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.
Where do you turn when the day runs off the tracks, the meeting you’ve prepared so hard for goes badly, or you’re in the middle of that part of your job you dislike the most? What do you do when you’re fatigued, worn thin, burned out with your work, with your life? How do you get back that energy you used to have, the joy that filled your work, the motivation to fight through any obstacle?
There’s really only one place to turn, one thing you need – to know, believe and wrap your whole being around your purpose. Your purpose answers the question – why am I here? It’s the reason you do your job, the reminder of the impact you have, the difference you and your work make, and the outcomes you strive so hard for. It’s the reason behind what you do and why you do it.
If you keep your purpose at the forefront of your mind, it provides the energy, joy and motivation to keep at your work, to fight through the challenges and boredom. Once you lose your sense of purpose or worse, you work and live outside the scope of your purpose, your energy, joy and motivation will soon slip away.
So what exactly is purpose? It’s the goals you have, but it’s more than numbers or accomplishments. It’s the direction you want to go, but it’s beyond your destination. Purpose goes deeper, wider and higher. Purpose is the ultimate end you are seeking for your work, for you self, and for those you wish to impact. It’s who God’s called you to be and the good work He’s prepared for you to do.
So how do you discover your purpose? You discover it when you clearly understand your highest values, acknowledge your gifts, abilities and life experiences, and know the opportunities you have to make a difference in the lives of others and in the world. The confluence of knowing yourself and the world you live in is where you discover your purpose.
So over the next few posts we’ll take a deeper look at the steps you can take to discover your purpose. My goal is to help you find new inspiration to do your work or, if necessary, find the kind of work that better aligns with your purpose.
There once was a horse who lived on a farm with other farm animals. There were two goats, three sheep, a pig, a handful of chickens, and a milk cow. Each of these animals were an important part of the farm family’s, the MacDonald’s, livelihood, providing food and other products for use and trade. Now, as most people know, horses are the smartest of all the farm animals and this horse was no exception. As a matter of fact, she was smarter than the average horse, having the ability to look at a situation and finding a solution to address it.
Now a situation did arise that required all the intelligence the horse could muster – the entire MacDonald family fell ill of a contagious disease and was unable to care for the farm and its animals. Eggs needed to be collected, the pig fed, the cow and goats milked, the sheep sheared, the barn yard cleaned, and the fences mended but the family was incapable of doing any of it. So the horse began to devise a plan to help the MacDonald’s by taking care of the farm. But it soon became clear that as smart as the horse was, she could not devise a plan that assured all the farm chores were done in a timely and orderly manner.
As the hours then days began to slip by the situation became dire. The farm was becoming chaotic and, as anyone who has spent time on a farm knows, chaos is the last word that should describe a farm. Finally, in desperation, the horse began to do the farm work herself. She tried to collect the hens eggs but found she to often dropped them or simply broke them in her teeth. She attempted to feed the pig but couldn’t stomach the smell of the mush. She even tried to milk the cow and the goats but got kicked because her hoofs hurt the utters too much. Instead of helping the MacDonald’s, the horse was making the situation worse. It seemed the more she tried to do herself the worse the farm became. She was desperate to help but didn’t know what to do.
Then when things were at their lowest point, the pig came to the horse and said, “I know you want to help the MacDonald’s but so do I and so do all the other farm animals. If for no other reason than to make sure there are no more broken eggs rotting in the barnyard, or utters rubbed raw. You see it’s in our best interest as well to have the farm taken care of. But you haven’t asked for our help, you haven’t allowed us to do the work we’re capable of doing. Instead you’ve tried to do it all yourself.
Even though I’m not as intelligent as you, I’m very hungry and that’s driven me to think about and devise this recommendation. First, because you’re the oldest and smartest animal in the farm you need to be our leader. As our leader, you must bring all the animals together and explain the situation so we’re all in the same pen together. Then ask for our help. Lead us in figuring out the work only we can do because we have the gifts, abilities and experiences to do it right and on time. Finally support and encourage us in our work. Assist us in moving any rocks that stand in our way, help us think through difficult situations, and make sure we’re all working together.
If you can lead us in this way I’m sure we can help you bring order back to our farm. But if you insist on doing all the work yourself, the situation will continue to get worse and we’ll all suffer, including the MacDonald’s.”
So the horse listened to the pig and carried out his recommendation. And before too long the farm started to turn around. The chickens decided to lay their eggs right in the egg baskets thus avoiding extra handling. The cow milked the goats and the goats milked the cow since both understood the delicate and sensitive work milking is. And the pig started to clean the barn yard up of all the rottening eggs and other debris, bringing order to the yard and at the same time fixing himself a fine meal.
It was such a remarkable turn around that the horse began to write in her journal all the lessons she learned from this experience so she’d never forget them (a practice all smart horses do in these situations). The first lesson the horse recorded was to never pre-judge an animal’s ideas by their looks or the food they eat (pigs can and often have great ideas you just need to ask and listen to them).
The second lesson was this – every animal has different gifts, abilities and experiences so is capable of doing different and important work. The job of the leader is to get to know each member of the their farm community so they can know and understand each animal’s capacity to contribute, then help them do so.
Lesson three was simply remembering it’s almost always in the best interest of everyone involved in a bad situation to see the situation improve. So everyone will be motivated to do something to make a difference. The leader’s responsibility is to reconqize this interest then motivate and channel their action into productive work.
The final lesson the horse wrote down in her journal was simply this self realization. A leader must do what only they, as the leader, can do keeping them from trying to do the things someone else is more capable and motivated to do. And one of those things only a leader can do is help others identify and then flourish in doing what only they can do.
Personal experience has taught that life isn’t one straight, smooth and effortless journey. There are patches of rocky road, exhausting up hill climbs, stretches of fog and darkness. Though life’s path can often be level, smooth, well marked, and brightly lit, those hard stretches can seem to go on forever.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this state of travel. The overwhelming evidence is that we live in a fallen and bent world and we are broken and finite people. The mixture of both create those difficult stretches we all experience in our lives.
Rough patches can mean many things, sometimes we just need to get through them. But other times there’s more to a difficult stretch of road than simply getting through it. Sometimes long stretches of rough travel is a signal that radical change is coming or needed.
And this radical change is a redirection of our life, a turn down a different path to a new destination we never planned on or expected. When this happens to us what we thought was so certain, what we worked so hard for, tenaciously planned and prepared for, prayed and dreamed about is suddenly gone, often in a flash. We feel totally blind sided by these unasked for and unwanted changes.
Yet, often, maybe nearly always, its these changes in our travel plans that lead to the better roads, brighter paths, and a more joyful journey. Why? Because most likely our former path had become the wrong one for us. Somewhere, unannounced to us was a much better road, one planned from the beginning of creation. We just didn’t know it or see it. The hard road can push us to a new and better path only if we can work through the emotions of such radical and intrusive change.
Which is why these directional changes are the hardest of all.
Yet these changes , as unbearable as they can be in the moment, can also provide us hope that we’ll not only come through this rough patch but we’ll be on our way to a better destination, a new life. The real question is how we confront and deal with our new reality. Are we willing to walk away from our old plans and dreams and start to construct new plans to a new destination?
These moments do not come often, so I’ve found the benefit of the wisdom, perspective and insight of a traveling companion, someone whose traveled before us. First, it’s simply helpful to have a friend walk with us while on the rough roads. Secondly, a companion, because they tend to be more objective, can help us evaluate whether a rough patch is the signal to change directions and head to a new destination or something to get through.
Finally, I’ve found making sure there’s space for prayer, reflection and meditation are essential in working intellectually and emotionally through these segments of our journey. It’s in these quiet moments that breakthroughs in perspective and clarity on direction so often come.
So, if you’re in one of those places on your journey where traveling is difficult, seek wisdom from others as well as through prayer and reflection. Determine if it’s just a rough patch to get through or a indication of a radical change in direction. If it’s simply getting through, keep walking. If it’s a change in direction, seek out a new destination and create a new travel plan that will bring you to a better place. But either way, standing still is not an option, going back rarely the answer, instead look, lean, and move forward -it’s the only way through it and onto your new destination.
Leaders tend to use one of four ways to move people in a desired direction. Each approach works in the short-term, especially when movement is urgently needed. Which way a leader chooses often depends on the people and circumstances involved. But one way is ultimately the best, one that moves people farther and faster than the others. But before we talk about that way, let’s take a look at the other three.
The first way is Pushing Leadership. The reality is sometimes people need a simple push to move forward (think of a mother bird pushing her young out of the nest to learn to fly). In many situations this is the best approach – a gentle push and big things happen. But too often leaders are simply pushy people. Pushy leaders will wear out their team, especially if their team already knows how to fly. When this happens those being pushed simply comply, hide or leave.
The second way many leaders lead is by dragging their followers along. Dragging Leadership is when the leader runs so far ahead that the rest of the team is always killing themselves to stay up. It looks much like a dog race with the leader as the rabbit and the team are the dogs running hard to catch it. It’s an excellent leadership style for dog races but it burns people out quickly. Yes, leaders should set the pace and lead by example but they need to be careful not to confuse running with leading.
The third way is what I call Carrying Leadership. Carrying leadership occurs when a leader steps in and rescues their team by taking on their jobs and responsibilities. As with the first two ways, there are times when leaders need to step in and help their people through a difficult patch. But it turns destructive when leaders create leadership co-dependency by always assuring their team avoids difficulty or pain and thus never learns to deal with problems, issues and rough patches.
Finally, the most effective (and the most difficult) leadership is Inspiring Leadership. Inspiring Leadership requires relationship, clarity, communication, a meaningful cause, an opportunity to succeed, an end to the game, and understanding of role. Inspiring leadership is helping others make their best contribution and, when they do, receive all the credit. In Inspiring Leadership is where the team is center stage and the leader is back stage or in the sound booth assuring the team’s success.
So which way do you lead? Are you a pushing, dragging or carrying leader? If so, take this as a gentle push to become an Inspiring Leader, one who leads others to become all that God’s created them to be so they can do all that God’s planned for them to do. This is the kind of leadership we all crave and the type of leadership that can change our world.
“It’s not what you know but who you know that counts” is one of those maxims that can be difficult to swallow, especially for those of us who value performance over politics. But reality is there’s a kernel of truth in this maxim, especially when thinking about it in terms of relationships instead of politics.
You see relationships do matter, and more often than not they’re the tipping point in any given situation or decision. Healthy relationships, whether personal or professional, will always carry the day – even in those moments when everything falls apart.
And relationships are not only good at saving the day, they’re also essential in building teams that can accomplish extraordinary things. Very rarely has history changing ideas, projects or efforts been accomplished solo. Almost always, great moments have been created by teams of people working in the context of personal, loving and caring relationships.
So what does it take to create healthy relationships? There’s two simple ingredients:
And to be known!
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Relationships require knowing others, who they are, what’s important to them, their history, their stories, and how we can assist them and their goals. Relationships require us think of others first, so see the world through their eyes, and in the end, simply and deeply, “to know” the other person(s).
Healthy and meaningful relationships also require us “to be known”. Allowing others to see into our lives, to know our thoughts, hopes and dreams. To be known in this way is foundational to building the kind of relationships necessary for teams that change the world. Without transparency, there’s no possibility of trust. Without trust there’s no true relationship. Where there’s no true relationship, there’s no team or community. And where there’s no team or community, the possibility of world changing actions diminishes to almost zero.
So I’m recommending a new maxim. Instead of saying “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts”, we should say “it’s not what you know but who you deeply know and are known by that will make all the difference.”
The safest route in life is to have low expectations for yourself and others, to set only achievable goals (or maybe no goals at all), and to take the proven path. The safe route assures that you are, well, safe, but almost never brings you (0r anyone following you) to a place that’s meaningful or makes a true difference.
Yet as leaders, should this type of safety (ours and others) be our over arching goal? Is it possible to lead, to make a real difference in the world and in the lives of others, and, at the same time, take the safe path? The answer is a resounding no. Leaders, by definition, take action to change and improve today for a better tomorrow, all the while inspiring others to do the same. To this end, leaders are willing to carry the pain, do the hard work and, ultimately, risk complete and utter failure to see a better future become a reality.
Reaching higher is always a risky proposition, but with risk comes great returns. Safety instead of risk means a life with no lasting rewards, only temporary comfort. Our son Mitch, a student at the United States Naval Academy, was, as a Plebe, required to memorize the following quote from Teddy Roosevelt –
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
And there’s a reason all Midshipmen are required to memorize this statement. To attend the USNA, to dare to put one’s self in an incredibly competitive and pressure filled environment, to be subject to discipline, hardship, and a career requiring one to take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States with one’s life, is a huge risk. But the potential reward is incredible, for themselves and, more importantly, for others and for the world.
So here’s the bottom line – we’re given only one life on this earth to live, one life to eternally impact others, one life to explore this planet, and one life at changing the world. We can choose to avoid the potential risks of reaching higher but we can never live free of all risks. Because when we take the safe route we take the significantly bigger risk of living in that gray twilight where there is no loss nor any lasting reward.
Whether we want to accept it or not – every choice we make, every option we’re presented with, and opportunity that calls our name comes with accompanying trade-offs. Sometimes the trade-offs are significant and sometimes they’re simply an inconvenience. But we can’t allow ourselves to make the mistake that I, the eternal optimist, too often make – believe that there are choices with no trade-offs.
Even the best options have trade-off’s. For example, a good friend asks me to spend an afternoon fishing with him. Great option, there are not many other things in the world I’d rather do on an afternoon. But choosing to go fishing comes with a myriad of potential trade-off’s. Fishing might set me back a half of day at my job requiring me to work on the weekend, or keep me from getting a project completed at home, or miss an outing with my wife. So, as you can see, even the best choices have trade-off’s.
And since every choice has trade-off’s the question is – how do we eliminate or minimize them? How do we get closer to the optimist’s happy place – choices with no trade-off’s? There are 3 steps I’ve learned that help me minimize these pesky trade-off’s:
- Name each major trade-off, including those involved, by writing them down.
- Create a plan to deal with each trade-off. When possible, try to turn a trade-off into an advantage (the optimist’s approach to trade-off’s). For example – if I go fishing it’ll lead me to work at the office on Saturday. But Saturday’s when the office is quiet, so I’ll be able to better concentrate on that project I’ve been struggling with.
- Communicate the trade-off’s as soon as possible with those impacted by them. Better to be upfront with my wife about the trade-off and work out a different option for our outing, then to catch her at the last-minute and simply cancel out.
Taking these three steps has helped me live with my optimistic side while making choices that are more realistic.
Recently, in a 5 day stretch, my wife, Denise, and I attended funerals for three friends of ours and, maybe more importantly, friends of SpringHill. These three men and their families each made incredible contributions at critical junctures in SpringHill’s history. And by contributions I’m not referring just to financial contributions (though they’ve made plenty of those) but the kind of contributions that come as a result of hard work, energy and wisdom.
For example, one of these friends, Scott, was on our board during the sensitive transition of leadership following the death of our second President, Mark Olson. Another, Herb, spent 23 straight weekends coming to our camp in Evart, MI to help prepare it for it’s grand summer opening in 1969. While our staff gave the third friend the nickname “Saturday Jim” because he was so faithful volunteering every Saturday. And believe me, this is just the short list of their SpringHill contributions. Frankly it’s hard to over state the deep, long and lasting impacts these men had on SpringHill, its staff and their ability to fulfill their mission and vision.
As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure these men, before they passed on, were able to see with their mortal eyes the 100,000’s of people whose lives were, and will be, transformed forever because of their service. But the good news is I’m convinced that all three are now in Eternity and so are blessed to fully see the extent of their effort, including knowing every single person who benefited from their work. I believe this kind of sight, the sight we’ll have in Eternity, is one of the “jewels in our crown” we’re promised for remaining faithful like these three men were.
Speaking of mortal sight, from my perspective, I can’t even begin to imagine SpringHill without people like Scott, Jim and Herb. Together they reflect the nature and beauty of non-profits. You see non- profits, like these three men, exist to benefit the common good and their only fuel is the passion, commitment, time, energy and resources of people who receive no other benefit from their contributions than the anticipation it all will make a lasting difference in the lives of people and in the world.
So Herb, Jim and Scott thank you on behalf of 100,000’s of child, students, young adults, families and churches, past, present and future, for including SpringHill in your life. We’re all in a better place because of you.
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.