Asking the Right Questions then Discovering the Best Answers!
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 Power of Purpose
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.
When I’m No Longer Here
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.
Forward Leaning! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 5
When sitting we can take many postures. For example we can slouch back and put our feet up or sit erect and tense, or we can sit on the edge of our seat leaning forward. Each posture communicates a different attitude about the world around us.
Sitting postures provide a great illustration for different postures we can take as leaders. For example, there are times when being laid back or tense and alert can be the most appropriate postures a leader can take. But I believe a leader’s most predominate posture should be forward leaning. Forward leaning leaders are leaders who are ready for action, looking for opportunities, and attuned to the people and world around them. It’s an externally focused posture.
This posture is important because we lead in a fast changing and values shifting world where opportunities and dangers disappear as quickly as they appear. Only leaders who are in a forward leaning position can effectively navigate and lead in such a world.
- So what’s your leadership posture? Here are some of the questions that can help identify your “sitting position”:
- What is my mental, emotional and physical posture?
- Am I focused on the world around me or is my focus turned inside?
- If an opportunity arises will I see it?If a problem comes our way will I have myself and my team prepared or will we be caught off guard?
Be a forward leaning leader and you and your team will always be ready for action.43.928283-85.286682
Summer Camp’s Coming and it Shouldn’t Be a Surprise
Summer camp literally starts in a matter of days. We’ve known for years there’d be summer camp in 2013. We also know we’re going to have summer camp in 2014, 2015 and for as many summers as we can see into the future.
In other words, it’s no surprise that summer camp is upon us. Of course this means there’s no excuse for not being prepared, planned out and ready for staff training and summer campers. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when, if you had visited SpringHill in May, you would have interrupted our frenzied work as being surprised by finding out at the last-minute that summer camp began in June.
This mad scramble had its allies within our team. Many folks, if they were honest, love the adrenaline rush of doing vast amounts of very important work in a very short period of time. As an organization we even unconsciously honored these folks for their great sacrifice for the cause. Unfortunately this only reinforced our organizational addiction to adrenaline and ultimately led to our team entering summer stressed, exhausted and drained.
So a number of years ago we all agreed that summer camp is never a surprise so there’s no good reason to save our all preparation for the month of May. We agreed that we would begin working on next summer during this summer, including pre-registering campers, finalizing host churches for our Day Camps, and signing up returning summer staff.
We also agreed that all the other important work for the next summer such as property and facilities improvements, summer staff recruitment, and curriculum and program development would begin immediately after camp ended, having specific plans with key milestone dates to keep us on track.
And, maybe most importantly, we also agreed to celebrate good, thoughtful and intentional planning and work instead of honoring adrenaline fueled activity.
So take this post as one small piece of our celebration for the good planning and work our team’s done to be ready for the summer of 2013 (and, for that matter, 2014). Though we’d all admit we’re not yet where we want to be, I’m confident in saying we’re in the best position I’ve ever seen us in going into the summer. And for this I tip my hat to our team for a job well done.43.928283-85.286682
Because our two youngest boys run high school track I’ve attended a lot of track meets over the past few years. And because I’ve never ran track, I’m learning a few things about proper running.
One of the things I’ve learned is that to run fast you need to lean forward, or as I’ve heard coaches yell to their runners – “lean in”. And from a layperson’s perspective I take this to mean your head and chest should to be stretching forward towards the finish line.
I’ve also learned that a runner needs to be forward leaning right out of the blocks, from their first step right through to their final step at the finish line. Each step, each movement of their entire body, needs to be aligned forward if a runner’s to run their best race.
Now it’s important to understand that this is not a reckless way to run but it’s the posture that puts a runner in the best form to reduced injuries and increase speed. In other words, leaning forward is the best short-term and long-term posture for winning.
Unfortunately the concept of forward leaning has begun to have a bad reputation in military, political, business and other leadership circles because it’s been misapplied. Too often the concept’s used as a guise for aggressive and, and often, reckless strategy.
So let me suggest that truly forward leaning (not reckless) leadership and organizations have these three characteristics in common with runners. They:
- are focused on the finish line
- have all their resources such as money and time, and most importantly, their people (energy, hearts and minds), aligned to race their best time
- are disciplined, intentional and thoughtful in both their planning and in executing their plans
In other words forward leaning leaders and organizations are running their races in a way that achieves victory.43.928283-85.286682
Whenever one of the members of the SpringHill leadership team’s distracted from the task at hand the rest of the team will say “squirrel”. It’s a reference to the Disney/Pixar movie “Up” where a dog named Dug becomes distracted from what he’s doing when someone yells “squirrel”.
And just like Dug, we have our own “squirrels” that interfere with either the task at hand or those tasks requiring a long-term commitment and focus such as visions and Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG’s). As a matter of fact, it’s easier for “squirrels” to distract us from those far off goals because we’re often lulled into believing we can temporarily change directions and still have time catch up or get back on track. But the truth is almost every time a leader or an organization falls short in achieving a grand vision or a BHAG, there were “squirrels” along the way that distracted them from the important work. And of course, this makes sense, because if big visions and BHAG’s didn’t require extraordinary effort and single-minded focus to achieve then they wouldn’t, by definition, be visions or BHAG’s.
A good friend of mine, Jack McQueeney, reminded me of this reality recently when I asked his opinion about an overseas opportunity I’ve been offered. He simply asked me two questions “how will this trip advance SpringHill’s vision?” and “Is there anything else you could do with the 7 days that would be more effective in advancing SpringHill’s vision?”
Then Jack told me he always looks for 2 to 3 touch points between an opportunity he’s offered and his job and the ministry he serves. If he can’t clearly see 2 or 3 touch points then he’ll politely decline the opportunity. In other words Jack doesn’t allow “squirrels” to distract him from the work he has before him.
So as you can see I have squirrels in my life, but the more important question is “what are the squirrels in yours?”43.928283-85.286682
What’s Required to Lead Teams, Organizations and Movements
When it comes to leading others, whether it’s a team, an organization or even a movement, there are four areas that require leadership – an Organization’s Thinking, People, Resources, and Self.
Let’s start with an Organization’s Thinking. Thinking is the way an organization sees the world and sees itself in the world, then through these lenses, develops a sense of what’s important, articulating its purpose and distinction as well as unity in its beliefs and aspirations.
Thus the leader’s job is to bring clarity to each of these culture defining attributes by asking the right questions and creating the best dialogue.
The second area in which a leader must lead is People. People not only desire to be a part of something significant (as defined in an Organization’s Thinking) they want to know where they fit and what they can do to contribute to the organization’s success. An organizational leader’s job is to provide clear answers to these questions for the People they lead.
The third area of leadership is Resources. Resources include time, property, facilities, technology, money, intellectual properties, partnerships, and any other tools at the disposal of the organization for the purpose of advancing its mission. To lead an organization’s Resources requires setting clear priorities which maximum the use of these resources. It also requires continuously improving as well as assuring the growth of these resources so that the organization can achieve its vision.
Finally a leader must lead Self by assuring their own time, focus, and attention’s aligned with the Organization’s Thinking, People and Resources. There needs to be a clear and visible sense of consistency, one that’s seen by anyone associated with the organization, between the leader and these other three areas. This can only be accomplished with honest self-evaluation and frank input from others.
In my next post we’ll look at an approach to leadership that makes leading an Organization’s Thinking, its People, Resources and Self a reality.43.928283-85.286682
The One New Year’s Resolution that can Change Your Life
I make this New Year’s resolution suggestion every year, to whoever will listen. I make it because I believe that it’s the one small commitment that can change the course of a person’s life.
And what is that New Year’s resolution? To read the entire Bible – every book, chapter, and verse.
Now before you dismiss my suggestion, think about this for a moment, if the Bible is God’s Word, His actual words, the true message of the God who created the entire universe, created our earth, and created you and me, doesn’t it make sense that we should want to read His words and make them a part of our life?
And one more thought to consider before dismissing my suggestion – if we believe that God loves us, cares about us and wants to have a relationship with us, then it’s not surprising that He has something to say to us about this love.
So if you’re now convinced that making this resolution is something you want to do, below are a few things I’m making available to help you make your resolution a reality.
- Down load to your e-reader, free, my Reading the Bible Through in a Year devotionals by clicking here.
- Subscribe to my Read the Bible in a Year blog by clicking here. Each day of 2013 you’ll receive an email of the daily reading schedule and thoughts to help you get the most out of that reading.
- Follow me on Twitter (by clicking here) and receive a “tweet” with a link to each of my Bible reading posts.
- Simply go to my Read the Bible in a Year blog.
Now may 2013 be a year of great positive transformation in your life through the power of His Word.43.928283-85.286682
Working in the “Fog of War”
We live in a less than perfect world, and in this world we have less than perfect eyesight. This reality creates frustration for people looking for certainty, clarity, and predictability. Now most of us desire certainty, clarity and predictability because it makes life less complex, decision-making easier, and judgment sounder. But we rarely have this luxury. More often than not, we live and work in the “fog of war.”
The trick then is to be both willing and able to effectively deal with complexity and ambiguity. As a matter of fact, I’ve become convinced that the ability to work effectively in the “fog of war” is a necessary quality leaders must possess today. The increasing speed of change at every level, from the family to society, from communities to nations, has nearly eliminated certainty, clarity, and predictability from our lives, and within organizations.
And SpringHill hasn’t been immune to this rapidly changing world, thus our staff recognizes the need to carry forth our mission in this “fog of war”. We call this ability simply “Resourcefulness”. Resourcefulness is being able to effectively work in complex and fast changing realities with less than perfect information. It’s the ability to lead others through the ambiguity, uncertainty, and chaos that so often marks the world in which we work.
And finally, and most importantly, it’s the ability to successfully carry forth our mission of communicating a timeless and changeless message to people that live in these rapidly changing days, and doing so without compromising this message or the God whose given it to us to share.
This is part 13 of 14 in a series of posts about what it takes to be successful at SpringHill.