Why are you here?

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Training conferences are often the highlights of our year. Filled with excitement and anticipation, we register early, pick our workshops, and anxiously await the keynotes of famous speakers. When the conference begins, we dive into the full experience. Sometimes we have so much fun that we might forget the reason we’re there. While we focus on the details, dinners and dates with friends, we overlook the overarching strategy for attending and what challenges we are trying to solve.

To address these strategic issues, set organizational, personal, and spiritual objectives for each conference. These objectives define exactly what you will do or create based on your attendance at the event.

To establish the organizational objectives, ask:

What do I need to do or create in my organization that will help us fulfill our mission? These objectives should be inspirational and important. If they’re not, they won’t be fulfilled.  An organizational objective might be to develop a volunteer assessment process.

For the personal objectives, ask:

What will enhance my life, ministry and skills for new and innovative thinking? These objectives should expand your current modes of thinking and stretch your abilities. Learning tools for ministry innovation might be a personal objective.

To form the spiritual objectives, consider:

How might I enhance my walk with God? What changes might I make to my spiritual practices? Focus on areas in your spiritual life need renewal or deepening. For example, discovering a new way to practice the sabbath might be spiritual objective.

Setting these objectives before each conference will help you maximize your conference experience and learning. Quickly read your objectives before every keynote or workshop. Refer to them as you take notes in these sessions. Using the objectives as organizational guides will give you a clear action plan when you leave.

Have fun!

Do You Want to Be Creative?

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-7-08-06-amStay curious. Curiosity stokes the fire of creativity. When we’re curious, we discover fresh perspectives and insights. We challenge our assumptions and take nothing as granted. To stay curious, I ask questions. Asking questions helps me delve into the unknown and defy the known. Start your quest to stay curious with these questions:

What is that?

Why is it made that way?

When was it made? Who invented it?

Where does it come from? How does it work?

What, why, when, who, where, and how are initial prompts for curious exploration.

To deepen your curiosity, wonder. Start with the sentence starter “I wonder…” and dream. For example, I wonder why bikes can’t fly or I wonder why dogs bark. After you wonder, develop your own answer or research a documented one.

I wonder what you’ll do.

How Am I Doing?

questionsSuccessful leaders constantly assess their leadership style and the impact it has on their team. Having self-awareness of leadership strengths and weaknesses provides leaders an opportunity to grow their skills as well as the skills of their teams. Often a leader’s perception of his or her abilities can be skewed. We may think we’re doing well when the team is struggling with our leadership. One fail-proof way to assess our leadership capacity is to ask those we lead 3 revealing questions.

1. What are we doing well? What can we do better? Asking these questions using a positive perspective helps team members identify successes first followed by areas of improvement. It builds the esteem of the team.

2. What are all the ways you feel empowered? Empowerment is a key component to creating a team where autonomy, mastery, and purpose drive performance. Teams with these 3 key elements thrive.

3. What can I improve to be more present, engaged and supportive? Seeking input on how you can be better shows a leader’s commitment to being a lifelong learner. Moreover, it demonstrates your desire to be authentic and transparent with your team.

Ask these questions at least once a quarter or more. With the feedback you receive, make changes to your leadership style. When your team witnesses these changes, they’ll be inspired to improve alongside you.

Are you a transformational leader?

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Transformational leadership is a current buzzword. But, what exactly makes a leader transformational? In working with several leaders, here’s what I’ve realized:
Transformational leaders are humble. They are committed to make teammates better and smarter than they are. Leadership guru Jim Collins opines,  “Transformational leaders are willing to be the dumbest person on the leadership team (Collins, Good To Great, 2001)” They adopt this attitude to increase the capacity of their team to produce extraordinary results. To push your team toward excellence, try the following:
Focus on the power of we. The collective brilliance of the group far outweighs the insight of just one leader. Give your teammates a safe space to share their thoughts and feedback. Let them know that is acceptable to disagree with you. Add your thoughts on a topic last by seeking engagement from others first. Encourage team members who talk to soon or too much to wait until a few people speak before they talk.
Include leaders with diverse strengths and perspectives. Humble leaders recognize and admit their strengths and their weaknesses. This self-awareness serves two purposes: First it helps a leader choose those individuals with complimentary strengths to be on the team. Second, it allows the team to recognize and value their individual and group contributions. For example, you might say, “Steve, I’m not good at ministry evaluation, but you are. What advice do you have for me? How can we work on this together?” Admitting your weakness while acknowledging another’s strength promotes teamwork and collaboration. It models authenticity.
Create a culture of learning. Transformational leaders model lifelong learning. They guide team members to do and learn more than they previously thought they could. To inspire lifelong learning, encourage your team members to grow personally and professionally through study, the practice of innovation, acceptance of failure, and perseverance. Collaborate with your team members to establish personal and professional growth plans. Invest your time identifying the skills they need to improve or acquire. Once learning goals have been established, search for avenues to fulfill those plans. When team members learn new skills and concepts, have them share their discoveries with the the rest of the team. When the team improves together, your capacity to lead grows as well.

Do You Budget for Morale?

Cheerful man holding dollar bills

Typical ministry budgets include allocations for general operational expenses, curriculum, supplies, training and travel. What about morale? According to Brad Bird, Pixar guru and director of famed films including The Incredibles and Ratatouille, morale affects budget significantly. He states, “The most significant impact on a movie’s budget, although it’s not even in the budget, is employee moral. When morale is low, every dollar spent yields only 25 cents of value. Conversely, in an environment of high morale, each dollar invested produces three dollars of value.” (Haygreeva, Rao, Robert Sutton, and Allan P. Webb, “Innovation Lessons from Pixar: An Interview with Oscar-Winning Director Brad Bird,”McKinsey Quarterly, April 2008)

As church leaders, we can learn from Pixar’s powerhouse by intentionally boosting morale to maximize ministry resources—both human and financial. To enhance your team’s morale, create an environment of play. Encourage people to try new approaches and ideas.  Applaud and learn from failures by giving awards for the biggest Oops.  Turn recruiting efforts into a game where for every new recruit, the team wins a point or a perk.  Once a certain amount of points have been attained, celebrate at exciting place such as local eatery, ice creamery or neon bowling alley.  When teams play together, they stay together.

Creating new learning opportunities can also boost morale. Set up exciting lunch and learn sessions for your team. To define the topic du jour, assess your team’s learning needs using a survey or a brief personal interview. Try these questions to identify core learning trends “If you had only one hour for training this year, would you like to learn?” and “What is one skill that is missing from your ministry or leadership toolkit? Once you’ve determined your topic, bring in an outside expert facilitate to lead your lunchtime learning. We’re never prophets and our own land!

Pick a restaurant or caterer to provide your meal. If possible, connect the type of food to the topic at hand. For example, if the topic is spiritual transformation serve fondue and compare how transformation occurs in people and in food; or if you’re exploring how to build bridges to your community serve food that requires building like a burrito or baked potato bar. Compare and contrast building the food to building bridges to the community.  Use the dessert time to make the learning applicable for your team by using the 3-2-1 wrap up. Have participants name 3 new things they’ve learned, two things they’ll put into practice, and one question they have.   During this fun meal, your team has developed their skills and  deepened relationships with each other.

Finally, don’t wait until annual review time to give feedback to your team. Feedback given annually has little effect on the behaviors and outcomes demonstrated throughout the year, causes undue stress on your team, and decreases morale.  Increase morale by providing periodic feedback on your team’s progress to help them achieve maximum results. Point out what your team members are doing well and how their work furthers the mission of the church.  Use this time to inspire and challenge people to take risks and innovate in their respective areas. Jumpstart team members’ thinking by using the creative prompt “What if we?” Incremental feedback allows the team to make changes as ministry happens instead of after the fact saving the team time and money.

Making these investments in the morale of your team demonstrates their value to you and increases members’ value to your team. Be sure to include them in your budget!

How Did We Do It?

DiscoverWhether they call it a post mortem or debrief, most top performing organizations evaluate the performance or success of their program, plans or service. They evaluate to examine what worked, what didn’t and what new ideas or revisions they would like to see the next time. For example, immediately following a military operation the U.S. Navy executes an “after action reflection” as a method to explore success, failures and changes to be made in the future. Similarly, to evaluate their training program, The Ritz Carlton polls theirs the guests by sending out engagement surveys that measure the interactions of hotel staff with guests. A high mark on the survey indicates their staff training program is effective.

Measuring success in the church is critical, yet difficult to do. Due to lack of tools and processes or a fear of failure, we miss out on the benefits of these worthwhile, insightful appraisals. But there is hope. To overcome these obstacles to measurement, we can assess programs and events using an affirmative approach that considers when and how the organization’s or team’s knowledge, skills and attitudes were utilized for success. Using the starting point of affirmation instead of criticism encourages feedback and sharing.

An easy and productive way to begin this process is by asking one simple yet powerful question: How did we accomplish…? For example, after a successful fall festival, we might ask, “How did we accomplish serving 1250 guests using a budget of only $250.00. Someone might answer, “We secured a sponsor who provided all of the food.” After each answer is given, keep investigating further by asking the same question again and again until new insights are revealed. As people offer responses, document them as an action plan for the future.

Using this evaluative approach boosts confidence in the team’s efforts, enhances their desire to work together and ultimately increases their results—and it invites more evaluation.

Speak the Language of Listening

Language of Listening

A lot of leaders struggle to listen. We may be too busy, distracted, focused on what we want to say or thinking about another issue. Yet listening is one of the most significant ways we honor and respect people we lead. When we listen, we demonstrate a sincere interest in others and their ideas and input. Through listening, we grow our team, our organization and ourselves.

To be a good listener, first clarify what the speaker is saying. Clarification verifies the speaker’s intention and reveals any suppositions that are being made. To clarify what a person is saying, succinctly restate what the speaker said beginning with the question “Is this what I hear your saying?” Another option is to ask, “Do you mean____ or ____________?” Following your reiteration, invite feedback from the speaker to verify what you have said

After clarifying the speaker’s intent, make connections from his or her thoughts to the topic being discussed. Making these connections underscores the key concepts and insights shared by the speaker while highlighting questions or possible issues to be addressed. Weaving together the speaker’s ideas and other relevant points creates intentional conversation and moves the meeting forward.

Once connections have been made, explore the ideas being suggested for potential and plausibility. The type of inquiry-based exploration enhances innovation and creative outcomes. Questions such as “If this happens, what else might happen as a result?” ‘How might we see this option another way?” and “What might someone who disagrees say?” guide the exploration. Using these open-ended questions creates an atmosphere where people can offer a multitude of answers without judgment.

When ample exploration of the topic has been made, summarize the group’s conversation and invite people to ask you clarifying questions. Patiently address any confusion or misunderstandings. Being willing to answer such questions demonstrates your fluency in the language of listening to your team.

Tuesday Ideaspark: Scribbles

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Distribute a piece of paper and pen to each person. For extra impact, substitute colored markers or pencils for the pens.

Have people scribble on their papers filling up the page with different types of lines, circles, squiggles, and colors at random. Invite people to be as abstract as possible. Suggest they turn their papers every few seconds to ensure the scribble doesn’t begin to resemble something in particular. If a recognizable shape or image begins to emerge, prompt the drawer to be more abstract.

Allow one minute for scribbling.

After a minute, call “time” and ask participants to pass their scribbles to the person on the left. Tell them to enhance the scribble they just received by adding new lines, circles and squiggles.

Allow another minute.

Call “time” and have group members pass the scribble to the person on his or her left to continue adding to it.

Allow one more minute.

Call time and have people examine their scribbles. Invite them to turn their scribbles in different directions to see them from varying viewpoints.

Point out that within each scribble is an idea for a solution for (name of your problem, meeting, challenge). Instruct people to work with a partner and find the ideas that reside in each scribble making connections between what they see in the scribble and the task or challenge at hand.

Does Your Context Affect Your Content?

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I have an “official” office. A poorly lit, mustard yellow space, complete with mismatched furniture and boxes of supplies stacked to the ceiling, it’s my personal creative wasteland. Despite my best efforts, I rarely generate novel and innovative ideas in that rectangular box. Maybe it’s because I (and others) treat my office like a closet or due to the lack of windows, I’m depressed and stifled by the absence of natural light. Whatever the reason, I’ve discovered that my current context definitely affects my creative content. Apparently, I’m not alone. There’s a proven psychological term for what I experience when I attempt to work in my office. It’s called the context effect or the impact of the environment on an individual’s motivation.  Working in my office, I struggle to write, dream, question, make connections and visualize possibilities. My thoughts are mundane and my words are lifeless. A shot of vitamin B-12, a chunk of dark chocolate, or a nonfat latte can’t rescue me from the creative abyss. Luckily, I’ve found a few places that stir my soul. When I need an infusion of inspiration, I venture to one of them to commune with my creative self.

The School Of Rock: My son Patch studies voice and bass guitar at this hip music school. Sitting in the parents lounge, I listen to the random guitar notes and vocal choruses that cause wild images and ideas to pop into my mind. While the other moms are busy texting and chatting, I soak up the creative context. As kids lugging instruments and humming tunes pass me, I glean snippets of words and sounds that pepper my current project.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream: Though I’m not an indulger of ice cream, I’m a fan of Jeni’s. Jeni’s combines seemingly disparate ingredients into the most surprisingly, satiating flavors of ice cream. Flavors such as Whisky Pecan (perfect for Friday Happy Hour) and Brambleberry Crisp (a best bet for breakfast), tempt me as I scan the pristinely presented assortment of flavors. My flavor of the month is toasted brioche with butter and apricot jam. As I eat each splendid spoonful, I challenge myself to combine disparate objects in my world. More often than not, these odd pairings serve as the springboard for a problem I’m tasked to solve. Occasionally, I’ll pause and look up from my computer to witness several people tasting the various flavors. As they search for the right one, I’m reminded that your first answer is not always the best one.

Shur Brite Car Wash: Whether I sit inside near the cashier or outside on the swinging bench, the hustle and bustle of this busy place produces a plethora of ideas. After I exit my car, I observe the efficiency and teamwork of the employees, drawing comparisons to the effects people and their attitudes have on problems, ideas and solutions. When we work towards a clearly defined, common goal, the end result can be beautiful. With my forehead pressed against the long glass window that encases the washing apparatus, I watch it clean my dirty car and ponder what layers I need to remove to see the real problem I am trying to solve. As I pay, a customer complains that a spot was overlooked on his shiny, silver sports car. Immediately my thoughts focus on the dissenter in a room who points out the problems of an idea that, when addressed, eventually make the idea better. Waiting for my car to be dried, I sit on the bench in the sun and chat with a total stranger. Through listening to someone else, I gain new insights on my approach to life and work.

There’s a new bike shop that has opened a few miles from my house. Colorful bikes of different sizes hang from the ceiling creating a Calder-like sculpture. The words Red Kite Bikes are painted in bold, red type on the side of the building. I have a feeling that inspiration dwells there. Since I have a new problem to solve, I’m stopping by. Hopefully the visit will get a few creative wheels turning in my head.

If you’re creativity is cramped and you suffer from the context effect, dare to live, dream and create outside your “official” box. Finding new contexts will bring your creative content and soul back to life.

Monday Ideaspark: Ships

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Monday mornings can be sluggish and your team’s creative juices may need a jumpstart. Try this fun activity to energize your teammates and spark their creativity.

Gather everyone together and give each person a sheet of paper and a pen. Challenge people to name and record as many “ships” as possible in one minute. After 45 seconds, do a status check and make sure that everyone has written a few ideas. If not, extend the time to 2 minutes.

After two minutes, call time and invite people to share how many ships they came up with. Commend the person with the most ships listed and then ask group members to give examples of what they included on their list. You’ll probably hear battleship, cargo ship and cruise ship, but if you hear friendship or dealership, you definitely have some creative people in your group. Debrief the experience by pointing out that there can be multiple “right” answers to a question or problem. Wrap up the experience by challenging your team to search for multiple solutions to the challenges they’ll face in the upcoming week.