The Leader & Planning: Pace and Environment


antony_mayfield on Flickr

This is the 4th in a series on leadership and planning.

The other three parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Strategic planning is necessary for the success of any entity. You need a team that is highly engaged and ready to give their best thinking towards the future. Today’s post speaks to the right pace of planning and the best environment. Here are some practical suggestions on both.

The Right Pace Matters  Too many leaders wear out their teams with all day meetings. It’s death by planning.

1. Spread the time out over multiple days.

2. Never have a planning meeting for more than four hours in any one day.

3.  Don’t stay on one topic for too long. I would recommend not going more than 60 minutes on any particular issue. If you are tackling a particularly big problem–return to it later when there might be some fresh ideas.

The Right Environment Matters  If you want people to be engaged and contribute well you need to place them in an environment that aids the creative process.

1. Provide a comfortable meeting room that is well lit and has enough room for people to move around (I actually prefer meeting in a home when possible).

2. Be sure to take a good break every 75 to 90 minutes during the time.

3. If you are going to require aids like a VPU, large whiteboard (with markers that actually work), giant 3M note pad, post-it notes, etc. Be sure everything you need is ready and in sufficient number.

4. Snacks. You have to have some good snacks.

There is the art and the science of planning. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference. Lead well!

The Leader & Planning: Self Preparation


Lloyd Morgan on Flickr

A critical aspect in team planning is the leader’s own self-preparation. In previous posts, I have talked about the need to prepare your team and the overall purposes of planning. These topics should fuel some reflection for the leader on what he or she needs to do at a personal level to prepare for the team this important time.

Early in my history as a team leader I failed to take the time to adequately prepare myself for this task. I was more concerned about the end product than I was the overall effectiveness of the process. But it is the process that creates team ownership. And it is the leader’s self-awareness that will ensure a great process. Here are three considerations for preparing yourself in leading a quality planning time with your team.

1. Do you truly understand the vision, mission, and direction of the organization?  This probably sounds rather insulting. But I often run across two problem issues in this regard. Sometimes leaders do not fully understand what leaders above them are aiming for. Yet, leading within a larger context requires that the leader knows the aim, goals, and expectations of the broader organization in which they serve. The other issue I see is that a leader often does not know well their own current context. They assume by intuition what is true and what needs to happen. But they can’t actually back those assumptions up with good metrics, surveyed data, or current trends. They are relying too much on prior experience. This can lead to a rather canned approach to planning that is void of any real innovation or creativity. It can also lead to solving yesterday’s problems based on old information. Leaders have to be continual learners. They must be in line with leaders above them and they must be current abut the setting of their own sphere of influence. Knowing these things will help enflame vision, mission, and direction for the leader. Knowing these things will help ensure that the leader is able to lead in line with the organization’s vision, mission and direction, and can articulate that well to a team.

2. Have you thoughtfully defined what you hope to accomplish during the planning time?  Many leaders aim for document production as their only planning goal. But what kind of plan are you hoping to produce? What will be the timeline of this plan? Who will the plan impact? Are the right people involved in the planning process? How will you prepare the team for what you hope to accomplish? Do you need outside resources or expertise to aid the planning time? Who will facilitate the planning time? These kinds of questions must be thought through and answered ahead of time. To do so will guide you in how you approach and execute the planning time towards greater effectiveness.

3. Have you considered the value of consulting others before you facilitate a team planning time?  Sometimes leaders rely too much on their own experience and talent. As I mentioned earlier, leaders need to be continual learners. Have you asked other respected leaders how they approach team planning? Sometimes the value of just having a sounding board can really help pave the way for a solid planning time with your team. Have you sought outside resources like books, podcasts, and videos to help inform your planning time? Have you considered asking a 3rd party to come in and facilitate your time? This can be valuable, especially if this is an emergency plan or a season loaded with personal emotions. To have someone else facilitate can keep the planning time more objective and profitable. Is there a co-leader in your setting and have you worked with them to ensure a coordinated effort towards planning?

I usually suggest that a leader start to think through the above issues at least a month before the actual team planning time. To really prepare at a personal level takes some slow cooking. You can’t get there in a few hours at Starbucks. And if you are a Christian leader leading in any capacity, then begin your personal preparation with some extended time in prayer. Being led by the One who controls it all is always a necessity. Lead well!

The Leader & Planning: Preparing Your Team


AJ Cann on Flickr

Many leaders do not prepare their teams for an upcoming planning session, except to let them know where and when. The first sound uttered by a team member when they get the planning meeting email is a groan. Wise leaders will save themselves a lot of emotional energy and will get the best out of their team planning times if they will prepare those involved before the meeting actually begins.

Three Reasons to Prepare Your Team for Planning

1. You will increase their ownership in the outcome.  If you are leading something of significance then you absolutely need your team’s best creativity and energy. This flows from being vested in the process. Creating ownership begins before the actual planning time begins. Preparing your team by soliciting some of their thoughts ahead of time will increase their ownership.

2. You will increase their contribution to the process.  A good plan is hard to come by. It takes time and hard work with every thoughtful mind contributing. A thoughtful contribution will flow from a prepared mind. This will definitely help the thinking processors in the group, who can often remain silent during brainstorming times. Thinking processors, when they have had the chance to pre-heat, will benefit and contribute better and verbal processors will not dominate the time.

3. You will increase their commitment towards personal and corporate execution.  Apart from good execution any plan is worthless. Execution requires that every team member executes at a personal level so that the team as a whole can execute well on a corporate level. The better prepared a team is for this important activity the more they will understand what is required of them and be motivated to follow through.

Three Ways to Prepare Your Team for Planning

1. Engage Them in the Vision  As the team leader you must know the overall direction of the effort. You must be engaged at a heart level to lead well. But there is no guarantee that your team will naturally do the same. Have them ponder and write down some thoughts to a few questions. Ask them how they might contribute to the overall vision uniquely out of their gifts and abilities. Ask them what they think the future might look like if the team vision is accomplished and lived out fully. Ask them to transform the team vision into a war setting and a favorite vacation setting–and then describe it to the rest of the team. Don’t waste time working on a well-crafted vision statement that no one actually owns. Simply let the team’s vision grow at a heart level as each member hears the other’s vision uniquely expressed through their eyes. Start the process before your actual planning time by having your team do these exercises (or others) before they walk in the room.

2. Indulge Them in the Current Reality  Ask them for their perspective on the current reality of the organizational situation–and to prepare a one-paragraph report before the planning time. Ask them to come into the time with some thoughts written down about what is fixed and what is broken.  Ask them to come in with ideas about current hopes and frustrations. Ask them to review the organizational metrics and to prepare a brief analysis of where the organization is today. Ask them to be prepared to share what they believe to be the current impact of the organization on it’s intended audience–for good or bad.

3.  Involve Them in Practical Solutions  The team needs to come up with the plan–together. But that does not mean that you cannot have them think ahead about potential solutions. Ask each team member to consider what they think is either the biggest problem or greatest opportunity the organization faces–and to be ready to share three recommendations towards a solution. If team members are already engaged in potential solutions it will almost certainly guarantee a robust conversation when it comes time to solve the problem. And that is where some of the best creativity and ownership will arise.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Why should a leader prepare the team ahead of time for planning? What are some best practices you have observed in doing so?

For another helpful perspective on leadership, planning, and shared functions–see this post by Bob Sherbondy.

The Leader & The Purposes of Planning


Calsidyrose on Flickr

I remember the first time I led a team through strategic planning.

I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew is that I had to have a written plan to turn into my boss by the end of the week. To me, everything seemed obvious. Surely everyone knew what they were to do for the year. I think we finished the whole thing in about two hours. I also think I lost a part of my team that day.

I have helped a lot of teams in their planning process since then and I have taught strategic planning on numerous occasions. I regularly see two missteps when it comes to team planning. Either the plans are not worth executing because they were poorly done, or teams are worn out by the process.

I believe that there are two primary purposes of planning.

The 1st Purpose of Planning is Stewardship

This is the primary thought that all of the resources we have at our disposal are not our own.

They have been entrusted to us by another to steward well.

They are not inexhaustible.

We will probably never have all that we want.

I believe this to be true whether you are leading a for-profit enterprise or a non-profit organization. With these two things in mind, it makes sense that we have to be incredibly wise about the right use of the resources entrusted to us. Under the banner of “resources,” I would primarily include people, money, and tools. Because we believe our cause to be worthy, and because our resources are always limited, we have to employ the people, money, and tools under our watch with great care. And we must employ these resources towards the highest leveraged activities. This absolutely necessitates thoughtful planning.

The 2nd Purpose of Planning is Celebration 

You may think this a strange reason for good planning.

I find that leaders and teams often spend days on crafting a robust strategic plan only to forget to celebrate key milestones along the way.

This can ultimately be very discouraging to a team.

This can also raise the belief that the constant, non-stop focus on planning and execution is primarily for the sake of the leader.

To stop and celebrate not only allows a proper break in the daily harried activity, but it also provides a great opportunity to acknowledge individual and team contributions. This places the proper emphasis on team, and not just on a leader. If you are a spiritual leader it also allows you the space to give God his deserved glory for showing up in ways that you had not anticipated, and adding his blessing to your plans. Celebration can take many forms. I think it should be specific, acknowledging critical milestones and key contributions. I also think it should be regular, taking place each time a new goal is reached. To stop and celebrate says that the dog days of planning were worth it. It also keeps your plan a living document that can change and adapt over time.

This post says nothing about how to plan. I will highlight that later. But I hope this post speaks clearly about why we must plan. When we steward our resources well and we celebrate along the way, we will see increased ownership and effort from our teams. We must see all resources as valuable and every effort as noteworthy. To do so elevates the function of planning. Lead and plan well!

Here are some key verses from the Bible on planning:  Exodus 26:30; 1 Chronicles 28:12; Job 42:2; Psalm 20:4; Psalm 33:11; Proverbs 14:22; Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 20:18; Proverbs 21:5; Isaiah 14:24; Ephesians 1:11

Get More Done-The Art of Productive Meetings

I was reading the Wall Street Journal yesterday while flying home from some organizational meetings in Little Rock.  I had participated in two full days of meetings, which were led effectively and efficiently.  The WSJ ran a story on meeting killers in the Personal Journal section.  Sue Shellenbarger penned the article and highlighted such meeting killer personalities as the Jokester, the Dominator and the Rambler.  It was a well done and insightful piece.  At the end of the article Sue listed some principles she had gleaned from several meeting planners and executives towards more productive meetings.  Our meetings reflected several of these and thought they were worthy of a quick post.

1. Set a clear agenda

2. Impose a “no devices” rule or schedule a periodic tech break for email, texts and phone calls.

3. Redirect people back to the agenda when they ramble or digress.

4. Draw out quiet people by asking them in advance for a specific contribution.

5. Do a “round robin,” when appropriate, to allow everyone to contribute.

6. Ask early for objections to keep them from derailing discussions later.

7. Limit the length of slide presentations.

8. Interrupt people who talk too long or talk to each other.

9. Set an ending time for the meeting and stick to it.

Here is the link to the complete WSJ article.

Keeping a Leadership Journal


Whenever I can, I encourage leaders to maintain a leadership journal. While I lived and led in Italy, I served as director of leadership development for our organization. One of my first budgetary actions was to buy a leather journal for every leader within our organization. I exhorted them to keep it near them so that they could record leadership gems whenever they came upon them.

I have been doing this for many years now. This is not the same as a normal journal that chronicles my life or stands as a record of sermon notes. This is specifically a leadership journal that contains my own thoughts on leadership, the thoughts of others on leadership, observations from a wide variety of stimuli, Scripture references about leadership, quotes–anything I deem worthy of further thought and reflection towards application. If possible, I always encourage people to purchase a physical journal instead of keeping one virtually on their computer or tablet. I believe there is something valuable to the reflection and learning process in writing it down–pen in hand, hand to the paper, in a specialized journal. I offer these four motivations as to why you should do this too:

1. Keeping a leadership journal places you in the posture of a learner.

I firmly believe that the day a leader quits learning is the day that their leadership platform begins to erode. Stay humble and keep learning. Having your journal always handy allows you to observe and learn from many different sources all the time.

2. Keeping a leadership journal allows you the rich opportunity to reflect on and process your observations.

I know this is obvious, but maintaining a journal will keep you from forgetting. And how many times have you and I made a critical observation that we wanted to ponder later, only to forget and never be rewarded again. Also, I have seen many times how the recording of one seminal thought has led to a flurry of other thoughts, principles, and actions.

3. Keeping a leadership journal better ensures that you get to true application in your leadership life.

There is something about recording one’s thoughts that will pave the way for greater understanding and execution. A thing written is a thing half done. If you can work out your thoughts on paper then you are more likely to actually live them out when the opportunity arises. As long as we are alive we have the opportunity to improve our leadership. A journal can aid you immensely in getting to change.

4. Keeping a leadership journal begins to build a reservoir of material that you can share with others.

When I have been asked to speak or write about leadership I almost always begin by looking at my leadership journal for important material. This is where I have recorded, processed, and worked out my observations on leading. My journal is the seed bed of principles that I can pass along to other leaders. It is my way of being a blessing to others in a well thought out, coherent manner.  By the way, this recorded material can also serve as great fodder for a leader mentoring relationship.

If you have not done so yet, go out and buy a small journal and keep it handy. Begin to record your regular leadership observations, conversations, thoughts, musings, Scripture–whatever will prompt you to think more deeply and apply more readily the leadership principles that will allow you to lead well.

(photo credit)