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 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 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 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.

Preventing Leadership Mush


Annti T. Nissinen on Flickr

Last week I participated in some national meetings with the team in which I serve. While discussing a particular topic, I mentioned the word “mush” tied to leadership. This caught one of the other team members off guard and quickly stated that I must blog about leadership mush. It became a common refrain for the rest of our three-day meetings. So this is for you Bob!

Mush can be defined as “a thick porridge made with cornmeal boiled in water or milk.” That is not what I am talking about . . . although I am sure there is a leadership analogy somewhere in that definition.

The secondary definition for “mush” is “something soft and spongy or shapeless.”

I am sure that definition has leadership implications.

One of the defining characteristics of leadership is the ability to make things clear. Let’s take the three elements of the dictionary definition to learn how to avoid leadership mush.

Soft. In leadership terms, this relates to direction and decision making. If the direction is “soft” it is difficult for those who follow to be certain they are on the right path. No one wants to have to guess about where they should give their best efforts. Followers want great clarity in both long and short term direction. Be relentless about pointing them towards “true north” on a regular basis and you will avoid the consequences of “soft.” It is also critical that your day-to-day leadership decisions support that directional clarity. Some leaders will wax eloquent about the overall vision, but the in time decision making does not reflect or support the stated vision.

If you want to avoid leadership mush be sure that your daily decisions don’t derail your overall direction and leave those you lead with “soft.”

Spongy. Regarding leadership traits, I believe this relates to key goals and objectives. You know how it goes when you punch a sponge, right? It simply bounces back . . . no imprint made. Those you lead want to know that they can make a difference in and through the organization. They want to make a clear contribution to the purpose of the organization. But if goals and objectives are left unstated, unclear, or lack accountability . . . it will be nearly impossible to know when true progress is made. And the motivation of those you lead . . . those you have entrusted with the execution of the overall plan . . . will wane.

If you want to avoid leadership mush be sure that you have stated, clear, and accountable goals and objectives in place. Don’t settle for “spongy.”

Shapeless. Shape is something you portray. Shape depicts form and function. If you lead a team of people are you leading according to their “shape?” You have to know your team well enough to lead according to their shape. You must be aware of their strengths, emotional intelligence, and ability to collaborate. To assume that any team will do is to be “shapeless.” You must shape the team and lead according to their shape. This will help you achieve maximum impact.

If you want to avoid leadership mush be sure you have the “right people on the bus” and lead according to their “shape.” Shapeless looks like everybody else.

By the way, one of the added descriptors for “mush” according to Merriam-Webster is “mawkish.” That is a new word for me . . . but you have to love the sound of it. It just seems to cry out “mush.” It certainly describes what “mush” can become . . . something “having an insipid often unpleasant taste.” Don’t let that become the leadership experience of those around you.

3 Steps Toward Leadership Confusion


Pabak Sarkar on Flickr

There were times during my life in Italy when I would get so confused in my driving. There would be great road sings to get you started on your journey, but for some reason, those signs would become really scarce when you needed them most. Even the GPS would get confused. Of course as a man, I would keep driving no matter how lost I was. Somehow I confused driving activity for driving effectiveness–if the goal was actually to get to an intended destination.

Leadership in any arena of life is a life-long learning process.
There are plenty of opportunities to fail, to be discouraged, to give up–and to learn.
To be confused is to be unable to think or understand clearly.
To be confused is to be perplexed or disconcerted.
To be confused is to be disoriented or mixed up.

It sounds like this in a sentence: “I have never been so confused.” or “I am confused about what to do next.” or “His words were confusing.” These are not words you want running around your head as a leader. These are not words you want others saying about you as a leader. But leadership confusion can also be very subtle. We can think we are doing the exact right leadership actions, and yet our followers are confused. They may be confused because they are not being maximized. People have experienced me as a confused leader at times. How about you?

Here are three major areas that I see where leaders get confused on a regular basis.

1. Leaders can confuse vision for clarity of direction. Vision is the mental image of a desirable future that elicits passion. But there will come a day, and soon when those who follow you are going to need more than hyperbole. They are going to need some sense of “how.” Vision is the motivation. Direction begins to fill in some of the blanks with pragmatic steps of implementation. People have a deep need to know next steps. They may not need all of the details. They do need to know that you have thought the vision through enough to understand the path to see the vision fulfilled. They need to know that the vision is actually feasible by understanding their unique contribution and celebrating progress along the way.

2. Leaders can confuse delegation for empowerment. Leaders can be so focused on reaching the goal that they view followers as mere assets along the way. We delegate that which is beneath us or is demotivating to us. We don’t see our primary job as raising up more leaders. But I believe that a leader should always be about raising up more leaders. You can only do that if you are focused on empowerment over delegation. Empowerment by definition gives away power. You provide an emerging leader with proper authority, resources and accountability to nurture them towards greater responsibility. You might actually give away some leadership responsibilities that you truly love doing. Delegation helps you get your agenda accomplished. Empowerment looks to the future and is committed to raising up the next generation of leaders.

3. Leaders can confuse contribution for impact. The tyranny of the urgent can become a leader’s worst enemy. We show up every day. We fulfill our duty. We act like a leader. But we are merely making a contribution. A contribution is about what is due. Impact is about transformation and change. It is easy as a leader to settle for contribution and miss true impact. Who is holding you accountable? Who is challenging you to do more than simply show up and perform? Aim for impact.

Where are you living out leadership confusion?

What are your thoughts about leadership confusion?

What other areas do you see that can cause leaders to settle for less without even know it?

Leading Those Who Are Stuck

images-3Recently, I published a post about the debacle of being stuck. In that post I listed seven possible reasons why organizations or individuals can become stuck–unable to make progress toward the mission of the organization.

Ferdinand Fournies, an internationally renowned management consultant, surveyed some 25,000 managers and supervisors from around the world. His goal was to help leaders unearth what roadblocks prevent employees from being more productive. He came up with 16 different reasons. You can view those reasons on a post from the Blanchard LeaderChat blog.

Fournies findings are very helpful for leaders in any organization. But researchers agreed that all of the 16 different issues surrounded two primary problems that most employees experience: lack of direction and lack of feedback.

If a subordinate does not understand where the organization is headed or how he or she is doing in making their contribution, then certainly there will be dissonance. That can easily lead to lethargy, a critical spirit, insubordination, and bad organizational morale. Leaders can never assume that the task of communicating clear direction is ever finished. It must be renewed continually. People also need regular feedback. I believe most people want to do their best and know that they are contributing well towards organizational goals. But without quality feedback that provides both praise and helpful correction, they will never have a sense of personal progress.

Does your leadership, and the organizational environment you are creating, include directional clarity and regular feedback? That may be the reason people are stuck.

Three Daily Tasks of a Spiritual Leader

small_41008730111 Chronicles 22 provides a good example of what I consider to be the three daily tasks of any spiritual leader. In this portion of the Bible, King David is making necessary preparations for the building of the temple. It has been his dream to provide a permanent place for the presence of God among His people. But God communicated to David that he would not be the one to actually construct the temple and see it to completion. Because David was also a warrior and had blood on his hands, God limited David to the pre-planning, but not the construction or the completion of the temple. That would be reserved for David’s son Solomon to do. Yet, even in his limitations, David exhibits the following three qualities that are a daily necessity for leaders.

1. Give clear direction.  Followers simply and rightly want to know what is expected of them. They want to know where the enterprise is headed. They want to know what is “true north.” A good leader should be able to provide that for those he leads in daily doses. David does so in verses 1-5. He communicates clearly that a house of God is to be built and an altar must accompany the temple. He communicates clearly to the laborers that it will be Solomon who will see this through. There was no doubt as to what the direction of the endeavor would be.

2. Provide adequate resources.  Leaders must also provide their followers with the necessary resources to actually carry out what they have been directed to do. Resources can come in the form of money, tools, or people. It can be in the form of training or expertise. It can even come in the form of providing hope. Again, this should be a daily consideration for a good leader. One must continually ask, “What do my people need today to succeed?” In verses 14-19 David clearly communicates to Solomon all of the resources he has provided for him for the construction of the temple. David has provided both raw materials and expertise so that his son can complete the vision.

3. Point people to Christ.  Finally, good leaders must continually point their followers to Christ as their ultimate source of power and comfort. There is not doubt that there will be days when the task will be discouraging. There will be other days where wild success will tempt people to be proud. The good leader knows how to handle both imposters and direct people’s gaze back to Christ. David does this for his son in verses 6-13. Not only does David provide Solomon with a clear picture of what is to be accomplished, but he also reminds him that God will be with him every step of the way. It is God who will grant Solomon success.

I truly believe that every spiritual leader can measure his or her day according to these three tasks and know how well he or she have done in leading. As I start my day and end my day I try to ask:  Did I give clear direction so that people knew what was expected of them? Did I provide adequate resources so that people had what they needed to succeed? Did I point people to the deep well that is Christ for their ultimate source of power and comfort?

If I can say that I have done this to the best of my ability, I can know that I have led pretty well and fulfilled my daily calling.

(photo credit)

Leading Direction: Confusion and Peace

I sum up Christ-centered leadership this way-there are three primary responsibilities: one, provide clear direction to your followers; two, provide them with adequate resources to accomplish what you have asked them to do; three, constantly point them to Christ as their source of comfort and power.

The problem sometimes lies in the first responsibility-providing clear direction. Why? Because the direction is not always clear. There is comfort for us found in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The context of this passage is the worship atmosphere of the gathered community of believers. Paul speaks to the value of prophesy over tongues in the worship of God and the edification of believers.

But notice what Paul doesn’t say in this verse. He does not say that God is the God of clarity-but rather the God of peace. You would think that confusion would be contrasted with clarity-isn’t that what confusion cries out for? Yet where would perfect clarity take us in our leadership lives and our walk with God? It would probably take us toward self dependence and away from the Lord. Instead, in time of confusion what we really need is peace. The product of confusion is anxiety. Whenever I am confused I become anxious. I think clarity will solve all my problems of confusion-but that is not necessarily true. Peace calms my soul and keeps me trusting the Creator of my soul. If I had perfect clarity about direction all the time-I might not go there-it might look too scary or difficult. But in peace I can move ahead one step at a time-trusting a faithful Savior to fulfill His plans and purposes in my life and for those I lead.

Don’t get me wrong-whenever it is in our ability to do so we should provide our followers with as much directional clarity as possible-even if it is only for today. But the 3rd leadership responsibility trumps the 1st one-by consistently pointing people to Christ for their comfort and power we can lead them to peace even in the midst of directional uncertainty.

Lead your people with as much directional clarity as possible-every day. Point them to the Savior of peace-every day.