Do You Know Why You’re Successful? – Part 1

What are the factors that make you successful?  Do you know?  We usually don’t ask what makes us successful, only what makes us fail.  When something fails, we instinctively hold a mental inquisition and attempt to identify and execute the offender.

However, we are not as quick to dig around when everything goes right.

“Just keep doing what you’re doing” we often say.  But what are we doing?  If tomorrow everything tanked, what would you start rebuilding?  This is why it’s important to identify the factors that make us successful.

I recently started developing a grid to help me put some skin on this.  After all, it’s difficult to evaluate a ministry, business, project, or a household from the ground up without some kind of template.  And for those new to this kind of evaluation, knowing where to begin can be very confusing.  So while this grid isn’t exhaustive by any means, hopefully it’s a great springboard that launches you in the right direction.  So without further ado, I give you my grid:

Systems, Cultures, and Teams

Now you may be thinking “That’s not a grid, that’s just 3 lousy words”!  True, but don’t let the simplicity derail you here.  One reason this works is because it’s simple.  Depending on your situation, you may use this quite frequently, so it makes sense to keep it streamlined.  Let me start breaking this down a bit, and I believe you’ll begin to see the value.

Systems

For our purpose, a system is set of interacting actions or pieces that, together, produce an identifiable result.  Think of it like this, in my house we have a post-dinner system.  Once the meal is done, my son Xander clears the table, my daughter McKenzie washes the dishes, and my son Mason drys and puts them away.  It’s incredibly basic, but each element of the system contributes to producing an end result – clean dishes back in the cupboard.  Notice I did not qualify the overall consistency or effectiveness of our system.  That comes later.  For now we just identify it as a system.

In that example the system was intentionally designed.  But not all systems are intentional, some just happen by default.  Default systems are typically ineffective at producing good results, although probably just a consistent.  Because nobody crafted them, they’re usually a product of the “easy road” and produce results nobody really wants.

I recently corrected a negative default system in my personal life.  For several months I’d developed a habit of staying up late to watch TV.  That single decision (or lack of one) had significant impact on several areas I needed to improve.  Because I stayed up late I got up late, didn’t have time to exercise, didn’t have time to read my bible, and didn’t have time to talk and pray with Karrie before starting our day.  Additionally, TV in the evening was taking the place of reading good books and spending more time with my kids.

So here’s my intentionally crafted system.  Since the first of the year, my family has been on a “no tube during the week” system.  It was initially unpopular, but we’ve all commented that we like it better this way.  Intentionally making a decision to eliminate TV during the week was the single key to regaining ALL the things listed above that I value.

One tweak in the system had a significant ripple effect, not only on me, but also my family.

Andy Stanley often says, “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”.  Don’t like the end product?  Interrogate the system responsible for producing the outcome.  This applies to social interactions, assembly lines, food production, church services, athletics, and myriad other arenas!  Trying to change the outcome without addressing the system is like taking Tylenol for a brain hemorrhage.  It may temporarily mask the discomfort, but there’s a massive problem in the background that’s going to get worse.

If you’ve been successful at anything, chances are  good that there was a system propelling you in that direction.  Even a default system, while much less likely, can result in success.  We usually call this the “secret sauce”.  The problem comes when you or I don’t know the ingredients of our own sauce.  If something ever corrupts it, we’ll be hard pressed to correct it if we don’t understand it.

From time to time pick up the end product, look at it, sniff it, poke it; if it isn’t what you want, go back and tweak the system.

Pick something you’re successful at.  What system propelled you toward that success?

 

Ride the Storm or Steady the Plane

Does anybody actually enjoy turbulence?  I’m willing to bet we’d all say no.  Years ago I took a flight from Chicago to San Antonio with terrible turbulence the entire trip.  It was the only time I contemplated using the barf-bag for its intended purpose.

We’ve probably all heard the captain come across a loudspeaker and say something like “Howdy folks, we’re lookin’ at some nice clean cruising up around 30’000 feet, but we’ve gotta wrangle a tough ride in order to get there.  So sit tight and we’ll do our best to get everyone comfy again as soon as possible.”  (Ok, maybe you haven’t heard that exactly, but you might if you flew out of the South.)  As long as we believe he’s looking for better conditions, we’ll cut him some slack and appreciate the safe landing.

Bottom line is, nobody likes turbulence, but we’re willing to endure it if we know it’s necessary and temporary.  In a manner of speaking, all leaders fly “planes”.

You may not have wings, but you have people, and they’re trusting you for the ride.

More than once I’ve had to key the handset and tell my team “we’re in for some turbulence”.  Maybe it’s a change in direction, an increase in expectations, a compressed schedule, a new system, whatever – it’s all turbulence.  And no matter how necessary and healthy the turbulence is, sometimes you just have to steady the plane.  Even the best get weary of nonstop jostling around, and a lull in the chaos is often all that’s needed to rejuvenate and refocus our energy.

While I’ve never struggled to make decisions that result in a bumpy ride, I DO have to remind myself to steady the plane.  It feels unproductive and boring, but it’s as necessary as the turbulence if we want to lead well and take care those we’re flying.

Are you naturally a turbulence creator or a smooth sailor?  Neither is wrong, but neither is perfect either…

3 Tools to Combat Insecurity

If we’re honest, we all deal with insecurity. That internal voice that speaks, and often screams “you’re not good enough”. Often it’s without serious consequence because we’re able to justify our inadequacy…nobody is good at everything. However, when insecurity attaches to something we’re supposed to be good at, it can be absolutely crippling. This is why insecurity can be dangerous, especially for leaders. Unchecked, insecurity injects a paralyzingly poison leaving us crippled, unable to move forward, and sluggish to make even the simplest decisions.

Unfortunately, unless you’re dead there’s no way to avoid insecurity.

Which is why the tactics of defeating it are so important. Here are 3 concepts that will help you maintain the upper hand next time you’re slapped by insecurity. They’re not silver bullets, but paired with discipline they can be extremely effective.


 

1. Stop the Comparing – at least twice a year I have to take a Twitter hiatus. After months of subconsciously comparing myself to the rich and famous, insecurity begins to whisper “You’ll never be as good as that guy”. There is no benefit in comparing ourselves to someone else. It requires mental discipline. Safeguards within our mind that signal “Danger!” whenever we flirt with comparison.

2. Acknowledge Your Limits – Matthew 25 gives us the parable of the master & the talents. Notice after receiving the report, the master responded the same to both servants who’d doubled their masters money. Regardless of how much they’d initially been given, what mattered was what they DID with it. We all have natural limits: economics geography, intelligence, education, opportunity. Often there’s no way to overcome those things. What matters is what we do with what we’ve been given, without regard to its magnitude.

3. Focus Your Energy – It’s popular to be well balanced. We enroll our kids in every program available, pack our schedules to the brim, and buy toys for every pastime imaginable. For what? Jack of all trades and master of none? Confidence is born out of success not involvement. This may not be entirely universal, but I would rather be amazing at a couple things rather than “good” at a bunch of things. Determine how you’re naturally wired, focus on becoming excellent in those areas, and empower those things to be your front line defense against insecurity.

These 3 have served me well on many occasions, but they’re not the only options. What tools have you developed to combat insecurity?

Leaders Give Up

At the end of this month I will have been in full time ministry for 8 years.  Eight years longer than I thought possible in my 20’s.  In that time I’ve realized that leadership in ministry isn’t all that different from leadership elsewhere.  I’ve lead Marines as a squad leader, teams as a project manager, and staff & volunteers as a pastor.  Each one required its own approach and skill set, but some things have been exactly the same.

Leadership always requires something from the leader before it ever gives anything back.

Here are 5 things leaders give up:

1.  AGENDA:  Squad leaders train war fighters to accomplish the mission.  Project managers align teams to maintain profitability.  Pastors encourage and enable people to carry a message.  There’s no room for a personal program that detracts from the main objective.  In each case, the leader gives up his own agenda for the sake of the bigger picture.

2.  LEAVING EARLY:  Andy Stanley says “Speed of the leader, speed of the team”.  It’s hard to ask big things from people if the leader isn’t personally willing to sacrifice.  This could extend to showing up late as well.  Either way, longs hours are part of the game.  Everybody wants to go home, but leaders give up the right to leave early.

3.  VENTING:  As a lance corporal I would say “bitching is how I cope”.  That worked as a lance corporal.  However, as an NCO I learned something different: “only bitch up hill”.  Leaders have the power to influence the emotional and psychological tone of the team.  No matter how bad the situation, leaders give up the right to vent frustration on those they lead.

4.  SIDES:  During group conflict it’s human nature to choose sides.  It’s a survival mechanism; none of us wants to be alone.  Choosing sides as a leader, though, jeopardizes the big picture which is getting EVERYBODY going in the same direction.  While it’s absolutely necessary to address the conflict, leaders give up the luxury of choosing a side within their team.

5.  TROPHIES:  Great leaders absorb criticism and deflect praise.  It’s easy to get that backwards. Most team failures usually point back to leadership, and good leaders know this.  Conversely, none of us achieve success entirely on our own, we always have someone to thank.  Lone-wolf leadership was debunked years ago.  Great leaders hold accolades with an open hand and give up the trophy.

Can you add to my list?  What have you given up as a leader?  (Hint:  Parents, you can make a colossal list!)

Fan, Coach, or Cheerleader

20130520-220531.jpgFor me, the ’85 Bears, Jordan-era Bulls, and Matchbox 20 all reside in the same psycho-emotional pillbox. Closing my eyes, I can immediately recall the legendary finesse of Walter Payton, the aerial magic of Michael Jordan, and the melodic blend of beauty and angst hearing “Push” on the radio for the first time. I’m a fan. Whether or not those guys ever do something significant again, I’ll always be a fan. My connection to the past outweighs my desire for the future.

I’m also a cheerleader (the extremely masculine, nail-driving, fire-eating sort). Whenever my kids are playing sports, making music, or creating art I tend to forget about their past performance and just enjoy what’s happening in front of me. Whether or not they choose to take that skill to a level of professionalism some day is largely irrelevant. In the moment, I just want them to know I’m of them and celebrate their hard work and dedication.

And then there’s coach. That guy in Wilson shorts with a clipboard and whistle that lives to see people puke. He’s completely unconcerned with your immediate comfort, and believes past performance is just pointless fodder for the yearbook staff. His (or her) job is all about the future. What are we capable of? How do we get from point A to point B? What needs to be fixed in order to realize our full potential? They exist to make us better.

As a leader, I’m rarely a fan or cheerleader. Not to say that past and present aren’t worth considering, but leadership is all about point A and B, getting from here to there. It’s about growth and realizing potential. It’s about seeing the gifts God has given someone and helping them leverage those gifts for the maximum amount of return. By its nature it’s messy and uncomfortable with lots of puking along the way. But what an enormous privilege to be a small part of someone’s journey…whether or not you decide to wear the tacky shorts.