To Go Fast — Go Slow

Here is a conundrum. The fastest way to achieve significant organizational change is often by going slowly.


The problem is that leaders live to make things happen. They thrive on taking new ground. They work to move people, ideas, and organizations toward greater accomplishment. In short, leaders are change agents. Slowly and patiently do not come naturally. Leaders resonate with Sammy Hagar’s song, “I Just Can’t Drive 55.”

A friend of mine pastors a good church with a strong reputation and significant impact. Courageously, he has embarked on a plan that will exponentially increase their impact on the lives of people and their community. However, this change will require more than new methods and curriculums. It will require a shift in culture as well as practice. He said to me, “if we try to go too fast, things will backfire.” This is one of those times when going slow is the key to going fast.

If you are a leader, there is probably at least one significant initiative on your plate right now. You can see a preferred future and you long to help your team, your employees, or your congregation get there.

I am not advocating for slower as a more noble approach. I am simply saying that organizational change is complicated. Even when necessary, it is often unwelcome. Organization change calls for time to bring people along, to cultivate buy-in, and to deal with the inherent destabilization that accompanies change. Press the accelerator of change too fast too soon too often and the resistance you’ll face can cause organizational retrenchment that permanently locks in the old ways.

Sure, some situations call for quick and decisive action. In those moments, going slowly can be irresponsible or worse. However, the impulse to make it happen now usually says more about the impatience of a leader than about what is best for the organization.


If the any of the following conditions apply, you would be well-served to slow down and allow more processing time.

    1. Your desired outcome represents a change of culture.
    2. What is being changed has been entrenched for a long time as “the way we do things.”
    3. In order to successed at implementation you will require large scale participation.
    4. Your people already feel the fatigue of multiple recent changes. All change destablizes and wears people out. The next one might demoralize the troups.
    5. Something remotely similar to the current proposal was tried without success within active corporate memory.
    6. The change you seek will touch corporate identity and when that happens personal significance feels threatened.
    7. The organization you lead is a volunteer organization, (ie. a church or club or service organization.) If this is you, start with the premise that slower is usually better and only accelerate when necessary.

Just as there are some times when you should go slowly, there are indeed time to act quickly. Here are a few of those.

    1. Your people are discouraged after a series of hard hits and hope of a better future is weak.
    2. You need minimal human resources to implement the change being proposed AND it will yield quick large scale wins.
    3. You face a crisis that threatens corporate viability.
    4. Your reputation in the community has been damaged and this initiative will address it.
    5. The core concept of this change is not only strategically helpful, but it was born as a grassroots effort. (To go slowly in this case will disempower your people.)
    6. You really are only making a decision. Implementation of change might need to be slowed, but indecision is fundamentally abdication of leadership.

So, what are you working on? Should you speed up or slow down? What do you think might be possible if you took a longer view? If your ultimate goal is to normalize a new day, what other steps are needed in your enrollment process?

Can you think of other criteria for when you should slow things down or speed things up?



{FYI: John Kotter’s book, Leading Change, remains one of the all-time best on the complex challeges of change.}

Elasticity and Time for Reflection

Let me start with a confession. I love shooting rubber bands at people. I’m sure it started in elementary school when real weapons were off limits, but the truth is I still love that mischievous sensation of pulling a strand of rubber across my pistol-shaped hand and firing away.

And no, this post isn’t really about shooting rubber bands. It is about the connection between elasticity and what is required for leaders to have time and space for reflection.

Leaders get things done. They don’t merely mobilize others to accomplish great things, they know how to work hard and are willing to keep their head down to do whatever it takes. The only problem is, keep your nose to the grindstone too long, you get blood in your eyes.

The ability to lead with sustained creativity and clarity requires time and space for reflection. Get embroiled in micro-management, problem-solving, or personnel issues for too long and you’ll lose the perspective that is only possible with regular reflection.

That’s where elasticity comes in. Meaningful reflection requires two things: elastic time and elastic space.


Unconstrained, open-ended, or at least long enough to exhaust it’s potential. Elastic time gives you the freedom to read, write, create, or ponder without the pressure that you have to pack up and move on to other urgent stuff in a few minutes. It means you have the chance to explore rabbit trails, whether they

yield anything productive or not. It can stretch and expand or contract as needed.


Reflection by it’s nature is creative explorative stuff. It happens best in space that invites expansive thought and behavior. It happens better in overstuffed chairs and fireplaces living rooms than in cubicles. Reflection is nurtured when you have the ability to spread out, to have two different books open at the same time, or to draw and sketch out your ideas. In essence it is space that allows you to multi-task without constraints.

Here’s no surprise. Making time for reflection will never seem urgent. There will always be tasks and people demanding urgent attention, while reflection feels like a luxury. She waits patiently at the side of your day offering to infuse you with fresh ideas that will take you beyond the mundane demands of your normal rhythms. She breathes life and innovation and perspective into your day to day demands. Until you say yes, you will never know what could have been.

And, try to lead for long without the life-giving infusion of reflective thought and your rubber band will dry out — only to snap on you next time you aim at someone or something else.

So, let’s ask the obvious.

1. When is the last time you had elastic time and space for reflection?
2. Where and when could you rectify that situation?
3. How much longer can you survive with your nose at the grindstone?

Your Thoughts?  Experience?

Defying Gravity

I know, it sounds like the language of a circus barker, “Come see the Flying Zucchini Brothers as they defy gravity.” However, I am talking about much more than entertaining circus talk. “Defying gravity,” is a terrific description of the way effective leadership teams learn to operate.

If you sit on an elder board at your church, the board of directors for an organization, or even the leadership team of a business, I am going to guess that you find yourself frustrated at times. We have all been there in those meetings when we thought, “are we really spending our time talking about this? Why are we mired in such small stuff when there are really big and strategic issues that need to be addressed?”

You see, the natural path of any organization is downhill. Leadership teams feel the downward pull of gravity through press of the urgent, the reality of fatigue, the desire to feel in control of something, or the relentless demands of the crowd. Gravity draws us toward the path of least resistance, away from altitude-giving perspective, and down into the miry clay of micro details. It is hard to resist gravity.

In contrast, effective leadership teams execute the dance of leadership in a way that defies the gravity plaguing most organizations. It not easy. In fact, defying gravity demands disciplined attention to four courageous behavior patterns.

As you read a summary of these four disciplines, ask yourself, how are you shaping the work and focus of the Board or leadership team you are part of? Is your team plowing the mud at ground level or have you found a way to lead at perspective-giving altitude? For each of the disciplines below, what kind of a grade would you give yourself?


Maintain enough altitude to connect the dots between where you have been, where you are, and where you need to be going. “Staying above” means attending to the important more than the urgent. It requires all out war against the desire to exert control through the self-important posture of micro-management.


One of the core entrustments of a senior leadership team or governing board is the long range direction of the organization. “Staying beyond” means courageously choosing to resist the lazy posture of perpetual reactivity. Instead of drilling down into the present or simply reporting on the past, conversations and decisions are focused 2-5 years out. Gravity defying teams discipline themselves to think and act on the preferred future.


Human nature is profoundly self-centered and self-protective. However, strong leadership teams go a different direction and choose to fight for one another. They stay honest, open, trusting, and emotionally current with each other. They approach problems and challenges by staying on the same side of the table relationally while the issue lives on the other side to the table. The result? High EQ and the release of collaborative effectiveness, a team where 1+1=100.


It is easy for a leadership team to become consumed by the responsibilities they carry and the demanding tasks they face at the expense of their souls. My leadership world is primarily the church and Christian ministry organizations, so perhaps I am especially attuned to the cost leadership teams pay for not traveling deep spiritually. However, believing that we were made for lives of intimacy with our Creator through Jesus Christ, it is obvious to me that effective leadership teams learn to practice spiritually forming rhythms together. They are unafraid of unfinished agenda work believing that time in prayer, time spent in God’s Word, and time exploring issues of the soul are matters of greatest priority. Staying deep spiritually releases to defy the gravity of anxiety and drivenness over the demands of everything crying for attention.

What are your thoughts? … Your observations?

I would love your comments.


March 30, 2011

p.s. Thanks Todd, (my pastor) for throwing out a couple comments this past weekend about how our elders work. Thanks too, for leading in these ways. Your comments and your example unlocked the insights in this article.

A Leader’s Prayer

I have often quoted the axiom, “a difference between a leader and a follower is PERSPECTIVE. And, a difference between good leaders and better leaders is better perspective.”

There are things we can do to provide perspective, ways we can gain the leadership equivalent of altitude, but perspective is more than a strategic issue. The greatest perspective is actually spiritual, and as such, it calls for the work of the Spirit.

After all, James promised that if anyone lacks wisdom he/she should ask of God who gives generously.

Therefore, in that Spirit, I wrote a Prayer for a Leader. I literally printed off a copy and clipped it into my day planner so that I would be reminded to pray these thoughts every day until it becomes second nature.


A Leader’s Prayer

Lord, help me

see beyond…

Help me see beyond…

… my experience

… my training and knowledge

… my wisdom and insight

… my intuition

… and beyond myself.

Help me see beyond…

… the surface

… the obvious

… the urgent

… easy options, familiar approaches

and obvious personnel

to see beyond what is, in order to see what could be.

In every situation, help me see beyond the…

… human

… organizational

… and strategic factors

to see the real spiritual issues and dynamics in play.

And, while helping me see beyond…

grant me the ability to see, understand, and embrace

present reality

with unwavering courage.

Change :: Leading is Change

I am fascinated by the ways and reasons we resist change. We don’t just resist changes that are big and scary, we resist change on every level. We laugh at Einstein’s definition of insanity while pretending we don’t live by it every day, “doing what we have always done, expecting different results.” Leader face this resistance constantly. At the same time, leaders often miss the subtle ways they stand in the way, too.

Last week, something hit me afresh: Even leaders who seek to help the people or organizations they lead take new ground—aka: make productive and profound change—are tempted to limit the changes they are willing to lead to those within the boundaries of their own comfort zone. To say it another way, it is easy to ask other people to make major change as long as that change is contained within the realm of what we are already comfortable with. In other words, even as we call for bold change in others we are being careful to avoid the implications of those changes in ourselves.

However, leading is about change. Leaders look at where they are now and where they need to be. They admit that it is not possible to get somewhere new doing what they have always done. Great leaders are willing to go back to the drawing board to unlearn, relearn, and become students of whole new disciplines and skills. They are willing to put it all on the line for the sake of what needs to be achieved. They literally, “walk naked into the land of the unknown.” (Robert Quinn, Deep Change.)

Leading is change, it is not about polishing the status quo. Therefore, to be a leader of change I have to allow change to begin in me.

But here’s the deal. Change is destabilizing and risky. You cannot guarantee a return on your “investment” of change until you are all in with no way of going back. Change is an act of faith to trust your best wisdom and intentions. But there are no guarantees. It is possible to pay the price of change and not achieve what you hope for. So, given the facts that change is risky, that people resist change, that change leads to loss and destabilizes an organization, it is no wonder that courageous appropriate leadership is so rare. There are lots of reasons to play it safe.

However, we will never get where we need to go by staying where we are. (How’s that for a brilliant quotable quote.)

Time for a little personal inventory:

  • What is the new territory you long for with your team or organization? What do you dream of achieving?
  • What actions, decisions, or new growth have you been putting off?
  • What risks will you have to take to start leading toward that new future?
  • and the most important question: Who do you know who could help you discover and develop the new skills or disciplines you will need to lead at a new level?

    CHANGE :: End of the 40/40 World

    Not so long ago, I listened to a talk given by Alan Roxburgh where he described the end of what he called, the “40/40 world.”  I am not sure I agree with the exact timing of his observations, but I think his point is right on the mark. In my own words, the point is as follows…

    For a generation or two we lived in a world where the average family had one parent who worked a forty-hour week for a company where they were employed forty years. In addition, most families were able to make it on the one income so that the other spouse could devote full-time attention to the job of household management and child-rearing. Among other things, this meant that when the working spouse returned home at the end of the day, the house was clean, kids were finished with homework, and dinner was on the way.

    In this environment the American church refined its programs and rhythms. Because there was a reserve of energy available for evening activities, it was very common for active church families to spend four or five days a week in church based activities—Bible studies, committee meetings, choir practice, prayer meetings, mid-week suppers, children’s programs, vacation bible schools, etc.

    That 40/40 world ended sometime near the end of the last millennium. It was replaced by a world where everyone essentially works as a consultant, a world where job security is only as good as the current project you are working on. It’s a world that requires people to put in however many hours it takes to get the job done. And, now both spouses work in this same environment replete with the anxiety, fatigue, and long hours that come with it. Families no longer have a reserve of time and energy available for multiple church or community activities. Volunteerism cannot be taken for granted.

    Thus the leadership challenge. We can bemoan the loss of the older ways all we want to, but the reality is we live in a new world and must adapt to it. We must begin to own the fact that time and energy of our people are the most important resources of any organization. Understanding how the realities of this new day severely limit people’s time and energy is a starting point from which a leader can begin to effectively adjust plans and expectations.

    The end of the 40/40 world calls for creative alternatives. Programs designed to serve people must be built on the principle of multi-usage, delivering value on multiple levels. The quantity of commitments expected of people needs to be downsized without value judgments. Every program, every commitment, every invitation must have a crystal articulated purpose and/or vision.  It will not work any longer to attempt enlisting people  out of  a sense of duty.

    Leading in a world when people had active reserves of time and energy out of which they can serve was much easier than having to compete for diminishing availability. However, the reality is, that older world doesn’t exist anymore. And, when the world you live in changes, the way you lead must change as well.

    A Tension that Makes Great Teams

    Because I spend most of my time working with Christian ministry leaders and leadership teams in churches or ministry organizations, I regularly run into teams that have become hospice care centers to the detriment of quality work that needs to be done. However, as I interact with colleagues in the for-profit business world, I frequently hear about the opposite sinkhole where people don’t matter only what they produce does. Neither extreme makes for a healthy team.

    I would like to suggest that the tension of needing to care for people and also get the job done is a tension that can nurture great teams.

    If all a team does is focus on task, you are moving into the demoralizing posture of using people without developing or even attending to them as individuals. If all a team does is care for each other, you are moving into the demotivating posture where the hard work, expertise, even sacrifice of people is ignored.

    On the other hand, when people are cared for in a team-based context where the cause that drives the team is compellingly pursued, you have the potential of releasing the greatest creative energy. When people feel safe, they feel safe to risk and experiment. When challenging assignments or pressure packed deadlines are balanced with support for the people facing that pressure, the entire team finds the will power to keep their hands on the plow together.

    If you can imagine these dynamics as intersecting axes, any team or organizational unit could actually plot their state of balanced tension at any given moment in time. In fact, a five minute check-in could help a team take its collective “temperature” in real time.

    You could label these axes a number of ways: Task v. Relationship; Nurture v. Productivity; or as I prefer Cause v. Community.

    The “Cause” axis measures the intensity of focus and demands your team places on the work it is supposed to be doing. (Is it very high or low at the moment?) The “Community” axis measures the weight of attention being given to caring for the people on your team.

    The point where the two lines intersect reveals the current state of balance between these two tensions. [In the diagram, the dashed line example would be a team that is weaker as a caring community right now but highly productive. The dotted gray line shows a team that is less of a productive focused unit and more of a caring community right now.] And obviously, your team could score high-high or low-low just as easily.

    Why does all this matter? It is because highly effective teams make greater impact. They are like finely tuned v-10 race engines instead of anemic gas saving 4-cyclinders. They steward people while making a difference.

    So, thinking about the key team(s) you lead or function on how would you diagram these two creative tensions right now?

    IDEA: Use this paradigm as a discussion prompt for a work-group, a task-force, a governing board, a focused team, or any other identified group of people you have the chance to work with.


    I love an old African proverb that says,

    “If you want to go fast, go alone.
    If you want to go far, go together.”

    I love the invitation embedded in that proverb, but if I am honest, I have to admit that my native wiring is to go fast and furious. In fact, I think that for most of my life my practiced approach to community was to find others that wanted to run fast and furious with me. However, living in community is far more than that.

    High capacity leaders in the 21st century are those that live and lead in community. It is one result of a tectonic shift in culture.  For example, it used to be that the notion of a leader as Lone Ranger was a good thing. Riding in on a white horse to save the day single-handedly is the way great leaders carried themselves. That day is over. Today, leaders that operate today as autocratic individualists are suspect.

    Here’s the catch, for all the potential of leading in community, moving into community comes at a high front end cost. To develop community requires vulnerability, sacrifice, substantial time, and one of the toughest challenges for leaders — the subordination of personal opinions to the collective discernment of the community.

    Leaders that live and lead in community pay attention to healthy process and cultivating safe environments. They transform basic conversation into relationally based journeys of discernment. They submit their personal agendas to the group and allow collective wisdom to shape priorities and decisions. They champion the contribution and giftedness of others in the community. They make themselves dispensable.

    Even though leaders are surrounded by the people they lead, the reality is that most live in an ongoing state of isolation. So, even if you as a leader are the only one at risk, it is time to seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others.

    So, what lives deep in you? The desire to simply go fast? Or the conviction that you long to go far?

    [If you would like a .pdf version of a reproducible article describing the “5 C’s of a High Capacity Leader” send me an email request and I will forward it to you. Send to]

    Calling & Courage

    How big is the wake behind your “boat?” Do you cut through the waters of life without leaving a mark, or do the waves of your wake reverberate in people long after you are gone? The 5 “C’s” of Leadership Capacity are qualities that translate into the breadth and depth of a leader’s influence: aka. the wake behind “your boat.”

    Ignored, any of the five will neutralize your wake, minimizing the mark you make on the world around you. I have already written on the first two qualities — Character and Competency — now it is time look at the heavy lifting that comes through Calling and Courage. (This is the 3rd in a 4 part series of essays.)

    CALLING:: Lack of Calling
    For the past twelve years I have worked with men and women to help them sharpen and then live in alignment with a clear sense of calling. Calling is my way of talking about the deep seated desire in all of us to make a redemptive difference in the world. It describes our passion for meeting needs — for participating creatively in shaping the world we long for.  Calling is not a synonym for our vocational assignment, but our vocation should provide practical ways we are empowered to live out our calling.

    Let me frame it through the words of Os Guinness. Every one of us is surrounded by people with agendas and expections for us. Every day, every leader stands before a crowd of faces that long to be pleased. They form a seductive presence that makes it easy to live for the applause of the crowd rather than before the “Audience of One.” Becoming clear about your calling, makes it easier to live before the one whose opinion matters. Calling gives me a grid for sorting through the options I run into every day.

    What are you called to do with your life?
    Some questions that might help you probe your sense of calling:

    • What group of people or obvious needs do you long to touch?
    • What are you doing when you feel that your life is making a difference?
    • What are you really good at?
    • What are some ways you would love to redeem parts of the broken world around you?
    • What could you build, shape, create that would improve life for others?
    • What is one tangible action you could take this week that would align with your best understanding of your ‘calling’

    COURAGE ::
    Nothing sabotages the impact of a leader like the lack of courage. Courage means choosing to do the hard good when the easy evil is right at hand. Courage is about staying the course when things are rough. Courage means placing your personal comfort below the needs of others and needs of the moment. Courage touches everything a leader does.

    Think about courage in relationship to calling. We can be frightfully clear about our calling, but without courage we will fail to say ‘no’ to the requests of persuasive people. Without courage we will avoid the hard work of change — failing to align our behavior with our calling. It takes courage to say yes less often and no more often. Living out your calling, means disappointing people who “really needed us,” in order to do the things we were made to do.

    Or what about conflict? It is impossible to lead without conflict. You will cause it or it will find you, but either way, when leaders lead, stuff happens. Courage is the well leaders drink from when they must wade into issues of conflict. And, maybe one of the most important transactions during conflict, other “leaders in fringe” will gauge your leadership horsepower by watching the way you respond to conflict. If you avoid it, others will know that there is a lack of leadership in your organization. Worse, they will know that when conflict arises involving them, there will be no one watching their back. Over time emerging leaders will drift away… leaders need leaders to follow.

    Courage is not arrogance, however. It does not treat people or decisions callously. Courage brings perspective rather than arrogant insensitivity. Arrogance is actually insecurity in action. Courage usually flows from deep understanding that what is at stake is far bigger than me and how you feel about me. Courage shows up in a willingness to act, to stay the course, even when doing so requires a high price.

    So, how is the courage quotient in your life these days?

    • Are you saying No when you should or saying yes because it is easier?
    • Are you dealing with conflict or hoping it goes away?
    • Do the people you serve see an example of what it looks like to have enough courage to take big risks on behalf of those people and needs that will not serve you in return?

    PERSONAL NOTE: My apologies for the delay in this installment of this essays. I will post the final piece on Community in just a few days.