I was recently asked to provide 3-5 “Things You Should Know” on the topic of “Leadership: Vision, Mission, Values & Strategic Planning” for our industry’s trade magazine. Below is what I provided. Let me know if you have something to add.
Leadership and strategic thinking isn’t about having all the answers, it’s, at the core, asking the right questions and then leading a team or organization to discover the best answers. And these answers are critical because it’s around them that a leader builds unity, community, focus and ultimately success.
The following six groups of questions are the most foundational and strategic questions a leader can ask and then help their team or organization answer:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is typically expressed in a purpose or mission statement.
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? The answer to these questions is stated as an organization’s core values.
- What do we believe to be true? What is it about the world we’re most sure of? What’s true even though we may not like it? The answer to these questions is typically written in a statement of faith or a confession.
- What do we want to become? When we look into the future who and what kind of team or organization do we want to be? What are the kinds of things we’d want others to say about us? Answering these questions will lead to creating a shared vision of your future.
- What do we want to accomplish? 5, 10, 20 years from now, when we look back, how will we know we’ve been successful? What will be the key indicator that we faithfully fulfilled our mission and vision? A Big Hairy Audacious God Goal (BHAGG) answers these questions.
- What makes us distinct? What are the defining characteristics that make us stand out from other similar organizations? How do those outside our organization or team describe the work we do or service we provide? When you answer these questions you’ve articulated your brand promise (in organizations with a Christian mission – it’s often called a philosophy of ministry).
So a leader’s first task is to ask these foundational questions then second, lead their teams to discovering the answers. When these first two tasks are accomplished the leader’s job isn’t finished. The final, unending task of the leader is to teach, remind, highlight, reinforce, and be the biggest communicator and cheerleader of these answers to every stakeholder of the organization. This is the primary task of the leader and one that needs to happen every day, all the time; it’s what makes a leader a leader, and one that makes organizations great.
The Candy Cane Team and staff from a local school
Imagine for a moment a company holiday party that wasn’t focused exclusively on food, drinks, and loud Christmas sweaters, but instead had a deeper purpose. A party where the company’s core values were not left at the door step but were integrated into the party itself. Where the meaning and the true Spirit of Christmas were center stage. And instead of an event that most people dreaded, it was a party that employees looked forward to because they knew lives would be transformed – theirs and others.
Now that sounds like a company Christmas party worth attending. So the question is – what might such a party look like?
Well, I can tell you because this past Friday I had the opportunity, as a guest, to attend one. It was the Flexware Innovations (Indianapolis, IN) annual Giving Challenge Christmas party. And it was the most fun and deeply touching company Christmas party I’ve ever attended. It had all the traditional ingredients for a great party – an excellent meal, gracious and talented people, but with an added bonus – a larger purpose.
So here’s how this party worked. The company was divided into 6 teams of 5 or 6 employees plus one non-profit leader (there were six local organizations from the Indianapolis area represented, and I was fortunate to be on the Candy Cane team). We started the day sitting with our teams enjoying an incredible lunch at a fabulous restaurant during with we heard a brief overview of each non profit organization by their leader.
Then the fun began.
Each team was given $1000 in cash with the mission to give it away to anyone who would be blessed by a gift before 4:00 that day. There were no rules just a couple of suggestions – we were encouraged to make a gift in person and to an individual or family who would be especially blessed by it. From there each team had to identify potential opportunities (that’s where the non profit leaders came into play), develop a game plan to meet those needs and then make it happen. Each team was provided a small charter bus with a driver to get us where we needed to go.
Then over the next 3 or so hours $6000 was distributed as cash or purchased gifts to dozens of people, some in deep need, others simply to bless. For example our team helped a local middle school class complete it’s shopping list of items for a local family of 10 they adopted for this Christmas season. We visited a grocery store in the city and bought the groceries of two families (which was very fun). Finally, we were able to help a single mom who wanted to take her kids to visit family out of state for Christmas but didn’t have the resources to do it.
With each gift two things happened – those who received these gifts were blessed (maybe in ways we’ll never see), and those who distributed these gifts (Flexware employees) saw the power of generosity and the difference it can make in the lives of others.
For me personally, after the past fast and furious 6 months at SpringHill, this was the perfect way to end my work year, to see core values lived out, to be with people making a difference, to see a single mom cry with incredible joy to an answered prayer, to be reminded that God most often choses to help people through other people and to be used by God in this way is the greatest blessing of all.
In my last post we discussed the need to courageously face the brutal facts and resist the temptation to “bend the map”. So, for leaders, the obvious follow-up question’s are:
- Where do we find this courage?
- What’s the solid foundation we can plant our feet on?
- Where do we find the confidence that, regardless of the outcome of our decisions, we can rest knowing we made them based on strong values and clear convictions?
It’s in this last question that we find the foundation to having the courage to make those tough decisions. We need to seek, find and articulate both our personal and our organizational values and beliefs. So to that end, let’s take a brief look at both core values and beliefs and the critical role each play in making tough decisions.
Core values answer the question – what’s most important? What are the things we’re willing to work and sacrifice for, and never compromise on? What’s so important that we’ll defend these values even if it causes great pain and loss? Think of the great price paid by the men and women of our military to defend our nation’s core values of liberty and freedom. Core values, when used in decision-making, provide a guide on what we’re willing to do and not to do.
The second half of our foundation for courage is knowing our core beliefs. Core beliefs answer the question – what do we believe to be true? They’re different from core values because they’re found outside of ourselves or our organization not from within. Though they’re similar to core values, because when they’re core we’re willing to defend, sacrifice, and suffer pain and loss because of them. However we must remember that core beliefs are true regardless of whether everyone values or believes them. Articulating core beliefs is an act of acknowledging the reality in which we live and work and gives us a solid foundation to face and make difficult decisions. It keeps us from “bending the map” and helps assure we’re making decisions that match up with the realities of the world.
So as leaders we have the dual responsibility of knowing and articulating both our personal as well as our organization’s core values and beliefs. They provide us the foundation for the courage we need to make tough decisions, the peace of mind we seek during difficult times and the guard rails to keep us on track.
If you’ve never articulated your personal and your team’s core values and belief’s I encourage you to begin the process as soon as possible. Taking time before the new year begins will help you and your leadership prepare for the inevitable tough decisions that will come your way in 2016.
I’m not big on job titles. To me they’re an organizational necessary evil. But sometimes getting a job title or classification right is important because they often communicate very powerful messages.
Since SpringHill’s first summer in 1969, the people we hired to work with kids and assist in running summer camp were simply called summer staff. It’s a practical title since these people joined our staff team and worked for the summer. But the issue is, like so many titles in the world, it doesn’t do justice to the actual work these people do. It doesn’t come close to communicating the critical roles, responsibilities and impact these people have on the lives of literally 10,000’s of young people every summer.
These important team members provide the moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day leadership required to provide campers with safe, exciting, memorable and life transforming experiences. Every person on our summer team leads. They may lead a group of campers or lead their peers or lead exciting activities and thoughtful programs, but every one of them leads. And every one of them also leads in the most powerful way a person can lead – through their example, by living in a way that when young people see them, they see Christ.
As you can see this job has significantly more responsibility than the title summer staff implies. The people who have these jobs are more than just staff, they are leaders, all 1200 of them.
So, in light of this reality, during summer staff training (in the future to be called leader training) I announced that we would no longer refer to them as summer staff, but instead, from this point forward they would be known as summer leaders. It’s a title that is worthy of the work these committed people do.
When we interact with big, successful organizations we expect professional interactions and excellent products and services. It’s the same expectation for any large organization whether it business, educational institution, church or other not-for-profit organization.
On the other hand, when working with smaller organizations, we expect personal attention and friendliness. We may cut the organization some slack when it comes to quality products and services because we’re willing to exchange them for personal attention and friendliness.
This was the idea my good friend and SpringHill ally, Mark Beeson, was sharing with me recently.
Mark’s thesis is – if a small organization wants to exceed expectations it needs to provide excellence in its products and services while never losing that personal touch people expect. But if larger organizations like his church, Granger Community Church, or SpringHill, want to exceed expectations then they must provide, as Marked called it, unexpected goodness and kindness. In other words, treat people like a smaller organization would.
So what does unexpected goodness and kindness look like for larger organizations? It’s…
- Providing personal touch and the extra friendliness
- Creating a sense of belonging to the people being lead and served
- Making people feel like an individual and not a number or a statistic
- Simply knowing and remembering people’s names
- Taking care of an issue or request personally and promptly
- Sending hand written notes
- Returning phone calls, emails and text messages like you would your dearest friends (or your mom)
- All levels of leadership being approachable, accessible and authentic with the people they serve and lead
- Providing as much attention to individual people as to tasks, projects, programs, facilities, etc.
In other words, unexpected goodness and kindness is what small organizations find so easy and natural to do but bigger organizations find hard to achieve.
Which leads to the question Mark and I pondered – can organizations like SpringHill and Granger Community Church interact with people with goodness and kindness like smaller organizations?
Both Mark and I answered that question with a resounding yes, if we’re intentional, focused and prepared. As I thought more about this question I realized that for SpringHill this discussion isn’t just theoretical, it’s literally our integrity, of living consistently with one of our core values – to exceed expectations.
You see when we articulated this core value over 20 years ago SpringHill wasn’t nearly as big. To exceed expectations then meant to provide an outstanding experience and service. Today, people expect outstanding experiences and service from SpringHill. But if we’re to live out this value today, it most certainly means providing on a regular and intentional basis, authentic and unexpected goodness and kindness to all we serve and lead. This needs to be our goal; it has to be our focus, it needs to be our reality, if we’re to have integrity as an organization.
So I’m once again thankful for my annual walk around SpringHill with Mark Beeson, because the best way to learn a new concept is to experience it firsthand. This I did in my time with Mark, and both I and SpringHill have benefited from his authentic and unexpected goodness and kindness.
Do you want to assure your team accomplishes a goal, task or project? Then there’s five steps, as a leader, you must take to increase the odds of your team being successful. By the way, in the spirit of transparency, I write these as much as reminders to myself as I do to be helpful to you.
Put the goal, task or project clearly and concisely in writing – writing down a goal, task or project with the accompanying plan gives it a sense of permanency and significance. Making it clear includes defining success so your team knows when it has won. Also outline the steps and resources needed to win. Make sure it’s concisely written because by doing so it will make it more memorable.
Measure and track progress on a regular basis – How often you measure and track your progress depends on duration of the goal or project. The shorter the horizon the more frequent you must measure and track. The farther out the horizon is the less frequently you need to measure and track progress. But no matter the horizon, don’t ever believe you can stop or avoid regular tracking and measurements. If you do, your team will soon flounder. The depth of your measuring and tracking will also depend on the track record of your team.
Provide consistent and regular feedback – If you’re appropriately consistent in measuring and tracking then you’ll be in the right place and posture to provide timely and helpful feedback. Feedback includes recognizing the good progress and providing correction if necessary.
Stay with it till it’s accomplished and finished – Doing these five steps requires discipline on your part as a leader. If you lose sight of a goal, task or project eventually our team will as well. What you chose to focus on will be what your team focuses on, and what you chose not to focus on (or lose focus on) will eventually be what your team choses not to focus on as well.
- Celebrate – By doing these first four steps you will increase your team’s chances for success. This last step increases your team’s chances of success on the next project, task or goal. So celebrate, thank, reward, and affirm the good work your team does and they’ll be ready for the next challenge that comes their way.
Over the years, it seems, the holiday season has become the shopping season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday matching Thanksgiving for our attention. But recently there has been a movement to bring our collective attention back to the holidays and more importantly to the spirit of season – thanksgiving, celebration and especially giving.
Following the shopping feast that is Thanksgiving weekend, Tuesday has officially become Giving Tuesday. It’s a day set aside for people around the world to give back, to contribute to those people and not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve others and better the world. Giving Tuesday builds on and expands the Christmas tradition of giving gifts to friends and family by encouraging us to give gifts which benefit people we may not know.
Now if you’re convinced that Giving Tuesday represents the right focus of our holiday season let me encourage you to donate to your favorite not-for-profit or ministry. If you’re not sure where you should give let me give you two places your gift will benefit kids. First, is the ministry I work for – SpringHill (click here) and the second, the Christian Camp and Conference Association’s Corner of the Fields camper scholarship fund (click here). By supporting organizations that work with kids you’re helping to build their future and the future of our world.
So please consider expanding the Thanksgiving weekend one more day beyond Cyber Monday and make Giving Tuesday a new tradition in your family.
I don’t like lots of policies and rules, especially when they’re detailed, specific and inflexible. They’re like rocks. A few provide healthy boundaries, too many will weigh a leader and an organization down. Unfortunately people who struggle leading others will revert to policy and rules to do their leading. But policies and rules can’t truly lead; only people can. So when leaders rely on them to do their job, they’ll find that these rocks will cause a growing distance between actual and potential performance (or what I call the Performance Gap).
You see policies and rules are for managing not for leading. And, as I often tell my team, you manage things (time, money, etc.) but you lead people. Managing people instead of leading them will cause them to feel like a resource, tool or a cog in a machine, instead as a unique and gifted human being, capable of making a tremendous impact in the world for good. Being treated as a cog will result in uninspired and low committed people – again leading to that dreaded Performance Gap.
Often policies and rules come into existence because of one bad situation or one bad person. Instead of addressing the situation there’s a policy written with the belief it’ll help assure that the situation doesn’t happen again. unfortunately what the leader is really doing is adding one more rock to the backs of the talented and committed people who didn’t need nor deserve the policy in the first place. Again this pushes open the organization’s Performance Gap.
On the other hand, where there’s good leadership, there’ll be talented and committed people who are clear on the organizations values, mission and goals, and the roles they play in helping achieve those goals. This combination of commitment, talent and clarity puts people in the place to make the right decisions at the right time without requiring the answers to be spelled out in black and white. Lots of policies and rules are for rulers not for leaders and great organizations need great leaders, not managers, so that there’s never a Performance Gap.
As Denise and I walked through a building on the Yard, we saw the words, “Excellence without Arrogance“, predominately displayed. As many of you know our third child, Mitch, entered the United States Naval Academy this summer as a freshman, or as they’re known as – Plebes, and where the campus is referred to as the Yard. When I read this maxim, six weeks into Mitch’s Plebe summer (basic training), I knew immediately it wasn’t just a pithy saying that someone painted on the wall but was a value that my son, as well as the other 1200 Plebes, learned during their training.
How do I know this?
First, the people affiliated with the USNA that Denise and I met, be it Naval and Marine officers, upperclassmen, facility and support staff, all demonstrated this incredible balance of excellence and humility. They were both gracious, friendly and helpful as well as they oozed with professionalism, commitment and excellence.
Secondly, when we were with Mitch that weekend, we saw change in him. He was no longer the same person we dropped off on Induction day. His sister, Christina, describe it best when she said “Mitch seems more confident and less arrogant.” An interesting play on words but an accurate description of this important Navy value, Excellence without Arrogance, becoming a reality in a future officer.
So here’s what we, as leaders, need to grapple with – a value of an organization or individual is not core just because it’s written on a wall, a card or in a website. It can only be core if it is so deeply embedded that it oozes out in such a visible and tangible way that others outside the organization can see, experience and name the value without ever reading the website.
The day will come when I will no longer be the President of SpringHill. It’s one of the few things in life I’m 100% sure of. I may not know the circumstances surrounding that last day – when it’ll be or by whose choice will it come – mine, the board’s or God’s. But not knowing these things doesn’t impact what I do know for sure – one day I will no longer be in this job. So there’s no excuse for not doing my part to make sure SpringHill is ready for that inevitable day.
Up to this point I always believed my responsibility was to inform our board of a handful of viable replacements, either on staff or within the SpringHill community, that were available just in case I got hit by a truck.
But my understanding of this responsibility has changed. Recently I talked with a leader I deeply respect about his perspective on preparing for that certain day. What he told me turned my understanding of my responsibility upside down.
He said his job isn’t to replace himself but to multiply himself.
As I’ve reflected on his words I realized he’s right – leaders never invest for a one to one return, they invest for a compounding yield, to see their efforts multiply.
- impacts the effectiveness of an organization today; replacement only matters in the future
- aligns with growth, replacement with maintenance
- is a sign of health; replacement is a sign of sickness and death
So my assignment is now clear – work every day to multiply myself as a leader, by developing and raising up new and future leaders who can help lead SpringHill today. If I do this then SpringHill, as a natural consequence, will also be prepared for that inevitable day – when I’m no longer here.