How to Lead in Good & Bad Times

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The need for leadership varies according to place and situation. Sometimes, a church is growing and certain style of leadership is needed. Sometimes, things are rougher or just getting started, so another kind of a leader is needed. A good leader is able to know which season is which and how to lead in that moment.

I came across this in Ben Horowitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answersshowing the kind of leadership needed at different moments in a church.

Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.

Peacetime CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. Wartime CEO cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.

Peacetime CEO builds scalable, high-volume recruiting machines. Wartime CEO does that, but also builds HR organizations that can execute layoffs.

Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.

Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.

Peacetime CEO knows what to do with a big advantage. Wartime CEO is paranoid.

Peacetime CEO strives not to use profanity. Wartime CEO sometimes uses profanity purposefully.

Peacetime CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.

Peacetime CEO aims to expand the market. Wartime CEO aims to win the market.

Peacetime CEO strives to tolerate deviations from the plan when coupled with effort and creativity. Wartime CEO is completely intolerant.

Peacetime CEO does not raise her voice. Wartime CEO rarely speaks in a normal tone.

Peacetime CEO works to minimize conflict. Wartime CEO heightens the contradictions.

Peacetime CEO strives for broad-based buy-in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus building nor tolerates disagreements.

Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy, audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.

Peacetime CEO trains her employees to ensure satisfaction and career development. Wartime CEO trains her employees so they don’t get their asses shot off in the battle.

Peacetime CEO has rules like “We’re going to exit all businesses where we’re not number one or two.” Wartime CEO often has no businesses that are number one or two and therefore does not have the luxury of following that rule.

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How People See Christians

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My daughter has just turned six. Some time over the next year or so, she will discover that her parents are weird. We’re weird because we go to church.

This means—well, as she gets older there’ll be voices telling her what it means, getting louder and louder until by the time she’s a teenager they’ll be shouting right in her ear. It means that we believe in a load of bronze-age absurdities. It means that we don’t believe in dinosaurs. It means that we’re dogmatic. That we’re self-righteous. That we fetishize pain and suffering. That we advocate wishy-washy niceness. That we promise the oppressed pie in the sky when they die. That we’re bleeding hearts who don’t understand the wealth-creating powers of the market. That we’re too stupid to understand the irrationality of our creeds. That we build absurdly complex intellectual structures, full of meaningless distinctions, on the marshmallow foundations of a fantasy. That we uphold the nuclear family, with all its micro-tyrannies and imprisoning stereotypes. That we’re the hairshirted enemies of the ordinary family pleasures of parenthood, shopping, sex and car ownership. That we’re savagely judgmental. That we’d free murderers to kill again. That we think everyone who disagrees with us is going to roast for all eternity. That we’re as bad as Muslims. That we’re worse than Muslims, because Muslims are primitives who can’t be expected to know any better. That we’re better than Muslims, but only because we’ve lost the courage of our convictions. That we’re infantile and can’t do without an illusory daddy in the sky. That we destroy the spontaneity and hopefulness of children by implanting a sick mythology in your minds. That we oppose freedom, human rights, gay rights, individual moral autonomy, a woman’s right to choose, stem cell research, the use of condoms in fighting AIDS, the teaching of evolutionary biology. Modernity. Progress. That we think everyone should be cowering before authority. That we sanctify the idea of hierarchy. That we get all snooty and yuck-no-thanks about transsexuals, but think it’s perfectly normal for middle-aged men to wear purple dresses. That we cover up child abuse, because we care more about power than justice. That we’re the villains in history, on the wrong side of every struggle for human liberty. That if we sometimes seem to have been on the right side of one of said struggles, we weren’t really; or the struggle wasn’t about what it appeared to be about; or we didn’t really do the right thing for the reasons we said we did. That we’ve provided pious cover stories for racism, imperialism, wars of conquest, slavery, exploitation. That we’ve manufactured imaginary causes for real people to kill each other. That we’re stuck in the past. That we destroy tribal cultures. That we think the world’s going to end. That we want to help the world to end. That we teach people to hate their own natural selves. That we want people to be afraid. That we want people to be ashamed. That we have an imaginary friend; that we believe in a sky pixie; that we prostrate ourselves before a god who has the reality status of Santa Claus. That we prefer scripture to novels, preaching to storytelling, certainty to doubt, faith to reason, law to mercy, primary colors to shades, censorship to debate, silence to eloquence, death to life.

But hey, that’s not the bad news. Those are the objections of people who care enough about religion to object to it—or to rent a set of recreational objections from Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. -Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense

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Good Leader/Bad Leader

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A good product manager knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).

Bad product managers have lots of excuses. Not enough funding, the engineering manager is an idiot, Microsoft has ten times as many engineers working on it, I’m overworked, I don’t get enough direction. Our CEO doesn’t make these kinds of excuses and neither should the CEO of a product.

Good product managers don’t get all of their time sucked up by the various organizations that must work together to deliver the right product at the right time. They don’t take all the product team minutes; they don’t project manage the various functions; they are not gofers for engineering. They are not part of the product team; they manage the product team. Engineering teams don’t consider good product managers a “marketing resource.” Good product managers are the marketing counterparts to the engineering manager.

Good product managers crisply define the target, the “what” (as opposed to the “how”), and manage the delivery of the “what.” Bad product managers feel best about themselves when they figure out “how.” Good product managers communicate crisply to engineering in writing as well as verbally. Good product managers don’t give direction informally. Good product managers gather information informally.

Good product managers create collateral, FAQs, presentations, and white papers that can be leveraged by salespeople, marketing people, and executives. Bad product managers complain that they spend all day answering questions for the sales force and are swamped. Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions. Bad product managers put out fires all day.

Good product managers take written positions on important issues (competitive silver bullets, tough architectural choices, tough product decisions, and markets to attack or yield). Bad product managers voice their opinions verbally and lament that the “powers that be” won’t let it happen. Once bad product managers fail, they point out that they predicted they would fail.

Good product managers focus the team on revenue and customers. Bad product managers focus the team on how many features competitors are building. Good product managers define good products that can be executed with a strong effort. Bad product managers define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want (that is, solve the hardest problem).

Good product managers think in terms of delivering superior value to the marketplace during product planning and achieving market share and revenue goals during the go-to-market phase. Bad product managers get very confused about the differences among delivering value, matching competitive features, pricing, and ubiquity. Good product managers decompose problems. Bad product managers combine all problems into one.

Good product managers think about the story they want written by the press. Bad product managers think about covering every feature and being absolutely technically accurate with the press. Good product managers ask the press questions. Bad product managers answer any press question. Good product managers assume members of the press and the analyst community are really smart. Bad product managers assume that journalists and analysts are dumb because they don’t understand the subtle nuances of their particular technology.

Good product managers err on the side of clarity. Bad product managers never even explain the obvious. Good product managers define their job and their success. Bad product managers constantly want to be told what to do.

Good product managers send their status reports in on time every week, because they are disciplined. Bad product managers forget to send in their status reports on time, because they don’t value discipline.

-Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

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The Slowness of God’s Timing

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In the spiritual life God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow; we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity…There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait, and He will come. He never comes to those who do not wait. He does not go their road. When He comes, go with Him, but go slowly, fall a little behind; when He quickens His pace, be sure of it, before you quicken yours. But when He slackens, slacken at once: and do not slow only, but silent, very silent, for He is God. -Frederick Faber

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Leaders and the Unknown

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Leaders are the ones who run headfirst into the unknown. They rush toward the danger. They put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future. Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours. And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers. -Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

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The Gospel is Not Just Doctrine

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We need to remember that doctrine is important, but it is just one dimension of the gospel. When we reduce the gospel to doctrines, facts, arguments, and bible verses, we refuse to embody the humbling, personally transforming power of the gospel. Blinded by our longings to be right, we can easily become imbalanced. As a result, we may know the truth about Jesus, but lack the power to personally change and lack an outward focus on loving others. So, while the gospel is doctrinal, it is also much more. -Jonathan Dodson, The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing

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Slow Evangelism

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Part of the problem with evangelism is many Christians feel they need to get the whole gospel out in one conversation. The reason for this is many Christians are only ever in a position to ‘evangelize’ strangers, because all their friends are Christians. Evangelizing friends and neighbors, gradually, relationally, over an extended time, means that the breadth and beauty of the gospel can be expressed slowly without the urgency of the one-off pitch. -Michael Frost, The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church

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I’m Watching You, Always Watching

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If you are a leader or a pastor, the people who follow you, attend your church, work on your team or in your ministry are always watching you. Your actions, reactions and words matter greatly and have an enormous impact.

If you get up from your desk, people watch to see where you’re going. Someone always knows when you’re in the bathroom. They watch your face when the VP of Production leaves your office, and make guesses about what your expression means. They watch to see if you smile more at Sally than you do at Tom, and make guesses about what that means too. They learn to read your tells—the way you drum your fingers when you’re impatient, or the eyebrow you raise just before you cut off someone’s explanation. They talk about your behavior when you’re not around, and they assign meaning to everything. You are constantly on your team’s radar. They hear and see everything you do. -Robert Sutton, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst

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How to Move People in a Sermon

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Mike Myatt in his book Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly said:

You’ll never understand people until you know what motivates them.

The implications for this on pastors and their sermons are enormous.

I think one of the reasons lives aren’t changed from a sermon is that many pastors do not get at what motivates people. They stand on stage, expound the bible, give a great commentary book report, tell them what the Bible says and then sit down.

Now, before you leave a comment saying, “The holy spirit changes lives, not the preacher.” I wholeheartedly agree. This often gives pastors an out from actually working on their task or doing the hard work during the week before preaching.

Think on this for a minute, “Why should anyone care about what you are preaching on?” Because it is in the Bible? If that’s your answer, you will need to do better than that in our day and age. For our culture, because something is in the bible is a deterrent. I’m not saying that’s right, I’m saying that is how it is. If you can’t tell people on a Sunday morning why they should care about what you are preaching on, they will have little reason to listen.

Think of it another way, “What does this passage answer in my life?” This is just another way or getting at the caring question, but it also poses another thing for pastors: this helps you know that you know your audience because you know the questions they have, the struggles they face, the concerns, addictions, negative emotions, past issues and sins they are walking through at that moment so you can confidently say, “You are struggling with _____, you are having a hard time believing _____ and this passage shows us why Jesus is truer and better.”

Most pastors usually jump to “Jesus is truer and better” without showing those listening, “I know what you think is truer and better.” If people don’t believe we know what they think is truer and better, when we get to Jesus they won’t believe us that He is truer and better because we haven’t shown them that we know what drives them or how to move them.

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You Are What You Read

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I’m an avid reader (you can see what I’m reading right now here) and believe it is one of the keys to being a great leader and pastor. I came across this quote in  Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly Mike Myatt:

Did you know that the average American reads only one book a year? Worse than this is the fact that 60 percent of average Americans only get through the first chapter. Contrast this with the fact that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read an average of four to five books a month. Even more impressive is that some of the most successful leaders throughout history were known to read one book every single day. Bottom line: If you’re a leader and not an avid reader, you’re wrong.

If the statistics in the opening paragraph didn’t convince you of the power of reading, here are a few more telling observations for your consideration—according to our surveys at N2growth, a very large common denominator shared by executives who feel that they are not achieving the level of success they feel capable of, is that many of them are “too busy to keep up with their reading.” Hmmm. . . . Furthermore, studies show that active readers are likely to have annual incomes more than five times greater than those who spend little or no time reading. Do I have your attention yet?

Up until a few years ago, Rick Warren read a book every single day. Abraham Lincoln, who only had one year of formal education, credited his appetite for reading with his success. Teddy Roosevelt was rumored to actually read two books a day. Thomas Jefferson had one of the most exhaustive personal libraries of his time prior to donating it to the Library of Congress (which many joked Roosevelt had read). If not clear yet, the theme here is that in order to be a great leader, you absolutely must be a great reader.

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