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.
A Title that Fits the Job
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.
The Key Ingredients needed to Create a Great Job
In my last post, as well as in a previous post, I talked about meaningful and challenging work as key to staying energized and focused in your job. Though work that is both meaningful and challenging is critical to creating a job you’ll love there are three other ingredients that make up the recipe for your dream job that we need to talk about.
- Working for an organization whose mission, core values and culture align with your own calling and values. You may love your work but if you don’t get excited about your organization’s mission, values and culture you don’t have your dream job. Hint – is the organization you’re working for have an articulated mission and values as well as actually living them out? If not, there’s a good chance you won’t aligned with this organization
- The people you work with. Though closely related to culture, part of a great job is working with people you like, you respect, who treat you and others with dignity, and help make you both a better professional and a better person. Hint – do you find yourself looking forward to seeing your team after a weekend or a vacation? If not, it maybe because you don’t really like to be around them.
- The lifestyle it provides. Does your job provide you the pay, benefits, hours, flexibility, and location to help you have the life style you envision for yourself? It’s more than about salary; it’s about both the tangible and the intangible benefits a job offers that either positively or negatively impacts you and your family. Hint – does your job keep you from doing the things outside of your work you love to do or enable you to do those things? Remember, a full and healthy life outside your job is critical to long-term success in your work.
If you can land in a job where all four of these ingredients come together in the perfect blend, congratulations, you have a dream job. But the truth is life isn’t a dream. We live in a broken world where perfection rarely happens and when it does, it’s usually for a fleeting moment. What that means is there is no perfect job that has all the four ingredients in the exact amounts you’ve always dreamed of.
So even in the best jobs in the world you’ll find that you often have to compromise on one or more of these ingredients. If you can find a job that has the right balance of 3 of the 4 you’ve got a great job. The important issue is to know which of the four ingredients are the most important to you. These are the ones you don’t want to compromise on. You also need to know which ones mean less to you so you can make appropriate trade-offs and assure you have the ingredients you want. For example, if lifestyle issues are your highest value, you may be willing to work with people you don’t particularly like if the job provides you the benefits you want and need.
So know it’s possible to have a great job, one you want to get up for every day and will want to do so for a long time. But it requires knowing what’s most important to you and then never compromising on those values.
“You Need to Feed Them and Love Them Before You can Lead Them”
I recently heard again a pastor’s old maxim – “you need to feed them and love them before you can lead them”. This got me thinking, this isn’t just a helpful maxim for pastors but for every leader.
So I asked myself, “how does this old maxim apply to other kinds of leaders, ones who are not pastors?”
So here’s my take on it.
First, “Feed them” implies giving people the tools, time, encouragement, and clarity of expectations, training, and coaching they need to successfully do their work now and into the future. It means providing both challenging and meaningful work while assuring people have what they need to meet every challenge and, at the end of the day, be successful. Feeding people is building into them professionally and personally.
Then the second requirement of leadership is to “Love them“. How can we love those entrust to our leadership? We start with treating them as people created in the image of God. We can do this simply by knowing and using people’s names. People love and need to be known. We make sure we understand what people do in their work and the contributions they make to the team. Then we should never stop thanking them. We get to know people on a personal level so we can lead them in a way that brings out their best. We also show an interest in them beyond what they can do for the team. This means being committed to well-being of their professional lives (goals, fears, desires, calling, development, etc.) as well as their personal lives (family, hobbies, spiritual).
If, as leaders, we can effectively feed and love people, then, and only then, will we earn the right to lead them, to be granted the privilege to be their leaders. Without earning this right, by definition, we’re not leaders because we simply will have no lasting followers, just people stuck till they can find another leaders and team.
So challenge yourself by answering the following questions about the people entrusted to you. Then earn the right to lead by actually do what you’ve said you will do in each answer.
- What will I do this week to feed them?
- How will I tangibly express my love for them this week?
- What will I do this week to feed them?
5 Steps You can Take to Help Your Team Win
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.
Leadership as Multiplication
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.
Rain and doing Your Homework -Leadership Lessons from the Appalachian Trail – Part 6
The weather report was calling for heavy rain beginning about midnight. It was our 5th day on the AT, and my son, MD, and I were standing outside one of the many hostels along the trail. MD’s plan called for us to keep hiking further up the trail and stay at a rustic camp spot. But because of the weather report we had to decide – stick with the plan and keep hiking, or stay at the hostel?
As I mentioned in my last post, MD had a well thought out plan for our trip. He knew where we would camp each night, how far we’d walk each day, where we’d leave our car and how we would get to the starting point. He was even thoughtful enough to send me a copy of the plan before we left so I’d be fully in the loop.
But unfortunately I didn’t look at his itinerary very closely (actually not at all) nor did I do any research about where we’d be hiking, what places we’d pass, even what the names of our planned campsites. There was no excuse for me not having a clue about this section of the AT, with MD’s written plan and all the details about every section of the AT readily available on-line and in books. So there I was standing in front of the hostel, with no clue, trying to help us make this decision.
Late in the day, after deciding to keep hiking, we found ourselves stumbling around in the light of dusk, trying to find this remote campsite. I was once again little help because I just wasn’t familiar with the details of the trail or the plan.
In other words I didn’t do my homework as good leaders (and followers) must do.
You see, when leaders don’t do their homework they can’t contribute to their team’s decision quality, potentially hindering success. In our case, it all turned out fine because of MD’s good plan. But what I did by not doing my homework was lay all the responsibility for our trip’s success on my son’s shoulders. That wasn’t right or fair. Because I was a part of the trip I owed it to him to have done my homework so when the circumstances called for it I could help us make the best decisions possible.
The lesson learned? Good leaders and followers must do their homework so, the situation calls for it; they’re ready to help their teams make the best decisions possible.
Moving from Compliance to Commitment! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 8
Any successful venture requires more than the people involved to be compliant, it demands their deep commitment. Why? Because there’s a significantly different impact these two groups of people have on an organization. For example:
- Do the minimally acceptable level of work.
- Just get by.
- Always ask first – what’s in it for me?
- Resist change because change is hard.
- Stagnate and quit growing.
Compared to committed people who:
- Do what is beneficial and necessary even if it means going beyond the job’s minimal requirements.
- Go over and beyond the call of duty.
- Always ask first – what’s best for the team?
- Initiate change because change is necessary.
- Are always learning, growing and developing.
Compliant people make for minimally acceptable organizations that just get by.
Organizations full of committed people do extraordinary work that positively impacts the lives of people and the world. They’re organizations that others emulated and where the best people want to work. Because of this, these organizations create what I call mission momentum, where they’re growing exponentially in their impact as well as in their reach.
So what are the keys to creating a team of highly committed people? Assuring the following four elements are a reality:
- Clarity of mission, vision, and values (answers to the 6 key questions)
- Integrity between the articulated mission, vision and values and the organizations actual behavior
- Transparency of information, roles, responsibilities, performance, and accountability
- And when these three elements are a reality in an organization they lead to high trust. And high trust is the foundation a high commitment culture.
So, as leaders, never settle for simple compliance. Do the hard work of gaining commitment of the people you lead. The payback will be great for you and your team.43.928283-85.286682
You Lead People and Manage Things, Never the other way around! Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 1
In January, SpringHill held its first ever Leadership conference in Chicago where SpringHill leaders from around the organization met together for three days of learning, encouragement, team building and fun. As part of the conference I gave a talk titled “Leading the SpringHill Way” where I shared thirteen maxims that capture what it means to lead at SpringHill. So over the next several of posts I’ll summarize each of these thirteen maxims in hopes that you’ll find a nugget or two to use in your own leadership context.
I began my talk with this maxim – “you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.” This maxim is foundational because it captures the two sides of a leader’s job at SpringHill – managing and leading. It also makes it clear that it’s imperative not to confuse the two.
Management is about controlling, planning, and manipulating things to the organization’s advantage. If we’re to be effective leaders we need to management valuable resources such as time, money, processes, and systems. In other words we’re to control, plan, and manipulate these things for the benefit of the organization.
Now leadership is about inspiring, encouraging, developing and enabling people to make their maximum contribution to the success of the organization. It’s much more about encouraging their hearts and challenging their minds than it is getting all you can from them. A great leader knows and understands their people and tailors their leadership to them as individuals. It’s this relational context that distinguishes leadership from management.
Now the key for leaders is to make sure they don’t confuse who and what they’re leading and managing. You see you can’t lead things. You can try but all you’ll do is waste those valuable resources. On the other hand you shouldn’t manage people. People aren’t to be controlled, planned or manipulated. You can try but in the end you’ll never see people perform their best.
So great leaders always remember – you lead people and manage things, never the other way around.43.928283-85.286682
Singing out of a different Hymnal, Yet another Way to Lose Your Job – Part 9
The maxim “singing out of the same hymnal” reflects a foundational reality for a choir whose goal is to perform at their very best – every member needs to focused on the same music and be willing to perform their part so that the whole choir is successful
So when a member of the choir decides to sing from a different hymnal, the music not only sounds bad but the whole choir (and audience) suffers.
In other kinds of organizations, people who sing from a different hymnal – have their own agenda and do their own thing – are as disruptive as any out of step choir member can be. And because of this disruption, at least in healthy organizations, people who sing from a different hymnal eventually lose their jobs. The reason is, in the long run, no leader can tolerate having employees not align with the organization.
So what is the “hymnal” of a healthy organization? It’s their mission, values, vision, strategy, goals and priorities. In addition a good organizational hymnal also defines the roles and responsibilities for each person in the choir. So when a person is singing from the right hymnal they’re agreeing with and working towards these ends and within these parameters. When they’re singing from a different hymnal it means they’re working from and towards a different vision, strategy, values and goals then the rest of the organization, all of which can be extremely painful.
So the real question is why in the world would any person want to work in an organization but not sing from the organization’s hymnal? It can be just as frustrating to the individual as it is to the rest of the choir.
So if you’re currently singing from the wrong hymnal in your organization, you have a choice to make – either pick up the right one and start singing or find a new choir. But please, make a choice. If you don’t, sooner later someone will make it for you.43.928283-85.286682