Simple. Important.

With a crackle of the speaker you hear the words, “may I take your order.” Suddenly, your mind goes blank. Have you ever experienced a momentarily lapse in memory? You knew your spouse’s lunch order, and then amnesia strikes. Have you experienced this before? As a leader, have you had this moment when leading?

I found myself more confused than when I began. A desk covered with an empty soda can, notes, ideas, prices, financial statements, potential event dates, and crumbled up papers surrounded me. Planning one of our upcoming ministry seasons proved to be more challenging than previous seasons. After several hours of brainstorming, I had fewer ideas to bring to the team than I had when I began.

The moment I hit the end of my rope, when I was mentally exhausted, I realized I forgot a few essential questions. What were we trying to accomplish? What are we hoping will occur in the lives of our students? How do we wish to reveal God’s grace to them during this season?

Asking these questions suddenly brought everything to a standstill. The answer to these questions would be hard to find in any of the events that we were exploring. Instead, the season needed a different look. So we scrapped the events. We moved away from events and towards strategic moments within our already occurring activities. Now, we wait. We wait to see the impact of the next ministry season.

All of this brought to light a simple guiding principle that generally guides all of our decisions. When planning the future, always know your purpose. What is the end goal? For me, that question is answered through our mission statement and by asking how we are revealing God’s grace to our students. For some reason, I was experiencing a bit of leadership amnesia. It took getting to my mind’s end to remember- always know your end goal.

When Leaders Get It Wrong: Part 4

Celebration! Yes, you read that correctly.

When we as leaders, or as teams, have experienced failure the last thing on our mind is celebrating. Joy, laughter, and affirmation may not even appear on our radar in the hours, days, or weeks following our frustrating experience. Those these things may not seem important in the shadow of failure, however, they are important for our future.

In his book A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, Eugene Peterson speaks a profound truth when he states, “feelings are great liars.”1 Our feelings can quickly cloud our judgment and can keep us from celebrating the efforts of our team. The feelings that lie to us can cause us to miss the good, the beautiful, and the moments of God’s grace. Your team gave their heart. You dreamed a future that hadn’t existed before. God’s grace sustained you for another day.

No matter how we might feel, it is important to go beyond our emotions. We create teams and shared visions for more than a momentary victory or defeat. Our team and our vision are on a journey together and thus need handling as long-term investments.

A significant step in holding your team and vision together is celebrating. Celebrate the things that went right. Celebrate the team member that spent hours working on your promotional material. Celebrate that your team dared to try something that was a risk. Rarely is something so much a failure that there is nothing to celebrate. The fact that you live another day to try again is worthy of celebrating.

Some of the best leaders I have witnessed recognize the long road ahead of them. They acknowledge that their team is traveling a road filled with turns, pot-holes, speed bumps, and straightaways. Do not let your feelings lie to you. You have things to celebrate. Your team has given you reasons to celebrate. God’s grace has given you reasons to celebrate.

After you’ve done the hard work of asking questions, do not forget the important step of celebrating the good. There is tomorrow, and you need a team ready to try again. Celebrate today, and everyone will be ready for tomorrow.

 


1 Eugene Peters, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000) p. 54

When Leaders Get It Wrong: Part 3

In the movie, I, Robot, Detective Spooner is called to investigate an apparent suicide. The scene unfolds of course in the lobby of a major robotics company. As expected the company wants to avoid bad press while Spooner wants to find the truth. In this pivotal scene of the movie, the now deceased individual has left a message for Spooner in the form of a hologram.

At one point Spooner says to the hologram, “Is there something you want to say to me?”

The hologram responds with a generic, “You must ask the right question.”

Spooner then follows up with another question, “Why would you kill yourself?”

The hologram answers, “That detective, is the right question.”

Immediately after the hologram’s affirmation of the now right question, the hologram terminates. The significance here is profound in the plot of the movie and for us as leaders.

Many questions come to mind after a failure. Some are immediate, gut-level. Why did that not work? Who’s fault is it? These can have some value, but they often leave us with nothing more than vague assumptions and negative attitudes.

Instead, I suggest that we move past our first layer of questions. For us to come to real answers about our failure, we need to ask the right kind of questions. The best questions tend to be more thoughtful and strategic. They are designed to dissect the failure and lead to deep conversations around purpose, structure, methodology, personnel, timelines, costs, communications, and any other nuts or bolts that could play a role in our recent experience.

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Here is a list of questions that you may find useful.

What elements of our event went as we hoped or better? What message did these elements communicate to those who did attend?

Why would we consider this event a failure? Specifically, what did not happen that we were expecting would happen? How would what we hope to happen, fulfill the purpose of the event? How did our hopes and the actual purpose line up? How did they differ?

What pre-event strategies or operations could have helped us make this event align more with the intended purpose?

Is there anything pre-event, during, or post-event that distracted from the purpose?

Could we have communicated better?

Go around the room and ask every person this- if there was one thing we could have done differently what would it be? What is one thing you wouldn’t change?

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The above questions are not intended to be an exhaustive list. I do believe they show you the intent of the questions.

These questions are designed to remove blame from the equation. We are not attempting to find individuals at fault. So often when we ask questions, we ask the wrong questions. We ask out of anger or frustration. We ask out of insecurity. At times I think we even begin asking questions in some sad attempt to make the already concluded event, better. We must remember, it is finished. We cannot change the results of this year. We can, however, improve the results of future events.

Leaders must learn to ask questions that go beyond blame and guilt. We need to ask positive questions. We need to ask about form, structure, the process rather than questions of who or “why didn’t you.” Ask questions that inspire curiosity and conversation. Ask questions that lead the team to dream again.

I want a team of dreamers and doers, not a team of blamers. When we learn to ask the right sort of questions, then we change our future trajectory. We bring security to the team. We bring curiosity and wonder to the team. We bring unity and resilience to the team. Leaders, learn to ask the right questions. Only when we learn to ask the right questions, will we be able to grow past the pain of failure into the joy of a healthy future.

When Leaders Get It Wrong: Part 2

In our first post of this series, we considered the reality that many of us will face: our ideas will not always come to fruition the way we hope they would. The final thought we left with was this; failure is a temporary necessity to healthy futures. In this post, we will begin considering ways to equip ourselves and our team to face the inevitable failure.

A truth I have found helpful about failure is this; failure is always a possibility.

I know that may not help you sleep well tonight, but consider the consequences of such a thought. If we understand that failure is always possible, then we acknowledge it as a potential reality. We can be prepared to handle the aftermath in a more meaningful way. It will not catch us off guard. We do not plan for failure, nor did we hope for failure, but we can handle failure if we first acknowledged that it is a possibility.

In addition to preparing our hearts, this sort of preparation can motivate and even excite a team. Anytime we are trying something new, pushing boundaries, and dreaming new possibilities there is a risk of failure. Share this knowledge with your team, and suddenly there is fuel. The team will gain a sense of risk or a feeling of danger. Immediately your team will begin to feel as though they are playing a part in ground-breaking work. Your team will be taking an active role in shaping the future.

Of course, this is no excuse for work completed halfheartedly. We should work diligently and seek out success.

When we willing accept that failure is a possibility, then we disarm failure of all its power. In the process, we prepare and even excite our teams. I also believe there is humility that comes from this notion. We understand that even our best ideas may not succeed and thus we become more dependent upon the Lord.

Dealing with failure begins at the beginning. Let us acknowledge that failure is always a possibility. By knowing such a possibility exists we will remain humble, generate excitement, and will not be shocked by the sting of failure’s pain.

When Leaders Get It Wrong

We have spent hours working on a new idea and anticipation builds as our design nears fruition. When suddenly visions of groundbreaking work are squashed by the reality of empty seats, a mass amount of leftovers, and questions about what went wrong.

As a leader, there will be times we get it wrong. Sometimes it is an individual failure, and other times it is a team’s shared failure. Regardless we should not fear failure. Failure is the pain of development. We may experience pain at the gym, but we know that the pain experienced typically leads to better health. Much like pain, failure is only temporary. Failure pushes us and leads to healthier leaders, teams, and organizations.

In upcoming posts we will explore the aftermath of failures. In the meantime may we take this thought with us: Failure is a temporary necessity to healthy futures.