Now, here is a conflicting thought… Have you considered that—for the leader—Bad News is actually Good News.
Think about it. If you are leading well, your staff has the confidence that they can bring the bad news to you as regularly as they bring the good. If however, you’re a leader that is finding out things have gone wrong… and it is too late to fix them, the breakdown is not with your people, the deficiency is with you.
Trust is the single most valuable possession that a leader has. The ability for your people to communicate problems, or forecast potential problems, is created when they trust your integrity as a leader. If they feel they can bring things to you and tap your wisdom for their solutions you will win the hearts and trust of your people. Furthermore, you will avert disaster, and increase motivation within your organization. You will also solidify your legacy as a quality leader.
If on the other hand, your people fear bringing issues to you because your normal reaction is accusatory, questioning, condemning, frustrated or angry, you have created an environment that will destroy trust and ultimately harm your organization.
Take a minute. What do your people proactively bring to you? Is the report always a good one? Do they eagerly report the negative things? Do you only “find out” about the bad after it has occurred? As you try to discover why that is… perhaps you simply need to look in the mirror.
Allow me encourage you to talk to your people. Build their trust. Let them know that you are open and that you will reward the discovery of problems and their ideas for solutions. Show them in your reaction that you will honor those words. It takes a hundred repeated mature responses to gain an individuals trust, but it only takes one immature response to destroy it.
In 2008 I was in Lima Peru with my brother Robert. We had met there to continue on to Cusco and eventually hike the famous ruins at Macchu Pichu. While in Lima, we made our way to the coastal suburb of Miraflores. We spent significant time seeing the sights and walking the famous cliff-side Larcomar shopping district that overlooks the historic La Rosa Náutica restaurant on the pier hundreds of feet below. Anyone familiar with the area knows that to the north is the beautiful Parque de Amor (Lover’s Park) and just beyond that lies one of the most spectacular views in all of Miraflores, the cliff-side park at Parapente. Standing there, in awe of the view, I had no idea that two years later I would find myself leaping from the two hundred foot high cliff on the southwestern edge of the park.
Like all cliff-side parks, this spot offers spectacular views of the ocean, the island in the distance, surfers that look like little bubbles on the water two hundred feet below, and the sky. Oh, the sky! The view of the sky here is amazing. There on the cliffs of Parapente you understand how small and how fragile you really are. In fact, the sky that you see from that place is unlike any sky you will ever see in your lifetime; It is riddled with paragliders. You see, the winds that rise from the two hundred foot cliffs can raise a paraglider to over one thousand feet without effort, making this one of the foremost paragliding spots on earth. It was amazing to watch the ease with which these daring men and women became a strange subclass of Aves. The wind would pick up these birds, and in what seemed a choreographed dance of wonder wove them, in and out, over and under one another in a ballet of spectacular color. It is a wonder to behold.
As leaders, we must remember that when we have the necessary skills to lead, from the outside our leadership can look choreographed and beautiful. Like the paraglider finding the balance in the wind, his own presence in the mix of others, and the sheer magnitude of the environment our leadership can be organized and beautiful. However, like the paraglider, if any one element fails, the ballet becomes a tragedy. Loss of wind, loss of any one other glider’s sense of presence and location, these things can change the makeup of the environment to be hostile or even deadly. Standing on that cliff, that beautiful ballet of color reminded me of how an astute leader has the ability to balance all the elements found in his or her organization and create a thing of beauty.
Fast-forward two years…
There I was, on that same cliff at Parapente, nervous yet excited as I waited for the wind to pick up so that I could paraglide for the first time. I had been here the day before, waiting. No wind, no ride. This was my last opportunity, I was leaving for home tomorrow. The wind, though the wait was excruciating, eventually cooperated.
I stood there after having paid my $35 and thought, “What on earth did I just do?” The apprehension grew a bit as they placed a helmet on my head and I told the pilot my weight. He gasped as he calculated the conversion to kilos in his head and I saw his countenance change… Not reassuring! I guess the wind was not strong enough for a 225lb., 6’-4” gringo. He hemmed, he hawed, he looked down at the $35 in his pocket and said, “Well, we can try!” … “Wait a minute… WHAT!” Clearly, he was not going to give back my $35 so that left only one option… Pray and GO!
So there I stood, fifty yards from the cliff with my pilot strapping me into a harness that is attached to the biggest kite one has ever seen. I remember looking at the cliff fifty yards in front of me, and thinking one solitary thought, “Like this helmet is going to help!” Then, he tapped me on the shoulder and yelled, “Run!” Hesitant, yet obedient, I ran toward the two hundred foot cliff hoping that the drag I was feeling was the fully inflated glider behind me. There was no way to know.
This was one of the few times in my life that a non-spiritual experience brought the diametrically opposed feelings of dread and tranquility and slammed them together in an instant. Running off that cliff, and the tightening of my harness signaled the beginning of forty-five minutes of elation, beauty, and indescribable wonderment. During that forty-five minute journey we ascended to over five hundred feet, smoothly traversed every manmade obstacle, mountain and valley within miles and above it all, the view was spectacular. There was not a hint of pre-Parapente fear. Once the final step was taken, the ride was bliss (the landing, however, was a bit less graceful).
Looking back at that experience I realize how many things could have gone wrong and I would not have known what to do. I was privileged to participate in a grand adventure that was only made possible by a highly skilled and trained pilot. As a leader, you must remember that at times your people will experience the fear of the unknown as they try to go with you on your journey. They must learn to trust your expertise and experience. As you sharpen your skill set and grow as a leader, you will instill trust in your abilities and provide excitement for the adventure. However, the trust of your people is paramount.
Had I not trusted my pilot that day I would have feared for the entire forty-five minutes of my flight. But because I trusted both his judgment and his skill set, I experienced a life changing, smooth flying adventure.
It is not appropriate, as leaders, to throw our people a helmet and strap them to our vision or action, without first earning their trust in our ability to lead. Should we attempt to do so, they will sit when we yell, “Run!”
Was there risk even though the pilot was skilled and trained? Absolutely. That is the way of leadership and that was the reason for the helmet. Not every decision is going to play out the way you anticipate that it will. Some—by luck—will gain altitude, but many of them will plummet. This fact is the reason why it is so important to constantly refine your leadership qualities. Either train and train hard or get off of the cliff!
Regardless of what you think, if they are not participating—or see your organization as an important part of their experience—then you are not relevant.
People are drawn to that which adds value to their life experience. However, people are needy and we can lose focus if all we try to do is appeal to their needs. As leaders, we must have a deeper sense of what is needed, and that can only be found in quality time under the organizational hood. Finding that balance—between what they want and what they need—is not easy. In fact, the pursuit of that balance has rocketed some organizations to the stars and destroyed others.
One of the most helpful ways to discern whether or not your organization is one of value to its members is to ask; “Who is the client?” If your organization is the client, you’ve got a mess on your hands.
The Organization as Client
With the organization as the client, difficult times are ahead. Examples of the Organizational Client might be a church that sees the member as an asset of the church and not as the church itself. It sees the member as a means to an end. The member’s value is found in their finances, their participation, and the numbers they bring to the organizational statistics. They assure that the leader gets his paycheck and that the lights remain on. Once an organization moves to this mode—one of survival and loss of identity and mission—the path is difficult to reverse. The leader can no longer chase his passion because he is chasing his pension.
Another example of this is a member association or convention that looks to its member organizations to sustain and promote the events of the association/convention. This places the association or convention in competition with the client. What member of an organization is going to participate in an event that competes with its own interests?
We have all witnessed businesses that have lowered product quality, replaced ingredients without health considerations, reduced customer service options or quality while retaining or increasing prices. When the organization is the client, something gets lost.
The Member as Client
The key to relevance is making the member the client. The majority of your mobilizations are for their benefit, not yours. Remember, “for their benefit” is much different that doing what they want so that they feel good about you. Healthy people will see value in doing what they need to do to grow, even if they do not like to do it.
From the example above, a church that loves its members and does everything it can to educate them in the truth adds value to its members. This type of church holds to their vision, speaks the truth in love, and provides the members with the necessary tools for success. This enables them to hear the message and take steps to implement what they know needs to be done in their lives.
In the member association, we must be equally careful to add value to our members. Think along these lines. A member of your organization asks you to hold an event similar to a common event that most of your members regularly do themselves, you say that you will. You have just placed the association in an awkward situation. Groups within your association are asking; “Where will the attendee’s loyalty be directed? Back to us, or to the greater association?” “Will they find more value in a sister organization than in ours?”
What we need to do as people who add value is to say; “As an association, we cannot do that. However, if you will take the lead, we will support it, drive people to it, and help you finance it.”
This will increase your relevance to the member/client, and the reports from the event will drive the value of the association. “Our association helped us with everything we needed…”
Seek the success of others, and by that act, succeed yourself. Serving the client rather than your own organization always builds value and relevance.
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)
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.
Being the extraordinary leader that you are, your mind is probably—at this very moment—buzzing with new plans, fresh direction and a clearer vision for the days ahead. However, there’s one key point that will determine how successful you will be, it is the understanding of your Current Reality.
When was the last time you thought about your current reality?
Remember the last time you went to the mall. If you are like me, the game plan—like most men—was “in the door, find the item, make the purchase, out the door.” If you are unfamiliar with the particular mall, this most likely required a brief stop at the “Directory” sign somewhere near the entrance.
So here you are at the mall, ready for action.
You quickly scan the list to find the store that is most likely to have your item and you note its location. It is 39A. Now there is one more important piece of information that you need. You know that your store is at 39A, but where are you? Fortunately, the Mall has come to your aid and a placed big red arrow that says “You are here.”
You now formulate a simple navigation strategy, You are here… 39A is there… and you are on your way.
As you are planning the future of your organization and plotting the navigational points along the way, someone needs to call attention to your big red arrow.
Many organizational leaders fail in the moving forward because they started from an unrealized starting point. They thought they were on firmer ground than they were, or in a different place. Painting the picture of your current reality is the vital first step to a changed future. Many organizations need to stay where they are—for a season—and build the systems to propel them forward before simply launching out and hoping that everything will fall into place. Launching without knowledge of the supporting infrastructure rarely ever works.
Remember, moving forward without realistic foundational knowledge adds to the frustration of declining, struggling organizations. In many cases, it is precisely that which brought them there. The resistance will be great, the people unsure, trust levels will be low and buy-in will be absent. Before you start: Review the data, get the numbers, ask the questions, look deep and then look deeper still. Once you have discovered your true current reality, and deal with any deficiencies you uncover, you can bring your organization forward with confidence.
I want to share with some thoughts that I feel draw some important points for us as we consider the effectiveness of ministry in our churches. The thoughts come after reading February’s Business Week and is called “The One-Guy Theory.”
While we cannot run our churches as we would a Fortune 500, the ideas from the article that I want you to consider are: The effectiveness of streamlining the decision making process, Empowering leaders to make decisions, and, Supporting (publicly) the decisions they make (even if they are askew).
Here are my thoughts….
First. As a church (or other organization), how long does it take to move on a need? Does it require a group (committee) to meet, debate, and eventually rule on the need? Or, is there a person who is empowered to make a decision? I believe this to be a paramount issue in today’s church. In fact, our lack of ability to take definitive action is greatly responsible for where we are today with so many plateaued and declining churches. We need to respond to the shifts in our cultural surroundings, and empower our leaders with the ability to make those shifts.
Second. I know this is hard. But, we must give ownership to people we trust. Ownership to make decisions! I used to have a very frank conversation with each of my leaders when I was a Pastor. See, I believe that disunity in the public eye is detrimental to church harmony. The conversation went something like this:
“This is your baby! I will trust you to make the decisions necessary to make this thing happen. I want you to know however, that I am here for you, as an advisor, but you have the ownership to make it happen. I want you to know that if you make a less-than-ideal decision, I will support you publicly. However, we are going to talk about it behind closed doors. You are a trusted leader so I will never undermine that trust publicly. Therefore, I expect the same in return. If you feel I have made a bad decision in the running of this church, come talk to me about it. My door is always open. For the sake of unity, let’s commit to open conversation and trust in each other’s public support.”
A leader who knows that you will support them will be both cautious in their decisions and will give you the benefit of the doubt in yours.
Finally, this One-Guy Theory requires for the Christian that even in our ownership to make CEO type decisions, it is really a Two-Guy Theory. If Father is not involved in your decision making process, than PERHAPS you should not be making any decisions at all.
A few blog posts ago, I spoke about seeing the gifts in other people and encouraging them in that gift for the sake of their own fulfillment. Furthermore, I stated that if we compliment them for our own gain, that we are being unethical and our actions will not succeed. I would like to convey an experience I had with a church member many years ago when I was pastoring a church in the Los Angeles area.
It concerned a man named Mark.
Mark was a member of our church. Like many members, he had his problems, but none so great that the Lord could not use him. I had heard that Mark played the guitar and was quite skilled. While I had occasional thoughts like; “I wonder why Mark has never tried out for the worship team?” they were simply passing thoughts.
One day, I noticed Mark during the worship time. He was solidly committed to the Lord in those moments. I could just see it. So, after the service, I stopped him as he was exiting. “Hey Mark, hang out for a second, let me finish shaking hands. I want to speak with you.”
Now I know what was going through Mark’s mind, “What did I do now?” When I finished, he came to me, “Yes pastor!?” “Mark, I just wanted to tell you that I was watching you during worship today, and you were really ‘in the zone.’” He smiled; “Thank you.” …Confused stare. “That’s it, I just wanted to tell you that watching you blessed my heart.”
I know exactly what happened next. Mark probably walked away thinking, “I don’t know what pastor saw, but if he saw it, maybe I was really a blessing to him and others, maybe God could use me.”
It wasn’t three weeks later that I heard Mark was rehearsing with the worship team. It took a man of God to catch a glimpse into the spiritual, and be willing to convey what he saw. You need to seek those glimpses into the spiritual when you are with your people. God will reveal what he wants or needs you to see.
WARNING: My experience with Mark cannot be manufactured. You cannot manufacture things to praise others for. God will reveal who and what you are to encourage with your words. You need to be sensitive and watch. People need to hear genuine, spirit-led praise from their leaders.
The people that God has entrusted you with, they look to you for Godly leadership. Here are a few things that I have found to be important:
1. People need to be asked.
2. Expectations need to be defined
3. Accomplishments need to be rewarded.
People, by their nature, desire to live up to their leader’s expectations of them. If no expectations exist, then there is nothing to motivate or challenge them to action.
Do you know what BOLO stands for? It stands for Be On The Lookout… Watch for the men and women like Mark. You will find them. Those who are deeply committed to the things that drive your organization but they have not yet found their Stream of Excellence within it.
In August 2011, the government of Iceland has taken it upon themselves to review a new constitution that was written entirely by the people. Iceland has long sought to revise and/or recreate their constitution because it was a quick rendition of Denmark’s constitution that was adapted when they broke away in 1944.
Enter the wiki-tution!
A group of twenty-five moderators set up a website to ask the people of Iceland what they wanted in their constitution. The response was formidable and while there were your crazies and extremists, the responses were for the most part on target and thoughtful, expanding the creative thoughts of politicians and pundits alike.
This example of trusting the people and seeing from a vantage point wholly different than one’s own, should be commended and revered as a stunning example of facilitative change. Who would have thought that the people—the non-professionals—should be tasked with the offerings of state procedure and defining of power? Furthermore, who would have thought they would do such a wonderful job?
The twenty five did!
They knew that people could be trusted with their own futures, that they could see beyond their own needs to the good of the society.
As leaders, we should remember the following:
-Our people can see what we sometimes do not.
-Our people possess transformational ideas that we need.
-Our people can be trusted with high value responsibilities.
Here is the web site if you are interested:
Picking the right people is a tricky proposition. Many of us have handed the torch to another only to find it is a “beat stick” in their hands. Bringing harmony to a team that has been destroyed by a less-than-capable leader whom you appointed is far more difficult than getting the choice right in the first place.
Even the ancients understood this. This interesting quote comes from Onasander, a Greek philosopher from the first century A.D., and shows that even 2000 years ago men wrestled with these very issues.
“Most men are distressed when placed under the command of ignoble individuals. For no one voluntarily puts up with submitting to a master or a leader who is inferior to himself.” (Onasander, The General 1.17)
Many leaders, given such an experience, will digress back to leading followers instead of seeking a new capable leader to assist in leading the organization. Stop! You need people whom you trust to help you carry the load of transformational change. You can be a mentor. Taking time and investing in another has huge benefits for the future. The time invested in another capable leader will multiply your abilities to lead.
If mentoring sounds like a great idea, you still have to decide whether it’s right for you. The questions below should serve as a wake-up call as to your ability to lead other leaders as opposed to followers.
Do you get excited at the idea of sharing the knowledge and experience that has been given to you, or do you feel that you are incapable of imparting anything of value to another?
Do you enjoy encouraging and motivating people toward a goal and rejoice with them when it is accomplished, or do you make every effort to take the glory?
Are you comfortable challenging people to be better even if you know it may cause them discomfort, or would you rather accept sub-standard work and internalize your discontent?
Do you want to contribute to other people’s growth and success, or do you see it as a threat to your value in the organization?
Can you faithfully invest your time in mentoring your leaders, or are you so absorbed in meaningless tasks that you cannot give anything to anyone without feeling like you are falling behind?
Do you feel that building a leader is the most important focus of your efforts, or do you feel the daily tasks you accomplish are greater organizational contributions?
Can you visualize the future leader that you would like to mentor? Can you describe their qualities and their talents, or are you one that grows frustrated because you grab any warm body that seems willing?
I hope that these questions, coupled with the understanding of the importance of building leaders, helps you make the next positive step toward transformational change in your organization’s culture. Perhaps they will serve as a mirror that reflects the deficiency of your leadership. Regardless of whether this motivates, or infuriates, you are faced with your introspection and that’s a good thing. Knowledge truly is power.