Busy or Full of Purpose?

Most people have a standard reply when you ask them how they are doing: Busy!

But busy is not the same as fulfilled. If your life is filled with activity, but the activity has no purpose or direction, then you have a meaningless life!

Rather than thinking about what you do, focus on why you do it. Simon Sinek's book "Start With Why" is a great help in motivating the meaningless to focus on purpose, not activity.

A leader with purpose is always creating connections, inspiring creative thinking, encouraging those around, or communicating with passion. Even if the routine activities of this leader's day appear to be the same as those of others (meetings, emails, phone calls) the results are different because the leader has a sense of direction, a sense of purpose.

Even when there's a big challenge to face, purpose provides energy and draws others to share the load. Purpose pulls you, it doesn't push! Purpose is aligned with your internal wiring - your talents, your interests, your strengths, your calling. Purpose leaves you fulfilled at the end of the day or the end of the week. Exhausted, maybe, but fulfilled too.

How clear is your purpose? Purpose is always your property, but often you only find it with the help of others.

Live your purpose each day and you'll never work another day in your life!

Why We Do What We Do

An important question for every leader is "Why do I do what I do?"

Every one of us has a location, and a role, which may be highly visible or virtually invisible; prominent and authoritative, or seemingly insignificant. Wherever you place yourself on that spectrum I want to suggest that it matters what you do, and it matters more WHY you do what you do.

You may have been in your location and/or position for a very long time; you may be a more recent addition to your ecosystem. You may have a role that is well known in your city, or you may feel like an outsider. You may be a business owner who employs local residents, or a leader or manager in a local organization. Or you may be a little guy - someone few people know or see. Maybe you feel like you are just working in the shadows, struggling to make ends meet. 

Whoever you are, someone is following you, and so you are a leader. And so the crucial question is your question: why do I do what I do? I have three words beginning with M to help us focus on that crucial question.

First consider your MOTIVATION. Something made you do what you do. You started out for a reason. What was it? Your motivation matters because it sets your direction. Something drives you from within.

It may be that I’m not addressing your employment with that thought. Maybe it’s some other way you make a difference in your community: a community group that you serve with, or the ways you volunteer in the evenings or on the weekends, maybe your role in your church or other community of faith. 

We all have a motivation hidden in there somewhere. What gives you a sense of direction? What purpose propels you? You invest your time, energy or resources for a reason, and at least to start with that reason is your motivation. 
So what motivates you? Tell yourself that motivation once more. 

That is the reason you are a valuable member of your community. We need your motivation. For me, I coach leaders because I know every person has a unique purpose, and I know my purpose is to help release others into their destiny, and teach teams to be life-giving and fruitful.

And let me throw in a related thought: some of you had a motivation but you’ve misplaced it, left it behind, lost sight of it, buried it with busyness. Maybe you found yourself looking back just now when I asked everyone to name it to themselves. You can recover that - I’ll tell you how in a moment.

I believe there are as many different motivations as there are people reading this, indeed as many as there are members of each community. Each of us is unique, and our towns and cities only thrives when we value and make room for each gift. Those of you who have a faith foundation - it is your calling from God. 

Whether you have a faith or not, we need you to be YOU. Identify and express your motivation. Discover what makes you unique and offer your motivation to the common good.

The second word to help us figure out "why I do what I do" shows us something about our motivation: motivation feeds MOMENTUM. 
Too many of us struggle to maintain a healthy outlook in life, especially in our divided, troubled world. Addiction to the news cycle will steal your momentum with discouragement and despair. But your city and your region need those who will overcome obstacles for the common good. We need those with the will to win. We need those who can inspire others with their healthy outlook. And that momentum only comes with motivation. 

Remembering what fuels you will propel you forward. Those of you who had to look back to remember that you once had motivation, I guarantee you that your momentum is not as healthy as it once was. Maybe obstacles have diverted you, and your outlook has been soured?

Don’t give up. The passion that once inspired you is still in you - that’s why you can still name it. To recover your momentum, you need to refocus your motivation. I’m a fan of refocusing. It is a great way to acknowledge that none of us has it all together. I recently had my eyes checked and started wearing glasses. Now I can see much more clearly. In the same season, my wife and I have started a new church and begun coaching leaders. I’m thankful for friends who have helped me through this process. Now I have refocused my motivation and recovered my momentum. If you identify with a loss of momentum I encourage you to get with someone you can trust and revisit your motivation, refocusing it for today’s realities.

And there’s one more word to add to the equation of "why I do what I do": MULTIPLY
None of this is just about you. It begins with you recognizing you have something to offer (your motivation). Then your motivation generates your momentum, but you will only maintain that if you figure out how to connect with others. 
We come together to multiply our impact in the community. Multiplication makes more for everyone. We are not just dividing up what there is among a growing population. Together we can increase the benefits for everyone. Each unique person in your community has a role in the fabric of the area. 

My guess is that you already understand this, because you are reading this. My hunch is that you live, not for what you can get, but for what you can give to your city and your region. 

Thank you, and may God bless your unique motivation, increase your momentum, and multiply your impact as you combine your life with others for the greater good.

Isolation Leads To Mediocrity

“I don’t believe you are committed to us.” I heard those words again and again in the late 1990s. Every time I met with my boss at the conference center where I worked, he would express his growing unease with my attitude. I had worked there for almost six years, felt called there for life, and had led the staff team while he took a three-month sabbatical, yet my conflict with him continued to increase. Nothing I did in terms of increased workload would satisfy his distrust toward me. The funny thing is: he was right and I was wrong! What my boss was sensing was an independence in me that was hidden by commitment to the mission of the center, but could be seen in my attitude toward him.

The price we pay for independence is separation from those around us, and isolation leads to mediocrity.

Those of us who are leaders can easily struggle with this temptation – to ‘be in charge’ rather than to invite others to follow us as we seek to lead authentically. We also fall into the trap of failing to value the strengths of those around us. That was the error I had embraced in my “lack of commitment” at the conference center.

See how many of these characteristics of independence you can identify in your life:

1. Following my own agenda

Independence creeps in when we follow our own agenda, rather than willingly committing to the success and growth of those around us. This applies as much to those "over" me in the structure as to those around me or "below" me.

2. Presumption

Presumption is closely related to following my own agenda.  If I am following my own agenda then I make choices and decisions, or take actions, based on assumptions and without consulting others. I may start with a vision or goal for the good of the team, but I easily drift into self-directed activity toward my vision. This was the cause of the conflict with my boss at the start of this article. I was focused on what the job could do for me, rather than on what we could achieve together, and the result was that my independence caused conflict and cost me my job.

3. Self-focus

Self-directed activity is only one area of self-focus, but it is a common snare for leaders. Other times self-focus is not activity based, but a preoccupation with myself – my progress, my faults and weaknesses, my reputation, my authority, my worth (or lack of it), and my needs and desires. Each one of these things will cause me to be preoccupied with ME, a shortcut to isolation and mediocrity.

4. Worry, anxiety and fear

Self-focus is a fruitful breeding ground for worry, anxiety and fear, yet these emotions are often overlooked as indicators of independence. I have experienced anxiety and fear often enough to recognize that these can easily be early symptoms of independence creeping back into my life.  (Note: there are other causes of fear and anxiety, including physiological or psychological issues, so I am not saying fear always indicates independence, just that these emotions can indicate self-focus leading to independence).

5. Not listening

A person who is self-focused, or someone battling fear and anxiety, can be preoccupied and hampered in their ability to relate to others. A leader who is following his own agenda, or operating in presumption, is often too focused on the goal ahead to listen to those around him. Thus, not listening is another early indicator of independence returning. I am deeply aware of episodes in my past when listening to someone else (especially to my wife) would have saved me from some pain, error, or diversion. At the end of the 18 months of conflict at the conference center, we were able to seek wisdom from leaders who knew the situation; their input resulted in major positive changes for us, and opened the door to teamwork in a new and dramatically different setting where we learned much and grew in leadership.

6. Striving

A clear indicator of the infiltration of independence in my life is striving (or self-effort). Leaders who rely solely on self-effort for achievement not only isolate themselves from others, but also cause physical, emotional, and relational damage to themselves and those around them.

7. Desire for promotion

Although every human being has an innate need for affirmation and praise, it is common to seek the counterfeit of this need – a desire for promotion, title, or recognition. This desire can be cloaked in humility  but if there is pride at the root of promotion, then the desire for promotion is another dangerous facet of independence.

In my conflict with the boss, I was really saying "I want to be recognized for my achievements or skills above others so I will have increased affirmation by virtue of my position." That was acceptable in previous leadership models, but it doesn't fly in today's connected world.

8. Negativity

Studies have shown that 80% of our thinking can be negative, which aligns us with failure rather than success. If you are a person of faith, it is also a contradiction with your beliefs. Negativity is a symptom of independence, increases isolation,  and leads to mediocrity. There is power in positivity because it is attractive and draws us into connectedness, which gives us influence.

9. Pride

Pride divides. It does not promote connectedness, nor does it help others. Pride feeds independence because it cherishes my success at others' expense. Pride is perhaps the clearest, most worrying sign of independence isolating me!

Reducing independence

We will always have traces of independence in our lives, especially in light of the American culture of rugged individualism. Other cultures have much to teach us, if we are willing to learn. In some cultures honor is valued above individual pride. In other heritages there is a strong sense of community that is prioritized above self.

Here are a few pointers to help you reduce independence and isolation:

Admit that I need others in my life. They will reveal my independent pride and affirm my commitment to live by influence rather than position.

Invite input – build relationships and grow humility by actively seeking input to my life. Ask others to help me see my blind spots. When I accept I have faults I can be thankful when others point them out! 

Choose positive – not a self-centered approach of pride in myself, but a choice to always look for the best in every person and circumstance.

Discover my uniqueness, and learn to value the different strengths that others have.

Here's to the death of mediocrity in an age where influence is the only qualification for leadership!

Leadership: Heartbeat of business

I have a friend who recently had a heart cath procedure. He had been having some unusual symptoms that were difficult to understand, until a doctor suggested something could be amiss with his heart. It set me thinking about the place of leadership in business and other organizations. Often we forget the central role of leadership in our endeavors, and so misdiagnose those random symptoms we encounter, such as unhappy customers, production challenges, fluctuating staff morale, or economic pressures. We can give ourselves to strategy, vision or personality as keys to success, but overlook the true foundation of achievement and impact.

Experts agree that leadership is the foundation on which businesses rise or fall. Multitudes of books, articles, and websites focus on leadership in business, yet the temptation remains, especially for owners Of small to medium-sized businesses, to neglect the heartbeat of their enterprise - their own leadership.

The US Small Business Administration lists key traits of effective leaders, noting these are essential to business success. Among the qualities they list, many are notable for their apparent lack of connection to business results: emotional stability, social boldness, empathy, and intuitiveness are not commonly linked with profit, or shareholder return. Yet these leadership qualities will make or break a business.

In smaller enterprises, the owner or key leader will need many of these traits to succeed. As the business grows, or in a larger corporation, the characteristics can be spread among a team of senior leaders (provided the team is well-led). In both scenarios it is leadership that is the heartbeat of business success.

Leaders are rarely born; there is a development process to the craft of leadership, and this demands intentionality from us to grow our leadership. No one drifts their way into becoming a better leader. But investing in your leadership by going where leadership is taught and modeled brings huge dividends, because everyone wins when a leader gets better. 

Leadership expert John Maxwell is famous for saying that "the true measure of leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less." Everyone has influence to some degree, so the question is not whether you have influence, the question is whether you are stewarding it or not. This challenges me to remember that a great leader isn't someone who leads; a great leader is someone other people want to follow.

So let me encourage you: heed any unusual symptoms in your business that could point to a heart issue. How is your leadership? Could it be better? Of course it could! What will you do to improve?

You are a leader. Your job is to grow as a leader, to steward your influence, to stay fired up, to get inspired, encouraged and equipped. Then your business, organization, enterprise, family, neighborhood, city will benefit from you becoming someone others want to follow. Everyone wins when a leader gets better!


New Year, New Approach?

Those of us who have been in leadership for a while know that the world is changing, and yesterday’s leadership will not work today. Old leadership worked mostly by knowing and telling. Leaders in the past have been trained (whether by example or experience) to work at leadership roles, seeking to advance in some way. They see leadership from the paradigm that leadership responsibility, and the accompanying authority, is a reward for diligence and faithfulness. This is positional leadership.

Today's leadership is different. Todays leadership is solely about influence, and influence grows in the dirt of relationship! Relational leadership is a foreign language for positional leaders. Position is hierarchical, and leads to comparison (a subject for another post) and competition. Often positional leadership can be achieved by changing to become like another successful leader. Relational leadership is different because you can only cultivate relational influence from a true understanding of yourself. Then you have the potential to build influence through authenticity.

Incidentally, this gives rise to a new definition of leadership: a leader is someone who finds they are being followed. They may or may not have a title or an office, but others follow them.

January is a time when many of us invest time and energy in new initiatives and new projects.

May I suggest you start with a thorough self-evaluation?

Discover why you think, feel, and act the way you do.

Clarity cultivates authenticity.

You will be able to be more relational and less positional. 

Authenticity will influence those who follow you.

You can invite those you lead to follow the same path.

As each one gains clarity, and grows in authenticity, your team will grow in leadership, influence, and impact.

How can I help?