A Pirates Code for Greater Focus

I just finished one of my favorite weeks all year: my personal prayer and planning retreat. It’s not vacation per se, although it is radically refreshing. It is a focused week where my primary agenda is to meet with the Lord and invite him to speak to me about the patterns, priorities, and plans of my life.

Over the years, I have done a variety of things during this retreat, but a couple fundamental components are non-negotiable. One is that I will read through my journal of the past year in one sitting looking for lessons, patterns, and the longings of my soul. Another is that as I pray over the year ahead, I will identify the primary goals and plans I need to achieve.

This year, I had a breakthrough I hadn’t sought. I recognized the linkage between annual, monthly, and weekly rhythms that are key to maintaining perspective and focus as a leader. Being a “P” and not a “J,” I think I’ll call it “the Pirates’ Code for Greater Leadership Focus.” If I wanted more grandiose phrasing, I might call it, “Keys to Strategic Life Management for a Leader.”

Borrowing from David Allen (GTD fame,) as well as my good friends Tim Cahill and Steve Hudson, I propose the following pattern and practices of self-leadership. Each offers perspective from a different altitude. Each component makes a specific contribution to the ability of a leader to chart their way forward. The point is that a leader needs all four.

50,000 ft  ::  CALLING

Calling is best captured as a guiding document that describes your best understanding to date of your biblical purpose, unique values, and vision for the impact you believe God wants you to make. There are a handful of tools and approaches that can help you with this.

WHEN COMPLETED: as soon as possible, if not done already. It is something to be reviewed annually.

TIME HORIZON: the foreseeable future

25,000 ft  ::  COMPASS

Your compass is an annual strategic plan that articulate goals and/or key objectives for each of your core life and work/ministry roles.

WHEN COMPLETED: annually during personal planning retreat of some kind.

TIME HORIZON: 12-18 months. (Often a major goal can’t be completed within a 12 month time frame. So, think beyond if needed.)

15,000 ft  ::  CALENDAR

Your Calendar is a game plan for the coming month. The point is that every 30 days we need to assess progress and re-align our lives with our compass. The core practice is time-blocking: blocking time to work on the next best action steps essential for progress on your goals and plans.

WHEN COMPLETED: every month during a personal planning day.

[People have variously called this kind of day a personal retreat day; a personal summit; a personal planning day; a day with God; or my own favorite, a “Day on the Mountain.” (Perspective requires altitude, getting above the fray, and mountains are a metaphor for that.)]

TIME HORIZON: the next 60-90 days. (it is not uncommon to find the next 30 days fairly booked. Therefore it often helps to look further out and block time accordingly.)

5,000 ft  ::  CLOCK

The Clock refers to specific plans and action steps for this week. It was Drucker who said, you cannot manage time, you spend it. However, you can manage appointments. One hidden gem: on a week by week basis it is essential to allow buffer time and flex time. If you over-program your schedule, you cannot respond to the unexpected.

WHEN COMPLETED: Typically early in the week. Monday morning, even Sunday night for some. The point is take 30-60 minutes to review and refine the detailed activities and plans of your week.

TIME HORIZON: one to two weeks. (Priority is the current seven days, but sometimes you see needed adjustment another week out.)

It’s a Pirates Code, guidelines not a new legalism. So give yourself room to be human. But don’t dodge the obvious question: at which altitude are you really clear and at which are you a bit fuzzy these days?

Self-Care is not Selfish

It was early Friday morning and I really wanted to get out for a bike ride. I needed the exercise, I knew the outdoors and sweat would do me good, but I had a long list of projects that needed to be completed. I had a few things already beyond their deadlines and people were needing them.

So I faced a dilemma. Hop on my bicycle and get in a good 60 minute workout or dive straight into the tasks screaming at me? Do something that would be good for me or take care of things that other people needed?

Then it hit me. Self-Care will always feel self-serving. Doing what other people need always feels more heroic, more gallant. Taking care of me feels inherently selfish.

However, the list of things that other people need is never ending. There is always more to do, more attention that could be given to any project, more email or phone calls. If I wait until all of those are addressed I will never get out to do some of what I need for my own health and well-being. I will always put it off, choosing the urgent instead of the important.

Twelve years ago I wrote the first draft of a personal calling statement. It has morphed and focused over the years, but one component that hasn’t changed is the commitment I made to live in such a way that I am accelerating at age 80.  That is, in every area of life — spiritually, relationally, intellectually, and physically — I want to still be gaining speed when I turn 80.  (I will worry about what comes after that then.)

I realize that taking care of my body is one of the most important components of fulfilling that calling.  It is the only vehicle God has given me through which I can engage in everything that matters. Being a steward of this body is non-negotiable if I intend to be accelerating at 80.  However, even though I get it intellectually, on a day by day basis I get seduced into taking care of other people and other things at the expense taking care of myself.

Last Friday was a breakthrough.

The truth is, unless I appropriately care for the only body I have, I will be out of the game and unable to contribute to the world in any significant way. So, while it may seem selfish to put a few people or projects on a temporary hold, at the end of the day it is the only way to steward everything God has put within my reach. Self-care is not only unselfish, it is actually one of the major priorities for any leader. Leaders cannot live at the red-line and hope to stay in the game?

I’ll see you on the bike path.

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.

Five C’s of High Capacity Leaders

In a world that crowds after the illusion of simple formulas, what I am about to say might venture too close to that black hole. However, my conviction is that the five attributes below represent the journey of a leader’s life long development. As a matter of fact, our quest for quick-fix, simple leadership formulas is actually what derails us from the depth of this developmental journey.

The extent to which a man or woman has cultivated all five dimensions of his or her life, is the measure by which they will find the influence of their life growing exponentially. By the same token, every dimension that is missing or stunted  sabotages the scope of that influence.

I have taught on four of these five dimensions for some time, perhaps even beginning to take for granted that everyone already “gets it.” But this past week in a conversation with a very sharp woman leader I discovered that I have also come to understand the fifth dimension. So, whether this serves as a review of the familiar or as fresh thinking I hope it serves you.

I also make the assumption that you live with a God-given desire to live a life of influence — to make a mark that cannot be easily erased. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the shape of the following in your life:

CHARACTER :: Influence flows out of who you are more than what you do. Character is more than force of will or consistency. It is that unique combination of who you are when no one is looking and the formation of your soul through intimacy with Christ.

COMPETENCY :: At the same time, leaders need to have skills. In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their skills that they might lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.

CALLING :: Leaders are surrounded by those with an agenda, expectation, or demand for them. Yet, leaders of influence are those live before the Audience of One rather than for the applause of the crowd. They do so because they understand and align their behavior with a clear sense of calling and contribution.

COURAGE :: Unfortunately, the crowd won’t like it. Therefore, leaders must be people of courage. You cannot lead without conflict, even when you are doing the right thing in the right way. And, you cannot wade toward or through that conflict without courage. Without courage, you will dodge the hard stuff.

COMMUNITY :: Leaders don’t live or lead in isolation. While leading is often an isolating experience, leaders seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others. They create safe places of community for others by the way they pursue it themselves.

So, if you were to give yourself a grade of ‘A’ to ‘F’ on each of the five, what would your report card look like today?

MORE TO COME:
I am going to post an essay on each of these five every few days over the next couple weeks. I’d invite you to absorb them one at a time. Post a thought or two about how you are learning work on each dimension.

After I have completed the series,  I’ll post it as one downloadable .pdf and add some group reflection questions so that you might use it as a resource with those who lead beside you.