Archives For Leadership Lessons

Passing on what I’m learning from leadership talks, conferences, blogs and podcasts.

five red buttonFive more insightful articles to get you through the weekend. Enjoy!

A Thread Called Grace – A powerful confession of someone dealing with sexual abuse in his past.

A Year of Grieving Dangerously – Kay Warren talks about dealing with the suicide of her son Matthew.

God Used Me to Stop a School Shooter – An incredible interview with a woman who talked down a school shooter.

Let Them Eat Dirt – Amazing perspective for all parents out there who can tend to be overprotective.

The Incredible Story of a Rwandan Genocide Survivor – Powerful story!

Fall Books PreviewThe Bully Pulpit is a riveting tale of two men and a magazine that changed the world. Telling the tale of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and McClure’s Magazine, The Bully Pulpit transports the reader into a surprisingly pivotal time in American history, the dawn of the 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a pervasive culture of laissez faire had allowed corporations to run amuck and concentrate incredible wealth at the expense of the common man. Political parties were beholden to powerful corporations. Corporate trusts cornered the market on pivotal goods such as steel and beef and transportation such as railroads. A handful of men, the country’s first millionaires, held absolute sway.

The American economic and political systems were designed to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many wanted reform, but they could not muster the courage to battle the headwinds needed to see the revolution of change begin. Enter Theodore Roosevelt. A hurricane of a man and a person almost unique in American history, Roosevelt took on the role of reformer and by sheer force of will helped America turn a critical corner in her storied journey.

The bulk of this book focuses on the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his chosen successor William Howard Taft and their transformation of the American way of life. Along the way the author traces a critical voice that helped crystallize the support of the American public at critical junctures: McClure’s magazine. Called “the golden age of journalism,” the author does a tremendous job recounting an easily forgotten aspect in the battle for modern America. McClure’s magazine galvanized public sentiment and gave Roosevelt and Taft the ammunition they needed to goad an unwilling legislature to pass much needed reform. It’s an amazing tale of the stars aligning for a few short years and meaningful reforms being passed in our country.

At 750 pages, this book is not for the faint of heart, yet it’s a solid read and wonderful reminiscence of the greatness that America can aspire to if she so chooses.


1. The power of one person and a vision. I’ve read numerous books about Theodore Roosevelt and continue to be fascinated with him as a man. His drive, his force of will, his determination and buoyancy allowed him to shape the country to his will in a way rarely seen before or since. Can one person make a difference? Absolutely. History has proved this time and time again.

2. All good plans can go astray. Roosevelt had picked William Howard Taft (a close personal friend) as his chosen successor in the 1908 presidential election. Riding Roosevelt’s legacy, Taft easily sailed to victory but strayed from Roosevelt’s vision enough that Roosevelt himself challenged his good friend and successor for the 1912 Republican nomination.

3. Little moments make a big difference. The night of Roosevelt’s presidential victory in 1904, Roosevelt made a declaration that would come to haunt him for years. Fresh off his victory, he publicly vowed to not seek a third term (at that time still allowed). Roosevelt would later say that he would willingly chop off his arm if he could take back that pledge. The secret power behind Taft’s success in his career was his loving, supportive, and incredibly smart and savvy wife, Nellie Taft. She was his rock, his anchor. A few weeks into Taft’s presidency, Nellie Taft suffered a debilitating stroke and never fully recovered. Taft’s presidency was never the same.

4. There can be too much a good thing. This book beautifully captures the arc of Roosevelt’s rise and fall, from eager reformer to overzealous power hog one step away from crazy town. During his final presidential run as a third party candidate, Roosevelt delved deep into demagoguery, proposing to do away with the Supreme Court and putting all national issues up for a vote. In his mind that would work well, because he knew how to galvanize popular opinion like no one else, but it would have been a chaotic step for our country. As much as I admire Roosevelt, I’m glad he was defeated in his final presidential run. Too much power for too long had warped his sense of perspective, with serious possible harm for the country.

5. Roosevelt’s movement was ultimately successful. The progressive movement embodied by Roosevelt led to some incredible leaps forward that we take for granted today, including the 17th and 19th amendment to the Constitution: the direct election of senators and giving women the right to vote. Both more widely distributed power to the people and enabled the general public to have their say in their country’s future.

6. The progressive movement was the golden age of journalism. Never before had journalists been so able to capture and form the conscious of the country than during the years of Roosevelt’s presidency. They were men and women of high moral aptitude with an inner drive to educate the public, not just drive up sales. As others joined the bandwagon this type of journalism denigrated into the muckraking so decried by the President. But for a short span, journalism was a healthy conversation, not driven by deadlines or circulation figures, but driven by a common goal to better the country. Oh even for a hint of that in today’s media wars.

chuckRecently I was watching an old Catalyst talk where Chuck Swindoll shared ten things he’s learned in over fifty years of ministry. Those thoughts are so great I thought I’d share them with you:

1. It’s lonely to lead. The more decisions you make, the more you lead, the lonelier you become. Leadership can be lonely.

2. It’s dangerous to succeed. Many of us have a plan for failure, but most of us don’t have a plan for success. Too much success too early can ruin any person.

3. It is hardest at home. Leading on Sundays is easy. Leading your family is something else entirely. It’s truly hardest at home.

4. It is essential to be real. You’ll never be like the famous preacher you try and emulate. Be real. Be yourself.

5. It’s painful to obey. Look in Scripture. Any time God called someone to obey him, it was a step of faith. It was painful.

6. Brokenness and failure are necessary. This is absolutely true. Until we’re broken of our own pride and self-reliance, we’ll never be vessels usable by God.

7. My attitude is more important than my actions. Some of us as ministers can be hard to be around. It’s not just our actions, but our attitudes that are important.

8. Integrity eclipses image. Ministry invites fakeness as ministers try to exhibit the aura they feel others expect from them. Image will always be eclipsed by integrity.

9. God’s way is always better than my way. You can learn this one the easy way or the hard way, but sooner or later you’ll realize that God’s way is always best. Always.

10. Christ-likeness begins and ends with humility. To truly be like Christ means to humble yourself and serve others. There is no other way.

6.24.13One of my favorite leadership books is Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. In that book, he references another book by Gary Thomas that helped transform my spiritual journey. The idea is that just like we each have different spiritual gifts, we each have unique spiritual pathways that help us revitalize our walk with God. Here are a few:

The Relational Pathway – For these people, solitude feels like solitary confinement. For them to feel refreshed in their walk, they need to be around people, lots of them. They feed off of the energy others and revitalize their own walk with God.

The Intellectual Pathway – These people can’t have a morning devotional without two or three commentaries open. For them, their spiritual walk isn’t alive until their mind is fully engaged. They skip past the fluff and dive straight into the deep stuff.

The Serving Pathway – Some folks can’t catch their spiritual stride unless they’re serving on a consistent basis. Being spiritually refreshed comes when they go out, roll up their sleeves, and tangibly serve someone else. They’d rather serve than pray, read their Bible, or sing worship songs.

The Contemplative Pathway – This is what we normally think about when we think about pathways: the Christian alone with a Bible and a journal. They march to the beat of their own drummer, and spiritual revitalization comes with heavy doses of isolation.

The Activist Pathway – Activists are at their happiest when going at Mach 2. Sometimes serving, sometimes leading, they’re always doing something. Contemplation is the cruelest form of torture for an activist. They feel the most spiritually alive when they’re actively doing something for the Kingdom.

The Creation Pathway – These folks love being surrounded by God’s creation. Being in a natural environment dramatically increases their awareness of God. They pray and worship best when surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.

The Worship Pathway – Give these folks a good worship song and let them go to town. They feel closest to God when fully engaged in worship through music. The highlight of their Sunday is not the sermon, but the music. The beauty of music draws them into a deeper communion with God.

The first step is to identify your pathway. After reading this, I quickly realized that my pathway is the Creation Pathway. I feel closer to God after a ten minute walk than an hour spent in isolation. What’s your spiritual pathway?

Step two is to lean into your pathway. Schedule time for your pathway as a priority. When I first came across this, I changed my morning routine to include a short walk outside each morning. I found my spirit fuller and my prayers more vibrant than when I stayed indoors.

Steps three and four are to appreciate the other pathways and help others identify their pathway. This blog is step four for me.

QUESTION: What’s your spiritual pathway?

6.12.13In honor of the recently held Southern Baptist Convention, yesterday I began to share ten practical ways that Southern Baptists can flourish again. Our convention has done a tremendous job fighting for the sanctity of the Bible and for robust evangelistic theology. And yet we’re still losing my generation (Generation X) and the next generation (Millenials). The ten suggestions I share come from working on the front lines of ministry in Baptist churches for the past dozen years.

6. Engage millenials with their cultural language. There’s no way to exaggerate the size of the millenial generation. The largest since the Boomers, this generation of young people will decide the course of our country for the next century. We must engage them with their cultural language. Simply put, we need to modernize our services. Our current services reach senior adults so well because they’re custom designed for senior adults. If we want any shot at engaging millenials, then we need to customize our services to reach them in the same way our services have been custom designed for boomers the past 50 years.

7. Walk towards the mess. What sins are acceptable to bring into the church, and which are not? Are divorced people welcome? How about alcoholics? What about homosexuals? How about those that support abortion? The first two are easy, the second two not so much. As long as we draw lines about who is and is not welcome in the church, then we miss the thrust of Jesus’ ministry. If Jesus could hang around tax collectors and prostitutes, then is there any group of people that we should preemptively cut off from the gospel? We need to walk the path of welcoming skeptics and outrageous sinners without compromising our biblical beliefs. Jesus did it; so can we.

8. Create environments that are evangelistically-oriented and teaching that is discipleship-oriented. The seeker-sensitive movement started as a reaction against the closed-door, inside-focused services of evangelical churches that didn’t reach outsiders. So they created environments that were evangelistically-oriented. The great pushback against them was that too often they watered-down the gospel. When people come to church, there’s something already inside of them yearning for deep spiritual truths. We don’t have to water down the gospel for them.

Here’s the perfect combination: Don’t water down the gospel. Lighten up the environment. Teach the deep truths of God. Teach discipleship. Don’t shy away from the hard stuff. But create environments (with greeters, physical space, members attitudes, style of dress and music) that is outreach oriented. Newcomers will stay because of the warm, welcoming environment. They don’t mind the deep stuff. They want that. They just want to be in a safe environment where they can explore their faith. Churches must be intentional about creating a Sunday morning experience that is welcoming to outsiders.

9. Tackle racial diversity head on. Our churches are too white. My church is too white. Electing an African-American pastor as our convention is an incredible first step. Having minority churches within the SBC is another step. Racially integrating our churches is the final step. There’s no easy way to do this, but it must be done.

10. Stay humble and stay hungry. We’re not entitled to anything. Our “glory days” are behind us. We’re not God’s chosen denomination. We’re one small speck in a wide array of Christ-followers scattered throughout the world. Seeing our convention flourish again will take incredibly hard work. We always have been and always will be outsiders in this world. Jesus never said that growing the Kingdom was easy, so why should we expect to merely plan services and have the lost beat down our doors? Stay hungry. Work. Sacrifice.

*I’m incredibly privileged to be a part of a church that is implementing most of these practices. Under the leadership of the previous pastor (Jeff James), Mt Vernon transitioned from a plateaued church to a flourishing church. We’re seeing lives changed every week. It’s incredibly hard work, but it’s incredibly worth it.

6.12.13As I write this post the Southern Baptist Convention is having its annual meeting in Houston, TX. Unfortunately, as Ed Stetzer (President of Lifeway Research) so eloquently put it in the Pastor’s Conference before the convention, the SBC is in an undeniable statistical decline. Membership is down, baptisms are down. Over the years, many leaders have attempted to rectify and fix the problem. They’ve focused on innerancy, theology, and church-planting. All of those are well and necessary. Let me add ten practical ways to see Southern Baptist churches flourish again. (Disclaimer: I by no means imply that these are the only ten, just ten to get started. Encompassing all ten of these must be a daily dependence on the Holy Spirit, who fuels and drives the church).

1. Get outside the four walls of the church. We’re mistaken to think that the “church” is brick and mortar, beautiful buildings, or even an address. If people won’t come to the church, then the church should come to the people. We need to find practical ways to serve our communities on a regular basis.  There should be just as much activity outside of the four walls of the church as there is inside.

2. Emphasize the gospel over our Baptist-ness. Or let me put it more bluntly: we need to de-emphasize our Baptist-ness. The name “Baptist” is tainted and stained in the eyes of society. It’s becoming a roadblock to the next generation coming to our churches. Too long “Baptist” has been associated with adjectives such as “mean,” “bigoted,” “judgmental,” and “hypocritical.” Those adjectives don’t describe the vast majority of us, but the association is there. We need to remember that before we’re Baptists, we’re Christians. We can de-emphasize our Baptist-ness while still standing firm on the gospel. To those who have spent decades trumpeting their Baptist-ness, this can be difficult. But it’s an unnecessary roadblock for the next generation. If it makes you feel any better, Jesus isn’t a Baptist. Even John the Baptist wasn’t a Baptist!

3. Intentionally strengthen families. The two great institutions God gave humanity are the family and the church. When one flourishes, so does the other. When one suffers, the other does as well. Strengthening and repairing families must be a top priority. Too many families are falling apart. Too many children are walking away from the faith. Sermons, small groups and ministries that strengthen families needs to move to the top of the church’s priorities.

4. Disengage from the culture wars. It reinforces every negative stereotype the culture has about us. It also creates an “us vs. them” mentality that is hurtful to our witness. Church services should not mimic a Fox News program. Is this culture changing for the worse? Yes. Is this world going to hell? Yes. So what? Creation has been decaying ever since sin entered the world. Instead of pointing our fingers and judging sinners for acting like sinners, we must roll up our sleeves and be a part of the solution. Angry diatribes against every perceived slight against Christians does us no good. First century Christians faced persecution at a vastly higher scale than us, and they still found a way to turn their world upside down. So can we.

5. Cut the fat. Simplify. When Steve Jobs walked back into Apple in the 1990s, he found an organization that had lost its way. One of the keys to Apple’s success story was that Jobs cut 70% of the products that Apple was then producing. Instead of manufacturing a dizzying array of mediocre products, Apple would produce a few quality products that would change the world (i.e. iTunes, iPod, iPhone). In Baptist world, we have too many “legacy” programs and services that have far outlived their usefulness. Many discerning pastors know what they are and wish they could cut them. They just need the courage to do so.

Don’t worry. These first five were the easy ones. I’ll share the rest tomorrow.

Full color - gray textLast Friday’s Chick-fil-A Leadercast was an incredible experience! Listening to leaders such as Jack Welch, Condoleezza Rice and Mike Krzyzewksi filled up my leadership cup to overflowing. Another great blogger Brian Dodd has shared even more quotes from each of the speakers. Here are seven great quotes from the Leadercast Friday:

1. “Growth creates complexity, which requires simplicity.” Andy Stanley shared a great reminder that in the midst of the complexity that comes with success, we need to continuously seek the simplicity that made us successful. More quotes from his talk here.

2. “You don’t need more time, you need more space.” David Allen had great insight into the truth that as much as we wish for more time in the week, that’s not our greatest need. Proper perspective and engagement with our time is what’s most important. More quotes from his talk here.

3. “If everything is important, nothing is important.” Henry Cloud shared the absolute importance of focus, prioritizing, and pruning to achieve mastery in your field. More quotes from his talk here.

4. “Leaders create an environment conducive to success.” Mike Krzyzewski shared his story of coaching the gold medal winning Olympic basketball team, and how many overlooked intangibles contribute to success. More quotes from his talk here.

5. “Simply leading in a complex world is recognizing the one thing you can do to improve the situation.” Faced with sometimes impossible diplomatic crises, Condoleezza Rice shared her outlook that enabled her to be an incredible Secretary of State. More quotes from her talk here.

6. “70% of my time was teaching moment.  The team that fields the best players wins.” Jack Welch shared just how important coaching and developing his staff was to the success of his organization. More quotes from his talk here.

7. “Panic is contagious.  Stupid is 100% contagious.” LCDR Rorke Denver shared how he kept his calm through some of the world’s toughest environments: Navy SEALS training. More quotes from his talk here.

Go ahead and mark your calendars for May 9, 2014 for the next Chick-fil-a Leadercast!

Better Before Bigger

May 8, 2013 — 3 Comments

5.8.13There’s an incredible quote I want to share from Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-a. But first let me give you the back story. As Andy Stanley tells it, in the 1990s there was a company called Boston Chicken, which ended up becoming Boston Market. This was Chick-fil-a’s first direct competitor, another major brand of a chicken-sandwiches-only restaurant.

Boston Market had huge expansion plans, with the goal of having $1 billion in sales by the year 2000. They were fast-expanding and aggressive. Naturally, the executives at Chick-fil-a were nervous about the new threat, a direct competitor in their market space. Conversations began around this threat, and Chick-fil-a’s initial response was centered on how to grow bigger, how to grow faster to compete with Boston Market.

The whole thing culminated in a board room at Chick-fil-a headquarters, with all the VPs and Marketing people trying to figure out how to get bigger, faster. At the head of the table was Truett Cathy, quiet and seemingly disengaged from the whole conversation. Then out of the blue, Truett Cathy began banging his fists on the table until he had everyone’s attention. What he said next is the point of this whole post.

Cathy said, “Gentlemen, I am sick and tired of hearing you talk about us getting bigger. What we need to be talking about is how to get better. If we get better, our customers will demand that we get bigger.” That statement changed the whole course of the conversation at Chick-fil-a headquarters. The result? In the year 2000 (when Boston Market wanted to reach $1 billion in sales), Boston Market filed for bankruptcy, and Chick-fil-a reached $1 billion in sales for the first time.

Why? Because Boston Market focused on getting bigger, while Chick-fil-a focused on getting better. Better before bigger.

Where in your life, in your business, are you tempted to focus on bigger before better? If you focus on making it better, it will naturally become bigger.

If you enjoyed this nugget of truth, then you experienced a taste of what the Chick-fil-a Leadercast will be like this Friday. Andy Stanley will be one of the headline speakers. If you can attend, you’ll be glad you did! Find a location here.

Full color - gray textFor anyone interested in leadership or leadership development, the Chick-fil-a Leadercast is an incredible opportunity for you to expand your leadership universe and be challenged by some of the greatest leaders in our nation.

With speakers such as Jack Welch, Andy Stanley, Condoleeza Rice, John Maxwell, Henry Cloud and David Allen, you’ll be glad you attended this event. For those in the Columbus, MS area, you can order your tickets here. For those reading this throughout the US, you can search for a simulcast location here.

Here are seven reasons why you should attend the Chick-fil-a Leadercast:

1. It will challenge you. By listening to some of the best leaders in their fields, you will be challenged to improve your leadership capacity. If you need a jumpstart in your leadership, this is it.

2. It will give you perspective. Taking a day off to focus on leadership will grant you the white space you so desperately need. Too often we keep our nose to the grindstone, never looking up to see if we’re even heading in the right direction. This conference will give you perspective.

3. Personal leadership development is priceless. Some may look at the price tag for this conference ($59 for the Golden Triangle location) and struggle to see the worth in the expense. Looking back at my personal development, the time and income I’ve invested in personal development (such as conferences, books, and tapes) have more than paid for themselves. You can’t put a price on leadership. The price of this conference will more than pay for itself.

4. You’ll be exposed to some of the nation’s best leaders. As Proverbs says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise.” Spend a day walking with some of the best leaders, and watch some of that leadership rub off on you.

5. You’ll be inspired to do more. Listening to the incredible stories of these leaders, there will be something inside of you that stirs with a motivation to achieve more. Take advantage of this motivation and achieve more in life.

6. There will be incredible personal and spiritual application. Although this conference is billed as a leadership conference, the principles you learn will apply to so much more than your place of business. You’ll walk away with truths that can help you in your personal and spiritual life as well.

7. You’ll experience excellence. The Chick-fil-a Leadercast is an incredible experience. You’ll laugh, you may cry. And you’ll experience an event done at the highest standards. That’s worth the price tag all by itself.

Attend the Chick-fil-a Leadercast. You’ll be glad you did.

3.8.13Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, recently shared a great message on the words that we use. The end of that message was so powerful, I wanted to share his thoughts with you. Bill Hybels sat down with a retired businessman who had started a company from scratch and built it to be one of the most successful companies in the nation. Now in his 80s, this man shared with Bill some of the key phrases that he attributed the lion’s share of his success to in his business. See which ones you need to implement in your interactions with others.

You can do this.” Fear stops many people from achieving their best. They need someone to remind them they can do it.

I believe in you.” Everyone needs to hear encouragement. Everyone needs to hear that someone believes in them.

I trust you.” When you convey trust, the recipient will feel empowered and enabled.

I need you.” People need to be reminded of how valuable they are to your overall success.

I’m proud of you.” We live for the approval of others. Be liberal with your praise and affirmation.

I respect you.” When people know they’re valued, they’ll work harder and achieve more.

I love you.” The greatest human emotion is love. It touches the deepest part of who we are.

Words matter. What phrases do you need to utilize better in your interactions with those around you?

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