Start with why

start-with-whyIn Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action, Simon Sinek argues that there are only two ways to influence human behaviour: manipulation or inspiration. Manipulation doesn’t have to be viewed negatively. A business can manipulate behaviour by dropping prices, offering incentives, running promotions, etc. Such manipulation works, but it costs. After a while customers expect the discount, or wait for the next promotion. It doesn’t build a loyal customer base. Over time, such strategies become too expensive to sustain. Customers only return for what they can get, rather than a commitment to the business or its products. Manipulation strategies have become the norm in many organisations. But there is another way.

Some are born leaders—others need to learn. The good news is that those of us who need to learn, can! And the big thing we need to learn is the power of WHY.

goldencircleSome leaders inspire rather than manipulate. They operate by a process that Sinek calls the golden circle. This approach works from the inside out. Instead of focusing on what or how, they begin with why. Many people and organisations can explain what they do and how they do things, but they struggle to clearly articulate why they do what they do or why they do it how they do it. Why has to do with purpose, reason, and cause. Why exposes our motivations and beliefs, and these are the things that inspire.

For the golden circle to work there must be clarity about the why. Once we can clearly articulate the why, we can then work out the how. How embodies the values and principles that flow from the why. And the what is the results that flow from the why and the how. When the golden circle is in balance, then the organisation or business or individual is seen as authentic and real. This isn’t easy to achieve and it requires us to continually go back to the why and work outward from there, rather than manipulating people with what.

In turn, this builds trust in customers and clients. Such trust is more than a rational experience—it’s a feeling we have when we believe the organisation or leader is behaving with integrity (whether they are successful or not). This feeling of trust inspires people to action.

Why types tend to be the visionaries and optimists who imagine what the world can become. How types are the realists and practitioners who focus on getting things done. Why types need how types, and vice-versa. Truly inspirational organisations display a healthy partnership between the two. A why without a how can be little more than unstructured passion and destined for failure.

Over time it’s easy to become focused on the what and how and forget the why. We become accomplished at what we do, and know how to do things intuitively, but we can lose sight of why we do them in the first place. We need to continually return to the why—the compass that sets our direction and motivates us to action.


I have mixed feelings about this book. I agree with the basic thesis and the shape of the golden circle. We should proceed from the why to the how to the what. Being clear about why we do what we do, and why we do it how we do it, is the key to acting with integrity and authenticity. This is what will lead others to trust us. This is what will inspire others to follow.

My problem with the book lies in its length and the choice of illustrations throughout. Sinek takes a whole book to make some very simple and fundamental points. It could have easily been argued in a pithy article of 10 to 20 pages. He colours the book with examples of organisations like Apple and Harley Davidson. While I’ve been a fan of Apple since 1987 and Harley Davidson for even longer, such iconic companies don’t exactly represent the typical organisation or individual. I’d love the same arguments to be made with reference to more ‘average’ people or businesses.

I appreciated the contrast between manipulation and inspiration. As a pastor and Christian leader, my desire is to inspire people to follow Jesus. I don’t want to manipulate people’s behaviour with sticks and carrots, but to inspire people with the gospel of Jesus and the grace-filled word of God.

Asking why I do what I do, is something I’d be wise to do often. It’s so easy to fall into ruts and patterns; to perpetuate the same old same old; to do things because this is just what we do, or because it’s what we’ve always done. Why offers the energy to initiate personal and organisational change. We can critique what we do or tinker with how we do things, but the real benefits are found in regularly reviewing why. I hope to be able to do this at a personal level and to lead review at an organisational level in the context of my leadership.

As a Christian, I find the why comes not from my passions and priorities, but ultimately in following God’s revealed will. The author of life offers meaning and purpose to life and this shapes what I do and how I go about it. My challenge is to anchor what I do in the word of God’s grace. It’s to teach and model the why, as well as the how and the what.

Seven practices of effective ministry

seven_practices_of_effective_ministrySeven practices of effective ministry describes the philosophy of ministry at North Point Community Church in Atlanta. Andy Stanley, Lane Jones, and Reggie Joiner challenge their readers not to keep adding more and more programs before carefully evaluating the ones they already have. Churches have limited resources and they need to be allocated and used wisely. They have identified seven practices to assist in evaluating existing and proposed programs. These practices aren’t about telling churches what they should or shouldn’t do. They’re about equipping churches to ask helpful questions to determine what programs to start, what to improve, and what to stop.

#1 Clarify the win

Define what is important at every level of the organization

Clarifying the win means communicating to our team what is really important. This is essential to keep our team from guessing what a win looks like. We don’t want people following the loudest or most persuasive voice, simply because they haven’t been given clarity about what matters most. It doesn’t help if leaders are all defining the win to suit themselves. The church needs to be clear about what it’s doing, what is expected, and why. Clarifying the win helps your team stay on the same page. As the church grows it’s easy for things to get out of alignment. Effective leaders keep holding up a picture of what the church is supposed to be, and calling people back to this picture. This tends to build a positive momentum for ministry. It also helps us to use our limited resources wisely according to what is and what isn’t working.

There are four key steps to clarifying the win.

  1. Sum up the win in a simple phrase.
  2. Keep the win as specific as possible.
  3. Restate the win frequently and creatively.
  4. Meet to clarify the win at every level

#2 Think steps, not programs

Before you start anything, make sure it takes you where you need to go

Many churches adopt or design programs to meet the needs of members, but few develop clear steps to help move people where they want them to go.

  • A program is defined as ‘a system of services, opportunities, or projects, usually designed to meet a social need.’
  • A step is defined as ‘one of a series of actions, processes, or measures taken to achieve a goal.’

We need to ask ‘Where do we want people to be?’ and then ‘How are we going to get them there?’ These questions help us to focus on growing followers of Jesus. They get us thinking specifically about spiritual growth and the building of relationships in our churches.

Effective steps have three characteristics.

  1. Every step should be easy. If it’s too much of a jump, then people won’t move forward.
  2. Every step has to be obvious. People don’t like stepping into the unknown. They need to understand where to go next. Communicating the steps and their importance is essential.
  3. Every step must be strategic. It needs to lead somewhere. Once we know the specific destination that we want to lead people to, then the steps must clearly move them in that direction.

As we think more about steps and less about programs, synergy grows in our church and ministry teams. People are required to depend on each other, and the silo mentality becomes less of a problem. We’re more likely to see what’s not working and to work together to simplify our processes.

#3 Narrow the focus

Do fewer things in order to make a greater impact

A lot of churches are doing too much, but failing to reach more people. They have A.D.D. Over the years the number of programs grows and grows and effectiveness is diluted.

Here are four reasons churches drift into complexity, making it difficult to simplify their structures.

  1. Some churches have bought into a ministry ‘menu’ philosophy.
  2. Churches feel constant pressure to provide programs on the basis of needs.
  3. Individuals have been allowed to build their identity around a program, not a mission.
  4. Church leaders fear the fallout of eliminating certain programs.

The challenge is to simplify things. We need to learn to say ‘no’ to ideas and ministries that take away from our core focus. Sometimes things that are still working adequately need to be replaced by other things that will potentially work better. We need to design what we do to reach and connect with people effectively. As we narrow the focus of our ministries, relevance increases, people become better connected, quality improves as we try to do less things  better, and we have a stronger impact on our communities.

#4: Teach less for more

Say only what you need to say to the people who need to hear it

We all experience information overload. The danger is that our churches just add to the noise. We need to rethink what and how we communicate.

There are four steps to teaching less for more.

  1. Decide what you are going to say
  2. Decide to say one thing at a time
  3. Decide how you are going to say it
  4. Say it over and over again

These ideas are developed more fully in Communicating for a change.

#5: Listen to outsiders

Focus on who you’re trying to reach, not who you’re trying to keep

Some of us have been in church for so long, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to never attend. We have believed what we believe for so long, we don’t know how an unbeliever thinks anymore.  (p142)

Our churches should be on about helping believers grow and reaching unbelievers. The problem is it’s easier to look inside than outside. North Point Community Church developed a strategy to reach people in their community. They called it ‘Invest and Invite’. Every member is encouraged to make a personal investment in someone’s life and invite them to one of the church’s ministry environments. The responsibility of the church is to create the effective environments for their members to bring people.

This has led to members being more attuned to what an outsider would hear and experience when they come to church. They want to create a positive first impression of church and to make people feel at home. They’re keen for the teaching to be clear and understandable.

Billions of dollars are spent by organisations seeking to understand their market. Churches at least need to listen to the people who aren’t there. When we listen to outsiders, we begin to see our church in a whole new light.

#6: Replace yourself

Learn to hand off what you do

If you fail to develop a strategy to replace yourself, you will…

  • force talented individuals to remain in the wings
  • cause potential leaders to exit the organisation
  • stifle needed insight from valuable team members
  • hinder your ability to recruit volunteers
  • limit the growth of your programs and ministries  (p160)

Succession planning is important. We won’t be leaders forever. Now is the time to use our opportunities to influence and shape those who will come after us. Teaching what we know by apprenticing others helps the ongoing transition of people into leadership roles. If leaders set the example of investing in future leaders, this gets modelled through the church. Every area of ministry should be focused on building leaders for the future. This is critical to sustaining and building long term ministry.

Successfully handing off leadership requires three steps.

  1. Break it down into clear and doable steps
  2. Hand it off. You are giving something away. Many thoughts and emotions will be going on inside of you. Let the new person make their own mistakes and their own progress.
  3. Let it go. Move on. Trust the new guy!

#7: Work on it

Take time to evaluate your work and to celebrate your wins

Self-evaluation is an important practice that must be pursued intentionally. We need to examine what is working and what’s not. It’s not likely to happen effectively unless we build evaluation into our calendars on a regular basis. We need to stop, look back, and review. We need to step outside of our work and take a look at it.

They describe this as ‘creating margin’. It can happen on a weekly basis to evaluate regular activities. It can be done less regularly to review the bigger picture.

When we evaluate, we will discover areas that need improvement. This often means people get threatened when their areas are critiqued. It’s essential to build an environment of trust where we commit to these reviews for the sake of our common goals.

It’s also important to celebrate the successes. Saying thank you publicly is very powerful. Sharing stories builds energy and gratitude for what God is doing.


This book is a helpful tool for assessing the organisational health of our churches. It pushes us to seek clarity and simplicity. It urges us to make a priority of encouraging people to grow in their knowledge and love of God, and to understand how they can serve God in this particular church context. 

My experience of church is that everyone tends to be busy. Busyness is not a virtue. We can be very busy doing nothing of value. Churches can be very busy, but unclear where they’re headed or why. This book is a call to identify what things really matter, what our churches must focus upon, and how we are going to do it. Then we can help people to serve God together.

If you feel that your church is chasing its tail and you’re not quite sure why you’re doing what you’re doing, then this book should help you to ask some good questions.

I found the emphasis on steps rather than programs to be particularly useful. Instead of being content with a smorgasbord of unrelated ministries, it’s more important to be clear and intentional on how one thing relates to another. This encourages us to think about where we want people to end up. How do we want people to grow and change? What will assist this to happen? What do we hope for children over the seven years they might spend in Kingdom Kids (Sunday School)? How do we help people find their way into the life of our church, join a growth group, serve in a ministry team? It helps us to build pathways and show the way ahead. We’ve more work to do on this front – but it is happening!

The three signs of a miserable job

3-signs-of-a-miserable-jobThe three signs of a miserable job is another helpful analysis by leadership and teams expert, Patrick Lencioni. A miserable job is the one that’s tough to get out of bed for. You dread going to work and you can’t wait to get home. It’s not about the actual work. Nor is it about the money. An executive on a seven-figure salary can be miserable, while a waitress finds great satisfaction in her work. It can be any type of job, any business, and any time. No one is immune.

There are huge economic and personal costs to this misery. It damages the individual’s physical and psychological health. It spreads through homes, families, marriages, friendships and society.

The three signs of a miserable job

People can’t be fulfilled in their work if they aren’t known. We all need to be understood and appreciated by someone in authority over us. People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous are not going to love their jobs.

Everyone needs to know that their job is important to someone else, even if it’s just the boss. Without seeing a sense of connection between the work and satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee will not find fulfilment.

Workers need to be able to gauge for themselves their progress and level of contribution. They won’t be satisfied in their work if success depends on the whims or opinions of others. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.

The benefits of managing for job fulfilment

Employees who find their jobs rewarding will work with more enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to quality than those who do not. They’ll develop a sense of ownership and pride in what they are doing.

There will be less staff turnover, with employees holding onto fulfilling jobs as long as they can. Fulfilled employees tend to attract other good employees, ultimately resulting in fewer costs to the organisation. The organisation will enjoy greater stability and cohesion. Being known as a satisfying place to work is a valuable point of difference with other organisations.

The obstacles to managing for job fulfilment

Sometimes employees fail to find fulfilment in their work because they put too much emphasis on getting the right amount of money or finding the ideal job. Yet even people who are paid well for doing something they love can be miserable if they feel anonymous, or irrelevant, or they don’t know if they are succeeding or not.

Sometimes the problem is the organisation. The business and its leaders are slow to see their employee dissatisfaction issues and, when they do, they focus on the wrong things. If they don’t notice until people are starting to resign, then it’s too late. Often people will not honestly state why they are leaving and issues of anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability are left unaddressed.

In order to be the kind of leader who demonstrates genuine interest in employees and who can help people discover the relevance of their work, a person must have a level of personal confidence and emotional vulnerability. Without it, managers will often feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed, about having such simple, behavioural conversations with their employees. They will mistakenly feel more like kindergarten teachers or little league coaches delivering a simple pep talk, even though their employees  – at all levels – are yearning for just such a conversation.  (p228)

Addressing anonymity

If you feel that others on the team know and understand you as an individual, then you’re much less likely to want to leave the team. Leaders must take a personal interest in the members of their team. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you start watching the same TV shows they do or listening to their music. Simply get to know them. Take time to sit down with them and ask them about their lives. Keep it real. It must be a genuine interest. Not once off, but over and over again. Show interest and follow it up.

People want to be managed as people, not as mere workers.  (p231)

Addressing irrelevance

Why are so many athletes, rock stars, and actors living such messed up and unsatisfied lives? Lencioni believes the root cause is a subtle fear of irrelevance. He says this because it’s hard to understand how someone who earns truckloads of money doing something they love, and who gets constant attention from others, can be unhappy. And conversely how low-paid, ‘hiding in the background’ workers can be happy. The answer has to do with being needed and having an impact on the lives of others.

Human beings need to be needed. They need to know that they are helping others, not merely serving themselves. Leaders need to help employees (or volunteers) answer two questions in order to establish relevance in their jobs.

‘Who am I helping?’
For many workers, the answer will be the customers, but some people are in jobs where they don’t have direct contact with customers. It could be other employees, colleagues, or departments within the organisation, or even their own boss. Leaders can be reluctant to speak of how people’s work helps them, but most people get a great deal of satisfaction when their supervisor thanks them for what they’ve done or says how helpful and significant it has been.

How am I helping?
The answer to that question isn’t always obvious. When a room attendant at a hotel brings breakfast to a guest, he isn’t just delivering food. He’s helping a weary traveler feel a little better about having to be on the road, which can have a significant impact on their outlook on life that day.

One of the most important things that managers must do is help employees see why their work matters to someone. Even if this sounds touchy-feely to some, it is a fundamental part of human nature.  (p235)

Addressing immeasurement

Effective job measurement lies in identifying the areas that an employee can directly influence. Leaders need to see the importance of the people on their teams having clear measurement criteria. Some measurements will be behavioural in nature and may be achieved by an informal survey of customers or a by identifying behaviours that indicates satisfaction with their work. If people can’t see any clear link between their daily responsibilities and the metric they are being measured against, they lose interest, feeling unable to control their own destiny. This is why so many salespeople enjoy their jobs. They don’t depend on others to tell them whether they’ve succeeded or failed.

Taking action

How can you go about putting all this into action, depends on who you are.

If you’re a manager…

Anonymity: Do I really know my people, their family situations, their interests, or how they spend their spare time?

Irrelevance: Do they know who their work impacts, and how?

Immeasurement: Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?

Employee assessments allow people to confirm or deny the accuracy of your answers. Finally, develop a plan to overcome any inadequacies around the three signs. This could be done one on one or in a team session. Make clear what you are trying to do, so that people don’t assume ulterior motives.

If you’re an employee or looking for a job…

You can do some things to increase the odds that your job will be fulfilling. Talk with your boss (or prospective boss) about the three signs and your desire to avoid them. A good leader will take this seriously. If you’re looking for a job, ask how they show interest in employees, how the job you’re discussing has an impact on people, and how you will be measured. If you’re hearing answers that indicate anonymity, irrelevance, or immeasurement, then it might be the job to avoid.

The ministry of management

I have come to the realisation that all managers can – and really should – view their work as a ministry. A service to others.

By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families.  They can also create an environment where employees do the same for their peers, giving them a sort of ministry of their own. (p253)

Some further thoughts on working with volunteers

Much of what I do as a church leader involves working with unpaid volunteers. Lencioni’s diagnosis of the signs of a miserable job is valuable for thinking about how to encourage people to serve in a range of voluntary roles. Are our volunteers feeling recognised, valued, appreciated, and purposeful? Do they understand the importance of their contribution to the ministry of the whole church or organisation? Are they able to assess whether they are doing a good job or not? Or are they left constantly wondering if anyone notices or cares?

How do we recruit volunteers to roles within our ministry? In my experience we often stress the gaps that need filling and push people to fill places on rosters. It’s far more helpful to inspire people with the opportunities for valuable ministry. Explain the essential contribution their work will have to the ministry as a whole. Offer examples, case studies, statistics or personal testimonies. Show the outcomes when this is done well. Highlight the potential for people to use their gifts and grow.

Sometimes we equip volunteers for the work we want them to do and then leave them to do it. The team leader’s job doesn’t stop with training. It flows on into encouragement, feedback, support, and celebrations. Keep reminding people of the relevance and value of their contribution. Empower them to recruit others and play a role in training and developing people in their roles. Acknowledge their contribution publicly in the organisation. Help develop clear metrics by which people can assess the success or failure of their contribution.

If we’re experiencing a high turnover or drop out rate among our volunteers, we should take the time to assess the reasons why. It’s highly likely that people are experiencing one or more of these signs of a miserable job. Leaders would do well to put their minds to helping volunteers overcome feelings of anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurability. It could help to engage volunteers so as to better understand the factors that contribute to or overcome such feelings. This could be done ad hoc or on a regular basis. It could form the basis of a regular formal review with volunteers and teams.

Leading from the second chair

second-chair1Leading from the second chair: Serving your church, fulfilling your, and realizing your dreams by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson is a book I used to recommended to my associate staff. Now that I’m one of them I figured I should look at it more carefully!

A second chair leader is a person in a subordinate role whose influence with others adds value throughout the organization. (p2) They exercise leadership that is not based on the power and authority of a position. Their effectiveness has more to do with influence and relationships. You don’t have to be the number two person to be a second chair leader. Anyone who is not the lead leader can fall into this category.

Leading from the second chair involves three paradoxes: the subordinate/leader paradox; the deep/wide paradox; and the contentment/dreaming paradox. This is the work environment for the second chair leader. They need to focus on how they manage their relationships (subordinate/leader), their work habits (deep/wide), and their emotions (contentment/dreaming).

Most organisations, churches included, have lots more second chair leaders than first chair leaders. They need to be equipped, supported, and allowed to exercise leadership. A lot of second chairs see their current position as a stepping stone towards becoming the first chair. This book is not about how to get promoted. It’s about growing and contributing to the organisation from the second chair.

Determining whether you are a second chair leader is not so much about your title (eg. associate pastor) but your influence. Regardless of your title or position, your influence will grow as you build strong relationships and make wise decisions for the good of the organisation. It can take longer to achieve this influence when you don’t occupy the first chair. It requires patience, persistence, and consistency. It takes commitment to teamwork and cooperation. It requires to to be committed to the whole of the organisation and not just your particular focus of responsibility.


Effectiveness in the second chair is greatly impacted by the quality of relationship with the first chair.

If the relationship is healthy, most second chairs find a sense of freedom and fulfillment in their job, irrespective of the responsibilities assigned to them. But if ongoing tension or detachment characterizes the relationship, it is difficult to feel successful, even while the organization is flourishing. (p27)

The second chair is required to be subordinate. They must accept that they are not the overall leader. They don’t have the final authority or the ultimate responsibility. This requires genuine humility and gladness. It grows out of reverence for God, understanding that God is the ultimate authority. They must remain loyal to the first chair even when things are difficult. They need to be committed to supporting the first chair in his work.

The big test of subordination comes when the first chair does disagrees with the second chair’s advice , criticises the second chair’s actions, or gives a role to someone else that the second chair expected would be theirs. What happens then? There are three options:

  1. Fight: you openly disagree and directly challenge your first chair.
  2. Flight: you walk away wounded and feel like giving up.
  3. Stay involved without confrontation: you accept the decision for what it is but stay engaged in the discussion and accept the first chair’s final decision, whatever it may be. (p33)

Relationship is absolutely critical. The right relationship is more important than the right answer. This can be difficult for a second chair who often has more information available than the first chair. It doesn’t mean you don’t state your views, but relationship must trump getting your own way. The more the relationship grows the more the second chair is likely to influence the decisions being made.

Trust is the foundation for an effective partnership between first and second chair leaders. This requires faithful service and patience over a long period of time. Mutual respect, complementary skills, and common vision and passion are important. As trust builds so does communication, morale and teamwork across the organisation. A warning for first chair leaders: micromanagement is one of the best ways of damaging trust.

Inevitably conflict will arise. It might be caused by personal clashes, unresolved issues from the past, or different visions. Sometimes the second chair crosses over an invisible line. They might be seen as overstepping authority or being insubordinate. It may simply be a matter of taking initiative that is not appreciated by the leader. It’s important to recognise that a line exists. It outlines responsibility and authority and is more than what’s written in a job description. Sometimes the line can be moved, but it takes time and trust before this can happen. If the second chair is in doubt as to where a line is, they are wise to seek clarification. Better to ask, than to appear insubordinate. Sometimes it will happen accidentally, in which case a prompt apology might be all that’s needed.

Work habits

The truth is that adding value throughout the organization is not a function of position; it is a matter of perspective. (p71)

Some second chair leaders love the big picture and get lost in the details. Others are experts in their particular area but have trouble seeing how it relates to the whole. Second chair leaders need to be both deep and wide. They need to develop their systems thinking, to see the interrelationships rather than isolated parts. Systems thinking helps them to grasp that a change in one place creates a ripple effect throughout the organisation. For example, hiring a new kids and youth pastor results in more families coming to church, which means we need more growth groups for parents, which means we need to equip more leaders, and so on. To think systems means asking lots of ‘why’ and ‘what if. questions. It means thinking logically down the line. Know the people, the problems, and the opportunities. The most effective second chair leaders develop a deep/wide perspective that enables them to be effective in their particular area of responsibility and to add value to the whole organization.

Too many second chair leaders think they require formal authority before they can truly have an impact on their organisation. We need to remember that leadership is influence, and if we can’t lead through influence then we shouldn’t be given more authority. Second chairs not only need a healthy relationship with their first chair, they also need to build strong, trust-based relationships with their peers. Effective teams are very important. Such teams are collaborative, mutually dependent, and typically operate by consensus. They can take months or even years to develop working well, but once they do it is good news for the organisation. Roles in teams need to be clear, otherwise people can end up defining their own jobs and having expectations of others that may not be accurate or fair. This requires good communication. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

Being deep and wide requires the second chair to be a generalist, as well as as well as a specialist. There are four practices that can make people deeper and wider as a leader:

Be a pulse taker
Stay in touch with what others are thinking and feeling. Keep your finger on the pulse of the organisation. Often the senior pastor has the worst seat in the house when it comes to pulse taking! Many people just won’t tell him what they’re really thinking. Helping the first chair to stay informed and in touch is very helpful.

Be a vision amplifier
The first chair is the primary vision caster, but the second chair leader can repeat, clarify, and reinforce the vision. In taking the pulse, you also have an opportunity to influence the pulse. In talking with people you can help them to understand the vision.

Be a leader multiplier
Recruiting leaders to the vision should be an ongoing priority. As you amplify the vision, you will discover people who are on board and have leadership potential. We need to make a priority of growing and developing leaders.

Be a gap filler
Many second chair end up filling gaps when suitable leaders can’t be found. They should be prepared to do this. Gap filling can be a function of the first chair’s strengths and weaknesses. If the second chairs fills these gaps it can lead to a stronger and more effective organisation.

A note to first chairs: if you really want your second chairs to be deep and wide, you need to allow them to participate in the big picture. This is more than going to a meeting; it’s involving them in shaping the picture. That means not being a control freak!


The contentment/dreaming paradox captures our internal struggles as leaders. It’s not always easy to serve faithfully and diligently wherever we are. We need to learn to be content.

Contentment in the second chair is your choice to stay and grow and excel, for a season, regardless of current circumstances. (p124)

The most important part of this definition is that contentment is a choice. Contentment is possible if we choose to recognise that something more is always at work, beyond our needs, expectations, and frustrations. Contentment is difficult when society is always telling us that we should be on the lookout for the next opportunity, a better prospect, and that we shouldn’t stay in one place too long. This is a recipe for dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, we need God’s grace to offset and overcome our impatience. We should remember that our identity is found in Christ, not our title or role. Contentment can be encouraged through developing healthy relationships. Celebrating the fruit of our ministry helps us to see how we’re making a difference. Patience is an important character trait to develop. It’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t happen as fast as we want them to, or the way we want them to. But patience is a choice! Don’t imagine that leaving our current ministry situation will solve all the problems we are having in the second chair. The grass isn’t actually always greener somewhere else.

Second chair leaders often think they’re not allowed to dream big dreams. Just as we must pursue contentment, the paradox is that we should also pursue our dreams. It’s good to dream, but we need to check our egos at the door. We mustn’t be arrogant or overconfident. We should always remember that ministry leadership is about serving others.

It can be good to dream with your first chair. It’s not easy, but neither should it be impossible. A first chair’s dream for the organisation is often big and broad, but may not answer all the how questions. The second chair has plenty of room to pursue their vision, so long as it’s in step with the general direction of the first chair. Look for opportunities where our passion and gifts intersects with the first chair’s overall vision.

Moving on

Most second chair leaders leave their positions eventually, but not all leave well. Some leave because they want to take a first chair role, others take a new second chair position, and others retire. Leaving well is important for you and the organisation. It’s helpful to be honest and clear with yourself and others about why you are leaving.

In terms of leaving, you need to think carefully about whether you should move on, and if so whether it’s the right time for you and the organisation. Some people leave too soon and others hang on too long. Sometimes leaving isn’t your choice. You may be asked to move on. This isn’t easy. Whether voluntary or not, the challenge is to leave well. Try to maintain a good relationship with your first chair and others on your team, even if you feel you’ve been treated badly. Don’t badmouth or undermine the first chair or the organisation. It will probably come back to haunt you. Don’t burn your bridges. Seek to leave with the good will of the first chair and the organisation, and offer your good will also.

A very useful book

Leading from the second chair is a unique and important contribution to the literature on leadership. Most books are addressed to the first chair leader, the senior pastor, or the CEO. There seems to be very little written specifically for the team members and subordinate leaders. There is much to be learned about working well with others in this book.

I only half read this book when I was a working as a senior pastor, but I should have given it my full attention. There are specific sections for the first chair to assist them to develop and encourage their second chair leaders. In fact, much of what is written is directly applicable to first chairs also. It’s helpful to be reminded that real leadership is more a matter of influence than positional authority. I recommend senior pastors read this book before they add staff to their teams. If you are about to make your first associate pastor appointment, then consider these ideas very carefully. It could make the difference between a frustrated colleague who moves on quickly, and a long term associate with whom you share some exceptional teamwork.

The five temptations of a CEO

FiveTemptationsofCEOBeing a self-confessed Patrick Lencioni fan, I figured it was time to re-read another of his books. I love reading them because he writes so well, and he begins most of his books with ‘A leadership fable’. He tells a story that illustrates the main points of the book. You get swept along in the story, and the points are obvious once he’s finished. The five temptations of a CEO is a complement to another of his books: The five dysfunctions of a teamThis book isn’t just for CEOs. It’s valuable for leaders everywhere. The temptations that Lencioni identifies are common to leaders in many contexts. My leadership experience has been mainly in churches and Christian organisations, and I can testify that these temptations are very real.

The first temptation: Choosing status over results

Lencioni argues that the most important principle the CEO must embrace is a desire to produce results. Sadly, this is what gets many people into the position but their attention changes to preserving their status. This results in CEOs making decisions to protect their ego and standing. They tend to reward people who support them, rather than who produce the greatest results for the organisation. Contrast two answers to a question presented to a sporting coach: ‘What was the greatest day in your career?’

Answer 1: ‘The day I was hired.’
Answer 2: ‘The day our team won the championship.’

The first answer is about the coach and his position. The second is about the results of the organisation. This is why he is coach. The CEO is responsible, not for maintaining his position or status, but for leading the organisation to achieve results.

The second temptation : Choosing popularity over accountability

We all agree about the importance of holding people accountable, yet we rarely do it. I suspect this is an even bigger issue in many churches than it is in companies. It’s not easy. Nobody wants to be the bad guy. We all want to be liked – I know I do – and it’s a dangerous trait for a leader. We want to develop friendly relationships with our staff and that can make it harder to keep people accountable. Especially if someone we like is consistently not doing what is expected of them.

If the leader doesn’t hold people accountable, this will breed a culture of lack of accountability in the organisation. The irony is that some CEOs will fire people who do not perform, but they are too gutless to walk through processes of accountability with them beforehand, which might have avoided the need to fire them.

Holding people accountable requires that you give them clear targets to shoot for. They need to be very clear about expectations. They also need to understand the consequences if they don’t meet expectations. These are difficult conversations for many leaders, who would rather avoid them than feel awkward. The temptation to be liked can cripple an organisation.

The third temptation: Choosing certainty over clarity

Some CEOs will not make decisions until they are certain that they are correct. This is often impossible because outcomes are affected by so many unknown variables. This can paralyse the leader and the organisation. It often means that leaders are deliberately vague with others as they attempt to gain clarity for themselves. This wastes a lot of time and damages good will from others. The leader can end up frustrating their staff by their failure to make decisions or clarify directions.

What organisations need is clarity, and it is the leader’s job to provide it. Clarity about the goals of the organisation, what it’s aiming to achieve, the roles and responsibilities of the employees and other leaders, and the consequences for success and failure. This has to do with core things like vision, mission, values, and goals. It’s easy to give lip service to these terms, or to waste endless time getting the right words but failing to make any changes.

If the leader is spending his time trying to make sure that he makes every decision correctly, then he won’t offer the clarity the organisation needs. He’s more likely to fudge, just in case he’s wrong. He will remain deliberately vague about matters about which others desperately need clarity.

It’s okay to be wrong. Some would say it’s the CEO’s job to be wrong. If he discovers he’s wrong then he can fix it. If everything stays vague, if decisions don’t get made, then he will never know what needs fixing.

The fourth temptation: Choosing harmony over productive conflict

It’s normal to want peace and harmony, but it can be counterproductive to good decision making. If harmony or consensus is our goal then we will naturally restrict conflict, but Lencioni argues that healthy conflict helps us to create the best outcomes. He’s not talking about interpersonal conflict targeted at people, but healthy exchanges of different opinions on issues. The best decisions are made when all the knowledge and perspectives get aired. And people are more confident in decisions if they’ve had a chance to contribute. Meetings can be a good indicator of problems in this area.

Pleasant meetings – or even worse, boring, meetings ones – are indications that there is not a proper level of overt, constructive, ideological conflict taking place.  (p129)

The fifth temptation: Choosing invulnerability over trust

Even leaders who resist the temptation to protect their status, to be popular with their staff, to make correct decisions, and to create harmony sometimes fail. Why? Because even though they are willing to cultivate productive conflict, their people may not be willing to do so.

temptationsMany leaders are not willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable. They mistakenly believe that they will lose credibility if people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas. No matter how much a leader encourages healthy conflict, it’s only going to happen if people feel safe to engage. Otherwise people will passively line up with what they think the leader expects. It’s about trust. People who trust each other aren’t fearful about offering their opinions. But if you want people to trust you, then you need to trust them, and this means being vulnerable.

Five temptations of a senior pastor

Some time back out staff team spent a couple of days away and we watched a video of Patrick Lencioni teaching about the five dysfunctions of a team. I think we decided that we had all of them in varying degrees. If we’d been assessing the five temptations of a senior pastor, then I suspect the rest of the team would have identified me as giving into all of them in varying degrees too!

If you lead a church or a Christian organisation, then my guess is that this book will diagnose some of your temptations and give you areas to work on. I also suspect that your team will be pleased if you do.

Temptation 1
My temptation was not to measure anything. If you don’t measure then you can’t fail, but nor can you know how you are going. The results for a church will be measured in very different ways to a company or business. We will be focused on the impact on people’s lives, people growing into maturity as believers, people committing to serving one another, people not being tossed around by the latest ideas, people loving one another and reaching out to their neighbours.

Temptation 2
I’ve never been very good at holding others accountable for their work. A desire to avoid unpleasant conversations has led me to let some things slide. This might have been motivated by kindness, but in the end it’s not kind. It hurts the individual and frustrates the people they lead. Sometimes I would let things go until I became exasperated. The danger is that this would sometimes lead to overreacting. If I had my time again, I would establish clearer expectations for the members of my team and hold them more accountable. Regular clarification, update and review meetings would have helped people to perform better and meet expectations.

Temptation 3
Vagueness breeds frustration and can lead to a work environment becoming toxic. If people aren’t clear on their roles and responsibilities, then they will likely step on each other’s toes and annoy one another. Turf wars sometimes result. I’ve seen this in our teams when people do not have clear job descriptions. Ministry trainees working with different staff across different areas can find this especially difficult. Clarity covers over a multitude of sins – or should that be charity?! Maybe both.

Temptation 4
I think I’ve led far too many boring meetings. People have often wondered why they need to be there. I should have read Lencioni on meetings at the start of my ministry leadership. The only trouble was he hadn’t written the book yet! It’s important to encourage constructive conflict in our meetings, but this will only happen from a foundation of trust. People need to know that we’re on the same team and we can disagree together to arrive at the best outcomes for everyone. Leaders need to work hard to create such an environment, otherwise we just end up avoiding conflict so we don’t hurt each other’s feelings.

Temptation 5
Have I been willing to be vulnerable? I think so, but maybe there are blind spots that I haven’t seen. I can remember breaking down in tears during a few staff meetings. I can remember apologising to my team for what I’d done or failed to do. But I can also recall getting very defensive about people criticising my ideas and decisions.

We need to remember that we’re called to lead others by serving them, putting their needs before our own. The greatest example of one who did this is Jesus Christ. My desire is to follow his example, with his help, for the sake of his honour and glory, not my own.

1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5)

Managing your boss

HBR_managing_yourselfIn the early 90s a good friend put me onto an article by John Garbaro and John Kotter called Manage Your Boss. It was first published in the Harvard Business Review in 1980 and reproduced 25 years later as a classic in a compilation volume called Harvard Business Review on Managing Yourself. When I first read this article, I was both leading my own team in student ministry and reporting to a senior pastor, as his associate, in church ministry. I found it so helpful in alerting me to a number of issues that can dramatically impact working relationships. So much so, that over the next two decades I would often give this article to new staff and trainees when they joined our team. If they were going to have to work with me, then they may as well have some guidance in how to make it work for them. Now that I’m an associate pastor again, I thought I should read over the article again to brush up on my skills in relating well to my boss!

If you have a tendency to cynicism, you may be tempted to think this article will be spin for political manoeuvring or sucking up. It’s not. It’s about consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for your boss, yourself and the organisation. It’s really about ensuring people and teams work well together, and accepting your role in making this happen. I’m sure this applies to any organisation, but I know that it’s critical for church leadership teams.

Too many breakdowns of relationship get blamed on personality conflicts. It’s an easy diagnosis that seems to absolve everybody of responsibility or blame. However, I suspect, this is often a very small part of the picture. Yes, personalities will conflict, but why haven’t they been able to work through the differences? That’s the real question.

Kotter and Garbaro helpfully describe boss-subordinate relationships as involving mutual dependence between two fallible human beings. This means that managing these relationships will require the following:

1. You have a good understanding of the other person and yourself, especially regarding strengths, weaknesses, work styles, and needs.
2. You use this information to develop and manage a healthy working relationship – one that is compatible with both people’s work styles and assets, is characterised by mutual expectations, and meets the most critical needs of the other person.  (p135)

This has many practical implications. For example, do you know your boss’s preferred method of communication? Does he or she prefer to receive written reports or have verbal discussions? Do they like to get regular updates on your work or progress, or are they happy for occasional summaries? When they delegate work to you, do you know what they mean by delegation? Is it now hands off by them, or are they expecting you to check with them before making key decisions? Do they like to communicate early on issues and bang them around out loud, or do they tend only to communicate once they have resolved the way forward? Being able to answer these and similar questions will advance your working relationships no end. It will also head off potential conflicts and breakdowns.

Developing effective working relationships also requires you to have a good understanding of your own preferences, your needs, strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, communication and work styles. What can you do that will will improve your working relationship with the person you report to? This can also help you to avoid counterdependent and overdependent behaviours.

Clarity of expectations is crucial to good working relationships. Subordinates who passively assume they know their boss’s expectations are in for trouble. It’s their responsibility to find them out. Ask, clarify, explore, listen, feed back. The time given to getting on the same page with your boss will certainly be worth it.

And don’t assume your boss is disinterested or doesn’t need to know what you’re doing. What you’re doing is part of a bigger picture and your boss needs to be able to hold the various parts together. They likely need to know more about you and your work than you realise. It’s important to take the initiative to communicate what you are doing, if for know other reason than to breed trust and enable your boss to defend you to others who may not be sure. And be honest! Honesty is crucial in team work. If your boss cant believe you or trust you, then ultimately they won’t want you.

The authors offer a quick checklist for managing your boss:

Make sure you understand your boss and his or her context, including:
• Goals and objectives
• Pressures
• Strengths, weaknesses, blind spots
 Preferred work style

Assess yourself and your needs, including:
• Strengths and weaknesses
• Personal style
• Predisposition toward dependence on authority figures

Develop and maintain a relationship that
• Fits both your needs and styles
• Is characterized by mutual expectations
• Keeps your boss informed
• Is based on dependability and honesty
• Selectively uses your boss’s time and resources  (p143)

Managing your boss is a brief, practical and insightful article to help stimulate good team work and working relationships. I commend it to pastors, associate pastors, ministry trainees, leaders and others. It will help in your church, as well as your work place.

I’ve noticed in myself various tendencies and preferences over the years that have been useful for my associates and employees to understand. Here are a few:

  • I prefer to be over-informed than under-informed.
  • The more I understand and trust what people are doing, the more freedom I offer.
  • I find passive resistance infuriating.
  • Regular updates from my co-workers builds my trust in them.
  • Triangulating relationships in conflict increases the damage. If people take their concerns about me to others rather than me it often makes things worse.
  • I believe that people should always reply promptly to emails, even if it is only to say they have received it and will deal with it asap.
  • Being late for meetings steals time from others who need to be there. Recidivist lateness is selfish and inconsiderate.

My task now as an associate pastor is to apply things from the other direction. How can I best relate with my boss and my new peers? It’s important we build good relationships based on trust and mutual dependence. We need to be able to express conflict in healthy ways. We need to learn to hold one another accountable without appearing to be judgmental. We need to be committed to the common goals of our organisation (church) and thus measure and evaluate our results.

Many of the ideas in this article resonate with God’s word:

One who is slack in his work
is brother to one who destroys.  (Proverbs 18:9)

13 To answer before listening—
that is folly and shame.  (Proverbs 18:13)

15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
for the ears of the wise seek it out.  (Proverbs 18:15)

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  (Romans 12:17-18)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

If you report to a superior in your workplace, I recommend you read this article. If you lead others in your team, read the article and pass it around. If you lead a church or serve as member of a pastoral team, you will benefit from following much of the wisdom in this article. You can find the article in the compilation book (and it contains other useful articles) or you can purchase one or more copies of the article on the HBR website.

Mentoring matters

mentoringmattersFor the last month or so I’ve been particularly focused on issues of leadership development. I’ve been considering the respective roles of mentoring, coaching, and training. These are hot topics these days in many areas and it’s been difficult to know what material to consider. My special interest has been to view distinctively Christian perspectives on these areas, and in particular to see how they can be a help to Christian ministry. I’m discovering there is much to be learned in these areas, but we need to carefully sift the helpful from the not so helpful. Mentoring Matters by Rick Lewis is full of practical wisdom and helpful advice that’s been tested by experience. However, I believe there’s a theology driving this book that is actually unhelpful.

Lewis offers this definition of mentoring:

Within intentional, empowering, unique relationships, Christian mentoring identifies and promotes the work of God’s Spirit in others’ lives, assisting them to access God’s resources for their growth and strength in spirituality, character and ministry.  (p20)

All parts of this definition are important to the author. Mentoring relationships should be tailored, focused on supporting and equipping the mentoree, for their good. The focus is on being, more than doing, and seeking to allow God’s agenda to shape the mentoree from the inside out. They’re more than a friendship because they’re grounded on an agreement between the two parties about the purpose and shape of the relationship.

Mentoring Matters shows mentoring to be an effective way of addressing many problems faced by today’s Christian leaders. The mentor can provide help in encouraging personal spiritual health; non-judgmental friendship and support; safe peer relationships in which to discuss vocational issues; accountability from a person outside the organisation with no positional power; help in integrating the theory and practice of ministry through reflection; and help in reaching specific goals for change.

Lewis argues that everyone in ministry would benefit from a mentor outside their particular church or organisation. Indeed, the advance of God’s kingdom can be helped by the focus on developing more leaders, more frequently, of a better quality, and who will last longer. He provides evidence that in Australia there are as many ex-ministers as there are current ministers and argues that good mentoring can change this sad equation.

A strength of Mentoring Matters lies in how it distils so many different factors in mentoring with clarity and simplicity. I plan to write up a number of checklists for myself based on the material in this book. A good example is this ‘rough guide’ to help new mentors quickly get their bearings on pages 111-118. This is also summarised on the Mentoring Matters website.

Build genuine relationship
Spiritual mentoring is more than an arrangement set in place for pragmatic purposes and cannot be conducted from an emotional distance. An environment of mutual positive regard, respect and heartfelt care is required.

Establish mentoree responsibility
Mentoring is effective only when the mentoree takes responsibility for his or her own spiritual growth and health. There is absolutely no domination or control in healthy mentoring.

Prioritise the inner life
While the whole person is of interest, development of the inner life is fundamental to spiritual mentoring. Our doing flows out of our being. The principal means of bringing about deep inner change is the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the mentoree.

Put aside other agendas
Good mentors do not see mentorees as a means for achieving a preconceived agenda. The mentor’s concern is for the spiritual growth of the mentoree, beginning where the person is at, and working toward what God has designed them to be and do.

Discern God’s work
Mentoring involves a process through which two people together seek to understand what God is doing and saying. This does not need to be an obscure, mystical process. Thoughtful conversations linked with prayer comprise an effective process.

Facilitate reflection and goal-setting
Encouraging reflection and goal-setting in mentoring is aimed at achieving experience-based learning. Reflection turns experience into learning, on the basis of which mentorees can construct and commit to goals and to action steps.

Provide positive accountability
Mentorees set their own goals and action steps and give their mentor permission to hold them accountable for following through on those commitments. Accountability is an opportunity to prove progress rather then to expose failure.

Prepare thoroughly
Both mentors and mentorees will get the most out of mentoring sessions only if they are prepared to review points covered previously, complete any undertakings made, and prepare good questions for one another.

Pursue mentoring energetically
Be deliberately proactive about your mentoring relationship. If mentoring is not made a priority it will certainly be edged out by the huge number of competing demands on a leader’s time and energy.

Encourage mentorees to mentor others
Where a mentoree takes on the role of serving another future leader, the benefit they have received through being mentored is more firmly established in their own life.

Learn from Jesus
Spiritual mentoring is a Biblical process, modelled most perfectly by Jesus. He mentored his disciples by who he was, what he said and what he did. The gospels comprise a mentoring handbook useful to the most experienced mentor.

So what are my main concerns with this book? And how important are they?

mm2A key theme running through this book is the idea of discerning God’s particular will for the mentoree. Mentoring is seen as a specific journey of helping the mentoree to work out where they are, where God wants them to go, and how they can get there. This has to do with discovering what God’s Spirit is doing in their life. An earlier cover of the book describes the book as Identifying and promoting the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of Christian leaders. This has now changed to Building strong Christian leaders. Avoiding burnout. Reaching the finishing line. I’m not aware that the inside of the book has changed at all. My guess is that the new cover has been designed to appeal to a broader audience and to focus on the outcomes of mentoring.

Am I concerned with this emphasis on identifying and promoting the work of God’s Spirit? Am I one of those evangelical Christians ‘who don’t really believe in the work of the Spirit’, ‘who are all head and hands and no heart’?

Let me try to communicate clearly! The work of God’s Spirit must be central in the life of the mentor and mentoree. No equivocations. If we’re not on about God’s work in people, then we’re wasting our time. No amount of mentoring will be of any eternal benefit unless God’s Spirit is at work. Therefore, I believe it is critically important to identify and promote the work of God’s Spirit in the life of the Christian leader.

It’s what the author understands this to mean and his suggested methods for discovering and discerning the will of God that I take issue with. Lewis writes that Godly mentors are attuned to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Out of a deep desire to live a life pleasing to God, they are able to discern the ‘still, small voice’ and are in the habit of following that leading. (p125) While saying that tuning into the Spirit’s work doesn’t have to be a mystical experience, the overall message and vibe of this book is that it is. There is very little mention of the Bible as a source of discovering God’s will. In fact, there is very little Bible in this book at all. Its main appearance is in the chapter called an Ancient Art for a Post-Modern Context where various Bible passages provide part of the justification for mentoring today. Very helpful passages, by the way.

I worry that mentoring conducted along these lines could be unhelpful to the participants. It could lead to people believing they need to be looking for and responding to particular, personal, leadings of God’s Spirit, rather than concentrating on the given, revealed, sufficient, sword of the Spirit, the Bible. Over time the focus turns away from reading the Scriptures, that are able to make us thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17), to reading circumstances, weighing up feelings, or looking for God to speak in other ways outside of the Bible.

My concerns about this book are not so much with mentoring per se, as they are with a perspective on guidance implicit throughout. I would love to see much more in Mentoring Matters about opening the Bible together, searching the Scriptures, seeing God’s revealed plans, to discover what this means for our lives, ministries, and the options before us. A great model of this approach is offered in Don Carson’s book on the topic of prayer, called A Call to Spiritual Reformation. He reveals how his mentor patiently and carefully helped him to pray according to the will of God as they delved deeply into the Bible together. If you’re keen to work through what the Bible teaches about guidance, let me recommend you work carefully through any of the following books:

Decision making and the will of God by Garry Friesen
Just do something by Kevin de Young
Guidance and the voice of God by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne

If you’re serious about mentoring Christian leaders, then you will find much in Mentoring Matters that is helpful and practical. You will benefit from the emphasis on internal transformation, the priority on being before doing, and the focus on genuine relationships at the core of mentoring. But, let’s read with discernment, as we should with every book.