Four observations on the best team leaders I know:

  1. The best team leaders I know are avid learners. They are growing all the time. When we lead people, we learn that there is much we do not about motivating people! It seems everyday brings a new challenge. Bookstores are filled with management and leadership materials, and the best leaders aren’t afraid to read them – they can’t wait. Leaders must be learners, or they will exhaust their ability to motivate and communicate in an ever-changing windstorm that is today’s workplace.
  2. The best team leaders I know keep an eye on what is working well to improve it. They aren’t simply obsessed with what is broke on the team. They constantly look to “tweak” what seems to be going well, and see if there is a way to make it better!
  3. The best team leaders I know have and communicate a very clear vision of what they expect from people. Ever since the days of the “One Minute Manager” I have been thinking of how to be clearer in every instruction I offer the people on the team. They need to know what I see as a success or “win” in their area. They need to see the overall project and its value. They need to connect their work with the big picture. Good team leaders communicate all of this, but do so in short and simple instructions and encouragements. Complicated thinking that produces complex communication confuses the vision for many on the team. Keeping it simple requires I know what I want before I begin sharing it with the team.
  4. The best team leaders I know are bold enough to put trust in people others may not choose, but careful enough to watch them closely. People want to be let out of the box and produce something new and significant if they are at all worth having on the team. They want to add value to the room. To be allowed to add a voice in the creative process excites the team member. It has dangers, but it also ferrets out the creative genius of our team.

Team Hack #13: Three essentials for team leaders

J. Richard Chase was recently quoted in an article I read as saying: “Aristotle is credited with the concept that leadership requires character, competency and concern for others.” The short but important saying is helpful for all team leaders. In essence, there are three areas we must focus on mastering to successfully lead an effective team.

First, we must get good at being good (character). People are interested in following a person they believe in. They want someone who is living life by moral restraints that make them safe and reliable. They want to count on their leader. The bitterness of giving one’s self to a leader only to be betrayed by horrific character flaws was illustrated in a Presidency not so long ago. Some who ardently defended that President were the very people who were most hurt by his actions and subsequent cover-up.

Get good at doing good (competency). People want to follow a team leader that knows how to produce the desired result. Ineffective and inexperienced leaders frustrate the loyalty of followers. Nothing feels more fruitless than throwing yourself at a task for the team that you can predict will fail because it is stewarded by ineffective leaders. People will not stay engaged in fruitless efforts.

Get good at good giving (concern). People want to make a difference in the world. They hunger to leave a mark and help to fix a problem. When we give our team an opportunity to give to someone and transform the world of one less fortunate, we will immediately see the light in the eyes of each team member. They want to see someone have a better life because of their efforts.

Hack #12: Keep the Tools Working Well

I worked with a number of really good men in my career. One of the most helpful was a man I was with for only a few days during my summer job at Mobil Oil in the refinery in New Jersey. He was an older man, and I cannot even recall his name, but I remember an important lesson he taught me: Keep your tools orderly and clean and whole team will be able to use them effectively.

That sounds like a “no-brainer” but I am amazed at how few team builders understand this concept. In my work I use the computer a lot. Yet, my team members have had to access files for me at numerous times in recent months while I was “laid up” with a broken ankle. The only way I could tell them what to retrieve and have them ever hope to find it was have it in order. How do I keep my tool (computer) in order?

I don’t spend any money on Anti-virus software. I the FREE AVG software available on the web for my basic blocker. Then I downloaded the FREE excellent CCleaner software and FREE Spy Bot Search and Destroy software (available through CNET downloads) and periodically I run them. It keeps the computer in good order and Norton, McAfee and all the others don’t slow down my operations, nor collect a hefty fee in updates from me. These three free tools keep my tools in order. They make my computer stay in line.

In the office I have a filing system that is simple. Each company (I have created several) has its own drawers, and the order of every company is the same. Company official docs first, Tax files second, Banking third, A-Z income and expense files fourth. It almost doesn’t matter which system you use, as long as it is both predictable and explained to the team!

In the end, the clean and ordered tools, well maintained, make the team more effective without as much frustration!

Team Hack #10: Four Danger Zones of Team Leaders

Every team has struggles synchronizing to each other and learning to be consistently effective in producing predictable and desired outcomes. It isn’t always smooth sailing, but we need not be hung up on the rocks of the shallows either. The first step to avoiding the danger zones is recognizing them. You cannot fight what you cannot see. Here are a few practical “danger zone” issues you want to pay attention to!

1. Assumptions: Be careful about assuming you know all the facts based on any report. Everyone sees from their perspective, and it may not be the right one. I am reminded of General George S. Patton’s book War as I Knew It . I read the book years ago. What stuck out in my mind was the statement, “Never ask a wounded soldier how the battle is going!” That’s a great reminder, because it helps us identify that the reporter cannot be separated from the report.

2. Boredom: Periodically get a new look at your team. Go to a baseball game together. Force them to play a board game together. DO something that will shake them from their normal roles and allow them to show a different side of themselves. What? Play a game? How will that help us with productivity? It will! Your team is made of people, and your success is derived from their productivity. Understanding them is paramount to success. Shaking up the office and helping them to see each other in a different role can be very helpful. In addition to taking a new look at them, have some sessions with the whole team to take a new look at the task that everyone is working. Ask serious questions about whether the process is going as well as it could. Let them be a part of the shaping of the work.

3. Fear: Pick members that have great potential and remind them often that you see it in them. They need to believe they CAN do great work. Years ago I read of a teacher who got assigned a class list of students with numbers beside their names. After the first grading period, the Principal came to the teacher and remarked: “You have done great things with these students!” The teacher replied with surprise in his voice, “Well, thank you, but after all you gave me such bright students! Look at the I.Q. list!” The Principal smiled and said, “That isn’t their IQ, it is their locker number!” Because the teacher believed they were capable, he taught as though they were capable. He expected more and got more.

4. Blindness: In a seminar recently, the presenter said something that I believe should be attributed to John Maxwell, the leadership guru. The presenter said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people past where they want to go to where they ought to go!” To get people motivated, we must know where we are trying to lead them. Hellen Keller was quoted as saying: “What is worse than being blind, you ask? The answer is simple: having sight but having no vision!”

Asking Leaders About Leadership

If you want to know how to do something, ask the guy who does it everyday. I can try to learn how everything in my computer works, but it often pays to simply get the repair guy to look at it. He can do in minutes what I do in hours. As the commercial says, “Life comes at you fast!” It just isn’t worth the time and investment of the learning curve.

In leadership, I suspect the same rule applies. Leaders, like cream, rise to the top. Since we can identify some leaders who have come (and some have also gone), we might want to ask them about leadership. We may want to listen to a few of their words to refine our own views on leading.

First, we may want to remember that leadership is a privilege. I have the honor to lead a team of competent and imaginative men. It is one of the greatest privileges of my life. I love the reminder that Lewis Grizzard made when he said: “Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.” Oh what a privilege is mine, to be able to envision, dream and build.

Next, it helps if we recall that leadership is motivation and inspiring influence. We lead because we cannot do all ourselves. The late President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Ike knew a few things about motivating men to do hard things.

Third, it must become clear to any who would lead – real leadership requires courage to move in a different way than everyone else. James Crook said it better: “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” We cannot simply watch the crowd and see which way they are going. To lead implies being ahead of the crowd, and charting a course that others have passed by.

Fourth, there is a vast difference between leading and managing. The focus of the leader is not to simply solve today’s issues and problems, but to envision tomorrow’s possibilities. If we lead by influence, we must have a confident gaze forward. We cannot be involved in personally performing every aspect of operating the machinery, or we will fail to see the whole picture. President Theodore Roosevelt said in another way: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

Finally, leaders are cultivated, but the raw material was already there. It was simply nurture, it was in their nature. Henry Ford said: “You ask, ‘Who ought to be boss?’, That is like asking, ‘Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor!”

Team Hack #9: Cardinal rules of motivation!

Despite the many books that tell us otherwise, many team leaders and managers simply don’t believe the one simple truth about motivating people. People work hardest when they believe in the task they are doing, and believe the person they are doing it for believes in them. In other words, there are two cardinal rules for motivating a team member.

1. They must see that what they are doing matters. Now admittedly, not everyone is handing the brain surgeon the critical tools to keep the patient alive, but in most organizations every task has a true and necessary purpose. If that is not the case, the place will be going bankrupt sometime soon. There are essentially two ways a manager or leader can show people the importance of their work. First, they can connect the worker to the process. That means they show how each copy of that report flows through the system to keep the whole process working. Second, they can show the worker how their part of the work directly affects the success of the overall project. A dirty floor seems unimportant until the worker understands how that dirt directly affected the quality of the final product.

2. People want to work for someone who notices the efforts they put in. When we “talk down” to people, we crush their creativity and drive to succeed in our team. The author Tony Campolo (a Christian sociologist) shared how he was once at a sophisticated academic gathering at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote: “I didn’t want to be there, and I felt uncomfortable with the kinds of conversations that were going on. A woman colleague who taught sociology struck up a conversation with my wife and me. At one point she turned to my wife and asked, in a condescending fashion, “And what is it that you do, my dear?” My wife, who is one of the most articulate people I know, shot back, “I am socializing two homosapiens in the the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be the instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation!” Then my wife asked politely and sweetly, “And what is it that you do?” The woman answered humbly, “I…I… teach sociology (Campolo, Let Me Tell…, 144-145).”

Talking down to people only makes them defensive. Christian author Gary Smalley asked five divorced women, individually, “If your husband began treating you in a consistently loving manner, would you take him back?” Each one replied, “Of course, I would!” Even after all the pain, they would still reconsider. If we understand the deep longing every member of the team has to be loved, accepted and praised, we will understand some keys to motivating them. It is not only because we will get better work from, it is because we will help them become better people.

Five Observations on the Changing Wind.

Featured Photo called “Northern Exposure” by Mark Henspeter, under Creative Commons license

As a leader who mentors youth in their twenties, I have been feeling incredibly optimistic in recent years. For many young people in today’s church, the experience is changing from a decade ago. I have seen a number of waves of change over my years of ministry. I saw the rise and fall of bus ministry, the frenzy of building Christian schools, and the driving wind of the church growth movement. All of them had one thing in common – they started with the same premise: How can we get people into the church. Today, I am beginning to feel a cool breeze of freshness in ministry to people. I am hearing the right question more often:  How can we meet the needs of our community? The emphasis is shifting. The problem isn’t getting them in, its getting us out. A couple of observations about the this new wind that I am excited about. They aren’t new and maybe aren’t profound, but they are important, so they bear repeating:

Observation #1: People go where there needs are met. If we minister to them to get them to join us, they can smell self interest. If we honestly give ourselves to real ministry – offering (along with truth from God’s Word) helpful tools and caring services that make a significant and sustainable change in our community, we will effect our town, our nation our world. Growth of our work will care for itself. Jesus said He’d build the church. Our focus is to be on reaching out and carefully sharing the Good News.

Observation #2: Not everything we have been doing is working. It is funny to me what we defend. I have heard people stand up for all kinds of things that when stripped away are nothing more than personal comfort issues of preference made to sound spiritual. We must not be afraid to change our programs, our approaches or anything else that will not compromise our message. There is a sustained onslaught against many of our Biblical values. Family life is disintegrating to the point that legislation is now being crafted to make all the abnormalities acceptable and normal. We live in a society that colors outside the lines and then moves the lines. Yet, we have a great future. We need to be open to change, since it is unavoidable anyway. We need to face the fact that our youth works have not yielded high retention, and try some other approaches. Believers must be attuned to the old saying: “If you want to change what you are reaping, change what you are sowing!” We must cling to the message – that is timeless and Word-bound. Yet the methods cannot be enshrined. If we keep acting like what we are doing is going to save families, we are in for a terrible surprise, coming soon to a community near you!

Observation #3: To reach people nobody else is reaching, we have to do things nobody else is doing. As a leader in my Christian community, I must take the responsibility to examine what my real contribution is to the life blood of my town. Am I building bridges to those who feel alone and torn apart by life? Is the message I bear coming to them in deeds or only in words? People will respond if I love and care about them because they are there, with no string to whether they will side with me on any issue whatsoever. To reach them, I don’t need a program as much as I need a heart transplant.  If we are willing to love, we will be used to transform a community – because we are willing to do what many are not willing to do.

Observation #4: Many people die of boredom in church. I am not talking about the sermon, (though that may be true as well). The truth is, the church is the most under utilized army in the world. People want to make a difference. They really do want to serve, but they want it to matter. The old “serve us” world has left many people feeling empty. What is replacing it is a “service mindset”. Just last night, at a conference attended by teens they raised $92,600 for orphanages in Asia. The organizers were asking for $15,000. They saw first hand that when teens believe they can make a difference, they will give everything they can. That was today’s teen – the much maligned as a “self-absorbed” generation. I don’t believe it. I believe people are waiting for their leadership to help them figure out how to make a mark in this world before they exit for the next. It is our job to be ahead of them on how they can do it. What ministry opportunities are there in
our church?

Observation #5: Though there are truly some that have been pushing us in this culture, most people didn’t drop out of interest with God. In fact, the problem may not be them as much as it is us! Many of us have hidden our candle under a bushel basket to
keep the wind from affecting the flame. In the process, they lost the guiding of the light. What do I mean? Churches and believers that want to be effective must reverse the idea that “if we build the programs they should come”. We are here to reach lovingly into the needs of a community. When a church decides to turn its ministries into community benefiting projects, it places itself in the world in an unmistakable way. We need Bible education, so I am not burning down the Sunday School. Yet, if it is true that most people in our churches when surveyed say their interaction with the “ministry” is in a Sunday service listening, we lose our mission. We are ever equipping them for a job we never put in their path. We can change! We can take on the blood drive, have an adult Bible fellowship create a circle of hospital volunteers, we can create life skills classes and staff them with our own people. We can take our values, our service, and our love out to the
community. We can “serve Jesus by serving them!”

More observations later…feel free to post a comment below!

Team Hack #8: Decrapify Your Team

OK, I know I will get some static on this one. Pastors aren’t supposed to use any language that cannot be found on an old rerun of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”. If you give me a chance, I will explain my choice of title. It started back in April, when I became aware of a piece of software called “PC Decrapifier” (a free download, suggested donation at ). The idea of the developer was to help the purchaser of a new computer to rid themselves of all the trial version software and nonsense that comes on the drive when the PC manufacturer ships it. Instead of simply using the Windows XP or Vista utility, this company came up with a way to allow you to eliminate all of the undesired software by choosing from a list and allowing the whole thing to clean up at one time (Windows makes you select each one individually).

In every growing team there is the addition of new people to the mix. If we try to take them out of the box and start them on their way with a series of tasks without some “untraining time”, we will no doubt find ourselves wishing we had explained more. I am not talking simply about going through the employee handbook with them, as effective as that may be. I am suggesting that we would be wise to plan time with the members of the team individually to explain the other facets of the overall shop, and how each part functions on the team to produce a singular positive result. In the process, we should be careful to ask probing questions like, “How did you accomplish this at ___?” (the place they worked before). We may get some great ideas from them, but in any case we get to hear both the good and the bad of their last employment experience. In other words, we help them purge and “decrapify” so that the bloated bad memories are made into just that — memories. When the team member is able to relieve the past (forgive the pun), they can hear the present. They have open space on the drive of their mind to learn new tasks and see how they fit the common goal of our team. Who knew? What works on drives works in team builders…decrapifying.

Team Hack #7: How to Make a Team Password System

It seems like my life has a thousand passwords. Between bank pins and software passwords, how in the world can I keep them straight? What is worse, is that I work with people that put passwords on various accounts and computer software. How can we get both security and sanity from this process? Two authors I have read this past week have written on this subject: (Gina Trapani of and Mark Frauenfelder at Gina’s suggestions on passwords, in particular, take the sting out of the process of security. She has the right idea for how a team can know what those beyond the team will not know.

Her idea was to take a random set of letters like “a-s-d-f” and add to them the extension of three letters that are the first letters of the service. For instance, if the service provider is “Earthlink” the password can be “asdfear”. If the service provider is Google, the password is “asdfgoo”. The team can all easily recall the access code, but it will be meaningless to anyone else. I have found a variation of this system can be good for your marriage as well. It helps to have good communication before you get to the bank and have to use a pin that hasn’t been used in a while. Since in many countries I travel to the pins need to be all numerical, I have a simple system that uses the same principle.