Tag Archives: leadership

aardsma on weaknesses

my friend mark aardsma has (fairly recently) begun blogging under the punchy little blog title of his last name — it’s a blog for leaders and entrepreneurs (which is what mark is). but his post the other day really caught my attention. he suggests that, while the leadership training movement toward focusing on strengths is great, he thinks there are also times to look at our weaknesses. and he proposes three guidelines, which i just think are brilliant:

1. Never work on improving a weakness with intent to specialize in it.

2. Invest far more in changing yourself than in changing other people.

3. Invest in improving your weaknesses when they are so general they affect everything.

click here to read the rest of aardsma’s post and see how he fleshes those out.

andy stanley and guy kawasaki at catalyst west coast

last thursday and friday, i drove up to orange county to attend a couple days of catalyst west coast. i’m not presenting, and didn’t come with anyone. it’s nice to just attend an event semi-anonymously and observe.

the first morning, andy stanley gave one of the top two or three best talks on leadership i have ever heard in my life. really (i’d say it was the best, because i’m not thinking of a better talk on leadership at the moment, but i’m trying not to use hyperbole here). i don’t know if they’re going to have recordings of these things; but i really want to listen to it a couple more times. i wish i’d taken notes. i did twitter a few things, so i can copy and paste those here:

when the uncertainty in your situation goes away, your leadership is no longer needed.

I will always be uncertain; I’m certain of it.

leadership is not about making decisions on your own; it’s about owning them once they’re made.

andy went on to talk about “clarity” and “flexibility” as the two leadership skills needed in this context.

i learned my lesson about not taking any notes, and thumbed an email to myself on my blackberry during guy kawasaki’s talk. given that a large room of church leaders would not be his normal audience, he did great — regularly connecting his points to church-world and christianity.

here’s my rough little outline of notes:


1. Make meaning (stop bad stuff, or create or assist good stuff)

2. Make mantra (not a mission statement) – something that defines why you exist. 2 or 3 words.

3. Jump to the next curve (Most orgs define what they do by what they do – that’s the way to miss the next curve.)

4. Roll the dicee.
-Intelligent. (Anticipate what I need)
-Complete. (The total experience)
-Elegant. (Design)
-Emotive. (Generates strong emotions)

5. Won’t worry, be crappy. (In technology: we ship, and then we test. Don’t wait for perfection. You’ll never get that until there’s consumer interaction.)

6. Polarize people. (If you try to please everyone, you’ll get mediocrity. Better to have people love or hate it, than to be indifferent to it).

7. Let 100 flowers blossom. (Let things happen organically. It won’t always be what you expect).

8. Church baby, churn. (Constantly tweak and create new versions. Evolve.)

9. Niche thyself. (Equation: high uniqueness and high value).

10. Follow the 10, 20, 30 rule. (All presentations: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 pt font).

11. Don’t let the bozos grind you down.

btw: mariner’s church is a great venue for an event like this, but i can’t believe a hipster church like that doesn’t allow coffee (even with a lid on the cup) in their worship center! come on!

plate spinning

i started a year-long “leadership coaching program” with john townsend the other day. there are 10 people on the team, and we’ll meet one day each month, for 12 months. seems like a killer program. the other 9 people in my group are all leaders in a wide variety of roles, from small business owners to a school administrator to an asst to a senator. half women and half men. 30-ish to 60-ish in age.

the group had a high level of transparency and authenticity from the get-go. it’s obvious people are wanting to take full advantage of this program, and don’t see any reason to spend their time and money on positioning. so there were lots of tears, lots of pain, and very deep sharing for a group of strangers.

when it was my turn to share why i was in the program, and what i hoped to accomplish this year, i talked some about my role and identity. and i said something like this (which, as i was saying it, became a bit of a revelation to me):

i’m spinning more plates right now than i ever have. i’ve certainly had weeks, and even months, of my life that have been more intense or stressful. but this season — the last 4 or so months — has been one where every arena of my life takes so much energy and attention. there are myriad aspects of ys that demand constant attention (from staffing stuff, to our upcoming move, to our budget process, to re-inventing stuff and other directional things). a non-profit board i serve on has required more attention than i’ve had to give. my kids are both in a space where they have some emotional needs. i’m trying to finish a book. the list could go on.

but as i’ve been working to keep all these plates spinning, i’ve been realizing two things:

first, when i’m expending so much energy on plate spinning, i am very quick to emotionally withdraw. maybe it’s a boundary thing, or self protection. but i just haven’t been present lately — particularly to my wife, but also to the staff of ys, and – maybe most concerning – to myself. i hide in tv and email.

second, and the bigger a-ha for me: i’m really good at plate spinning; and i think it’s something i’m wired for. it gives me some kind of satisfaction, or “worth”, or ego boost, i think. but i’m realizing that “who i am” and “what i do” are too closely linked for me. and the “what i do” is plate spinning. my concern in this is not “what happens if a plate crashes to the ground.” my concern (and the new realization) is that i’m not sure i’d know who i am if the plates no longer require spinning.

there are clearly all kinds of performance issues in this. pleasing issues. and the reality that i’m more comfortable with things that distract me from my interior life and emotions and — gasp — people.

identifying this is a good step, but it sure feels like the first of 10 or 100 or 1000 i need to take.

ys re-organization, one month later

it’s been one month since the day we had to lay off 14 of our staff here at ys. and it’s still really difficult. i mean, it’s difficult, because these are our friends, and we would have preferred to keep working with them; plus, it’s gut-wrenching to send them out into this job market. please continue to pray for our friends.

7 of the people we laid off finished up that week; but the other 7 are staying on (if they choose) into mid-July, to help us get through the ys one day and dcla events. of course, this creates a challenge: for some of them, we felt it was the honoring thing to give these people the 5 months of lead time (rather than keeping the whole thing a secret and surprising them in 5 months); and for others, we really need them to stay to help us. but either way, it’s hard for us to see them in pain, and deal with our pain about their departure.

in the midst of all this, we’re trying to work toward a vibrant future. it’s got a bit of that saturday between good friday and easter vibe to it. there’s some unknowing about what’s next. we’re trying to move toward change, with a variety of ideas in the works. but we’re still in the transition space, and still grieving.

one thing I’m hopeful about is our immanent move. ys moved into our current building about 10 years ago. it was a cool thing to move into a space that had some neat elements to it, but was still kinda “professional.” made us feel like we’d grown up a bit. but now, 10 years later, we’re not sure we want to be all that professional or grown up! we’ve been toying with moving for about a year or more. when the lay-offs first came into view, we figured the idea of a move was off the table. but when we realized how deep we were going to have to cut in our re-org, the move actually became a necessity. our current plan, if everything works out on schedule (and it never does) is to move around may 1.

but there’s so much more to be hopeful about.

i’m excited about collaboration: the possibilities of collaboration extend so much farther than our workspace – the ability to collaborate better with each other, with our authors, our convention speakers, our convention attendees, and really do more to showcase the breadth and depth of how god is using youth workers, particularly as the church changes,
morphs and engages with our world.

i’m excited about the opportunities for more people to lead – and for the necessity of them to lead. i’m excited that many of our staff are feeling freed up to dream new dreams, to take steps to serve youth workers in new ways. i’m excited about the developing platforms for innovation and ministry that invite in a massive breadth and depth of the world of youth ministry and cultural leadership, both high profile “stars” and unknown local youth workers doing cool stuff.

there is much to be excited about in the midst of the darkness and anxiety.

youth specialties turned 40 this past year. studying organizational life cycles has been something of a little amateur interest for me in the past few years. i’ve been particularly intrigued by adizes theory, which i’ve blogged about here before. this change at ys is almost the deepest kind of change. it’s just shy of a “fire sale”, where the pieces are sold off or given away. but, even though I don’t “like” it, i do believe that this kind of deep and painful change is necessary. and it’s not just because I want to prop up ys so I can keep a job, or so we can perpetuate an organization that should just have the courage to go away. i really do believe that god has another chapter for ys, one that includes serving youth workers when they need it and how they need it (rather than the “we’ll choose what you need” way we’ve done things in the past). so that’s the vision. we want to be here to serve youth workers in new ways, in a changing world, for another chapter. if we don’t or can’t change, then maybe we shouldn’t stick around, and should hand off the baton to others. but if god gives the insight, wisdom, perseverance, courage and vision to pull off this change, we’ll be right here, resourcing, training, encouraging, and occasionally annoying you! Please pray to that end.

the monkey and the fish

monkeyandthefish1The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church, by Dave Gibbons

here’s a little back story before i get to the actual book review: i’d known about this dave gibbons guy for a while, but mostly because i’m friends with the youth pastor at his church (april diaz). i spend enough time with enough youth pastors to have an internal divining rod for when there’s a rare, exceptional senior pastor (especially when it comes to believing in and supporting the youth worker). and from my interactions with april, dave gibbons is clearly one of those rare, exceptional senior pastors.

when i finished the rough draft of my book, youth ministry 3.0, i gave an unedited copy to april. she sent me the single most encouraging email i received from my early readers; and it was loaded with stuff about how the book put into words stuff their church was trying to do. she’d had others on the church leadership team read it, and she was the first to challenge me with the idea that there might need to be a “church 3.0” version of the book developed. then, dave gibbons spoke at our youth workers convention in toronto last fall, and i pre-arranged for he and i to spend some time together. i’m sure many have this feeling when they meet dave, but it was one of those meetings where i felt i was talking with someone on the same journey as me, in terms of thinking about the church (and, really, i felt like dave was a few steps in front of me, to say the least). in that meeting, i decided to mention the idea of dave co-authoring a church leader version of ym3.0 with me, and we’ve had a couple more discussions about it since. who knows if that will happen or not, but i came to dave’s new book with all of that in mind.

also, dave is the “special guest” at an invitation-only gathering of seasoned middle school ministry pastors i bring together every year, when we meet a little over a week from now. so those of us attending that event all agreed to read this book.

it’s funny: april had written me, a year ago, saying that she found herself saying “yes!” through much of my book; and that’s exactly how i felt while reading dave’s. in fact, it was an almost surreal experience. as i wrote in a post the other day, there were so many moments, while reading it, that i felt like i was reading a parallel book to youth ministry 3.0. i had that sense (and i told dave this, in an email) that i was driving down a city street and, at the intersections, noticing another vehicle on a parallel streets traveling the same direction and speed.

the book is about church leadership in a global culture, on the surface. but, really, it’s about living christianly, in any cultural context, and in any time. because, at its core, the monkey and the fish is about the values of jesus, and how we can embody them (specifically as churches, and more broadly as “the church”). it’s a quick read, and very accessible. full of great stories from real-life attempts, successes and failures. it’s an honest book, revealing some of the author’s own failures and short-comings. parts of it are almost a spiritual memoir, as dave shares intimate struggles and personal context.

but what i liked most about the book is that the very form of the flow was reflective of the book’s points. in other words: it wasn’t linear and full of how-to’s. dave refers a few times to bruce lee’s suggestion that we become like water; and this book itself is fluid. this will likely frustrate some readers. it actually started to frustrate me, until i realized what was going on — then i sat back and enjoyed the ride!

i had a few minor gripes with the book:
– i think it’s a sexy but weak title, and the opening illustration it refers to doesn’t play a significant role in the book
– i wished dave would give us a clearer explanation of “third culture” from the start (and, while i think i “got it” as i read on, i wasn’t sure about the earliest definition)
– there were times when i wasn’t sure if dave was writing to church leaders (as the subtitle and “leadership network series” would imply) or a general christian audience.

but those were minor, as i said. and overall, i think this is a stellar book, by a brilliant outside-the-box pastor who is doing seriously innovative stuff around the world. i’m stoked about more interactions with him, and about whatever books he’ll write in the future.

leading from values vs. goals

not long ago, i started a discussion thread on the youth ministry 3.0 facebook group about how leading from values is “better” (not sure that’s the right word) than leading from goals. the response was discussion was fantastic, at least for me. so i thought i would bring a bit of it over here for the rest of you. feel free to comment here, or go over to the facebook group and add to it there.

here’s what i wrote to start the discussion (and i’m adding some illustrations here that i couldn’t figure out how to post in the facebook group!):

i was chatting with chris cummings, a young youth worker who’s been active in this group, at the nashville nywc, about ym3.0. i can’t remember what his actual question was (chris, do you remember?) that got me thinking about the difference between leading change from a set of values rather than leading change from a “strategic planning” path, with goal setting and “plans”.

i’ve been meaning to post on my blog about this for a while, and will eventually get around to it are more length than i will here. but i think it could be a good discussion for us.

when ys needed to go through some significant re-engineering a few years back, i took a group of “can do” ys staff on a retreat to palm springs. my “goal” was to ideate — to come up with a list of “actionable” new ideas (this flowed out of my reading of seth godin’s book, purple cow, which i’d had them all read in prep for the retreat). while on the retreat, the conversation turned to values (not by my doing). and making the courageous choice to speak honestly, the staff starting talking about ys’ values, stated and unstated.

we rolled with it, and created a big list of all the organizational values we could think of. some of them were “positive” — but more of them were “negative” (like, “we value control” and “we value compliance”). we spent another two days creating two new lists:
– those existing values that we wanted to particularly re-affirm
– “new values” that we wanted to embody (most of which were positively stated variations on negative values from the list).

then, we used these lists to make decisions, and have for years (though the lists have continued to evolve).

i think the notion of ‘strategic planning’ and ‘goal setting’ are 2.0 practices. they call for these leadership roles and metaphors:
– statistician
– financier
– manager
– police

but leading from values (and decision-making from values, and considering change from values) calls for a different set of leadership roles and metaphors:
– horticulturalist
– environmentalist
– curator
– anthropologist

what do you think?

how do we re-conceive our roles as youth workers in this way?

and (as i’m sure some will ask), how do we live into these roles and metaphors if our church context is enmeshed in and mesmerized by the first set?

joel mayward wrote:

The metaphor of a factory and a garden has been in the back of my mind for awhile. YM 2.0 feels more like a factory, an assembly line faith focused on doing more to reach the next step and accomplish the next goal. YM 3.0 may be more like tending a garden, creating a healthy environment for growth to occur, where maturity happens a bit more spontaneously. Factories look and feel homogenous; gardens are unique to their environment. I hope that makes sense.

mark maines pushed back a bit with:

Strategy and goal setting are not in conflict with value-based leadership. Both are essential and both must be defined in order for the organization to be effective. Its not that one is good and the other is bad. They address entirely different issues. One answers the question, what is important and how will we behave? The other, “how will we get to where we want to go and do what we believe God wants us to do? Effective leaders answer both questions for their organization.

chris cummings wrote a little poem!

Based on goals, there is success and failure
Based on values, there are stories to share

Based on goals, there is a final end point
Based on values, there is an exciting journey

Based on goals, change must take place
Based on values, change might take place (but usually happens naturally and without being purposed to do so)

Based on goals, there is an individual achievement focus
Based on values, there is a communal heart

Based on goals, accomplishing the mission is of utmost importance
Based on values, loving as we are loved is the only focus

then a few of us slugged it out over whether values change or not, whether goals are good or evil (or just distraction), and a variety of other subjects. really great discussion here that is worth plowing through.