Leaders Must Learn How to Be Unhurried

In our fast-paced, get-it-done-now culture, the fact is that almost everyone on your team could use some help in increasing their personal productivity. This pace has only been accelerating because ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The very nature of ministry often makes the “I’ve gotten something done today” feeling elusive. For many church leaders, there are no edges to their work – it’s not easy to tell when the work is finished, because it really never is. Most of your team have at least half a dozen things they are trying to achieve right now – today! And a pastoral need could arise at any moment to make that to-do list completely irrelevant.

Is it possible that our productivity could actually be increased by first slowing down?

The Quick SummaryThe Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

 “Who am I becoming?”

That was the question nagging pastor and author John Mark Comer. Outwardly, he appeared successful. But inwardly, things weren’t pretty. So he turned to a trusted mentor for guidance and heard these words:

“Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Hurry is the great enemy of the spiritual life.”

It wasn’t the response he expected, but it was—and continues to be—the answer he needs. Too often we treat the symptoms of toxicity in our modern world instead of trying to pinpoint the cause. A growing number of voices are pointing at hurry, or busyness, as a root of much evil.

Within the pages of this book, you’ll find a fascinating roadmap to staying emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

According to author John Mark Comer, the new normal of hurried digital distraction is robbing us of the ability to be present:

  • Present to God.
  • Present to other people.
  • Present to all that is good, beautiful, and true in our world.
  • Even present to our own souls.

The noise of the modern world makes us deaf to the voice of God, drowning out the one input we most need.

Whatever you call them: habits, practices, or spiritual disciplines are how we follow Jesus. How we adopt His lifestyle. How we create space for emotional health and spiritual life.

John Mark Comer

And like all habits, they are a means to an end. The end is life to the full with Jesus. The end is to spend every waking moment in the conscious enjoyment of Jesus’ company, to spend our entire lives with the most loving, joyful, peaceful person to ever live.

Silence and solitude

Here’s to tomorrow morning, six o’clock. Coffee, the chair by the window, the window by the tree. Time to breathe. A psalm and story from the Gospels. Hearing the Father’s voice. Pouring out my own. Or just sitting, resting. Maybe I’ll hear a word from God that will alter my destiny; maybe I’ll just process my anger over something that’s bothering me. Maybe I’ll feel my mind settle like untouched water; maybe my mind will ricochet from thought to thought, and never come to rest. If so, that’s fine. I’ll be back, same time tomorrow. Starting my day in the quiet place.

Sabbath

If your story is anything like mine, Sabbath will take you a little while to master. After all, Shabbat is a verb. It’s something you do. A practice, a skill you hone. To begin, just set aside a day. Clear your schedule. Turn off your phone! Say a prayer to invite the Holy Spirit to pastor you into His presence. And then? Rest and worship. In whatever way is life giving for your soul. And something happens about halfway through the day, something hard to put language to. It’s like my should catches up to my body. Like some deep part of me that got beat up and drowned out by meetings and email and Twitter and relational conflict and the difficulty of life comes back to the surface of my heat. I feel free. And at the end of the day when I turn my phone back on and reenter the modern world, I do so slowly. And, wow, does that ever feel good.

Simplicity

The goal isn’t just to declutter your closet or garage but to declutter your life. To clear away the myriad of distractions that ratchet up our anxiety, feed us an endless stream of mind-numbing drivel, and anesthetize us to what really matters. To follow Jesus, especially in the Western world, is to live in that same tension between grateful, happy enjoyment of nice, beautiful things, and simplicity. And when to err on the side of generous, simple living. The truth is you can be happy right here, right now, “through Christ who strengthens me,” meaning through investing your resources in ongoing relational connections to Jesus. Right now you have everything you need to live a happy, content life; you have access to the Father. To His loving attention.

Slowing

The basic idea behind the practice of slowing is this: slow down your body, slow down your life. If we can slow down both our minds and bodies – the pace at which we think and the pace at which we move our bodies through the world – maybe we can slow down our souls to a pace at which they can “taste and see the the Lord is good.” John Ortberg and Richard Foster both label this emerging practice the spiritual discipline of “slowing.” Ortberg defined it as “cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we have to wait. There’s more to life than an increase in speed. Life is right under our noses, waiting to be enjoyed.

John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

A NEXT STEP

John Mark Comer believes that unlike other types of habits, the practices of Jesus aren’t just exercises for your mind and body to grow their willpower muscle and cultivate character. They are far more: they are how we open our minds and bodies to a power far beyond our own and effect change.

The four disciplines listed above may seem like a strange way to become more productive, but in the sugar-rush of the busy lives we are leading, slowing down will actually help you become better at what you do.

For excellent guidance on these disciplines, be sure to download the author’s workbook to accompany his book.

Toward which of the four disciplines are you feeling led by the Holy Spirit? What is one step to take today?


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Along with early and ongoing encouragement from my parents – especially my father – reading was established as a passion in my life that I was happy to continually learn from, share with my children, and watch them share with their children.

Reading keeps our minds alive and growing.

Leaders of Remote Teams Must Learn to Protect the Overachievers

Your team has probably been working remotely for a year or more now, and even as the country moves into fast-forward about “opening up”, it’s likely that remote work will continue in some form for the foreseeable future.

What may have been quick emergency actions like having the basic tools and defining remote processes is now moving toward a new normal.

To make it through the current crisis and return to that new normal, you and your team will need to be resilient. The good news is that leaders can help create the conditions that make this possible.

As Bryan Miles, CEO and cofounder of BELAY, a leading U.S.-based, virtual solutions company says:

“Productivity comes from people completing their tasks in a timely, professional, adult manner, not from daily attendance in a sea of cubicles and offices.”

How will you lead your team through both this changing tide and new reality?

THE QUICK SUMMARYRemote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

The “work from home” phenomenon is thoroughly explored in this illuminating book from bestselling 37signals founders Fried and Hansson, who point to the surging trend of employees working from home (and anywhere else) and explain the challenges and unexpected benefits. Most important, they show why – with a few controversial exceptions such as Yahoo – more businesses will want to promote this new model of getting things done.

The Industrial Revolution’s “under one roof” model of conducting work is steadily declining owing to technology that is rapidly creating virtual workspaces and allowing workers to provide their vital contribution without physically clustering together. Today, the new paradigm is “move work to the workers, rather than workers to the workplace.” According to Reuters, one in five global workers telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent work from home every day. Moms in particular will welcome this trend. A full 60% wish they had a flexible work option. But companies see advantages too in the way remote work increases their talent pool, reduces turnover, lessens their real estate footprint, and improves the ability to conduct business across multiple time zones, to name just a few advantages. In Remote, authors Fried and Hansson will convince readers that letting all or part of work teams function remotely is a great idea–and they’re going to show precisely how a remote work setup can be accomplished.


A SIMPLE SOLUTION 

A common belief among managers contemplating remote work teams is the fear that their employees would slack off when out of the office and away from their watchful eyes.

The reality is that remote employees are more likely to overwork than underwork.

The employee who has passion and dedication to their work often has difficulty balancing their work and demands of their private lives when their work is being done in the spaces normally dedicated to private lives.

Leaders of remote teams must be aware of the signs of overwork, and intentionally work to prevent it.

Be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork.

If you’ve read about remote-work failures in the press, you might thing that the major risk in setting our people free is that they’ll turn into lazy, unproductive slackers. In reality, it’s overwork, not underwork, that’s the real enemy in a successful remote working environment.

Working at home and living there means there’s less delineation between the two parts of your life. You’ll have all your files and all your equipment right at hand, so if you come up with an idea at 9pm, you can keep plowing through, even if you already put in more than adequate hours from 7am to 3pm.

The fact is, it’s easy to turn work into your predominate hobby.

If work is all-consuming, the worker is far more likely to burn out. This is true even if the person loves what he does. Perhaps especially if he loves what he does, since it won’t seem like a problem until it’s too late.

It’s everyone’s job to be on the lookout for coworkers who are overworking themselves, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the managers to set the tone.

In the same way that you don’t want a gang of slackers, you also don’t want a band of supermen. The best workers over the long term are people who put in sustainable hours. Not too much, not too little – just right.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Remote: Office Not Required

A NEXT STEP

As the leader of remote teams, how you practice working remotely will often set the pattern and practice of your team.

Using the following ideas from Work Together Anywhere, evaluate your own remote practices, and then determine how you will share the expectations with your team.

Motivation and Self-Discipline

  • Have a set routine
  • Dress like you’re going to work
  • Work in a space designated for work
  • Set a schedule and stick to it

Productivity

  • Experiment with time- and task-management methodologies and apps
  • Minimize multitasking; instead, focus on one thing at a time
  • Pace yourself to regulate your energy, maximizing your stamina and mental acuity
  • Make sure your workspace aids rather than hinders your productivity

Self-Care

  • Balance stints of productive, focused work with sufficient breaks that include movement.
  • Don’t forget to allow yourself the perks of remote working, like taking a break in your living room, or eating lunch on your patio
  • Combat the risk of loneliness by actively seeking social interaction both in person and online

Communication and Collaboration

  • Adopt a virtual-team mindset by trusting others to deliver the results they committed to while doing the same
  • Practice positive communication by being overtly friendly and assuming positive intent
  • Be reliable, consistent, and transparent: make sure your teammates know what you’re working on and how to reach you, within agreed upon guidelines

How to Practice the 10 R’s of Crisis Management

There are few certainties in ministry today. Unfortunately, one of them is the inevitability of a potential crisis occurring in our country, your community or even your church that could have a major effect on your congregation and even your reputation.

A crisis is an event, precipitated by a specific incident, natural or man-made, that attracts critical media attention and lasts for a definite period of time. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies.

But life is full of other types of disruptions, some seemingly minor in nature and others truly of a global scale. In between those two bookends are countless events that require leaders to be at the forefront in communicating to their organizations, the community, and the greater public.

When your church finds itself in the midst of a crisis, the ripple effects can disrupt lives and operations for the foreseeable future if public opinion is not properly addressed and stewarded.

Skillfully managing the perception of the crisis can determine the difference between an organization’s life or death. In the pitched battle between perception and reality, perception always wins.

There is a solution – you can prepare for the inevitable crisis by proactive actions that will help in preempting potential crises or help make them shorter in duration. Finding yourself in a crisis situation is bad; not being prepared when a crisis occurs is devastatingly worse.

THE QUICK SUMMARYCrisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies by Edward Segal

How many splashy scandals and crisis situations have befallen companies and public figures in the past week alone? How did the organizations and people at the center of those crises manage the situation? Did they survive with their reputations intact or are they facing an ongoing public nightmare that keeps building on itself in the era of social media?

This new book from veteran public relations expert Edward Segal is based on the following premise: it’s not a matter of IF a scandal or crisis will hit, it’s WHEN. How a company deals with it will have lasting impact on their reputation, profits, and more. But for most organizations, when a crisis hits, they’re caught off guard and ill-prepared. While essential, crisis plans are worthless unless properly executed, as the stories and examples featured throughout Crisis Ahead attest. Edward Segal’s vivid and memorable accounts underscore the benefits of practicing and updating crisis plans at least once a year. The book also includes a template for creating a customizable crisis management plan, and a list of the early crisis management lessons to be learned from the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

Crisis Ahead is for CEOs, senior staff, corporate communication professionals, HR and legal teams, boards of directors, and front-line employees who need to know what to do in the moment: what levers to pull and what moves to make in real time when faced with a crisis, scandal, or disaster. This book is written with the need for speed in mind. It’s concise and practical with a light touch and occasional humor to help people on the front lines prepare for, survive, and bounce back from a crisis. It includes dozens of anecdotes, stories, and lessons about how companies, organizations, and individuals – ranging from Amazon, Apple, and the European Union, to Disney, Starbucks, and entrepreneur Elon Musk – have prepared for, created, managed, and communicated about crisis situations.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

According to author Edward Segal, most organizations have not dealt with a crisis before, and certainly not one like the COVID-19 crisis. As it continues to unfold, it’s clear many organizations are flying blind.

If your organization doesn’t have a crisis plan, it’s time to make one now. Letting people know you have a plan for dealing with any type of disruption or crisis can help provide a level of confidence that you know what you are doing and are doing it in a logical, comprehensive, and coordinated fashion.

It’s not a matter of if companies will face a crisis, but when they will, where it will happen, how bad it will be, and what they will do about it.

There are several major steps you can take to help ensure that you are as ready as you can be for any crisis. Here are Segal’s “10 Rs of Crisis Management.”

Risk. Identify the risk triggers that would cause a crisis for your organization.

Reduce. Take the steps that are necessary and prudent to lessen known risks.

Ready. Have a crisis plan in place and ready to implement when it is needed.

Redundancies. Have back-up and contingency plans in case they are required.

Research. Get all the information you can about your crisis, including details about what just happened, is happening now, or you expect to happen.

Rehearse. Practice implementing your plan on a regular basis—at least once a year.

React. Activate your plan when necessary.

Reach Out. Immediately communicate with those who are affected by or concerned about the crisis.

Recover. Know how you would bounce back from a crisis.

Remember. Keep in mind the experiences of those who have already gone through a crisis.

Edward Segal, Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies

A NEXT STEP

Set up a time with your leadership team to review your organization’s preparedness through the lens of the 10 R’s of crisis management listed above.

First, copy and distribute this page to all of your team, asking them to read it in advance of the meeting.

Second, write each “R” word on a chart tablet, two or three per sheet. Beginning at the top, use the accompanying phrase to discuss as a team how your organization has addressed or is addressing the situation. List any current actions with a green marker, and any actions that need to be done with a red marker.

Finally, after you have worked through the entire list of 10 words, go back and as a team assign responsibilities for each item in red to a specific leader. Ask them to prepare a preliminary plan of action and report back to the team within 10 days.

As Leaders of Remote Teams, We Need to Prioritize Outcomes, Others, and Ourselves

Your team has probably been working remotely for most of the last year now, and even as discussions about “opening up” begin to become more prevalent, it’s likely that remote work will continue in some form for the foreseeable future.

That’s the question Google is tacking with a new set of policies recently rolled out by the company’s CEO. They center around just three words:

Flexibility and Choice.

What may have been quick emergency actions like having the basic tools and defining remote processes is now moving toward a new normal.

To make it through the current crisis and return to that new normal, you and your team will need to be resilient. The good news is that leaders can help create the conditions that make this possible.

As Bryan Miles, CEO and cofounder of BELAY, a leading U.S.-based, virtual solutions company says:

“Productivity comes from people completing their tasks in a timely, professional, adult manner, not from daily attendance in a sea of cubicles and offices.”

How will you lead your team through both this changing tide and likely new normal?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Long-Distance Leader by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel

As more organizations adopt a remote workforce, the challenges of leading at a distance become more urgent than ever. The cofounders of the Remote Leadership Institute, Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, show leaders how to guide their teams by recalling the foundational principles of leadership.

The authors’ “Three-O” Model refocuses leaders to think about outcomes, others, and ourselves—elements of leadership that remain unchanged, whether employees are down the hall or halfway around the world. By pairing it with the Remote Leadership Model, which emphasizes using technology as a tool and not a distraction, leaders are now able to navigate the terrain of managing teams wherever they are.

Filled with exercises that ensure projects stay on track, keep productivity and morale high, and build lasting relationships, this book is the go-to guide for leading, no matter where people work.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Leadership has never been a simple task. Factor in the many complications of leading your team remotely, and it would seem that leadership difficulties have magnified exponentially.

According to author Kevin Eikenberry, “It may have always been lonely at the top, but now we’re literally, physically, by ourselves much of the time.”

Being a Long-Distance Leader may feel radically different from how you’ve led in the past, but the core part is still the same: you are a leader, first. 

Accept the fact that leading remotely requires you to lead differently.

What’s needed is a change in mindset from time-based working to results-based working, which calls for evaluating output rather than hours.

Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel

There are three areas of focus all leaders must recognize and use to reach their maximum success.  

  • Outcomes—you lead people with the purpose of reaching a desired outcome. 
  • Others—you lead with and through other people to reach those outcomes.
  • Ourselves—you can’t leave yourself out of this model. While leadership is about outcomes and other people, none of that happens without you whether you like it or not.

At the highest level, organizations exist to reach outcomes of one sort or another. As a Long-Distance Leader, this focus on outcomes is, if possible, even more important and can definitely be harder. There are three reasons for this difficulty:  

  • Isolation. When people are working remotely, they are likely alone more of the time, often leading to silos of the smallest nature – people acting as if they are a team of one, and forgetting how their outcomes are part of the larger whole.
  • Lack of environmental cues. Working from a home office or remote location, people do not receive the very clear clues and cues that reinforce the organizational focus.
  • (Potentially) less repetition of messages. Unless leaders consistently, and in a variety of ways, communicate and reiterate the goals and outcomes for the team, people may get lost in their own bubble.

Long-Distance Leaders must also focus on others. Here are seven reasons why: 

  1. You can’t do it alone anyway. Leadership is about the outcomes, but those must be reached through others.
  2. You win when they win. True and lasting victory comes from helping others win, too.
  3. You build trust when you focus on others. Focusing on others and showing them you trust them first will build trust with others.
  4. You build relationships when you focus on others. When you’re interested in, listen to and care about others, you build relationships.
  5. You are more influential when you focus on others. Since we can’t control people, only influence them, our focus on others will help be a positive influence.
  6. Team members are more engaged when you focus on them. People want to work with and for people who they know believe and care about them.
  7. You succeed at everything on “the list” when you focus on others. Whatever your to-do “list” contains, by focusing on others first, achieving that list will be more successful.

The great paradox of leadership is that it isn’t about us at all—as we have just said, fundamentally leadership is about outcomes and other people.

Finally, who you are, what you believe, and how you behave plays a huge role in how effectively you will do the other things. Here are three reasons why Long-Distance Leaders must focus on themselves:

  • Assumptions. You have assumptions about what it means to work remotely. We could give you the statistics that show teleworkers are more productive, but if you don’t believe that, or assume people are multitasking on non-work items while they are at work, you will operate based on that belief rather than the facts.
  • Intention is important, but not enough. Throughout this book we talk about being intentional with nearly everything. Here, though, the challenge lies in the gap between what you want and mean to do, and what you actually do.
  • Making a decision. As a long-distance leader, you will face many choices and have lots of ideas. But none of them will work until you decide to act.

Kevin Eikenberry and Gary Turmel, The Long-Distance Leader

A NEXT STEP 

Use the following questions by author Kevin Eikenberry to honestly evaluate how you are practicing the three “O” principles listed above: Outcomes, Others, and Ourselves.

  • What do you feel are the most important outcomes expected of you as a leader?  
  • How has working remotely impacted those outcomes for you and your people?  
  • What do you feel are the most important ways to focus on others in your organization?  
  • How has working remotely impacted that focus?  
  • How do you see yourself in your role as a leader?  
  • How has leading remotely impacted your beliefs and behaviors?

If You Want to Be a Coach, You’d Better Have a Whistle

Like many parents, my coaching career began with my own kids. First it was my oldest son (now 40) and Pee Wee Basketball. After a couple of years, I traded my tennis shoes for a pair of soccer cleats, and began a 10-year run coaching various levels of soccer teams for all 4 of my kids at one time or another, often multiple teams in the same year. When my youngest son (now 28) moved beyond my coaching skills and desires, it was time to retire and become a spectator.

Of the many lessons I learned as a coach, one stands out:

If you want to be a coach, you’d better have a whistle.

Imagine a group of 14 5-year olds, most who have never participated in any kind of organized sports. Add a beautiful spring day, a group of over-eager parents, and the child’s natural tendency to just want to kick the ball. Often jokingly referred to as “herd ball”, that’s what most kids’ introduction to soccer looked like.

Over a 10-year period, I coached 14 different teams, often 2 seasons a year. The teams went from beginning level soccer as 5 year olds to Challenge level for 12 year olds to Classic level for 18 year olds. Coaching both boys and girls of all ages and skill levels, with each one bringing their unique personality to the field, it was often challenging at best to coach.

Enter the whistle.

You may consider it a throwback to a different time, but I found it quite effective for all ages of players (and quite a few parents, too). It may have been unorganized chaos on the field to begin with, but after two sharp and loud blasts on the whistle, the players would stop what they were doing and give me their attention. What I did with their attention is another story, but it’s the sound of the whistle that is important here.

It stopped everyone from what they were doing and turned their attention to the coach.

You may not be a coach, but as a leader you have a room full of team members, often doing all kinds of different activities at once. When you need to get their attention, what do you do? How can you quickly and efficiently get their attention and make the best use of everyone’s time?

Leaders need a whistle, too. 

The difference between a great practice session and a good one – and often the difference between a great organization and a good one – is established in systems that allow your productive work to be obsessively efficient.

Great leaders step in with whistles – clear, distinctive signals – to make people’s practices efficient as possible – even in professional settings and even with adults.

How is time wasted in your organization? What can you do differently?

Maybe it’s time to buy a whistle…

inspired by Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

How to Unwrap the Power of a Beautiful Question

The most important thing business leaders must do today is to be the ‘chief question-asker’ for their organization.

– Dev Patnaik

Patnaik is quick to add, “The first thing most leaders need to realize is, they’re really bad at asking questions.”

A questioning culture is critical because it can help ensure that creativity and fresh, adaptive thinking flows throughout the organization.

By asking questions, we can analyze, learn, and move forward in the face of uncertainty. However, the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of complexity or enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.

Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas, and ideas lead to making things better.

Questions are powerful means to employ (read unleash) creative potential – potential that would otherwise go untapped and undiscovered.

 THE QUICK SUMMARY – A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger

In this groundbreaking book, journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger shows that one of the most powerful forces for igniting change in business and in our daily lives is a simple, under-appreciated tool–one that has been available to us since childhood. Questioningdeeply, imaginatively, “beautifully”–can help us identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities. So why are we often reluctant to ask “Why?”

Berger’s surprising findings reveal that even though children start out asking hundreds of questions a day, questioning “falls off a cliff” as kids enter school. In an education and business culture devised to reward rote answers over challenging inquiry, questioning isn’t encouraged–and, in fact, is sometimes barely tolerated.

And yet, as Berger shows, the most creative, successful people tend to be expert questioners. They’ve mastered the art of inquiry, raising questions no one else is asking–and finding powerful answers. The author takes us inside red-hot businesses like Google, Netflix, IDEO, and Airbnb to show how questioning is baked into their organizational DNA. He also shares inspiring stories of artists, teachers, entrepreneurs, basement tinkerers, and social activists who changed their lives and the world around them–by starting with a “beautiful question.”


A SIMPLE SOLUTION 

With the constant change we face today, we may be forced to spend less time on autopilot, more time in questioning mode—attempting to adapt, looking to re-create careers, redefining old ideas about living, working, and retiring, reexamining priorities, seeking new ways to be creative, or to solve various problems in our own lives or the lives of others.

When we want to shake things up and instigate change, it’s necessary to break free of familiar thought patterns and easy assumptions.

We need to learn to ask beautiful questions.

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.

The nonprofit sector, like much of industry, is inclined to keep doing what it has done—hence, well-meaning people are often trying to solve a problem by answering the wrong question.

People tend to approach and work through problems – processing from becoming aware of and understanding the problem, to thinking of possible solutions, to trying to enact those solutions. Each stage of the problem solving process has distinct challenges and issues—requiring a different mind-set, along with different types of questions. Expertise is helpful at certain points, not so helpful at others; wide-open, unfettered divergent thinking is critical at one stage, discipline and focus is called for at another. By thinking of questioning and problem solving in a more structured way, we can remind ourselves to shift approaches, change tools, and adjust our questions according to which stage we’re entering.

The Why stage has to do with seeing and understanding. The “seeing” part of that might seem easy – just open your eyes and look around, right? Not really. To ask powerful Why questions, we must:   

Step back.

Notice what others miss.

Challenge assumptions (including our own). 

Gain a deeper understanding of the situation or problem at hand, through contextual inquiry. 

Question the questions we’re asking. 

Take ownership of a particular question.

The What If stage is the blue-sky moment of questioning, when anything is possible. Those possibilities may not survive the more practical How Stage; but t’s critical to innovation that there be a time for wild, improbable ideas to surface and to inspire. If the word why has a penetrative power, enabling the questioner to get past assumptions and dig deep into problems, the words what if have a more expansive effect – allowing us to think without limits or constraints, firing the imagination.

The How stage of questions is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the point at which things come together and then, more often than not, fall apart, repeatedly. Reality intrudes and nothing goes quite as planned. to say it’s the hard part of questioning is not to suggest it’s easy to challenge assumptions by asking Why, or to envision new possibilities by asking What If. Those require difficult backward steps and leaps of imagination. But How tends to be more of a slow and difficult march, marked by failures that are alley to be beneficial – but don’t necessarily seem that way at the time.

Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

A NEXT STEP

According to author Warren Berger, when it comes to questioning, companies are like people: They start out doing it, then gradually do it less and less. A hierarchy forms, a methodology is established, and rules are set; after that, what is there to question?

In A More Beautiful Question, Berger lists a series of questions from consultant Keith Yamashita that leaders should consider. To arrive at a powerful sense of purpose, Yamashita says, organizations today need “a fundamental orientation that is outward looking”—so they can understand what people out there in the world desire and need, and what’s standing in the way. At the same time, leaders also must look inward, to clarify their core values and larger ambitions.

At a future team meeting, ask the following questions, and record all answers.

  • How is our mission best expressed in everyday life?
  • Which of our values are most relevant in this season? Which of our values is most aspirational?
  • What ministry or program is having the most impact? Which is having the least? Why?
  • What area of spiritual growth is most underdeveloped among our body?
  • What are we most excited about in the next year?
  • What is most important in the next 90 days?
  • What do we want to celebrate five years from now?
  • How will the results of this exercise change the direction of your organization?

To Help Solve Problems, Use Critical Thinking Skills

What’s at stake if teams do a poor job of solving problems? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team problem solving simply burns more time. It may be more time in a meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team problem solving leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team problem solving fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-and-paste the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team problem solving invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create the dynamic of collaborative problem solving?  

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills by Michael Kallet

Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills is the comprehensive guide to training your brain to do more for you. Written by a critical thinking trainer and coach, the book presents a pragmatic framework and set of tools to apply critical thinking techniques to everyday business issues. Think Smarter is filled with real world examples that demonstrate how the tools work in action, in addition to dozens of practice exercises applicable across industries and functions, Think Smarter is a versatile resource for individuals, managers, students, and corporate training programs.

Think Smarter provides clear, actionable steps toward improving your critical thinking skills, plus exercises that clarify complex concepts by putting theory into practice.

Learn what questions to ask, how to uncover the real problem to solve, and mistakes to avoid. Recognize assumptions your can rely on versus those without merit, and train your brain to tick through your mental toolbox to arrive at more innovative solutions. Critical thinking is the top skill on the wish list in the business world, and sharpening your ability can have profound affects throughout all facets of life. Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills provides a roadmap to more effective and productive thought.


A SIMPLE SOLUTION 

Have you ever heard a colleague utter the words, “I don’t have to time to think!” If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve probably said them yourself.

This cliche is at the center of problems for organizations around the world, regardless of their size and complexity.

The reality is, that thinking is the most important driver in problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity – no organization can do without it.

According to author Michael Kallet, thinking is the foundation of everything you do, but we rely largely on automatic thinking to process information, often resulting in misunderstandings and errors. Shifting over to critical thinking means thinking purposefully using a framework and toolset, enabling thought processes that lead to better decisions, faster problem solving, and creative innovation. 

Critical thinking is a purposeful method for enhancing your thoughts beyond your automatic, everyday way of thinking. It’a a process that uses a framework and a tool set.

Michael Kallet

The benefits of critical thinking result from changing the way you look at issues, organizing your thoughts, and incorporating others’ thoughts. It simulates new perspectives and prevents distorted views of a situation. As a result, your problem-solving and decision-making skills are enhanced.

The critical thinking process framework, which provides tools and techniques, consists of three components: clarity, conclusions, and decisions.

Clarity

The single most important reason why head scratchers – projects, initiatives, problem solving, decisions, or strategies – go awry is that the head scratcher itself – the situation, issue, or goal – isn’t clear in the first place. Clarity allows us to define what the issue, problem, or goal really is. 

Conclusions

After you are clear on what issue you must address, you have to figure out what to do about it. Conclusions are solutions and a list of actions (to-dos) related to your issue.

Decisions

Once you have come to a conclusion about what actions to take, you have to actually decide to take the action – and do it.

Most people combine conclusions and decisions when they’re asked about problem solving or decision making, saying, “I need to decide what to do.” However, it’s important to separate conclusions and decisions, because the thinking processed for each are very different.

The space around clarity, conclusions, and decisions is filled with discovery, information, and ideas. These three concepts include asking questions, exploring ideas, listening to responses, and conducting research.

Michael Kallet, Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills

A NEXT STEP

As noted in the Quick Summary above, author Michael Kallet has provided many tools and suggestions throughout Think Smarter that will help you grasp and apply the critical thinking process framework. Here is just one that most leaders practice daily, yet hardly think about: email.

Start critical thinking practice with inspecting and writing emails. Not only is this easy and good practice, but there’s also an important side advantage. Write your email; then before you hit Send, ask, “Is what I’m about to send clear? Could the recipient misinterpret what I’ve written?” You’ll reap three benefits from this.

First, you’ll find your emails are shorter, because clarity often takes fewer words.

Second, your thoughts will be clearer and better organized.

Third, and most important, your emails will be more easily understood, resulting in potentially huge productivity gains.

What happens if you send an unclear email to someone? The recipient will respond with a question, which you’ll then have to answer. The result is at least three emails generated instead of one. Going further, consider how many emails would be sent around if you copied five people on an unclear email. Even worse, what happens if you send an unclear email out, and instead of asking questions, people just start to do their own interpretations of your email.

Imagine the productivity gains of critically thinking about just your most important emails every day.

Effective Remote Leaders Practice the 10 Principles of the Future Manager

Your team has probably been working remotely for most of the last year now, and even as discussions about “opening up” begin to become more prevalent, it’s likely that remote work will continue in some form for the foreseeable future.

That’s the question Google is tacking with a new set of policies recently rolled out by the company’s CEO. They center around just three words:

Flexibility and Choice.

What may have been quick emergency actions like having the basic tools and defining remote processes is now moving toward a new normal.

To make it through the current crisis and return to that new normal, you and your team will need to be resilient. The good news is that leaders can help create the conditions that make this possible.

As Bryan Miles, CEO and cofounder of BELAY, a leading U.S.-based, virtual solutions company says:

“Productivity comes from people completing their tasks in a timely, professional, adult manner, not from daily attendance in a sea of cubicles and offices.”

How will you lead your team through both this changing tide and likely new normal?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Future of Work by Jacob Morgan

Throughout the history of business employees had to adapt to managers and managers had to adapt to organizations. In the future this is reversed with managers and organizations adapting to employees. This means that in order to succeed and thrive organizations must rethink and challenge everything they know about work.

The demographics of employees are changing and so are employee expectations, values, attitudes, and styles of working. Conventional management models must be replaced with leadership approaches adapted to the future employee. Organizations must also rethink their traditional structure, how they empower employees, and what they need to do to remain competitive in a rapidly changing world.  

This is a book about how employees of the future will work, how managers will lead, and what organizations of the future will look like.  

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Like so many other things in the leader’s life, leading and managing your team has changed a great deal over the past few years. With exponential changes in technology driving new ways to “work,” it seems as change was the only constant.

Leaders may have refused these changes, or grudgingly accepted them, or even welcomed them. 

And then came COVID-19, and those changes which leaders may have resisted became the only way to move forward.

The future is here.

Managers of the future are going to have to challenge the traditional ideas of management and push back against the many business practices that are outdated and no longer relevant. they will have to adapt to the future employee, which means new ways of working and thinking about work. 

Jacob Morgan

Today with the advances in technology around the way we work, many employees can work from anywhere, anytime, and on any device. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting “social distancing” requirements enacted by various levels of government, this was put into practice on a scale larger than ever before – and in a very short amount of time.

The technological framework may have been there, but where many are struggling is around the strategic approach to empower this change. The notion of working 9 to 5 in a cubicle and commuting to an office is dead.

In order to adapt, the future manager must understand and practice the following 10 principles:

  • Be a leader.
  • Follow from the front.
  • Understand technology.
  • Lead by example.
  • Embrace vulnerability.
  • Believe in sharing and collective intelligence.
  • Challenge convention and be a fire starter.
  • Practice real-time recognition and feedback.
  • Be conscious of personal boundaries.
  • Adapt to the future employee.

Jacob Morgan, The Future of Work

A NEXT STEP

How are you exhibiting the ten principles listed above as a leader of remote teams?

Set aside at least one hour to reflect on the list above, using the following thoughts by author Jacob Morgan:

Be a leader.

Do you exert control and manage work or inspire, engage, challenge, and lead your team? Why?

Follow from the front.

Do you work at removing roadblocks from the paths of employees to help them succeed, or do you lead from the top of your organization? Why?

Understand technology.

Do you try to stay aware of how new technologies can be leveraged to help empower your team, or are you slow to react to change? Why?

Lead by example.

Do you provide team support by providing resources and making an appearance, or do you change to meet new challenges and show everyone how you are changing? Why?

Embrace vulnerability.

Do you have the courage to show up and be seen, connecting with your team, or are you aloof and out-of-sight? Why?

Believe in sharing and collective intelligence.

Do you tap into the wisdom, experience, ideas, and knowledge of your team, or do you try to be the Lone Ranger Leader? Why?

Challenge convention and be a fire starter.

Do you practice and promote conventional ideas, taking things at face value, or are you curious and always seeking the “new”? Why?

Practice real-time recognition and feedback.

Do you follow a one directional flow of recognition and feedback on a periodic basis, or do you practice real-time, bi-directional feedback? Why?

Be conscious of personal boundaries.

Your team working remotely is always connected. Do you take advantage of this (even inadvertently) or do you know how to draw a firm line? Why?

Adapt to the future employee.

Our society was already in a fast-paced mode, and the current COVID-19 crisis has the potential for even more rapid change. Your team will have changing needs as an employee — are you changing as a leader to meet them? Why?

5 Ways to Utilize Questions as Leadership Tools

The most important thing business leaders must do today is to be the ‘chief question-asker’ for their organization.

– Dev Patnaik

Patnaik is quick to add, “The first thing most leaders need to realize is, they’re really bad at asking questions.”

A questioning culture is critical because it can help ensure that creativity and fresh, adaptive thinking flows throughout the organization.

By asking questions, we can analyze, learn, and move forward in the face of uncertainty. However, the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of complexity or enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.

Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas, and ideas lead to making things better.

Questions are powerful means to employ (read unleash) creative potential – potential that would otherwise go untapped and undiscovered.

SOLUTION – Utilize Questions as Leadership Tools

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Leading With Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask by Michael J. Marquardt

Many leaders are unaware of the amazing power of questions. Our conversations may be full of requests and demands, but all too often we are not asking for honest and informative answers, and we don’t know how to listen effectively to responses. When leaders start encouraging questions from their teams, however, they begin to see amazing results. Knowing the right questions to ask―and the right way to listen―will give any leader the skills to perform well in any situation, effectively communicate a vision to the team, and achieve lasting success across the organization.

Thoroughly revised and updated, Leading with Questions will help you encourage participation and teamwork, foster outside-the-box thinking, empower others, build relationships with customers, solve problems, and more. Michael Marquardt reveals how to determine which questions will lead to solutions to even the most challenging issues. He outlines specific techniques of active listening and follow-up, and helps you understand how questions can improve the way you work with individuals, teams, and organizations.

Now more than ever, Leading with Questions is the definitive guide for becoming a stronger leader by identifying―and asking―the right questions.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Questioning is more important today than it was yesterday – and will be even more important tomorrow – in helping us figure out what matters, where opportunity lies, and how to get there. We’re all hungry for better answers. But first, we need to learn how to ask the right questions.

Asking more of the right questions reduces the need to have all the answers.

The better we as leaders become at asking effective questions and listening for the answers to those questions, the more consistent we and the people with whom we work can accomplish mutually satisfying objectives, be empowered, reduce resistance, and create a willingness to pursue innovative change.

Asking questions can be, and often is, a very simple process. When, however, you find that you are confronting a very difficult issue, and you want to plan things out ahead of time, it can be useful to follow a simple process.

Breaking the Ice

It is useful to start with casual questions to put people at ease and get them talking. A simple closed question (“Is this a good time to talk?”) can often get the ball rolling. Friendly, open-ended questions (“How’s your day been?”) can be used to encourage the other person to open up.

Setting the Stage

As you are setting the stage, you are framing the question by establishing the context and background for the conversation. Setting the stage is primarily bout you, not the other person. A learner mindset, not a judger mindset, is critical to getting free and honest answers and open conversation.

Asking Your Questions

When asking questions, keep your focus on the questioner and the question. The quality of the response is affected not only by the content of the question but also by its manner of delivery, especially its pace and timing. Remember that you are engaging in a conversation, not an interrogation, and you should be prepared to be questioned in turn as the conversation moves along.

Listening and Showing Interest in the Response

When you get a response, say “thank you.” This will increase the likelihood that you’ll get more and deeper answers the next time you ask. When your questioning respects people’s thought processes, you support their own questioning of long-held assumptions. To be an effective questioner, wait for the answer – don’t provide it yourself.

Following Up 

Someone who has openly and thoughtfully answered your questions deserves to know what you did the with information. The process will have to produce meaningful, positive change. By learning how to follow up efficiently and effectively in an extremely busy world, leaders will enable key stakeholders to see the positive actions that result from the input they were requested to provide.

Michael J. Marquardt, Leading With Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask

A NEXT STEP 

By consciously adopting a learning mindset, we can become more open to new possibilities and ask questions more effectively.

Author Michael Marquardt provided the following suggestions to help you coach others and adopt a learning attitude:

  • Respond without judging the thoughts, feelings, or situations of other people.
  • Consider yourself a beginner, regardless of experience.
  • Avoid focusing on your own role and take the role of an outside observer, researcher, or reporter.
  • Look at the situation from multiple perspectives, especially your respondents’.
  • Look for win-win solutions.
  • Be tolerant of yourself and others.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Accept change as a constant, and embrace it.

Spend a few minutes in prayer, asking God for wisdom and discernment in your own growth as a leader. After this time, re-read the above list, and decide which action should be a seven-day focus for you. Make a list of people and situations in which you can employ this action, and spend the next few days intentionally pursing growth in this area. Revisit the list in a week and repeat as necessary.

All Endings Set Up New Beginnings

Among the many, many lessons from 2020, one certainly has to be that the pace of everything has accelerated.

At Auxano, we always strive to serve church leaders to the best of our ability

When the last two intersect, it’s time to make changes…

As we, like every church leader right now, assess everything we are presently doing in order to maximize future impact, it’s clear that even some of our best resources need to change.

The last issue of SUMS Remix was delivered Thursday, April 22*.

If all you’re doing is the jobs you used to do, you’re certainly missing out on the contributions you’re capable of.

Seth Godin

Those who know me know my personality style, emotional makeup, and characteristics. If you don’t, this should give you a clue:

  • Myers-Briggs – INTJ
  • DISC – C (almost exclusively)
  • Insights – Blue (deep, deep, blue)
  • Enneagram – 5, wing 6
  • Fascination Archetype – The Archer
  • Strengths Finder – Learner, Intellection, Input
  • APEST – Teaching

There’s more, but you get the drift.

SUMS Remix, and SUMS before it, have been an integral part of my work life since the fall of 2012. The idea of a creating a book summary product was one of my three primary tasks when I joined Auxano earlier that year.

Anything connected to reading, learning, and curiosity about the world around us was a natural fit for me – I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. It was instilled in me and modeled by my father, orchestrated by my mother, and a natural part of my brother’s and my childhood.

By the numbers, here’s where I’ve been:

  • 8 years, 5 months of constant production cycles for SUMS and SUMS Remix
  • 227 issues (includes 6 special, “commissioned” issues)
  • 574 books referenced
  • Several hundred more considered, but not used
  • 6 vertical book towers and two shelves in my office, holding the above referenced books
  • 3 postal carriers, and dozens of Amazon drivers, making regular visits to my house
  • 1 very gifted team: Bryan Rose, Andrea Kandler, and James Bethany – creative input, grammar and style development, and graphic designer, respectively. They made it happen, week after week.

And it’s over.

Better is possible… if we care enough to walk away from what was  and brave enough to build something new. 

Seth Godin

To best meet challenges facing leaders in a post-pandemic, accelerated-pace-of-ministry life, our team is redirecting our resources used to produce SUMS Remix to a laser-focus on these four areas:

  • Vision Clarity – because the post-pandemic church must be even more engaging and focus on accomplishing their unique disciple-making call
  • Visionary Planning – because every ministries and leaders must work in complete alignment toward a collaborative understanding of God’s better future
  • Generosity Culture – because giving has been steady over the last year, but we must grow everyone to be generous disciples
  • Generosity Campaign – because healthy growth requires resources, and how the church funds large-scale initiatives must change

If any of those areas resonate within you or your leadership and you would like to know more about how the Auxano team can help your leadership in this new era, just fill out this connection card and one of our Navigators will reach out and schedule a quick call.

I’ve already jumped headfirst into the world of research and writing for engagement, real-time development of content that leaders are asking questions about, and supporting our Navigators in their onsite and virtual journeys with churches across the country.

When it comes to books and reading, I’m still making weekly trips to the library, still curious about the world around us, and still adding to my “To Be Read” lists, because…

Want to talk books, ideas, and such? Leave a comment below!

* That day is significant in many ways, not the least of which it was the only issue (out of 221 SUMS and SUMS Remix) that was not delivered on our “every other Wednesday” target, which began in October 2012. Just sayin’…