Leadership Margin: 6 Indicators you May Have Exceeded Yours

Almost four months ago I began serving a great church, West Park Church in London, Ontario, as their lead pastor. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my work there but recently realized I could not keep the pace I had set. I lacked what Dr. Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, calls margin. He defines margin as the “space between ourselves and our limits.” I had read the book years before, but had failed to heed its advice. Here’s what was happening in my leadership life.

To-Do List Everything Dry Erase Board Overworked Stress
  1. I left no white space in my Outlook calendar. I had packed every minute of my workday with some task or meeting, leaving no margin or white space for unexpected time demands.
  2. I was getting home late every day. I had planned to leave the office at 5.30 several days of the week to get home in time to exercise and then have dinner with my family at 6.30.  I found myself working until 6.30 or later on many of my non-meeting nights (Wednesday is the night I reserve for meetings).
  3. I felt exhausted when I got up each day, even after 8 hours of sleep.
  4. I found myself wishing  I didn’t have to go into work some mornings, although I thoroughly enjoy my work.
  5. I could not even stay awake to watch an entire episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, one of my favorite TV programs. After dinner I usually watch TV to wind down but I was so tired I couldn’t even make it half way through one episode.
  6. I began to experience mental exhaustion during my Sunday sermons, even after getting a full-night’s rest.

When I began to experience these symptoms, I knew that my leadership would soon suffer, if it hadn’t already. So what am I now doing different to bring myself back into balance? I’ve done or am working on these seven behaviors.

  1. I first had to admit that I was wrong and that what I was doing bordered on sin. .
  2. I shared my struggle with our board.
  3. I readjusted my schedule to include white space into at least two afternoons each week for unexpected issues.
  4. The elders asked me to take one full day at my home office for study, so as to minimize interruptions to my study at the office. This will increase my study efficiency.
  5. I had to give away some responsibilities. We are currently short-staffed so more ‘stuff’ now falls on my plate. I shared some of these projects with the elders and they graciously consented to deal with those issues.
  6. I increased the time I spend each morning in activities that make deposits in my soul, my quiet time and reading. I scheduled one hour each morning for this.
  7. I watched this short video where Bill Hybles explained how he replenishes his soul. He motivated me to become more serious about personal replenishment.

I still work 50 plus hours each week in the ministry and love the work, but I believe I’ve set myself on a sustainable path.

What has helped you keep healthy margins?

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8 Signs You May be an Anxious Leader

In my latest book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I combine three sources of insight, the Bible, Bowen Family Systems, and Brain research. The second ‘B,’ Bowen Family Systems, refers to insights from a psychiatrist who practiced during the 60′s-80′s, Dr. Murray Bowen. His research revealed that each of us handles our anxiety, a general word for negative emotions such as fear or worry, in different ways. He and others have applied his insight to how leaders lead. And when a leader leads as an anxious leader, he stifles his leadership effectiveness. So, what might indicate that you are an anxious leader?

Anxiety

These seven signs might indicate that your leadership is being negatively affected by how you handle your anxiety. Mentally check which ones are sometimes true of you.

  1. I can mindlessly yield to others’ opinions to avoid more anxiety.
  2. I sometimes blow up at others too easily.
  3. I tend to focus on others’ reactions and responses to me.
  4. I can be easily and quickly hurt.
  5. I often see myself as a victim.
  6. I resort to either/ or, yes/ no or black/ white thinking.
  7. I sometimes cast blame or falsely criticize others.
  8. I often entertain threats from others (for example, “I’m going to leave the church unless you . . .”).*

How many did you check? If you checked two or more, your leadership may be hindered by how you handle your anxiety.

So, if traits of an anxious leader play out in your leadership. what can you do?

Here are four simple suggestions that might help.

  1. Everyday do an emotional check in. In other words, during your devotional time each morning, check in with your emotions. Ask yourself, “What emotions am I currently feeling?” Simply being aware of them will help you moderate their influence. The term is called meta-cognition, thinking about what you are thinking about and feeling.
  2. Name the negative emotion you feel. Unlike what our culture sometimes subtly encourages us, “keep those negative emotions from leaking out,” naming your negative emotions actually quiets the emotional centers of the brain (the limbic system), thus allowing our thinking centers to take charge (the pre-frontal cortex). Healthy leaders lead from a clear mind, not from muddy emotions.
  3. Memorize scriptures that speak to anxiety. When you feel anxious, quote Scripture. The more we memorize Scripture the more our brain connections and networks actually change to reflect the truth of Scripture. It’s called neuroplasticity. Here’s one of my favorite scriptures I’ve memorized that I often quote when I feel anxious.
    • Phil. 4.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
  4. Share your feelings with someone else who is/has faced a similar situation.  A recent study revealed that when we share anxious emotions with others facing similar issues, the emotions are moderated. So, having a network of pastors who face similar challenges as you, and sharing with them your struggles can help you deal with your own anxiety.

What have you found that helps you deal with anxiety?

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*Source: Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2983-2987). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Permission granted for use.

Sticky Church Vision: a 4-step Process that Works

I’ve served in churches for over 30 years and I’m still learning how to craft a sticky church vision. In my current church I just delivered our vision for 2014 after being here for only three months. That may seem quick, but I sense it will be well received. Of course, I may say something different in six months. But I believe the these four steps I incorporated this time will result in a sticky vision that will effect greater involvement, buy in, and spiritual success.

vision

First, a quick history. I served a great church in Aurora, IL from July 2004 to April 2012. For the next year and a half I then consulted with churches, trained pastors internationally and nationally, and wrote two books. One book just came out, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership. The other one to be titled The Brain Savvy Christian Leader intersects brain insight with Scriptural insight and will release in 12 months.

Then, last November I began as lead pastor at a really cool church in London, Ontario, West Park Church. The church is 50 years old, has a rich history, faces some unique challenges, is located in a fast growing area, and is blessed with a great facility.

Before I came I read extensively about how best to on-board (transition to a new job well) and created a six month learning agenda which essentially set my priorities for the first six months. Last Sunday I shared with the church our vision for 2014.

If you are new to your church or are considering a new church, I highly recommend the book The First 90 Days. It’s one of the best to help you navigate your first few months. You can also purchase an iPhone/android app that goes along with it.

Here are the four steps I took.

1. Wisely time the vision reveal.

I was a bit reluctant to share a big five year comprehensive vision. It would have been foolish to do so. Yet, it would have been equally foolish to wait until I thoroughly knew the church before casting a vision. So, after setting up multiple 1-1, group, and leadership listening sessions, I felt that I had sufficient knowledge to cast an intelligent one year vision to capture West Park’s current situation and reflect God’s plan for the church.

2. Collaborate extensively.

I received some wise counsel from a Canadian pastor the first week I arrived. I asked him for one bit of advice he’d offer me as an American pastor newly arriving in Canada. He wisely said, “Lead collaboratively. Many American pastors come here and fail because they try to lead with a heavy top down leadership style.” I took his advice and have built a close and great working relationship with our board. I have appraised them all along about what I’ve learned and have asked for permission and for their input often. That collaborative mindset has helped me craft the vision that most closely aligns with reality and resulted in good buy-in from the board.

3. Sequence who you tell.

I intentionally rolled out the communication of the vision in this order.

  1. First the board heard it and approved it. It was not new to them because they had followed my learning the entire time.
  2. Then the staff heard it. They too, weren’t surprised as I had shared my learning along the way.
  3. Then a large group of our leaders heard it at a leadership community.
  4. Then the church heard it in last week’s morning message.
  5. Finally, I’m mailing out a 90 day progress report this week which repeats the vision for those who may have missed it Sunday.

4. Maximize the visual component.

Since one third of our brains are involved in visual processing, we hired an artist to translate the vision into a clear and compelling visual format. We did and will visually reinforce the vision in several ways I’ve listed below. And, I’ve include the logos the artist designed for us here.

unuque

  1. We incorporated it into my Sunday sermon presentation on the screen.
  2. We printed a bookmark that we gave to everyone as they left.
  3. We will unveil two large banners this coming Sunday that we will hang in the auditorium.
  4. We will hang small posters of the vision in various places in the building and keep them there for the rest of the year.
  5. We will post the visuals on our web site.
  6. We will incorporate the visuals into our bulletin on a regular basis.

Although the verdict is still out, I believe these four steps will increase the chance that our vision will become reality in 2014.

What has helped you effectively cast vision?

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4 Essential Behaviors that Enhance Leadership Success

I’m in my fourth month serving as lead pastor at West Park Church in London, ON. It’s been a great ride thus far. West Park has a strong foundation and although we face several challenges (as does every church) we’ve got a great future. I’ve chosen to practice 4 essential behaviors that have helped me get a good start and experience some early leadership success. I believe leaders would do well to practice these four behaviors to improve their leadership success.

success
  1. Communicate often and well.
    • A new pastor must gain the trust of those he leads. One way to build that trust comes through effective and regular communication. People want to know what’s going on. If they don’t, they will connect dots that don’t exist. Here’s what I’ve done to maximize communication.
      • I send a short weekly report to our board appraising them of my weekly activities. I’m now answering these four questions each week.
        1. What went well?
        2. What didn’t go well?
        3. What’s the most important thing I must do this week?
        4. How can you pray for me?
      • I include a short paragraph each week in the bulletin called ‘Where’s Waldo (aka Charles)’ where I share the highlights of my week.
      • Within the first 30 days I created a 6 month learning agenda I shared with the board.
      • I sent the elders a 60 day summary of my insights and goals.
      • This week I sent out a 90 day progress report to the entire church after hosting 144 leaders to share our new vision for 2014.
  2. Listen and learn.
    • In my first message I communicated to the church that I had much to learn. I told them that during the first few months I would listen and learn by asking lots of questions. As a result, I’ve held listening sessions with over 100 people asking them about the history and  the strengths/weaknesses of West Park. I’ve asked many of those people these four questions.
      • Would you tell me about yourself?
      • What’s going well at West Park (this parallels one of the above questions)?
      • What’s not going well?
      • If you were in my shoes, what would you focus on?
  3. Wisely manage change.
    • When a new leader or pastor arrives, he or she often falsely assumes that the organization/church expects dramatic and quick change. Sometimes circumstances warrant such change if something is ‘on fire.’ Often, however, a leader must build trust before the church will receive dramatic change. That doesn’t mean that we don’t bring change, however. It’s important that a new leader secures some early wins which requires some change. That in itself fosters trust. But, whether or not you are a new leader, thoughtfully managed change will bring the greatest lasting change.
  4. Keep healthy margins.
    • I heard someone once say that at the end of each day, the average number of items left to do exceeds 30. This side of heaven we can always find more tasks to fill our time. In my first few months it’s been difficult to keep consistently healthy margins. We are currently short staffed so I’m having to take up the slack. I’m realizing, though, that I can’t maintain my current pace. So, to keep myself and my family healthy, I’m considering these ‘margin keepers.’
      1. Don’t say yes to everybody that wants to meet with me. Learn to politely say no.
      2. Ask the board to handle some of the tasks staff otherwise might have handled.
      3. Make my time more productive. I may have to take another afternoon or two outside the office where I can minimize interruptions and maximize productivity.

What crucial behaviors have helped your leadership succeed?

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5 Essentials Necessary to Build Church and Team Unity

UNITY is a powerful force in God’s Kingdom, in our lives, in our families, in a business, and in the local church when it includes five essentials, seen in the great leader Nehemiah.

Diverse people hand in unity

Every leader wants his or her organization, team, or church to be unified. Without it teams lose, churches flounder, and businesses drift. However, when your group is unified it’s fun, refreshing, invigorating, motivating, and productive.

The great leader Nehemiah could not have completed his massive building project of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall without unity. Nehemiah 3 lists scores of projects and people involved in the project and gives insight into these 5 essentials necessary to build unity. I use the acronym UNITY to make it easy to remember them.

Understanding: clarity about its true meaning.

Unity does not imply uniformity, meaning everybody is the same or likes the same thing. Unity doesn’t mean that we embrace selfish, divisive, abstinent, or irresponsible people for the sake of unity. It is not peace at any price. Rather, unity implies that we all embrace the same purpose and that purpose overrides our personal preferences. Nehemiah’s purpose was to obey God’s prompting to rebuild the wall.

Nattitude: how true unity shows itself .

I needed an ‘N’ to make the acronym work, so I stuck it before attitude :). In chapter 3 we see several key attitudes necessary for lasting unity. Those attitudes include these.

  • A whatever it takes attitude instead of “it’s not my job.” Many came from outside Jerusalem to work on the wall even though its completion would not directly benefit them.
  • An extra mile attitude. Several people listed in the building project worked on more than one area.
  • Finally, passion, optimism, and zeal. One builder, Baruch, worked with great zeal.

Ronald Reagan was probably one of the best presidents the U.S. ever had and he was an eternal optimist. He often told this, his favorite joke.

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears.

‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist.

Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist.

‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’ (source: http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/page/got-to-be-a-pony-in-here-somewhere)

Unified teams need more people with “looking for ponies attitudes.”

Intentionality: alignment around a common mission

Their common mission was to rebuild the wall. By restoring the wall, it would point to God’s glory.

Team: together everyone accomplishes more

You’ll find a common phrase mentioned 14 times in this chapter, “next to him.” They worked as a team, shoulder to shoulder, with arms linked to complete this great project. The gaps in the walls were filled because each person and group filled in a gap.

This chapter lists 38 names and 42 building projects. Those who worked on the project included men and women, priests, city guards, temple servants, merchants, and people from the public sector.

Yieldedness: it’s not all about me

Many groups helped even though they would not directly benefit from it as greatly as others. Yet, they chose to leave their homes in the countryside and come to Jerusalem to help for the greater good. And, Nehemiah didn’t let “what’s in it for me” people play a significant role or dictate direction. A what’s in it for me person only cares about what he wants, his agenda, and his preferences.

Yieldedness is an attitude that conveys that I want what’s best for the group and the mission.

What other aspects of unity have helped you build it?

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