Archive for October, 2010

My e-mail inbox lit up last week at the news of NPR‘s firing of columnist and FoxNews contributor, Juan Williams. Interestingly, it was my friends who freely and quickly identify as conservatives who were most upset with Williams’ (who is Fox’s “liberal” voice) dismissal. Ostensibly, Williams was dismissed for these comments he made on a Fox broadcast. NPR claims Williams’ response was bigoted and not in concert with their journalistic integrity. Pushing aside the particulars — both real and imagined — of the political intent of FoxNews, NPR, Juan Williams, me or you; as leaders we have much to learn from the handling of Williams’ dismissal and how poorly NPR managed Williams’ release. There are at least 3 lessons to learn:

1. Man-Up. Williams contends that NPR was “looking for a reason” to fire him.  Suppose he is right. Perhaps NPR didn’t like his connections to FoxNews or perhaps he had long ago lost favor with his bosses. People get fired! Welcome to the real world, Juan! The problem at NPR is not that they disagree with Williams and/or FoxNews, but that their leadership was so weak that they never sat down with Williams — even when they fired him — to talk out the issue(s).

There is a simple Matthew 18.15ff principle here. Talk directly with people. In your organization, if you fail to speak straight-forwardly with people about tension, goals and performance, you will eventually have an NPR moment.

2.  One Real Reason is All You Need. Again, NPR pointed to Williams’ comments regarding Muslim on planes as the reason for his dismissal. But any reasonable person watching the entire clip will see that these comments were preamble to a bigger issue. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Williams, calling him a bigot is hard to prove. For goodness sake, he’s written one of the seminal works on The Civil Rights movement and was visible stirred on election night 2008 when America elected Barack Obama as her 44th President.

I’ve known many people fired from organizations, particularly in the church, where the reasoning never added up. One way leadership handles this is to lay out some flimsy excuse and expect everyone to believe it. And in some cases, lay out an orgy of reasons. Unfortunately, in the church, too many people are too easily appeased, which is why it continues to persist. But for thoughtful people inside and outside the organization these moves make the organization look corrupt and small. Just this morning, NPR’s president apologized for the “handling” of Williams firing. Everyone knows they had no real reason. As a leader, when you fire someone, one real, actual, provable reason is enough.

3. Pump Your Brakes. Williams was fired without a conversation. In leadership this is inexcusable. Why not wait until you can meet one-on-one? Why must it be done today? Right now? When making a staff change in your organization it is a rare case that it has to be made immediately. This allows you to think, pray, seek counsel and then make a decision. If I’ve learned anything in the “church world” it’s that hasty firings are almost always unfair firings.

Again, I could not care less about Juan Williams’ politics; the politics of FoxNews; or the politics of NPR. This fiasco is simply a massive failure of leadership, and unfortunately it happens all the time. Williams isn’t unique and he should be grateful that FoxNews has been there to scoop him up and drop $2M in his lap. There are millions of Americans right now who pray to be so mistreated.

If both your mission and the communication around your mission aren’t clear and easy, you’re frustrating both yourself and your constituents. I’ve been saying this for some time now, but amazingly, I get more push back than you’d expect.

In the last few weeks I’ve had multiple conversations with new bloggers and non-profit organizations about fine-tuning both their mission and communication streams. My axiom has been: Be generous, Be helpful. Initially, everyone agrees, but when I move on to highlight that constituents want things easy, simple and clear, my audiences have appeared shocked. But my instincts are nevertheless true. Whether you’re a CEO, teacher, pastor, writer, therapist…whatever, your constituent’s lives are intensely busy, their concerns are monumentally large, and their time is magnificently short. If you want to lead them, you have to wrap your arms around your phenomenal mission and contract it into bite-sized chunks for your constituents.

Yet in so many industries (especially the church), the professionals make accessing the pertinent information hard for the populace. We don’t mean to, we just do. And I think I know 3 reasons why. See if you make these 3 mistakes while formulating your communication:

1.  You’re A Intellectual Snob – You like demonstrating that you’re smarter than most everyone else so you use every big word you know and you employ the jargon of your scholastic guild. Whenever you can you turn your staff meeting, sermons, blog posts, etc…into your greatest hits from graduate school, you do. If that’s you, here’s a tip: The people you’re communicating with aren’t stupid, they’re just outside your field. They don’t know your field and don’t care about the intricacies of it. And, by the way, the sign of a truly smart person is the ability to explain complex things simple.

2. You Had To Learn It – Speaking to a physician years ago, I asked why resident doctors had to keep such long, insufferable hours which made them more likely to make medical mistakes. His response, “I had to do it.”  This notion is at play in a great deal of communicators. Since they had to learn Greek & Hebrew (or whatever they had to learn in school to do a job) they come to think no one can be a good Christian if they don’t know. In reaction, they make sure that their audience is forced to know the ins and outs concerning the peculiarities of their field.

3. You Don’t Want To Communicate – Know one says this, but it’s true. I’ve been apart of organizations that thoroughly believed they were elite. In order to keep this ruse alive the organization must remain small. Therefore, the more esoteric and ethereal the communication the better. And guess what, when you don’t want the masses, they know it.

Each of these are killers. Over the next week, review your most recent communications and see if these communication killers are at play in your world. I know, they are too often working in mine.

The good folks over at The Weather Channel get far too excited about hurricanes! You’ve seen them. Jim Cantore, standing in boots, winds gusting while reeds sway in the background. Alexandra Steele covering the action with eyes glistening. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were giddy about some beach city on the verge of destruction.
Why are they so exhilarated?

They live for hurricanes!

This is what they got in the biz for; why they went to school. 85-degrees and partly cloudy doesn’t quicken the pulse quite like a Cat 5. So when there’s a tropical depression turned tropical storm turned hurricane, it’s no wonder that they go nut-burgers when the tempests begin to rage.

So what’s your hurricane? Do you have one?

What is it that gets you going, charges you up, quickens your pulse & brings light to your soul? As I wrote previously, nerds are leading us because they have a disproportionate interest in something. If you don’t have a hurricane, I want to suggest that you spend the next year of your life finding out what it is and doing it. My wife routinely spends time jotting lists of things that she likes. She does this as an exercise in hurricane hunting. And once you find your hurricane, you need to go chase it.

Rearrange what you need to rearrange. Adjust what you need to adjust.

Buy what you need to buy. Move where you need to go.
As St. Irenaeus teaches us, “The glory of God is a (person) fully alive.”

Trust me, the best thing you can do for yourself, your spouse, and your children is to live  in the center of your hurricane. Your life has a mission. Whatever else you’re doing is off mission.

I know that life has seasons. And you can’t do everything at once. I’m a realist. At the same time, I know this: If you’re not doing something everyday to move you toward your hurricane, you’re slowly dying inside.

This is the way God made us.

Go find your hurricane.

This week Redwood Church launches new small groups. These groups are a major part of what we’re doing and will do to impact our community and world. In fact, our groups are so crucial that I believe  if our small groups fail, our mission will fail. Our mission, generic as it is, is “To Know Christ and Make Him Known.”

This is how our organization works: To “know Christ” we invite our friends and community to environments for spiritual formation – namely Sunday worship, ongoing teaching environments and small groups. This is where people can “come and see” what Jesus is doing in the lives of our members and discover what God has done in the person of Jesus on their behalf and on the behalf of the world. Then to “Make Christ Known” we commission our small groups to do ministry on their own — it’s a requirement. Yes! We expect our small groups to do ministry without the entanglements of a budget line item, with no administrative hoops to jump through and no executive approval. We could add those hurdles if we wanted to, but we choose to trade on and trust in personal passion, group interests and — wait for it — the movement of the Holy Spirit. My fundamental, rock-bottom belief is that the Spirit of God is among the people of God and the best thing for church leadership to do is clear the way. As I’ve said many times; only church leadership can stop a church from growing!

So, why do I tell you this? Because your organizational structure should be simple, clear and easy.

Many will push back saying, “Where are your retreats, women’s days, pancake breakfasts, monthly service projects, fellowship dinners, etc…?” Well, we have those, but they arise out our core behaviors and are infrequent. As Jim Collins points out, organizations that do more than three things, do a lot poorly. We have deliberately chosen to focus. If you ask our staff members they will tell you not only our mission, but how we do our mission. (They will soon grow sick of hearing me talk about it, I’m certain.)  After they recite our mission statement they can tell you our strategy: “Relevant worship, small group interaction, and local and global responsibility.” It’s that simple, that clear, that easy.

In contrast, I sat in a board meeting for another organization recently. It was not unlike many board meetings I’ve been in throughout the years.  No one in the room could tell me either the mission nor the strategy of the organization. Everyone wanted the organization to grow, do more and have a greater impact on the community, but no one knew what impact or how they were trying to do it. This kind of organizational vagueness is rampant in non-profit organizations and churches, but riddle me this: If you can’t articulate a compelling reason for the existence of your organization, why would anyone else wish to be a part of it?

Somewhere North

Posted: October 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

Just because I love Derek Webb and this song.


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Posted: October 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

I enjoy the work of Daniel Pink. This video is a great introduction to his latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates us. It is a must read for leaders.

Pick up the book.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us