The Missing Ingredient (Leading Change)

The Missing Ingredient (Leading Change)

I’m a new part of a church organization that is in the midst of finding itself. It is what a mentor called an identity discovery phase.

Another way of describing this unique place and process is leading change. Though I have not read John Kotter’s preeminent 1995 book by the same name, I have read the executive summaries and I have participated in models that mirror his principles and prescriptions.

The ethos, and indeed mandate, of leading change is critical for all leaders and organizations (who are striving for any degree of health or impact in the world, that is.)

A strong leader once told me that great organizations should experience change every 8 months (just to keep up with culture, technology, economy, etc etc) and that made sense to me.

The problem, of course, is that many of us don’t like change and then for the rest of us who are open to change it’s a painfully slow and difficult process.

Let’s handle those 2 obstacles right off the bat:

1. For those who are change averse: you maintain an extreme sense of irony.

At a certain point you must admit that very world around you is constantly changing; and not just a macro level either.

So you can go on “not liking” change all day long and even keep screaming it from a mountain top if you like, but with that attitude and posture you will always being sitting in immediate juxtaposition with the natural world around you.

2. For those who believe it’s just too hard or too late to change: you have chosen the poorest excuse.

If people succumbed to “it’s too hard” mentality we would not have a single lick of innovation from the last century (let alone since the beginning of time). What if Lincoln would have said, ‘reconciliation is too hard’… if Ford had said, ‘building a “car” is just too complex’… if MLK had said, ‘this thing will never change.’ I think you get my point.

To cease tackling a thing because it is too hard is to cease doing the very central thing we are called to do: live well.

The fact of the matter is: all organizations and systems (even the family system!) are in need of change.

How do I know?

Because all organizations experience stuckness.

In their good intentioned pursuit to diversify, spread out the eggs, reach into new markets, industries or niches organizations get stuck for so many reasons-most of which we are not here to discuss today.

I think one of the most important reasons people and organizations get stuck is this:

a loss of focus.

On the why, the win, the action and execution.

You can imagine the snowball effect above, but lets take a closer look at the importance of each…

1. The why: the mission; the vision; the values…

If you don’t have them, if you don’t hold tightly to them, if you don’t have them at the top of your performance dashboard then what’s it really all for anyway-it’s anyone’s guess and it’s up for grabs and when its up for grabs people will create their own why.

2. The win: how we know what success looks like…

First of all have you defined it? Second of all, have you defined it BEFORE you execute (run the event, program, marketing campaign). Most people and organizations operate in the opposite order, ‘lets just do it and see what happens.’

3. The what: this constitutes the bulk of your working hours…

What kind of action are you taking? Is it the right action at the right time? And is it focused action? If you’ve set a target (the why and the win) then you should be able to filter every working hour through those first two things. When we fail to do this, we are now facing a stewardship (management) issue (i.e. How will we be judged by the way we invested every waking hour of our lives?)

4. The execution: the final delivery.

If you are a manager or leader of people and you can’t account for why your staff, team, people aren’t producing better results than you need to seriously evaluate the above three. Odds are: all this lack of focus in the why, the win and the what are leading to a high level of stuckness at the execution level.

Committing to Change…

We have only to first admit that we are stuck.

Therein lies the first principle from Kotter’s work: change will be most successful when the greater percentage of your leaders carry a mutual sense of urgency around change.

It was not an intentional plan of mine, I have to admins, coming into my new organization but I found myself saying the same thing over and over again to key staff and volunteers.

In my envisioning to people about this new season at the church, with just as many competing ideas, programs, initiatives as the marketplace, I found myself encouraging our team that it may be time to say a healthy “no” to the options and ideas out there.

…to forgo doing several things very half-heartedly and inefficiently and, in the end, poorly. And instead to focus on one thing, and here’s the mantra:

We are committing to do a very few things, very well…

As to what those things are-that’s our plan and our issues. You probably just need to work your plan. But make sure people understand the why, the win and the what. Whether its your family or your startup, hold fast to these things and you will not only bring about focus, you will have a great shot at bringing about change.

Doing What Matters Most (And the People Who Pull you Along)

Doing What Matters Most (And the People Who Pull you Along)

Ever feel scattered brain and divided in your work load? Lack of clarity in your job description? Or simply what you’re trying to accomplish in a given day?

Ever felt slow or stagnated in seeing movement toward your personal or corporate goals?

Today marks the end of my first month at our new church job.

Looking back I can see some instructive moments on these subjects already…

First, a few words on my job description and position. I’ve been hired on as an Associate Lead. At a smaller church with fewer resources and staff this means I wear many hats and fill a very generalist role.

Knowing this would be the case before I began work, I had a few hopeful goals: get clarity around the most important hats to wear the majority of the time, which would dictate my highest priorities thus leading to more focused action.

Let me break that down once more:

major hats > highest priorities (which dicatates hours in the day by the way) > focused action (which leads to better execution by the way).

Whether it was the role or the task, the principled expectation I had coming in was: you just focus on what’s important now (or W.I.N. for short).

As a generalist I knew that I could not focus on 15 different things at once. I wanted to pick 3-4 things and do those well.

Two of those W.I.N. projects have been within the realm of mission/vision clarity and leadership development.

But before (or simultaneously) chipping away at these two great and worthy endeavors I knew that I would have to just sit with people. Sit with the paid staff, sit with volunteer staff and then sit with pretty much anyone who has influence at this organization.

Sit, hear their story, listen to their heart for this place, receive feedback and build trust.

Then at the end, give just the tiniest insight into how I would love for them to consider participating in our upcoming leadership initiative.

These meetings have been amazing, encouraging, clarifying and uniting. What I’ve learned from sitting with 15 different people (in as many work days) is:

That they are all hungry for something new;
That they all have a heart language for the needs of our communities and;
That they are all ready to play a part.

It’s a pretty neat thing to witness because as the “new guy” you bring very particular culture and DNA all to yourself. And the 500 pound gorilla in the room is whether what you have, are and bring will sync up with what’s in the place you are entering. 

I’m hopeful that through these meetings with people they are encouraged and together are spirits are being knit together.

And that’s one of the key and timeless principles that you have to remember:

It’s all about people; people matter most; people build things-especially highly invested and highly influential people.

Meet People. See People. Hear People.

It all begins and ends with people; human to human sync up and send! 

Actually this is so paramount that I would be willing to make the following bold statement:

The what and how don’t even matter yet; even the big WHY doesn’t matter yet. It’s all about the WHO that matters most (right now).

I could have the most compelling mission & vision (the big why) you’ve ever heard, but if you don’t even know me, if you haven’t met me, if we haven’t heard each other just eyeball to eyeball, it’s not gonna mean much. AND we’re not gonna go very far…

Who is a person within your organization or circle of influence that you could really use a reconnection with? *Hint: you may have some unresolved stuff with this person OR you might just be vital for each other in the joint pursuit of some grand mission or vision!

If this is impacting your life or leadership, please feel free to repost and share!

7 Things to Consider About the Beauty of Conflict

7 Things to Consider About the Beauty of Conflict

Ever been in a conflict?

Ever been asked how you handle conflict in a job interview?

It’s got a whole section devoted to it in our interview manual at the church.

The answer is obvious: we have all had to “manage” (side note: I had a professor in college who said we cannot even use the term “conflict resolution” because it doesn’t really exist) conflict at one point or another, more likely EVERY point AND another.

Where there are people (and words) there exists the great and infinite potential for conflict so we had better learn how to manage it.

In light of the ubiquitous nature of conflict, we had better get comfortable with its inextinguishable flame. Below I seek to give you some tools to do just that.

One of the things that inspired this week’s post was a recent church conflict down here in Southern California. Without going into too much detail, this church was a “satellite” campus, a “daughter” location of a central “parent” church location in a different city nearby.

The leadership team of the central campus had a sharp disagreement with the leader of the “satellite” campus which led to his subsequent termination (and re-hiring) and ultimately to the “satellite” campus breaking away from the “mothership” if you will.

In fact, this particular church, and their lead pastor (who is my age) had just come through the heart of the storm and decided to host a “town hall meeting”-the contents of which are on video.

When I heard they had filmed it, I scrambled to watch it. My main motivation-knowing that this pastor is my age and stage of life-was to see how he handled things, how he communicated, what questions the people asked, how he responded… the social scientist inside me abounding.

The truth is: he did a fantastic job. It seems apparent, not just from watching the film, but talking to members of the church, that this young man is a strong leader with a strong sense of identity, calling and vision. He stood by his guns while graciously and humbly “leaving well”-not slanting or bashing or breeding further damage in his departure (which by the way is far from an “overnight” process).

He was branded by fire and the beauty of conflict-because of what it produces-was on display for all to see.

So here are the learnings from this case study for better management of conflict if we are to see the beauty on the other side.

Consider their side…

I’m not a very empathetic person, but I do believe that I can fairly easily read people’s interest, motivations, wants and needs especially in conflict which is primarily driven by people’s desired outcomes. If you can pause for a couple of hours; a couple of days and consider the other side’s desired outcomes, their potion and why they are passionate about staking a claim, it will move you far quicker to resolution and productivity again.

BEAUTY: when we acquiesce and accommodate we are working toward better collaboration which are major keys for leading successful teams.

Consider your sound…

This one is similar in that you must go outside yourself, but equally valuable in that we sometimes get caught up with no accurate, unbiased opinion of how we come across-how we look, sound, seem in our verbal AND non-verbal communication. You want to understand your part to play in the conflict? Then one of the early steps is to consider how you came across.

BEAUTY: when we exercise self-awareness and perspective in this way, we embody the honesty and integrity that all great leaders must carry.

Consider the end in mind

(This is the leave well part by the way). There are countless and when I say countless I mean COUNTLESS quotes I’ve heard on this principle, but I’m figuring that’s because of its timeless worth but they range from:
‘love is a revolving door’ to
‘don’t burn the bridge you may have to cross over again’
The truth is clear: even if you think you’re right-the most right and correct and innocent person of all time-you must still resist the urge to leave poorly.

BEAUTY: all strong leaders are visionary; in so many ways managing conflict is about the willingness to forfeit battles for the sake of winning the war.

Consider coming to the table

There is no such thing as long distance conflict management, remote conflict resolution or reconciliation by proxy. Every single instance of reconciliation begins with seeing someone. All restoration begins with: eye to eye; human to human, “the same grace that we require, they require” (the young man from the church conflict above actually said this).

I’ll never forget the embodiment of this principle from the movie Avatar… “I see you” it was about solidarity because of something shared at our very core; regardless of position, rank, race, gender or any other form of difference.

BEAUTY: this ones pretty personal for me, but I truly believe that one of the greatest marks of any leader is the ability to see the value of our common humanity in ALL PEOPLE.

Consider silence…

Don’t go to someone else’s table. In conflict we must resist the urge to talk about it with someone else other than the source! As much as we will desire to seek validation and support from our base, our friends, our typical “go-to” (who by the way you must know at some level this person has absolutely no spine or moral compass if they never offer you a tough pill to swallow, right?), at this time what we need is NOT reinforcement of “unhealth.” And that is what will happen if you stir the pot by spreading bad talk with others who are not directly involved.

BEAUTY: pretty basic here, but essentially its about self-control, patience and discipline these will breed better culture-because YOU led this way.

Consider counsel…

There’s a difference between going around and talking about it and going to 1 strategic person and seeking wisdom about it. But for your clear vision on the issue and for the sake of everyone involved-seek unbiased objective opinion.

BEAUTY: I’ll just quote proverbs 12:15 here: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”

Consider speed…

If you’re anything like 89% of people who are conflict avoidant then your first reaction will always be, “ah man I don’t want to have to circle back around with that person and have that conversation!” The longer you wait the more anxious you’ll be and worse-if you skip conflict management altogether-you lose, your relationship with that person loses and the shared objectives are certainly lost (with a culture that fails to ever deal!).

BEAUTY: Leaders understand that when they discover pain points in their organization, they will do all things in their power to mitigate them; this requires expediency!

Who is someone you know you need to initiate conversation with right now? Consider the end in mind: what are the share objectives and which objectives are you ready to die over? Most of all, have an honest assessment of yourself, your approach and your delivery… as leaders we can afford nothing less.

7 Reasons Why This Could Be The Healthiest Thing You Do in 2017

7 Reasons Why This Could Be The Healthiest Thing You Do in 2017

This new year I tweeted the following…

Yes, I was trying to be funny, but I was also DEAD SERIOUS.

The principle (in case you didn’t catch it) is that we are CONSTANTLY giving into our kid’s wishes (begging, pleading, whining and threats rather) just to make them stop!

In the car this equates to handing them a snack while strapped in their seats and when all their little crumbs and morsels reach critical mass, we have no choice but to head to the industrial strength vacuum place to settle it!

But that is not the worst thing about giving into their demands.

You see the thing I’ve learned about parenting so far is that it appears to be a constant battle of training… training and conditioning. And every time and every way you respond to your child when they are attempting to illicit a certain response trains them… trains them for good or for bad.

That will, believe it or not, have an impact on the type of human they become one day… no pressure…

By us giving into their demands while driving around in the car we were cementing something in their minds and hence their development: ‘every time we scream loud enough, they WILL give in and throw us a snack.’

It’s the same in any other area of our lives… if a co-worker, significant other, family member “screams” loud enough, eventually we’ll say “yes” when it would have been far healthier for everyone involved if we had said, “no.”

Your healthy “no” could be pressing in on any one of these areas, for me and my wife-our leadership-we understand the value of “no” in our parenting and the gift that will ultimately be to our kids.

In case you were wondering, here is just 1 major value of a healthy “no” to our kids in this illustration: delayed gratification… which instills patience, self-control and determines a person’s ability to achieve greater success in life.

Most importantly of all, however, it gives them perspective; a more realistic view of the future world they will inhabit, that they will not just be handed what they want, when they want it. We are not an earthly slot machine, God is not a celestial slot machine and the people they surround themselves with one day won’t be either!

Here’s the problem as it extends to our work:

Most of us run around overbooked, overstretched, overextended and overstressed and we keep saying “yes” to things, so we keep losing… and we aren’t the only ones either. I would argue that the organization loses big time too.

I don’t know what the moment will be, for you, to finally calculate the opportunity cost of your yes/no answers, but there was a critical time for me when the leadership team at my work gathered for a two-day offsite nearly 6 months ago.

You see as a staff one of the things we realized is that we did not have enough trust to finally be honest with each other and call it like it is (hence pushing each other and the organization forward).

So our boss led us through an exercise where we went around listing people’s strengths and weaknesses and took turns reading them out loud to each other. There were about a dozen people in the room so lots of things were shared, but when it came around to me here are some of the common things I was hearing: “takes on too much…” “fails to execute…” “distracted and unfocused…”

Hhhmmm, dang… I got the memo…

Much of this, in my reflection, had to do with the inability to say a healthy “no.” Which is fundamentally about prioritizing my month, week, day around the absolute most vital values of my job and the organization I serve.

Let me give you 3 reasons and 5 tips:

1. Say “no” because it will restore health in areas you didn’t even realize were backwards

You see, for me, I had to wait for years before hearing those comments from my bold and loving teammates that I had a problem and it was affecting my work product AND my legacy-and THAT was not okay. Don’t wait to hear from someone else that you’re not disciplined in your work. Do the tough work of reflection and get healthy in your work flow again.

2. Say “no” because it leads to focused action and better quality in your work

One of my single greatest learnings this past year was the term my supervisor would drill all day long: “impact over effort… impact over effort… impact over effort.” His point was simple: ‘Ben, I don’t care if you work from home or if you work 4 hours today… if it gets the results, meets the targets, goals are green and we are seeing the outcomes then GREAT!” But you can’t see those types of outcomes if your work is unfocused and tossed by the wind.

3. Say “no” because the strength of a well-placed “no” is equal to a 100 wishy-washy “yes’s” 

Just think of my story above, that is what led to my reputation as the guy who “over-promises and under-delivers”… no one wants to be that guy. So stop letting your “yes” be watered down to the point of meaningless because you didn’t have a firm grip on your priorities and values.


  1. Ask for more time when someone puts you on the spot and you need to make a decision.
  2. Every single employee on planet earth must have these 3 things in order to be successful in this life (in this order): vision (the why), goals (the what) and strategies (the how). These will HUGELY impact your ability to say yes/no and, ultimately, your outcomes.
  3. Schedule your values. When you’re done with #2 simply drop those values into your calendar on a monthly, weekly, daily and hourly basis.
  4. Tell someone, anyone, EVERYONE what you’re up to! That way you educate those around you, affecting what they would even approach you about in the first place! (And build in some accountability along the way.)
  5. Put in feedback loops and constantly reevaluate. Because anything worth doing is worth evaluating.

What is one thing you know you need to stop doing/say “no” to today? What are your top 3 values in your current job and how many hours are you devoting to those 3 things each week?

Mastering the Art of “The Ask”

Mastering the Art of “The Ask”

Every single day we contract with people and don’t know it. 

How many of you have said at one point or another: “I didn’t sign on for that…” or “they got me doing something different now then when I was hired…” or “I switched roles and thought we agreed to this, but I spend most of my time over here…”???

There is always a conversation going on beneath the surface of what we agree to in our relationships-family, professional, romantic-the question becomes: are these agreements… low context?
High context?

Or how about: what are the terms and did we really ever agree?!

The following is what I have learned this past year about contracting, inviting or coming to agreement in a worthy and excellent manor. 

First, I want you to know that this principle applies regardless of the situational leadership position you are in.

Whether you’re leading down (someone you are hiring, recruiting, leading, are responsible for) or someone you’re leading up (your boss, supervisor, higher-up) or leading across (those equally positioned across from you in the relationship or organization.) 

Regardless of whether you’re the one doing the asking of if someone else is doing the asking of you: when a leader is requesting buy-in, opt-in, sign-on or commitment, there are at least two elements that should motivate the conversation:

  1. Passion
  2. Clarity


I’ve spoken to this issue at least monthly, but see there’s no accident in that.

Many leaders are missing if they are not viewing the world through the lens of opportunity… challenge as opportunity, economic turmoil as opportunity, circumstantial change as opportunity…

Shoot, every stinking work day that you draw breath and are going to punch in for 8-hours is one great big opportunity for passionate pursuit of SOMETHING!

And if you’re going to invite someone into something, if you hope to create tremendous buy-in, if you’d like to contract with someone for the long haul on a worthy project or mission, you had better bring the passion like one thunderous drum of relentless enthusiasm.

Because if you don’t, I’ll find something else to be a part of. And so will your people. 


George Bernard Shaw once said:

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

Unfortunately, I do not have this massive table of data that proves how often in our personal or professional relationships we ASSUME we’ve agreed to something and then the details turn up wanting, but I guarantee it happens a lot!

It happens because we lack the intentionality and care to honor people with a crystal clear ask!

So you’re either lazy or you don’t know how to do this. Fortunately, the solution is simple: begin by writing down a list of 5 or fewer, tangible, practical, time-based details of the ask. These are the core responsibilities that will drive the time spent together, these aspects will continually serve as anchors and laser-pointers to the whole original purpose.

And therein lies the importance and power of “the ask”… the bottom line is this: we have an opportunity every single day to contract with people all around us. You may not know it or see it in the moment, but it’s there.

Whether leaders, co-workers, spouses ask for it or even think they need it, they need to be envisioned and enrolled around a very clear ask.

From the most simple, “hey want to get together tomorrow at 10am for coffee?” all the way to, “hey would you be willing to mentor me?” and everything in between, we are facing opportunities to contract. And when we don’t, it’s a huge miss, people suffer and flail because of it. 

CHALLENGE: its time for a mid-year, 30-day, 90-day “review”… sit down with 1 person who you KNOW that you have some overdue contracting with… OR re-contract with someone who has been meandering about in the fog of apathy and aimlessness!

Don’t waste time… your shared mission is too important! 

Turning 30 and 3 things Every Leadership Blog Should Have

Turning 30 and 3 things Every Leadership Blog Should Have

This summer I turned 30. I told people that for the first half of the year (my 29th year), I went through the typical identity crisis issues. You know… “who am I?… what am I doing?… where am I going?… what have I really accomplished?… how many things on my bucket list have I gotten even remotely close to crossing off?”

And it’s that last one that motivates the creation of this blog. Because for years now I’ve been that really annoying person who, when asked: what are your dreams or aspirations, always quips, “yeah I’d like to write a book some day…” (emphasis on the ellipsis).

And its annoying because the person (in this case, me) never does anything about it. Well I really would like to write and publish a written work and it seems pretty straight forward that if you’d like to write a book, one must first become a disciplined writer…. You could call this the ancillary purpose for starting this blog.

This conversation about writing a book brings me to the first real purpose for this blog and an attribute I believe every blog should have, and thats influence. I’ve always thought that writing a book requires a certain level of pretentiousness, narcissism or need for self-advancement. Degrees of all of those I willingly confess.

However, just because we’re flawed, often nearsighted and self-absorbed does not preclude the need and indeed commitment for a bigger purpose or mission. It is my firm belief in a bigger mission that brings me to writing, the desired outcome of which is to stimulate influence!

Another word that could easily replace the way I’m using is it would be: leadership. You see every single person in the world is a natural born leader. Whether it’s merely leading themselves; so-called “self-leadership” (as popularized by one of my favorites Bill Hybels, Founding Pastor of Willow Creek Church, IL), whether its leading others below or above you as boss, employee, husband, wife, mother and father…

The simple fact is: no matter who you are, you have leadership responsibility and you have someone for whom your words are big in their ears. If I can help someone, ANYONE, realize and maximize their influence then I’m game.

The 2nd thing I think all blogs should possess is a motivation for emotionally moving others. Another way I would say that is: to ignite passion in all people.

Over this past summer we did a teaching series for students about purpose. After sitting with a group of about a dozen high school seniors (about to graduate) I sensed from all of them a deep sense of “I don’t know who I am or where I’m going or what I’ll be when I grow up” mentality.

We’ve all been there.

But from my lunch with graduating seniors a teaching series was birthed on the topic of purpose. I wanted to remind students that should they ever be stuck in that same position that there were a few “if/then” statements that they could use to definitively answer the question of “what’s my purpose in life.”

So, for example, “IF you have a passion, THEN you have a purpose; IF you have a strength, THEN you have a purpose; IF you have a story, THEN you have a purpose and so on and so forth filling out the summer schedule.

I found myself sharing with the students one night that I literally never had a firm grip on what my really central 1-3 strengths, talents, gifts were until long after college. And the main reason I finally figured it out was because I connected the dots about what people would consistently say about me.

In middle school it was the “Mr. Hustle Award” from Coach Imus the PE teacher; then it was leading music in High School and it was constant reminders of people saying, “boy you have a lot of energy” or “man, you energize me.”

And then, one day, I left one church to go work for another in the same city (more on that later) and as a parting gift the staff gave me a plaque of what they saw were my top 3 strengths. 

The plaque read: “passionate; contagious leader; energetic.” Regardless of the word choice all these people, coaches, friends, bosses, fellow pastors and volunteers, they were all saying the same thing: “you are naturally filled with passion and energy… and… that ignites and inspires something in me.”

But it wasn’t really until this last year (my 29th) that the idea of truly owning this natural, inbred propensity toward passion began to crystalize. I started thinking to myself before any and every speaking engagement or meeting: ‘this could be your very last encounter with this person or this crowd, you had better absolutely lay it all on the line like you’re gonna be gone tomorrow.’

I figured: anything worth doing is worth going absolutely all out on. Giving anything less is a God-given waste of time and talent.

I say again, if I can inspire even a single one of you toward leading more passionate lives, then I’m game.

The final, and perhaps most important, purpose for this blog is: impact. There is a pastor, author, leader named Andy Stanley (Northpoint Church, Atlanta) who once wrote a book on preaching called, “communicating for a change.” In this timeless piece, he lays out all the different goals for why preachers might preach.

Some might just cover every book of the Bible from cover to cover throughout the year and at the end of the year those folks might have a better understanding of God’s word, and that’s great. Some might use 5 points in every message they preach and people might remember all 5, odds are they won’t remember a single one.

Eventually Stanley gets to the thrust of the book, which is the one and only reason for communicating can only be: communicating for life change.

That is, after all, the business we are in as pastors… leaders… people. So while I understand communicating from the pulpit is a heck of a lot different than a bottom shelf blog, I believe that the common denominator in ANY form of communication just simply must be: life impact.

And by that I simply mean that you, the reader’s, life gets changed for the better and if that were to happen even in a microscopic, incremental, daily way then, once again, I’m game.