How to Practice Improv Leadership to Become a Better Leader

It’s easy to talk about enhancing performance, improving efficiency and being a more influential leader. So why don’t we do it more?

Maybe it is because leadership books often feel stale. It’s often a same-idea, different-author experience. Leadership is a set of abilities, and it can be learned and improved on a regular basis. But we have to seek that improvement.

Does boredom keep you from scheduling time on a regular basis to grow your leadership skills?


Anyone who’s learned the basics of an instrument can follow a chord chart or play from sheet music, but only musicians who have carefully developed their talent can improvise. Instead of being limited to the notes on the page, great improvisers draw on the theory and techniques they’ve learned in the past to create something original in the present.

The same is true of great leaders. Anyone can read a few books and apply the lessons, but only the best leaders can bring out the best in any person, in any situation. These improvisational leaders understand the key principles of connecting, coaching, and communicating and use these ideas to build strong teams.

In Improv Leadership, Stan L. Endicott and David A. Miller share five leadership competencies which allow IMPROV leaders to initiate powerful conversations, create memorable moments, and craft personal coaching strategies that help people grow. Improv Leadership cultivates teams of people who love their work (and each other), who perform at a high level, and who stop the disruptive carousel of staff turnover.

Stan L. Endicott and David A. Miller have worked together to identify the overarching competencies of effective leadership and develop concrete tools to help every reader become a leader who understands how to grow teams one moment and one relationship at a time. The five competencies of IMPROV Leadership are not rigid sequential steps, nor do they apply only to specific industries or fields. Instead, this book will meet the felt need for leadership growth with “evergreen” principles that can be successfully introduced into any situation.

You can’t predict every challenge you’ll face. There’s no playbook that covers every decision. But with practice in Improv Leadership you can lead well in every situation.


According to authors Stan Endicott and David Miller, improv is not making something up on the spot. Improv is bringing together many basic, well-known elements to form a complex whole that fits with the moment.

Your first thought when you hear “improv” may be in terms of music, but did you ever think that everyone improvises hundreds of times a day? It is called language.

The simplest, most routine sentence we utter rests on thousands of hours of experience learning words, grammar, and syntax. It comes by a little instruction and a lot of trial and error.

As a leader, your words have power with others. We have more responsibility for what happens and does not happen as a result of what we say.

No matter what problem you might encounter in your organization, you have a better chance of navigating it successfully with IMPOV leadership.

Stan Endicott and David Miller

The five leadership competencies of IMPROV leadership are:

Story Mining – Thoughtfully uncovering a person’s story and letting it shape the way you lead them. It is not about making people better. It is about making people known.

Precision Praising – Carefully crafting praise to inspire, motivate and even course-correct your team. It refers to the right words of affirmation given to the right person at the right place and time.

Metaphor Cementing – Using concrete illustrations to “cement” an idea in someone’s mind.

Lobbing Forward – Creatively challenging people to look beyond today to what might be in the future.

Going North – Using indirect influence to redirect a person’s perspective.

Stan Endicott and David Miller, with Cory Hartman, Improv Leadership


Use the following ideas and exercises by the authors to begin practicing the five leadership competencies of IMPROV leadership.

Story Mining

Answer the following for each person who reports to you directly.

  1. What are your team member’s children’s names? Grandchildren’s? (For bonus points, how old are they, or what grade are they in?)
  2. Where and how did your team member meet his/her spouse?
  3. Where did your team member grow up? How often do they go back there?
  4. Where else has your team member lived that had a significant impact on their life story?
  5. What is your team member’s most prized possession?
  6. What (outside of work) does your team member enjoy doing?
  7. What is your team member’s idea of a great vacation?

How did you do?

Precision Praising

Think about a time when someone praised you such that it changed the course of your story. With the help of the tool below, think about what was going on that made that moment of pride impactive, and look for clues of how you can create a similar moment for the people on your team.

  1. What precisely were you praised for? What were the details and specifics of the praise?
  2. How well did the person know you at the time? What was the scope and depth of your relationship with the person who praised you?
  3. Was there something unique about the timing of the praise? If so, what?
  4. Was there something special about the context or location of the praise? If so, what?
  5. Did anyone else hear the praise? If so, how did the presence of others influence the dynamics of the praise?
  6. What was the immediate impact of the praise in your life?
  7. How often have you remembered that moment in your life? What has been the long-term impact?
  8. Do you think the person would be surprised that you are talking about their praise now? Why or why not?

Metaphor Cementing

The greatest communicators use metaphors as a painter uses a brush. If we as leaders want to touch our people with a message that they cannot misunderstand and cannot ignore, we must learn to use the tool too.

As you think through the metaphors you are going to use in your next meeting, presentation, or one-on-one with a team member, use these three guardrails to stay inside of and make the most of those opportunities.

  1. Stand on Common Ground – Use a metaphor that both you and your audience understand.
  2. Line Up Your Shot – Make sure you have your words just right.
  3. Don’t Paint a Picture; Build a Gallery – Use a variety of metaphors over time so as to work the same concept from different angles.

Lobbing Forward

Committing to practice Lobbing Forward initiates a change in the leader before there is a change in the people being led.

  1. Lobbing Forward requires a leader to be humble.
  2. An established pattern of Precision Praising sets up Lobbing Forward well.
  3. You have to know your people well.
  4. Lobbing Forward is more often done in private.
  5. Use tried-and-true word choices.
  6. You can Lob Forward with entire teams as well as individuals.

Going North

Here are five fundamentals for Going North:

  1. Reveal common ground.
  2. Surprise with a gift.
  3. Disrupt the setting.
  4. Teach using story.
  5. Create a shared experience. 

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.

How Clarity Helps You Move from Present Realities to Future Focus

In the months leading up to the year 2020, there was no shortage of social media posts, articles, sermons, and more talking about a “2020 Vision.” For many pastors, it was a dream topic to build a sermon series around – and many did.

A sampling of sermon topics in January 2020 would have shown an intentional look forward into a future of a year or two, or maybe even five years or more.

But when March 2020 rolled around, and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in, the lofty visions of 2020 evaporated. Church leaders around the country and the world began to shrink their vision from the lofty goals of just a few months earlier to, “What are we going to do this weekend?”

Fifteen months later, though that immediacy has lessened somewhat, only to be replaced with even more troubling questions like these:

  • How long is this pandemic going to last?
  • Will we be able to return to normal?
  • What if normal never returns?

In just a few weeks, future thoughts became present realties, and many leaders find themselves stuck there today.

Even when treading water in reality, leaders can get mired in a flood of information and answers about what to do next.

The world around us is evolving at dizzying speed. Tomorrow refuses to cooperate with our best-laid plans—the future routinely pulls the rug from underneath us.

Although people yearn for a return to “normal,” or try to predict the “new normal,” there is no such thing as normal. There is only change. Never-ending, constant change. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, but constant nonetheless.

Answers to vexing problems are no longer a scarce commodity, and knowledge has never been cheaper. By the time we’ve figured out the facts – by the time Google, Alexa, or Siri can spit out the answer – the world has moved on.

Obviously, answers aren’t irrelevant. You must know some answers before you can begin asking the right questions. But the answers simply serve as a launch pad to discovery. They’re the beginning, not the end.

Our ability to make the most out of uncertainty is what creates the most potential value. We should be fueled not by a desire for a quick catharsis but by intrigue. Where certainty ends, progress begins.

Ozan Varol

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Full-Spectrum Thinking by Bob Johansen

The future will get even more perplexing over the next decade, and we are not ready. The dilemma is that we’re restricted by rigid categorical thinking that freezes people and organizations in neatly defined boxes that often are inaccurate or obsolete. Categories lead us toward certainty but away from clarity, and categorical thinking moves us away from understanding the bigger picture. Sticking with this old way of thinking and seeing isn’t just foolish, it’s dangerous.

Full-spectrum thinking is the ability to seek patterns and clarity outside, across, beyond, or maybe even without any boxes or categories while resisting false certainty and simplistic binary choices. It reveals our commonalities that are hidden in plain view.

Bob Johansen lays out the core concepts of full-spectrum thinking and reveals the role that digital media – including gameful engagement, big-data analytics, visualization, blockchain, and machine learning – will play in facilitating and enhancing it. He offers examples of broader spectrums and new applications in a wide range of areas that will become possible first, then mandatory. This visionary book provides powerful ways to make sense of new opportunities and see the world as it really is.


According to author Bob Johansen, in a future loaded with dilemmas, disruption will be rampant, and clarity will be scarce. In his book, The New Leadership Literacies, Johansen wrote that the disruptions of the next decade will be beyond what many people can cope with.

Written in 2017, his words are a clarion call for leaders today. Leaders in 2021, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, will need to provide enough clarity to make disruption tolerable – even motivational. They will also need to communicate realistic hope through their own stories of clarity.

The best way to lead in a disruptive world is to be very clear where you’re going, tell a great story about it, and then be very flexible about how you bring that future to life.

Clarity emerges in the space between insight and action. Clarity is the ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see.

When facing a highly uncertain future, you need to use strategic foresight to think like this:

Now – FUTURE – Next

It is completely appropriate to spend most of your time on the Now, the Action. That is where your organization is, and where you should focus. Incremental innovation is great, as long as it keeps getting results. If you invest in Future – not just Next – you will be able to achieve much greater clarity. Clarity emerges in the space between insight and action.

The future is not always incremental, and it is often disruptive. Trends are patterns of change you can anticipate with confidence, but disruptions are breaks in the pattern of change. Looking long can help you get a better view of where things are going.

Bob Johansen, Full-Spectrum Thinking


When your team is stuck and can’t decide on moving forward, try the following exercise to evaluate ideas according to their level of innovation, their desirability, and feasibility.

  1. Write the idea or decision to be made on a chart tablet, and divide your team into three groups. Here’s the kicker: As leader of the team, try your best to place members of your team into groups that would not be their first choice. Give them 30 minutes to do their group work.
  2. The first group evaluates innovation – is the idea new? The group should evaluate the idea as:
    1. Disruptively new (might cause major consequences)
    2. Totally new (people might become familiar without major consequences)
    3. Improvement (improves something in a way people haven’t noticed before)
  3. The second group evaluates the desirability. Do people want this idea? What kind of needs are fulfilled? Evaluate the ideas as:
    1. Proof of need and desire – there is evidence of need and desire
    2. Assumed need and desire – there are high chances of need and desire
    3. Unknown need and desire
  4. The third group will evaluate the feasibility. How will the idea be developed? Evaluate the idea as:
    1. Highly feasible
    2. Moderately feasible
    3. Not feasible
  5. At the conclusion of the group discussion period, bring everyone together and have each group report the highlights of their discussion, listing them on the chart tablet in the three areas of innovation, desirability, and feasibility.
  6. Utilize the newly discovered information to move forward with your idea or action.

The above exercise was adapted from 75 Tools for Creative Thinking, Booreiland

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.

How to Build Your Leadership Dream

It’s easy to talk about enhancing performance, improving efficiency and being a more influential leader. So why don’t we do it more?

Maybe it is because leadership books often feel stale. It’s often a same-idea, different-author experience. Leadership is a set of abilities, and it can be learned and improved on a regular basis. But we have to seek that improvement.

Does boredom keep you from scheduling time on a regular basis to grow your leadership skills?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights by Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

In 1984, Doug Conant was fired without warning and with barely an explanation. He felt hopeless and stuck but, surprisingly, this defeating turn of events turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. Doug began to consider what might be holding him back from realizing his potential, fulfilling his dreams, and making a bigger impact on the world around him

Embarking on a journey of self-reflection and discovery, he forged a path to revolutionize his leadership and transform his career trajectory. Ultimately, Doug was able to condense his remarkable leadership story into six practical steps. It wasn’t until Doug worked through these six steps that he was able to lift his leadership to heights that ultimately brought him career success, joy, and fulfillment.

In The Blueprint, part leadership manifesto, part practical manual, Doug teaches leaders how to work through the same six steps that he used to transform his journey. The six steps are manageable and incremental, designed to fit practically within the pace of busy modern life. Knowing how daunting the prospect of change can be, Doug arms readers with exercises and practices to realistically bring their foundation to life in every situation. Now, today’s leaders who feel stuck and overwhelmed finally have a blueprint for lifting their leadership to make meaningful change in their organizations and in the world.


The work of personal leadership is hard, inner work. And it isn’t just for those who want to lead people and teams; it’s for all who want to lead a life of meaning and purpose – a life that earns the trust of others.

Becoming an effective leader who lifts your organization to new heights may seem challenging, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Strong leadership is rooted in basic principles. No matter the specifics of the organizations you may work for throughout your career, the essential foundations you must build will remain constant.

The tough problems organizations face today can best be solved by wise, principled leaders built on solid foundations.

The blueprint is a tool for bringing to life the dreams of leaders. You’re not manufacturing a building; you will be manifesting your leadership dreams.

Douglas Conant

To build your foundation, and get where you want to go, there are six steps.

Step 1 – Envision: Reach High

First, you have to set the intention to do better and Envision what success looks like to you – to reach high. It is in this sep that you will take your fist crack at articulating your Leadership Purpose.

Step 2 – Reflect: Dig Deep

Next, you will Reflect on our experiences to uncover your leadership beliefs, to dig deep into what makes you, you; in this step, you will uncover the life lessons that anchor your leadership, and develop a deeper understanding of your unique personality, motivations, temperament, and skill set.

Step 3 – Study: Lay the Groundwork

In the third step, you will Study, to fill in all the cracks from your dig, laying the groundwork with all the learnings and insights from the world that exists beyond your own personal experiences.

Step 4 – Plan: Design

Using design thinking techniques, you get to conceive your Plan – an exquisite design for the exact Leadership Model you envision, derived from your Leadership Purpose and your Leadership Beliefs.

Step 5 – Practice: Build

In this step you will build Practice into your change process. You’ll brainstorm small steps you can take – little, actionable practices – that you can begin to fold into your habits.

Step 6 – Improve: Reinforce

Finally, you Improve, continually learning from what you did right, and what you could have done better, reinforcing the strength of your Foundation in perpetuity.

Douglas Conant with Amy Federman, The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights


Use the following ideas, suggestions, and exercises by author Douglas Conant to help begin the process of building a solid foundation for your leadership dream.


  • Given your unique purpose and motivations, what do you want your future to look like? If there were not limitations, what would you want to do? What is possible?


  • Develop a leadership vocabulary which will ultimately help you communicate your vision to others and bring your dreams to life in your leadership model. It will also help you articulate the traits you admire in others.


  • Develop a list of five to ten of the top practices you’ve observed in the best leaders you’ve known or studied. These “best practices” will help connect the reflection you have done so far to upcoming actions.


  • Create a visual model to anchor your thinking and express the unique approach of your leadership model. This will provide a way to grasp something seemingly complex in a simple and easy-to-understand way.


  • Extracting specific actions from your recollections, write down one distinct and actionable practice for each area of your evolving leadership model.


  • Taking a look at the work you have done so far, think about three things you care deeply about and that you will be able to pursue with a joy that comes from doing the things you are good at. Thinking back to the first step, Envision, what did your boldest dreams of success look like. What do you have to improve to get there?

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.

Do You Understand the Nature of YOUR Crisis?

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 SUMMARY – Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message by Steven Fink

Skillfully managing the perception of the crisis determines the difference between a company’s life or death. Because in the pitched battle between perception and reality, perception always wins.

The inevitability of a crisis having a potentially major effect on your business and your reputation – at some point – is almost a guarantee. When your company finds itself in the midst of a crisis, the ripple effects can disrupt lives and business for the foreseeable future if public opinion is not properly shaped and managed.

Fortunately, there is a solution. Crisis communications and crisis management legend Steven Fink gives you everything you need to prepare for the inevitable—whether it’s in the form of human error, industrial accidents, criminal behavior, or natural disasters.

In this groundbreaking guide, Fink provides a complete toolkit for ensuring smooth communications and lasting business success through any crisis. Crisis Communications offers proactive and preventive methods for preempting potential crises. The book reveals proven strategies for recognizing and averting damaging crisis communications issues before it’s too late. The book also offers ways to deal with mainstream and social media, use them to your advantage, and neutralize and turn around a hostile media environment.


According to author Steven Fink, a good working definition of a crisis is any situation, that if left unattended, has the potential to:

  • Escalate the intensity
  • Damage the reputation or positive public opinion of the organization or its leadership
  • Interfere with the normal operations
  • Fall under close government or media scrutiny
  • Impact the organization’s financial well-being

Using the five-step list above as a pragmatic guide, the responsible leader will realize that what may not qualify as a minor crisis in one situation may actually threaten the existence of the organization in another.

So the question becomes, do you know what YOUR crisis is?

Before you can even begin to think about communicating during a crisis, there are three absolute imperatives that must be undertaken in any crisis situation.

Steven Fink

Identify your crisis

Isolate your crisis

Manage your crisis


How hard can it be to identify a crisis when it’s happening to your organization? Actually, it’s harder than you might think. Focus on identifying your crisis – the one with which you have to deal, the one over which you have some measure of control. Try to avoid distracting scenarios, of which there will be many.

In a crisis, especially a crisis with competing interests, the only person who is looking out for your organization’s reputation is you.


Isolation might very well mean designating a crisis management team to deal exclusively with the crisis, with its members temporarily delegating their normal duties and responsibilities to others for the duration of the crisis. Ideally, this team would be isolated from the rest of the company, and hopefully, keep quiet about its progress until the appropriate time.


If you have properly identified and then successfully isolated the crisis, the actual management of the crisis is the easiest part (assuming you are a good manager to begin with). That’s because you will now be laser-focused on the specific task at hand, and once you’ve cleared away the distracting brush, your mission becomes crystal clear. When that occurs, making vigilant decisions – the epitome of good crisis management – is well within your grasp.

Steven Fink, Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message


While the COVID-19 crisis is certainly on everyone’s mind, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, and “understanding” it in terms of the discussion above is beyond the scope of this exercise.

However, your organization likely has faced a crisis within the last year – a physical event, a natural disaster, or a personnel issue. No matter what the crisis, it was a disruption to your normal activities.

Using a past crisis, have your team walk through the three steps listed above. You are actually doing a post-mortem or after-action report: using a past event, evaluated through a new lens (the three steps above) to help prepare you for the next time you have a crisis.

Taking note of any actions you should have done, but didn’t, develop an action plan to make sure you do it the next time.

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.

Look Back and Learn: Investing in Wisdom Equity

In researching and working on some leadership development material for an ongoing writing project, I came across the following:

Christianity is a religion of change. Jesus’ call in Mark 1:15 (the kingdom of God is at hand) was a call to change – change of mind and heart, of conduct and character, of self and society. By its very nature Christianity is a religion for a changing world and has always had its greatest opportunity during times of upheaval.

The Christian leader has no option; he must face a changing world. If the leader is to render maximum service, he must both adjust himself to the phenomena of change and address himself passionately to the business of producing and guiding change. Here are some elements that constitute the changed world in which the Christian leader today is called to fulfill his ministry.

Changed world outlook

Changed economic philosophy

Changed social consciousness

Changed family life

Changed community conditions

Changed moral standards

Changed religious viewpoints

Changed conceptions of the church

Changed media for molding public opinion

Changed demands made upon the leader

Pretty good list, right? Dead on. Taken from today’s headlines.


courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The author was Gaines S. Dobbins, distinguished professor of Religious Education at my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville KY.

Written in 1947.

As the introduction to the book “Building Better Churches: A Guide to Pastoral Ministry.”

Dr. Dobbins retired before I was born, but while in seminary in the early eighties I had the privilege of sitting under a couple of professors who were students of Dr. Dobbins and spoke of his great influence on their development and career. There is a chair named for him at SBTS, and of course I recognized his name and influence. When I came across this book in a used bookstore, I bought it on impulse. After flipping through it, I realized it was a treasure of leadership wisdom.

At Auxano, we talk about a concept called “vision equity.” It’s realizing that the history of a church is a rich resource for helping rediscover what kinds of vision language past generations have used. That language is very useful for anticipating and illustrating God’s better intermediate future.

As I read Dr. Dobbin’s book, I think there is also a concept called “wisdom equity.” It’s realizing that there have been some great leaders and deep thinkers over the past decades and centuries whose collective wisdom would be a great place to start as we struggle with the new realities that face us every day.

It’s why I love history – I see it not as an anchor that holds us to the past, but as a foundation to build a bridge to the future.

History is not just books and information stored about the past. It can also be found in living beings – those around us, family and friends, who have lived through events and learned lessons my generation – and the ones following me – need so desperately to learn.

Go ahead – look back and learn.

How to Grow Mentally as a Leader

It doesn’t matter if you pastor a church, work in a high-pressure corporate environment, sell real estate, or toil as a full-time parent: the pace of our information-driven, globally-connected, twenty-first-century society forces us to accelerate down the tracks of modern life – and many of us feel dangerously close to flying off the rails.

We are multitasking ourselves into oblivion just to keep up. We push, we strive, and we overcome!

And then we collapse.

Can we keep this up?

Since the outward forces that exert stress on us are unlikely to disappear, our only choice is to look inward at ways we can better adapt to our environment.

Is it possible that we can “grow” to deal with the pressures we find ourselves in?

There is a short but powerful scripture passage that can give us guidelines in this area. Luke 2:52 says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (NIV)

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Unstoppable You by Patricia A. McLagan

The ticket to a successful and fulfilling life is a significant upgrade to everyone’s ability to learn. Visionary teacher and lifelong learner Patricia McLagan views learning ability as software for processing daily life. And like all software, learn­ing software requires upgrades – and regular reboots!

In Unstoppable You: Adopt the New Learning 4.0 Mindset and Change Your Life, McLagan shares her method for keeping learning powers sharp, ensuring that we can continuously advance and adapt in a nonstop world. We’re born with basic programming, which is learning 1.0. We then evolve and upgrade as we make our way through the education system in learning 2.0, and we start to self-manage how we learn as we integrate our diverse experi­ences and master skills in learning 3.0. That brings us to learning 4.0 – learning mastery. This final upgrade equips us with survival skills for the 21st century – skills essential to meeting our goals in a world that’s always in motion.

Discover McLagan’s seven practices for effective lifelong learning – from hearing and heeding calls to learn, to taking steps to translate new skills into action. Unstoppable You also includes a complete toolkit of supporting tem­plates, guides, and tips.


You began an amazing learning journey the day you were born, and it continues to this day. While you may associate “learning” with your younger self, learning continues all throughout your life – or at least, it should.

In today’s fast-changing world, your learning skills need to be constantly “upgraded” in order to survive and thrive. If you think of how you learn as “software” you use in your daily life, you would recognize the need for upgrades just like the software and applications for your devices.

Imagine three learning software upgrades that have occurred so far in human history.

  • Learning 1.0 is the basic program you were born with. It consisted primarily of trial and error learning by watching and imitating others.
  • Learning 2.0 is the upgrade that took place in your school years. It consisted of learning how to study and directed learning toward goals others set.
  • Learning 3.0 supports your continued growth in multiple areas of life by self-managed learning and helping skills.

Learning 4.0 is a necessary upgrade for surviving and thriving in our nonstop world. It is based on new knowledge of how our brains work, the new dynamics of a nonstop world, and an exploding information field.

Are you ready to become a 4.0 learner?

Think of yourself on a lifelong learning journey where you periodically upgrade your learning skills and approach. Are you ready to become a 4.0 learner?

Learning 4.0 is a necessary upgrade for surviving and thriving in our nonstop world. It is based on new knowledge of how our brains work, appreciation of the subjective, the new dynamics of a nonstop world, and an exploding information field.

Learning 4.0 is the upgrade that will keep you in charge of, rather than becoming a servant to, increasingly intelligent technologies as they emerge. Some of the special qualities of learning 4.0 include:


Whole brain and whole body


Deep learning

Anywhere and anytime

Smart use of information

Resource versatility

Change agency

Co-evolution with technology

Shared experiences

Patricia A. McLagan, Unstoppable You


Imagine yourself being a 4.0 learner. See yourself using and directing your amazing brain, learning while awake and while you sleep, and keeping up with and a bit ahead of the changes in your work and life in general.

Unstoppable You author Patricia McLagan has developed seven practices of 4.0 Learners. Use the brief outline below to chart a new course to your learning journey.

Hear the Call to Learn – to make your need or interest explicit and be sure your learning motivation is clear.

  • What is calling you or your team to learn?
  • What change or development is it asking for?

Create Future-Pull – to create a learning direction that energizes and focuses your learning, creating a tension between the now and the future.

  • What is the setting or situation?
  • What are you feeling, seeing, thinking, hearing, sensing?

Search Far and Wide – to be sure that the information, resources, and experiences you use for learning are the best for you.

  • Scan the information fields available for you to learn from.
  • Keep a list of the learning experiences and resources you think will best help you move toward your future vision.

Connect the Dots – to provide the best structure for your learning so you stay focused on your future vision while remaining open to new calls to learning.

  • Using the resources from the previous step, lay them out on a path leading toward your future vision.
  • Add checkpoints to the journey to review your journey, revise your vision, appreciate progress, and solve problems.

Mine for Gold – to bring useful information into your brain’s short-term memory.

  • Set up your learning environment so that it will be conducive to success.
  • Be present to learn, managing your energy and motivations.

Learn to Last – to convert what you are learning into long-term capabilities including remembered knowledge and creative outcomes.

  • Retain what you want to remember.
  • Develop skills and habits.
  • Shift beliefs and attitudes.
  • Learn for creative insights.

Transfer to Life – to take extra steps to bring your learning to life and sustain it for the longer-term.

  • Set up for success.
  • Get allies.
  • Celebrate success.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 105-1, released November 2018.


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 “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

Do You Have the Five Disciplines of a Multiplying Leader?

It takes leaders to make more leaders.

As a leader, you are not out to create followers, but to discover, disciple, and distribute more and better leaders throughout your organization.

Let’s take the simple but accurate path of dividing people into two groups – leaders and followers. Followers don’t develop leaders – they follow them. Only leaders can develop more leaders.

The odds are high that you have someone on your team that is now only a follower – but you recognize potential in them. You want them to become the leader you already see in them.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

A revised and updated edition of the acclaimed Wall Street Journal bestseller that explores why some leaders drain capability and intelligence from their teams while others amplify it to produce better results.

We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders. The first type drains intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the diminishers of talent and commitment. On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go off over people’s heads; ideas flow and problems get solved. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are the Multipliers. And the world needs more of them, especially now when leaders are expected to do more with less.

In this engaging and highly practical book, leadership expert Liz Wiseman explores these two leadership styles, persuasively showing how Multipliers can have a resoundingly positive and profitable effect on organizations—getting more done with fewer resources, developing and attracting talent, and cultivating new ideas and energy to drive organizational change and innovation.

In analyzing data from more than 150 leaders, Wiseman has identified five disciplines that distinguish Multipliers from Diminishers. These five disciplines are not based on innate talent; indeed, they are skills and practices that everyone can learn to use—even lifelong and recalcitrant Diminishers. Lively, real-world case studies and practical tips and techniques bring to life each of these principles, showing you how to become a Multiplier too, whether you are a new or an experienced manager. This revered classic has been updated with new examples of Multipliers, as well as two new chapters one on accidental Diminishers, and one on how to deal with Diminishers.

Just imagine what you could accomplish if you could harness all the energy and intelligence around you. Multipliers will show you how.


A central support in any leadership development structure has to be the concept that recognizes the value of people. Your team is not just cogs in a machine that gets things done. They are unique creations of God, and to not develop them is in some ways an abuse of their God-given abilities.

But as often is the case, the swirl and business of ministry often leads you to overlook this.

Is it possible to focus on the tasks in front of your organization AND consistently lead in the discovery and development of those on your team?

Multipliers look at the complex opportunities and challenges swirling around them and think, “There are smart people everywhere who will figure this out and get even smarter in the process.”

Multipliers see their job as bringing the right people together in an environment that liberates everyone’s best thinking – and then get out of the way and let them do it.

So what are the practices that distinguish the Multiplier? In researching the data for active ingredients unique to Multipliers, we found five disciplines in which Multipliers differentiate themselves from Diminishers.

Attracting and Optimizing Talent. Multipliers are talent magnets; they attract and deploy talent to its fullest, regardless of who owns the resource, and people flock to work with them because they know they will grow and be successful.

Creating Intensity that Requires Best Thinking. Multipliers establish a unique and highly motivating work environment where everyone has permission to think and the space to do their best work.

Extending Challenges. Multipliers act as challengers, continually challenging themselves and others to push beyond what they know.

Debating Decisions. Multipliers operate as debate makers, driving sound decisions through rigorous debate.

Instilling Ownership and Accountability. Multipliers deliver and sustain superior results by inculcating high expectations across the organization.

Liz Wiseman, Multipliers


Set aside time at a future team meeting to discuss the concept of a Multiplier as follows:

List each of the five practices of a Multiplier above on a separate chart tablet.

As a team, discuss each practice using the questions below as guides, and writing the answers on each chart tablet sheet.

  1. Name individuals on your team that first come to mind when you say the practice.
  2. What attitudes do they possess, or actions to they take, that make them a model for that practice?
  3. Who on your team does not exhibit the practice?
  4. List specific actions you can take with these individuals to help them become a Multiplier.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 95-1, released June 2018.


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 “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

Are You Leading Followers or Leading Leaders?

Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. military accelerated the ongoing and gradual process of searching for the best people available to lead – regardless of sex. As a result, female career military officers began to advance into very visible leadership roles: the first female combat pilot in the U.S. Navy, the first female in U.S. history to command in combat at the strategic level, and the first woman in U.S. military history to assume the rank of a four-star general.

They didn’t want to be “female leaders”—they just wanted to lead.

These women were wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. But they were also military leaders, warriors, academics and mentors in their own right.

As the military has evolved to develop an appreciation for the potential of women to serve in the most challenging of positions, it is also time for the American public to see these women for what they bring to the fight: brains, strength and courage.

They are leaders.

No one does leader development better than the military. Behind winning our nation’s wars, its primary purpose is to develop leaders. This happens through organized leader development programs, like institutional schooling and courses, but mostly through personal interaction and example. It’s the unit-level leaders out there who are making the critical impact in our armed forces.

Falling in the period around Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May) and Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), this SUMS Remix honors three female leaders who demonstrated principles of leadership development that all leaders will find helpful in leading their own organizations.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – A Higher Standard by Ann Dunwoody

On June 23, 2008, President George W. Bush nominated Ann Dunwoody as a four-star general in the US Army-the first time a woman had ever achieved that rank. The news generated excitement around the world. Now retired after nearly four decades in the Army, Dunwoody shares what she learned along the way, from her first command leading 100 soldiers to her final assignment, in which she led a 60 billion dollar enterprise of over 69,000 employees, including the Army’s global supply chain in support of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What was the driving force behind Dunwoody’s success? While her talent as a logistician and her empathy in dealing with fellow soldiers helped her rise through the ranks, Dunwoody also realized that true leaders never stop learning, refining, growing, and adapting.

In A Higher Standard, Dunwoody details her evolution as a soldier and reveals the core leadership principles that helped her achieve her historic appointment. Dunwoody’s strategies are applicable to any leader, no matter the size or scope of the organization. Packed with guiding principles, A Higher Standard offers practical, tactical advice that everyone can use to lead and achieve with maximum success.


It’s happened once again. You’ve lost a key leader and find yourself filling in and doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing. So, once again, you promise yourself that this year will be different. You’re going to conquer the challenge of leadership development and build a deep leadership bench- a pipeline for developing leaders – for your ministry. But what practical next step can you take to really build a church leadership pipeline?

Why is leadership development a reoccurring problem for so many? In short, it’s a lack of intentionality.  We know leadership development is important, but few leaders integrate it into their weekly routine. And even fewer develop an intentional plan that ensures an ongoing reproduction of leaders. It’s just too easy to be distracted by the urgent and allow the development of leaders to take a back seat to everything else. We feel stuck and we’re too busy to develop leaders, but we need more leaders to get all the work done.

Our legacy will be measured by the depth and quality of the leaders we develop.

One of the most important jobs a senior leader has is to develop leaders or to “build the bench.” It is common in sports to “build the bench,” where a versatile bench is often the determining factor in whether a team survives the rigors of a demanding season while building a team for the future. In your organization, do you have “players” ready to step in when inevitable changes occur?

The temptation is to put building a bench on hold while focusing on imperative day-to-day duties. Without consciously taking time to build your bench, you run the risk of hurting your organization for generations.

Beyond the structured leadership program there’s an informal mentoring process that truly makes the Army special. The most important leadership lessons I learned throughout my career came directly from someone who took the time to teach, coach, and share ideas with me. Sometimes it happened in a classroom or a war zone, but just as often it happened during a run or at dinner.

I had many great role models at crucial stages of my career. They helped develop me – and countless other soldiers – without bullying tactics. They didn’t care about my gender – they cared about me. They pushed me physically and challenged me mentally. In the military, you can’t achieve your best without sound mind and body. Most important, they put their faith in me and put me on the bench.

Ann Dunwoody, A Higher Standard


One of the most fundamental things you must do in a growing church is to build a culture of leadership development. If you wait until the need is pressing then you are already behind. Talk, pray, prepare, and lead as if God is going to bring growth. Doing so will cause you to work with your current leaders to begin producing new leaders for the future.

To understand your current state of leadership development, download this Leadership Development Assessment and complete it. Review your score and evaluate it in the categories listed.

The following quote from the U.S. Army Field Manual on Leader Development serves as a good conclusion, reminder, and challenge for you and your church:

Army leaders are the competitive advantage the Army possesses that technology cannot replace nor be substituted by advanced weaponry and platforms. Today’s Army demands trained and ready units with agile, proficient leaders. Developing our leaders is integral to our institutional success today and tomorrow. It is an important investment to make for the future of the Army because it builds trust in relationships and units, prepares leaders for future uncertainty, and is critical to readiness and our Army’s success.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 93-3, released May 2018.


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 “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

Create an Inner Circle to Help Develop Your Leadership

It has been said that the people close to us determine our level of success. Moses learned this lesson in the wilderness and so implemented a plan to put competent, godly leaders next to him. David had his mighty men. Paul had Barnabas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus, and Phoebe.

When ministers decide to be leaders, they cross a very important line. They no longer judge themselves solely by what they can do themselves; the truest measure of the impact of a leader is found in what those around them accomplish. In God’s economy, our personal development happens most as we are developing those He has called around us.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Developing the Leaders Around You, by John Maxwell

Why do some people achieve great personal success, yet never succeed in building a business or making an impact in their organization? John C. Maxwell knows the answer. “The greatest leadership principle that I have ever learned in over twenty-five years of leadership,” says Maxwell, “is that those closest to the leader will determine the success level of that leader.”

It’s not enough for a leader to have vision, energy, drive, and conviction. If you want to see your dream come to fruition, you must learn how to develop the leaders around you. Whether you’re the leader of a non-profit organization, small business, or Fortune 500 company, Developing the Leaders Around You can help you to take others to the limits of their potential and your organization to a whole new level.


There are no Lone Ranger leaders. If you’re alone, you’re not leading anybody. Think of any highly effective leader, and you will find someone surrounded by a strong inner circle. Hire the best staff you can find, develop them as much as you can, and hand off everything you possibly can to them. When you have the right staff potential skyrockets. You see, every leader’s potential is determined by the people closest to him. If those people are strong, then the leader can make a huge impact. If they are weak, he can’t.

Most leaders have followers around them. They believe the key to leadership is gaining more followers. Few leaders surround themselves with other leaders, but the ones who do bring great value to their organizations. And in the process, their burden is lightened and their vision is carried out and enlarged.

An inner circle of leaders becomes a sounding board to me. As a leader, I sometimes hear counsel that I don’t want to hear but need to hear. That’s the advantage of having leaders around you – having people who know how to make decisions. Followers tell you what you want to hear. Leaders tell you what you need to hear.

I have always encouraged those closest to me to give advice on the front end. In other words, an opinion before a decision has potential value. An opinion after the decision has been made is worthless.

Leaders around you possess a leadership mindset. Fellow leaders do more than work with the leader, they think like the leader. It gives them the power to lighten the load. This becomes invaluable in areas such as decision-making, brainstorming, and providing security and direction to others.

John Maxwell, Developing the Leaders Around You


The following list of characteristics has been adapted from study material in John Maxwell’s Leadership Bible. The author developed the acrostic below for use when developing an inner circle.

On a chart table, spell the word “Inner Circle” down the left hand side of the page. After reading the following qualities, write down the name or names of individuals you know who exhibit those characteristics.

Influential – Everything begins with influence. If you want to extend your reach, you must attract and lead other leaders.

Networking – Who people know is just as important as what they know.

Nurturing – People who care about each other take care of each other. Your inner circle should prop you up.

Empowering – The members of your inner circle should enable you to achieve more than you could alone.

Resourceful – Inner-circle members should always add value.

Character-driven – The character of an inner-circle member matters more than any other quality.

Intuitive – While every person is naturally intuitive in his area of gifting, that doesn’t mean everyone uses his or her intuition.

Responsible – Those closest to you should never leave you hanging. If you ask them to carry the ball, they must follow through.

Competent – You can’t get anything done if your people can’t do their jobs. You don’t need world-class performers exclusively, but all of your inner-circle people must perform with excellence.

Loyal – Loyalty alone does not make people candidates for your inner circle, but lack of loyalty definitely disqualifies them. Don’t keep anyone close to you whom you cannot trust.

Energetic – Energy covers a multitude of mistakes, for it helps a person to keep coming back, failure after failure.

After you evaluate this list, ask yourself:

  • “How can I sharpen these characteristics?”
  • “With whom has God given me influence for this season?”
  • “Who on this list can teach me and inform my leadership?”

Now identify 2-3 members of your inner circle and commit to spend at least three hours over the next three months developing them with intentional conversations, observation, and measurable goal setting.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 44-1, published July 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.

Does Your Church Make Straight A’s When It Comes To Volunteers?

How does your church bring new volunteers onboard?

Onboarding is the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating, and accelerating new team members, whether they come from outside or inside the organization. (Onboarding, Bradt and Vonnegut)


There’s actually another “a” word that is a perquisite: align. Here’s how the authors of Onboarding define the key processes listed above.

  • Align– make sure your organization agrees on the need for a new team member and the delineating of the role you seek to fill
  • Acquire– identify, recruit, select, and get people to join the team
  • Accommodate– give new team members the tools they need to do the work
  • Assimilate– help them join with others so they can do the work together
  • Accelerate – help them and their team deliver better results faster

Now that’s a list of “straight A’s” I will take anytime!

Though this list comes from a business book, there are great correlations for ChurchWorld as well.

For example, if your church values your volunteer team members, then they would make sure something like the process above is a part of your volunteer leadership development program. The role of bringing new volunteer leaders onboard shouldn’t be an afterthought.

My church considers the role of a team coordinator to be a volunteer staff position. In that role I may not receive a paycheck, but the importance of my role in the total scheme of what we do is not diminished one bit.

What’s it like at your church?