How to Engage Your Team Through Affirmation

One of the things many growing organizations have trouble with is alignment and communication – from both a cultural and “business” standpoint. This may be the result of physically distributed teams or simply rapid growth. The larger an organization grows and the more distributed it becomes, the harder it is to make sure that there is a healthy relational dimension in our communication across the organization. Even in a small organization, understanding the importance of relational connection takes communication to the next level.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Win the Heart by Mark Miller

Employee engagement is shockingly low–but it’s not an employee problem; it’s a leadership problem. Bestselling author Mark Miller says it’s up to leaders to create a workplace where their employees truly want to be – and he reveals four keys to doing it.

Every great company has an engaged workforce, and nurturing a culture of engagement is at the heart of great leadership – employees who really care about their work, their coworkers, and the organization can supercharge a company’s success. But for many years, engagement has been suffering. Gallop reports that 70 percent of employees are not fully engaged on the job. Mark Miller draws on more than forty years of leadership experience to show leaders at all levels how to change the conversation and create real competitive advantage in the process.

In the fourth book in Miller’s High Performance Series, CEO Blake Brown sets out to discover how to create the kind of workplace where everyone feels excited to come to work, passionate about what he or she brings to the company, and energized at the end of the day. It’s a journey that takes him literally all over the world–from Italy to Greece to Green Bay and more. What he discovers from the pages of history is as relevant as the evening news. 

Engagement unleashes untapped potential buried deep within the hearts of your people. An engaged workforce is more creative, more driven, and more enthusiastic about reaching company goals. If you put the lessons in this book to work, your people will never look at work, or their leaders, the same way again.


When your team members are made to feel that they matter, they develop self-confidence and self-esteem, and that translates to positive results. Team members who are not treated as if they mattered perform as if their jobs don’t matter either.

When you recognize, appreciate, and encourage your team members, they will in turn share those affirmations with others, resulting in a better team and organization culture.

Genuine affirmation, from the heart, tends to connect with the heart.

We actually do a lot of things behind the scenes so you can have a consistently amazing experience.

  • It starts with leadership – no organization drifts to greatness.
  • We have to select the right people and be sure they are aligned on what matters most – this is a never-ending challenge, but without it, everything is so much harder. Some things even become impossible without everyone pulling in the same direction.
  • We have to be sure people are fully engaged and focused on execution. If they aren’t engaged, there’s no way we’ll deliver consistently. We want excellence to be the norm, not a random occurrence.

The two-word secret to engagement: “Thank you.” We want every employee to know how much we value his or her energy and effort, so we thank you a lot.

We say thank you when we see an employee doing their work with excellence; we say thank you when we observe someone going above and beyond our already high standards; we say thank you when we see our people living out our core values; we even say thank you for a team member’s contributions at the end of every shift.

Mark Miller, Win the Heart


Do you say “thank you” to your team members often enough – or at all?

Here’s a starter list of 10 ideas to say “thank you” to team members. Use this list as a starter to complete a chart tablet of at least 30 ways to say thank you – and use at least one every day for the next month.

Wall of fame – Create a wall of fame featuring images of team members; be sure to include what they did that you are recognizing them for.

Praise often – Praise your team members quickly – as soon as you notice an action that is praiseworthy.

Give the gift of wellness – Give out passes to a yoga studio or gym. Healthy team members feel better about themselves and add value to the team.

Have fun – Reward your team after the conclusion of a special season or event with a fun outing. It not only says thanks but encourages team participation and bonding.

Sticky notes – The adult version of the affirming lunch note to your child! Leave notes on their desks or work areas, saying thanks and explaining why.

Random gifts – Who doesn’t like surprises? Give team members small gifts with a note saying thanks.

Acknowledge team members in meetings – When team members have a great idea, perform above and beyond the expectations, or something worthy of mentioning – be sure to acknowledge them in front of their peers.

Appreciate personal wins – When a team member achieves a personal milestone in their lives, celebrate with them in your work environment.

Celebrate birthdays – Make their birthday a special day in some way.

Write a note – A personal, handwritten note is always a special gesture. Mail it to your team member’s home, so their family can see it and celebrate too.

It’s your turn!


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<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<


You Can’t Lead Well Without Serving

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 – The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Mark Miller and Ken Blanchard

In this new edition of their classic business fable, Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller get at the heart of what makes a leader successful. Newly promoted but struggling young executive Debbie Brewster asks her mentor the one question she desperately needs answered: “What is the secret of great leaders?” His reply—“great leaders serve”—flummoxes her, but over time he reveals the five fundamental ways that leaders succeed through service. Along the way she learns:

• Why great leaders seem preoccupied with the future
• How people on the team ultimately determine your success or failure
• What three arenas require continuous improvement
• Why true success in leadership has two essential components
• How to knowingly strengthen—or unwittingly destroy—leadership credibility

The tenth anniversary edition includes a leadership self-assessment so readers can measure to what extent they lead by serving and where they can improve. The authors also have added answers to the most frequently asked questions about how to apply the SERVE model in the real world.

As practical as it is uplifting, The Secret shares Blanchard’s and Miller’s wisdom about leadership in a form that anyone can easily understand and implement. This book will benefit not only those who read it but also the people who look to them for guidance and the organizations they serve.


If you are looking for the latest techniques to help you coerce people to do what you say, you will not find any such techniques in the broad category of servant leadership.

Servant leadership is not a strategy or shortcut to success. Servant leadership is a long journey, leading with people as you add value to them by putting their interests ahead of your own.

Creating culture always starts with the organization leader, and it is no different in your church. If you are going to create a culture in which leaders SERVE, you are going to have to demonstrate these five principles first.

A person can serve without leading, but a leader can’t lead well without serving.

Five Strategic Ways Great Leaders SERVE

See and shape the future. Leadership always begins with a picture of the future. Leaders who cannot paint a compelling picture of a preferred future are in jeopardy of forfeiting their leadership. Clarity will often come in the midst of activity. If you are stuck, get moving. When the vision is clear and compelling, it will create life, energy, and momentum.

Engage and develop others. Engagement is about creating the context for people to thrive. Low engagement of your teams is not an indictment of the workers; it is the leaders who need to make a change. We believe leaders who are not proactively developing others are missing a vital aspect of their role.

Reinvent continuously. To make progress, to move forward, to accomplish bigger and better, something has to change. There are three arenas of change:

  • Self – How are you reinventing yourself?
  • Systems – Which work processes need to change to generate better results?
  • Structure – What structural changes could you make to better enable the accomplishments of your goals?

Value results and relationships. Virtual every leader has a natural bias toward one or the other of these. While not bad, that bias can limit your effectiveness. The best leaders value both and manage the tension between them.

Embody the values. People watch leaders, looking for clues regarding what’s important to the leaders. They are also trying to determine if the leader is trustworthy.

Mark Miller and Ken Blanchard, The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do


At your next team meeting, write the five SERVE statements on separate chart tablets.

On a scale of 1 (I don’t do this at all) to 5 (I consistently do this), ask your team to individually (and privately) to rate themselves.

Next, have a group discussion, asking for a consensus rating using the same scale above on how your team is taking these actions.

Next, list as many specific and concrete actions that demonstrate each particular action. After you have completed this action, ask the group for a consensus decision on the top three in each category, and circle them.

Finally, ask what actions are missing from each list. Discuss how these actions can become a part of your team’s regular practices.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 95-3, 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<<

It’s Time to Elevate Your Leadership Game

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

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

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

Solution: It’s Time to Elevate Your Leadership Game


THE QUICK SUMMARY – Chess, Not Checkers, by Mark Miller

As organizations grow in volume and complexity, the demands on leadership change. The same old moves won’t cut it any more.

The early days of an organization are like checkers: a quickly played game with mostly interchangeable pieces. Everyone, the leader included, does a little bit of everything; the pace is frenetic. But as the organization expands, you can’t just keep jumping from activity to activity. You must think strategically, plan ahead, and leverage every employee’s specific talents—that’s chess. Leaders who continue to play checkers when the name of the game is chess lose.

Chess Not Checkers, by Mark Miller, delivers four essential strategies from the game of chess that will transform leadership and organizations.


In Chess Not Checkers, Mark Miller uses a business fable to demonstrate that leaders who elevate their leadership game will in turn make their teams and organizations stronger.

According to Miller, the game of chess contains four specific parallels that can inform and transform teams and organizations seeking new levels of performance. Miller uses the simplicity, repetitiveness, and reactions found in the game of checkers to set up the game of chess as in instructive lesson for leaders in any organization.

 People want to be valued; they want to be useful; they want to contribute. When you make the right moves, people show up in a whole new way.

Most of us began our leadership journey utilizing an approach with striking similarities to the game of checkers, a fun, highly reactionary game often played at a frantic pace. Any strategies we employed in this style of leadership were limited, if not rudimentary.

The game today for most leaders can be better compared to chess – a game in which strategy matters; a game in which individual pieces have unique abilities that drive unique contributions; a game in which heightened focus and a deeper level of thinking are required to win.

Bet on Leadership – Growing leaders grow organizations

  • Leadership growth precedes organizational growth
  • Capacity to grow determines capacity to lead
  • Identify emerging leaders and invest in them early
  • Strengthen your leadership team to become source of additional leadership capacity

Act as One – Alignment multiplies impact

  • Define your win
  • Get agreement from leadership team
  • Cascade and reinforce the win throughout the organization
  • Keep your organization aligned on what matters most

Win the Heart – Engagement energizes effort

  • Leverage unique capabilities of each person
  • Help people find and fulfill their dreams
  • Give people real responsibility
  • Show people you care

Excel at Execution – Greatness hinges on execution

  • Measure what matters most
  • Build your organization on systems, not personality
  • Communicate performance visually
  • Narrow your focus

Mark Miller, Chess Not Checkers 


You may have begun your leadership path using actions similar to the game of chess – basic, repetitive moves, often carried through at a fast pace with little strategy.

Today you find yourself in a whole new game – one in which strategy matters, individual pieces matter, and intense concentration and focus is required.

At your next team meeting, list the four moves developed by Mark Miller on a white board or flip-chart. For each of the four moves, start where you are – discuss how your organization defines the move. If necessary, modify the definition until your team is in agreement.

Over a period of two weeks, arrange a series of four meetings in which your team will be tackling one of the four moves at each meeting.

Discuss the three biggest challenges facing your team in the area of “Bet on Leadership.” Develop action plans to meet, and overcome each of these challenges. Set a timeline for the action plans, and report on it monthly until it is accomplished.

Discuss your organization’s missional mandate and missional marks of success in this mandate. What are the current gaps between your stated intention and the reality facing your team in the area of “Act as One”?

Ask your team members to define your organization in terms of The Lone Ranger (every man for himself) or The Three Musketeers (all for one and one for all). Brainstorm ideas that could help your team “Win the Heart” and move toward all for one.

Discuss with your team how to “Excel at Execution.” List three action steps your team will take in the next month to accomplish excellence, including who needs to do what to make your vision a reality.

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

By elevating their leadership game, leaders can help their teams maintain commitment and accomplish their Great Commission call.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 12-2, published April 2015

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

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

Be Careful Where You Aim – You Might Hit It There

a guest post by Mark Miller, bestselling author of Chess Not Checkers and The Heart of Leadership

When was the last time you took a vacation? This may seem like a random question, but it is not intended to be. One of the disciplines I have learned and had to relearn over the years is the value of getting away. Even when I’m not working, I can still learn something…

This learning experience came while playing golf. Now, let me set the record straight; I am a lousy golfer. However, for some strange reason I really enjoy the game. Although I played quite a bit years ago, these days 6 – 8 rounds a year is typical.

We were making our way around the course, and I had enjoyed my share of good shots and bad. I am always excited when I can string two or three good ones together. This greatly enhances my chance of a bogey!

We approached the 9th hole and the yardage indicated about 280 yards to carry the water or a layup with a considerably shorter shot. I should confess, for me to hit a drive 280 yards involves some roll and maybe a bounce on a cart path. To carry the lake was not a likely outcome.

I stepped up and crushed one. We watched in amazement – this was one of the best drives I had hit in years. It landed about 270 yards away… in the lake. The guys with me seemed to be impressed with how far I had hit it; little consolation knowing I would have to hit another one from the tee with the addition of a penalty stroke.

I teed up my second ball – I blasted it! Two in a row – what were the odds? Again, it landed about 270 yards away, exactly where the first one had landed. Wet!

What’s a guy to do? I reloaded and hit a third one. For this one, I really stepped on it. It went about 275 yards. Wet again.

And not to be deterred, I teed up my fourth ball and launched it – you guessed it, SPLASH!

The point of the story? There are probably several, here’s one…

I knew I couldn’t hit a golf ball 280 yards on the fly before I took my first swing. So, what happened? I wasn’t trying to. I was aiming about 20 yards LEFT of where the ball was landing. Or at least I thought I was. In reality, my alignment was off!

Many times, leaders think their organizations are aligned and the truth is they are not. The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome. That’s the trap I found myself in. I rationalized my poor outcome:

“I guess I’m just pushing it a little; maybe the wind is a factor; all I need to do is fire through the hitting zone; full rotation with a complete finish.”

All these thoughts ran through my head. Never did I consider, or want to admit, I might be hitting it exactly where I was aiming!

Great performance begins with great alignment.

A former golf coach taught me, “The flight of the golf ball never lies.” As it relates to organizations, my friend and colleague, Randy Gravitt, reminds me that our systems, structure, habits and behaviors are perfectly aligned to create the outcomes we are currently experiencing.

If your organization is not hitting it where you want, there could be many reasons – however, I would start by checking your alignment. Great performance begins with great alignment.

Keep swinging!

Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

It’s Your Move

In the easy-reading but powerfully-impacting style he is known for, Mark Miller has released his newest book Chess Not Checkers.

And he’s not playing around…

Well, actually he is – and that’s the part leaders everywhere will enjoy. Miller tells the story of Blake Underwood, newly appointed CEO of a company troubled by poor performance and low morale. Nothing seems to work – especially trying to do what he’s always done before.

The problem, his new mentor points out, is that Blake is playing the wrong game.


Here’s a couple of quotes that set the whole book up:

Most of us began our leadership journey utilizing an approach with striking similarities to the game of checkers, a fun, highly reactionary game often played at a frantic pace. Any strategies we employed in this style of leadership were limited, if not rudimentary.

The game today for most leaders can be better compared to chess – a game in which strategy matters; a game in which individual pieces have unique abilities that drive unique contributions; a game in which heightened focus and a deeper level of thinking are required to win.

Chess Not Checkers is an enjoyable read that leaders in all organizations will want to put into practice quickly. Here are the “4 Winning Moves” Miller develops in the book:

  • Bet on Leadership – Growing leaders grow organizations
  • Act as One – Alignment multiplies impact
  • Win the Heart – Engagement energizes effort
  • Excel at Execution – Greatness hinges on execution

It’s your move…


This is One Secret that is Not Meant to be Kept

Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller’s 10th Anniversary edition of The Secret is definitely not meant to be kept to yourself!

An updated version of their classic business fable, The Secret captivates the reader through an intriguing narrative centered around a simple but profound secret: “great leaders serve.”

Some of my earliest professional training during graduate school was based on the writings of Ken Blanchard, and his works continue to both line my shelf and inform my leadership activities.


In much the same way, for the past few years Mark Miller’s writings have been an influential factor in my ongoing leadership development.

With The Secret, the authors have once again crafted a learning device that is not only a pleasure to read but filled with practical helps applicable from the volunteer team leader to the C-suite. In addition to these helps, the self-assessment included at the end of the book is a quick, useful tool to use at both the beginning and end of any mentoring or leadership development program.

The “secret” to The Secret is a simple acronym that successful leaders follow:

See the Future

Engage and Develop Others

Reinvent Continuously

Value Results and Relationships

Embody the Values


Your continual journey as a developing leader developing others will benefit greatly from practicing the “secrets” from The Secret.


The Heart of Leadership

There is a lot more to leadership than great individual work. – Mark Miller, The Heart of Leadership

The Heart of LeadershipMark Miller, VP of Organizational Effectiveness at Chick-Fil-A, has just released his newest book, The Heart of Leadership. In his latest enlightening and entertaining business fable, he describes the five unique character traits exhibited by exceptional leaders and how to cultivate them.


If you don’t demonstrate leadership character, your skills, and your results will be discounted, if not dismissed. – Mark Miller



In setting up the true “heart” of leadership, Miller uses the familiar and helpful metaphor of the iceberg: typically we only see about 10% above the waterline, with 90% below. Miller depicts the iceberg as a picture of leadership, with leadership skills being the visible 10%.

Great Leaders SERVE

  • See the Future
  • Engage and Develop Others
  • Reinvent Continuously
  • Value Results and Relationships
  • Embody the Values

That metaphor in itself is a helpful reminder, but the true strength of the book comes as Miller develops the “heart” of leadership – the 90% below the waterline.

Leadership is not about what you do nearly as much as it’s about who you are becoming – the heart of leadership is a matter of the heart. – Mark Miller

Download a sample chapter here.