Busy is Not the Pinnacle of Leadership


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I was in the grocery store the other day and overheard a conversation between two shoppers.

“Hey, how are you doing? I haven’t seen you for a while.”

“Oh, I am so busy–but I have been meaning to get in touch with you.”

“I understand, I am up to my ears in busy. That’s just life these days–eh?”

This exchange got me to thinking. “Busy” has become a badge of honor in our U.S. culture. I don’t think I have talked to a leader in years, when asked, “How’s it going?” they simply replied, “Great-I am refreshed–living and leading with complete balance, and energy to spare.”

No, it almost seems as if one is not truly leading if they are not “busy” beyond what they can genuinely handle. We equate leadership status with “busy.”

But the dictionary equates “busy” with “full.” “Full” means there is no margin–it means “full.” But “full” of what? Merriam-Webster goes on to define “busy” as “full of activity.”

3 Places “Busy” Will Take You

Distracted-ville. “Busy” over time will lead to distraction. It is really difficult to focus on what’s important if you are always living in the urgent. Isn’t that what Stephen Covey taught us all those years ago? Was anyone paying attention? I can remember many seasons of leadership where busyness reigned. In those moments it seemed as if team complaints were amplified, to do’s became endless, and my inbox grew exponentially. True success according to the mission was fleeting and my level of leadership satisfaction was nearly nil. I was completely distracted from my intended purpose and the team goals we set out at the beginning of the year. That is what “busy” will do. You will be distracted to the point of lost.

Luke 10:40-42  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Foolish-city. “Busy” over time will lead to foolish decisions. It is extremely challenging to make quality, strategic decisions in the midst of the urgent. You will always choose the expedient thing–that which brings immediate relief. But relief rarely brings lasting leadership satisfaction either. Nothing of worth is accomplished. There is simply temporary relief–and mark my words–it is temporary. If a problem is not thoroughly solved it will return. An easily applied salve is foolish when surgery is necessary. A quick decision is often a decision delayed. That is foolish.

Proverbs 21:20 Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.

Exhausted-island. “Busy” over time will lead to exhaustion and it is truly exhausting to be busy all the time. And exhaustion harms relationships. A leader is nothing apart from their relationships. When I am worn out from extended seasons of busyness everyone around me feels it. I am more irritable, more judgmental, more easily offended, more prone toward depression . . . more focused on what is behind me rather than what is in front of me . . . and rarely grateful. Busy usually means that you have crowded out the things that truly feed you. You de-prioritize those aspects of life that give you life. You will tend to lean into the things that only drain you. You will damage your relationships. And you will become an island unto yourself.

Matthew 11:28-30 (the words of Jesus) “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How does a leader with weighty responsibility avoid “busy?” I have said on many occasions that the key to complexity is not simplicity . . . it is focus. This kind of leadership focus prioritizes the work as well as the play.

Here are a few resources to get you started on good leadership focus . . . and avoiding “busy”:

What’s Best Next-by Matt Perman

Getting Things Done-by David Allen

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People-by Stephen Covey

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives-by Richard Swenson

How To Create More Mental Focus-a podcast by Michael Hyatt

5 for Leadership (10/11/14)

medium_2872158529Here is the latest 5 on all things leadership for this week. I hope you find something that will enhance your ability to lead. We have posts on the importance of Ops, how sincere leaders get sabotaged, some advice from Chick-Fil-A, leadership seasons, and work and life integration.

The Number One Career Advice From The Former President of Chick-Fil-A  “I want to share with you the best career advice I ever received. As a youngster, I was constantly searching for career advice, tips and directions on how best to advance my career. I read books, listened to cassette tapes and attended seminars searching for the secrets to success.” This is an excellent guest post by Jimmy Collins on Paul Sohn’s blog.

The Seasons of Leadership  “The calendar page turns, and the seasons change. While these seasons are more drastic and obvious in some places than others, there are always four seasons. And your experience tells you that the seasons are all needed, different things can be expected, and different value is derived from each season.” Kevin Eikenberry makes some great leadership connections to this natural phenomena we call seasons. Check it out.

5 Common Beliefs That Sabotage Sincere Leaders  “Wrong beliefs sabotage sincere leaders. Sincerity doesn’t compensate for ignorance. Sincere people adopt beliefs and practices that block success. Everyone does. With time and reflection you learn and adapt, or you crash.” Dan Rockwell shows us how to adapt and optimal motivations.

What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like  “Too many people believe that to achieve great things we must make brutal sacrifices, that to succeed in work we must focus single-mindedly, at the expense of everything else in life. Even those who reject the idea of a zero-sum game fall prey to a kind of binary thinking revealed by the term we use to describe the ideal lifestyle: “work/life balance.” The idea that “work” competes with “life” ignores that “life” is actually the intersection and interaction of four major domains: work, home, community, and the private self.: Stew Friedman provides some great insights and quality examples of what this might look like.

Don’t Ignore The Ops  “Operations are like the oil to the ministry engine.  Without effective operations, the ministry engine is not going to run well and eventually poor operations will burn a ministry engine up.” Are you paying attention to Ops? Jenni Catron gives us solid reasons for managing and monitoring well the operations of our ministries.

There are the 5 for this week.

(photo credit)

Why Do You Get Stuck?

images-2Gary Collins, in his excellent book Christian Coaching, list seven possible reasons individuals and organizations can become stuck. Here they are with a brief explanation:

Overwhelmed. This can include feeling overworked, over scrutinized, or with too little time, energy or people resources to get everything done. The results are often procrastination or uncertainty about where to begin.

Exhausted. This is self explanatory, but can result in the loss of vision, purpose and enthusiasm. A sense of team can fade. Patience can be in short supply. Conflict becomes more prevalent.

Directionless. Everyone is busy and working hard, but there is no overall vision or big picture of the future. The team has no common goals, so work is done independently and progress is limited.

Hopeless. This often happens when there is no sense of achievement or tangible results. Motivation to keep going wanes.

Surrounded by Conflict. It is hard to keeping making progress when there are significant disagreements, communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, or gossip. Dysfunction reigns.

Worthless. This takes place when team members feel unappreciated, overlooked, unrewarded, or unacknowledged. This too will stall progress and motivation.

Alone. This is the feeling of isolation. Each individual is working independently with no sense of belonging, team identity, team spirit, or camaraderie. Often the environment lacks a visionary leader to unite the team around a common purpose.

Team or individual coaching may be the answer for getting unstuck from any or all of these circumstances. What are your thoughts and how have you confronted being stuck?

(Adapted from Christian Coaching: Helping Others Turn Potential Into Reality, Gary R. Collins, Nav Press, Colorado Springs, 2009)

5 for Leadership (10/5/13)

images-2Here is a new 5. Take a few minutes and click through to some fresh learning!

The Kid’s Table  “What happened to ‘employee involvement’? Has it gone out of vogue?  Has it been replaced by new initiatives?  These are questions I’ve come up against recently as I’ve worked with organizations across a variety of industries.” This is a solid post from Julie Giulioni on the Lead Change Group blog.

The Value of a Leadership Development Program  This post was found on the Talent Technologies blog. It provides some valuable research data on the the proper value of implementing a good leadership development program. Bottom line: It pays off to invest more in people than it does to invest in capital improvements. This content is able to be downloaded in a powerpoint pdf format. Take a look.

5 Core Values for the Workplace  “There are many fine values, such as courtesy, confidence, ingenuity, thrift, and so on. The trouble is that the list of values grows easily and can cause many employees to lose their focus. They fail to prioritize. A “short list” of values is far more useful in putting the workplace back on track.” Robert Dilenschneider (on Tim Milburn’s blog) makes his case for five core values that will point any organization towards real success.

Self Reflection: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Each Day  This is a brief post from Experience Life magazine as found on the Eric Jacobson blog. These are good, evaluative questions for purposeful living.

Scorsese and the World Underneath  This is a fascinating piece by Andrew Barber on The Gospel Coalition blog. I offer it because leaders must also be people of thoughtful reflection. It is a myth that one ever leads from a vacuum of thought. How we think about people and life will always impact how we lead. “Martin Scorsese believes he is going to hell. And not in a ‘I’m going to hell anyway so who cares’ rock ‘n roll kinda way. This is a serious, soul-level conviction. ‘I am living in sin, and I will go to hell because of it.’ Many of his interview have indicated Martin Scorsese believes he is doomed for eternal torment. He also happens to be one of the greatest directors in cinematic history.” This is one to read.

There are the 5 for this week. Time to watch some college football and playoff baseball!

5 for Leadership (9/23/13)

images-2Here is a fresh 5 that is two days late from my normal posting. I had the privilege to speak at a student conference over the weekend and had a great time of interaction. This week we take a look at leadership caring, leadership mistakes, leadership opportunities, leadership development and ministry in Italy. All things leadership-enjoy!

The Biggest Mistake of My Life  “Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?” This was the question that Ron Edmondson’s son asked one day of his father. You might find the answer surprising.

Caring or Care-taking?-A Fine Distinction  “In this blog I write a lot about caring in leadership.  I write about it because I strongly believe that if leaders care about people, their efforts will be rewarded in a multitude of ways, both intrinsically and extrinsically.” Gwyn Teatro does a great job in distinguishing between the attitude of caring and care-taking in leadership. This is a must read.

23 Great Thoughts on Leadership Development: A Frontline Festival  This comes from Karin Hurt. “I’m delighted to present the September edition of the Frontline Festival.  This month’s focus:  Leadership Development.  I encourage you to read the insights and share your perspectives.” This is a great resource!

David, Goliath, and Cows Looking At New Gates  This comes from the Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell. “Cows run from new gates. There’s no path. It’s unfamiliar. People are like cows looking at new gates, when it comes to opportunities.” Dan challenges our assumptions about new opportunities–this will give you a shot of courage.

Italy Trip Recap  As many of you know my family spent five years on mission in Italy. They were great years of growing and learning. They were great years of better understanding leadership in another culture. God is at work in this nation. The Gospel Coalition Blog put together a short video highlighting some of what they see God doing in the incredible country.

There are the 5 for this week–sorry it were a little late. Saturday will get us back on track! Have a great week!

5 for Leadership (7/13/13)

images-2Here is a new 5 for the 2nd week in July. We have three, count them, three posts from the Harvard Business Review blog. The HBR is a wealth of quality leadership thought and practicalities. In this 5 we will take a look at strengths, personal development plans, leadership development programs, the very nature of leadership, and some interesting facts about a spiritual leader whose legacy is profound. I hope you find something that will challenge you!

3 Myths About Your Strengths  This comes from the HBR Blog and written by Zenger and Folkman. “One of the most dramatic changes in leadership development in the last decade has been the shift in focus from correcting weaknesses to identifying and expanding on strengths. As this movement continues to catch hold, three myths have emerged that deserve to be dispelled.” You will enjoy this post.

Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail  This too comes from the HBR Blog. “I have never seen a leader fail because he or she didn’t know enough about leadership. In fact, I can’t remember ever meeting a leader who didn’t know enough about leadership. What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical.” Peter Bregman offers two very salient ideas that work when all else fails.

20 Questions To Assess The Quality Of An Individual Development Plan  My organization values have a personal development plan. It is an extremely helpful tool to ensure that we are all involved in self leadership. This post from Dan McCarthy on the Great Leadership blog provides a quick way to make sure your plan is a good one and in line with your role.

How And Why To Be A Leader (Not A Wannabe)  How about one more post from the HBR Blog. Umair Haque offers a motivating look at the deep need for leaders today and 6 ways to start being a real leader and not just a wannabe. See how you stack up–and what you think of his paradigm.

9 Things You Should Know About John Calvin  This final post comes from The Gospel Coalition blog. Calvin, the great reformer, was certainly a leader whose legacy continues strongly today. July 10th was the 504th anniversary of his birth. Take a look at these nine facts to see how his leadership was shaped by his circumstances and for his times.

There are the 5 for this week. Enjoy!

My Top Posts for May

UnknownHere are the five most popular posts from my blog for the month of May.

Delegation vs Empowerment  “Delegation largely raises up followers-empowerment raises up leaders.” This post is always near the top. This is a critical topic for every leader.

Observations on a Good Leader  Here are five observed qualities that are essential to good leadership. Are you learning from those who lead you? What are you learning that will make you a better leader?

Rumsfeld on Meetings  This contains eight highly practical principles towards the function of better meetings. These thoughts are derived from a new book by Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Do You Need a Dose of Rejection Therapy?  What have you learned from rejection? Every leader faces this potentially crippling enemy. Jia Jiang has taken on the personal assignment of unmasking this impostor. This 12 minute video will surely inspire you.

Are You a Leader Who Can Be Led?  “The leader who cannot be led is a leader who is focused solely on self. The question a leader must continually ask is, ‘Why do I lead?'” Here are some principles from the book of Zechariah in the Bible.

There are the top 5 for May. Thanks so much for reading this blog and adding to the conversation through your comments. Let’s keep the learning going.


Rumsfeld on Meetings

images-2Sometime today Donald Rumsfeld’s new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War and Life, will hit the streets. The Wall Street Journal ran an essay this past weekend highlighting some pithy features of the book.

Rumsfeld served as the Secretary of Defense under both Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. He was also a four term congressman from Illinois and once served as White House Chief of Staff. It goes without saying that he has had a lot of experience as a participant in meetings and as a leader of meetings. We all know that meetings can be the death of leadership.

As I read the WSJ essay I was struck by the highly practical nature of the principles that Rumsfeld laid out for leadership digestion. Here are his eight rules for highly successful meetings. If you would like to see the article in its entirety you may do so here.

1. Whether to call a meeting at all. If you call a meeting, be sure you have something to learn or something to communicate–that is worth everyone’s time.

2. When you decide to call a meeting, avoid meandering sessions. Rumsfeld kept a stand up desk so that when people met with him there was not the temptation to stay longer than necessary. Keep meetings as brief as possible and on point.

3. Pay close attention to who is invited. One of the worst things that leaders do is invite way too many people to a meeting. Invite only the people that will help you learn what you must or provide you with the right audience for your message. Get the right people in the room.

4. Start and end the meeting on time. It is amazing how this one principle is so violated. You are not only wasting your time but the collective time of everyone in attendance. That is a lot of wasted time.

5. Encourage others to give their views, even if it means ruffling some feathers. There is not reason to call a meeting of key people if you are only going to hear what you expect. You need to hear what people are thinking and their best ideas, even if they are contrarian. “Foster a culture where people can comment on anything as long as it is relevant and constructive.”

6. Don’t put up with irrelevance or unpreparedness. Rumsfled argues for people always being prepared and on topic. He notes that he has dismissed meetings many times until people were better prepared.

7. When new ideas are broached in a meeting be ready for instinctual and immediate opposition. Meetings need to be about discovery and avoiding group think. It is easy to create a self serving culture. If everyone immediately sees an idea as brilliant, then maybe it is time for more disent.

8. When ending a meeting be sure to make a summary of salient points and take aways, making sure that everyone knows their action points. This is the key to execution–and hopefully a successful next meeting.

Here is the Amazon link to Donald Rumsfeld’s new book. What are your thoughts on successful meetings?

5 for Leadership (2/9/13)

images-2Here is a fresh 5. This week we have something on social media, the emerging religious culture of America, an unlikely conversion, the source of real power in leading, and ways to stay encouraged as a young leader. Click away and take note!

America’s New Government Imposed Religion  This is a must read article if you lead as a spiritual leader, or if you lead a spiritual endeavor. How we navigate our influence over the next few years will be critical.

The 1 Thing Every Business Executive Must Understand About Social Media  My brother in law highlighted this post for me. Social media can no longer be ignored as a key pathway for leading. This article places great value on using it for listening and empathy. See how.

My Train Wreck Conversion  This article from Christianity Today is the narrative of an academic leader who had a most unlikely conversion to the Christian faith. I think this is an important voice, both for how leaders can be influenced and for the influence they have.

Finding Real Leadership Power  You know by now that I really enjoy Dan Rockwell’s blog. In a quick, to the point fashion, Dan distinguishes between humility and arrogance–and where real power comes from. Take a look.

8 Words of Encouragement for The Young Ministry Leader  This final post comes from Ron Edmondson. Every new leader needs perspective and some practical advice to be able to make it for the long haul. Ron gives us 8 pieces of wisdom for getting there.

There are the 5 for this week. In advance-Happy Valentines Day for those in the U.S. Love well. Lead well.

My Top Posts for January

UnknownHere are the five most popular posts for the first month of the year.

7 Leadership Lessons from 2012  You can tell by the title what this post is about. It was the most popular of all of my posts for this month. I hope this encourages you to take time to reflect on what you are learning in your leadership.

Delegation vs Empowerment  Month in and month out this is in the top five. If we want to raise up more leaders, this topic is essential.

Words Matter  This post was an emotional one for me. I have grown weary of Christian speakers and writers not being careful with their words. We can do better. We must do better.

5 for Leadership (1/12/13) This weekly offering has become a mainstay of my blog and a popular one. My aim is to expose you to worthy writers around the web on the topic of leadership. In this post there is something on fallen pastors, working better with Evernote, leadership over management, doing the most important things, and redefining practical.

5 for Leadership (1/19/13)  This 5 speaks to life passion, whole foods, great communication, a paradigm for leading, and challenging the very reason we lead.

Take a look for the 1st time–or look again. And offer up your thoughts.