The ‘Why’ Shapes the ‘Way’

start with why

In Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, he suggests that we give more time to considering why we do, not just what we do. I’m increasingly convinced that this way of looking at things is crucial in our service of others. Consider the following two examples:

At ChristChurch, Somewheresville, the folks on the set-up rota wake early. They’d rather not get up early and go do setup but it’s their turn. They arrive as late as they can get away with, throw up the signs, put a couple of toys out in the creche, and randomly chuck some leaflets on the welcome table (nobody reads that stuff anyway). While the service is in progress they nip out to take in the signs – no point wasting time later. Ten minutes after the service is finished the info table is packed swiftly away, and the banners are taken down – if people get knocked with their coffee it’s their fault – they shouldn’t be in the way. They’re sure to pack down as loudly as possible so that everyone gets the hint. Someone asks about homegroup info. ‘Too late mate, sorry, already packed away – we’ve got homes to go to you know.’ They pack down in record time and pat each other on the back as they’re going to get home earlier than ever – result, job done!

At GraceChuch, Little Wheresit, the team wake early. They arrive on time and start putting everything out. They arrange things to be neat, easy to find, and pleasing to the eye – they want people to find a warm, welcoming, tidy environment as they come. After the service they enjoy some mingle time and then begin to subtly suss out whether anything can begin to go away. They want to make sure people have access to info up to the last minute. Signs come in, chairs begin to be tidied. Once most have left the building and things are winding down, they then begin to finish clear up. They leave a little later than usual, but that’s because someone spent five minutes helping a visitor find some information they were interested in. They leave patting each other on the back as they’ve done a good job helping others – result, job done!

The difference between the two? The ‘why’ has shaped the ‘way.’ In the first example the team take the path of least resistance. The aim is to get the job done as fast as possible. The ‘why’ is answered, ‘because someone’s got to do it, and I got lumped with the rota.’

The second team go out of their way to do a good job. Their aim is to provide an environment that helps and serves others. The ‘why’ is answered, ‘because people matter to God, so they matter to us, and we want to make sure everybody gets what they need, and so may come back.’

The ‘why’ shapes the ‘way’. It’s a simple mantra, but one that I suspect requires regular reminders to put into practise. Why not try it as a training exercise with some of your team members or volunteers. Spend time clarifying the ‘why’ and see how it shapes the ‘way’ things get done.


Mastering Civility

I heard Bill Hybels talk recently about the importance of ‘basic civility’ for leading healthy staff cultures. Many of us are familiar with the adage, ‘people join organisations, they leave managers.’ So this is an area that may require a little more intentional investment. Hybels’ recommended a book by Christine Porath called Mastering Civility. Having bought the book, and read it, I have to say I really liked it. Much of it was common sense, but as the saying goes, ‘common sense isn’t all that common.’

In the book Porath covers the high costs of incivility, how to assess your own culture, how to develop the culture, as well as lots of practical tips on practising basic civility. Here’s just three research-based insights from her book.

  • Of those on the receiving end of incivility 66% felt their performance declined, 78% felt their commitment to the organisation declined, and 25% admitted to taking frustration out on others.
  • People pick up on warmth faster than competence. Judgments as to someone’s warmth toward us are processed in 33 milliseconds.
  • The greatest driver of worker engagement is the extent to which workers felt their managers were genuinely interested in their well-being.

There’s a ton more of this kind of stuff in the book illustrating the effect that civility (or lack of) has on others. If you want to chase a bit more there’s an 8 minute YouTube clip of Christine Porath talking about some of the material in her book here:

Personally, I’d highly recommend any senior leader picks up this book and spends some time working through it with their staff team. You may be thinking, ‘I’m too busy, can I really afford the time and effort to read and talk about this ‘soft’ stuff?’ I think a better question to reflect on would be, ‘can you afford not to?’

A Useful Leadership Tool

three arrows

A few years ago Bill Hybels introduced a simple but effective leadership tool he’d been using with leaders in a variety of contexts. Our boss used it with us yesterday, and I was reminded how helpful it is, so I thought I’d share it here.

In essence it’s just a simple diagram containing three arrows. One arrow goes up, one down, and one stays on the level. Hybels suggests that every organisation needs to define their current reality in terms of one of those arrows. Are things on the up, plateaued, or in a downturn.

In one sense the exercise is frighteningly simple. In another its incredibly difficult because it requires a significant degree of courage to be absolutely honest about how things are really going.

Hybels suggests that if you lead long enough you will find yourselves in all three situations. Failure isn’t being in a downturn; the real failure is the refusal to call it.

Once you’ve identified current reality you can do something about it. The hard part is identifying. Interestingly Hybels also suggests that while the leader might be reluctant to do the exercise, those around the leader know exactly what the current reality is – they’re just waiting for the leader to own it and do something about it.

Now, far be it from me to offer anything in addition, but it seems to me that often a single organisation may be experiencing all three realities simultaneously, albeit in different areas.  So some things may be going well, while others have plateaued or are struggling. Working out which is which, and then putting in place the appropriate plan for each area is where the challenge and skill of leadership lies. So why not give it a go. Sit down with your fellow leaders, draw the three arrows, and see where your conversation ends up. I think you’ll find it a surprisingly fruitful exercise.

Leaders Eat Last

leaders eat last

I’ve just finished reading Simon Sinek’s acclaimed Leaders Eat Last. The basic thesis of the book is that sustainable healthy organizations require leaders that invest in the people and the culture, rather than just maximizing profits for shareholders. Here’s a few snippets to whet your appetite:

  • “According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013 . . . when our bosses completely ignore us, 40 percent of us actively disengage from our work. If our bosses criticize us on a regular basis, 22 percent of us actively disengage.”  
  • “Whitehall Studies . . . found that workers’ stress was not caused by a higher degree of responsibility . . . but the degree of control workers feel they have throughout their day. . . Put simply: less control, more stress.” 
  • “Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance” 
  • “In a weak culture, we veer away from doing ‘the right thing’ in favour of doing ‘the thing that’s right for me'”
  • “Not until those without information relinquish their control can an organization run better, smoother and faster and reach its maximum potential”
  • “instead of trying to command-and-control everything. leaders devote all their energy to training, building and protecting their people”
  • “its a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment, and loyalty.”
  • “being a leader is like being a parent. It is about committing to the well-being of those in our care and having a willingness to make sacrifices to see their interested advanced so that they may carry our banner long after we are gone.”

I liked this book. If you’re the kind of leader obsessed with numbers and spreadsheets, this ‘softer side’ will be a crucial corrective.

New Book On Leadership for UK Church Scene

evansShameless plug alert! My boss, and Senior Pastor, here at Grace Community Church, Bedford has written a book on practical church leadership for a UK context. It’s out tomorrow and you can order yours now – best price is at Having read the manuscript and been exposed to many of the ideas in discussion I can say that the material in the book is insightful, practical, helpful, and perhaps most important of all, doable. For the price of a pie and pint you can have three decades of practical church experience that has really worked. I don’t think there’s another book quite like it for the UK church scene so get it, read it, apply it – you’ll be glad you did.

The Ten Commandments of Technology and Team

replenishI’ve been reading Lance Witt’s book Replenish devotionally of late. It’s a wonderful book with short pithy chapters that help to do some soul detox. As part of the book he has a couple of chapters on working in healthy teams. Included in there is some stuff on staff team covenants, but also his ten commandments of technology and team. They were so good I thought I’d share them. So here goes:

  1. Thou shalt not use email to deliver bad news – if you have to say no, or disappoint, do it in person. It may take longer, but relationally it’s worth it.
  2. Thou shalt not put anything in email that you don’t mind being forwarded.
  3. Thou shalt not email during meetings (unless you’re specifically asked to).
  4. Thou shalt not use ‘bcc’ – blind carbon copy is secretive and can have nasty consequences if you get found out.
  5. Thou shalt be more personal than professional – emails tend to come across as impersonal anyway – so work harder to come across as warm and friendly to avoid sounding curt and grumpy.
  6. Thou shalt keep emails short and to the point – nobody wants to trawl through your 3000 word missive – stop it!
  7. Thou shalt not text or take calls while in conversation or a meeting (unless your wife is having a baby) – generally it can wait.
  8. Thou shalt not email people on their day off – we encourage others to take time off properly if we don’t bother them with work stuff.
  9. Thou shalt use email for prayer and encouragement – great for short notes of thoughtful encouragement.
  10. Thou shalt give phone/email/Facebook/Twitter (etc.) a Sabbath – just to put it in its proper place.

What do you think? If you haven’t already got the book I would strongly recommend it. Enjoy!

Leader, You Need Boundaries

boundariesHere’s an excellent book from Henry Cloud entitled Boundaries For LeadersThe main idea of the book is that boundaries are necessary for great performance, and it is the leaders job to put these in place. Leaders need to establish values, norms, practices, culture, disciplines, and structures to get the best out of others and themselves. Cloud argues that these things don’t just happen – it takes intentional leadership to put these things in place. Failure to do so results in unhappy and unproductive teams. He works through each of the areas listed above and gives some great practical ideas to help turn some of the thinking into reality. If you run a staff team, department, or a group of volunteers there’s plenty of helpful stuff to learn here.