Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sideline Critics

As Watermarke Church has grown, the number of people with ideas and suggestions has grown, too. Every leader is going to deal with criticism, but often leaders find themselves dismissing some critics, only listening to a select few. The few are typically saying what you want to hear. That is a dangerous position to take as a leader. Although it's natural to listen to people who say what you want to hear, it insulates you from some people or ideas that will make you a better leader.

Here is how I handle EVERY critique we get at Watermarke:
1. Give grace
2. Consider the source
3. Discern the heart behind the feedback
4. Is this person engaged in the mission and do they understand the strategy
5. Listen
6. Give grace
7. Thank them

If the critique is good, then let them know. If it is poor, then give them grace. If it's rooted in frustration, there's a good chance people do not understand your mission or strategy/approach.

We always must consider the source, too. Negative feedback from your target consumer is much more important than feedback from the sidelines. Feedback from those invested in the mission will carry more weight than criticism from people casting stones from the bleachers.

The better job we do communicating mission, vision, and strategy, the better the feedback, and the fewer people we have criticizing out of ignorance. And, with a well defined strategy and approach, hyper-critical people tend to drift away. Every time I make it clear where Watermarke Church is going, the people who are on mission buy in further, and those with their own agendas tend to start looking for other organization to infuse their personal vision. That's a win.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leadership Lessons I've Learned, Number 5

5. Be decisive

I remember hearing Andy Stanley teach on leadership decisions. One thing I specifically remember him saying was, “with most decisions, you’ll basically only have 80% of the information you think you need to make the decision.” That’s true. But when it comes to decisions, we can be out of balance in two ways:

1. Paralysis by analysis: Great leaders seek wise counsel, but we have to be careful to not get stuck in the information gathering side of a decision without progressing towards the decision. In my experience of taking leadership of a church in need of drastic change, I had to be careful to gather good information from wise counsel, but in the end, I had to make a decision with some information gaps. Honestly, I could still be looking for information on every decision that I have made – and I would be that much closer to paralysis.

2. Lack of analysis: I take it seriously that the wisest person to ever walk the face of the earth sought wise counsel. If Solomon needed it, I’m thinking I do, as well. The hard part with counsel is knowing who to invite into the conversation. My challenge has been to find people who understand the vision and strategy and come to the table without personal agendas. These people may be harder to find, but the payoff is worth the search.

In the end, as a leader, we are called to move people from where we are to where we could or should be. And that takes decisions. At Watermarke Church, I’ve had some really tough ones to make, but every time, though prayer and wise counsel and decisiveness, our church and core leadership have appreciated us making the tough decision.

Be patient when you don't know the answer, but remember that indecisiveness is not a great leadership quality. Leaders can afford to not know an immediate answer, but leaders cannot be unclear about the vision.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Leadership Lessons I've Learned, Number 4

4. Always lead with honesty and transparency

I am a huge believer in honesty. Of course, as a pastor (and a Jesus-follower), this should be the case. Nothing new here. Unfortunately, my experience in the world of church has proven this is not always the case. Too many pastors lead under a vale of lies and dishonesty. To many pastors say one thing from the pulpit and another behind closed doors.

While this may be the most basic thing I've learned, it is also one of the most important. At Watermarke, I have not so much learned this (a.k.a. we have not lied a bunch and been burned), but rather been reminded of how important it is for leaders to be open and honest with those we lead.

Here's a simple example of how this worked for us at Watermarke:
This summer, we were in the middle of a fund-raising effort to move into a new facility that would provide a multitude of blessings for our church. As a pretty new leader in our church, I had build some trust and relational capital, but the people of Watermarke had been burned by previous leadership before with similar campaigns.

As our funding deadline approached, it was clear that we were not going to receive the monetary gifts necessary to make our much-anticipated move. As a leader, I felt like I had failed with casting vision, making appropriates asks, etc. And, as the leader who initiated this campaign, the last thing I wanted to do was stand up in front of our church body and announce we would NOT be making the move. The thought was gut wrenching. But I knew that was my only option. God had been very loud and clear, in that His timing was not lining up with mine (always a frustrating lesson to learn). So, on Sunday, June 28th, I stood in front of our church and delivered a message on patience. The bottom line for the message was, "We limit God's power when we become impatient with His timing." That was a very tough message to deliver. I've never been so exhausted after a Sunday morning in my life!

Funny thing, that was maybe the best message I delivered all of 2009 (I only spoke a dozen times, but still). Our church really rallied around our honesty, integrity, and leadership as we announced our decision to be patient and delay our move. Why? I think because people love leaders that can make tough decisions while remaining honest and transparent.

As leaders, we must live what we teach, and we must be honest and transparent with those who follow. We are all forced to make difficult decisions, and through each one, we must be honest and transparent.

Are you being honest in your leadership? Are you walking your talk? Do say one think in public and another in private? Are you living contrary to what God's Word teaches? God cannot bless what's not blessible, and God can do a lot through us and our honesty.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Leadership Lessons I've Learned, Number 3

3. Develop People and Your Team

I am addicted to progress. If you have been around me for any length of time, you've probably noticed this trait. It is something in me that can be both helpful and harmful. I love starting and launching new things, I hate maintaining old things, and I am more task/project focused than people focused.

One thing (of many) that I have learned in my first year as a Lead Pastor is making progress WHILE developing people and teams. Here's the catch for me: In most cases, it's easier just to do it myself or to spoon-feed answers and not teach or train others. If I am too progress or task focused, which is my natural bent, I am always going to use people as a means to my end. I am going to delegate tasks and answer questions for the purpose of task accomplishment. And believe me, we'll get the job done, but where does that leave the people who look at me as their leader?

Answer: it leaves them no better off than when we started the project or task. I could easily make the argument it leaves people worse than before the project. As a leader, one of my primary roles must be the development of our staff and leadership teams. I am responsible for their development. The bad news is I'm not smart enough to teach all that may need to be taught - good news is I do not necessarily need to be the person developing them all the time. As a leaders, though, I need to help the people around me identity opportunities to grow and develop and support their pursuit of learning. At times, I'll be the one teaching, but more often than not, these learning opportunities come from outside our staff and/or church.

In the end, teaching and training others does more to advance our mission than me using people to get a job done. For me, this is a classic urgent versus important paradigm. When I focus on the urgent, I get too task oriented and ignore the people around me. As a leader, it is MORE important for me to consistently help our staff learn and grow than to launch and lead new stuff on my own. Teaching others to lead and think like a leader pays much larger dividends for me, them, and our organization.

Maybe for you this is common sense, but for me, it is something I need to be reminded of often. How much time are you spending developing those around you?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Leadership Lessons I've Learned, Number 2

2. Improve Continuously

The term kaizen is a Japanese word adopted into English referring to a philosophy or practices focusing on continuous improvement in manufacturing activities, business activities in general, and even life in general, depending on interpretation and usage. As I studied business in graduate school and then went on to work in consulting, I sat in meetings...and more meetings...and more meetings specifically around kaizen - continuous improvement.

These meetings and discussions were taken very seriously in these business organizations, mostly because the outcome of these meetings represented profitability, shareholder value, etc. And then their was church.

As a church, we don't create profit (although we LOVE margin), and we don't have any shareholders to appease. But, as a church, I believe we are leading THE most important organization in the world. And in my past church experiences, I was always amazed as I watched smart people walk into Elder and Deacon meetings and check their brain at the door. That may be too harsh (or it may be exactly correct). During the day they are pouring through every little nuance of their business, squeezing out every drop of profit, and then they walk into a church meeting and NOBODY seems to care about progress or success. We argue about what we should wear to serve communion and what volume the music should be run at as to not create permanent hearing damage. Meanwhile, there are people all over our communities completely lost - far from God - just trying to make it by as sin, sorrow, and death seem to not have answers. And here we are, at the church, sitting in a meeting, worried about what color the chairs should be.

I decided long ago that when it came to church, I was going to do all I could to never be satisfied with status quo. To never be just serve in a "pretty good" church. To never be fine with just getting by. As a church, we want to be passionately committed to God's leading and His desire for the world through His church. And every time I study His word or hear from Him, I continue to see how passionate He is about reconnecting people back to Himself. So, as a church, that is what we do, and we evaluate how successful we are every week. And we constantly change for the purpose of getting better.

Now, to evaluate, you need measurable goals and objectives. I hate it when church leaders say that they just want to be Spirit led, and so counting or measuring or anything goal related goes against the Spirit. That is just not correct. We count not to brag, but to evaluate success and look at how we are trending as an organization. The question is not "should we count." The real question is "what should we count," and "what do we do with what we find out."

Here's what we count:
- Total people in service (to measure growth, because if you aren't growing, your not doing something right and we need to know if our people are bring others far from God to Watermarke).
- People in groups (to measure progress towards our win, as a percentage of total adults)
- Baptisms (to help gauge spiritual growth and steps in their relationship with Christ)
- Giving Units and Serving (are people engaging in our vision and mission)
- Gospel (How often do we present the best news ever given? How often do we create opportunities for people to respond to the message?)

Here's what we can't totally count, but in the end, it is the most important: Life Change. Every meeting we hold begins with stories of life change. Every meeting begins with sharing stories of real people and real change. That's the goal, so that's what we celebrate. We measure numbers, but we don't celebrate full auditoriums. We celebrate life change.

So, here's the question: How are you measuring success, and how are you improving continuously? Do you have a target/win for which to create metrics?

Gavin Adams
Lead Pastor, Watermarke Church

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leadership Lessons I've Learned, Number 1

1. Never stop learning or asking questions

Every leader knows that we should always learn and ask questions. Nothing new there. Let me give you another take on this thought...

My first week as Lead Pastor of Watermarke Church was a whirlwind of information, problem identification, and meetings. Actually, the entire week was just one long meeting with the staff and key leaders. It was mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausting. But these conversations proved invaluable.

And there was my first lesson. I thought I had a good understanding of SOME of the issues facing Watermarke. I decided to spend my first month just listening and learning. I didn't hold completely to that promise, though, as I did have to make some significant changes to our staff and budget in my first week, but I did do an awful lot of listening. In my first week, I spent at least two hours with each staff member listening and casting vision for the future. Secondly, I invited 30 - 40 key people from our church to sit down with me and I asked them each the same two questions: What do you love about Watermarke, and what has caused you the most frustration? Funny looking back, as each conversation started with "Do you REALLY want to hear everything?"

And let me tell you - I received some great information from some passionate people. What I heard was great, but really secondary. The most important part of these Q&A sessions was connecting with key leaders AND the identifying my first action steps. Specifically, this is where these meetings got me:
- I heard the same basic story, issues, etc., from each person. That was great confirmation of the issues at our church. And I let each person tell me the whole story. It was good for them to get it off their chest, and it was confirming for me to hear.
- I was able to identify some low hanging fruit that allowed me to create some quick success and build trust. Quick success created easy momentum. Huge for us as we began to reverse our attendance and giving trends. Trust in my leadership was even more important, especially when I needed to make some bigger asks over time. Faith and trust in leadership is important, and it is even more important during our leadership transition.
- I was able to cast vision over and over to people that walked away and regurgitated our conversations. More trust and more momentum. More people hearing my heart and catching the vision for Watermarke. Invaluable.

As I think back, I doubt we would be where we are today had I not spent this time asking these key questions. What a great start for me as a Lead Pastor, and what an incredible time of connecting, learning, and building for the changes that came next.

Gavin Adams
Lead Pastor, Watermarke Church

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Leadership Lessons I've Learned, The Beginning

I have been compiling a list of things I've learned since taking the position of Lead Pastor at Watermarke Church. I am going to spend the next several weeks thinking and talking about each lesson right here. It has been such a great journey of discovery and learning, and I bet I have only learned a fraction of what I need to know. My hope is that I will continue to learn, and maybe even be able to help someone coming along behind me, too. There's certainly room for improvement.

To begin, the greatest lesson I have learned is simply this: I'm starting to know what I don't know. This is difficult to follow, but stay with me through this Abbott and Costello-ish routine. I have spent many years not knowing what I didn't know. If you don't know what you don't know, then you end up thinking you know more than you actually know. I am also sure there are still more things I don't know I don't know than not, but it has been so helpful for me as a Lead Pastor to identify those things I know I don't completely know or understand.

I have seen too many leaders in business and church fail to know what they don't know, and that is a deadly position to be in as a decision maker. When a leader fails to realize what they don't know, decisions too often are made based on bad assumptions and faulty information.

So, based on knowing what I don't know (or at least didn't completely know), below is a list of what I've learned thus far. Don't laugh at the length of my list...I've learned a lot. For me, the best part of this list is that it is incomplete, because I certainly haven't learned all that I don't know.

1. Never stop learning or asking questions
2. Improve Continuously
3. Develop People and Teams
4. Be Honest and Transparent
5. Decisions Need to be Made
6. Patience is a Virtue
7. Flexibility is a Necessity
8. Have Some Fun
9. Create a Vision Lens
10. Humility Wins
11. Communicate Well
12. Always Rely on God

I look forward to walking through this list. Somebody smarter than I should write a 12 chapter book from this list...

Gavin Adams
Lead Pastor, Watermarke Church