10 years ago I attended the first Catalyst conference, hosted by John Maxwell for emerging leaders under the age of forty.  It’s been a great privilege to have had attended four more Catalyst gatherings as an alumni in the past ten years.  Of all the experienced speakers and all the brilliant insights, the two lessons that have most significantly marked me have come from Andy Stanley.

One of these lessons is a principle he taught called, “Leading in Times of Uncertainty.”

Uncertainty creates the vacuum for leadership. As much as we might hate uncertainty, it is critical to our job security! The problem of uncertainty to the leader is like the problem of growing hair to the stylist. It is a symbiotic relationship.  Without uncertainty there would be little demand and consequently little need for leadership. As uncertainty increases, in our economy, organizations, educational institutions, human relations, and every other sphere of life, the value of leadership increases. Thus, I believe we are living in incredibly exciting times where the market value for stellar leadership is at a prime rate.

There will always be uncertainty. Thus, there will always be the need for stalwart leadership. What is needed most in times of uncertainty, according to Stanley, is clarity. As leaders, we often feel the pressure to have all the answers. Impossible. No one expects us to have all the answers but ourselves. What people do expect, however, is for us to have enough guts and insight to bring clarity to the situation.  Even if that means telling them that we don’t know what the answer is.

There are several ways to do this:

  1. Acknowledge what you don’t know – focus on what you do.  In my leadership, this often looks like this, “What is uncertain at this juncture of our organizational journey is ___________; but what is clear is ____________.”  For the past year, the staff of our local congregation has been diligent in pursuing building leads for our move. When it came time to communicate with our people that we were moving, we still did not know where we would be meeting from week to week. That was uncertain. What was clear was that in two weeks we would be out of our building! Storage units needed to be reserved, moving trucks secured, and volunteers recruited. So that is what we focused on in our communication while continuing to answer all of the needed questions behind the scenes.
  2. Commit Reasonably. Commit to finding the answers but don’t over-commit or over-promise.  A good leadership principle in decision-making is if you have 80% of the needed information, you have enough to make a solid, educated decision. Don’t paralyze yourself into waiting for 100% of the details to come in. They never will. That’s what leaders are for. We may make up the other twenty and sometimes forty percent. People who will think, gather counsel, pray, intuitively make the best decision they know how, and steward the consequences afterwards.
  3. Return to the original vision. Stanley states that the safest place to be in times of change is the very thing that got you started on the journey to begin with: the original vision, values, and calling. What do you fall back on that helps re-clarify the muddy waters of change? What was the original idea of your business, ministry or family? What did you sign up for? What are those five to seven core values that you committed to never breaking?

 Leadership can be nerve-wracking at times. It takes guts. Nobody really knows what’s across the Jordan. There will always be giants in the land and fortified walls to bring down.  Moreover, there will always be people telling you can’t do either. And who knows whether or not you really can? THAT is uncertain. What is CLEAR is that you have one of two choices.  Lead forward in the midst of uncertainty or stay in a desert full of complaining losers and always wonder “What if?”

I’m half way through a book I picked up yesterday that is exploding in my heart, so much so that I had to “change” what I had initially intended to post today.  “The Multiplying Church,” by Bob Roberts Jr. is a beautiful blend of the theology, philosophy and practicality of church planting.  In the seventh chapter, he lays out the characteristics needed in a disciple to facilitate a multiplying culture within the church. One particular characteristic is that of a pilgrim. Roberts says to, “remind them it’s an unpredictable journey” (p.111).  Here’s a quick excerpt:

“Living life on pilgrimage is a way of living the Christian life in adventure. There is so little adventure in Christianity today for the average follower of Jesus. It’s too predictable, too easy, and too pat. It’s fun to live the Christian life in such a way that you don’t always know the next bend or how the current bend is going to impact you. When you live life on pilgrimage, you are learning to walk by faith – something we don’t do a lot of today. It’s too predictable.”

One of the most significant experiences of my life occurred, despite my initial resistance, in the summer of 1996 when I embarked on my first real mission trip to Indonesia for two months. To borrow an abused cliché of most ORU missionaries, “my life was truly changed.” My routine interrupted, my paradigms shaken, my comfort zones invaded, my view of God and the world enlarged, my faults exposed, and my trivial peculiarities minimized.

I reference this experience because I believe it’s what life, leadership, and Christianity were always designed to be…unpredictable.  Mysterious. Adventurous. Risky. Scary. Go to a land I will show you – I’ll tell you when we get there. Take up your cross and follow me – stay close because I may take a turn you’re not expecting. 

I think we’re losing a generation because cultural Christianity is too safe and flat out boring.  We’ve got it all figured out. Or so we think.  We park in the same spots. We sit in the same seat, aisle, or section.  We know what songs we like and which ones we don’t, and consequently, which songs we will engage with and which ones we will be distracted with. We have succumbed to the idol of security. The blessing of mystery has been replaced with the curse of predictability. When we reduce the vibrancy of kingdom living to a “church” service once a week, we have effectively succeeded in neutering our message and consequently our influence.

I didn’t sign up for that. (And my guess is that you didn’t either.)

The life of faith begins at the intersection of unpredictability. How will that person respond when I engage them in conversation? Will the power of the gospel really manifest itself when I pray for the sick?  What is on the other side of that loving confrontation? Can God really do more with my 90% than I can with my 100?

Predictability is easy because it doesn’t require anything. No faith. No courage. No risk.  It’s autopilot. Cruise control.

Sure sharing my faith is scary. Confrontation is intimidating. Unpredictability is overwhelming.

Leadership, and especially Christian leadership, is SUPPOSED to be scary, intimidating and overwhelming.  It doesn’t work and it’s not needed otherwise. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be scared, intimidated and a little overwhelmed than just plain bored?

Change has a way of revealing something about who we are.  We may discover some things about ourselves we never knew were there: fear, insecurity, boldness, confidence, laziness, a short temper, etc.  Some of us are fortunate enough to be wired in a way that helps us see change positively. Most of us; however, are not that fortunate.  Perhaps it’s too broad, too generic, or too stereotypical to say this, but the majority of us simply do not handle change well.

 One thing is for certain. However I am wired as a leader, I simply do not have the luxury of responding negatively to the uncertainty before me.  It may sound unfair, but leaders play by a different set of rules. I know this sounds like leadership 101 – the attitude of the leader is contagious and will infect and affect everyone around for better or for worse. But sometimes I think we throw away the leadership rulebook when we are thrown off kilter.  We’re tired, confused, and frustrated. Nothing is lining up the way we want it to or planned for it to. It feels like everything is in chaos and everyone is in disarray. Naturally, these situations give us permission to flesh out a little, right? Wrong.

Change is when leadership is needed the most.  Leaders are the thermostat of every crisis situation.  We will either breed insecurity or confidence. We will convey either panic or purpose. This does not mean that we must feel the pressure to be disingenuous or inauthentic. I am not a huge fan of the “fake it till you make it” mentality.  Rather, I hold to a few guiding principles:

  1. Leadership is a mindset.  As a kid, I would often complain to my dad of being bored. To which he would always, without fail, respond, “boredom is a state of mind.” I never understood what he meant, but after awhile I just stopped telling him. (Perhaps that was his goal all along!) Now, I understand that I can choose to be bored, or excited, or disengaged, or a leader.  With or without a title, I want to choose to be a leader in every situation. That doesn’t mean that I have to be THE leader.  It means that I act like I would want others to if I were.
  2. I have the capacity to choose my influence. I can leverage what I have or I can give it away. If I leverage my influence well, pressing through my internal fears and frustrations and helping others to navigate through theirs, I just may make a few deposits into the trust account of my people. In fact, I believe that every situation of change holds an opportunity for every leader to garner greater trust and ultimately greater influence.
  3. I can choose my attitude. I may not be able to control much of what is happening or what is not happening. Some factors are simply beyond our control regardless of how well we have prepared. Above all else, I have absolute control of one thing and that is my attitude. I have been tempted to give in to being disgruntled, pessimistic, disengaged, or frustrated. I love a good gripe fest as much as the next guy, just as long as I’m the only one doing the griping. But I have come to learn that leadership is exponential. What I do in terms of my attitude has an exponentially greater return for better or for worse than what others do.

If you discover something in your leadership that you don’t like, don’t let it take you out of the game. Acknowledge it, address it, make the necessary course correction and do what you were born to do…LEAD.

I spent the good bulk of the day executing our (Freedom Church) game-plan to pack the building we are in for our move this Sunday. Organizationally, we are being pulled at an increasingly intensified velocity into the vortex of change.

As leaders, not only is change inevitable, it is essential. It is crucial. We are responsible for change. It is one of the top five functions of our job description. We do not have the option of resisting, rebuking, or ridiculing what is impending. We must see it, foresee it, prepare for it, and at times initiate it.

I have found that in any situation and season of change, if we look hard enough, we will find an opportunity. Change opens the door to opportunity. In fact, there are some things that we would have never discovered or acquired had we not made some type of adjustment first.

Wherever you may be along the journey of change, here are some possible opportunities that you may find along the way:
– The opportunity to start over, afresh, anew. To “hit reset”.
– The opportunity to reinvent, redefine, repair, restore, or restructure.
– The opportunity to make new connections, relationships, partnerships and alliances.
– The opportunity to discover something about yourself.
– The opportunity to learn, to improve, and to grow.
– The opportunity to create or build momentum.
– The opportunity to recalibrate and refocus the vision of the organization.
– The opportunity to develop a new skill.
– The opportunity to add to your resume.
– The opportunity to accept a new leadership challenge.
– The opportunity to galvanize your staff, leadership team, or core group of volunteers.
– The opportunity to make more money.
– The opportunity to do what you’ve always wanted.
– The opportunity to take the limits off.
– The opportunity to tap into greater creativity and imagination.
– The opportunity to strengthen your resolve and character.
– The opportunity to shore up your systems.
– The opportunity to streamline.

The opportunities are endless.

And it’s our job as leaders to keep expanding the horizons of possibility in the hearts and minds of our people with each and every “opportunity” that comes before us.

It is inevitable in life – but especially in the life of a leader – to avoid relational friction. Leaders are called upon to make decisions and any time a hard line decision is made, there will be some who disagree.

Leaders have the peculiar task of building authentic relationships with the people they lead while exercising discernment on who is brought into the inner sanctum of that leader’s life. That can be a tight rope at times.

I was always taught that familiarity breeds contempt. And for the vast majority of the time I have witnessed this statement to be true. It takes a grave amount of maturity to truly befriend a leader, to see him or her for all of their weaknesses, imperfections and shortcomings, and never be tempted to criticize, exploit, demean or disrespect. MOST of us simply do not have this level of maturity. Depending on our own personal weaknesses, the temptation is just too great.

So what are our options as leaders? In my life, I have witnessed and at times fallen on both sides of the spectrum: bringing people way too close way too fast and giving every person who was even slightly suspicious the heisman.

The brutal reality is that leaders get hurt. Within every relationship lies the inherent risk of offense, betrayal, and disappointment. It is necessary.

I have found a few ways of hitting reset in my relationships that have suffered some collateral damage on the leadership mission:

1. Forgiveness: this is absolutely essential. If love is the oxygen of relationships – forgiveness is the lungs. A young man recently taught me some great tips on forgiveness. You must identify the action or the offense, identify the feeling or emotion that was produced by that action, identify the judgment that was created, and release that person. Most relational conflicts and consequently breakdowns are the result of the inability to relationally hit reset.

2. Honest Communication: it seems that we are most willing to talk to any one and every one but the person with whom we are having issues. Hitting reset means knowing what pertinent issues to address and which ones to dismiss.

3. Ownership: I’m a huge fan of ownership. In relational offense, it’s amazing how much grace can be released for just an ounce of ownership. Hitting reset relationally means that I honestly evaluate what I can and should own in the equation.

4. Change: Being a leader or even being a Christian leader doesn’t mean that we are martyrs. If someone has not demonstrated trustworthiness of character in the relationship, the odds of a recurring incident not happening are not high. In other words, determine what needed changes must be made to get the relationship back on track and take your…

5. Time: unlike our laptops and ipods, our hearts don’t reset instantly. Forgiveness can happen in an instant but trust is built and rebuilt over time. Hitting reset very simply means that you are willing to undergo the process of rebuilding that trust.

Somewhere around 4:00 A.M.
I like going to sleep in a bed that is made. Maybe I’m anal or picky or particular. I just like it. It’s how sleep was meant to be.

Tonight is one of those rare occasions when I have the bed to myself. I don’t like these occasions but they happen from time to time. It’s 4:00 A.M. and about an hour ago I had to make the bed.

2:00 – ish
After about ten minutes of Milan’s whimpers, I go in to check on her. My hand on her head consoles her and I stumble back into bed looking for that sweet spot. It’s not quite the same but it will have to do. Too tired to fumble around. Too adjusted to turn on the lights.

Roughly 20 Minutes after 2:00 – ish
Milan is crying again. Wait it out . . . not stopping. Round two. I think to myself as I debate how long I’ll let her go, she was laying ON TOP of her bunched up blanket last time I went in. Time for a covert operation. Daddy takes the corners of her covers and with one fluid motion: unwad, spread, and lay. (By the way, “unwad” is not a word, but for some reason it really fits to me here.) Problem solved.

My sheets and blankets are now a mutated mass and the so-called sweet spot is a memory, but I make due.

15 minutes. I need to pee.

Up. Out. Back in. All in the dark. By now, I’m half-hugging, half-wrestling my covers. Trying to kick them into submission just makes matters worse. This is just NOT how the sleeping experience was meant to be. It’s annoying.

It takes all but thirty seconds to a do a mini-make over and set things in order and yet I lay here another 20 minutes getting all tangled up.

Maybe I’m not good with analogies but it just seems like sometimes the longer I lay in my situation the more bunched up it gets. My stubbornness would rather ignore or all out deny the mess I’m in; convince myself that I’m OK and embrace mediocre comfort. All because I don’t want to surrender to the sheets and get up for thirty seconds to make the bed.

Let’s see. I do this when I argue my stupid point – kicking it and sometimes others into submission. (Or so I think.) When I refuse to hear others out. When I’ve had or am in a funk – in my attitude, my energy, my interactions. I do this when I delay forgiveness. When I avoid the issue. When I put off the bills or exercise or cleaning the garage or having that conversation or so on and so forth.

Hitting reset means sometimes you just have to flat out start over. Cut the line – rewire the rod. Sheets win – I surrender.

5:03 A.M.
Time to straighten up my covers, start over, and hit reset on some sleep!

This past weekend I went up to the mountains with a good friend of mine.

It was a great day of hanging out in some natural hot springs followed by hunting down a campsite and turning in somewhere close to two in the morning. Most of our time was spent together without feeling the need to talk or do anything spectacular. We just were.

As we pulled away from Buena Vista the next morning, after a hearty breakfast at “The Rooster’s Crow,” we had a great discussion about this idea of “re-centering.”

In the spirit of hitting reset, re-centering focuses on the leader’s discipline of rest. The words “discipline” and “rest” may seem like an oxymoron of sorts. But if you’ve ever felt like you needed a vacation from your vacation, we’re probably not far from agreeing.

Recently, I discovered a great book and re-discovered a classic in my library.

A good friend of mine, connected to but not the same as above, bought me a copy of “The Rest of God,” by Mark Buchanan. I will need to do a completely separate review on this book at a latter time, but for the moment, I would HIGHLY recommend this book, especially for those in vocational ministry. It was fun, refreshing, humbling, and significantly perspective shaping. As the title suggests, it is a book about the spirit of the Sabbath and teaching us first and foremost that God’s institution of a sacred time of rest is extremely multi-faceted in its nature but very simple in its purpose: the Sabbath helps us recognize, realize, and remember that God is God and we are not. I forget this as a leader sometimes. Ok. Often.

Re-centering helps us see life differently, or should I say, more accurately. It helps us recognize the little things (and the big) that often go unnoticed in the midst of our activity. Re-centering helps us to appreciate and enjoy, to speak more tenderly and laugh more loudly.

Re-centering keeps us fresh as people – and if we’re not fresh as people, we’ll never be fresh as leaders, no matter how hard we “work” at it.

* (The second book I referenced is, “Ordering Your Private World” by Gordon MacDonald. Helped me tremendously in college and is helping me still.)

I had a great executive staff meeting last night for the organization that I lead. . . ironically. I say ironically because for a good bulk of the time, we identified all of the things that are wrong with the organization: from our systems, to our structure, to our leadership, our lack of clarity, and poor follow-up. It was a good-sized list, not exhaustive, but there is definitely plenty to work on.

I say this was a great meeting because we were bold and daring enough to do what Jim Collins calls “confronting the brutal facts”. It is the responsibility of every leader to define reality and until we confront the brutal facts, we will never identify organizational reality.

Conducting a thorough (or even partial) assessment is a great way to hit organizational reset. It’s a perfect opportunity to return to the foundational values, principles, and strategies that our organizations were built on. Every organization has seasons and cycles that facilitate this process. As leaders, we must identify the times that are most conducive to initiating change. Whether this takes place every January, at the beginning of every school year, every quarter or every month, there are built-in opportunities to make organizational adjustments. We must look ahead and seize these opportunities.

If your organization hasn’t hit reset in awhile, maybe it’s time to take a different and a deeper look at it. It could be that the very thing keeping it from becoming great is that it’s just so good.

Hitting Reset pt. 1

August 18, 2009

I’ve been thinking for the past couple of weeks about this concept of “hitting reset”. Life can be turbulent and before we know it, the course that we are on, whether internally or externally, throws us off center and we find ourselves drifting away from the habits, actions and attitudes that keep us steady. This turbulence is not necessarily negative, wrong, or traumatic. It can be as simple as going away for a week on a business trip, speaking engagement, vacation, or rearranging the house because you’re putting new carpet in.

In turbulence the familiar routine of life has been shocked, the equilibrium upset in some way. This will happen. These are the moments when my goal of working out X amount of times a week or praying with my family, cutting my grass, cleaning out my car, dating my wife or pulling away to keep my thinking sharp, to mention a few things, gets turned upside down.

I can be tempted during these short vortexes to abandon my disciplines or at best prolong them. That is what I believe hitting reset is all about. It’s having a system of values, habits and attitudes that you can fall back on during times of turbulence. These systems and routines help me get back on track and keep me from getting sucked in to the tide of apathy, boredom, criticism, and being overwhelmed.

This is especially critical as leaders because not only are we steering our own ships, we are also in some way navigating the course for those that we lead, whether organizationally, relationally or spiritually.

Halfway through my read of “Tribes” by Seth Godin, I pulled out a legal pad and caught a wave of thinking momentum that led me to a critical leadership lesson. Four pages of notes later, I realized how important “dream reading” is to my leadership journey. Dream reading is that process of intentionally reading through material that inspires your passion and helps you dream as a leader.

Different books accomplish different functions, stretching different muscles and producing different results. Some books broaden my perspectives, some books expand my knowledge, and some books help me dream. It has been quite some time since I have found myself excited about leadership as a whole and my unique leadership in particular. That’s a dangerous place to be. The moment my leadership becomes a synonym for a paycheck; I need to do some serious introspection. It’s at this place that I stand on the threshold of simply surviving, laying stake to my blessed position or title, and doing everything in my power to defend it.

This lack of enthusiasm reveals more than we may realize. Perhaps fear has settled in and subconsciously paralyzed our passion or potential. Maybe the management of the mundane has blinded our peripheral vision. Whatever the root cause may be, when we stop exploring the realm of the unseen and the unknown as leaders, we lose one of those key ingredients vital to every leaders’ DNA – inspiration.

Dream reading sparks a leaders curiosity. It breathes on the embers of his passion. It reminds her why she started this journey in the first place. Dream reading is inspiring. When I’m not inspired, I find it difficult to lead. There’s a difference between a leader with a good attitude and a leader who is inspired. Every good leader recognizes that you simply cannot lead long or far with a repellent attitude. But every great leader knows that there are plenty of clerks with a smile who aren’t doing a thing to move the ball up the field. They’re just nice people. I don’t want to follow nice people, I want to follow a leader who is gripped, and captured, and captivated by something that makes him look like a fool to the rest of the world and hero to his tribe. So, in short, that’s what dream reading does. It helps you look like a fool. It reminds you and me that no leader worth following is safe because leaders who are inspired couldn’t be safe if they wanted to be.