Category Archives: Human Relations

The Thinker

5 Critical Questions for Leaders

This summarizes Bill Hybels’ August 2011 presentation at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit. This summary comes from notes taken by Matthew Sherman and posted on his Website. Click here.

Bill Hybels discussed five critical questions a leader should ask himself or herself regarding their organizational leadership.

1. What is your current challenge level at work?

Hybels warned about being under-challenged and dangerously over-challenged for too long. If leaders allow themselves to be under-challenged, they will suffer from atrophy; physically, mentally, and spiritually. If an employee (especially an upcoming leader) is allowed to be under-challenged for too long a time, they will eventually leave.

Being dangerously over-challenged for too long a time  will eventually lead to burnout. There are periods where being over-challenged is inevitable, but it’s important to gear down as soon as possible. He told a nearly tragic story from early in WCCC’s history where an employee attempted suicide.

2. What is the plan to deal with the challenging people in your organization?

Hybels introduced three other questions to address the critical question.

  • How do you handle bad attitudes? Hybels said WCCC addresses a bad attitude as soon as it is seen to have become a trend. Once the attitude has been seen as a trend, the employee is addressed (“So what’s going on with your attitude lately?”, “Is there something going on that we can help with?”). After the employee has been addressed, they are given a 30-day pass. If the employee’s attitude has not been resolved after that period of time, further action is taken. A bad attitude can be poison for an organization. He also recommended if an organization does not have a method of dealing with an employee’s bad attitude, one should be discussed and developed.
  • How do you handle under-performers? Again, Hybels said WCCC addresses an under performer as soon as it is seen to have become a trend. As before, the employee is addressed and a solution to the situation is attempted to be reached. Willow Creek gives an under performer three months to correct the situation. In his experience, most people who have traditionally been a good performer and slide into underperforming have a personal issue that needs to be resolved, which is why more time is given to resolve the situation. Again, Hybels recommended if an organization does not have a method of dealing with an employee’s under performance, one should be discussed and developed.
  • How do you handle replacing a person who once fulfilled their role, but can’t keep up with the growth of the organization (the organization’s needs have surpassed the employee’s talents)? This is the hardest kind of challenging employee. This is a person who does not have any negative issues (attitudes or under performance), with the exception that expectations for the job tasks they have performed well on in the past have risen to the point they can no longer perform their job adequately. Willow Creek addresses this sort of issue and tries to resolve the problem over a six- to 12-month period. WCCC will do their best to relocate or accommodate the employee, but they will ultimately handle the issue if necessary. Even at the cost of a, “generous severance” package.

He described an exercise where department heads would draw a horizontal line and list their staff members in order of “keep” priority. The scenario presented was, in the event of a layoff of 50% of your employees, in what order would you list the employees of your department in order of importance to the team (highest importance on the left)? “The point of the exercise”, Hybels says, “is not to be cruel. It should first force management to think about the reality of a possible downsize due to economic situations, and second force them to think about the strengths and weaknesses of those on their teams.” If an employee is weak, why? How can these team members be encouraged in the areas they are weak in?

My Note:
The authors of Strengthfinders would disagree with this last statement. Should you focus on building strengths or repairing weaknesses? Their research shows that you are further ahead if you focus on building strengths, without totally ignoring weakness.

3. Are you naming, facing, and resolving the problems that exist in your organization?

Hybels asked if there were problems that were keeping the organization from achieving their goals. What are those problems? Are the leaders in the organization admitting that these problems exist? Are the leaders taking action to address and resolve the problems?

Hybels presented another exercise WCCC has used to address problems within the organization.

He presented a bell curve where the bottom left quadrant represented an idea or goal that was just starting (accelerating), the top left quadrant represented an idea or goal that had taken off and was rapidly growing (booming), the top right quadrant represented an idea or goal that had become old and worn out (declining), and the bottom right quadrant represented an idea or goal that had completely fallen off the radar (tanking).

The task of organizational leadership is to honestly and accurately assess the different ideas, goals, and missions of the organization and place them on the continuum. If goals were declining, or even tanking, what could be done to renew and revive those goals? Hybels said Willow Creek had made the commitment to never let a goal fall into the “tanking” quadrant. If it is a goal the organization wants to continue, the goal would have to be revitalized and renewed through planning and new implementation to return it to the “accelerating” quadrant.

4. When was the last time you examined the core of what your organization is about?

He presented a blank list with 5 spaces and asked, “What are five words that describe what your organization is about?”

Hybels stated that he and his team had spent months working on the five words for WCCC, but they were continuing to work on it. He challenged the audience to continually return to their organizations’ purpose to think about and renew the organization’s vision, mission, and goals.

My Note:
If your organization’s vision and mission are changing, you need to rethink your entire organization and why it exists. They should never change.

5. Have you had your leadership bell rung recently?

Has anything you’ve read, seen, or heard made an impact on your leadership lately? Are you making excuses instead of creating bold, new solutions?

“A leader who is not continually growing and learning cannot remain a leader for long.”

Hybels ended on a positive note, “Make your next five years your best five years.”

Somerset Conference

Seeking a Board Member – 4 Things You Will Want

You know about filling your nonprofit board with a matrix of key skills: a CPA, a lawyer, an HR specialist, subject matter experts, fundraisers, etc. You know about including stakeholder representatives: donors, churches, government, journalists, clients (yes clients), etc.

These are good places to start looking. But here are four nonnegotiables for the final selection. Continue reading Seeking a Board Member – 4 Things You Will Want

Somerset Conference

Jobs I Hate: Evaluating the Executive Director

Annual performance evaluations are one of the worst tools ever invented. They distract from real-time performance, they are often backward focused, and the objectives for next year are usually overtaken by events before the toner dries. Even worse, they can be completely demoralizing if they include surprise criticism. Continue reading Jobs I Hate: Evaluating the Executive Director

Due Process. What is It? and Why Do You Need It?

Signing of the Magna CartaDue Process is a phrase that arose from Chapter 39 of the Magna Carta in 1215. The exact phrase was first used in a restatement in 1354. It is fundamental to the purposes of that document and to the operation of a democracy. It limits the power of those in authority to operate in an arbitrary (read, tyrannical) manner and forces them to use the rule of law. Continue reading Due Process. What is It? and Why Do You Need It?

Teams Are More Than Just Working Together

“Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds.” -SEAL Team Saying.

We have always known that teams could do more than the same number of separate individuals.

“If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
Ecclesiastes 4:10

Working as a team was one of the first steps in warfare. You could watch each other’s back while increasing the effect of concentrated weapons.

The industrial revolution scaled up teams to a massive scale, allowing specialization.

We thought we knew all about teams.

Then Katzenback and Smith wrote a book called The Wisdom of Teams, where they added a whole new dimension: High Performance teams.

They showed the progression of teams from groups of individuals, to having joint goals, to having a common approach. They then defined High Performance Teams as teams that also care about one another and actually care about one another’s personal growth. They have a high level of mutual responsibility.

The High Performance Team exhibits a step function in performance.

Here’s a summary of their book, from Robert Youker of ASAPM:

Download (PPT, 19KB)

I have been on many teams, some were truly high performance, while others were at the opposite end. The differences were obvious.

First, the high performance teams had a very clear mission. There was a reason for what they were doing and the mission and vision were communicated clearly and often. [Remember, “Vision leaks.” -Bill Hybels]

Second, the teams cared about the personal growth of each individual.

My first true high performing team was a small detachment in SouthEast Asia, flying reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. Despite having the worst airplanes and the most inexperienced pilots, we consistently performed more than 100% of our assigned missions, while the fully equipped squadrons with the experienced pilots could not get above 80%.

The difference? We not only knew the mission, but we cared about the personal growth of each individual. When I first arrived, as I stepped off the airplane, I was greeted by the Detachment Commander and a Major. The Commander’s first words were, “Welcome, this gentleman [the Major] will be your instructor pilot until you become an Aircraft Commander.”

This was music to my ears. The most a young Second Lieutenant, right out of pilot training, could hope was to fly his last combat flight as his first-and-only Pilot-in-Command flight. By dedicating an instructor to me, I would become an Aircraft Command in only four months and spend over half of my combat missions while in command.

I would follow that Commander anywhere. And, it only took one sentence.

Third, the teams cared about the welfare of one another. You do things for one another when you care about one another. When someone cares for you and shows it by doing things for you that they do not have to do, trust builds up.

When teams have a high level of trust, they are not afraid to try new things, to take new risks. They are willing to do extra for the team. Everyone wins.

There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships. — Michael Jordan

Difficult Conversations: Get Them to Talk

The Harvard Negotiation Project (HNP) is best known for their classic books on negotiation, Getting to Yes and Getting Past No. These books revolutionized negotiations and should be on the reading list of everyone.

But they recognized a problem with their win-win approach. It assumed that both parties were willing to talk to one another. This is not always the case. In response, HNP has published Difficult Conversations, How to Discuss What Matters Most. Continue reading Difficult Conversations: Get Them to Talk