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.
Have a Great Plan so you can Enjoy the Journey -Leadership Lessons from the Appalachian Trail – Part 5
The AT has a very simple trail marking system. It’s a white line painted on trees or posts along the trail. So hiking the AT requires nothing more than looking up for white markers, looking down so you don’t trip over any rocks, and looking around at the incredible beauty along the way. Not much daily strategizing if you have a good plan as my son, MD, did.
You see MD spent a lot of time planning out the trip. He created a great itinerary for my week with him as well as his three weeks on his own. He did a lot of research, talked to people who had hiked the AT, and reviewed his thinking with others. All this work fed into a great plan.
So while on the trail we spent little time figuring out where we were going each day, or calculating how far we’d walk, etc. The plan was good and unless conditions changed there was no reason to spend any time rehashing it. Instead we just got up, packed our gear and followed those white markers to our next camp site, enjoying the trail and the people we met on the way.
It reminded me of the temptation we have to continually want to rehash and revisit well thought out plans. People like to arm-chair quarterback, to debate and to continually question where a team, department or organization is going and how they’re getting there. Some people also have a high need to change, tweak and continually adjust a plan, in an effort to find perfection.
But when you have a good plan, this additional work brings little value to the process or end results. Too often it keeps people from focusing on the immediate, day-to-day work, the plan requires. And, more importantly, the extra work distracts us from the joy, adventure, and relationships that the journey of making the plan a reality brings.
Fishing and the Beauty of Focus
This past August, on the annual Perry men’s Canadian fishing trip, my boys and I stumbled into a conversation about other types of fishing – fly, saltwater flats, and deep-sea fishing. We agreed that it would be fun to try these other kinds of fishing in addition to our spin casting (traditional), cold water fishing we do, knowing each type of fishing is capable of catching lots of fish.
Yet the more we discussed the idea of trying these other methods of fishing, the more we realized it might not be as good as it sounds. For example, because of our fishing experience, we understand all too well that to be successful catching fish requires the right equipment, knowledge about the body of water to be fished, a working understanding of the habits of the targeted fish, and, most importantly, having the simple experience gained by hours of actual fishing. Which means, because each one requires its own knowledge, experience and equipment, the additional resources (time and money) needed to be successful would make it impossible to be really good at more than one method of fishing.
So it became apparent in our discussion that spreading our limited resources out to thinly between numerous types of fishing would lead us to not being very good at any of them. As a result we decided our best shot at being really good fishermen was to focus our limited resources on one type of fishing (spin casting, cold water fishing).
Which led me to reflect on just how easy it is for individuals, teams and organizations to be enticed by new and novel strategies and opportunities which promise only to deliver the same results (catching fish) as current methods, without considering the additional resources necessary to pursue these strategies nor the negative impact that a wider focus can have on the current work.
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
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
Personal and Organizational Leadership and Why You Need Both
There’s an entire industry dedicated to helping people become leaders and much of it focuses on what I call Personal Leadership. Personal leadership encompasses those character traits and qualities a person needs to have to be an effective leader. This is especially true of the messages from authors and speakers who come at leadership through a Christian perspective.
And it’s obvious why this is the case. Effective, world-changing leadership always begins with the leader. So it follows that helping people think and behave in a way conducive to being a leader is essential. We might even say it’s the first and most important step in leadership development.
Unfortunately leadership development gurus, and leaders themselves, too often stop with personal leadership. This happens because we believe that the most important thing is, well, the only thing. But unfortunately, this is rarely true in life or in leadership.
You see, people who want to be world-changing leaders, can and will only do so by leading others in the context of movements, teams, and organizations. And it’s in these contexts that a leader needs more than just personal leadership qualities. They need, what I call, Organizational Leadership
Organizational Leadership includes those attitudes, perspectives and behaviors that move people from being a group of individuals to becoming a team, from being disorganized and unfocused to becoming aligned and disciplined, from doing a job to making a difference, and from just existing to changing the world.
What does it take to practice Organizational Leadership? It requires leading in four specific and integrated areas:
Each of these areas is critical to creating and leading teams, organizations and movements. In my next two posts I’ll outline their meaning and what it takes to lead in each.43.928283-85.286682
The Chief End of SpringHill
When the reformers asked the question “why do we exist” or “what is the chief end of man?” They landed on a succinct answer – to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
At SpringHill we’ve asked and answered our own version of the reformers’ question. We ask “what is the chief end of SpringHill?’ or more clearly “why do we exist?”
And we answer these questions with our mission – To create life-impacting experiences that enable young people to know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Our mission explains why God created SpringHill and why God continues to sustain it and give it a bright future.
Another way to understand our mission is to see it as our calling, our vocation. God’s called us to create life-impacting experiences that enable young people to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
So what exactly does the SpringHill mission mean? Let’s break it apart a bit.
Create life-impacting experiences: SpringHill’s called to create life changing experiences we call the SpringHill Experience (SHX).
Enable: We believe that God transforms lives and not the SHX, so our goal is to create SHX’s which help young people hear, see and experience Jesus in a life transforming way.
Young People: This is who we’re ultimately called to serve, to reach out too, and who we ultimately create life transforming SHX’s for.
To Know and Grow: Our chief end is to introduce Jesus to young people who may not know Him and to help those that do to grow in their relationship with Him.
Relationship with Jesus Christ: Ultimately, if the chief end of a person is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, than the only way we can fulfill this end is through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
So this is SpringHill’s ultimate purpose, the reason we exist –
to create life-impacting experiences that enable young people to know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. When SpringHill fulfills its chief end enables young people to fulfill theirs – to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.43.928283-85.286682
Being a Part of Something Bigger Than Me
Somewhere early in my career is when I decided I wanted to work for something (organization or cause) that’s bigger than I am. I wanted to be a part of something that’s making a difference in the lives of people, making a difference in the world, and ultimately, making a difference in God’s Kingdom. But what I discovered was that just being a part of something bigger than me isn’t enough, nor, as I’ve also discovered, is it enough for most people.
What most people want to know is “what do I need to do to contribution to our organization’s success – the fulfillment of its mission and vision?” This question is the final question every organization that desires to make an enduring difference in the world needs to answer, not just for its self, but for the people who work, volunteer, and support the organization. As a good friend said to me recently “I want to know what piece of the SpringHill puzzle God wants to me to be”.
Unfortunately most organizations, including many times SpringHill, don’t always provide clear answers to the people who, not only want to be a part of something bigger than then themselves, but also want to make a meaningful contribution. Yet helping to bring job and role clarity becomes essential for the organization’s ultimate success, because it’s people who make visions and BHAGG’s reality.
At SpringHill we help staff, volunteers and others answer “what do I need to do to contribution?” by clarifying the answers to these simple but critical follow-up questions:
- Where do I fit into the organization? Position, job title, team and reporting relationships
- What am I responsible for? Defines the scope of the position
- What do I do to meet my responsibilities? Goals and objectives (aligned with the answers to the other organizational questions)
- What are the personal qualities do I need to fit within the team culture and be successful? Defined leadership competencies
- How will I know I’m being successful? Evaluations and performance appraisals
Helping people understand how they can contribute to an organization’s success may be the last question to answer, but it’s also the most important one.
This is part 6 of 6 in a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.
Do You Know What You’re Shooting For?
“What get’s measured is what gets done.”
I live in northern Michigan where opening day of deer season is a holiday. Schools close and very little business transacts. Part of the deer hunting tradition is the annual “sighting in” of a hunter’s gun that usually happens the weekend before opening day. “Sighting in” is where hunters shoot at a target for the purpose of aligning their gun’s sights/scope. The marks shot on the target indicate how aligned the gun’s sights are and direct the hunter’s sight adjustments. Obviously “sighting in” is important to achieving the goal of shooting a trophy deer.
It’s this idea of targets, goals, and indicators that help SpringHill answer the question “How will we know we’re being successful?” Targets are what we shoot for in the long run (more than a year away) and goals are the immediate things (year or less) we’re trying to accomplish. Indicators, on the other hand, are those measurements that help us assess how we’re doing accomplishing our goals and targets. Targets and goals should align with each other and both should align with the future aspirations of an organization (its vision and BHAG).
Typically an organization has a number of targets, goals and indicators that centered on such key areas as customers, finances/stewardship, market size, people, and operations. Every organization is different so the targets, goals and indicators should be different. The key is finding the right ones that lead the organization forward and tell its people how they’re doing. Then the team’s responsibility is to faithfully and regularly measure, watch, and effectively respond to those numbers.
Targets, goals and indicators are essential for an organization’s ability to answer the question “are we being successful and heading in the right direction?” Without them, and the proper tracking of them, an organization is left to guessing at how they’re doing, which is never good when hunting for a trophy.
This is part 4 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.43.928283-85.286682
The 20 Mile March
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
The first “Game Plan Question” an organization needs to answer is “What are the consistent steps we need to take to achieve our BHAGG and our Vision?” It’s a question SpringHill has wrestled with on and off for years. Common sense told us achieving a long-term goal requires breaking it down into manageable chunks. Yet we just couldn’t get our arms around how to do that.
Then we read Jim Collins‘ new book Great by Choice. There we found the perspective we needed to answer this Game Plan Question. It’s a concept Collins calls the “20 Mile March” based on the Antarctica explorer Roald Amundsen’s strategy to be the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen planned his entire trip on 20 mile marches. He and his team did everything in their power to march 20 miles a day, no more or no less, regardless of the weather. This breakdown of his “BHAG” – to be the first to the South Pole – into manageable chunks was a key factor in his team achieving their goal.
Collins defines a 20 Mile March in organizational terms by saying it’s “more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track.” He also provides a number of compelling case studies worth reviewing.
For SpringHill we’re testing a 20 Mile March defined by annual growth in campers served that will move us towards fulfilling our BHAGG of serving 260,000 people a year by 2025. We’re simply calling it “the 13.5 March” representing the annual percentage increase in campers we serve each year. It’s a number we believe we can achieve year over year and it’s a number that provides us an annual target to strive for regardless of the conditions. It’s our attempt to eat this elephant one bit at a time.
This is part 2 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.