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 10ofthose.com. 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.

Andrew Heard’s Leadership Gold

ahI finally got round to writing up all my notes from Andrew Heard’s excellent seminars on leadership at the FIEC leader’s conference last November. His talks are over on the FIEC website and I’d highly recommend them. Here’s a snapshot of some of the things he said:

  • The passion to grow churches is both dangerous and necessary – dangerous because you can get a fat head and/or compromise the gospel; necessary because the church is a life boat and people are drowning. BEWARE of the twin dangers of heroic pessimism or satisfactory under-performance.
  • Growth is influenced by us – we are part of the means used by a sovereign God. So we need to consider inputs and outputs – inputs determine outputs – if we keep on doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get the same results.
  • Focus on core inputs – word, prayer, godliness, outward focus
  • Some skill areas to consider – learning to lead yourself (be proactive, control your diary); lead others (intentional investment); learn to build an organisation (structures, systems, strategy etc).
  • Embrace a slow burn perspective – build long term strategies – focus on 4-5 key initiatives a year (not 30!).
  • Have a 5 year vision – the reverse engineer it
  • Look at the fields, not at the barns – if you look at the barns you will think, dream, and structure too small!
  • Everything you add in to the church life either adds heat or dampens it – consider what extra ‘noise’ does to your core values
  • Diarize your church calendar around the things which matter most – eg. get mission programs/events in first and structure around that.
  • Build pathways for people from contact, to follow-up, to courses, to discipleship etc.
  • Build a team around things which matter to your church – what you resource demonstrates what you care most about

Andrew also had some striking things to say regarding myths that surround evangelism – I’ll save those for another post 🙂

Two Recent Books on Small Groups

small groups donahuesmall groups gladenHere’s a couple of books that have come out recently on small groups. Interestingly, both of these books focus not on how to lead a small group, but how to lead a small group ministry. So if you’re the person responsible in your church for looking after small groups these are worth looking at.

The first is from the Willow Creek stable and is entitled Building a Life Changing Small Group Ministry by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson. These guys churn out materials on small groups and its usually sane and helpful. This offering is no exception. They walk through topics like ministry clarity, leadership, structure, leader development, and strategic planning. Now, it’s American, it’s geared at (very) large churches, and you won’t agree with everything. But, what I like about the book is that it asks good questions, and presents multiple models, without ever being overly prescriptive. In that sense, it’s a helpful book to get you thinking about the right sorts of issues.

The second book is by Steve Gladen and is entitled Small Groups With Purpose. Gladen looks after Saddleback Church’s 3,500 small groups (yes, you did read that correctly). Like Donahue and Robinson, Gladen walks through the foundations of a healthy small group ministry including core values, vision, development, and strategy. It’s a little more prescriptive than the Willow book, and based around Saddleback’s model of church. I personally liked their strategy for starting new groups, involving fringe people, around an annual ‘campaign’ (you’ll have to read the book!). The book also contains a helpful small group health assessment tool which I’ll be encouraging our leaders to use. And he also has some good advice for small group ministry coordinators in terms of how to invest in different types of leaders and groups. I wasn’t quite so taken with the leader recruitment model which essentially makes willing hosts small group leaders. I can see that you could end up with some spiritually immature people in positions of significant influence. But like the previous book, it gets you thinking about some important stuff.

If you are the person charged with looking after your church’s small group ministry I’d recommend you spend some time with these books. As I say, they’ll be plenty that you don’t agree with or doesn’t apply, but I do think these books get you asking the right questions about how to develop a small group ministry within a church.

Multipliers and Diminishers

Liz Wiseman has written a book entitled Multipliers in which she describes the ways in which leaders enable their peeps to flourish or flounder. She delivered a talk at the recent Global Leadership Summit.
Here’s my notes:

Liz Wiseman – Multipliers

Diminishers and multipliers – some sap energy, enthusiasm, ability; some manage to multiply, magnify and amplify the talents of others.

Diminishers (the glass (of employees or volunteers) is half empty)

– empire builder – hoards resources, under utilises talent. Hire people beneath them.
– tyrant – suppressing, domineering
– know it all – directive, show off their knowledge
– decision maker – centralised
– micro manager – drives, controls

Multipliers (the glass is half full)

– talent magnet – attracts and utilises. Hire people better than themselves
– liberator – releases people, empowers
– challenger – stretches people and develops them
– debate makers – decisions made through debate and counsel
– investor – gives others ownership and invests in their success

This is a spectrum and many of us are accidental diminishers (eg. idea guy, high energy guy, rescue guy, pace-setter, rapid responder, optimist) – trying to be omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent is a diminisher to others. Here’s how to help yourself…

– hire tens
– give people responsibility
– ask questions and let others find the answers
– stretch people
– regular praisings


Leadership is like sailing

sailingI’ve just returned from the FIEC annual leaders conference.It was a great time being encouraged with great ministry and fellowship, but the highlight for me this year was FIEC Australia’s Andrew Heard. He leads a church in NSW of some 3000, and he had some brilliant material on leadership which I hope to share more fully in a subsequent post. Here’s a little nugget he shared over lunch. Leadership is like sailing. First you have to know clearly where you are and where you want to get to. Second, you have to plot a course to get there which may involve a bit of tacking etc. Third, once you’re on your way the wind and water may change things such that you have to make some course corrections as you go. That’s leadership in a nutshell – know where you are and where you want to be, plot a course, and make necessary corrections along the way. Hopefully that’ll whet your appetite for some fuller reflections in due course.

A helpful grid for thinking about how to disagree

clarityI was reminded yesterday of this helpful little grid which aids us when considering the things we disagree about, and how to go about it. The bottom right corner is stuff that’s clear but not tremendously important – i.e. where did Paul get his haircut – hopefully nothing to fight about here. Bottom left is stuff that is unclear and unimportant – i.e. is the ‘eye of a needle’ an actual gate or a metaphor – doesn’t really matter; point is the same – don’t start a fight over this one. Top left is stuff that is important but not all together clear. For example issues around church polity, charismatic gifts, or proper administration of the sacraments are all important issues and we should have a view. But church history teaches us that good and godly men have disagreed over these things so we should be humble, teachable, and charitable as we talk and engage those with whom we disagree. Top right are things which are clear and important – i.e. the deity of Christ – such things are sufficiently plain in Scripture that should someone disagree we need to be gentle but firm concerning the clarity and importance of such doctrines. So, next time your at homegroup, and the red mist descends think about the issue at hand – it’s clarity and importance – and respond in an appropriate and godly way.