Leadership Rules

11 Keys for Building a Great Team

John Maxwell has famously said "teamwork makes the dream work." Teams are incredibly important in accomplishing a vision. And as the leader of organizations, projects, initiatives and churches, maybe the most important thing you do is select, equip and release leaders.

We talked a few posts ago about being a great employee, so here are a few thoughts on building a team. Several of these points have been constructed and edited based on thoughts that Brian Houston from Hillsong Church shared with a few of us in a retreat setting a few years ago.

1. Live and lead so that your team is an overflow of your leadership. Your team will reflect your leadership. What you see in them is what you're modeling to them. Overflow to your team in a healthy positive way.

2. Don’t think too much, or too little, of yourself. As the directional organization leader, you aren't the hero, but you're also not the goat. A healthy balance on this is the right direction.

3. Create a structure and system that allows people on your team to flourish. Can people flourish on your team, or does your personality or stature or the system get in the way? If someone can't flourish, why would they stay? Find structures that release people.

4. Don’t just look to people, look thru them. What is the next generation? Who will replace you? Constantly build layers of leadership – think generationally.

5. Hire heart before head every time. I want a hustler, not a know it all. I want someone who is passionate and hungry, not entitled and complacent.

6. Slow and steady, not fast and furious. Building leaders takes time, but is always worth it. You may not always be able to find the right people, but you can always build into them. It's a marathon, not a sprint in terms of developing people.

7. Constantly fight the bureaucracy as you grow. People are not the problem, sometimes it’s the structure or systems. Even in large organizations, things happen with 3-5 people working closely together. Small and stealth vs large and slow when it comes to teams that get things done. Where there is bureaucracy, the team perishes.

8. Model strong leadership, and not controlling leadership. Your team doesn't want a dictator.

9. Create a culture where things are out in the open. Don't let issues fester too long.

10. Be consistent yet customized. Create an environment that is predictable (security) but innovative (creative).

11. Demand a pursuit of perfection. It's not about being perfect, but the pursuit of perfection should be something every one of your team members feels responsible to achieve. It starts with you, and flows from there.

No More Sideways Energy

I've posted about SIDEWAYS ENERGY before, but I wanted to bring this topic back up. Are you busy but not intentional? Do you feel like you are just spinning your wheels and not getting any traction? Does there seem to be a lack of any kind of momentum in your organization? Could be you are dealing with way too much “sideways energy.” There is good energy and bad energy- and bad energy usually shows up as sideways… not because it is necessarily bad, but because it is usually a distraction.

We need to avoid sideways energy. It drives me crazy!

So what is Sideways Energy?

- Sideways energy is showing up to work but spending two hours talking about what you should have done an hour and a half ago.

- Sideways energy is gossiping about your boss or co-workers.

- Sideways energy is procrastinating.

- Sideways energy is the same meeting eight times in a row regarding the same idea that still has yet to be implemented.

- Sideways energy is having three sales to close and not calling them back because you are asked to help clean up the office for the Christmas party .

- Sideways energy is a staff handbook that collects dust but took hours to create.

- Sideways energy is an organizational system that takes 4 weeks to move a sale through the process because there is too much bureaucracy.

- Sideways energy is a meeting with no follow up, action plan, next steps or implementation that everyone knew would be a waste of time but no one was willing to say so. 

- Sideways energy is cleaning your office or cube instead of finishing the project that was due yesterday. 

- Paper shuffling is sideways energy.

- Dealing with the same problem multiple times is sideways energy.

- Too many cc’ed emails is sideways energy.

- Creating new policies for the company that everyone knows will never be implemented is sideways energy.

- Micromanaging is sideways energy. Lack of trust is sideways energy.

- Brown-nosing is sideways energy.

- Office politics is sideways energy.

And many times, the reason sideways energy becomes such a regular happening is because there is pressure coming from all sides within and around an organization- the very top, your boss, and those who you are leading. And the side seems to be the only place to find some relief and maybe focus on something, even if it is not the right thing to be focused on at the time. And growth can cause pressure that facilitates MORE sideways energy. Ultimately, this all leads to a lack of focus, which causes pressure because you choose not to deal with reality and instead want to focus on things that ultimately don’t matter.

How to combat sideways energy? First, realize it exists and will paralyze an organization. Second, identity it and deal with it. Third, measure your productivity and create a system that will help you determine how much sideways energy you are creating, both for yourself as well as for your team. And finally, be clear on your goals and what the right kind of energy looks like for your team- if you model the right kind of energy, your team will follow in the same direction. Ultimately, use common sense. Most of us can identify sideways energy in others, so being self aware and making sure we don't allow ourselves to get caught up in sideways energy personally is really important.

10 Ways to be a GREAT Employee

Here you go, 10 points to help you be a better employee, partner, or peer in your organization. Whether working on a project, a new initiative, or just simply trying to be competent in the organization you serve in. 1. Write everything down- never show up to a meeting without something to write with and something to write on. And write it down. Everything. Otherwise you'll forget. I don't care who you are.

2. Honor people's time- show up early and finish on time.

3. Come with solutions, not just ideas- this is crucial. move towards completion, not away from it. Ideas are great, but have to lead towards the finish line.

4. Learn how to anticipate- be one step ahead. do something every day you weren't "asked" or "told" to do, but know you should do.

5. Be a disciplined learner- understand it's your role to be an expert, no matter what level or role you play in an organization. Don't just be one step ahead of your boss in being skilled at your job.... be an expert.

6. Listen well- listen when in a conversation, don't just think about what you are going to say in response. Listen for next steps, not current realities- this has to do with anticipating.

7. Reflect most of the credit, take all the blame- this is more for leaders, but still a great principle to put into practice no matter what level you are in the organization. Be a reflector of praise, not an absorber. Absorb the blame if at all possible.

8. Never speak negatively of your peers for personal gain- wow, this is a hard one for everyone. Especially when your boss or superior wants to pit you against that peer and see how you respond. Don't give in to that. Stay above it.

9. Push back- almost every organizational leader I know wants their team members to challenge the process, question assumptions, bring new ideas to the table, and push back when they don't agree. Don't be afraid to do this. If your leader is not mature enough to take this, then they probably shouldn't be in the position they are in. If unsure on whether you truly have "permission" to push back, ask for permission on the front end.

10. Take on more responsibility- ask for more power and involvement, and you'll be lifting the load of your employer or boss. That is always a welcomed conversation. Always. Help by taking on more.

6 Key lessons I learned in my 20's

I love 20 something leaders. And I once was one of those crazy young leaders intent on changing the world, not that long ago. My 20's were a special decade in my life, and a few key lessons emerged from that time that might be helpful for those of you in your 20's, or those of you coaching/leading those in their 20's. 1. Use your 20's to build a foundation for your 70's. Create deep roots that will give you a foundation for when you are older. Finishing well means starting well.

2. Don't worry about climbing the ladder. There's no longer a ladder anyway. It's more like one of those spiral staircases. And sometimes you are going across or down when you think you might be climbing. So don't worry about it. Spend your 20's learning and having life experiences. Travel, explore the world, take on projects that seem fun.

3. If your "career" path doesn't make sense to anyone except for you, it's okay. My 20's: college at University of Oklahoma, wrangler on a guest ranch in Colorado, management consultant, business development officer, Magazine and media company, strategic business plan developer. Leadership development facilitator. WOW. That is all over the map. But God was orchestrating steps very clearly for what was next in my story. And continues to do so.

4. Be diligent and aggressive in developing your friendships and relationships. Create a core group of close friends who you want to do life with. This group may change a bit over the years, but it is imperative to find a circle of trust that you are committed to and they to you.

5. Figure out who you want to be, not what you want to do. Who you are is more important that what you do or where you live. Spiritually, financially, family, emotionally, relationally. Find two or three older, wise "sages" that you can learn from and count on as help.

6. Say yes to as much as you can. Your 2o's are typically a decade with minimum responsibilities. So because of that, say yes to everything you can. Global mission trip... yes. Mentoring from a respected leader.... yes. Chance to learn from a top notch CEO.... yes. Spend a season working in London or Hong Kong or Sydney or New York... yes. You get the point. Pursue lots of opportunities- it will help you refine and define your calling.

Are you replacing yourself? A few Keys to succession in leadership

What are some of the most difficult things in leadership? I would argue that replacing yourself is one of the most challenging parts of leadership- Succession is really really difficult.

Succession, simply the transition of leadership or power, is very difficult for most companies or organizations. Whether a Fortune 50 like GE, Wal-Mart, or Apple; a non-profit like the Red Cross, Focus on the Family, or World Vision; a small startup or family held business; a church of 200 or 10,000; or one of the thousands of mid sized companies across the country. In any case, this is a tough leadership paradigm to get right.

Large companies put millions of dollars into making sure succession is smooth and seemless. Look at Apple- succession from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook has been difficult, and over the last year or so has possibly cost the company billions of dollars in market capitalization, and even more in brand equity. It is a huge issue for the long term health of any company.

Family held businesses or “founder-driven” organizations are really at risk of bad succession plans. Most founders of family held or not for profit organizations can’t let go, and drive everyone crazy around them. Especially in companies that are highly missional- founders are great at starting and building, but usually terrible at letting go and allowing the organization to grow into a second phase of organizational life without them, with a different leader at the helm.

Here in America, we do a really good job of succession when it comes to our President. It is a civil and democratic process. Not the case in other parts of the world, especially in third world and developing countries. Leaders hold onto power and do everything they can to stay in the seat of President or Prime Minister way long after they should be there. Usually because the power of their position corrupts their realities at the deepest levels. I believe this is one of the major issues for these countries- bad succession leads to internal strife, violence and disruptions in growth. These leaders not only hold onto to their power, but fail to develop any other leaders around them to take over.

What about you and your current leadership realities? Whether a team, a company, a non-profit, a church, a family held business, or a Fortune 50, you should be thinking about succession. How are you replacing yourself? If you are not thinking about this, you are neglecting a core part of your responsibility.

A few things to consider:

1. Is it time for you to replace yourself? Have the courage to always leave before you need to or have to.

2. Who are you grooming to step into your role? Start looking and grooming the next leader way sooner than you think you need to.

3. Does the organization or initiative need a fresh perspective and fresh eyes? Most of the time the answer is yes.

4. Power corrupts. Don't let your power trip end up keeping you from correctly leading the organization into the next season of healthy organizational life.

5. Seek wisdom from inside and outside the organization. Seek counsel from trusted friends and advisors, as well as team members internally who can speak the truth.

6. The legacy of your leadership relies significantly on how well the organization continues to thrive after you are gone. Your replacement is a direct reflection of the quality of your leadership.

What Happens When Someone on Your Team Drops the Ball

The Power of Accountability. Sets the tone in any organization. So what about when someone completely drops the ball? We all have experienced this as leaders. I know I have. So how do you respond?

You give a big assignment or project to someone on your team, and they lay an egg- totally drop the ball and don't get it done. We've all been there. I know I have.....both as the goat who goofed up, as well as the one in charge trying to figure out how to handle the situation.

So how do you handle it? Let's look at this situation from both sides, both the one who dropped the ball and the one in charge.

1. As the one who dropped the ball, just own up to it. Don't make excuses. Be self-policing and self aware. Be accountable. And be mature. And realize that your leader or your boss or the person in charge is trying to figure out how to deal with your mistake or lack of action- lean into that and bring it up first and tell them it won't happen again. Don't wait on them to have to confront you. Be proactive. Leaders would always rather find out from you that you laid an egg, vs. finding out from someone else, many times when it's too late to do anything about it.

Own up. Grow Up. Shut up. And don't be the goat again.

2. As the leader, four things to think about: 1. confrontation; 2. conversation; 3. restoration; 4. affirmation. Got these from Kevin Myers in a talk he did a couple of years ago at 12 Stone Church. The key on this- confront, and then move on. Get through the confrontation and onto to the conversation and restoration as quick as possible. If you have the right kind of person on your team, they feel terrible anyway, so spend very little time confronting, and way more time on restoration and affirmation.

Reality is, a majority of accountability, both with individuals and with teams, should be built around conversation and affirmation. This is not just telling people they are great. That's part of it. But instead, affirming this person and your team about where you are going as a team, how you are going to get there, how you are winning, and how they are incredibly important to the success and accomplishments of the team, and accomplishing the mission and vision of the organization. Being accountable to the Vision.

As a leader, DO NOT withhold affirmation. This is so hard. I struggle at this constantly, making sure I am affirming our team and not just confronting.

Assuming you've established trust, a strong level of commitment, and a proper corporate culture, then ultimately affirmation is the greatest power and source of strength for team accountability. If all you are doing is confronting and not moving towards conversation and restoration and affirmation, you'll struggle with team accountability and a culture that is committed and loyal and willing to conquer the hill.

Tough to do this, especially for type A hard charging leaders.

You are a Leader. And you are Responsible. Deal with it.

I get asked all the time by young leaders "how do you handle the responsibility of leading something like Catalyst?" Good question. Reality is, anyone who leads a Church, leads a company, leads a community, leads a non-profit ministry, leads a team, or even a family feels and knows the pressure of responsibility. And Responsibility is part of Leadership. Always. You've heard this before....."You're responsible for what happens.....Don't screw up!" Right!!! We hear this all the time from our parents, from our boss, from our boards, from our friends, from our spouses.

So how do I correctly live with the pressure of Responsibility and Leadership? For me it always begins and ends around the issue of stewardship. The whole idea of stewardship relates back to the concept of watching over something for someone else. Taking care of something you don't own. Ultimately, stewardship begins and ends with a very clear understanding of how you view your role. Are you the owner, or simply the steward for the owner? Is this mine, or am I just taking care of it while the owner is gone? This will help you shape the framework for what correct Biblical stewardship looks like. Whether it's your role in managing your time, your role in cultivating a dream, your role in leading an organization, your role in managing your money, and more.

So here are a few thoughts on Stewardship, and how it relates to leading whatever movement, organization, community, tribe, or team that you've been currently given.

1. Hold things with an open hand, palms down. Picture that one in your mind. Versus the mindset of holding things with a closed fist, palms up.

2. You don't really own it. God does. All of it.

3. You don't deserve the credit. It's not you. God deserves the credit. All of it.

4. It's not about you. Don't be naive. You are NOT the reason for the mission and vision of the organization or community you are leading. Those who you are serving are. Those who are part of the movement and community are most important. Embrace that one.

5. You must step up when needed. It's not about you, but as the leader the buck has to stop with you. Make decisions, bring clarity, encourage communication, and don't play the blame game. Step up and lead.

6. Be generous. Be others focused. Always. And not just when it helps you. Creating wins for others is more fun, and ultimately very strategic.

7. Building a movement is not your job. That's the work of God. Your role is to be prepared to lead one if God sees fit. Thanks to my friend Perry Noble for this nugget.

8. Model the vision and mission. But don't become a barrier to get to it. Let your team carry it, and be in the limelight, and get the credit.

9. You are not the first. And you won't be the last. Others have done this before, and there will be others after you. Understand your role in the generational impact chain.

How Known are You by You?

For leaders, one of the hardest things we have to do is self-assessment. We have a much easier time giving feedback and positive criticism and providing helpful advice to those we lead, but being able to honestly assess where WE each are individually as leaders is tough. But, self-assessment is one of the most important things we can do to make sure we continue to grow and get better. A few thoughts on this:

1. You are never too good at what you do or who you are to not need honest feedback from yourself, your peers, your family, and your friends. Seek it out constantly.

2. Your ability to correctly provide a self-assessment is many times a reflection of your humility and appropriate self-confidence as a leader. The more humble you are, typically the more self-aware you are. The more arrogant you are, typically the less self-aware you are.

3. Can you and do you laugh at yourself consistently? Are you taking yourself way too seriously? If so, chill out. You're not that important and you need to relax. Sometimes the more platform and position we get, the more serious we take ourselves. Don't.

4. As a follower of Jesus, we MUST rely on the Holy Spirit for correction and discernment on areas of our lives where we need to improve and grow in maturity.

5. At the end of the day, no one really enjoys self-assessment. But you can be CONFIDENT that those around you on your team, your friends, your peers and your family are way more aware of you and your style and the things you can improve on. As a leader, you have to be willing to swallow your pride and look yourself in the mirror and correctly assess who you are. A more self-aware leader becomes a way more Confident and followable leader.

6. No one wants to work FOR or AROUND a leader who doesn't understand who they really are. Many times these leaders lack a clear sense of reality. My friend Ken Coleman calls this REALITY DEPRIVATION SYNDROME (RDS). Unfortunately, many leaders live in this world, and end up making decisions based on their false intuitions and assumptions because they don't have a clear sense of who they are and how they are viewed by their peers and what reality really looks like.

7. Know very clearly your areas of strength and areas of weakness. The more personality tests and self-assessment tests you can take, the better. Strengthsfinder, Myers-Briggs, Right Path Assessment, Personality tests, etc. All of these are helpful in giving you a perspective of the type of person you are, and the areas you need to be more aware of that can become problem areas.

8. Once you understand who you are, create a game plan for constant improvement. For example, one of my tendencies is to use cynicism as a source of gaining power and making others feel weak. I am VERY aware of this tendency I have, and have tried to create some barriers in my life that will harness this. Another example for me is that I will end up doing everything myself, instead of naturally delegating or allowing others on our team to take on responsibility. Because of this, I've had to be very intentional about making sure I don't micromanage. Another tendency I have is to be way more intense than I need to be. Because of this, I've tried to give my team permission to tell me when I'm in the "intense" zone. It's still something I find myself doing, but am very self-aware of this and work constantly to improve.

Being Great starts with you

All of us want to be great. Especially as leaders. All of us want to be part of a great team. Have a great family. A great neighborhood. A great church. A great community. A great legacy. There are lots of factors that go into being great. But ultimately, being great starts with you. And since you are your greatest coach and advocate for yourself, here are a few things to always think about when it comes to being great.

1. Be responsible.

2. Be on time.

3. Be a finisher.

4. Be a learner.

5. Be a hustler.

6. Be a role model and carrier of the organizational vision.

7. Be positive.

8. Be self aware and self regulating.

9. Be first.

10. Be someone who "leans in"

11. Be who you are. Know who you are, and lead yourself.

12. Be deeply passionate.

13. Be a courageous risk taker.

6 Ways Coaches are Great Leaders

My dad coached high school football in Bristow, Oklahoma for almost 30 years. They won three state championships, played in the state championship game another three times, won district titles basically every year, and in the 1980's were one of the winningest high school programs in the state. Growing up in Bristow meant high school football. I asked him what makes a good coach. Here were a few of his responses:

1. First and foremost, they have to be great leaders. Players and other coaches want to follow them. They will make the tough decisions, and also have no problem surrounding themselves with other coaches who are more talented than they are.

2. Ability to motivate- they have enthusiasm, and are able to pull the best out of kids. They also create great camaraderie among their staff.

3. Create a great program- great coaches carry with them a certain aura; they are incredibly competent, but also have the "IT" factor. People want to be around them. Kids want to do their best for them, parents want their kids playing for them, the school embraces them, and the community loves them. They create a winning tradition and other schools don't like to play them.

4. Competent- they know X's and O's. They are highly organized, lead well, and skilled at their profession.

5. Never complacent- great coaches don't allow for complacency to set in once they've established a winning tradition or system. And with each year they find new ways to raise the bar and make sure everyone are creating new goals and getting better constantly.

6. Teacher at their core- there really is a connection between a great coach and great teacher. Coaches love to teach- the best coaches can take a player and raise their level of skill and ability because they not only can motivate them, but also can instruct them on how to be better.

10 Challenges for your Team for 2013

Here are 10 specific challenges I would recommend you make to your team this year. To put in place and act out on a regular basis. These are based on the challenges we've instilled on our Catalyst team the last couple of years. 1. Authentic. Be Real. Human. approachable. Guard against hubris.

2. No sideways energy. Communicate. Focus. Guard against silos and wasted energy.

3. Stewardship. Each of us embracing and understanding our role in what we’ve been given and required to manage and uphold through the platform we've been given by God to steward. Not just the leader.

4. Expertise. see myself as an expert. Individual responsibility and organizational responsibility.

5. Receive what we create. Become our own customer. Guard against the mundane. If you don't like the product you are creating, you have a problem.

6. Guard against cynicism. Behind the curtain we have to guard against this. Fight it at every turn. And call it out if we see it.

7. Excellence. We are the best in the world. Confidence not arrogance. Act like it. Maintain a standard. Guard against being lazy and pessimistic.

8. Serve one another. Jump in and help. Get it done mentality. Not just when the "lights are on" (sports reference), but all the time. Be willing to do whatever it takes.

9. Protect and maintain a “make it happen” culture. Guard against the phrase “it’s not my job.” and guard against creating clicks.

10. Get better every day. Guard against complacency. Make it your goal to constantly improve and take your game to the next level.

5 Stages for Making Creative Ideas Happen at Catalyst

We get asked all the time about how we come up with new and fresh ideas for Catalyst. It's a pretty simple process that has proven to be effective. This can be useful in any organization or scenario, whether you are launching ideas, or just looking to make sound decisions. Here you go: 1. Create- we spend a ton of time just brainstorming, which is obviously a very important part of the process. The more ideas on the board, the more opportunities for one of those to make it through the process. All ideas matter at this stage. For example, we have probably 300-350 programming ideas every year for our October conference. And creative meetings are "yes and" meetings, not "no but." Incredibly important!

2. Criticize - every idea, in order to stay in the process, has to be critiqued and criticized significantly. This is key in order to make sure you don't spend tons of time chasing too many rabbits and driving everyone crazy with lots of good ideas but nothing ever happening. And make sure everyone doesn't take things personal- criticizing an idea is much different than criticizing the person who came up with the idea. It's not personal. This stage is a filter, and weeds out lots of possible ideas that just don't have the legs to keep moving up the grid.

3. Optimize- anything that makes it pass the criticize phase has to be built on. In some ways, this is a second and third wave of innovation. Most of the time the original idea will turn into something that looks totally different. And that is okay, and actually important and needed. This is really the essence of putting icing on the cake. A bit of time will usually bring clarity and renewed energy to an idea, so we have to usually let good ideas cook a bit in order to make them great.

4. Validate- every idea has to be validated- financially, operationally, personnel wise, and direction/vision related. Lots of big ideas appropriately get held up in this phase, either to be released later or put on the shelf for good. Conversely, in many organizations, lots of bad ideas make it through this phase because of bad systems and/or leaders who aren't willing to say no, or a team that can't say no to the leader. Leaders- if you are using your position and power to push the wrong ideas through the validation phase, this is a major red flag!

5. Execute- it all comes down to getting things done. Hard work is time consuming and tiring. We take tremendous pride in execution on ideas. If it has gone through the entire process and made it to this point, the idea deserves the attention and focus to make sure it happens. And if every level of the Idea process grid was correctly put in motion, the idea is probably going to be good when turned into reality!

15 Keys of a MAKE IT HAPPEN team culture

All of us want to be part of a team that is successful, accomplishes goals, and gets things done. But a MAKE IT HAPPEN team culture is only possible if we, as individuals and leaders, are truly committed to do our part in helping create that team culture.

So here are 15 keys I've found for how each of us can contribute to that end.

1. Your yes is yes, and your no is no. Do what you said you will do.

2. You take responsibility before being told.

3. Solve problems, and create solutions. Always. Instead of creating problems and delaying solutions.

4. Show up early. for everything. As I tell our team: if you are early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late.

5. Always leave meetings with action items and clear next steps.

6. No blaming others.

7. Place a priority on execution, not concepting. Moving always towards completion and the finish line, vs just another idea.

8. Create small nimble teams who work together- no more than 3 people on a project.

9. Clear lines of authority distributed throughout the organization, and always directly connected to responsibility AND authority.

10. Encourage working together. Constantly create a collaborative spirit and environment.

11. Model a high trust factor. I have to admit- this one is difficult for me. The "I'll just do it myself" mentality doesn't help....

12. Consistent "leaning in" posture and spirit- want to learn, always get better, and constantly improve.

13. The Leader leads. Whoever the organizational/team leader is- they have to model all of these- leader leads on all of these. Walk the walk and talk the talk.

14. Permeates from the bottom up. A make it happen team may have a strong alpha leader, but if the team fears but doesn't respect that leader, it won't work. Bottom up means mutual respect across the organization.

15. Meetings are the exception, not the norm. Meetings for meetings sake are killing most organizations. Only schedule a meeting if you absolutely have to. And nothing wrong with that. But quick stand up meetings, hall run ins, and collaborative conversations I've found to be way more productive.

What would you add to this list of keys you've found in Make it Happen team cultures? 

Tell Me what you want, what you really really want....

Over the last 15 years, I've heard this alot. From key leaders, CEO's, authors, celebrities, politicians, actors, producers, pastors, and lots of other folks. I would figure out a way to make a connection with someone, and then arrange a meeting, phone call, breakfast, lunch, or coffee. Inevitably, this question would eventually come out in the conversation. I loved hearing it. It was the honest question, and I wasn't afraid to answer it.

Now I ask it. Not because I'm someone who deserves to ask it, but more because time is precious. When you are a leader and have a team and an organization to run, besides family and friends and all kinds of other things that require your attention, and there are people who want to spend time with you, you have to make choices. I understand now why all these folks were always asking me that question... "So what do you really want?"

So next time you have a meeting or phone call or a lunch with someone who you respect and want to learn from and consider to be a key influencer, here are a few pointers on how to make sure they'll want to talk to you the next time you call or want to meet:

1. Honor that person's time. Ask how much time they have, both before the meeting and once you arrive. Once you know how much time they have, then stick to that. And actually wrap up sooner than what is expected.

2. Ask way more questions than you give answers. You're not the expert, they are. So leverage the time and soak up their wisdom. Don't use the time to share your story, unless the person truly wants to know.

3. Pay for it. If you are at breakfast or lunch or dinner, pay for the meal. I don't care if you are meeting with Bill Gates, pay for it. It is a sign of respect. Even if you are a non-profit and trying to raise money, pay for the meal. Seriously.

4. Tell the person what the agenda is. If you are planning to ask them for money, tell them that. If you want a favor, tell them that. If you have a certain need you want to get their advice on, tell them that. If you have specific questions you want to ask and get their answers on, tell them those questions. Be upfront. Be honest. Be real and authentic.

5. Be prepared. Know everything you can about the person you are meeting with. Have 8-10 questions prepared for the conversation, plus several items of interest you will want to cover. Do your homework. The more you know about someone and have a good understanding of who they are and what their interests are, proves that you value and respect their time.

6. Write it down. Bring something to write with, and write down the good stuff. And write down the key connections and things you can follow up on later.

7. Follow up. First, write a personal hand written note to say thanks for the time. Then, figure out ways you can serve that person. If that person likes a certain coffee, send them a gift card. If that person likes a certain college team, make a connection about that team a month later. If you can make a connection for that person that will serve them, do it. If you want to create a long term value add friendship, you'll need to be intentional around their likes and interests.


Be Exceptional

Are you a competent leader? Or are you an exceptional leader? I know lots of competent leaders (and unfortunately incompetent leaders as well), but very few exceptional ones.

Competenthaving suitable of sufficient skill, knowledge, and experience. Seems doable. Doesn't seem like a stretch to try and be competent at your job and as a leader. Another definition of competent- adequate, but not exceptional. Wow, sign me up.... every since a child dreaming about what I would be when I grow up I dreamed of being adequate.... yeah, not real inspiring, huh.

How about being Exceptional as a leader? How about being the best in the world at your skill or area of expertise. How about being #1 in your industry as an organization. Striving to be better than average, above the norm, outside of the ordinary. That seems a bit more inspiring than adequate, average or suitable.

Being competent is the norm. Being exceptional is the unusual.  Work on being exceptional.

Making Big Decisions

As leaders, we make hundreds and hundreds of normal decisions throughout the day. Many of them unconscious and seemingly by habit. We also make big decisions. Important decisions. Decisions that alter the course of a business, change the landscape of a team, create revenue, cut expenses, push projects to next year, impact people and families, etc. Big decisions are part of the job of a leader. Normal and ordinary. But I recommend to always sleep on a big decision. It can wait until the next day. Always. And the extra time will allow your decision to be one without the emotion of a spontaneous response.

Just a small step in the process of decision making, but one that is worth it. Give a decision the benefit of a good nights sleep.