How to Focus Your Leadership in the Spaces You Control

As a leader, what is within your sphere of control?

That is a critical question to ask, because if you don’t know what you can control, you can’t be sure where you can fully lead.

The question matters, because true leadership does require an element of control. I would argue that without any internal locus of control, we are at best managers for the leaders who are in control. This explains why we (and me) desire control within what we are responsible to lead.

I serve as a Campus Pastor within North Point Ministries. That means that I have full control over some things, partial control over others, and no control in certain spaces. No matter what your title, like me, your locus of control varies from space to space, decision to decision.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have a tendency to hyper-focus on what I can’t control, forgetting all that I can control. I want fully control, but full control is never fully available, no matter what your title. Unfortunately, the areas where my control is limited tends to mentally override the places where I do have majority control. That’s a leadership dilemma, and I’m convinced it exists for all leaders. One solution is to stop worrying about control, but that’s a terrible goal — and if you’re a leader, it’s not possible. Leaders want to lead, and leadership requires some control.

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Choosing to Grow Before You Go

Have you ever been frustrated to a point where going felt like the best option? Or maybe the only option?

You were…

…Frustrated with a relationship, and you just had to get out.

…Frustrated in a marriage. So you walked out.

…Frustrated with a job. So you quit.

…Frustrated with your lack of progress. So you dropped the gym membership and grabbed a candy bar (sorry, was that too close to home?)

We’ve all been there. Most of us too many times to count.

The frustration to leaving conundrum is very real and very visceral. At times leaving is absolutely the best option. But not always. For now, let’s focus our energy on workplace frustrations.

I’ve never met a person who’s lived a life free of work-related frustration. As an emotion, frustration drives us to make many decisions. Not necessarily good decisions, but decisions none-the-less. Of all the decisions we face in the midst of our frustration, decisions that seemingly remove the frustration come to us first.

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A Much Better Way to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

Does everyone seem to be an unsolicited advice giver in your church?

I mean, how often do you hear, “Can I give you just a small suggestion?

I get it. I critique everything we do, as well. When you are a part of something, you want it to be great. When you serve and give to a church, you want your time and resources to be leveraged in the best way possible. Unfortunately, “great” is quite subjective. Every opinion is just that — an opinion. Good, bad, or terrible. (Insert pithy quote about armpits and … you know the rest.)

“The music is so loud.” “Too quiet.” “Too bassy.” “Not thumping enough.” 
“The sermon is too long.” “Too short.” “Not helpful.” “TOO helpful (substitute convicting).”
“It’s too crowded.”
“Somebody sat in my seat.”
“There wasn’t enough … Scripture, songs, parking, coffee, snacks, blah, blah blah.”
“There was too much … Scripture, songs, parking, coffee, snacks, blah, blah blah.”

I’m sure everyone means well, but hearing this week in and week out doesn’t do my heart well.

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How Leaders Can Stop Hogging the Hero Moments

One-Sentence Summary: Every leader wants to be a hero, but rather than hog the hero moments, great leaders empower others to be heroes. 

As a leader, have you ever been a hero to those who follow you?

Maybe you were the bearer of great news. Or maybe you served or loved them in an unexpected way. Maybe you gave them a job!

Most point leaders have the opportunity to be a hero with their staff from time-to-time, but what about the other “leaders” in the organization?

It’s an important question, because there are lots of people in every establishment leading something or someone. On our church staff, nearly everyone leads a staff team and/or volunteer team. Not everyone, but nearly everyone. There is one point leader, but there are nearly 65 leaders.

What I see too often (and maybe you’ve see this a lot, too), is point leaders hogging the hero moments while lower-level leaders are forced to handle the day-to-day, non-hero stuff. And unfortunately, there’s not too many “hero” moments day-to-day.

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Because Hiring Diverse Strengths Is Not Enough

Every leader knows that a well-rounded staff makes for a better organization. As a leader, you desire to have a diversity of skills, capabilities, and even personalities on the team. You want a leadership team to provide different perspectives. You want a leadership team to contain unique individual abilities. You want an overall staff built upon a healthy diversity of talent.

You want people with financial strengths, administrative strengths, people strengths, and creative strengths. You want leaders around you who are feelers, doers, thinkers, strategist, contemplative, and decisive. You need this as a leader. And your organization needs this to be successful.

That should be easy to accomplish, right? I mean, all you really need to do is hire for strength and personality diversity. Not diversity of chemistry — we all need to love the people we work along side — but diversity of talent. Diversity of abilities. Diversity of personality.

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Unplugging the Microwave of Success

Have you heard the soundtrack to the hit broadway musical “Hamilton?” If you’ve seen the actual musical, just keep that to yourself — intentionally causing envy is tantamount to envy, itself.

The music is quite spectacular. And historically insightful, too. My kids are way more knowledgeable about the Founding Fathers due to our time in the car together. It makes me question everything about my school upbringing! Hip hop trumps note-taking all day long.

Production aside, Alexander Hamilton was quite an amazing guy. He accomplished much, including establishing one of the first banks in America, the Bank of New York. Here’s what made me take a step back while jamming along to the soundtrack — it took Hamilton seven years to establish the bank’s charter. I know, the local community bank went up in a months time, and that seemed like forever in today’s world, but think about that for a moment. Seven years. That’s a long time to focus on something. Anything.

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Do Labels Limit Potential?

Do you have a label maker in your workplace? Or maybe at home like I do? A small little printer with only one purpose in life: labels. My wife really loves label maker, which explains our pantry. She’s labeled every bin, which felt like overkill until I needed to distinguish between powdered sugar and all-purpose flour. A light dusting of flour on your pancakes isn’t a good as you probably imagine!

My wife isn’t alone in her love of labeling. People by nature love to label things. You have probably labeled something today — or many somethings. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. And that could be a good thing. Labels are helpful. And labels give context. A label describes what we know and what we can expect. Powdered sugar or flour. Black beans or green.

Here’s where labeling goes downhill. Unfortunately, as a leader, our propensity to label things often transfers to labeling people. We do it for the same reason as the bins in my pantry — labeling people gives us context. It helps us understand who people are and what we can expect. We label people through personality test, which is often helpful, as these types of tests give us context on how to best lead individuals individually. We label people’s roles though job descriptions and titles. Again, helpful for us and the person on the other end of the role. If we could stop the labeling there, maybe all would be fine. But we don’t. In fact, it’s as if we can’t. We love context too much to stop with personality characteristics and job descriptions.

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Giving Yourself Some Growing Grace

If you are leading in any way, no doubt you are faced with potential personal growth opportunities. These opportunities come in various forms. Some are easy to understand while others are more complex. Some learnings are easier to implement than others. Unfortunately, the most difficult aspect of personal growth isn’t identifying the growth opportunity, but rather dealing with our implementation attempts and setbacks.

Let me explain with a personal example:

I recently was able to take some time away from leading at Woodstock City Church. I spent the bulk of my time processing some interpersonal stuff that was directly impacting my ability to lead well in the long term. One key learning for me (among so many) was how easily I can allow what I do as a leader to define who I am as a person. When what I do is doing well, I’m doing well. When what I’m doing is struggling, I find myself personally struggling. When I fail, I begin to believe I am a failure. It’s identity 101, but none of us are immune to forgetting this Christian life principle. Especially in leadership, where progress and doing is the bulk of the work.

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Does Your Team Really Believe They Belong?

Have you ever felt you needed to prove yourself? Prove your worth? Prove you deserved to be at your company, church, or organization?

I guess that’s more of a rhetorical question, right?

We’ve all felt the sense of performance-based acceptance at play in our heart. It’s part of the human condition. We’ve all wondered if we really belong. If we are worthy of our role.

As leaders, we have to look outside of our own experience to see the bigger problem: The internal battle to belong isn’t isolated to us. If we have felt it, most likely everyone in our organization has felt it — or is currently feeling it. And it’s a problem on several fronts. I know, because like you, I’ve been there.

The Internal Battle to Belong Creates:

1. Sideways energy: When people are trying to prove their worth, their misapplied motivation moves their energy away from the good work and toward a good pat on the back. When people are focused on being noticed, their efforts cannot be fully dedicated to something bigger than themselves.

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Filling Seats on Your Bus

If you lead any type of organization — company, church, or department — you probably have an organizational chart of some sort. It’s one of those necessary structures that help delineate chain of command and channels of communication, among others.

When I first began leading a church (a typical organization in many ways), I was encouraged to envision the org chart 5 – 10 years down the road. What departments would be necessary? What divisions? How many layers? How many staff? I even went as far as putting my name in most of the “open” positions in this hypothetical org chart. Visually, it looked impressive and strategic. Personally, it just looked like I had too much to do!

I think this is a valuable exercise for every leader. If you’ve never done it, you should. But a few years into leading at Woodstock City Church, this exercise created quite the conundrum.

Here’s the dilemma I began to ponder:

Is it better to start with the org chart in place so you can then find the right people for each box, or is it better to find the right people and build the organization around them?

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