I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the best in people, see the possibilities in any situation regardless of how bad, and love stretch goals. These tangible expressions of optimism have defined and benefited my leadership.
Yet, there are downsides to such optimism. One in particular which has inflicted my leadership (thus the organizations I’ve led) is the belief that I can effectively manage a large number of priorities at one time. Yes, it’s the overzealous conviction that I am capable of doing many important things, all really well, and all at the same time.
But here is the reality, to do our best work we must be single minded, we need to focus and do just a few important things at one time. All the research that’s been done over the past few years tells us this much. Sure there appears to be some outliers who can manage lots of priorities, but they are a micro minority (the definition of outlier) or, more likely, just good with smoke and mirrors. Which means most of us (do I dare say – all of us) can’t juggle many priorities at one time.
It’s the Leadership Grand Illusion – believing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we’re a part of the micro group of outliers that effectively management a high number of priorities at one time.
So, I had to come to grips with this reality and quit buying into the Grand Illusion. I’ve worked to bring discipline to my personal priorities as well as SpringHill’s. It’s been a painful process for an optimist like me, but it’s been necessary (and significantly more effective).
How have I (and we) done this? There are three simple rules that I’ve applied personally as well as organizationally:
- Have no more than Three Priorities (of the day, week, month, year, etc.) at one time
- Then be crystal clear about the Top One of the Three.
- Finally focus, talk, look at, work and Obsess over Three.
It’s that simple.
What’s not simple is the discipline, control of that optimism, and ignoring the Grand Illusion that is required to tackle only three priorities at a time, to pick the first priority of the three, then obsess about those three.
Now the issue, especially if you’re an optimist with a long list of priorities, is how do you identify the Three and the One of the Three?
Again, it’s simple but difficult at the same time – you need to ask and answer the following two questions
- “If I/we can only work on three priorities, which ones should they be?”
- “Of these three priorities, if I/we could only accomplish one, which one would we choose?”
So that’s it.
Really simple, incredibly effective – Commit to these three rules, then rigorously debate and honestly answer these two questions, and finally obsess over the answers until they’re completed. When you take these three steps you’re on your way to being a focused (and really effective) leader.
Earlier this summer I carved out a Saturday to evaluate SpringHill’s present and think through its future. As a leader this time was important because of the critical junction SpringHill finds itself at. I needed a clear head so I could evaluate SpringHill as it is today and where it needs to be tomorrow.
I’ve learned over the years, because of how I’m wired, I need the following tools and space to do this kind of mind bending, paradigm breaking work:
First, I must have an inspiring location. I draw inspiration from nature and from quiet spaces. I also find inspiration from places with historical significance, whether it’s personal or general. On this day I chose Acorn Pointe, SpringHill Indiana’s guest house, a location that is stunning and a place that has strong historical significance for me and SpringHill.
Second, I need to stand and move. So working at a white board or flip chart is best. I also need the opportunity to go for long walks. Some of the best thinking I’ve ever done has occurred as I’ve walked. So the location needs to lend itself to leaving my work as it is and going for a long walk. For this work, my location granted me long walks around Rust Lake.
Third, it’s essential I can write my thoughts out with pen and paper. Writing helps me order my thoughts and ideas. It also helps me refine and clarify my understanding of a topic or situation. On this day I used giant 2 by 2 foot Post-It-Notes and stuck them to the windows of the guest house’s great room. This allowed me to stand, move and write all at the same time. Later, each Post-It-Note became a slide in a PowerPoint Deck that I used to present my thinking to three different SpringHill teams. I also had a journal I carried with me when I went on my walks so I could write any thoughts or ideas that came to me.
So now you know how I work best. But the more important question is – how do you work best? What are the elements that create the space you need to bring out your highest quality work? If you’ve never answered these questions, now at this moment, there’s no more important assignment you have than answering them. Because when you have the answers, you’ll have the tools to do work that makes a difference.
No, the letters F.T.K. are not secret code, and yes, they have meaning, serious meaning. As a matter of fact these letters stand for two significant but related purposes.
These two purposes highlight the reason why over 1000 summer and year around SpringHill leaders just ran the sprint we call summer camp. It’s why they worked uncountable hours, at times in uncomfortable weather and conditions, and often enduring heartache and disappointment. It’s also why they experienced the joy of loving, serving, teaching, coaching, and leading nearly 28,000 children and students. F.T.K. moved these leaders to do all they could to assure campers had the best week of their year and the most transformative experience of their life.
F.T.K. is also why 1000’s of supporters, ambassadors, prayer partners, volunteers, churches and families invest in the work SpringHill does every summer.
It’s what drives the SpringHill family, every day, to be more creative in their work, and more effective in serving more kids, families and churches in more places.
F.T.K. is how we ultimately evaluate the work we did this summer. It is SpringHill’s plumb line, it’s what moves us, inspires us, sustains us and brought all of us together this summer.
And it’s why, for the past 18 summers, I’ve devoted my vocational life serving SpringHill’s mission. And yes I know, if you’re not connected to SpringHill, you may not know the multiple meanings of F.T.K..
The words behind F.T.K. are significant yet quite straightforward. And as soon as you read them, you’ll understand why they are the guiding force of our work this summer.
F.T.K. represents both – For the Kids, and – For the Kingdom. Hands down, with no serious rivals, there’s no better cause, no more important work, no better way to spend a summer than serving kids and His Kingdom. Just ask the 1000’s of people who did so this summer and the 10,000’s of kids, families and churches who experienced the fruit of their work.
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.
So when filling out our family’s tournament brackets I always pick the teams with the best defenses. Because, as every serious basketball fan knows, a team’s success in a single game elimination tournament most often hinges on playing great defense.
Which leads to a couple of questions – is defense the reason why teams play in tournaments? Or is defense simply the means, or how a team wins a tournament? The answers are obvious, teams play in tournaments not to play great defense but to win. Winning is why they play, defense is the how.
Unfortunately, unlike basketball, when people think about leadership they too often mix up the how of leadership with the why. It maybe because one of the best “how’s” is servant leadership. Servant leadership is so right, so good, so appealing, that we tend to think of it as the result or the why of leadership, not the how.
But servant leadership is the how, it’s the posture of leadership, it’s the way leadership can and should be done. But it’s not the why; it’s not the result of leadership. Servant leadership is basketball’s equivalent to playing great defense.
So servant leadership isn’t the purpose of leadership; it’s not the answer to the question –why do we lead?
The answer to that question is that we lead so we can multiply, to reproduce. Our why is to grow those we lead so we can grow the impact and effectiveness of teams and organizations we’re entrusted with. We win when our leadership results in multiplication (click here to see more on leaders as multipliers).
So our leadership strategy is servant leadership but our goal is always multiplication. We must never confuse the two.
It was end of the summer of 1999 and I decided to take my young sons up to one of my favorite places in the world – Camp Anjigami – so they could have their first, of what has become, 16 straight Canadian fishing experiences. My three boys’ ages ranged from 7 to 4 years old. Quite young to be in the Canadian wilderness, but it’s the context where I experienced unexpected joy.
During those early trips I never fished. I spent all my time helping my young boys tie hooks and lures to their lines, net and unhook fish, and keep their lines from getting tangled. In particular, we always took a day to fish a lake where we’d catch lots of (30 to 50) Northern Pike. If you’ve never caught or seen a Northern, they are the freshwater version of a Barracuda – aggressive fish with mouths full off sharp teeth. There were times when two of my boys would hook into a Northern at the same time. It meant chaos as a couple of really mad 3 pound fish with multiple hook lures attached to them would be wildly thrashing around the bottom of our rowboat. All of which created lots of excitement but no time for me to fish.
I remember at first finding it difficult to be in Canada and not being able to fish. It’s something I absolutely love to do. But by the end of that first trip I realized that I was receiving as much joy, or even more joy, watching and helping my sons catch fish as I ever did catching fish myself.
In those early trips I went from being a fisherman to fishing coach. This meant helping my boys become fishermen in their own right. Now today, when we go on our annual trip, I can and do fish because my boys can fish as well. We have multiplied our fishing capacity from 1 to 3 to 4.
I now know this is what leaders do; they multiply themselves and their efforts by developing others even at the sacrifice of doing what they love. And, as I’ve discovered, the reward is great; it’s the unexpected joy of seeing the people you lead being able to do what you do and becoming what you are – a person capable of developing others.
Leaders multiply. They do more than just add. Adding is a good thing. Contributing to a team’s efforts is always positive. But leaders multiply a team’s efforts and results. And obviously leaders do not subtract, if you subtract from a team or organization then you’re something else, but you’re not a leader.
Multiplication is the distinctive characteristic of leaders. It’s what sets them apart from those who do not lead. What does it mean to multiply? It’s when a person leads a team to produce an outcome beyond the simple accumulated results (addition) of the efforts of individual team members. Leaders multiply their team’s collective efforts and achieve extraordinary, and unexpected, results.
And to be clear, I believe multiplying leadership isn’t just for people in formal leadership positions. Instead any person, in any role, who is part of a purpose centered group like a family, community, school, or church can be a multiplying leader. As a matter I’m convinced it should always be our goal to be a multiplier in every situation we’re in.
This idea of multiplying leadership isn’t new. As a matter of fact, Jesus talks about it in the parable of the talents found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25. In this parable the Master entrusted his four stewards with His money while He was away. Three stewards multiplied the Master’s money so the Master said to them – “well done good and faithful servant”. This parable harkens us back to the very first assignment God gave His people – “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
This is why I see multiplication as the distinguishing quality, the sure sign of effective leadership. It’s also why I’ve given this blog a new address – Leadership25 – a direct reminder of Jesus’ parable and His expectation that all of us can and should be multipliers, leaders making a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world.
But the temptation for leaders (those people already leading parades) is to jump in front of and lead every parade that comes by. This is especially tempting when a parade looks like it needs help. The reason leaders do this is because they are people who have the habit of seeing an opportunity to be a difference maker and then jumping in and taking charge of the parade. Often this is just the right thing to do as a leader – because there are many parades desperate for experienced leadership.
But a leader can be too quick to jump in front of another parade. When they do so they often fail to realize they’re taking an opportunity away from a future leader in waiting. Young and inexperienced leaders can rarely compete with veteran parade leaders for these opportunities. But without opportunities it’s difficult to become an experienced parade leader. And the truth is the world needs more veteran parade leaders.
So the next time a parade comes by, make sure your first move isn’t to slide to the front and start leading the band, but instead to look around and find potential leaders who need experience as a parade leader. Then encourage them to jump in front while you walk with them along the parade route encouraging, coaching, supporting, and cheering this new leader on as he or she guides the parade. This will do two important things – first provide you margin and flexibility just in case another parade comes along that really needs you and, second, help ready another parade leader for a world desperate for leadership.
No one ever wants to be considered a drip. But sometimes being a drip is the best way to lead. My friend and mentor Jerry Martin use to tell me that when I wanted to move others to a new place I had to drip on them. You see just as a slow drip of water, overtime, can wear away rock, simple and gentle persuasion can move people farther along a desired path than being hammered by our position, power or authority. This is because when we drip, we allow people the opportunity to see, understand and then embrace change instead of having changed beaten into them. And whenever people embrace change, they own it. And owning it people move from simple compliance to serious commitment. And serious commitment is the key ingredient in any organization that intends to do remarkable and impactful work. Now admittedly there are times when we need to hammer, especially when safety, significant loss or when there’s clear moral and ethical failure. Most often in these situations there is very little time to drip, decisive leadership’s needed. But, in a leader’s work, these moments are the exception not the norm. And if a leader uses the dripping of gentile persuasion as their primary way to lead, when the moment calls for decisive action they’ve created the credibility and trust needed to move people with commitment and speed. Learning to lead through dripping is also critical to leading those who do not report to you or in whom you have no positional or organizational authority. Effective leaders must learn to persuade and move others who are not required to move. So at SpringHill, we want to be drips, which mean we want to lead through persuasion and influence, so that people move from compliance to commitment, and move our organizations from average to remarkable.
Sometimes there are books we just need to read. We read them even if they’re not entertaining, up – lifting, or full of new information, but because we need to hear the message straight up, in a clear and concise way. This describes John Dickerson’s recent book “Great Evangelical Recession, The: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare“.
This is a book that needs to be read by Christian leaders and by anyone who cares about the Church.
Dickerson is an award-winning journalist turned pastor who’s applied his journalistic research skills to identifying major movements within the Evangelical Church today and diagnosing their impact on its future. Then, with a clear and engaging writing style, accompanied by ability to synthesis vast amounts of data and research, Dickerson, outlines 6 significant trends that he believes will lead to an “Evangelical recession”. In addition, he also spells out 6 remedies the Church can take to either change the course of these trends or to navigate effectively through them.
Be warned these 6 trends may shock you. They’re shocking because of the strong case Dickerson builds for each one. They’re also shocking because many of us live inside the Evangelical bubble so do not see ourselves clearly in the context of the rest of the world (I read most of the book on a plane to New York City. As I walked the streets of Manhattan I had no doubt that Christians living in New York would wholeheartedly agree with Dickerson’s conclusions). Yet I also have to admit, at some intuitive level, I’ve known these trends were a reality so part of my shock was that they also confirmed my worst fears.
Amazingly, even with Dickerson’s strong research, I found some reviewers of the book believing Dickerson’s got it wrong, that his assessments are to negative. Ironically many of these folks live and work in places other than cities like New York; instead they live in places such as Colorado Springs, Grand Rapids, or countless communities in the Bible Belt. Personally I’ve concluded that even if Dickerson has over stated his case 50% (which I don’t believe he has), the trends would still demand the prayerful self-assessment by the Church and its leaders. So as a result, our Board and Senior Leaders are reading it, as well as we’re making it available to all our staff and supporters who may want to read it.
So my recommendation is that you make “Great Evangelical Recession, The: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare“ one of your summer reads. Read it with an open mind and a willing heart to hear the hard realities of our world. Then be prepared to do your part to help the Church effectively navigate through these trends.43.928283-85.286682