When Plans Change, Integrate Improvisational Skills in Your Reactions

How do you respond when your plans change?

As a leader in your church, you are responsible for the planning and execution of a large number of events or activities on a regular, recurring basis. On some occasions, you may be planning a very large, once-a-year type of event. Hundreds of hours of planning and work by dozens of volunteers lead up to the big day – but things don’t go as planned.

What happens next?

Even though all leaders intellectually know that things often don’t go as planned, they are typically not ready that possibility becomes a reality.

When plans change, integrate improvisational skills in your reactions.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Yes, And, by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton

The rules for leadership and teamwork have changed, and the skills that got professionals ahead a generation ago don’t work anymore. Famed improvisational comedy troupe, The Second City, provides a new toolkit individuals and organizations can use to thrive in a world increasingly shaped by speed, social communication, and decentralization.

Based on eight principles of comedic improvisation, Yes, And helps to develop these skills and foster them in high-potential leaders and their teams, including:

  • Mastering the ability to co-create in an ensemble
  • Fostering a “yes, and” approach to work
  • Embracing failure to accelerate high performance
  • Leading by listening and by learning to follow
  • Innovating by making something out of nothing 


If you are facing another sudden change in plans, maybe it’s time to learn from comedians – especially those who excel at improvisational comedy. The skills and techniques of improvisational comedy can be readily applied to leaders in any organization – even the church. The comedian who performs onstage without a script has to be innovative at a moment’s notice and to think on his feet to solve urgent problems. Doesn’t that sound like a situation most church leaders go through on a regular basis?

An improvisational comedy show might seem like a strange place to learn church leadership skills, but there may be more than meets the eye in a fast-paced, creative, and funny show. Seasoned comedians use an essential set of tools to prepare themselves to deliver seemingly off-the-cuff remarks; in reality, those remarks are anything but off-the-cuff.

The individual who is armed with an improvisational tool kit has an instantaneous advantage in dealing with all manner of difficult situations that naturally arise in the course of one’s career.

Improvisation, at its most basic level, lets you respond more quickly in real time. While there’s nothing wrong with the quantitative, strategic and analytical skills traditionally taught at B-schools, those alone do not guarantee success in business and organizational life, where things tend to be messier and more fluid, and where success often rests on the ability to form winning coalitions that will back a good idea.

The seven elements of improvisation introduce a whole new skill set for invention and innovation for today’s leaders.

Yes, And – these two words for the bedrock of all improvisation. Organizational cultures that embrace Yes, And are more inventive, quicker to solve problems, and more likely to have engaged team members than organizations where ideas are judged, criticized, and rejected too quickly. Incorporating Yes, And into every aspect of your organization becomes the ground zero to creativity and innovation.

Ensemble – the ensemble is the preeminent focus of improvisation, and it is also a vital ingredient in almost any organization’s growth and competitiveness. Good ensembles yield great performance by creating an environment where the group’s goals trump the individual’s.

Co-Creation – dialogues push stories further than monologues. The sum of co-creation is greater than its parts. And in our increasingly connected world, co-creation is fast becoming a fact of life.

Authenticity – rather than pretend that problems and failures don’t exist, strong leaders and organizations acknowledge what’s not working. By allowing team members to air grievances or highlight problems, leaders are better able to learn and grow.

Failure – the biggest threat to creativity is the fear of failure. By deflating the negative power of failure, you erode fear and allow creativity to flourish. There are ways to look at failure as a given, and a vital part of the creative process.

Follow the follower – leadership is more about understanding status than about maintaining status. It’s about recognizing the great power that comes in giving up the role of top dog on occasion.

Listening – the care and feeding of our listening muscle is an absolute priority for anyone who wished to create, communicate, lead, or manage effectively.

Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton, Yes, And


Learning from the fast-paced and always changing environment of improvisational comedy can help your team learn how to become creative and collaborative “on-the-fly” – exactly the situations you face on a regular basis at your church.

Prior to your next leadership team meeting, print and distribute this SUMS Remix. Ask you team prepared to discuss a recent event in the life of your church where plans had to change at the last minute. Instruct your team to be familiar with the seven elements of improvisation listed above.

At your next leadership team meeting, set aside one hour and a half to use the seven elements of improvisation to develop alternative courses of action to a recent change of plans. Assign team members to each of the seven elements. Give each of the resulting seven teams fifteen minutes to develop an alternative plan using their assigned improvisational skill. Each team will have three minutes to report back to the group, using that skill to deliver their alternative plan.

After listening to all teams make their recommendations, as a group decide on which action you would choose if these methods had been available. Discuss why the group chose this method, and how it might be useful in future situations where plans change at the last minute.

As a closing exercise, go around the room and ask each leader which of the seven improvisational skills intrigue them the most, and that they are likely to use in their own leadership settings in the future.

At future team meetings, take a few minutes to ask if anyone has had a chance to use one of the seven skills recently. Have that member share briefly about the situation and how they used improvisational skills to react to change.

When your plans change and you are looking for help in dealing with the need for a sudden shift in direction, consider integrating improvisational skills in your reactions.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 24-1, published September 2015.

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

How to Establish a Systems Thinking Mindset on Your Team

How do you cultivate long-term commitment on your team?

Many teams today are not really teams at all – organizationally, structurally, and motivationally they are not set up to work as individual parts of a larger, unified whole. Often they reflect outdated organizational charts that have little to do with current reality. There are times when a leader realizes their team is actually a collection of individuals who are looking out for themselves. Left in this state, a team can actually become a divisive and damaging cancer to the organization.

Is it little wonder, then, that leaders seek help in cultivating commitment within their teams? The problem isn’t necessarily with the team members or leaders themselves, but what the team is being asked to do: work together without any larger sense of organizational direction or purpose.

If your team needs a boost in commitment, consider establishing a systems thinking mindset on your team.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Leadership Equation, by Eric Douglas

What distinguishes the most successful organizations?

What do the leaders and managers in these top organizations actually do?

In this fascinating book, entrepreneur and business consultant, Eric Douglas, paints a clear picture of what happens inside high-performing organizations. He reveals a simple but profound equation: Trust + Spark = Leadership Culture. Leaders and managers are most successful when they focus on building trust and sparking innovation.

In The Leadership Equation, Douglas expands the equation into the 10 most important practices for building trust and spark. As Douglas clearly shows, when trust and spark combine, leaders improve the performance of their team, their department, and the entire organization – and, ultimately, reach their own full potential.


Entrepreneur and organizational consultant, Eric Douglas, wants leaders to realize the importance of engaging in systems thinking, and in turn, leading their teams to do the same.

“Systems thinking” is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.

Today, systems thinking is needed more than ever in the increasingly complex world we live and minister in. It is all too easy for organizations to break down despite individual brilliance, because they are unable to pull their diverse functions and talents into a productive whole. 

To achieve a leadership culture, the power of systems thinking needs to spread throughout the organization. Systems thinking teaches us to appreciate how a decision made in isolation can negatively affect others.

We teach our clients to see their organizations holistically, asking them to look at it from five systems perspectives – strategy, governance, performance, process, and people.

Strategy – From this perspective, you focus on the long-term trends affecting your organization. You respond positively by thinking about the long-term use of your resources and how to focus to achieve your most important priorities. You respond negatively by focusing too much on factors beyond your control.

Governance – From this perspective, you focus on the system of decision-making that controls the direction of your organization. You respond positively by thinking about governance and being very specific about delegations of authority. You respond negatively by blaming people for making misguided decisions when the system isn’t clear.

Performance – From this perspective, you focus on systems for measuring performance, first at the organizational level, then to departments, teams, and finally to individuals. You respond positively by deciding which metrics and targets to track at each level and what communication systems to use. You respond negatively by paying too much attention to individual cases of poor performance.

Process – From this perspective, you focus internally on the process of producing value, measuring effectiveness and efficiency. You respond positively by thinking about how to improve the individual components of the process. You respond negatively by singling out specific individuals for not managing a process consistently or efficiently.

People – From this perspective, you focus on your system of hiring and rewarding people. You focus on how to get the right people on board and how to develop them in their roles. Your respond negatively by selecting and promoting people based on arbitrary factors.

– Eric Douglas, The Leadership Equation


Your leaders want to be on a winning team, and teams are most successful when they are innovating and executing around consistent systems. The art of developing systems thinking is found in the organization of your actions and attitudes and the realization that each perspective needs to be measured against every other.

At your next team meeting, list the five systems perspectives above on a whiteboard or flip-chart. Choose a recent leadership team decision and take that decision through each of the five systems perspectives, asking for each, “what worked?”, “what did not work?”, and “what would we do next time?’

At the conclusion of this exercise, sift through the why behind those response to begin to develop a set of guidelines that will help your team see the positive benefits of systems thinking while avoiding the negative consequences.

While all too often teams are “teams” in name only, individual commitment to a larger whole is an integral part of the success of any organization.

By engaging in systems thinking, leaders can help their teams maintain commitment and accomplish their Great Commission call.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 12-3, published April 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

How to Use the Power of Story to Influence Others

Are you having a hard time inspiring your team to be more productive?

Individuals may represent much of the accomplishment of ministries at your church, but the real work of ministry is often done through teams. Whether a staff team comprised of full and part-time employees or a volunteer team comprised of various degrees of dedicated members, teams are the backbone of church ministry. And yet, most leaders at one time or another are frustrated by the lack of progress of the team toward accomplishing their assigned task.

To inspire and encourage the teams you lead to get the job done, tell stories.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Orange Revolution, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

The Orange Revolution is a groundbreaking guide to building high-performance teams. Research by the authors shows that breakthrough success is guided by a particular breed of high-performing team that generates its own momentum—an engaged group of colleagues in the trenches, working passionately together to pursue a shared vision. Their research also shows that only 20 percent of teams are working anywhere near this optimal capacity. How can your team become one of them?

The authors have determined a key set of characteristics displayed by members of breakthrough teams, and have identified a set of rules great teams live by, which generate a culture of positive teamwork and lead to extraordinary results.

The Orange Revolution provides a simple and powerful step-by-step guide to taking your team to the breakthrough level, igniting the passion and vision to bring about an Orange Revolution.


Authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have created a framework for developing breakthrough teams called “The Orange Revolution.” The Orange Revolution is depicted as a journey to breakthrough result, a journey that places the relationships among team members as a critical component. As these relationships evolve over time, it’s only natural that momentum slows down and the productiveness of the team begins to wane

The people on your teams are overwhelmed with information, and in your attempt to help motivate them to move forward, you may be inadvertently contributing to the slowdown. Already confused and overloaded, they assume that your added request will only make thing worse.

Enter the story.

Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information – more powerful and enduring than any other art form. In the land of complex reality, story is king. Story makes sense of chaos and gives people a plot. Stories can help people who are stuck become unstuck.

There are no guarantees that using story to motivate your team will come out the way you want. But story, on the average, works much better than telling your team “this is the way it’s going to be.”

Story is like a computer app you load into someone’s mind so they can play it using their own input. The best stories play over and over and create the outcomes that fit your goals and ensure that your team keeps moving forward.

Great leaders use story to express their passion and illustrate, illuminate, and inspire their team to greatness itself.

When you want to influence others, there is no tool more powerful than story.

Teams that are focused on wow results have a charming habit of telling stories that exemplify what they are trying to achieve.

Great teams create a narrative. As teams succeed, they tell their stories again and again. They are partly their history, but they also explain to others who they are and what they do.

Breakthrough teams tell stories frequently and with passion. It is a secret ingredient of their success. The power of their stories is in the specificity and vividness, which are the very elements that make them memorable. They get repeated – typically with the same enthusiasm in which they are told.

Stories are vital in helping individuals understand how world-class results are achieved and in making the possibility of doing so believable. Such tales have a way of perpetuating success. The listener retells the story, and more important, internalizes its message and becomes part of the story.

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, The Orange Revolution


As you use stories with your teams, you will be using a mixture of credibility, evidence and data, and emotional appeal. You cannot persuade through logic alone, or even logic supported by your credibility. You must persuade your team through the use of emotional appeals.

Look back to a recent story you told your team. Categorize the story into the three areas mentioned above: credibility, logic, and emotional appeal. How does the ratio of emotional appeal stack up to the rest of the story? If it is not at least twice as great as the next component, you need to rethink your content.

The next time you want to encourage your team to be more productive, weave a personal story from your own background into your conversation. The ability to tell a personal story is an essential trait of authentic leadership – people who inspire uncommon effort. By inviting your team on a personal journey, they will want to join you in your success.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 2-3, published November 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

Discover That “Less is More” by Narrowing Your Focus

How can you lead your team to believe “Less is more” in a “More is more” world?

Every day, ministry leaders spend too much time, managing too much church “stuff,” for too little life-change. It is safe to say that the church in North America is over-programming her calendar and under-discipling her people.

Behind this reality is a stark irony: The effectiveness of our gospel work is limited, not by a lack of ministry effort but by an excess of ministry action.

The gospel-centered, transformational impact of your church sits as a malnourished beggar beside an every-growing buffet of church ministry programs.

We get too little discipleship precisely because we have too much church stuff.

Church stuff is the whole of the ministry activities that make up your church calendar. Programming that ranges from weekly worship and groups, to monthly programming or quarterly training opportunities.

Church Stuff = Any event service, meeting, class, or group that your church offers this year.

It’s time to narrow your focus.


THE QUICK SUMMARY – Positioning, by Al Ries

What’s the secret to a company’s continued growth and prosperity? Internationally known marketing expert Al Ries has the answer: focus. His commonsense approach to business management is founded on the premise that long-lasting success depends on focusing on core products and eschewing the temptation to diversify into unrelated enterprises.

Using real-world examples, Ries shows that in industry after industry, it is the companies that resist diversification, and focus instead on owning a category in consumers’ minds, that dominate their markets. He offers solid guidance on how to get focused and how to stay focused, laying out a workable blueprint for any company’s evolution that will increase market share and shareholder value while ensuring future success.


Many churches today are multiplying new ministries or extending existing ministries at a torrid pace:

  • Starting a new worship service in a new style – not to reach more people, but because the time is convenient for existing members or because the church across the street seems effective
  • Adding a ministry program (compete with staffing, budget and a launch with a great deal of fanfare) in response to a voiced felt-need
  • Keeping a ministry program around long after its original purpose has passed – yet continuing to pour resources into expanding and keeping up with participant expectation
  • Expansive and ever-multiplying ministry programming in hopes of capturing a larger share of the unchurched “market”

In reality, these actions and more like them are reminiscent of the warning settlers of the old west were given: choose your rut carefully because you are going to be in it a long time.

The time has come to develop an organization’s power by narrowing its focus.

It should have been obvious that an organization cannot keep expanding its products forever. You reach a point of diminishing returns. You lose your efficiency, your competitiveness, and most ominous of all, your ability to manage a diverse collection of unrelated products and services.

Since a focus has to work in the mind of a customer, it can’t be complicated, high-minded, flowery, obtuse, or difficult to understand. It has to be a simple idea, expressed with simple words, and immediately understandable.

A simple focus is unlikely to come out of the overly complex strategic systems in place at many organizations. You are building a perception in the mind. It’s done with words, not bricks and mortar.

A focus is not likely to be found with an overly complicated team approach. A focus might be simple, but it’s not likely to be formulated in a frying pan into which everyone throws an idea or two. The more people involved in the process, the less likely the group ill be able to cook up a powerful focus.

A good focus will be simple, but recognizing a good focus is not so simple. It takes judgment, which is in incredible short supply in the world today.

Al Ries, Focus


Select six ministry programs, activities and ideas that are floating around your leadership team that seem to have good potential and list them on a chart tablet.

Write down six evaluation points or requirements that the idea should comply with, such as number of volunteers required, time, cost, etc. Use your Vision Frame as a core piece of this with these refining questions:

  • Is this idea helping us achieve our mission?
  • Which value is most present if we move forward? Which is most needed?
  • Where in our strategy does this fall and how does it lead forward?
  • In which mission measure do we expect to see growth in an participant’s life?

Now, assign each idea to one person on the team . One of them will present the idea as if it was on “missional trial” while the rest of the team should act as the jury

Right after the presentation, the jury ranks the idea from one to ten, with ten being the best and one being the worst. Base the rankings on both individual evaluations and group discussion.

The person that presented the idea and one random jury member should switch places in order to repeat the process, until all team members have presented their own idea.

Review all the rankings to identify the best idea. See Next Steps for Solutions 2 & 3 for similar ideas, through a different lens.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 42-1, published July June 2016

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

Celebrating National Doughnut Day…

In honor of National Doughnut Day, a “sweet” repost:

National Doughnut Day was established in 1938 by the Chicago Salvation Army to honor women who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I. The holiday is traditionally celebrated on the first Friday of June.

Here’s an infographic from Fast Company magazine about today’s National Doughnut Day:

Upon closer look at the picture above – especially the statistic in the doughnut hole – it’s nice to know that I’m above average.


Homer Price and the Dougnut MachineLike many things in my life, this fondness all came about because of a book: “Homer Price and the Doughnut Machine.”  I have great memories of reading about Homer and Uncle Ulysses and the automatic doughnut machine. I remembered the image of doughnuts stacked to the ceiling with more coming out of the machine every minute. I’ve looked for a machine like that for a long time, but the Krispy Kreme shop is as close as I’ll come! Reading that book gave me a taste for doughnuts that continues to this day.

Thinking about Homer Price, I just happened to be near my favorite used bookstore in Charlotte – Book Buyers. On a whim, I pulled in, went to the children’s section, and there it was, just like I remembered it. With my $1 purchase, I’m going to start the day off, reading the story again – with a doughnut, of course!

There’s no “Hot Light” in my hometown, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating…

If you’ve still got a sweet tooth, check out this post on the secrets to Krispy Kreme’s success.

Grow in Your Understanding of the Servant as Leader

Are you pursuing Christ-like humility in your leadership?

25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28

Humility does not come naturally to anyone.

Who hasn’t seen an example of our self-centered nature in a two-year old child in the checkout line at the grocery story, lying flat out on the floor, screaming at the top of her lungs, fists clenched because Mom wouldn’t buy her a candy bar? When the child did not get what she wanted, a temper tantrum followed.

The reality is that adults have an inner two-year-old. We know what we want, when we want it, and we are dejected, annoyed, and maybe even angry when we don’t get our way. While it’s not appropriate to lie on the floor and scream anymore, often – in our minds – we are tempted.

Our model for humble leadership lives in the servant-mindedness of Jesus Christ during His ministry on earth. We’re not likely to achieve that kind of perfect and consistent humility in this lifetime. But great leaders aspire to grow in Christ-like humility with each passing day.

If you are interested in developing as a leader, grow in your understanding of servant as leader.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Power of Servant Leadership, by Robert K. Greenleaf

Based on the seminal work of Robert K. Greenleaf, a former AT&T executive who coined the term almost 30 years ago, servant-leadership emphasizes an emerging approach to leadership—one which puts serving others, including employees, customers, and community, first. The Power of Servant Leadership is a collection of eight of Greenleaf’s most compelling essays on servant-leadership. These essays, published together in one volume for the first time, contain many of Greenleaf’s best insights into the nature and practice of servant-leadership and show his continual refinement of the servant-as-leader concept. In addition, several of the essays focus on the related issues of spirit, commitment to vision, and wholeness.


The treachery of hubris is far more than many of other potential problems a leader might encounter. It’s fun to be a leader, gratifying to have influence, and exhilarating to have dozens – maybe even hundreds – of people cheering your every word. In many all-too-subtle ways, it’s easy to be seduced by power and importance. It’s possible for any leader to get infected with the disease of arrogance and pride, becoming bloated with an exaggerated sense of self and pursuing one’s own ends. How can you avoid this?

Humility is the only way to resolve the conflicts and contradictions of leadership. Humility is the antidote for hubris.

The path to a greater understanding and practice of humility begins with the realization that in order to lead, you must first serve. 

Good leaders must first become good servants.

Ten Characteristics of the Servant as Leader

Listening – the servant-leader seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will by listening to what is being said (and not being said).

Empathy – the servant-leader strives to understand and emphasize with others.

Healing – the servant-leader recognizes that they have an opportunity to help make whole those with whom they come in contact with.

Awareness – the servant-leader makes a commitment to fostering awareness, helping one to understand issues involving ethics and values.

Persuasion – the servant-leader relies on persuasion, rather than positional authority, in making decisions.

Conceptualization – the servant-leader seek to nurture their abilities to dream great dreams, thinking beyond day-to-day realities.

Foresight – the servant-leader understands the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.

Stewardship – the servant-leader assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others.

Commitment to the growth of people – the servant-leader believes that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers, and is deeply committed to the growth of each and every individual within his or her organization.

Building community – the servant-leader seeks to identify some means for building community among those who work for an organization.

– Robert Greenleaf, The Power of Servant Leadership


Prepare a worksheet listing the 10 Characteristics of a Leader (found above) across the top of the sheet. At the bottom of the sheet, write the following: Using a scale of 1-10(1-Not at all; 10-Excellent), please write the number under each characteristic that best describes you. Make seven copies of the spreadsheet.

  • Ask two close work associates to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Ask one close friend to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Ask your immediate supervisor to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Ask a spouse or family member to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Complete the worksheet, rating yourself.

Average all six scores to obtain a composite score for each characteristic.

On the remaining worksheet, list the composite scores by each characteristic.

  • Under the characteristics with a rating of 7, 8, or 9, write specific actions you will take to move that rating up one number.
  • Under the characteristics with a rating of 4, 5, or 6, list at least one specific example of that rating.
  • Under the characteristics with a rating of 1, 2, or 3, talk with your spouse or trusted friend about why the rating is low.

Excellent leaders set the example by aligning their actions with their values as a servant leader, just as Christ did.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, writing in Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces, suggest leaders ask themselves these three questions at the end of each day:

“What have I done today that demonstrates the values that I hold near and dear?”

“What have I done today that might have, even inadvertently, been inconsistent with what I value and believe in?”

This reflection will prepare you to ask a final question: “So tomorrow, what do I need to do differently so that my actions match my words?”

Servant leaders who make this a regular habit will not only be practicing their craft, they will be developing themselves and others as servant leaders – ultimately reflecting the heart of Christ who did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 19-1, published July 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

Good Leaders Unlock the Imagination by Starting with WHY

To help see others see change, the leader must understand how to unlock the imagination.

The very act of imagination is connected to faith. The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). When a leader articulates, or provokes, a follower’s imagination, he or she is serving both God and the individual by exercising the muscle of faith.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Start with Why, by Simon Sinek

Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty?

In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way-and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why.

Drawing on a wide range of real-life stories, Sinek weaves together a clear vision of what it truly takes to lead and inspire.


Walt Disney’s dream that we now know as Disneyland faced an immense problem: how do you get financial investors to back something that’s never been done before, and exists only in a few sketches?

Faced with this dilemma, Disney did what he was best at: he painted pictures with words:

The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to spend pleasant times in one another’s company.

Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world. 

Disneyland will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders part of our lives.

Walt Disney, An American Original, 246-247

Disney’s simple but evocative language convinced the investors of a future they could not see – and the rest is history.

Great leaders and great organizations are good at seeing what most of us can’t see. They are good at giving us things we would never think of asking for.

Great leaders are those who trust their gut. They are those who understand the art before the science. They win hearts before minds. They are the ones who start with WHY.

Products and services with a clear sense of WHY give people a way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe. Remember, people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. If an organization does not have a clear sense of WHY then it is impossible for the outside world to perceive anything more than WHAT the organization does. And when that happens, manipulations that rely on pushing price, features, service or quality become the primary currency of differentiation.

WHAT: Every single organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. Everyone is easily able to describe the products or services a company sells or the job function they have within that system. WHATS are easy to identify.

HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better. Not as obvious as WHATs, many think these are the differentiating or motivating factors in a decision. It would be false to assume that’s all that is required. There is one missing detail:

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your organization exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

It all starts from the inside out. It all starts with WHY.

Simon Sinek, Start with Why


There is a fine line between inspiration and manipulation. A leader can use powerful language, vivid images, and emotional pleas to his audience – and be a manipulative, power-hungry despot.

A leader can also use powerful language, vivid images, and emotional pleas to his audience – and be a visionary leader.

The difference is in the WHY. If people don’t believe in the WHY behind your vision, they won’t be motivated to help you deliver it.

To understand the WHY behind all sides of a situation, idea, or problem you are facing, take the WHY Train by answering the following questions:

  1. Who is the main actor in the situation or problem?
  2. What is the main concept, object, or action the main actor uses or performs?
  3. Where is the main actor located when performing or using the main concept, object, or action?
  4. When does the situation or problem occur?
  5. Describe each answer in more depth.
  6. Conclude by asking WHY to the answers you have given.

The result of this exercise will be a thorough and sequential description about a situation and the insightful reasoning behind each element.

As leaders, we communicate in all we say and do. We may be entertaining at times, we inform much of the time, and occasionally we must be directing in what we say. But in all situations, we can inspire and connect with our audience.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 29-1, published December 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.