroned behind your desk spouting answers.  But no one grows, you get depleted and the mission suffers.  Trade the easy way for the meaningful way and see what it does to your team, your organization and the leaders who work with you.

 

Leadership: Self or God Focused?

self-focused

It’s terrifyingly easy to be a leader with God focused words and a self focused heart.  We know the right things to say: we’re honored and humbled to play even a small part in God’s story; we’re just grateful for the chance to serve; He must increase, we must decrease; etc, etc…  But all too often those platitudes aren’t an expression of our heart.  If anything, they’re a false veneer carefully constructed to hide what we’re really feeling: when will I get the credit I deserve; why hasn’t God given me greater responsibility; why isn’t this easier; how come that joker’s church is growing faster than ours; why wasn’t I invited to speak at that event; etc, etc…  It’s an exhausting place to be.  I know because I’ve been there.

It’s a lonely place where burnout or moral collapse is lurking right around the corner.  But it’s also a place where God does some incredibly deep work in our souls.  It’s the place where we decide whether we’re going to be a God focused or a self-focused leader.  It’s the place where we learn the value of keeping our heart focused on God and shaped by the gospel.  It’s the place where we resolve not to spend the rest of our lives parroting someone else’s words but rather live out of the overflow of what God is doing in our own hearts.

Whenever I see myself sliding back into self-focused leadership, I think about Ezekiel.  He got a master class in God focused leadership early in his ministry.  Through him, we see what a God focused leader looks like:

 

 1. God Focused Leadership Starts With A Call From God

Ezekiel never had to wonder why he got into this whole leadership thing in the first place.  The answer was incredibly clear:

Ezekiel 1:3 – the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.

Do you have that kind of clarity?  That’s not just a question for pastors and elders but for Community Group leaders and ministry team leaders as well.  What got you started?  Did God prompt you to do this or did someone else talk you into it?  Were you following Jesus or just trying to make a name for yourself?  Were you more captivated by the gospel or the thrill of being in charge?

2. God Focused Leadership Is Sustained By Awe 

God focused leaders know the key to staying in the game is awe of God and His Word. We see both in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 1:28(b) – Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

Ezekiel 3:15 – And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.

Ezekiel wasn’t bored by God.  He was overwhelmed and on his face, sometimes literally.  God’s Word only intensified that awe:

Ezekiel 3:1-3 – And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.  And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

Ezekiel 3:10 – Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.

Leadership that isn’t sustained by awe is usually sustained by duty or desperation.  Duty says I don’t dare quit.  Desperation says I can’t possibly quit.  Maybe it’s a fear of letting people down.  Maybe it’s the fear of no longer getting a paycheck.  Maybe it’s the fear that no one will pay any attention to you if you aren’t leading.  Maybe leadership has become pure muscle memory – you don’t even know what you would do if you weren’t leading. None of that leads to ministry vitality or personal flourishing.

Keeping our hearts focused on God and shaped by the gospel is our highest priority as leaders.  It’s more important than the work we do, the roles we play or the responsibilities we have.  A neglected soul will be the biggest threat to your leadership.

3.  God Focused Leadership Endures Difficulty

Ezekiel’s ministry was not an unbroken string of pain-free success:

Ezekiel 2:5-6 – And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 3:7 – But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.

If Ezekiel had been driven by man’s approval, he would have quit early on.  If all he wanted to do was make a name for himself, he would have been out.  If he was in it until it got hard, he wouldn’t have even gotten started.  But he keeps going – staying obedience to God’s call on his life and sustained by awe.

In a world of self focused leaders, I’m praying God will raise up a new generation of God focused leaders in His church.  Leaders who will shape culture, lift communities and transform lives for the glory of Christ and the good of their cities. It’s possible.  We just need to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on God.

Personal Leadership Dashboard

dashboard

How healthy you are as a leader has a direct impact on the people you lead.  The better you’re doing, the better they’ll be doing.  Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well.  If you’re struggling, they will too.  That’s why you have a responsibility as a leader to take care of yourself.  Self care isn’t a frivolous luxury; it’s an absolute necessity.

In my experience, one of the greatest obstacles to this kind of self care is a lack of self awareness.  It’s not so much that we know we’re in trouble and won’t do anything to address the problem.  It’s much more that we’re in trouble and don’t even know it.  For many of us, life is a lot like driving a car with no dashboard warning lights – we won’t know there’s a problem under the hood until we’re broken down on the side of the road.  That’s a real problem for a leader because when we’re broken down by the side of the road, we take others with us.  So, we’ve got to come up with ways to gauge how we’re doing as leaders.  We need to see trouble before it leaves us on the side of the road.  We need a personal leadership dashboard.

Think of your personal leadership dashboard as a series of gauges that gives you a quick snapshot of how you’re doing.  When I talk about how you’re doing in this context, I’m not talking about metrics that gauge the health of your organization.  I’m talking about your overall sense of well being.  Personally, I’ve defined six gauges that show how I’m doing: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and relationally.  It’s quite possible you will come up with a different number of gauges or give them different labels.  That’s great!  The key is to make sure your gauges accomplish five goals:

  1.  FOCUS on factors that legitimately impact how you’re doing as a leader.  In other words, you’re acknowledging the things that do and should impact your overall sense of well-being.  If I’m emotionally burnt out, I’m in no position to bear any of my team’s burdens, so that belongs on the list.
  2. IGNORE factors that might but should not impact how you’re doing as a leader.  This is jut as critical – it’s consciously refusing to assess how you’re doing based on factors that aren’t legitimate or helpful.  For example, last Sunday’s attendance at Restoration City is not measured by any of my gauges.  Like every other pastor, I’m tempted to reduce how I’m doing to butts in the seats and dollars in the offering.  Gauges help me fight back against that.
  3. DETERMINE key questions that define each gauge.  For example, my financial gauge is defined by four key questions:  Am I systematically, cheerfully and sacrificially giving to the Lord’s work in response to the gospel?  Am I saving money each month to be used for future family goals?  Am I spending within the resources God has entrusted to me, avoiding debt?  Am I comfortable with how much financial margin we have in our lives right now?
  4. ASSESS quickly and accurately how I’m doing as a leader.  I want a quick readout (I use a 1-10 scale) with 2-3 bullet points that explain why I gave myself the score I did.  Even if I take the time to write it down, it usually takes less than 5 minutes but is amazingly helpful in anchoring the ambiguous “how are you doing” question in some very concrete answers.
  5. SHAPE decisions, responses and actions designed to address problem areas.  This is where the gospel enters the process for me as a Christian.  Gauges reveal heart issues and heart issues always have gospel solutions.   Think of it this way – a personal leadership dashboard shows you where you most need to apply the gospel in your life.

Once you use this dashboard often enough, it almost becomes instinctive.  When I’m having a bad day, I often find myself scanning my gauges to get a quick sense of what’s going on inside of me.  It’s amazingly helpful – I realize the world isn’t falling apart (something I would have no control over) but that I am feeling disconnected from my wife (something I know how to fix).

If you’ve never set up a personal leadership dashboard, I want to encourage you to carve out the space to think through your own gauges in a way that achieves the five goals listed above.  I also want to recommend this to you as a really easy leadership development tool to use with others.  It’s a great way to focus conversations on how a person is truly doing and then be able to discuss how the gospel speaks into those issues.

Leaders Are Delegators

White Board

As we bring our “Live From Love” series to a close, we’re spending two weeks focusing on the life of the Old Testament King Josiah, the only man in the Scriptures described as loving “the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.“(2 Kings 23:25)  This past Sunday we talked about how our love for God leads to a life of ongoing repentance.  In doing that, we skipped over some leadership development gold in 2 Kings 22:3-7 that I want to pick up on today.  You’ll see it pretty easily as you read the text:

In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people.  And let it be given into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house (that is, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons), and let them use it for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

Josiah is a master delegator.  He empowers a team to do what he could never do on his own.  He’s able to inspire a group of people to work together to accomplish a goal, which is foundational to effective leadership.  Perhaps this kind of delegation is expected when renovating a temple – no one can do that on their own!  But the reality is that we need to practice this kind of delegation frequently in our lives as leaders.  Think of all the things we do every week as a church: lead 10 different community groups, load in and load out production equipment, lead worship, preach a sermon, disciple kids, serve our community, administer an organization, reach college students in DC, etc, etc, etc…  I don’t think there’s one of us that really think we can do any one of those tasks on our own.  But all too often we find ourselves trying to do what we know is impossible – take on a massive project without anyone else’s help.  

If that’s you, then take a few minutes to consider the model Josiah gives us for effective delegation.  His delegation is anchored in four key principles:

Clear Vision

Josiah doesn’t leave it up to his team to decide what they’re going to accomplish.  He fills the vision vacuum – they’re going to repair the temple.  And He’s not just envisioning a minor facelift.  They’re going to have to buy timber and quarried stone to get this done.  He’s speaking into the aim and the scope of the project.  That’s what good leaders do.  Some leaders are so afraid of being called a micro-manager that they abdicate this part of the process.  That’s not leadership.  It’s the exact opposite.  It’s abdicating leadership to someone else who will fill the vision vacuum you’re perpetuating.

Adequate Resources

Some leaders thing it’s enough to walk into a meeting, drop a little vision bomb and then check out completely.  Not so fast there, little leader!  Maybe you and your team have worked together for so long that they can take your vision and run with it.  But you always need to stay engaged around the fundamental question of whether or not the team has the resources they need to execute the vision.  Josiah deploys money, senior aids and resources to the project.  He gives the team what they need to get the job done!  That seems so simple when we read it in the abstract but I can’t tell you how many times I see leaders set their people up for failure by casting some glorious vision that the team has no chance of achieving because they lack the resources (money, time, people, skills, training or tools) they need to get it done.  That’s not leadership.  That’s just frustrating people.

Freedom To Execute

As much as Josiah leans into the vision and resource conversation, he leans out of the strategy and tactics conversation.  He realizes that the carpenters, builders and masons know a heck of a lot more about renovating a temple than he does.  So, he does one of the hardest things for a leader to do.  He shuts his mouth and lets others take it from there.  He lets his team do the job he’s called them to do and he gets out of their way.  If you violate this principle, this is when people will call you a micro-manager.  To put it even more bluntly, this is when you prove that you aren’t really a leader.  You’re more of a taskmaster with a lot of assistants.  Trust me, you don’t want to go down that road.  You can’t possibly be an expert on every area of a project.  So, if you insist on calling all the shots, you’re insisting on an inferior result.

Trust

In a leadership move that must have driven his accounting department crazy, Josiah tells the workers not to worry about saving their receipts.  He trusts them to buy the right materials, in the right quantity to get the job done.  He trusts they aren’t going to take some home for their back patio.  He trusts that they aren’t going to be lining Uncle Al’s pockets with some kickbacks.  He gives them cash and tells them to get it done.

Granted, most of us aren’t going to go that far (and good stewardship requires some financial integrity) but don’t miss out on the significance of what Josiah is doing.  He’s looking for concrete ways to tell his guys that he trusts them.  Most leaders pay lip service to the idea of trusting their people.  Josiah knew he needed to find specific ways to communicate that trust.  In his case, that meant no receipts.  In ours it might mean allowing people to make decisions, be flexible in their work schedules, feel valued even when they make a mistake or not have us hovering over their shoulders every minute of the day.

Josiah shows us what it looks like for a leader to lean in at the right time and lean out at the right time.  He does it all to bring about a goal far beyond what he could do on his own.  That’s God’s call for all of us who are leaders.  Let’s follow Josiah’s example and be real delegators.

I Know Who Will Lead Us

Church In America

Over the weekend, CNN ran an article under the headline, “Who Will Lead Us?”  In it, Stephen Collinson was bemoaning the current leadership vacuum in American life.  He was essentially throwing his hands in the air and wondering out loud how we’re ever going to get out of the mess we’re in as a people.  It’s a good question.  And one that has few promising answers when you survey the landscape of political, cultural and moral leadership in modern America.

But if you bring the church into the conversation, you start to find hope.  When you bring Jesus into the mix, everything becomes possible.  Our country shouldn’t have to be looking around for hope.  We should see it flowing out of every church and out of every Christian.

This is the church’s moment.

 

America needs the church far more than the church needs America.

Yes, I enjoy the freedoms of religious liberty.  Yes, I like gathering with my church without any fear of arrest or persecution.  But most of us can’t imagine the church without America and that’s just wrong.  When you drop the church into the persecution of China, she thrives.  When you drop the church into the hardships of Africa, she explodes.  We don’t need to worry about the church – she’ll be just fine.  In fact, not even the gates of hell will prevail over her. (Mt. 16:18)

The question is whether she’ll thrive and explode in this American moment.

I believe she can and I believe she will.  The country is looking for hope – for people not afraid to talk about the deep wounds of racism, for people willing to confront the brokenness of humanity, for people who will point the way towards justice and peace, for people who have been deeply impacted by the message of grace.

The grace of Jesus will inspire people to do what no law can command.  It’s in response to an infinitely rich God who became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9) that we start living generous lives.  It’s in response to a God who died for us while we were enemies that we find the courage to love our own enemies. (Romans 5:8 and Mt. 5:44)  It’s in response to the cross that we find the strength to fight for justice.

This isn’t a time for the church to be quiet.  This is a time for us to hold out the hope of the gospel.  The hope of a God who forgives all.  The hope of a God who changes hearts.  The hope of a God who will one day make all things new.

This boldness can’t just come from the pulpit.  It must flow from our lives.  We, like Paul, must not be ashamed of the gospel.  Why?  It’s the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  We must take up our calling to be ambassadors of Christ.(2 Cor. 5:20).  Be salt and light to our world.(Mt. 5:13-16)

Don’t feel bad or embarrassed that you follow Jesus.  Be thrilled that you know the One who is hope.  Delight in the privilege of being His child.  Be bold, be wise, be loving, be gentle.

Just don’t run from the world.  Run to it with hope, grace and the name of Jesus.

 

Shaping Culture: Correcting For It (3 of 4)

Culture_Correct

No matter how clearly you lay out the path of culture and how well you model it, there are going to be plenty of times when people in your church or on your team veer off the path.  Every time I see it happen, I feel like the wind just got knocked out of me.  How could someone deviate from a path I love so much?  Why would they do such a thing?  What do I do now?

If I’m honest, my strategy as a young leader was to ignore these little cultural deviations.  I was convinced if I waited long enough, the cultural outlier would happily rejoin the rest of us on the path.  But that’s not always the case.  In fact, many times I watched as others joined them in the weeds!

One of the most important tools in shaping culture is intentionally correcting deviations from the culture.  Leaders must find ways of communicating, “Hey, that’s not how we do it around here.” (Hint: This is best communicated in person and with an attempt to understand why and how the person got off the path in the first place.)  However we do it, leaders must correct cultural deviations.

In my experience, there are two ways off the cultural path:

  • Cultural wanderers.  Most of the time they don’t even know they’re off the path until you point it out.  They’re just doing what they’ve always done, what came naturally or what seemed right to them.  They aren’t trying to ruin your organization, defy your leadership or destroy your culture.  They’re actually trying to get it right but just wandered a bit.  When this is the case, your corrective conversation becomes much more of a vision casting, cultural shaping moment.  You have the privilege of helping the person understand your culture at a much deeper, more personal and real level.  These conversations are leadership gold!
  • Cultural hijackers.  These guys are a problem – they know they’re off the path.  In fact, they’re trying to create a new path and lead others down it.  They know where you’re trying to go; they just don’t like it and are convinced they can carry the organization in the direction they want to go.  The Bible has a lot to say about how we should handle cultural hijackers.  “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11)  Simple translation – remove them from the culture they’re trying to hijack.  Here’s the good news – cultural hijackers are rare, so don’t be too quick to label someone this way.  But when it becomes clear you’ve got a hijacker on board, take action.

I used to hate these kinds of conversations as a leader.  I would avoid them, delay them and half the time wimp out in the middle of them.  But I’ve come to see that they are a hugely important tool in shaping culture.  I’ve also come to realize that if I don’t care enough about the culture of our church to defend it, I really have no business being the one who shapes it.

Shaping Culture

Church Culture

Every church has a culture.  It’s not defined by doctrine, mission statements, strategic plans, core values or org charts.  You get glimpses of it by listening to the language people use, watching the way decisions are made and observing how people treat one another.  It’s the intangible “way we do things around here.”

There are no exceptions.  Any group of people who have been together for a year or longer has a culture.  The question is whether it’s being intentionally shaped or passively discovered.  The difference has enormous implications for the life, health and effectiveness of a church.  If Peter Drucker was right, and I believe he was, when he famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast“, then any leader who isn’t intentional about shaping the culture of their organization is committing leadership malpractice.

In my time leading Restoration City, I’ve learned that a leader must do four things to intentionally shape the culture of their church or organization:

  • Define It
  • Model It
  • Correct It
  • Celebrate It

Three out of the four won’t get you there – it takes a commitment to all four disciplines.

I’m going to take my next four blog posts to discuss each one of these disciplines in greater depth.  I hope it’ll be helpful for our leaders at Restoration City and anyone else passionate about creating a healthy and intentional culture.

Culture matters to much to discover it.  Leaders must shape it.

Solid Leadership Advice

Every year I keep an eye on the commencement addresses being given at universities around the country. Some are ridiculous. Some are extraordinary. This one is helpful. Admiral McRaven, the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, offers some practical leadership principles to the graduates of the University of Texas at Austin. Ultimately, the real power for change in our world is found in Jesus. But this talk lays out some great leadership principles.