5 for Leadership (8/31/13)

images-2Here is a fresh set of 5 leadership posts from the blogosphere this past week. There are thoughts on our 2nd U.S. president, the seduction of charisma, leadership selflessness, thinking tools for team leadership, and authentic leadership. Take a few minutes and find something that is perfect for you.

4 Design Thinking Tools For Engaging Your Team  “Applying the tools of design thinking to help your team conquer its goals doesn’t mean hunkering down on your own with an org chart in a dimly lit office to devise the perfect execution strategy. Design thinking is about engaging with your team at its most fundamental levels.” This post by Andrew King provides us with four proven ways to harness some great creativity with your team.

Leadership As Selflessness  This post was found on the Great Leadership blog and is a guest post by Al Gini and Ronald Green. “(Nelson) Mandela is clearly one of the great leaders of our time. His example convinces us that ethical leaders display deep selflessness and an absence of the two deadliest of Pope Gregory the Great’s “seven deadly sins” – pride and envy.” Gini and Green help us better consider these leadership obstacles.

Overcoming The Seduction of Charisma  This post comes from the Leadership Freak. “Charismatic leaders are bigger than life. You aren’t one of them. Very few leaders move people through charisma, personality, and up front skills. It’s not likely you have enough charisma to lead through charisma.” Dan Rockwell goes on to affirm that great leaders create new leaders and gives us some solid questions and tips to get there.

12 Leadership Qualities Of An Often Overlooked President  Mike Myatt does a wonderful job of listing 12 aspects of John Adams’ presidency that provide us with a leadership to emulate. Myatt provides us with some of his thoughts on the importance of Adams, “John Adams was a leader from whom we all have much to learn. Adams was an amazing man who maximized his time on this earth.”

7 Ways To Remain An Authentic Leader  This final post come by way of Ron Edmondson. “It has been well documented that today’s culture craves authenticity in leadership. One of the fastest way for a leader to lose loyal followers is to fall short in the area of authenticity.” Check out what Ron has to say about establishing and maintaining a base of authenticity.

There are the 5 for this final week of August. I hope all of my U.S. readers enjoy this Labor Day weekend!

Problem Solving-Tips & Traps (Part 2)

Unknown-1Yesterday I made some comments about the primary reasons a leader would use a problem solving process with a team.  The two reasons I listed were the need for strong ownership and/or the need for great creativity.  I also mentioned that a problem solving process should never be used as abdication for good leadership analysis and thinking.  As a leader, you should use problem solving processes sparingly and when absolutely necessary for one of the reasons listed above.  In this post I want to talk a little bit about some practical pointers when utilizing a problem solving process with a team.

1. Think again–is this an issue that requires strong ownership and/or great creativity?  If so, then this could be a great tool to help engage the best thinking your team has to offer.

2. Place a set time in the schedule for how long this process will run.  You will wear out your people if you facilitate a processes that lasts over two hours–and do so on a regular basis.  I would actually suggest that you aim for an hour long process.  If something is too complex for a single hour, then take a break and set a second time (less than an hour this time) for getting to execution.  Too often teams get stuck in endless analysis and do not maintain the focus necessary to arrive at good solutions.  Limiting the time frame will help you maintain focus.

3. The team leaders should feel the freedom and necessity to come to the table with the problem clearly defined.  This is the perogative of the leader and the team is depending on it.  Don’t waste time in the team setting to try and define the problem.  Arrive with a clear problem statement in hand and even a few of the solution criteria that will help form the grid for choosing good solutions.

4. Have a set time for each part of the problem solving process and empower a time keeper to maintain the schedule.  Usually a process will include several steps, and each step, while important, must be limited to a certain time frame to ensure you get through the whole process in the desired time.  The team needs to see progress and have a sense of hope that you will actually get to an executable stage.

5. Be sure you actually get to the execution phase of problem solving.  Often, teams will do some great brainstorming and then never execute what they have decided.  If you don’t get to good execution then you have not really solved anything.  Be sure that the execution includes clear roles, deadlines, and goals.  This will help to ensure a measurable, effective learning opportunity–and keep you from just talk.

6. Consider empowering others on the team to actually lead the process.  Sometimes the team leader is not the best one to lead the team through a formal process.  You might consider another team member who is more gifted in the art of facilitation and empower them.  This will also help to develop their future leadership.

There are a few of my tips and traps on this topic.  What have you learned in your experience of leading teams?

Problem Solving-Tips & Traps (Part 1)

Unknown-1There are many templates for how to engage a team in problem solving.  Some are better than others.  But often I see teams abandon a problem solving technique or process out of tiredness and boredom, rather that ineffectiveness.  When I hear the anecdotal evidence for why it was abandon it usually lies at the feet of the leader for facilitating poorly.  No matter what process or technique you use, here are some tips and traps about engaging a team in the problem solving process.

1. Use a problem solving process when you need strong ownership of an idea or an effort.  Some leaders want to use a problem solving process for every issue they see.  They wear out their teams with this type of thinking.  Not every issue, opportunity, or problem calls for a formal team process to solve it.  There are really only two criteria in my mind when you should use a formal process.  The first is when you need strong ownership from every team member around an issue or obstacle.  When you need everyone’s best effort on something then you better engage them in getting their arms around the problem at hand and how it might be solved.  If you don’t need every team member’s best effort or ownership–then don’t use a formal process.  You may only need some advice from a person or two on the team.  Maybe the issue can be delegated out to others more suited for solving the problem.  But just because you have a “hammer” does not make every problem a “nail.”  Be wise in knowing how to steward problem solving processes with the right people over the right issues.

2. Use a problem solving process when you need great creativity.  The 2nd criteria for using a formal problem solving process is when you need great creativity.  The challenge is so big or complex that it is best to tap into all the minds on the team to get to the best solution.  Sometimes you need a breakthrough idea or newness around an issue.  Then a formal process involving a whole team could be a great way to go.

3. Do not use a problem solving process as a pass for good leadership analysis and thinking.  Sometimes I see leaders use formal processes as a crutch for a lack of good leadership analysis.  As a leader, don’t abdicate your role as an analytical thinker.  Much of your role is about looking into the future and providing direction.  To some degree you have to be able to peer into the future and anticipate possible roadblocks to the vision.  Or you need to foresee possible opportunities that can be leveraged by the whole team.  This takes think time on the part of the leader.  This takes wisdom in knowing what issues are important enough to involve a whole team.  The problem solving process is just one tool in your arsenal to help you lead.  It is not leadership itself.  Knowing how, when and with whom is critical to utilizing good problem solving processes in your leadership.

What are your thoughts?  What has helped or hurt you in facilitating a process like this?  What have you learned?

Tomorrow we will look at some very practical tips and traps in effectively leading a problem solving process.


My Top Posts for July

Here are the five most popular posts from my blog for the month of July.

6 Common Errors in Strategic Planning  In this post I attempt to uncover regular mistakes I see leaders and teams make in the strategic planing process-and offer some tips to correct.

Delegation vs Empowerment  This remains my most popular post month in and month out.  This is a critical leadership issue for the effective function of organizations and for the multiplication of leaders.

The Leader and Planning  This post was the first of a five part series on planning.    Here, I revealed the two primary purposes of team planning, stewardship and celebration, to lay a foundation for the planing environment.

3 Types of Leadership Decisions  Decisions are at the heart of effective leadership.  In this post I discuss the merits of directive, consultive and delegative decisions.

The Nature of Leadership Decisions  This post originally preceded the 3 Types of Leadership Decisions post.  In this post I lay out three diagnostic questions I believe every leader should answer before making a critical decision.

There are the five most popular for July.  Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and interact.  I hope you find these posts beneficial for the first time-or again.  Lead well!

6 Common Errors in Strategic Planning

chess-strategic-planningThis is the final post in a series on the leader and planning. I originally studied these common errors and wrote about them several years ago. Here is an abbreviated and updated version on this important topic. You can find the complete article under my Print Resources tab.

Most strategic planning processes include at least six elements. I will highlight each element and the common mistake I see made when teams work on this particular element.

Vision-There is no common direction or passion among the team.  Vision, in my mind, comes from the intersection of four things—passions, dissatisfactions, a strong knowledge of your situation, and calling. As I have mentioned before, I am not a fan of a well honed team vision statement. Most organizations already have a succinct mission statement. Vision has to come from the heart. Have different members of the team share their personal vision for the organization on a regular basis. Let each person’s vision contribution seep into the team mentality and  become the corporate heart of the team.

Current Reality-The situational analysis lacks a brutal assessment of the facts.  The knowledge a team possesses is often way too vague to make good, strategic decisions. Instead a team will rely on a “sense” of what is true about the organization or the intended customer/audience. Teams need quality statistical data and good soft people data to make sound decisions. This is leading through information. Do the hard work of gathering key facts before deciding on what is broken.

Critical Mass-There is low priority given to increasing organizational capacity.  Critical mass typically includes leaders, money, tools and good will. This is your resource pool to accomplish your vision. You have to take an honest look at what is and what you will need in these resource areas. The continual growth of key resources has to be a central focus for any team. You can’t out grow your resource base.

Critical Path Steps-There is a lack of specificity in defining CPS.  Critical Path Steps are the team recognized current problems or opportunities that, if solved, move the team significantly toward the vision. These can’t be limitless. They are usually few in number-but always high leverage and well defined.  If they are not well defined you will never know when they have really been solved. Be as specific as you can. State them as a solution. Use action oriented verbs when you do so.

Resource Release-There is no true team execution to solve the identified problems.  I have stated before that a plan without execution is a total waste of time. But this is where most teams fail. To get to execution you have to include roles, goals, tools and time. You have to clearly state who is the point person to see a strategy or tactic through. You have to state the measurable goal of success. You must allocate a certain amount of your resource pool towards this strategy and you must get the tactic into the calendar-either as an event or as a marked duration of time. Without agreed upon, clear execution you will never see your vision realized.

Evaluation and Learning-Evaluation is only seasonal and therefore learning is lost in time.  The current business or ministry environment is one of constant change. Teams have to be adaptable if they are to be effective. That requires nimble, in time learning. Evaluation and learning should be captured every time a strategy or tactic is completed. This enables speedy changes if necessary. Of course a leader could and should conduct periodic, seasonal evaluations with their teams. But ongoing evaluation and learning is a must in todays world.

There is obviously much more that could be said. But hopefully this gets you thinking. What else have you found to aid you and your teams in the planning process?

(photo credit)

The Leader & Planning: Pace and Environment


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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


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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


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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


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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

Four Critical Questions for Strategic Planning

medium_3024792396“Strategic planning” has become buzz terminology in the past ten plus years. There are several varieties of strategic planning approaches. All are designed to help teams and organizations focus on the most critical aspects of reaching a desirable future. Some processes are more complex and some are more simple. To me the key is how well the strategic planing process is led. Often, the team leader is not the best candidate to actually lead a team through a strategic planning process. Therefore they should delegate that task to another on the team who can be more neutral and who likes planning.

Over the years I have had the privilege of teaching strategic planning as a process to many teams. I have led many teams through the strategic planning process. I am actually one of those people who likes planning in general. But I also realize that unless the whole team contributes you will never have the best possible plan and you will never have total ownership of the plan, which also means you will lack the necessary creativity to solve the most challenging problems. My aim to help everyone engage is to keep the process simple. To do this I think there are four main questions that every strategic planning process must answer. By posing these four questions you can take even the most complex process and simplify it in such a way that you can keep even the most cynical engaged. Here they are, with some brief explanations:

1. Where are we going? This is the question of vision. Vision is a mental picture of a desirable future fueled by passion. Every team has to know where they are headed-where is true north. And that destination has to be compelling.

2. Where are we now? There is no way to know what it will take to get somewhere if you do not know where you currently are. This is the question of current reality or situational analysis. This includes both the hard and soft data of your reality. It includes the cold hard facts of your current situation (remember, reality is your friend) and the environmental factors such as attitudes, feelings, and perceptions. There is no holding back on this one-if you cheat here you will end up with the wrong solution steps.

3. How will we get there? This is the question of your critical path. The critical path is the identifiable problems and/or opportunities that will take you from your current reality towards your desirable future. These have to be the most significant and  most leveraged solutions you can conceive of in reaching your vision. Don’t forget that every agreed upon solution must include roles (who is the identified point person for executing the solution), goals (what is the target to know if the solution actually worked), tools (what resources are available and necessary to execute the solution) and time (either an end date or an event date for execution) to be executed well.

4. What are we learning along the way? Notice I did not ask, “How are we doing?” Many teams focus only on results at this point of the process. And results are important-but only to the degree they help us learn what to do next. To learn well you have to look at results-but to only focus on results you actually don’t have to learn. That is why I like for teams to focus on learning-through results. If you have a true learning team with a clear vision-you will have an effective team. There is much talk today about how three and five year plans are no longer viable-the culture changes too rapidly. That may be true-but if you remain a true learning team you can adapt your plan whenever you need to.

Four questions-two where’s, a how, and a what. If you can keep these four questions in mind when you lead the planning process you can be an effective team planner, and keep your people engaged.

(photo credit)