Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I've got two packs of Q-Tips (registered trademark, I'm sure) in my office. I got them a dozen years ago and I use them as illustrations to my staff and colleagues several times a year. I pull them out when someone comes into my office with lots of frustration over what is going on (or not happening). I listen and then, as it is warranted, I have the following conversation:

Me: do you know what Q-Tip means? What is stands for?
Friend: no idea (with a completely bewildered look as in, Where the heck is this headed?)
Me: Quit Taking It Personally - QTIP
Friend: oh, cute.
Me: no, really. You, me, we need to separate the personal from the professional. When junk hits the fan, just step back (out of the way) and not let any of it get to you personally. Keep the professional and the personal separate.

About 25 or 30 years ago I read an article in Fortune from which I remember one line: "Attack the problem, not the person." Too often in work (especially in church work), we merge our professional and personal lives and it often has bad consequences. Too often in work (especially in church work), we try to fix problems by fixing people - also often with bad consequenses.

Church professionals need to separate our personal lives from our professional lives - our spouses will appreciate it! But also realize that when we attack a problem, ensure the person on the other end fully understands this is not about him/her personally.

Buy a pack of Q-Tips. When things get tense in the office, hand out the Q-Tips and remind people that all this professional angst will go away and they don't need to let it affect their personal lives. It is not an attack on who they are as individuals; it is just a professional issue and should be dealt with professionally.

Oh, one more thing - I'm sure the inventor of Q-Tips never thought of the slogan but I like it nonetheless!

Lead On!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Truth to Power

Many years ago I saw a documentary in which Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter spoke about how and who they surrounded themselves with. They readily acknowledged that everyone that works with the president of the United States is eager to say "yes" to every idea the president has. No one wants to question the president much less confront him (even in a nice way) - on anything.

That is the nature of leadership - the people around the leader want to please him or her. That is why they are there, especially in churches. Most staff members have no desire to become the senior pastor; we're pretty content being the second chair (see "Leading from the Second Chair," an excellent book by Bonem and Patterson). Pastors need not be threatened by their staff and most of them are not. However, pastors rarely get the unvarnished truth from their staff. Staff often go out of their way to avoid telling their bosses what is really going on with the staff and/or with the members whom they see. Staff don't want to tell bad news to their superior. Staff will do almost anything to shield their leader from reality. Why?

Several reasons:
  • they don't want to get punished as the messenger of the bad news.
  • they might be asked to dig deeper into this and that might cause them to find even more unpleasant things
  • they don't know how to tell their boss bad news
Presidents Ford and Carter gave a solution that is both simple but exceedingly hard. The answer, according to them, is to surround yourself with people of integrity AND to empower them to tell you the honest, sometimes brutal truth, even when it comes out harsh. The balancing act is to permit them to say it to you, the leader; to say it judiciously (not being a dark cloud all the time but using those rights in a wise way); and especially for the leader to receive it in a positive manner (constructive criticism). How the boss receives the information will completely determine how that person and others on staff respond the next time there is bad news to be shared or when a leader needs some excruciating honesty.

I can tell you it begins with the leader - as these two presidents stated. The leader must get the right people, give explicit rights to certain members of his/her inner circle to speak very frankly as needed, and then receive that info as info (not as criticism) in a way that will invite further honesty. After all, a leader must have people of integrity around him/her all the time - anything less hurts the organization and its purpose.

Lead On!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I follow the stock market. Doing fairly well but only about 15% of the way to what I need till I retire. There are two big things I know about the stock market:
  • Don't follow the herd
  • The market hates uncertainty
I might spend another blog post on the first one but let me speak to uncertainty here because church members hate uncertainty too and it will show up in their support of their church - in their generosity of their time and the money.

Church's must have goals - targets at which they're aiming. Unless a church has one thing that unites them, then everything will divide them. Church members want to be part of something larger - that's why they joined and participate in a church. They want their church to be on mission to do something, go somewhere, be leading in some way. If their church is not, then it quickly becomes a social club. Country clubs (I've never joined a country club and won't, either) have no function except to serve their members - at least from my perspective. Church's are not country clubs - they are churches.

Get rid of the uncertainty in your church. Find a mission/purpose and charge that vision with everything you've got. Plan for it strategically and tactically (notice, I said "plan"!) and then fulfill that plan of attack. 

Your church is like a ship. There are places it cannot go easily like a ship cannot easily go on dry land. But two-thirds of the earth is water so your church/ship can go to more than half the world. The church are crew members, not passengers. If your church were passengers then you'd have a cruise ship which goes out to sea each Sunday morning and returns to the safe harbor before sundown. But your church members want to sail the high seas - they want a purpose in their church. They want to aim for the horizon and THEY WILL PAY GLADLY if their leader will take them to the far side of the world. Don't underestimate your church - give them the adventure of their lives - the adventure that God promised each of us when he asked us to be fishers of men and women.

If you rob people of the chance to sail into deep and scary waters, then you've created uncertainty. No one knows where the cruise ship will head this week, what are our goals (to have a better meal than last time, a better Sunday morning show?), where are we going together and why are people leaving our church/ship for other places or even leaving the faith altogether. Don't create uncertainty - create a vision. Clothe, feed, and nurture that vision every two or three weeks (Bill Hybels says that vision must be cast every 28 days or less). Be specific, be challenging, be big in your dreams, be willing to work with other organizations, be more God-sized in scope. Give your church a purpose and you'll be amazed at the number of people clamoring to get on board.

Lead On!

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Several years ago one of my former bosses told me during the interview process that he doesn't get worried when he sees staff members talking in the halls of the church offices. He gets worried when he doesn't hear them laughing.

There is a LOT of wisdom to that statement. Laughter is medically proven to be good medicine. It helps in all kinds of ways that I don't understand and don't need to know except it is is very healthy for the body. And the mind and the soul.

One of the things about laughter is that it means the staff feels comfortable with each other enough to make jokes, share funny stories, and tell self-embarrassing moments. If your staff is engaged in laughing with each other then odds are your staff is not whispering behind your back.

Perhaps the opposite of staff laughter is gossip. Gossip can be serious and vicious and filled with innuendo. Gossip is not good for an organization. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the office grapevine and use it, but that is different than gossip, especially malicious gossip.

Encourage your staff to laugh. Find ways to make them laugh. Get them to tell stories on themselves (but never a story that embarrasses someone else). Listen to the halls of your office. If you don't hear laughter on a regular (several times a day) basis, you need to worry and find ways to get your staff to laugh - together.

Lead On!