How to Lead a Team to Excellence

...and how not to lead a team to excellence.

Orange Excellence

Growing up, I loved a movie that involved two ridiculously dumb teenagers, Bill and Ted, which traversed the entire story of time in a time machine they found outside of a Circle-K. Every time they’d see something they liked, they’d look at each other and say “Excellent!” While their version of excellence was dripping with surfer and valley attitude, my own version of excellent has often left others wondering what I meant.

While I’d love to travel back in time like Bill and Ted, I cannot. Instead I’m one that has had to learn from my mistakes. One mistake I’ve often made as a leader is how I went about leading others on my team toward excellence. I would move too fast, not explain the steps toward excellence, and generally expect those on my teams to read my mind and do what I was thinking. My experience has taught me one very important truth. There is a better way to lead a team toward excellence.

The first step toward excellence is to communicate clearly what excellence is for your team. Every team is unique, every church is distinct, and every individual is different. Spend time defining what you’re looking for and how what you’re doing now will look different when it’s done with excellence. This step is worth spending weeks, and maybe even months, in developing the answer. Considering where your organization’s leadership has been before, where they are at now, and how they are growing in the future can help you begin to communicate clearly to your team where you need, and expect, to see excellence happen.

The next step into leading a team toward excellence is to connect your team to where you see excellence currently. What you dream for your team is probably happening on some level in other places, and it could even be within your own organization.

A few ideas here include:

  • Identify that person on your team who is an A+ volunteer recruiter and let them share their strategies in a team meeting. This will bring attention to what she does in a vocal way; and set up the rest of the team for the expectations you have of them.
  • Find another team doing what you believe you can do with your team, and make that connection happen. Take that other church staff out to lunch, on your dime, and make the connections a tangible thing. Make time to Skype in that leader from across the county and introduce their strategy of excellence to your team in a quick way.
  • Assign those on your team who need to be better, to connect with leaders and organizations that they themselves respect and see if you can get what they respect about others to rub off on their own methods and strategies.

There is excellence all around us, and as a leader it becomes your burden to connect your own team with what is out there to learn from. This may be one of the most important long-term steps you take as a leader of a team, helping everyone develop relationships that challenge the way we do things in our organizations.

The last step to truly establishing a team of excellence is to set a realistic path toward excellence. Many leaders live in their world of visions, dreams, and big plans; and skip over the more obvious questions their team is asking.

For example:

  • “What do I do now?”
  • “How does what I’ve heard and seen help me prepare for next weekend?”
  • “Could this ever happen here?”
  • “Does what I see and hear have a place in my organization?”

Not taking the time to answer the “What now?” questions for your team will leave them disillusioned and unsure of what you will be holding them accountable to. Great leaders make sure they keep themselves tethered to the “what’s realistic” part of leadership as well. Your church, your team, and your ideas won’t always play nice; and as the leader it becomes your important job to help everyone manage each other in a respectful way.

A leader of excellence takes the time to help their team see what excellence can look like for them. A leader who wants excellence in their team will go to great lengths to find and connect others to those they should be most invested in, their own team. A great leader works to break down the vision into steps that are doable, realistic, and yet challenging at the same time. The leader of an excellent team helps everyone see where their current work is helping them achieve excellence and where their current work isn’t.

It’s not a job for the fainthearted, but it is the job of a leader seeking excellence in how they engage others in the story of God’s Son, Jesus. You could travel all through time and still wouldn’t find a more important story to tell. It’s excellent!

“The lie of narcissism is that we can control a world that is spinning out of orbit by narrowing the field of ambiguity into a simplistic perspective. We choose this perspective—a path of rigidity and dogmatism that limits options and lets us deny complexity in the world. We do this even though complexity is inevitable, and no leader will succeed if she closes herself off from it. Only by letting go of dogmatism and embracing complexity can a leader open her mind to a greater capacity for creativity, leading to success.”

Dan B. Allender

Orange Books

Summer Reading List

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WHAT ARE YOU READING THIS SUMMER?

Orange Books has put together a reading list just for you.

Whether you are in children’s ministry, a lead pastor, a volunteer, or stumbled upon this page by accident, they have a book for you.

Leaders, like writers, read. So they asked leaders three questions about books:

What books do you recommend to leaders in your area of ministry? 
What books are you asking your team to read? 
What’s on your own reading list?

The Summer Reading List is the result. Organized around eight topics, and comprised of both religious and secular books, it’s actually multiple lists in one. In fact, it could form your reading plan for the entire year. You may wish to read (or re-read) several books related to your area of ministry, or you may want to “cherry pick” across topics, but they think there’s at least one book per topic you’ll find enriching or challenging.

Click HERE to get your copy of the List. By signing up, you’ll receive not only the List itself, but eight special offers (one per week beginning July 12) on select Orange Books. Watch your inbox for details each week.

Give your ministry the gift of a better you. Reflect, rethink, and renew this summer with Orange Books.

Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. Christians are called to…take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian.

N.T. Wright

What is home anyway?

Home Again, Home Again

BY: Starr Cliff

I have a really great life. A perfect life? No. I have certainly had heartache and loss; but I know God as healer and redeemer probably better than I know him in any other way, and he has been good to oversee my pain and certainly never waste it. Bumps in the road not withstanding, I really do get way down in my gut that my life is enviable. It humbles me. A good, good man who loves me.  Healthy kids.  Never missed a meal.  A family in Oklahoma who would do anything for me.

The one “hang up” and pity-party I keep revisiting in my adulthood, in spite of a full and joy-filled life, is my kids not being able t0 experience a strong sense of “hometown.” The crazy hometown pride, here’s where I from, it defines me in so many ways, I love it in spite of it’s flaws, yes please dress me in my high school colors 20 years later, that kind of home.  They may never feel about anywhere the way I feel about Oklahoma, because they’ve never been anywhere long enough.   And yes, that’s our bad. We did it. We keep moving them around the country.  Sometimes planned and exciting, sometimes unplanned and heartbreaking, but always landing somewhere where we eventually say, “Oh.  Yeah.  We get it now.  We trust you, Lord, with our whole lives. Thank you.”

So, my kids not having a home town, it’s a small grievance in an otherwise pretty charmed life.

I think I’m finally ready to let go of that heartache.  Here’s this burden Lord, I don’t want to carry it anymore. It’s time.  Now is the time partly because, let’s face it, my kids are age 13, 11, and 9. The one-hometown-for-their-whole-life ship has sailed. It ain’t happenin’ honey.

But also because the Lord has seen fit that now is the time for him to shine a gentle but very bright spotlight on my heart, and reveal the discontent there.  In short…he moved me to a military town.  So I have been given the precious chance of watching a handful of  families be moved, uprooted, have plans changed and changed again, all at the mercy of some higher up in an office somewhere sending them off to wherever the paperwork says to go.  They do it with joy and peace. They do it accepting the heartache that comes with saying goodbye, but without bitterness. If they feel a sense of loss over “home”, it’s not in a way that steals their joy.

So, this life of never being in one place long enough to lay down roots? It’s not the script we would have written.  But it’s okay.  Better than okay.  As I give up that wish and just go ahead and try and accept with joy that I didn’t get my way, I can more clearly see all the benefits of this life we’ve lived.

A friend once told me that my kids were “well on their way to becoming unflappable.”  It makes me tear up as I realize how true that is, and that I couldn’t have given them that gift with the life I would have planned had I been in charge. They’ve earned their grit the same way we have.  I’m grateful.

And I hope for them that someday they can process whatever heartache and unfulfilled wished-for-things they encounter in their own lives, and find the beauty in it.

So, you are all my witnesses that I am fully accepting this life of ours with joy: Dallas.  Lubbock.  Georgia.  And now, Lord willing for a good long while, Tennessee. I’m glad for the lessons, love, and beauty found in all of those places.

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“Home is wherever I’m with you.”  A cliche by now, but also the God’s honest truth.  Home is the place that’s safe.  Home is where you are known, loved, celebrated, and accepted.  And we’ve always, always had that.  Always will.