(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit praying for God to give me new insight to help me in leading with Operation Christmas Child)
The Lenses of Leadership
Our mission is clear; we’ll try to stretch your minds and grow your leadership because everyone wins when a leader gets better. The stakes of leadership are sky high. Our world is calling out for leadership that will unite instead of divide and build up instead of tear down. Our world awaits for leaders who will put bold solutions on the table instead of kicking the can down the street.
The highest value here at the Summit is humility with each of declaring we have so much more to learn about leadership. With enough humility you can actually learn from anyone.
Look at this rack of glasses (four sets of glasses) – some people’s image is etched into history because of their type of eyeglasses. I want to talk to you about four lenses of leadership.
Bright red lenses—might belong to a passionate leader who understands the effect unbridled passion has on every single follower. Leadership involves taking people from ‘here’ to ‘there’. I stress every year leadership is not a position, it’s moving and energizing people and taking them on a journey from where you are into a preferred future. Team members will have to feed off the passion of their leader—passion is like protein that sustains the team. I once did a study on the power of inspiration—a motivated worker will outperform an unmotivated worker by 40%. While generous compensations and work environment matter a lot, what matters most is to work for and around a passion-filled leader.
How does a leader get passionate? Passion is usually derived from the mountaintops of a beautiful dream or the valley depths of frustration with something that is going terribly wrong in the world. Wright brothers studied the flight of birds and were inspired to build an airplane. A few years ago the title of my talk was “Holy Discontent”—when you are so upset with needs or poor service or poor products or poor leadership that you become passionate to fix them. Unbridled passion becomes an unstoppable force.
If passion is so important, how filled is your passion bucket? Is your bucket so full that people feel your energy when they are around you? Or do people have to poke you to see if you’re still there? No one really cares where your passion was derived from, they just want the passion.
Whose job is it to fill a leader’s passion bucket? It’s the leader’s job to fill his or her own passion bucket. It’s your job to fire yourself up.
How does a leader keep his or her passion bucket filled? This is where reflection time is warranted. We’re all different so you need to figure out what fills your bucket. For me, it’s reading books by passion-filled authors or going to places that stir my soul. I recently spent two weeks in Jordan at the end of a speaking engagement. I went to see a partner church that’s taken on the job of serving food to Muslim refugees. I visited there with a refugee woman who is living there in poverty and doesn’t know what happened to her husband. Her child walked in and he was the age of my oldest grandchild. I noticed there was something wrong with one of his eyes and his mother told how he was bullied at school because of this. Something inside of me broke and I became physically sick with a feeling of hopelessness. God planted an idea in my mind to get the child’s eye repaired. I later told the pastor I wanted to get this done and the pastor said it would be complicated and costly. Several months ago we were able to have this surgery completed and the boy is able to return to school. I can’t tell you what this did for my faith and my passion level. It’s refilled my passion bucket. I didn’t solve the refugee crisis but sometimes just helping out one kid does wonders for the human soul. You must do whatever you must do to get your passion bucket filled.
When the pulse rate of an organization speeds up because it’s feeding off the leader’s passion it’s cool. Find your passion!
Second set of lenses—has shattered lenses – When I started leading my ‘people lenses’ were shattered. My father’s family company employed many warehouse workers he’d hire right off the street and fire them right on the spot if they didn’t perform. The culture was spontaneous and low frill. There were no suggestion boxes. It was a fear-based, performance-oriented culture and that was all I knew.
I came into organizational leadership without ever experiencing a high-trust developmental culture. Decades into my leadership I hired a HR Director and he challenged me about leading to change our staff culture. We’ve been on this journey for nine consecutive years. Imagine my surprise last fall when Chicago Tribune named Willow Creek the top company to work for out of all medium sized companies. I was proud of our HR Director and staff who worked to prove that even if you start with shattered lenses you can grow and build a beautiful culture.
An organization will only ever be as healthy as the top leader wants it to be. If you’re wondering where to start, I recommend you hire a consulting company to evaluate your organization. As senior leaders we have the opportunity to change the story lives of our younger employees by how we lead and accept them in our organizations.
God only treasures one thing in this vast cosmos—that’s people. When God entrusts people to our leadership we need to lead them well to their potential.
What’s the difference between religion and true Christianity? Religion is all the things people do to please a God they believe is disappointed. Religion=DO
Christianity=DONE – What Jesus Christ has done for you on the cross is the only thing that can reconcile you to the Father. A businessman said he heard me preach this and was so taken with those simple words DO and DONE that he made a decision to follow Christ. Then he decided he should become a pastor. Then God impressed on him that he should be a pastor/leader with all the employees of his business as his flock. Now he is a businessman who pastors his employees.
I have to tell you one of the things we are working on in our culture at Willow. We are working to reduce transactional noise. Transactional noise is that rumble of discontent you hear in the hallways from employees. This used to be called ‘water cooler conversation’--people chattering about other employees and who is advancing and why. This takes a toll on health and performance in organizations. We have been using a tool called the Competency Card Sort Process. We ask employees to flip through the cards and identify 20 top competencies in their leader’s life and also identify those areas with low competencies—then place leaders in areas where they show most competencies (people-oriented persons working directly with people and strategy-oriented persons working on strategy, etc.) This has dramatically lowered transactional noise.
As a leader I am developing the skill of ‘talent observation’. It’s easy to get increasingly distant from people in your organization you don’t directly supervise. I am learning to discipline myself to sit in these meetings and observe staff and evaluate their needs and strengths.
Third Lens—Self-Adjusting Performance Lens (allow you to adjust the prescription of the lenses to see well) Leaders have to get things done and have to maximize team performance. Sooner or later you’ll need to set goals for achievement. As I went into church leadership I thought I’d have the luxury of leading without goals, but I quickly realized that even in churches people need goals and want to know if they are achieving them. This involves constant readjusting of your lenses involving goals.
Sometimes at Willow we became goal-aholics and did church work in ways we weren’t proud of. Then sometimes we swung to the other extreme and that lost its luster and staff got confused and unmotivated. Our new system is called ‘Thrive’ and leaders get together to decide what progress needs to be made, how to measure it , and to set goals. Six months later the Thrive team meets with each department and gives them one of three designations:
Thrive (you are exceeding goals and taking new ground)
Healthy (you are maintaining ground)
Underperforming (losing ground)
Every employee wants to know how they are doing. It is cruel and unusual punishment to employ a person and not let them know how they are doing. Every staff person needs to know how we feel about them and how they are doing.
James 1:5—if you lack wisdom, ask God for it
Fourth Lens—Lenses with a Rearview Mirror—Legacy Lens – In leadership we have to press ahead, move and inspire people, but every once in a while we need to look in a rearview mirror and evaluate our legacy. What kind of leadership legacy will you leave? You should reflect on this on at least an annual basis.
If your leadership journey were to end soon, would you maybe not be all that proud of what you leave behind? Leadership is not about time; it’s about energy. Where do you invest your energy? Draw an energy pie chart to see where your energy is going. Throughout history God has specialized in helping people write new narratives. You can start now to draw a new ‘energy circle’ and put more energy into what God wants you to put energy into.
Leadership can become a kind of legal drug that provides a ‘high’ that other areas of life cannot compete with. When you’re setting new records at work, why would you want to go home and change a dirty diaper? Why would you get your hands dirty serving the poor? It’s tempting to keep popping the ‘leadership drug’ but God never intended our vocations to crowd out every other dimension of our lives. His idea was that we would flourish at work but also in our marriages and with our kids and with our friends.
When you look in the rearview mirror do you like the kind of legacy you’re leaving behind? Your legacy can change in an instant (like the life of the thief on the cross next to Jesus) as you reflect and ask God to change your story. A single humble prayer in this moment can change how your life will unfold. Do you need to pray a prayer like that?
Leadership matters. The older I get the more I realize it matters disproportionately. It matters so much it scares me. So we need to get better—every single one of us—
--You need to find and feed your passion. Life is too short to live with an empty passion bucket so pursue your passion.
--You need to repair your shattered ‘people lenses’
--Adjust the way you think about goals—being neither a goal-aholic nor without direction
--Make sure your legacy is God-honoring
If you prompt us, God, we will obey whatever the cost.