Simple Solutions within the Complex

Last year I posted several Leadership Minutes about Proficiency and Competence in which I spoke of a leader’s need to work to the point where one knows their craft so well that their proficiency is based in the subconscious, that is, that they are unconsciously competent (a UC). You can review those videos online or at curtis.net [ Video 1 ] [ Video 2 ]

That being said, I recently heard a story that ties into this same idea of so deeply knowing what you do that the answers come quickly and easily, at time bewildering your direct reports. Simple answers come to the proficient leader that is always practicing, studying, and thinking about her craft.

The story was widely circulated in the early 2000s. It appeared online and in emails in many different versions. It goes something like this.

A philosophy professor gave an unusual test to his class. As they watched him, he lifted his chair onto his desk and wrote on the board: “Prove to me that this chair does not exist.” The class went to work, composing long complex explanations related to perception, existentialism, epistemology and the like. However, there was one student who took less than thirty seconds to answer and handed in his paper before many of the students even began to write. This obviously attracting surprised glances from his classmates as well as his professor. The following week the class received their grades for the test. The student who took less than thirty seconds to answer the test received the only “A” grade in the class. His answer was simply, “What chair?”

 
The story is one of a multitude of similar urban myths which poke fun of high-minded academia, in which an apparently very difficult or impossible question is destroyed by a terse comprehensive answer.

As a leader, proficiency in your craft comes only with long term, repeated exposure to the decisions, the systems and the circumstances with which you deal. The highly proficient leader can see the simple, encompassing answer within the complex. For the committed leader, proficiency — that is being an unconscious competent — is attainable if he or she is willing to put in the time.

I made a quick video related to this post. You can view it HERE. If you like it, please share it.

One Bad Decision

April was not a good month. A young leader that I thought had the charisma and talent to be one of our strongest church planters is gone. He left. Burned out, Quit, Stopped, Bailed, Fried, Skipped town, Crashed, Gone…

Those in his trust were left to speculate… What happened?

As an insider I will tell you exactly what happened. He’s gone because he didn’t listen to others and had a unique ability to make really bad independent decisions.

As a church planter, you need to carefully consider every decision that you make. The Word of God is clear, that “in a multitude of council there is wisdom.” If you fail to make good decisions it is nearly impossible to plant a God-pleasing church. The church belongs to Father, and the church planter is appointed to lead and guide His people in a way that is both God honoring and wise. Unfortunately bad decisions, made in isolation, can have ramifications that will last for generations.

I recently toured (for the third time) the Manzanar Detention and Internment Camp in the shadow of Mount Whitney, near Independence California. From 1942 to 1945 American citizens of Japanese decent were interred at Manzanar. Because the American government did not trust the Japanese they forced Japanese-Americans to leave their homes and businesses and detained them in California’s high desert. It is a decision that serves as a blight on the history of the United States of America. This great nation, based on freedom and liberty, made one really bad decision that altered the lives of innocent people, and is still seen as one of the great human liberty violations of our country’s history.

As you lead Gods people, remember that decisions have ramifications. and if those decisions are really bad, they can alter the lives of innocent people. Remember, you have an obligation to seek council and more importantly, the prompting of the Father in every decision that you make. Hold that path, and you may just create a future free from the regret of bad decisions and proud of what Father has done through you and your ministry.

If you are making your decisions in isolation, or void of council, stop. God’s people are too important for you to risk their spiritual health. Place wise individuals around you and allow the wisdom of the [godly] crowd to help shape and direct your future.

Church Planting Minute at Manzanar

Three Pillars of Trust

I write a regular article for STAR News, a publication for Law Enforcement Personnel. While directed at Law Enforcement I quickly realized how this applies to organizational leadership as well.

Any highly successful leader will tell you that the reason they were able to excel in their career and win the respect of their direct reports, is that they were able to foster an environment of trust. For some, this trust came easily, for others it was hard fought and won with time and a proven record. Regardless of which organization you represent, those that look to you as a leader must trust you. If they do not, you will fail as a leader, if they do there is no limit to the possibilities of success.

The problem? The realities of our culture and the many examples of broken trust place the leader in a position where distrust is the norm. For this reason, the leader must make building trust a priority. Trust must be built at all levels to succeed. Allow me to explain.

A man or woman of character builds trust at all levels; those below them, equal to them, and those above. This 360-degree approach comes naturally when one possesses integrity and has the character to respect and honor others.

That mandate to be a 360-degree leader is difficult in Law Enforcement. While it is easy to earn the trust of our superiors and colleagues, it is extremely difficult to earn the trust of the people we serve. While difficult, it is not impossible.

Each of us has a responsibility to earn the trust of others in three specific areas.

First, we must build Interpersonal Trust. Interpersonal trust is built when we keep our word and when our communication with others is civil, respectful and wise. Interpersonal trust is the foot in the door to the development of comprehensive trust. Without it, the other two trust areas are meaningless.

The second area of trust is one of Action or Application. Those we deal with must trust us to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances. This is most important, especially in our field. We need the trust that we have each other’s back. We must know that one can be counted on when things get crazy. Trust of Action gives others the security that we care for their well-being and frees them to care for ours.

The third and final area of trust is Trust in Competency. This third area of trust brings with it a well-rounded relational trust to all parties. It is one thing to know you can trust an individual and their word. A new depth of trust is gained when you can rely on both their word and their deed. Comprehensive trust happens when you can trust their word, their deed, and their competency to accomplish what they set out to do. Competency instills trust. It is the capstone of the trio of trust.

While this triple trust relation is applicable to business, family and any aspect of life, it is clearly brought to reality with the following law enforcement example.

You have served for years with a fellow deputy that affirms that they will always be there for you. They have always kept their word, affirmed you on the job and encouraged you with their words. You have interpersonal trust! Eventually, you find yourself on the same shift and you roll to the same call. You enter a building with limited visibility, guns drawn, tactical light on, and he or she is right there at your side. You now have Trust of Action and the trust relationship deepens. Finally, the events of the night go south, you take fire. Your partner returns fire, as do you. His or her aim is impeccable and both of you get to go home tonight. You have Trust of Competency!

No matter how you apply trust, no matter the situation, all three areas are necessary to truly be a trustworthy partner. On the street, in the workplace, or most importantly in the home, you must work on trust.

I recently spoke with a newly married couple and grew in my respect for the husband. She had been married before and I admired them both as I heard the wife say: “He tells me he loves me all the time, and he shows me as well. He does the nicest things for me. He lets me see his love for me. Not only that, he has the ability to love. My first husband, though I think he tried, did not have the ability to love anyone but himself.

I saw it immediately: Interpersonal Trust, Trust of Action and Trust of Competency, a truly healthy relationship.

For the LORD God is my shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD, blessed is the man that trusts in you. (Psalms 84:11-12)

Epic Leader Fail!

Stop Doing the Work and Get the Work Done.

Many years ago, early in my leadership experience, I employed an admin named Janet*. Janet was a godly senior with the most remarkable spirit to help. She tried to do everything I asked, and her questions fell from her lips as water from Niagara falls. She was a saint. She just wasn’t very detail oriented, timely or efficient.

Whose fault was that? Mine.

It was a Wednesday, and being the terrific leader that I thought I was, I decided that rather than do the task myself, I would entrust it to Janet. At the same time, I knew that the task would take a couple of hours and that I would have to patiently wait for it. I also knew that the job would not be the quality that I expected or would have achieved myself. I waited…

By the next morning, Janet was still working on the project. Eight payable hours later and she was not yet finished. In my frustration, I took the project away from her and had it finished 25 minutes later to a much higher degree of quality. What a loser! Me, not her.

Here’s what I accomplished that day.

Project finished to a high degree of excellence (and in 1/18th of the time)!
One devastated admin that paid the price of a lower self-worth.
A missed opportunity to allow another to grow in skill and self-confidence.
One upset boss with a “See what I can do!” attitude that was displeasing to God. And…
A perpetual cycle of repeating that monthly task myself, 25 minutes of my time, every month, for eternity.
Epic. Leader. Fail… Lesson learned? Oh Yeah!

I would love to be able to take back those early years and decisions. However, in a way, I am grateful to look back upon them knowing that I have grown. One key element of a transformational leader is their ability to inspire and uplift, not tear down and destroy. The task-master can build an organization, but a leader can build community with a purpose.

About Inspiring Others…

You really do not need to look very hard to see the God-given gifts in other people. As their leader, a word from you—affirming their gift—will do more to motivate them to pursue it than perhaps any other worldly encouragement. Be observant, and when you see it, capitalize on it.

“Hey, Jonathan! I was watching you the other day, and I need to say… you have a unique ability for organization.”

Leave it at that. Let the compliment do the rest. Remember, it is about building up the individual, not manipulating them so that they will work for you. The first will bear fruit, the second is unethical.

If we are not first-and-foremost about building people, we will find ourselves far less the leaders than we otherwise would be.

Give them a model in your leadership that they can reproduce for others.

*name changed

Time Management

Inspired by Charles Hummel, Stephen Covey and Roger and Rebecca Merrill gave us a wonderful tool to deal with time management issues and I would like to share a very quick breakdown with you. This simple time grid has proven very useful in my own leadership journey and I am sure you will find the same value if you put it into practice.

If you take important actions and you cross it on a grid with urgent actions you get four quadrants that can help you define, and improve your use of time. Allow me to quickly break down each of those quadrants for you.

Quadrant 1 is where the required action is Urgent and the outcomes are important. This is the quadrant of Crisis because it is here where immediacy rules the day. In this quadrant decisions are important and you need to proceed carefully because your time is restricted in the Urgent. If there is a quadrant in which decisions can go really bad, this is it. If you find you are always working in this quadrant, you need to do everything you can to find margin in your schedule.

Quadrant 2 is where the required timeframe for action is not urgent but the outcomes are important. This is called the quadrant of Quality because it’s within this framework that a leader can truly excel. In this quadrant, those important decisions come with the time required for data gathering, theorizing, testing, and then implementation. This is where the five-star leader operates.

Quadrant 3 is where the action is urgent but the outcomes are not important to the forward progress of the organization or project. This is called the quadrant of Deception. Why deception? Because it is very easy to fall into the trap of working on urgent things that are not important to the future of your organization. The deception enters in because you are busy, and everyone sees you as busy and hard working. You begin to believe that you are doing well. The problem… you are busy doing nothing that matters. You have decieved yourself.

Quadrant 4 is where the action is not urgent and the outcomes are not important. This is the quadrant of Waste. I like to call it the quadrant of Casual Waste. Why? Because just like Quadrant 3, it is absolutely detrimental for a leader to be working in this quadrant. It’s Casual because it can sneak up on you… and it kills an organization if its people are working here on a regular basis.

In 1994 when Covey and the Merrills established these quadrants they estimated that 2-3% of all workers time was spent in this quadrant. However, with the popularity of social media today, many have speculated that this has increased to as much as 20 or 25% of man-hours being spent in this quadrant. Imagine that. Imagine the cost to business in lost productivity.

So, how do you get a grip on your time? Let me start with where you need to be. You need to work in Quadrant 2, Quality…

There are two simple ways to get there.

First. Take the time to review your daily activities. List them all. Determine what is important and what is frivolous. Those frivolous things have you working in either Quadrant 3 or 4 and by their elimination, you will automatically rise toward the quadrant of Quality. Decide you will no longer do frivolous stuff!

Second… Avoid procrastination… If you procrastinate, items in Quadrant 2 (Quality) make their move to Quadrant 1 (Crisis) forcing you to work in urgency which always minimizes strategic thought.

Giving yourself sufficient time to make the important decisions will move those decisions back into Quadrant 1, the quadrant of Quality.

Remember, true leadership is found in problem-solving and decision making, neither of which are found in the Urgent, or the frivolous.

Here is the video I created for this post.

The Davenport

The Historic Davenport Hotel was one of the most opulent, incredible hotels in the world. When it opened in 1914 it hosted and entertained presidents, Hollywood A-listers and the business elite. But in 1985 it had fallen into disrepair and the last guess left and the doors were closed. The grand Davenport went dark.

Losing relevance is the death of any organization, especially the Church. One day the demographics shift, the Gospel wanes, or the leaders fail to pursue the spiritual needs of their people. Or worse yet, the leaders fail to realize that everything has changed around them… and soon, the doors close.

But all is not lost.

In 2000 a great restoration of this Historic Davenport Hotel began. The heart and soul of the building, the plumbing, electrical, and all the inner workings needed to be ripped out and replaced, but, the beauty that was found there, like the ornate hand gilded beams, the statuary, the furniture and ceilings had to be painstakingly and tenderly, restored.

Knowing what to rip out and what to painstakingly restore is the key to organizational restoration and it’s sometimes an art, not a science.

What a huge lesson for the Replanting Church Planter to learn. To rebirth a church, you literally may have to rip out and replace the antiquated systems that allowed it to die, Opening it up and examining the inner structures is just the first step. As the leader, you must do so without harming the beauty of what was once there. Remember, there was once excellence in her DNA. Find it. Then, painstakingly restore the hidden greatness of what the organization once was.

If you can restore the beauty of what once was, and modernize the systems without changing the gospel message, your Replant can once again be grand and more importantly God Pleasing.

Here’s a quick video I shot in the second-floor showcase of the Historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane Washington.

THE VIDEO

Maturity

I have been listening to a lecture series on Developmental Psychology by Dr. Ray Parker which outlines Maturity with the following six indicators. These may be useful to you in your next lecture, in counseling, or simply to help you understand your people better.

• 1 • Maturity bases action on a long-range basis. Immaturity seeks the immediate. We see this in sexual, narcotic, and personality addictions. The mature individual sees beyond the instant gratification to both the long range stability and the consequences should they immediately gratify.

• 2 • Maturity seeks things as they are, accepting the reality of the present. Immaturity seeks to escape reality rather than deal with the present. The mature understands that growth comes from trials. Those who seek to escape difficulty will never mature.

• 3 • Maturity faces the responsibility of actions and lives up to it. Immaturity seeks to blame others and shirk responsibility. This facing of responsibility has a two-fold effect: Maturing the individual and warning them of future similar actions.

• 4 • Maturity accepts the authority of others. Immaturity seeks unearned authority or to undermine or discount current authoritative persons. Everyone is under an authority and the recognition of the wisdom of others and their position “above us” leads to opportunities for growth and learning.

• 5 • Maturity has a proper knowledge and acceptance of self. Immaturity formulates inflated or unrealistic ideas of self. The mature can realistically determine, with some accuracy, their strengths and weaknesses. The immature will inflate their position, their abilities, or their accomplishments, tending to exaggerate. The immature may also run the opposite path as they see themselves as far less than what they are. Their perception of self is one of worthlessness, inability, and useless.

• 6 • Maturity has the ability to love even when that love is not returned. Immaturity will seek return. The mature loves others because of the love and satisfaction they have in themselves. The immature seeks identity through reciprocation. This reciprocation is foundational to the individual’s self-worth and when not received has a detrimental effect on the emotional and spiritual state of the individual.

Fluent Leadership

Leadership is a language. It is entirely about communication. To be fluent in a language is to be able to communicate effectively as a natural process, convey to others the intent of your words, and enabling the hearer to create action. The bad news is that many who are leaders have not yet acquired the fluency required to precisely convey their desires. This frustrates the direct report and hinders forward progression in the organization. The good news is that fluency can be obtained through practice and saturation.

Think about how a child learns. She surrounds herself with those who know more than she does and mimics their actions. When she sees how one does a specific task, she tries to mimic the action that accomplished it. Though her arms may not have the dexterity or agility of the one she watches, she tries none-the-less. When the parent speaks, though she does not completely understand what is being said, she tries to make the same noises as the parent. Eventually, she will acquire both the physical dexterity and the verbal articulation that she needs to become an articulate woman of action. This takes both time and countless hours of practice.

It is the same with the leader.

If you are new to leadership, you would do well to surround yourself with those who have been in leadership for some time. The more effective the “parent” the better. Begin to mimic the actions that you see in them and apply those actions to your life and organization. Begin to listen to their speech, their vocabulary, and mimic it. It may seem unusual at first, but that is how we learn. Before you know it, you will begin to see that you have become fluent in the language and proactivity of leadership. You will realize that over time you have become a bit of what you have mimicked. Isn’t that how it is with the Christian life? We mimic Christ as we become Christlike. Should it not be the same with leadership?

Perhaps you have been a leader for some time. If so, I have a question for you. Who is mimicking you? Are you mentoring another? Are you equipping the next generation of leader? Regardless of where you are at in your personal leadership journey, remember to surround yourself with godly examples of what you would like to become. Before you know it, what you saw in another someone else will see in you.

A Higher View

Work “on” the system, not “in” the system.

The role of leader requires a certain way of thinking about everyday tasks. You may need to shift. Consider how you can step back from the to-do list and oversee the progress of your organization as a system to be managed. We struggle with so many things to do that it is easy to throw our hands in the air and give up. However, with a little strategic thought we can streamline.

You have a work flow. How organized it is depends on you. I want you to imagine yourself at your desk. If it is anything like mine we could say it’s “un-neatly organized.” Now that you are picturing it, imagine all the related tasks that are on it’s surface. The thirty-fifth paper in pile number two is related to the twenty-fourth paper in pile five. It has gotten this way due to neglect. Day to day, you take the top paper, work on it, put it somewhere else, or you throw it in the trash. You are in the system…

Quote1 working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically    Quote2

Now, imagine that you had perfect clarity. You are now standing over your desk (not sitting at it) and because you can see the big picture you can see how each paper corresponds to other papers and you begin to group them with all other relevant papers. You begin to see “mobilizations” instead of a to-do list. You realize that if you put the tenth paper in pile two together with the third paper in pile four and the fifth in pile five, you can take care of all of them with one action. You are now working ON the system…

As long as you are working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically, or give ownership of anything to anyone. It is faster to do the task than to teach (or allow) someone else to do it. However, if the related and relevant items are grouped, and a mobilization is build around it, you can give ownership of something much bigger than a task, and relieve yourself of the minutiae of having to perform every task yourself. As a collective whole, those tasks can become a strategic mobilization which results in the training of your direct reports and greater efficiency for the organization.

As a leader, your people need you to show them where they are headed and how they will get there. Inspire them with the big picture. Reward them for every step towards that end. Celebrate when each victory is achieved and inspire confidence in their abilities. You know that they are going to make mistakes. You also know that – initially – the tasks will get completed to a lesser level of excellence than it would had you completed the task on your own. However, to follow your same patterns will lead you into a trap. You do not have the option to work in the system and direct it from above. If you desire change in your organization, but refuse to let go of the lesser things, then step aside and let another lead. Remember, a leader rejoices more over a mistake made with effort than with inactivity perfectly executed.

PRACTICUM: Take a moment to think about repetative things that you do, the no-brainers. Now think about how often you do them. Add up the time on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis. Take one of those tasks, and hand them off to someone this week. Expect less than perfection and be willing to wait for the standard to rise.
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I Hope You Fail!

I hope you fail.

Not because I dislike you. Not because I want to be seen as better than you. I simply want you to fail, and fail regularly. Believe it or not, failure is the number one indicator of success. Counterintuitive? You bet… but listen to this.

Successful people fail far more often than unsuccessful people

The reality of failure is inevitable. How you handle it will determine how successful you will be in life. If you allow failure to defeat you and undermine your sense of wellbeing you will probably never—truly—succeed. On the other hand, if you understand that failure is THE pathway to success you will use the rubble of each disaster to build a causeway to greatness.

The key is to train yourself to take Decisive, Specific and Immediate action upon failure. In other words; “Get up and try it again,” or “Try something different.” Those who slump back in disappointment or pity find those emotions to be enslaving.

So let me amend my first statement and say:

I want you to fail, but I want you to fail fast.

Last Note: Don’t keep going when you know failure is imminent. Don’t fall pray to the concerns of what others will say, think, do. Continuing on will result in a bigger mess to clean. Own it. Take pride in it. Start over, try it again, do something different… blow it up if you have to…

Fail until you succeed.