Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Managing Expectations

I've learned over the years that a lot of the problems that leaders deal with are the result of unmet expectations. This is true of the leader - as sometimes things don't go the way they should. But it's especially true of followers, when reality doesn't quite match up with what had been envisioned.

Some of us leaders have a particular penchant for being overly optimistic. When all is well, this is not a problem, but when things go south... that's another story. The reality is that in every organization, be it a business, a church or a non-prof, there will be ups and downs. How we interpret those ups and downs is often dependent upon the expectations the leader has created.

Let's use some sports teams as an example. As a longsuffering Toronto sports fan, the beginning of every season brings with it the dawn of great expectations. The Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 -  I was 5 at the time. When Brian Burke was hired as the General Manager in the Fall of 2008 he made it clear that winning was paramount and laid out a strategy to get back to the playoffs.

Regardless of what was said, the expectation was that it would take place sooner, rather than later. The knives are now out for the Leafs GM after yet another disappointing season. You'd be hard pressed to find too many people who honestly believe that the Leafs are any closer to the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup, than they were four years ago. Yet we hope...

Then you have the Toronto Blue Jays. They won the World Series in 1993 but, since then, have been perennial also-rans in the toughest division in baseball. Alex Anthopolous was hired to be the Blue Jays new General Manager late in 2009 as a relative unknown. Expectations were limited, and a conservative strategy for a long-term building plan was clearly articulated by the new boss.

Now 3 years later the Blue Jays are still hovering around the .500 mark, winning half and losing half. The difference between them and the Leafs is that Alex has done a far better job of managing expectations, I suspect partly because he has a better relationship with the media. In a recent trade, for example, Anthopolous was clear that it wouldn't put the team "over the top." It would help, but the Jays are still a few pieces away from contention.

Rather than putting off most fans, it rather has had the opposite affect.The average fan seems willing to give Alex more time, sensing that he does know what he's doing. Expectations are that the team is only a couple of years away from contending for a long time. These expectations are also being moderated by a friendly media, who have been an ally to Anthopolous from a PR perspective.

Compare that to Burke, whose prickly personality seems to have rubbed many members of the media the wrong way. While still reporting "fairly" they are not inclined to do Brian any favours or give him the benefit of the doubt. The Leafs may not be much different as far as their performance but, because of expectations, they seem to be light years apart.

How does this relate to your organization? Who are the people who help shape expectations for you? Most of us don't have to deal with the media, but we all have influencers around us. If they're favourable they can help greatly; if they're not, look out. As a strategy, identify the influencers in your organization. Win them over. If you can't, you'd better be more influential that they are.

Finally, learn how to manage expectations through whatever means you have at your disposal. When you overpromise, people will eventually stop believing in you. It's preferable to overdeliver - to have results that exceed expectations. Be sure that when you are projecting into the future that you are realistic. And take a lesson from Anthopolous - be likeable. Work on your people skills. People will be much more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. 

Related Articles:
Are You Teachable?
Why Don't You Like Me?
Creating Positive Change
Are You a People Person?
The Pareto Principle

Friday, July 20, 2012

Some Articles Worth Reading - For Pastors

Here are three helpful articles that I wanted to pass on for all of the pastors and ministry leaders out there. There's nothing earth-shattering here - just good things to be reminded of. I hope you enjoy, and if you come across helpful links, please drop me a line at tdbok@rogers.com
3 Things Every Pastor Should Unlearn - by Pete Wilson
Solid Advice for Young Leaders from Dr. Billy Graham  - by Ron Edmondson

Related Articles:
How To Avoid Burn-out
"Evidence of a Vision"
Turning Points
Levels of Leadership

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learn This Before You Lead

Here's a great article that I came across recently that deals with a subject I've been thinking a lot about lately - followership. We don't talk a lot about it. It's not even a word actually. But as a concept, it's vital for leaders. The basic idea is this: everyone follows someone, and before you can lead effectively, you must learn how to follow. I will let August Turak teach this lesson, he does it far better than I could. 

Click on this link for the whole article:

The 11 Leadership Secrets You've Never Heard About

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Cool Link of the Day #4

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How To Avoid Burn-out

A while ago I listened to an interesting lesson from Wayne Cordeiro, a Pastor and teacher from Hawaii. He was sharing some of his experiences with burnout and how to avoid it. This lesson is particularly helpful for anyone in the people business - teachers, health professionals, pastors, social workers, etc..., but also for anyone in a high-stress job.

Here it is in a nutshell. Each of us have a limited capacity emotionally. While we may think that we are superman or superwoman, life has a way of demonstrating how wrong we are. The landscape is strewn with many from the helping professions who have crashed and burned after pushing it too hard and too long. Each of us have to learn our limits, and ensure that we build in time and activities that refill us.

Wayne uses the analogy of an emotional fuel tank. It's something that we don't often think about, but keeping that tank full is important to our long-term success. None of us wants to become a statistic.

So, here's the question, what are the things that you do that feed you emotionally; that help you feel better about life; that recharge your batteries? For some that may be long walks, sports, reading, traveling, going to the beach, gardening or any number of things. Whatever they are, you need to identify them, and you need to make them a regular part of your routine.

This seems counter-intuitive for many "Type-A"personalities, who tend to feel that they have to always be on the go. The truth is, without recharging, you are likely hurting your long-term productivity. I know, in my experience, sometimes the schedule has gotten away from me and, inevitably, what ends up getting dropped is the "me" time. The tank is then depleted and, if it goes too long, emotional damage is done.

I experienced this a few years ago in my own ministry. The church was growing, I was getting busier; trying to launch new initiatives and keep the ball rolling. I was trying to help others with their problems. I had other stresses in my life that contributed to a mounting sense that I was losing control. It took me longer and used more energy to do what I used to do. All I knew was that I stopped caring - and that's not a good place to be in ministry.

Thankfully, I had an understanding Board and a caring church family that allowed me to take the time I needed to get myself right. I learned some lessons the hard way during that time. Here are some of the bigger ones.

There's only one God, and I'm not Him.
Pastors, in particular, can tend to fall into this trap where they feel that they have to save the world. The truth is that we're all only human, with very real limitations. I've had to learn that there are some situations that are beyond my control. I've preached on this verse for years, but learned through these experiences just how true it is:  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7) Remember, as well, that none of us are indispensable.

Build margin and stay away from the edge.
What this simply means is that you have to choose carefully where you will spend your time. There are two opposite temptations for pastors: one is to become a workaholic and never take time for themselves; the other is to be lazy and to neglect their ministry. Both are wrong and damaging in their own way. The key is balance. If you are going to take time for yourself you have to build that into your schedule and you have to learn to say no (something I have a hard time with). Learn to prioritize, remember the Pareto Principle: 20% of your activity will provide 80% of the productivity.

Know yourself.
You need to be able to tell when your stress level is rising and you need to know what to do about it. In this case especially, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you sense the pressure building, offload the stressors if you can and do something to recharge. It's better to take a couple of days sooner, then be forced to take a few weeks or months later. 

Identify what gives you energy and what takes it away.
There are some things in my ministry that I do because I have to - they're part of the job. There are other parts of my job that I love to do. When you find your energy level being depleted, do your best to focus on the parts that you love, where your passions lie. 

We can be healthy, and we need to be healthy if we're going to continue to be of use to others. Ask yourself this, on a scale of 1-10, what would be the level in your emotional tank? If it's dropping down below 5, what can you do to get it back up in the healthy range? If you're running on empty, who do you need to talk to who can help you? Take care of yourself. Life is hard but God is good.

Related Articles:
Book Review: "The Me I Want To Be"
Caring Enough to Confront
The Pareto Principle
Authentic Leadership
Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham