Friday, October 30, 2009


Don't you hate hearing the excuse from people who say to you, "I'm too busy." When I hear that, I have to consider the fact that this person, like myself and every other person in the world, has 24 hours in any given day to accomplish the tasks set before them. "I'm too busy" may merely be a substitute for other issues that have clogged someone's calendar or interfered with what should be most important in one's calling and vocation. Let's explore some of the reasons why people assume they might be too busy...
  • not organized - the inability to order and prioritze the multiple tasks one has does not mean one is too means they are unorganized!
  • distracted - there are lots of things in life that MIGHT seem more important or more fun. These people are not too busy...they are not focused!
  • inability to say NO - busy people are people who get things done, and will be asked to do more. They are also people who tend to say YES to everything. These people are never too busy...they just have not said NO for awhile!
  • like to complain - it seems good and right to always say one is too busy - they may even wear it as a badge of honor. These people are not too busy...they just want everyone else to think they are important!
  • work in an unhealthy environment - there are places that might demand too much of their people and expect work to be done in unimagineable amounts and timelines. These people are not too busy - they are not in a position to either manage their own work, say NO, or quit!
  • poor processes - if it takes 6 hours to do a job that could be done in 3, it might be that the process one uses is faulty. These people are not too busy...they are slaves to a process that is not a good fit for what they are trying to accomplish.!
  • in the wrong vocation - when people are doing what they either do not have the talent to do or do not love to do, it will always seem to them as if they are overwhelmed. They are not too busy...they are in the wrong position!

As leaders, it is easy to get "too busy" or to put others in a position where they get "too busy." How can we keep from getting "too busy" in our work? A few thoughts:

  • breathe - literally, take a deep breath when you feel this way, or take a quick walk, and then get after the task with a clearer head and mindset.
  • organize - is your desk or file cabinet messy? Does it LOOK like you are too busy? Get rid of the extraneous "stuff" that you no longer need and let your work space reflect a life that is never "too busy."
  • learn to say NO - next time someone asks you to do something, or an opportunity comes across your desk, ask yourself if by doing that project or going to that conference will really help you move forward in your job, mission, or life. If the answer is YES, realize that you may have to let something else go in order to make the new project happen. If NO, then politely say NO or throw the flyer away.
  • turn the sound off on your computer -you do not need to know when every email arrives. What if the post office delivered letters and journals to your office every 20 minutes or so? You would get irritated. Treat your email the same way. Decide at which times of day you are going to answer your emails. (May I suggest early morning and later afternoon?).
  • check you ego - go deep and ask yourself why you feel so busy. If it has to do more with who you are that what you do, then make a decision to engage in a different thought pattern and a different way of answering people when they ask how you are doing. Next time, instead of saying, "I'm too busy," respond with a phrase that talks about the importance of your work or how much you are accomplishing.

This list could go on and on - and there are many books to help one get organized and have more control of thier lives. Leaders need to have control, because so much around them is out of control. While many of us thrive on the compliment "You look so busy," perhaps we should arrange our lives so that people say to us," It looks as if you have nothing to do," while deep inside they know (and so do we) that great things are happening because of us!

Friday, October 23, 2009

meetings, meetings, meeting

Yesterday I sat through three different meetings, all of which were valuable and enjoyable. I am one of the few people I know who actually enjoy meetings - well, at least those that accomplish something. People in a position of leadership need to meet - they need to be calling meetings and they need to be attending meetings. If you are invited to a meeting, by all means GO to that meeting - how else can you have any type of influence. It just hit me that the ones who often complain the loudest are the same ones who never attend meetings...or at least never speak up at meetings (there are exceptions - those who speak up at meetings (read "complain") and never offer solutions).
So if we are spending our time in meetings, we might as well make them the best meetings possible - whether we call the meetings or whether we are attendees. Here are a couple of suggestions for those of us who run meetings:
  1. always have an agenda - and if at all possible send it out ahead of time. Wouldn't life be wonderful if everyone who attended meetings came prepared? Pre-planned agendas allow for that to happen.
  2. always have a purpose for the meeting - of course, that purpose will shape the agenda, so maybe this should be #1. Wouldn't life be wonderful if at the end of every meeting all the participants could say "we accomplished our purpose."
  3. always start and end on time - people's time is valuable. Sometime add up the cost of a meeting you are in by figuring out the hourly salary for each person in the get the idea. Wouldn't life be wonderful if at the end of every meeting people could say "that was really worth our time and effort!"
  4. always engage everyone in the room - remember that the meetings is not yours alone - it should belong to the group of people assembled...they should own it as well as you. Of course, they can't own it without an agenda and a purpose, and they need to be prepared. Expect people to come prepared and hold them accountable. Wouldn't life be wonderful if everyone always came to meetings with something to talk about and add to the discussion.
  5. create an atmosphere of trust - nothing can be worse than sitting in a meeting on "pins and needles" wondering what bomb is going to go off next - or whether people can say what is really on their minds. As a meeting leader, sometimes you may need to pause and ask, "is there anything else that needs to be said?" and then be quiet. Wouldn't life be wonderful if everyone could speak their mind at meetings - in a way that is honest, true and respectful of those around the table?

A quick word to those who attend meetings but may not be in charge of the agenda and purpose - you still have a crucial role in making meetings productive and valuable. A quick list for meeting attendees:

  • prepare - read the agenda, do your homework, and come with questions. If there is no agenda published, assume what the agenda will be and come with the approriate materials
  • take notes - that way you will follow up with what needs to be done and you come to the next meeting with a list of things talked about and decided on by the group
  • ask questions - try to get the group to go deeper on subjects by asking questions about the topic at hand
  • stay awake and alert - if that means standing up and/or getting a cup of coffee, do so unabashedly
  • share humor - nothing creates a sense of camaraderie more quickly than laughter. Feel free to insert a joke here and there
  • offer your opinion - if attendees do not talk, then the leader will fill the void...and nothing is worse than a meeting where only one person talks
  • set the tone (1) - get there early and engage with people in the room. If people are talking with one another before the meeting begins, chances are they will keep talking during the meeting
  • set the tone (2) - if you are in a situation where it is approriate, offer to begin with a prayer or blessing. If you cannot do that, offer to share an idea you recently heard - and then ask others what they think about it. Five minutes of discussion around something other than the agenda buidls trust among the group members, allowing them to be more open during the meeting

WOW! 8 ways to influence meetings even if you are not in charge. Go ahead - try it sometime - and see what can happen as you influence meetings toward a greater good. And be sure to read Death by Meeting: A leadership fable to solve the most painful problem in business by Patrick Lencioni. It is a MUST read for those of us who lead - and attend - meetings.

Friday, October 16, 2009

understanding greatness

Have you ever noticed the number of books that claim to talk about "the greatest___________ of all time?" It could be the greatest leaders, the greatest homerun hitters, the greatest chefs...whatever noun one wants to put behind the adjective, there seems to be no shortage of "the greatest" in any category. My question is - how does one decide who is the greatest...and what makes them so?

I suppose that all of us would in some shape or fashion want to be known as "the greatest" in some area of our lives. We may not be the greatest of all times and places (Hank Aaron is still the greatest home run hitter of all time in my book), but we could be known in our little corners of the world as "the greatest" - could I ever be known as "the greatest Dean of Business at Concordia University in the first decade of the 2000s?" I suppose that when you are the only one within any given category, you can declare yourself to be anything you want - but what does it REALLY mean to be the greatest?

Christians often offer up the passage from the Bible where Jesus says to his disciples, "if you want to be the greatest, then you must be a servant (Matthew 23:11). So may people misunderstand this idea of greatness, and consequently put themselves at a disadvantage to ever accomplish great things. They see the role of servant as soft and quiet...they consistently never take the lead...they struggle to stand up and make their ideas known...they have little influence because their world is too small. They will never be known as "the greatest" at anything becasue they refuse to truly serve others and the Kingdom.

So how can we, especially those of us who are Christian, understand greatness? A few thoughts to contemplate:
  • greatness begins with WHO ONE IS - do you know yourself well enough and comfortable with who you are to do that which you are called and wired to do?
  • greatness is about ACTION - no one can be called "the greatest" if they don't do anything. Sitting around contemplating great ideas - and not putting them into action - cannot be considered greatness
  • greatness is about WINNING - no matter how many times Thomas Edison failed, if he had never gotten around to actually inventing a light bulb that worked, no one would know of him today. 1000 failures and 1 win can lead to greatness...1001 failures with NO wins leaves you in the dust
  • greatness is about OTHERS - it's difficult to be great all by yourself. Locked in a room for my entire life, I can be the greatest at anything in my own domain. However, to truly be great, one has to engage with others and include others and learn from others and mentor others and share with others and help others and...
  • greatness is about INFLUENCE - Muhammed Ali is the greatest because he changed a generation of sports fans...Hank Aaaron is the greatest becasue he will always have more influence than Barry Bonds...Abraham Lincoln was the greatest because his words and ideas continue to influence people's leadership (does anyone remember a speech Calvin Coolidge ever gave?)
  • greatness is about SERVING - looking at all the above aspects of greatness, it really is about being a servant - but a servant who lifts others up...a servant who builds capacity in others...a servant who undertands the big picture...a servant who works hard and long hours...a servant who makes others healthier, wiser, more free, and more autonomous (see Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, 1977).

So how about you - are you the greatest? You might just don't shirk the mantle. Be great! Lead! Influence! Make a difference! Change the world! Be the person God has intended for you to be!

Monday, October 12, 2009

thoughts from others...

I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Catalyst Conference, a place where young leaders gathered to hear from multiple speakers about leading with a Christian worldview. This was my second year in attendance (I take a group of students each year) and I have to say it is one of the best leadership conferences I have ever had the opportunity to attend. Below are a series of quotes/thoughts/ideas shared by the different presenters that were especailly meaningful to me:

Andy Stanley:
  • are you open to what God has next?
  • what man is a man who does not leave the world better?
  • LEAN your leadership into a need - or into another person
  • leaving the mark that has been designed by God for you to leave
  • am I willing to submit my gifts and leadership to a bigger picture?
  • not a leader in authority, but a leader under authority
  • God takes full responsibility for a life wholly devoted to Him (attributed to Charles Stanley)
  • I can't go until God tells me its okay to go
  • Giving God (& others) maximum access to my leadership capabilities

Jessica Jackley:

  • give people ownership - a fundamental shift in life (especially in education)

Malcolm Gladwell:

  • incompetence irritates me; overconfidence scares me (one of my favorites)
  • Humility: the willingness to stop and listen to others

Mitch Albom:

  • faith is not about being IN or OUT - but figuring out what is important

Rob Bell:

  • The bush is always burning; the ground is always holy
  • Sometimes the crowd thins
  • Our work comes from a particular place
  • WHY am I building what I am building? Am I letting God build it?

Tony Dungy:

  • you don't win every game
  • I need to knowthat this relationship is worth fighting for

Matt Chandler:

  • seeing repentance as a continuing ethic
  • When we hesitate (is it a delay in obedience?) it may be that God is callling us to deeper waters

Priscilla Shirer:

  • WHY has God called me to be __________________? And what am I going to do with that?
  • Joshua, as a leader: 1) acted immediately; 2) acted fearlessly; 3) acknowledged the presence of God; and 4) anticipated that God would act (Joshua 3: 1-5)
  • Help people take the lid off thier box
  • Pray prayers that are unthinkable

Dave Ramsey:

  • Creat momentum by pouring yourself into your vocation
  • You lose focus when you begin to hear the footsteps
  • You lose focus when you begin celebrating the results too early
  • Intensity leads to excellence
  • In the story, the tortoise ALWAYS wins
  • What can happen when you decide to pour your life into someone (or something) over a significant amount of time?

Charles Swindoll:

  • The Gospel frees us to change the world, i.e. transform communities
  • leave room in your life for the crushings

Friday, October 2, 2009

the next question

I sat with a young man this week, discussing the field of ethics and values, especially as they 1) relate to business; and 2) are shaped by one's faith and theology. It was a wonderful conversation, going from books we are reading or have read, to ways of teaching ethics, to why one does the things they do - and that was what we decided should always be THE NEXT QUESTION.

It seems to me that the way we learn and develop - especially in our leadership roles - is to ponder the question of why we think, say and do the things we think, say and do. What is it that causes one to act in one way at one time - and another way at another time? What influences have been acting upon someone in any given circumstance to make them say those words that come out of thier mouth?What belief system (or other voices in one's head) directs the action for them to behave in a certain manner?

My freshmen students get a lot of this from me in the classroom - why do you think that is true? why did you choose that answer? what experience have you had that makes you think that way? But for me as a 50-year old adult, I have to face those questions in real life - NOT in a classroom. So what does that look like for me?

Over the past week, I have had multiple opportunities to ask this question of myself:

  • as I listened to students complain, I had to ask myself why I was sympathetic with them at that point
  • as I campaigned to get rid of an event on campus, I had to ask myself why I felt so strongly about this issue
  • as I sat nervously answering someone else's questions about something I had done, I had to ask myself why I would feel that I had been right all along
  • as I engaged in dialogue with a local enviromental activist at our Speaker Series, I had to ask myself why I was so attracted to his story
  • as I argued against a recent policy that had been made, I had to ask myself why I was so angry and upset over that specific decision

And the list goes on and on. I believe that asking the WHY question does several things for me:

  1. It helps me to clarify the main issue
  2. It allows me to make a better judgement about the rightness or wrongness of my decision/feelings
  3. It fuels (or dissolves) my decision to move forward on the issue
  4. It puts my thoughts, actions and feelings into perspective
  5. It helps me to better articulate my thoughts on the subject
  6. It gives me reasons whether or not to pursue the issue or action to the next level

So start the habit of asking THE NEXT QUESTION...why do I think, say and act in the ways I do? It is in those answers that one can find their true selves and lead from their core being.