Give Them A Compelling Reason

Leaders crave for a way to increase the horsepower of their organization. And, by horsepower, what I really mean is manpower. It shows up in questions and conversations like, “how do we keep our people motivated and engaged?” “How do help people give us their best?” “What does it take to get more people to volunteer or to volunteer more of themselves?”

Creating an empowering environment is way to do just that.

I want to argue that building an empowering environment is one of the greatest contributions leaders can make to unleashing the potential of people. Piece by piece, it isn’t complicated at all, but it takes intentionality.

Over the next three weeks, I will post seven articles on how to create an empowering environment. Here is the first:

Creating an Empowering Environment #1:
Give Them A Compelling Reason

 

Knowing why comes first. Your people—employees and volunteers alike—need to know what is at stake and how their contribution is directly connected to it. Every church, non-profit, business, or enterprise of any sort is actually populated by volunteers.  Even when there is a paycheck involved, employees volunteer themselves to the challenges of the task at hand every day.

In the day-to-day people lose sight of the reason behind what they are doing. It isn’t a devious plot, it’s just human nature. It happens to you and me. In the midst of detailed and often mundane steps natural to fulfilling any responsibility, it is human nature to lose sight of the big picture. Individual trees dominate our field of vision and we forget about the forest.

You see, vision has a half-life of seven days.  That is to say, no matter how strong and clear the vision for what you are doing is today, seven days from now it will only be half as clear and half as strong.  Seven days later another half-life evaporated. Within 28 days, no matter how strong and clear initial vision was, you will be limping along with a meager 6½% of its original strength.

This means smart leaders are always asking connecting the dots for people. They are always talking about why the things you are doing matter so much. They get creative about finding ways to paint pictures of the compelling reason behind your work. An annual vision push will never be enough. People respond when the compelling reason motivating their effort is current and clear.


Without a compelling reason:

  • People are left to work out of duty or obligation alone.  And working solely out of duty is the pathway to burnout.
  • People compete for resources based on personality or positional power rather than vision and strategy.
  • Turf wars become the order of the day.
  • Pettiness reigns! Pettiness is a clear indicator of the absence of compelling vision.


This Week?
A brass plague in the lobby won’t get the job done. Get creative. What could you do?

  • Could you tell a fresh story illustrating the compelling purpose of your organization? 
  • Could you reward personal or even departmental behavior that is fully aligned with the reason you exist?

 
After you give it a try, consider coming back and posting a comment about your experience.
And, come back in a couple days for the next installment in this seven part series.

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.

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?

Life is Long……and fragile

watchLife is long and paradoxically fragile.

In spite of the fact that we blaze through the demands of our daily lives at an impatient pace, the truth is, life is long. It takes time to accomplish anything great. It takes time to build deep relationships. Nothing happens as quickly as we would like. It takes time.

At the same time, it can be threatened in a heartbeat.
A few weeks ago, I led a ceremony for a married couple renewing their vows on their tenth anniversary. The day before the ceremony, the ‘grooms’ brother said to me, “this really is an accomplishment. I don’t have any friends who are still married and happy about it after ten years.”

A cruel word, a careless decision, a selfish choice, and a host of easy missteps and you do long-term damage to any relationship. Yet in contrast, the stuff that strengthens a relationship tends to be small, daily, non-dramatic, easy to dismiss. What takes a long time to build can be damaged with amazing speed.

It’s the same with your health. Right eating and exercise generally builds a healthier body. But a random DNA flaw, a weak heart valve or a rogue cancer cell and that temple of health is undone. A careless driver or mechanical flaw and a traffic accident can change your future forever.

I think this is part of what God meant when he spoke through the Psalmist telling us to number our days.(Psalm 90) Today is the only day we will ever have within our grasp. Tomorrow is unknown and yesterday is a memory. Today is sacred. Holy. So, seize opportunities to influence others. Celebrate more. Relax more. Choose to love the people who populate the fabric of your life. Laugh. Enjoy. Take God and his mission in the world seriously, but lighten up on most of the other stuff. Learn all there is about all you can. Today is the only moment of eternity you can touch, so drink it in as a gift. And do those things today that will make tomorrow better.