Don’t Let Someone’s Character Surprise You

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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 have a morning routine. I make coffee before I do almost anything else. Sometimes I prep the coffee maker the night before, and sometimes I have to prep and brew in the same motion.

But do you want to know something that has never happened? I have never pushed brew on the coffee maker and watched the coffee pot fill with soda. Why is that? Because the coffee maker does what it is made to do — make coffee.

Over the years I have learned a similar lesson about people — I cannot let myself be surprised when someone does something that lines up with who they have been while I have known them.

If a person repeatedly shows up late for an event or a meeting, I cannot allow myself to be bothered or surprised when they show up late for an event or a meeting.

If someone constantly seems uninterested in what is being said or what is happening around them, I cannot let myself get angry when they act uninterested or uninvolved in what I’m saying.

If someone regularly causes troubles by talking about people behind their back, I cannot take it personally when they do the same thing to me.

There are things I do that people should not be surprised when it happens.

Every one of us have life experiences that have led us to where we are. Our behaviors are a culmination of our life experiences and our decisions to that point. We have not become who we are today without the influence of who we were yesterday.

Does this mean we cannot change? Absolutely not. Ask the person who did not go to the dentist for decades, but now has become a dental advocate. Or the person who had to have emergency heart surgery and now is one of the healthiest people you know.

We can always change, but we cannot always change those around us.

So, how do you find the balance between having no expectations of change in others, and trying to be a catalyst of that change? Get to know them, show grace, and encourage them along the way.

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Adapt and Grow

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One of the things I admire the most about my dad is his ability to adapt. He has farmed all of his life, but he hasn’t done the same thing all the way through. Just in my memory he has raised cotton, hay grazer, wheat, milo, stocker calves, cattle pairs, feeders, and so much more, but never all at the same time.

I’ve heard him talk about trying to survive financially in the 80’s, and that he was doing everything he could to try to make money. The struggle made him better in the long run, but I’m grateful I was pretty clueless about it.

When we settle for a “this is who I am and what I do” mentality, then we miss a key element for growth–adaptation.

I think all of us would agree that new situations stretch us, and in turn, cause us to grow. But new situations are the easy example. How do you continue to grow when you’ve been somewhere for a while?

Continue to adapt.

I love leadership. I love helping students (and adults) grow in their leadership influence. I even have a pretty nifty framework to help introduce the concept of servant leadership. But even with all of that, if I stop adapting what I’m doing, then I will stop growing. And I never want to stop growing.

So, take a minute right now and think about your situation. What needs to be adapted? What changes need to be made? What adjustments do you need to address?

If you’re in ministry, what skill set do you need to strengthen? Organization? Time management? People skills? Teamwork? Beard trimming (looking at you, Youth Pastors)?

If you want to maintain a lifestyle of growth, then consistently be on the lookout for ways to grow. And grow.

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!

Here’s a Secret Super Power

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I think evaluation and forward progress may be my love language. If I can sit down with someone and evaluate something we’ve done together with the intent of making it better, then I’m able to live in my happy place.

But, if I’m going to be honest, as much as I love evaluation, it takes effort. Simple evaluation (i.e., self criticism) comes naturally, but true evaluation requires more brainpower and energy.

And I think this is true in leadership. if we want to grow, we need to learn to evaluate truthfully and effectively. But it’s a difficult habit to build and maintain.

So today, here are three reasons why I think evaluation is worth the effort:

  1. It makes the mistakes worth the cost. Have you ever done something perfectly the first time? No? Yeah, me either. If I fail to evaluate, the chances of me making the same mistake again are significantly higher. So doesn’t it make more sense to spend time evaluating and deciphering how to eliminate the mistake and replace it with something better? The best mistake launches us toward growth. Evaluation helps the transition.
  2. It helps me remember what we did. I have a terrible memory. In youth ministry, I pull off annual events, but so often they are separated out by 12 months. So when I sit down to plan the next one it’s been at least 9 months since I thought about (10 or 11 if we’re honest about my own planning process). So, when I write out an evaluation, it helps me remember why I made the decisions I made, it helps me remember the mistakes I made, and it helps me remember the great idea I had that would have been lost otherwise.
  3. It makes the event better the next time. This is the greatest benefit of evaluation for me. Whether it’s an annual event, or a regular weekly happening, my effort produces greater results when it’s paired with evaluation. I have an event coming up in March that we did for the first time last year. Because I spent time evaluating, when I start to take steps to plan based off the evaluation I did, I know the event will be even better.

Alright, so how do I evaluate? I work through three questions (but not the three questions you might think). They are simply this:

  • What We Did
  • What Worked
  • What to Do Differently

That’s it. Bullet points are my friend, and they will be yours too. Take 10 minutes today and evaluate something. It could be a project you just finished, an event that concluded recently, or fixing a Thanksgiving meal. Unleash the power of evaluation. I think you’ll be glad you did.

What’s Wrong With a Temporary Fence?

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We have a great house and an even better backyard. We were fortunate to find it and made an offer the day it was listed, as did quite a few others.

But as with any house, there were a few downsides. One of them: only 3 sides of our back yard have a fence. It wasn’t a problem for the first year we lived here, because our dog was accustomed to not having a fence at our previous houses.

But then COVID hit and we decided we might be interested in adding a dog. But we needed a fence to close off our back yard.

But we also knew we had some work coming up soon. So this good ole farm boy did what he knows best–buy some T posts and get to work.

My fence is far from glorious, but it gets the job done for the time being. And best of all, it leaves our backyard accessible for work.

It was a temporary fix, not a permanent one. The permanent fence will come after the work is finished.

Leadership presents a similar issue. If you’re like me, I struggle to get started because I want permanent from the get-go. But sometimes temporary gets the ball rolling, and we add structure down the road.

Sometimes, however, your temporary fix ages out and you need to trash it completely or finish the job.

So, where are you today? Pick one area and ask yourself: do I need to just get the ball rolling and find a temporary approach? Or has my temporary approach outlived its usefulness and now needs to be rebuilt?

Whatever the answer, act on it today.

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