Communicate Expectations

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I started the Three Question Leadership Blog 4 years ago. I thought I would spend the next few weeks sharing some of my first posts, in their entirety, here. Whether you’re new or have been with me all along, I hope you find these concepts applicable.

I’m on a trip this week with my church. Over the years, during and after trips I realize key details that need to be fixed. This year, I realized something early in the trip: I am the only adult who has seen a schedule.

Our trip is one we have developed, so I wrote out my own schedule. Because I’m the only person who knows the schedule, I’m the only one who knows when we need to leave or stay, or what comes next.

This is okay, as long as I am okay with no one sticking to my schedule. And how could they know the schedule, if I haven’t shown them?

The leadership principle here is simple: communicate expectations.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I have great adult volunteers who do an incredible job of loving kids and forgiving my mistakes.

But over the years I’ve learned that if I am going to expect someone to do something, I have to find a way to communicate my expectations.

This goes for kids when we go on a trip, for adults as we work to point teenagers to Christ, and even when I’ve occasionally coached basketball teams. Everyone wins when you are able to communicate what is expected.

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Don’t Hide from Hard Conversations

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I started the Three Question Leadership Blog 4 years ago. I thought I would spend the next few weeks sharing some of my first posts, in their entirety, here. Whether you’re new or have been with me all along, I hope you find these concepts applicable.

Have you ever had a meeting scheduled that you dreaded all day? Maybe it’s a yearly review, a potentially explosive situation, or a conversation you are fully expecting to go south. Over the years, I have learned the difficult lesson to not run away from difficult conversations.

A few years ago a terrible situation arose at Penn State University that cost many people their jobs, and left a disastrous effect on several young boys. Through such a terrible situation, we learn an important lesson with implications for both youth ministry and the church as a whole.

We could look at the Penn State situation and pass judgment on those involved who did not adequately report or act. But judgment is not ours to pass.

We could, standing on the outside, lament the state of our nation and the depravity of “those sinners”. But again, judgment is not ours to pass.

We can, however, put ourselves in the shoes of the leadership. Child molestation is a terrible act, and churches are not immune to sexual predators. So, ask yourself, how would you respond if someone informed you of inappropriate acts between an adult and a child?

I remember, very vividly, having a situation arise at a previous church where inappropriate statements were made between an adult and a teenager. I was informed of the situation, and discussed steps with my pastor. Both families were church members, and the conversations that laid ahead were less than appealing. So we waited for the “right time” to meet with each side. Unfortunately for us, the “right time” did not arrive before the “necessary time”. We drug our feet, and in the end, acted out of necessity rather than concern, and damage was done.

Side note: the situation referenced here was nothing illegal. It fell into that gray space of needed to be addressed, but no one was in danger and no law was being broken.

We avoided the hard conversations. We knew we would be uncomfortable, so we waited. I wonder if the officials at PSU were in the same boat. They did not want to have the tough conversation, so they waited for the “right time” and instead found the “necessary time”.

The “right time” and the “necessary time” are two contrasting opportunities. The “right time” is much more of a gamble. I have a tendency to justify waiting by saying I am waiting for the right time. The right time, however, comes before the necessary time.

The “necessary time”, too often, means we have acted too late. When we wait to respond, we find ourselves stuck in a situation where we have to react to the chaos around us. When we take care of business at the appropriate time, we find ourselves able to help guide the conversation forward.

The principle we can learn is this: the hard conversation, though uncomfortable and daunting, is much easier than waiting for the time bomb to blow.

Do not be afraid to have the hard conversation. In my experience, actually, I have started realizing the moment I dread a conversation is a sign I need to act.

What conversation are you dreading? What conversation do you need to have? What situation makes you uncomfortable but needs to be addressed? Make time this week to bathe it in prayer, and pray for God’s guidance and strength to act.

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Beware the Dangers of Shared Language

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Earlier I wrote about the Power of Shared Language. I really do believe having phrases that we repeat often can unlock some incredible potential.

But on the road of developing shared language, there are a few speed bumps along the way. Today, I want to talk about two specific speed bumps to consider as you try to create and implement shared language.

LANGUAGE THAT ISN’T SHARED IS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Our church hosted a Family Camp over the New Year’s Holiday. In the course of planning it, I contacted the camp facility (where I have only been a couple of times). During the course of conversation, I realized there was a breakdown in our communication. I didn’t know everything they thought I knew, and they didn’t know everything I thought they knew. Even things as simple as names of buildings and locations didn’t make sense to someone who had yet to memorize the map. The result? Frustration set in.

Names of buildings are great, but if you don’t understand, then what’s the point? This is why in small towns you get directions in one of two ways: locals talk to each other about the “Jackson house” or “church” street (which isn’t a street name but a description, #truestory) because everyone knows the story behind the names. But locals give directions to outsiders based on landmarks – turn right at the second stoplight, cross the tracks, and turn in at the gate with a water buffalo.

As you seek to create some shared language, always ask yourself first – does my audience understand what this means? If not, explain it and enjoy shared language!

SHARED LANGUAGE CAN CREATE AN US VS. THEM CULTURE

Have you ever been part of a conversation with two other people who are best friends, but you only know them casually? Did you find yourself getting lost in the cracks of inside jokes and only partially told stories? How did you feel?

This is the other danger of shared language. If we are not careful, we create an us vs. them culture. We know the meaning of the secret phrases, but they don’t, so they don’t matter.

As a leader, take it on yourself to become an educator. Invite new people to join you by explaining the things that may not make sense. Build into your culture ways for people to find their place and belong, and watch what happens from there.

Shared language is a powerful tool when used correctly, so learn to use it correctly and watch what unfolds!

Shared Language

Unlock The Power of Shared Language

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I’ve always wanted to go to a place where you have to know a secret knock and pass phrase to get in. You know, “Open Sesame” or something like that.

The allure is having to know the secret phrase. We all love knowing something others don’t. There’s comfort in it. There’s unity among those who know.

Shared language is a powerful thing. I’m a huge fan of developing memorable and repeatable phrases: things that stick with you for a while.

Even here on 3QL, I have a few ideas that I cover repeatedly:

If you’ve been with me for a while, you probably recognize those phrases. Sometimes, even in conversation, they will come up and we will nod knowingly because we both understand them. If you hear me say something about the “the three questions”, you know what I’m talking about.

But if you’re new here, those phrases don’t have the same power. They are just a collection of words with your own assigned meaning.

That’s why, in leadership, it pays to create shared language. Leadership requires the casting of a compelling vision, and shared language helps keep that vision fresh.

What shared language are you using in your context? Is there anything you’re saying that prepares those you lead for action? How can you leverage shared language to your benefit?

One last thought: never assume shared language automatically means shared definitions. Sometimes we “fake it ’til we make it” to create the appearance of understanding. But your job as a leader is to continually and constantly cast the vision, to articulate the shared definition, and to help everyone get on the same page.

It’s not easy, but it’s imperative. Lean into shared language today!

Do You Ever Forget Things?

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Sometimes I forget. During the 2020 calendar year, I’ve been working with a group of students to help them grow as leaders.

One of my favorite things to do to help students grow is to evaluate regularly. We do this a couple of ways, one of which is having a quick follow up meeting after our midweek program.

We had a workshop back in September, and ever since, I would start our meetings by asking how they made the room better. And the answers I was getting were not what I was hoping.

Don’t get me wrong, they were trying to make a difference, I was just asking a bad question. A question that put them on a path other than I wanted them to evaluate.

Then it hit me: what if there were some questions I could teach them to ask and answer each week? Questions that would almost instinctually walk them through what it looks like to be a leader?

Oh. I have those. And I’ve trained them on those. But I stopped at the training. And that was my first mistake.

The 3 questions are a great training piece. They are remarkable to consider. But their true worth isn’t in the theory or intellect behind them. The power of the 3 questions is when they are put into practice.

So I made a change. I started asking how they answered the 3 questions because I want them to start to ingrain those questions into their minds and let them become who they are and what they do. Not because I developed the questions, but because I think the power they provide to influence a room is remarkable.

Sometimes, the tools we need are at our disposal. It’s just a matter of not forgetting.

Let me challenge you today, point blank. If you lead a group of people: teach them the 3 questions and then hold them accountable to answer them on a regular basis. No shame. No guilt. Only accountability to make a difference around them. Then, let me know how it goes!

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