3 Team Essentials: Vision, Direction, and Contribution

As a leader, I have had the privilege of leading teams in different capacities. Teams help to share the workload. Teams bring multiple skill sets for a broader and more effective impact. Teams make accomplishing the mission more fun. Teams are essential—and they offer a great environment for leadership development.

It is critical that teams understand why they exist. They must comprehend what they are trying to do and how each person is vital to the cause. Three “whys” must be answered for every member of the team if you want to experience their ownership and best efforts.

Vision

Vision constitutes the mental image of a desirable future—with passion.

Leaders must paint a word picture that allows their team to see, touch, taste, and feel the future. Vision must describe a desirable future, a feasible future—a future that is full of meaning and constitutes real change. Vision is deeply personal. It is not a wordsmithed statement or credo. If shared enough, real vision will rub off on others. This mental image must illicit a “want to” determination among the team members that results in giving their best efforts.

But vision must do one more thing to be viable.

Vision must answer the question, “Why is it worth it?”

Worthy visions cost something. Teams pay a price for pursuing worthy visions. The pursuit of a worthy vision will cost team members time, energy, and sometimes relationship. There will be many sacrifices. The vision echoes in the ears of team members that the cost is worth it.

Direction

Direction is guidance and strategic conduct toward the fulfillment of the vision.

Leaders must provide clear steps to make sure that teams make significant progress toward the vision. Leaders talk about the critical elements—the most leveraged strategies—next things—focused things that will allow the team to fulfill the vision. Leaders mark progress along the way and they celebrate milestones. They measure the impact and they don’t lie to themselves or the team about the level of effectiveness.

But direction must do one more thing.

Direction must answer the question, “Why are we doing these things?”

Especially when things get difficult, a leader must remind team members why they committed themselves to a particular way of doing things—specific strategies. If the vision is worthy it will become difficult to achieve at some point. Leaders also help the team to stay adaptable when a better direction presents itself.

Contribution

Contribution is the act of giving something for a worthy vision. Contribution includes the act of giving as well as the thing that is given.

Leaders must ask teams, and every member of the team, for their best contribution toward the fulfillment of the vision. This is not a one-time request. This is not a request in a vacuum. This is a regular request that is made in the context of a compelling vision and clear direction. Generous contributions are made when team members understand “why it is worth it” and “why we are committed to doing these specific things to move toward the vision.”

Contribution must do one more thing.

Contribution must answer the question, “Why me?”

Another way to ask this question is “What’s my part?” Each member of the team must see that they are critical to the team and a necessary resource to fulfilling the vision. Each team member must understand their unique contribution and deeply feel that their contribution is important.

When you answer these three “why” questions you will get the best out of your team. And your team will help you make your best contribution as a leader. And you will make a difference.

Do You Have Soft Skills?

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Do you have soft skills?

Most leaders who have led for any length of time know something about strategic planning, problem-solving, vision-casting, or spreadsheets. Those qualities are often considered some of the “hard skills” of leading. But what about the soft skills?

Soft skills are defined by personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Soft skills include categories such as character traits, attitudes, and emotional intelligence. Largely, soft skills define your leadership presence.

Many leaders and employees used to ignore the “soft skills” aspect of work. Organizations would tolerate bad leadership behavior if the results were right. Not anymore.

A few months ago the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, Hard to Find: Workers with Good Soft Skills. The writer, Kate Davidson, called soft skills the most sought-after skill set today. Most 21-st century organizations work collaboratively within and without. Employees must be able to work effectively in teams. Leaders must know how to lead teams. Sometimes these teams are co-located and at other times they are virtual. The need for a foundation comprised of character and a stabilizing emotional presence is critical to be able to relate well and share leadership.

According to Davidson’s article, Linkedin did a thorough analysis of what soft skills are most required today—here they are: the ability to communicate (and hold a conversation), the to ability to organize, a capacity for teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social savvy, creativity, and adaptability. By the way—the ability to communicate rose above all other desired traits. The article concludes by saying that the need for these skills are only going to increase—and employees are desperate for them.

Monster.com makes three recommendations for how to obtain soft skills: take a course—to gain an intellectual understanding of the skills you need, seek out mentors—on the specific skills you need to develop, and volunteer—working at or for a non-profit will always increase your soft skills experientially.

Where do you need to improve?

The Language of Leadership

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Janet Galore on Flickr

The language of leadership is valuable currency. A leader’s words matter. They matter a lot. Every word spoken by a leader is leveraged. That means that a leader’s words have great power and even greater consequences . . . more then the leader imagines. Therefore a leader must consider his or her words . . . every day. Do your words empower others? Or do they disenfranchise? Do they encourage? Or do they discourage and reflect merely a performance mentality? Do your words truly reflect what is important to you and to your organization? Do your words advance the well-being of every person in the organization and the organization as a whole?

Every person needs to have three questions answered on a regular basis: What are my role and contribution? What do you expect of me? How am I doing? The language of leadership seeks to answer these questions in the most positive and helpful way.

Consider the language of leadership listed below. Do these words regularly flow out of your mouth towards those you lead?

“Do you understand why this organization exists?”

“Do you see how your role clearly contributes to the mission of this organization?”

“Do you clearly know what is expected of you?”

“You made a difference today.”

“You are necessary to what we do and your best efforts matter.”

“How can I help you succeed?”

“Are you becoming more and more aware of who you are and how you fit in the longer you work here?”

“What thoughts do you have on how to make this a better organization?”

“What can I do to become a better leader?”

“How would you describe our organizational culture?”

“What do you think we as an organization do best?”

“If you could change one thing about the culture of our organization what would it be?”

“What personal development do you desire or need to make your best contribution?”

“Do you feel like a valued member of the team?”

“How can I serve you today?”

“Thank you!”

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11

 

Out of Africa . . . and Leadership Joy

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Worshipping together in Pader, Uganda.

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Elizabeth-a Ugandan child that Carrie and I sponsor through African Renewal Ministries

Joy is defined as a source or cause of delight.

Joy is different from happiness.

Happiness is circumstantial.

Joy can be experienced regardless of circumstances. 

I just returned from my second trip to Uganda in the past seven months. Our church has a partnership with a Ugandan-led church in Pader. I was privileged to lead a group of six residents into this setting in Northeast Uganda . . . where Joseph Kony once reigned in terror and havoc. The incidence of HIV is high. There are few men . . . thanks to the results of war. There is great poverty and life is day to day. Yet there is a thriving church plant led by humble pastors named Enoch and Ivan.

Pader Community Church is a holistic effort to bless the community in the name of Jesus. On 12 acres of land, there is a small church building, a pre-school, and a community well for fresh water. There are plans to build a child development center, a medical clinic, and a soccer field. Even in its infancy, there are over 200 congregants.

Leadership joy can come in many sizes. We forget that. We often think that success can only be defined with us at the center . . . in control . . . highly visible . . . leading out front. But I learned afresh that great joy can come from a different kind of leadership. This is leadership that allows others to lead.

Leadership joy can result from . . .

Seeing Others Lead

This trip has been in the schedule for months. One of the residents, Lauren, who serves besides the missions pastor at our church, took the lead to communicate and plan out the purposes of our visit. She did a great job arriving at a purpose, a strategy, and a curriculum to accomplish what God had placed before us. We were to help facilitate a youth conference for the youth of Pader. First, realize that “youth” are the equivalent to 18-30 years of age in Uganda. This was really about helping young adults better understand their identity in Christ. Lauren planned, prepared, and provided meaningful instruction so that all of us could engage in specific ways in ministering to the Ugandan youth. Four of the residents gave plenary messages. Every resident had an opportunity to share their personal story about how Jesus has changed their lives. They led small group discussions and modeled outreach to the youth leaders of this sister church. It was incredibly compelling to watch them engage wholeheartedly in this effort. It brought me great joy. I had the opportunity to preach twice in two different churches.

Seeing Lives Transformed

For two days we worked beside the Ugandan youth leaders in clearing fields and engaging in evangelism among the villages. Over the course of our time, we know conservatively that some 10-12 people gave their lives to Christ. On one occasion we had the opportunity to communicate the gospel to over 100 school children . . . the results are known only to God. Lives were being transformed before our eyes. This formerly war-torn region was experiencing new life. Single mothers were finding hope. Young men were discovering an eternal purpose. Communities were being united around the efforts of this fledgling Christian community. That is what the gospel does. It was incredibly joyful to participate and witness.

Taking Steps of Faith

It is good to cross cultures. Entering into new and unfamiliar settings causes us to trust God in fresh ways. That kind of faith will always produce growth. I have taken many such teams overseas before. My family and I have lived in another country for five years. But it never gets old exposing emerging leaders to new horizons and seeing them take fresh steps of faith. And . . . not to be confused that this was not a faith venture for me . . . it was a fresh step of faith to let others lead. And there was a profound joy in doing so.

Leadership joy can be found in many ways . . . and sometimes the greatest joy is in letting others lead!

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The children of the pre-school excited about the fresh artwork created by two of our residents.

Leading Up When Team Leaders Mess Up

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No team is perfect.

No team leader is perfect.

If you are part of a team you will encounter dysfunction at some point. But how should you respond as a team member when your team leader makes a significant mistake?

Let’s create a typical scenario that might aid our learning in leading up. Let’s say that your team leader makes a unilateral decision to add a new member to the team. (We will assume that if you are a team leader you would never do this!?!) And let’s also assume that this truly is a team–not a committee or a working group–but a bonafide team with an agreed upon team purpose, clear team roles, and a common objective. And to further this dilemma let’s also say that you found out about the addition third hand–some member of the constituency that you are striving to serve informs you about this new hire.

Got the picture?

Is your frustration factor rising just a little?

Is this calling anything to mind?

3 Important Aspects To Your Approach

  1. Assume the best in your leader.  It never does any good for you or your team leader if you approach the issue with suspicion and distrust. You will only add anger to your frustration and anxiety. Assume that the team leader had the team’s best interest at heart. Assume that the team leader saw value in this new member. Assume that this new team member has something valuable to add to the makeup and function of the team. Assume the best.
  2. Inquire, don’t condemn.  If you have already failed the first assumption you will probably fail the second one. These assumptions follow a logical progression. If you are able to gather yourself and assume the best, then you will be in a position to make inquiry rather than initiate by way of words of condemnation. You might use phrases like, “Would it be possible for us to revisit the decision-making process that led to this new hire?” Or, “Can you walk us through your thought process that led you to this decision to hire Susan?” It takes a good amount of courage to assume the best and make the inquiry. It takes nothing to explode and condemn. Worse yet, it will be severely damaging if you say nothing at all. Genuine questions raise pertinent issues and invite understanding and solutions. Condemnation creates further distrust and the possible loss of your credibility and role on the team.
  3. Be solution focused.  Don’t simply raise the problem at hand without thinking through possible remedies for next time. Anyone can complain and point out the problem at hand. It takes leadership thinking to propose alternatives to the mess. Reflect, consider, and choose to be solution oriented as you approach your team leader with the mess. You may not be able to remedy the current scenario, but you can set the stage for next time. Lessons can be learned and new principles applied.

3 Important Team Issues at Stake

  1. Team Communication.  Trust is the lifeblood of any well functioning team. Good communication is the foundation and guardian of trust. Discuss this as a team. Help the team leader and the whole team better understand that internal communication is essential. To be surprised by a third party constituent creates an awkward situation and does not allow you to defend the decision well. It can cause you as a team member to look ignorant and create a lack of credibility for the whole team. Every team member needs to be informed about important decisions to be able to represent those decisions well. Better yet, important decisions should be informed by the team for greater ownership and understanding. Leaders ignore internal communication and consensus decision making at their own peril.
  2. Team Dynamics.  Every time a person is added or subtracted from a team the team dynamics are significantly impacted. Team leaders must not be naive to this reality. You must not only assess the qualifications of the potential new member, but also the impact on the team and the collective effect toward those you are serving.
  3. Leader Motivation.  Ask the leader why they thought this person would be a good addition to the team. Ask them what value this new member will bring. Ask them what deficit they saw in the team that required an additional member. These are all relevant questions. Ask them with a genuine desire to understand–not simply in a backhanded way to dig at the leader. The team leader needs to realize that “why’s” matter.

All three of these team issues are important elements for teams and team leaders to consider and resolve when a poor decision has been made–or a good decision has been made poorly.

Team leaders, don’t simply act and inform. That only works well in time of crisis. Otherwise, be sure that every important stakeholder has been brought into the process.

Team members, learn to lead up well.

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5 for Leadership-July 18th

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Here is a fresh lineup of great leadership posts. This 5 for Leadership covers such topics as 10 great theological online resources, accountability in leadership, Phil Jackson on leadership, leadership conversations, and the beauty of networked teams. Take a few minutes and grow your leadership skills and understanding.

Phil Jackson’s 11 Principles of Leadership

“Few people would be more qualified to talk about leadership than Phil Jackson in the sports arena. Jackson is considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NBA clenching 11 championship titles as a coach. Phil Jackson shares 11 leadership principles that have propelled him to become a championship leader.” (Paul Sohn)

Providing Accountability (Leadership Practice 9)

“I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context. This week we will take on the final of the 9 practices—Providing Accountability. (Justin Irving on Purpose in Leadership)

3 Conversations of a Leader

“At its core, leadership is about conversations. As a leader, the quality of the conversations that you have with your team, and those in your business circle, determines your outcome as a leader.” (Croft Edwards on General Leadership)

Make Your Team Less Hierarchal

“A company used to be able to dominate the competition if it focused on creating an effective group of verticals. But in today’s world, leaders using the network model can quickly outpace those who remain focused on winning individual battles.” (Chris Fussell in the HBR)

Online Theological Resources

“If you’re an avid online Bible student, you are probably already familiar with the ten resources I’ve listed below. But these are the ones that I find most helpful in my own personal study.” (Nathan Busenitz on Preachers and Preaching)

There are the 5 for this week. Now back to the British Open . . . if we ever get out of a weather delay.

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5 for Leadership-July 11th

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I have returned from my overseas trip and here is a new 5 for Leadership. There are posts on leading young leaders, why you are not a leader, privilege and leadership, gut instincts, and signs of troubled team leadership. Take a few minutes and find something just for you.

10 Reasons Why You’re Not A Leader

Paul Sohn just relaunched his blog with a new brand. This is an older post by Paul, but is very insightful. “Do you want to make a difference? Change the culture? Turn the world upside down? Make a dent in the universe? Well, let me tell you that you won’t achieve this without leadership.”

Take a look at Paul’s new site!

How To Know If You Can Trust Your Gut Instinct As a Leader

“You have a gut instinct about almost everything that comes across your radar. Before you even say anything out loud, often you have an intuitive sense of whether you should move ahead or not, whether you should jump in or step back, or whether someone is trustworthy or not. The question is, how do you know if you can trust your gut reaction as a leader?”

Carey Nieuwhof shares 5 helpful tips on knowing whether to trust your gut instinct of not.

Short Conversations on Privilege and Leadership

“Last month, I had the chance to sit down with Tod Bolsinger (Vice President for Formation and Vocation at Fuller Theological Seminary) to discuss the intersections between privilege and leadership.”

This is a series of 9 short videos capturing a conversation with Christena Cleveland. Pick out a few, or listen to all of them . . . you will be challenged and enlightened.

5 Signs Your Leadership Team Is In Trouble

“I once heard John Maxwell say that “team work makes the dream work.” However, as I survey the leadership landscape, I believe the reason a lot of dreams are not working is because a lot of teams are way more dysfunctional than dedicated.”

This is a very practical post from Perry Noble. He first posted this back in March . . . it is worth the read.

7 Ways To Raise Up Young Leaders

talk to pastors and leaders my age and older who want to see a new generation of leaders. They claim to love investing in younger leaders. They recognize the huge need in churches and organizations. Our future depends upon doing so.”

Ron Edmondson writes from experience. These 7 principles will greatly aid you in investing in the next generation.

There are the 5 for this week. I hope you take some time to reflect and consider how you can be a better leader.

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What Makes Teams Great?

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In my current studies I have been exposed to a book entitled Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership by Lee Bolman and Terrence DealThe authors propose that the reason leaders often fail is that they fail to see their organizations through more than one lens. They create a construct that allows leaders to look at their leadership and their organizations through at least four different lenses.

Working groups and teams are an integral part of our daily leadership lives. These entities have become ubiquitous with flat organizational structures that seek to empower followers down the line. The hope is to arrive at better solutions, more effective strategies, and greater ownership. But that will only be true if certain tenets are in place among those working groups and teams. Bolman and Deal offer up the following characteristics of teams as part of the symbolic lens that is critical to a leader’s effectiveness.

  • How someone becomes a group member is important.

How people join a group or team is a mutual decision. If it is marked somehow by ritual it will elicit a “want to” aspect that can’t be bought through mere recruitment.

  • Diversity supports a team’s competitive advantage.

Recognizing and honoring group member’s unique talents and contributions will always help foster a competitive advantage and create value of the individual. This is unity through diversity.

  • Example, not command, holds a team together.

A leader’s presence and emulation of the organizational calling is more important than mere mandates. People want to follow . . . but they will follow authenticity and character much more readily and this provides the glue for a cohesive unit.

  • A specialized language fosters cohesion and commitment.

Groups and teams want to be known as special. Shared language in the form of words, phrases, and metaphors will create a unique culture that sets teams apart. A specialize language can also serve to reinforce a team’s values and beliefs.

  • Stories carry history and values and reinforce group identity.

There are certain stories and organizational legends that should always be told. They serve to keep tradition, calling and organizational DNA alive.

  • Humor and play reduce tension and encourage creativity.

Bolman and Deal state, “Effective teams balance seriousness with play and humor.” This type of balanced atmosphere can help spark innovation and team spirit.

  • Ritual and ceremony lifts spirits and reinforce values. 

Milestones should be celebrated. Individuals and teams should be honored. These types of rituals and ceremonies help raise spirits and undergird a shared mission. Progress celebrated, both at the team level and the individual level, is motivation towards team and group endurance.

  • Informal cultural players make contributions disproportionate to their formal role.

Many times the formal leader of a group or team is not the spiritual leader. Every group or team needs to elevate those individuals who deal with the human needs and emotions of the team. They are often the morale keepers. Their role is critical.

  • Soul is the secret of success. 

Every group or team needs to know and be reminded that their efforts matter. They need to know that there is a greater good that they are contributing towards. This is soul. Teams that have this aspect highlighted and supported usually achieve higher performance that those that don’t.

What do you think of Bolman and Deal’s criteria?

What would you add?

What has been your experience?

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5 for Leadership-May 23rd

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Here is a new 5 for Leadership for your Memorial Day Weekend. There are posts on leading teams, the practices of great leaders, the value of leadership fear, and how a leader truly earns the respect of his or her followers. There is something here for you!

12 Often Overlooked Practices Great Leaders Develop That Poor Leaders Don’t  “Ever wonder what separates great leaders from poor leaders? Ever wonder whether you’re developing the practices and qualities of great leadership?” This is a great post from Carey Nieuwhof and practical for any role of influence you may have.

How To Get Your New Team Off To A Strong Start  “If you’re a leader in your organization, there will be multiple times in your career when you have to get a new team off to a strong start. One of the critical steps in that process is when you bring the team members together for the first time. That’s a rare opportunity to define the purpose, build trust, establish the ground rules and set the priorities. Like they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression.” This comes from Scott Eblin and highlights four one-word questions that will help make you successful.

Measure Your Team’s Intellectual Diversity  “Inventive thinking in a team setting is fueled by a blend of talents, skills, and traits that rarely all exist in a single person—such as an ability to see problems through fresh eyes, a knack for understanding a frustrated customer’s complaints, or a flair for turning a creative idea into a profitable innova­tion. This kind of intellectual diversity is more likely to be present when individuals on the team come from different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise.” This is a very thoughtful piece our of the HBR.

On Leadership, Fear, and Weakness  “. . . show me a leader that has no fear and I will argue that this is a leader who is either not pushing him or herself or the organization forward, or is a leader that is failing to properly identify the inherent risks of their actions.” This is a thought provoking post by Elliot Begoun on the Linked2Leadership blog.

How To Earn Respect As A Leader  “Ask yourself if you command respect because people have to respect you or, rather, because you’ve truly earned respect. Many people aspire to titles because that forces others to respect them. But, to me, this is the lowest form of respect, especially if the person you’re receiving respect from is more junior than you or works at a lower rung in the bureaucracy. Respect has to be earned. It’s not about a title.” This post comes from Jim Whitehurst on the HBR web site. There are some great take aways here.

There are the 5 for this week. Take some time this Memorial Day weekend to remember those who served our county well in defense of our freedom.

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The Leader & Bad Signage

Signage-leadership-communicationMy family and I lived in a foreign country for five years. We loved our time in a new environment. The people were warm and friendly. The food was incredible. The scenery was breathtaking. And the cultural learning was rich.

Certainly we were challenged on many fronts by living in a place so different from our home country.

There was a significant language barrier.

There were new customs, traditions, mannerisms, and priorities.

We came to embrace most of these new realities and saw many of them as superior to our own. To this day we continue to practice some of those cultural values, even though we live again in our home setting.

One aspect that always proved daunting for me in this country was taking on the open road. I love to drive. I am an explorer at heart and driving allows me a great way to see and do new things.

But knowing where you are going and how to get there are critical aspects to the driving experience.

This particular country was great at getting you started. There were always detailed road signs about exactly where to turn, how far you had to go, and what was next–when you left the city. In an uncanny fashion though, almost always at the halfway point, you were often left completely hanging. The road signs seemed to disappear. The next turn was a complete mystery. What were labeled as one way streets on your GPS were now one way the other way. The names of the towns seem to change. Nothing made sense.

Distances were now a luxury.

Direction was at a premium.

Lostness was the norm.

This produced one very frustrated American driver. My hunch was that the native population knew where they were going. All these additional signs simply marred the beauty of their country. Foreigners would figure it out eventually. Besides, efficiency was not a cultural value.

As leaders we can tend to assume directional clarity as well.

We can begin well.

We talk vision early on.

We delineate roles and priorities.

We provide the first few steps.

And then we disappear.

Our teams can feel an innate sense of “lostness.” The halfway point is a endless horizon without a marker. This can lead to silos, ineffective individual efforts, and loss of morale. The great need is for more signage! The destination needs to be reinforced. The turns, roundabouts, distances, and road conditions need to be illuminated. Clear communication markers are necessary for everyone to arrive happy and safe. It is on you to ensure the rest of the team is navigating properly for the accomplishment of the stated mission.

Here are a few reminders:

1. As the leader you are the GPS for your team.

2. Clear communication has to be a constant–in the beginning, during the nebulous middle, and at the end.

3. You can never over communicate direction and encouragement. 

4. Bad signage will ensure the wrong destination and maximum frustration. 

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