3 Simple Questions for Clear Guidance

In a practical follow up to Working From Second Chair, here are three simple questions to provide clear Guidance. You can use this tool with your boss or with those you supervise. I even made laminated cards to pass out.  When a new initiative comes up or you need to clarify an ongoing program or process, review the 3 simple questions.

1. WHY are we doing this?

This is the 50,000 foot view.

How does “this” tie into our overarching vision and values? This will determine if the initiative should even see the light of day.

2. WHAT is the 1 thing you would most like this to accomplish?

20,000 foot view.

This is where it gets tough because the leader must boil down the entire initiative to a singular purpose that is measurable. It requires the leader to prioritize between all the good things which might be accomplished and declare a bull’s-eye for the team to hit. This is the measure by which its success will be judged– did we accomplish X?

3. HOW are we accomplishing this one thing?

5 foot view.

If you are a leader of leaders –and not just a manger of doers–it is imperative you hand them some of the rope at this point.  Leaders must be empowered to decide their tactics that meet the answer provided to question #2 based upon their connection with their people.

If you provide them exact tactics, they are no longer leaders working under you but simply doers. If you completely provide every detail of the tactics to be used, good leaders will get frustrated because they are stifled from leading. If you release the tactics to your team with clear guidance on what you want them to accomplish, you can spend your energy on other 50,0000′ and 20,000′ feet ideas.

How You Can Get Unblurry (and How Obama Could Benefit)

It so often happens to the best of us. The fog of business confuses us, makes decision making difficult and slows us to a crawl. Even the President of the United States is not exempt. In their recent Washington Post article, and write:

On the verge of his 2012 reelection race, however, Obama’s continued lack of clear definition is hurting his political prospects, according to longtime Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

They continue to quote Hart:

Hart notes that the core of most recent presidents could be summed in a few words; “strength and optimism” for Ronald Reagan, “compassion and determination” for Bill Clinton and “conviction” for George W. Bush.

“The challenge here is not whether a specific element is wrong with Barack Obama’s image, but that he does not have one single image,” writes Hart. “He is everyone and no one.”

The Solution? A single word focus.

One of my heroes, Bobb Biehl, often encouraged us to have a one word focus, for life and for each year. I would add you can have a one word focus for month or even a day. This word provides incredible clarity and cuts through the fog. For example,  if you have a group of uncompleted tasks and projects, your word might be “complete.” In that case you would push aside everything new and emerging and set a laser light focus on finishing as many half-completed tasks as possible. You one focus will probably be tied to your one word what-you-do-best word. One of the words I most often hear used of me is “simplifier.” I seem to have been blessed with the innate ability to take a complex set of ideas or concepts and boil them down to a simple deliverable and communicable  process. This plays out well for my roles in business development and marketing just as it did in preaching. I keep my do-best word in mind as I do my yearly, monthly or daily focus word.  Things go best when they are aligned.

If Obama could sum up the goal of his next term in one simple word, it could aide him greatly in the campaign. One Republican candidate has a very clear single word focus–Ron Paul. Limit. As a Libertarian-oriented Republican, he wants to severely limit the federal powers back to what he feels are their constitutional boundaries. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 resonates in similar ways.

So what would is your single word (or short phrase) focus for life, the year, month or day?

Dealing With Wounded Clients & Friends (How To Apologize Well)

A strong analysis of the strength of Bezos’ apology for how Amazon wrongly deleted books off of peoples’ Kindles. Everyone in leadership will have to apologize from time to time. This gives great insight on how to do it well.

Another great principle was taught to me by a mentor Dave Guion.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Rom 12:15

If someone is wounded or defensive, don’t make all your counter arguments for how you were right and be highly defensive. They will have stopped listening to you at that point. A perfect example was modeled by Dave:

We were doing an huge student ministry event in the Alamodome featuring headline artist and communicators. Dave and I were charged with running a portion of the event before the show where youth bands got to play on two side stages before the main part of the event started. Friday night went off almost hitch free and we even image magnified the bands onto the jumbotrons. Saturday morning the second group of bands were supposed to play but the major network video switcher guys had been given the main event start and not the youth band start times. So though the bands played, they were not image magnified onto the giant screens. A student’s dad, perhaps not a Christ follower, approached the leadership of the event irrate who passed it onto us and asked us to meet with him. We had never legally promised to video or image magnify any of this and I knew it and Dave knew it.

When we met the dad in the corridor steam was coming out of his ears and his face reddened as he threatened suit. David lived out the mourn with those who mourn principal. He didn’t say, “Sir, those kids last night got lucky that the camera guys happened to be here and were willing to do pre-roll work. Your kid was fortunate enough to get selected so you should be grateful.” Instead, I watched David say, “_____, there is nothing more that I would have liked than for you to have the experience of watching your son on the large screen. I realize you were looking forward to that and we were looking forward to it, too. We tried our hardest to make it happen up to the very last minute, but unfortunately we couldn’t. I want you to know if somehow they were rolling tape, we will do our best to get you a copy of your son’s performance. I don’t know if they were, but I will do everything in my power to make it happen.” The situation was instantly diffused and the guy was saying, “Listen guys, I am sorry I came on so strong. It’s just that I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and we had friends and relatives come……I appreciate all that you were doing.”

When we try to not be defensive and mourn with those who mourn, the walls come down. The principle works equally well if something was totally your fault.  A short-lesson that David Guion modeled for me so well that I have never forgotten. In fact, God has given the opportunity to practice it several times in the last few weeks….usually because of something that was my fault…ha!

You can follow Dave Guion on Twitter at one24worship.

Teaching People to COF with Passion

You are called to serve others with passion. This is true regardless of your job title. Many of us do this serving through a staff or cadre of volunteers whom we are charged with overseeing. Those people need you to be at your best as a leader to help lead them to their highest levels of effectiveness. Here is a challenge to give to your staff to COF.

CAPACITY- produce with excellence at a high rate.

1. Know your yearly goals, have them posted and make sure that is where most of your work is heading. I want to know your goals and how you are progressing towards them that week with specific actions.

2. Don’t get sucked into La-La Land. If you work on a computer, a funny youtube video is only one click away, and then another, and another.

3. Have accountability for your time. Know I will come check on you at times, asking what are you working on.  It keeps us all honest. However, if I have to babysit you, you won’t be here long. Also, we all do a time audit (free tool) at least three times per year.

OWN- your responsibilities handling them like would if your whole area were its own small business.

1. Be an initiator. If an webpage is out of date or we need to recruit new talent, don’t make me be the one coming and saying, “When are we getting the new content up? What is our recruitment strategy?” If you are stuck, come to me and say, “We have an web event ending, what is the most important next event?” or “Here is my recruitment strategy; does this work for you?”

2. Be an innovator. If you are over the web area, come to me saying, “Here are the newest trends; we want to attempt this?” Don’t get trapped in maintenance mode, it will kill us. If I am the one coming to you for innovations constantly, we are in trouble.

FINISH-make sure you are hitting deadlines and  have the right polish.

1. Hit deadlines. Never surprise me with a “woops.” If we are going to miss a deadline, I want to know why and by how much so I can  provide you ideas to get us there on time.

2. No sloppiness. Don’t make me ask, “Why was it okay with you that such a poor quality of product happened?” Spend the last 10% of energy to make sure it has the polish that it needs to communicate. We can always disagree over the concept of something initially. Once me make a decision to go in a direction, make sure we are clearing the bar before something gets sung, hung, displayed, or executed. It is usually a lack of effort or fatigue in final stages that makes the concept sloppy or well executed.

If people are missing the marks of COF-ing, you must ask them, “What is your passion?” If it is not in the area they are in, they need to move laterally or move on so someone else who COFs with passion can step into their role.

Raising Up Leaders Using the [Decision Space] Concept

I have said 51% of any leaders job is raising up other leaders. How do we do that? Use the [decision space] concept.

When we have a potential leader we need to create a space for them in which they are completely authorized and resourced to make a decision. At first that space will be incredibly small, even an “either this or that” option. For example, I might need something designed by a rookie designer. I can tell the them, here is the template and you are free to change this color or that one picture. Here are the resources you have available. I then tell them, “Here is why we do it this way.” This last statement is vital because it gets them to start thinking with values and purposes of the organization, more on this to come.

The next time I give them a project their [ – decision space – ] should grow. They should be given slightly broader boundaries to make decisions of what to do, when to do it, and how to apply their given resources, with me providing coaching and continuing to give the “why” behind it all. And so on and so on.

Soon they will have grown into a [- – – – decision space – – – – -] where they are making major decisions on what to do, when to do it and how many resources to bear, as they now start raising up new leaders under them by providing these new leaders small [decision space] and multiplying the process. You will rarely have to bang your ahead against the wall on their decisions because they understand why you make the decisions you do and were grown in leadership. Though they might not approach a solution exactly like you would (which is actually healthy), the result will line up with the overall vision because they understand the WHY of it all. Soon you will have a team of solid leaders.

How can you give every person under your leadership a bit more [decision space] this week?

Working From Second Chair

Most people don’t get to be the CEO or President, the head honcho or boss man.

Most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle, executing and bringing creativity to our piece of THE vision.

This can be a tough place to lead from if you ever feel constrained or worse, you find yourself becoming a doing-pawn, merely carrying out the tactical orders of higher ups with no creative input.

How do you work with a strong key leader without frustrating him or her yet have a voice in the process? You don’t want to find yourself in the position of always being the “no-that-isn’t-a good-idea” guy but also don’t want to be a mere “yes-man” lest you lose your soul.

Here is an approach to consider.

When working with a leader, break down your leader’s thoughts (or orders) into three areas, concern, intent and tactics.

Often a leader will issue a tactical order without explaining the concern or intent behind it. In moment of crisis situations, these often need to executed immediately with no questions asked. But later, after the crisis passes, dialogue can be had as to why the leader issued the tactics they did. Most decisions are not in the moment crises and this conversation can happen along the way.

When you hear a tactic given, seek to understand the leader’s concern. Obviously, something is moving them to issue a tactical order. Are you not moving enough product, is attendance down, is something happening that is causing a drift from his or her vision? See if you can get the leader to clearly voice the fundamental concern.


Second, move up one level from the tactical order and see if you can re-voice the leader’s intent back to them. “So I hear you telling us to do X tactic because you want to see Y result.” Sometimes you might be spot on. Other times the leader might add clarity by expanding your understanding for his wanting you to use a specific tactic. This will allow you to implement the tactic with a greater passion than merely carrying it out “because the boss said so.”


Another opportunity comes here. Often visionary leaders are great an intuitively having the right concern and intent but not necessarily applying the right tactic.

Understanding their concern and intent allows you to come to them and say, “Here is another option (tactic) to consider that might address your concern and intention in a more effective way.”

You’ll often find leaders who at first sound glued to a specific tactic are not as nearly glued to the tactic as they are to fixing the concern. When you identify with their concern and intent, they will be open to more effective tactics and not see  you as rebelling against authority. You are still a team player and on-board with the vision.  You are merely suggesting a different tactic to arrive at their desired outcome.

If these conversations are seasoned with grace and patience, I have seen remarkable openness by leaders to yield to more effective tactics different than they originally ordered because their concern and intent is being addressed.

Dealing With Conflict Part 3

Working with people at times will bring forth challenges. Tonight, was our men’s meeting week of my Team (small group). One of the guys told me something very wise that he uses in management. Usually when a people problem arises it can be broken down to one of two categories.

Training/Skill. Some problems are because people don’t have the skill set needed to execute whatever it is they are assigned to do. In that case you must ramp up training and communication to see if their skill set can be brought up to the quality level of the task required. Sometimes it can and sometimes it cannot.

Compliance. A much bigger issue. In this case the person possesses the necessary skill set, but the just won’t execute according to protocol and standards. Why? They might not see something as vital and important (communicating along proper channels, learning their stuff, hitting cues, etc.) and so they assume–the root of all conflict–that it won’t matter if they don’t execute it well (we call it a level 1 compliant problem). Another reason for a compliance problem is that the party doesn’t agree with the system, methods and standards, and they either don’t care or don’t know how to communicate it well, so they take it upon themselves to remedy the problem on their own accord (Level 2). The worst manifestation is a “cut your feet out from you” compliance problem where someone has a personal issue with you and your leadership and they attempt to intentionally sabotage leadership (Level 3).

Dealing With Conflict Part 2: Leadership Star

Ever need to have a difficult conversation with someone but dread it? Need to get something out on the table but not knowing how to say it and remain Christlike in the dialogue? Use Bobb Biehl’s leadership star.

“I care enough about you to be fair and honest with you. Here is where you are strong (list them). Here are some things that might be stressing you and are difficult for me (list them). I want to free you up to serve in your strengths by. . .”


The conversation can be this brief or more of a dialogue depending on the circumstance. We use it when someone’s perfomance or character is continually sub-par and we need to address it. Let’s look at it piece by piece:

1. Care. If you haven’t cared for them in the past, you are already sunk because you weren’t Christlike. You’ll have to skip that part of the star, but it makes it more difficult.

2. Fair and honest. If you are a political spin artist or have danced around the truth in the past, they’ll be shocked you are being so straightforward now. Always have complete honesty in previous conversations as a bedrock foundation. For example, if one of our employees tanks a presentation, I don’t tell him/her, “Good job today.” Instead I say, “Make sure we . . . next time.” I don’t want them to hear in the weakness/difficulties section below, “You are not a good presenter,” for the first time in the star conversation. They need to be hearing honest critique along the way.

3. Strengths. Sometimes I ask them what they think they are doing well in their role? I tell them the strengths of character and execution that I see them exhibit.

4. Weakness, Stressors and Difficulties. I then say, “Here are some things I sense might be causing you stress and are causing me difficulties.” I could include their lack of promptness, poor execution, character issue, etc. I always point out they are causing me or another team member stress so the person cannot say, “No, that isn’t stressing me out at all.”

5. Free you up to serve in your strengths. Sometimes we can talk about how I could move them laterally. Is there a position that maximizes their strengths and makes their weakness irrelevant? Other times I have to let them go, as painful as that is, because there is no lateral move. Sometimes, it is as simple as saying we will watch a stressor/difficulty together for a while to see if they can resolve it (kind of like a yellowcard in soccer). I give them very clear expectations about what “resolve” means.

The leadership star is a great tool to keep a difficult conversation on task and for you not to soften up what really needs to be said in its fullness. The conversation can be honest and Christlike. We’ll post up some video of examples of using this star in various mocked-up settings soon. If you have questions, ask away in the comments section and we’ll do our best to answer how we do it.

Dealing With Conflict Part 1

“Pull the thistle.”  We have heard that phrase from our lead Pastor Bob Roberts 1,000 times at NorthWood.  He means, in his East Texas roots way, that if you don’t deal with an issue, gossip, behaviors or negative comments quickly and directly the “wound” will soon get infected, fester, and possibly even affect other areas of the body; but most of us dislike or even dread conflict and confrontation, so we let things go that shouldn’t be let go.  I am not advocating not offering grace, but making it clear that grace is being offered and that there is an issue at hand.  Here are some principles I have learned about dealing with conflict from watching Bob Roberts and listening to leadership guru Bobb Biehl:

1.    You can deal with something all out, and it will be messy, or you can not deal with it and have the person’s little messes fall on you for years.
I learned that difficult conversations, though hard, are much better than the constant tension of denial over a long period of time.

2.  Only sadistic people like conflict, I prefer clarification. Bobb Biehl says that all conflict is based on a wrong set of assumptions by one party.  Examples: (A) “Oh I thought I could talk negatively about another worship team member on Thursday and still get to sing on Sunday.”  (B) Wow, you really care that I drank so much at a party that reports came back to you.  It wasn’t that much”    (C) “Yes, I told someone else that you had wronged me without coming to you first, but it was your fault.”  Or more subtly  (D) “Yes I haven’t sung the required amount of times on bridge team, but I helped out on extra on vocal teams last month.”  (E)” Yes I miss audio cues almost every other week, but I am trying my best.” One of the best ways to have a “clarification conversation” is to bring forth the concern and then ask the person to list their assumptions.  Then, you can list clearly the principles or values that counter those assumptions.  Hopefully you have espoused those to a degree in the past that it isn’t the first time they have heard them.

3. Since you will begin the conversation by asking them questions to gather their assumptions, it allows them to speak and be heard without feeling like they are being attacked. Stay calm and listen.  If they were wrong and are trying to dodge the issue, their answers will out them.  If you had misunderstood the situation, you’ll hear their answers and realize your assumptions about the situation was wrong.

4.  When you have the clarification conversation, do not let the conversation drift off topic and get to your solutions.
Write down the things that need to be covered and the clear solutions or outcomes.  I remember having to deal with a band member who had gone to a topless bar.  I had the solutions written down so I wouldn’t get to the quick.  If he was repentant, I would ask him to tell his wife, apologize to his fellow bandmates, take a six month band hiatus and then we would talk about his returning to the band.  Tough, I know, but redemptive.  If he was not repentant, I was going to permanently dismiss him from the band.  I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget or “go soft” even if he repented and say, “Its okay, just don’t do it again.”  He needed the grace and time to deal with the issues at hand.