Everyone is a Volunteer

 

Building and leading any robust enterprise is an endlessly creative and fulfilling challenge. However, managing people can be, well, a pain in the butt. So, how do you get the most from your people?

I am not going to pretend that this one post will change your universe, but, it’s ramifications are huge. Let’s start with a little confession.

I’ve spent my life working in and with churches. Translation: I have spent my life leading and working with volunteers. Volunteers are amazing. They give of their own time and good will to make things happen. At the same time, when I looked over the fence to the greener pastures of “normal” workplaces, I often got jealous. It looked like the power of the paycheck made it so much easier to manage employees compared with what it took to herd a crowd of volunteers.

I mean, employees have to “shape up or ship out.” If they want to get paid, they have to perform and “fly right.” Right? Volunteers, on the other hand, have calendar conflicts, can be hard to hold accountable, and often feel their opinions hold extraordinary weight. I was jealous of the illusion I’d created about what leadership was like in the for-profit sector.

Until it hit me one day—and, here comes the big idea—at the core, everyone is a volunteer. It doesn’t matter whether you get a paycheck or not.

That’s right. Everyone is a volunteer! Everyone makes willful decisions every day to volunteer their best effort, or not to. Aligning their focus and actions with the larger mandate and mission is a choice. Cooperating with colleagues requires a desire to do so. Just because someone is physically present, doesn’t mean they are mentally, emotionally, or willfully engaged. Any of us can be present in body even though we are rebellious in spirit.

Everyday, at every turn of events, everyone decides how much of themselves they are going to give to the responsibilities they have. The point is, we choose to volunteer ourselves, or, not to.

So, what does that mean for us as leaders?

The answer to, “How do I get the most from my people?” is actually found by flipping the question around. “How can I pour the most into my people?”

It all starts by re-orienting and reconsidering the way we exercise authority. There are four kinds of authority and only one of them is has to do with the power of position.**  Yes, you can swing the big stick, but a big stick rarely creates internal motivation. Overplay it and your people will only feel bruised and beat up.

Ask yourself, what does it take for me to become motivated and engaged?

I suggest that answer lies in the kind of environment you create for your people. How compelling is your vision or mission. How clear are people about the critical essence of their role? How adequately are they resourced? How connected are they to relationships with colleagues they work beside? What kind of reward or recognition do people get for the effort they put in?

Whether the people you lead are employees or actual volunteers, when you begin building an environment that would empower volunteers, you create an environment that will bring out everyone’s best.

There is so much more to unpack on this issue. For the next few weeks, I will post six different articles on how to create an empowering environment.

In the meantime, why not take a step back and ask yourself, how am I deliberately trying to pour into the lives of the people I lead?

 

Your Thoughts?

 

 

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**Bonus Insight:

Four Types of Authority:
Healthy leaders learn to lead from all four postures.

  • Positional Authority (Based on me being the boss)
  • Relational Authority (Based on us are friends)
  • Expertise Authority (Based on my knowledge as an expert)
  • Spiritual or Moral Authority (Based on the depth of my relationship with Christ and/or my character)

The Power of One Thing



Every day
as a leader you have to cut through the fog and noise of the immediate to keep things focused on what matters most. There is no place where that challenge is more important than in managing the tasks and priorities swimming in your head.

Trust me, I understand. I am wired to see and want to accomplish the 17 things I think are important right now. And, when I achieve some modicum of success on those, my juices get flowing and I start thinking “carpe diem,” seize the momentum and bring up those 37 other things I have been ruminating on. Bad idea.

To that end, I offer this simple discipline: Identify the ONE THING. In every situation, every day, identify the one thing that matters most right now. And do that.

Of all the things on your “to do list,” ask yourself, “what is the one thing that will make the biggest difference today?” If your plans for the day collapse because of some unforeseen crisis, what is the one thing that is non-negotiable?

Do the same thing in planning your week and your month. Ask yourself, “what is the one thing I can or should do that will move the ball furthest down the field?”

For every appointment, identify the one thing that is most important for you to address, contribute, leave behind, celebrate, etc.?

For every meeting, what is the one thing you want every participant to walk away with?

For every presentation, what is the one message, insight, action point, principle, etc. that you are going to talk about?

It is simple. Simple to understand, but a courageously contrary discipline to execute. I dare you to try it. Instead of fixating on how to get more done, focus on the one thing that will bring strategic progress in this moment and do that thing.

TWO PROMISES
#1: Momentum. If you do this consistently I believe you will find that every day, every meeting, every communique will find these incremental steps add up to significant momentum. And, momentum is exciting.

#2: Impact. The depth of our impact is directly proportional to the narrowness of our focus. The broader your focus the more you dissipate impact. So, imagine that every conversation, every day, every week had greater impact. How good would that be?

What’s your one thing for today?

 

FYI. For a future post: “How to approach the one thing question for your life.”

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.

Character & Competency

A few days ago I posted the first in a series of essays on what I have found to be five attributes of a high-capacity leader. These attributes seem to function in two ways that matter to everyone of us. On the one hand they are like horses harnessed together to pull a load. And at the same time, individually they have the capacity to sabotage what could be accomplished by the others. This is the second of four essays on this theme.

CHARACTER
There is a good shift taking place. While it seems that the majority of training and leadership expectations focus on one’s competencies, there is a lot of emphasis these days on the character that lives deeper than competencies. To that extent we are on the right track. As I and many of my colleagues believe, influence flows out of who you are not what you can do. Character is not the only thing that matters, but without it nothing else matters much.

However, in the popular conversations, it seems we often speak of leaders ‘having character’ as if that means they possess a strength of will to sustain them through the challenges they face. Or, we use character as a synonym for integrity.  To be sure these qualities flow from a leader’s character. However, I mean to imply something more.

The character of a leader is the personalized imprint of God on the inner life. It is not merely the imposition of a predetermined list, (i.e. the Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,etc.) I think of character as the comprehensive and unique landscape of one’s soul — the integrated package of convictions forged by experience and the internal formation carried out by the Spirit of God which shape our behavior.

Character makes an imprint on everything we do, every relationship we maintain, and every facet of our behavior. It is more than who I am when no one is looking. It is also who I am when everyone is looking.

It is a matter of soul and spirit. Spiritually, it is reflected in 2 Chr. 16:9
“The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth, that he might fully support the man whose heart is completely his.”


COMPETENCY
At the same time, leaders need to have skills–significant skills! In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their abilities in order to lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.
Don’t misunderstand my comments on character to mean that skills don’t matter.  We live in a demanding world. In fact, most leaders find they are expected to be competent in a wide range of arenas they were never trained in.

Influence flows out of character, but high capacity leaders are also highly competent. They don’t flaunt their expertise, but they are constantly working to develop their skill-set. Character-deep leaders understand the relationship between character and competency. While character may be the key to influence, they have also learned to rely on their competencies much like a master-mechanic relies on tools. When the tasks demand it, they pull out different tools, use them with wisdom, and then put them back into the tool chest for another day.

In a world characterized by quantum and continuous change, we will always need new skills. We can benefit from skills that minimize personal deficits, but more importantly, we need to hone those skills that build on personal strengths.
Biblical parallels:
Ps 78:72:  “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hand he led them.”
1 Tim 4:11-15:  “…do not neglect your gift…be diligent… so that everyone may see your progress.”

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.

Runner’s up for Book of the Year 2008

Getting beyond the wow factor of technological advancements can be hard at times. After all, today my phone has more memory, speed, and graphic computing power than my first computer ever dreamed of. But the real issue for all of us is how we are going to leverage the opportunities created by technology in order to exercise leadership influence? How do we participate in the social-networking and web-based explosion of the likes of Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, or blogging phenomenon.

Tribes is about that kind of leverage. In fact, in the surprise I didn’t expect, Godin’s book offers powerful principles for effective leadership in an information age. I an such a fan o the book that I have been highly recommending it to our staff. Every leader of the day faces the challenge of getting beyond the surface and superficial use of technology and informational systems and getting to the real issue: leadership. Here is a book to help you do just that.

Tribes invites all of us into a fresh look at the opportunities and necessities of leadership in the environmentof our day.

The second book in my Runner’s Up category is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero.  I have written on this in an earlier entry that you can read.  But, as I look back on the year, I realize that I am continually having conversations that link back to EHS and to the journey that book sent me on.

One component of the book I have thought a great deal about lately is the way Scazzero addresses the need we all have to grieve our limits and our losses.  We all have God-given limits and our ability to discover genuine emotionally healthy spirituality is connected to how well we learn to deal with loss and with our limits.

I don’t know about you, but I have found that my emotional well-being and my spiritual well-being are inseparably intertwined. Here is a tool to guide the integration of my (and I hope, your) journey.

SO THE QUESTION IS: IF YOU WERE TO NOMINATE YOUR “BOOK OF THE YEAR” WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST AND WHY?


Book of the Year

Of all the books I read last year, Just Courage stands out as book of the year for me. It is inspiring, provocative, prophetic and although only 132 pages, it has gotten under my skin like no book I have read in a long time.  Here is a sample glimpse into Gary’s point:

“At the end of the day we thought our Christian life would be more than this—-somehow larger, more significant, more vivid, more glorious. But it’s not. Driving to church on Sunday feels a bit like Ground Hog Day, the movie where Bill Murray’s character is forced to pathetically relive exactly the same day over and over again.”
(p. 25-26)

“The idea that there is nothing beyond our personal spiritual development isn’t meant to be satisfying—-for our rescue is not the ultimate destination; it is the indispensible means by which God works out his plan to rescue the world.”  (p. 29)

Just Courage makes a powerful case for God’s call to his people to engage in the work of justice. And, not just for the redemptive impact on those struggling with injustice, but for how responding to this call is liberating for Christians as well.  “God specifically uses the work of justice as the pathway for liberating us from the Christian cul-de-sac of triviality and small fears.” (p. 39)

Haugen’s book fits on a larger page that God has been writing in my life. It is a call to all of us who follow Christ to move outside the walls of ecclesiastical safety and into the lives of people touched by the brokenness of our world. It is a call to follow Jesus in the world he was motivated to reach. It is an invitation to participate in the redemptive work that God is all about.

I could go on, but what I would love is for you to get a copy, read it, and drop me a note with your thoughts. Let’s have a dialog.  {Click the image of the book and go straight to Amazon to order it.}
[P.S. I’ll post thoughts on the two runner-up books in next week.]

the illusion of mentoring

Gandalf…Dumbledore…Yoda… fictional icons of wisdom and in the minds of many the epitome of the perfect mentors.  The only thing is, they aren’t real. They are part of the fiction that actually inhibits mentoring.

It seems that we are collectively waking up to the power of mentoring these days, however at the same time, behind this momentum at least two illusions sabotage access to mentoring for most people.

The first illusion is the romanticized notion that mentoring relationships should be dramatic experiences of breakthrough replete with fireworks in the sky and a soundtrack in the background. It is as if we expect mentoring to feel like semi-magical encounters with an all-knowing guru. However, real mentoring feels pretty mundane most of the time.

The second illusion actually discourages people who are in the game. Most days, the real experience of mentoring feels more like the simple exchange of friends over a cup of coffee than a lightning bolt of earth-shaking insight. At any given moment in a mentoring relationship, the conversations feel small, slow, incrementally laborious…anything but glamorous.

This second illusion is the subtle deceit which makes people doubt the value of the time they are spending together. It is the lie that these mundane and incremental conversations are unremarkable. The opposite is actually the truth. The remarkable impact of mentoring is not in the drama of a single moment, but in the cumulative impact of one person sharing their life and their experience with another over time.

The reality behind the illusions of mentoring, is that the small non-glamorous interactions between mentor and “mentoree” add up to life-changing influence over time. Operating under the radar, mentoring can actually change the world, one life at a time.

And that is my point. If you can let go of the grandiose guru-like or overly structured academic notions of mentoring, you will see that there are scores of people around you who might help you with the growth, challenges, or possibilities you are facing. Seek them out for a simple conversation where you learn from their insight and experience.

Let go of the fanciful notions of mentoring and you will discover that you have scores of life experience and insight that might serve people around you as well.

So…
Who could you share your life with?
And, who could help you with the things you face?

The Little Thing that Changes Everything: Courage

I have a theory: courage is the sinew that connects our thinking to our behavior.  It’s not good intentions that get things done, it is courage. We can talk the right talk, we can understand key issues, and we can have all manner of good ideas, but without courage we won’t act on them. 

Two days ago, my wife, Margaret, and I were part of an organized “century ride” on California’s central coast. (1oo mile ride in one day on a bicycle.) Unfortunately, her batteries were a little low. She’d been sick a week earlier and after a couple hectic encounters with traffic motivation to continue was waning. At the turn around point, she felt a bit unsettled and would have preferred to stop.  However, she made a conscious choice to override her emotions at the moment and continue the ride. It was raw courage. There is no other word for it. It moved me, and it reminded me how much courage it takes to choose to continue when the initial thrill of adventure wears thin.

Every time a leader or an organization attempts change, they face moments it would be far easier to stop moving forward. Every time you or I try to change our ways or accomplish something worthwhile we hit the point where the initial thrill of the project is over and the strength of our courage is tested. When those you lead are pushing back against your because of the price tag of change, it takes courage to continue moving forward. When you are stepping into the unknown, courage is what keeps you from turning back to what was familiar and ‘safe.’

I became convinced long ago that leaders of influence exhibit four qualities that set them apart. They have a clear sense of Calling (passion, direction, etc.) They possess the Competencies demanded by a complex and challenging world. They have Character that runs deep, making them the people others can trust when the chips are down. And the fourth, they demonstrate that often overlooked quality, Courage.

While competency and character are familiar territory, the demand for courage might be the most often overlooked. Without courage you won’t pull the trigger when the going gets tough.  Without courage you will sabotage your capacity for influence by choosing the easy road. Without courage, it is easy to give up halfway.

You can have all the insight and ideas imaginable, but when the going get’s tough, what’s in your head won’t translate into behavior unless you also have courage. There is always an easier way out.

Courage is an amazing thing. It inspires others. And it is the fuel that gets things done. I watched Margaret make a courageous choice to keep going last Saturday and watched her ride strong through the finish line because of it.

I hope I can live as courageously this week.

The Relationship Between Focus and Impact

the clutter of busyness

Here’s the problem, my brain is always thinking about possibilities. What else could be done? What new projects could we tackle? What new goals? What improvements?

However, impact is directly related to focus and focus is about doing fewer things not more. Impact is not the result of doing a lot more. Focus is a process of saying no – so that you have the time and energy to say yes to the right stuff.

In a culture where habitual drivenness is the water we swim in, there is an invisible pull to say yes to more. And if your wiring is at all like mine, some of those possibilities and projects dangling before you are so alluring that it is easy to be deeply invested in far too many commitments to make a focused impact.

Wise leaders are constantly clarifying and focusing their personal “DO and DON’T DO LIST.” That is, they continually focus their activities and commitments so that maximum energy can be directed for greatest focus. They are clear about when they should say yes and when they must say no.

I think there are at least three major areas of vulnerability that lure us into an over-committed out-of-focused life. These are the areas where saying no does not come naturally.

Passion:
Leaders are generally people of passion. They long to make a difference, to leave the world a better place. Charlatans masquerade as leaders, but are actually concerned about recognition, self-advancement, and the like. True leaders seek to give themselves away. And this is where the trouble lies. When you are passionate about making a difference, it is easy to yes to that one more responsibility.

Competency:
Over time every one of us develops some legitimate competencies. Some of them were developed at a great price–with great pain and effort. When opportunities arise to leverage some of your core competencies it is easy to feel needed and valued. It is seductive to say yes when you get to use what you have learned to do well.

Relationships:
You know how this one works. A friend asks you to take on a new responsibility because your abilities would meet a need they have. You know you are already overly committed, but it is just one more thing and this relationship is important to you.

My point: Less really is more. There is a direct correlation between the narrowness of a leader’s focus and the depth of their impact. The key to focus is to say no to more so that you might say yes to the right stuff.

Two suggestions:

1.) Define your DO and DON’T DO list. In light of the focus of your life – the one thing that is most important for you to give yourself to – make a list of the responsibilities and behaviors you must do and a second list of those things you must (even painfully) say no to.

2.) Schedule a monthly review where you pull up a few thousand feet to review what has climbed onto your plate that you shouldn’t be doing and the things that have slipped off your plate which you must be doing. Then plan your schedule forward accordingly.