Tag Archives: vision

How Marginal Gains Provide the Steps to Success

Currently reading Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life by James Kerr.

This has been a fantastic read so far that shares the life and leadership lessons from one of the world’s premier rugby teams.

One of the chapters that I just finished talks about marginal gains which the author defines as “100 things done 1% better to deliver cumulative competitive advantage.” It is natural for leaders to focus on the big picture, to share the 30,000 foot perspective, and to constantly remind teams about the vision and mission. The struggle happens when that is the only focus and the daily grind is overlooked.

Great leadership carries the tension between the vision and the implementation. Between the dream and the details. Between success and sustainability.

How does a leader accomplish this? Through becoming an intentional role model in the area of marginal gains.

* Look at your dream or vision and begin to work backwards outlining the steps necessary to achieve success.

* Start with today, be the best you can be today, and measure what a marginal gain would look like.

* Review your day, resetting goals for tomorrow that include your desired marginal gain.

* Begin again with a new standard of achievement and keep the process moving forward one step at a time.

Whether you need to improve in vision casting, one-on-one relationships, writing skills, or project management, you will gain success as you improve slightly each day. A reality of growth is that if you are not moving forward, then you are in danger of being passed up, or even moving backwards. Don’t be overwhelmed by the dream, but take the small steps necessary to achieve your dream!

What are you doing today that if you improved by 1% each day the next week would make the greatest difference?

What about your team?

The cumulative effect of the marginal gains of your team will build momentum and carry you towards the success you are aiming for. There is definitely a place in leadership to sweat the small stuff and to celebrate small victories. The accumulation of many small victories leads to the ultimate success that we are all dreaming of!


Capture Your Next Great Idea

I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to remember what I believe I should remember. I find myself walking back into rooms in hopes that my thought is still floating in the air waiting for me to engage with it again. I couldn’t tell you how often I have had the next great idea and then within moments it was gone!

Thankfully, I have done a much better job with remembering the times that God touched my heart in a powerful way and challenged me to a new way of living. The difference is that I tend to write down the things God tells me, but by default forget to write down what I tell myself.

Admittedly, I am a big picture dreamer and visionary. I love potential and future and hope and the anticipation of what might be waiting around the corner. I love new ideas, innovative tasks and strategic planning. However, this all comes to naught if at the end of the day I don’t actually change anything or accomplish anything. Dreams without action simply remain dreams. But when I add action then the sky’s the limit to what might happen!

Over the years, I have applied how I interact with God to how I interact with everything else and I simply write it down. I have a standing note on my phone to capture new ideas, as well as a paper notebook at home. It doesn’t really matter how you might capture your next great idea…what matters is that you capture it. The sooner and more thoroughly that you capture the dream, the more likely that you will follow through with an idea to completion.

So, what are the main benefits of capturing your next big idea?

** Seeing my dreams and ideas written out makes them more real and concrete. They become possible and tangible and are no longer floating in the space for ideas, but are now entering the land of
accomplishment. I have a vision that I can now begin to strategically plan out and work on.

** It is much easier to discover gaps on paper than in my head. Whether I am writing a book, preparing a sermon, or even jotting together a blog post, I find that I write and rewrite multiple times before content might be ready to share. As a visual learner, it is vital that I see what I am creating while still in process. I am a HUGE fan of whiteboards for this very reason.

** We were not designed to function within a bubble. When I have my next great idea written down, I can easily invite others to join me. In Habakkuk 2:2 (ESV) we are told to “write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” I get fired up whenever I am able to come alongside somebody and see them fulfill their potential. If my dream might be a tool to accomplish this in somebody else’s life, then I need to capture it in a way to makes sense to others.

** I can complete the task at hand while not forgetting my next great idea. I often have dreams and ideas surface while I am already busy with a different task. When this happens, I have several choices. First, I can get distracted from my task and focus on the new idea. Or I can focus on the task and forget the details of my idea. The best practice I have learned is to quickly capture my idea so that I can revisit it later. This allows current tasks to be completed and future tasks to be remembered. 

The discipline of capturing new ideas over the past years has become an invaluable tool for me personally. I am sure that many activities and strategies would never have come to fruition if I trusted myself to remember it all. Some ideas have been discarded, some acted upon, and some are still in the holding tank. The key is they are out of my mind, onto the paper, and ready to be acted upon if the opportunity presents itself.

How about you? How do you capture your next great ideas? Do you write them down, record a voice memo, or use some other medium?

4 Questions for Handling Obstacles

If you have been in leadership for any length of time…or part of a project for that matter, inevitably you have run into obstacles. Sometimes they were anticipated, but often they seem to come out of nowhere. Effective leaders do not panic when this happens. Instead, they walk through a series of questions to discover not only what the obstacle is, but more importantly what the solution is for moving forward. While obstacles often can feel like an insurmountable wall, there is typically a way over, under, around, or through.

What’s broken? Before you can even consider options and solutions, it is essential to discover what is actually broken. Slow down, assess what is happening, and determine what isn’t working. Is it a lack of resources? Maybe the original timeframe for completion now seems unrealistic. Perhaps, you have the wrong people on your team, or the right people in the wrong roles? You might even discover that nothing is broken and that the obstacle is simply a natural result of your process. Gain input from others and come to an agreement with key leaders.

What’s working? Sometimes, the best way to handle an obstacle is to take a break, walk away from the project, and celebrate the accomplishments of your team. This provides the opportunity to reflect on progress, to cheer for team members, and to fill up the energy of your team members. Great leaders constantly celebrate others and cultivate sustainability through encouragement. You might be surprised to discover that upon your return from a celebration break, the obstacles no longer exist. In addition, assessing what is working might also lead to potential solutions to anything that you previously discovered was broken.

What’s confusing? There is nothing more challenging as a team member than to be commissioned to accomplish a project, yet be unsure what the actual goals of the project are. How do you aim for a target than you cannot see? It is crucial for leaders to listen to the objections or frustrations of team members, clarify the vision of the specific task, and redirect energies as needed to successfully complete objectives. Clear and concise should be foundational requirements for every leader when it comes to sharing the purpose and process for a project.

What’s missing? If you have cleared things up, celebrated the accomplishments of the team, and determined that nothing is truly broken, the final piece of the puzzle is to identify gaps. It might be that you have everything you need to accomplish steps “A” through “G”, but you then realized that you never created step “D.” Find the gaps, determine the people and resources needed to fill the gaps, and then move forward with creating the solutions required to achieve the expected results.

I have led projects with as few as 3-5 people up to entire camps with over 100 volunteers. It doesn’t typically matter how many people are involved or what the scope of the project might be. Obstacles are reality and leaders must have the tools necessary to confront the obstacles, reassess the process, and get the team moving forward again in a timely manner.

What questions am I missing that you might use to handle the obstacles you have experienced?

3 Steps to Get From Here to There

When I was still serving as a children’s pastor, one of the churches I was on staff at had never hosted a summer Vacation Bible School. This is typically a week-long event for elementary age children that is high energy and filled with games, crafts teachings, music, etc. The whole purpose of the week is to help kids know and follow Jesus better. Unfortunately, at that time, the typical week was very focused on the kids already coming to the church. My heart was to create an event that focused more on kids in the community who had never been to church before.

The church staff heard my dream and supported my vision. After six months of planning, the big day hit and I was overwhelmed to see 300 kids attend our first ever night. We did things very differently than a typical church event and it was a huge success. While I acknowledge that it was truly a God-led moment, there were also many things that I needed to do as the leader to see the vision come to pass. Upon reflection, there are three basic steps that will help us as leaders move our vision from here to there…from a dream to a reality.

Vision – throughout the Bible, we see stories of people with amazing vision that God brings to fruition (Daniel, Abraham, and Mary to name a few) and those who lacked vision and ended in defeat (Samson, King Saul and Judas). Without vision, we have no direction, no purpose and nowhere to see our passion manifest. Vision provides the answers to so many questions. Vision keeps us focused on the big picture when the little details seem overwhelming. Vision rallies others when they see our enthusiasm and it matches up with passion of their own. 

My vision was to create an event that would attract kids to attend church and learn about God in a fun and high-energy environment. This was compelling enough to draw support from church staff and volunteers because I was so fired up about it that the excitement became contagious. A vision is not truly compelling until it keeps the leader up at night! What is that dream you have been holding on to that God might be surfacing right now? Write it down and keep it in sight!

Strategy – while it is a blast to dream and reach for the sky, it can quickly become an exercise of frustration if there is not a framework for accomplishment. This is what strategy provides. How many different components does your vision entail? How many people do you need to join the team in order to see success? What are the big rocks you must have in order to make progress towards achievement? Strategy is your game plan, your map, your flow chart. Strategy shows the basic route to get from here to there. Strategy does not require a lot of details, but it definitely requires a sense of direction and needs to get to your vision. And the best strategy is often created within the context of a team instead of one individual attempting to see all of the angles and possibilities. 

My strategy was to split up the Vacation Bible School into as many different areas as possible and give away as much authority as possible to key volunteers. We had snacks and games and teachings and music. Multiple generations of volunteers were serving and one person was even in charge of gathering prizes (for free!!) from local businesses. Meetings were planned, checkpoints of accomplishment were determined and the strategy kept everybody moving the same direction at the same time to the culmination of our vision. What an incredible demonstration of the power of team! Without strategy we would have been a bunch of chickens running around, but with strategy we were a team of cyclists planning to win the Tour de France.

Tactics – here is where the rubber meets the road. All of the dreams and strategies must eventually land in basic, daily tasks. These are the practical steps needed to accomplish the vision. A journey of a thousand miles is completed one step at a time. It might seem counterintuitive, but the dream is actually in the details. Without the details, the dream remains a dream. With the details, the dream becomes a reality that often far exceeds our wildest hopes. 

Checklists might not seem exciting but they prevent us from forgetting key components for our vision. Deadlines are essential and somebody has to be in charge of making copies, right? Practical tactics allowed me to see over 300 kids and almost 100 volunteers come together for a week that truly transformed hundreds of lives. And this event has continued to this day making a difference for hundreds of kids every summer for almost fifteen years.

So, how do we get from here to there? My suggestion is to start backwards. Determine the “there”, otherwise known as your vision. Write it down, let it sink deep into your heart and then, when it’s time to share, your passion will be contagious. Develop a team to help create the framework of strategy and then work out the details that will lead to accomplishment. And write it all down as you go. My greatest blessing is to see something that God had me start years ago continue to this day under the leadership of other people because if the vision is the right one, it will outlast the leader.

~ Mike

Start small and see what happens

Bigger is better, right? I mean everybody is impressed by those who climb Mount Everest, but nobody seems to care about me climbing the hill by my house. Bigger phones, bigger dreams, Super Size drinks. There is no stopping the fascination that we typically have with big. We all know the expectation to “go big or go home”! We want to have bigger houses and bank accounts and dreams…just not waistlines 🙂

As a leader, it is very tempting to become focused on the “big dreams” and this is an important part of leadership. Effective leaders know what the big picture is and are able to make decisions in the best interest of their team based upon this perspective.

But is it possible to become so focused on bigger that we can lose sight of the details? Can the desire to grow and achieve too quickly put our team and our projects in danger? I definitely believe so.

SO, what is a leader to do? How can I avoid the temptation to always focus on the next big mountain to climb but forget to take the small steps necessary to approach the base of the mountain?

I need to first remember that it is important to keep the big mountain in sight. As a leader, it is part of my job to keep my team, my family, my ministry heading in the right direction. People are counting on me to know where we are going. It is not a bad thing to even keep a picture of the goal or dream on my wall, my phone and in my head – this is essential!

Next, there needs to be an understanding of the steps that it will take to not only arrive at the mountain, but to slowly ascend to the summit. Whether this is a new set of expectations at home, or undertaking a huge work project, or just working to have a better routine of exercise and healthy eating, nothing will be accomplished well without a plan.

Finally, there is great wisdom in starting small and seeing what happens. Projects that are worth their while will not be accomplished overnight. Exercise plans and book reading disciplines take time to turn into habits. Culture change within an organization might take years to accomplish, if it ever happens. The key is to know where you are going, but to take one day at a time. I am currently part of a project at work that is just beginning to show some progress, but the initial discussions started over four years ago. The cliché is that you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

The great advantage to starting small is that if your idea works, now you have some momentum and experience to build upon. If it does not work out, then you only invested minimal resources and energy but you now have a learning experience that will allow you to adjust your mountain climbing plan before you even make it to the mountain. As great as big dreams and big aspirations are, don’t forget that the biggest of dreams is accomplished one step at a time.

~ Mike

Excellent Projects in 5 “Easy” Steps

Now, come on! You know there is no easy fix to leadership, project management or anything similar. Yet, isn’t easy what we all long for? There are days that striving and working is just not attractive; however, the truth is that this is the only way to achieve something of lasting value. So, while the work and labor is rarely easy, here are five steps to help better manage your next project.

project management

Vision – where are you going? This is the foundation of every project. What is the purpose? Why are you even doing this? Honestly, if done well, crafting a vision takes the most work, but a well crafted vision makes the rest of the project flow better. Don’t shortchange this step, but let it marinate. Also, vision should be short, memorable and have a call to action.

Plan – Now that you have decided upon the “why”, it’s time to figure out how to accomplish the vision. What people, resources and ideas are essential to success here? If my vision, for example, is to build a house, I need to recruit workers, buy supplies, ask the experts, etc. This vision would have no chance if I attempt house building on my own. The plan is a step-by-step process to move from Point A to Point Completion.

Flexibility – Ever had those moments where things didn’t quite turn out the way that you expected? Yep, me too – every day!! This is where a good leader learns to be flexible. People get sick, resources break and ideas begin to shift sometimes right in the middle of a project. There might be a need to pause, move back a few steps and then start out in a different direction. This is not failure, but is wisdom to ensure that the project finishes well. Consider a road trip – if storms wipe out the road you are on, you don’t cancel the trip or drive over ruined roads. You pause, search for the detour and then keep on moving!

Persistence – Yep, this could have been plenty of other things. Patience, focus, determination…you name it. The key is that you must keep on keeping on to see a project through. Rare is the project that finishes on time or early. Often, they move slower than we leaders prefer and we must determine early on to stay the course and persist to completion. Sometimes, the best thing that you can do is simply keep moving and trust the original vision and plan.

Celebration – eventually, your project is complete! Hooray – it’s time for a celebration. Don’t be so focused on accomplishment or the next project that you forget to slow down and enjoy the moment. Celebrate with family, colleagues and anybody else involved in the project. Be overly generous with your praise and throw a party worthy of the task you just accomplished. This is good for future motivation, good for morale and, quite honestly, just plain fun!

So, I know this isn’t rocket science, but having just completed the first phase of a major project at work, this is fresh on my mind. My work project is the culmination of almost four years of conversations, drafts, restarts and misdirections. Now that it has arrived though…it is truly beautiful! All good projects are worth the time and energy to follow this process – don’t put your hand to something that isn’t worth the effort to lead with excellence.

~ Mike

Leading Through the Storm of Emotion

Life is filled with emotion. Crowds are swayed by it and individuals get caught up and often don’t even know why. Leadership is required to navigate the storms of emotion well.  One of the places that I have best learned this lesson is on the football field. In honor of Super Bowl 50, the timing of this post seems appropriate.

football ref 2football ref 1

I have had the wonderful opportunity and privilege to officiate youth and high school football for 26 seasons. What started as a great time to spend with my dad has turned into a career avocation and led me to numerous All-Star and championship games over the years. I can recall many games filled with emotion due to rivalry, championship aspirations or even just frustrated fans.

What does this have to do with leadership? Whether you are a sports aficionado or not, there are many things I have learned on the football field that apply in leadership regardless of the context.

1 – be prepared. Leaders can only lead out of what they know. This is most often a combination of education and experience, but there is no excuse for a leader to not be as prepared as possible. I have studied the football rule book for 26 years, taken countless tests and learned how to hone my judgment through many mistakes, learning from mentors and growing with the game. Preparation allows me to execute my craft of officiating well.

2 – communicate. This starts with my crew for the night. We have pre-game, talk through potential scenarios and ensure that our signals all match. Communication then continues to coaches, players and fans as we strive for integrity on the field. A well called game that is communicated poorly will feel like a poor game. Communication is essential to effective leadership!

football ref 3

3 – establish your tone. As officials, we strive to work a game, keep players safe, ensure justice for both teams, and to walk off the field mostly unnoticed. At the same time, we determine how a game will go by what we allow. Late hit out of bounds not flagged? Get ready for fighting later in the game (most likely). We establish the boundaries of how players will play, how coaches will communicate (and complain), and how the overall tone will be for the night. Leadership sets the atmosphere for all contexts – what tone do you set with your team and for your projects?

4 – be consistent. One of the biggest complaints against officials is inconsistency. Whether real or perceived, this must be addressed. The best officials are consistent – coaches, players, fans and support personnel should know how a great official will work a game. It is the same wherever you lead. Be consistent in your style, your communication, your expectations and your encouragement. Consistency allows people to adjust and function well within prescribed boundaries.

5 – trust your judgment and instinct. Sometimes a situation occurs that is not explicitly covered within the text of the rule book. It is imperative that the referee make the right judgment at this point, whether it involves safety, sportsmanship or some other concern. I have called games early when the score is a blowout and kids are getting hurt due to size and strength discrepancies. All of the books, trainings, and mentor conversations become real when judgment is necessary. Trust all of these aspects and go with your gut! This is where the true test of leadership happens – how can you lead and influence people when there is not a perfect principle to follow.

While I know that not every enjoys sports, the lessons on the field apply across the board. Where do you have opportunity to function as an official in your leadership context? See how any of these ideas might add value to the leadership mantle you carry.

~ Mike

Sometimes, Sweat the Small Stuff

I cannot tell you the number of times in college that I ran out of gas in my truck. The worst was that it typically happened in a moment of urgency when I had a deadline to meet for either school or work, yet that familiar sound of a coughing engine would taunt me. My truck was new, was in great shape and I loved it – I just found myself often distracted by the big and important things in life and I forgot about small details such as filling up the gas tank.

gas station-night

Now, I admittedly am a bigger fan of and more natural at vision, future, big picture, etc. While these are crucial components of leadership, I have learned over the years that there are times that it becomes essential to sweat the small stuff, regardless of what the experts might say.

I am not a proponent of worrying and stressing about every little detail and expecting perfection. However, I am a proponent of the idea that my journey begins with the first step…and this is typically small. Even jumping off of a cliff requires a small step.

What is the small stuff worth sweating?

  • Paying the bills on time – might seem trivial, but why waste hard-earned money on late fees
  • Putting gas in the car in a timely manner – enough said
  • Checking your work presentation for typos – nothing says amateur or “I don’t care” more than spelling and grammatical typos
  • Learning the important aspects of life for those on your team. While you might not remember everybody’s birthday, do you put them on your calendar as a help?
  • Listening when your spouse or children talk – not merely hearing, but taking the time to listen, to empathize and maybe, at times, to even understand
  • Being faithful and honest when nobody is looking – it is far too easy to cut corners, but in the long run I have discovered that integrity wins out virtually every time

What about you? Any small stuff in your life worth sweating over? I would love to hear about it…until then, don’t forget to check your gas gauge!

~ Mike

Leaders Need Perspective

Left to ourselves, we often get bogged down in mundane details and issues. Other people make their problems into ours and attempt to pull us into the drama and struggles of their lives. While healthy leaders serve and look out for others, there must be a place to step back, say no and gain a little perspective.


While there is no magical formula, I have learned the importance of perspective. It is necessary on a personal level, for my family, at work and basically everywhere that I am. Without perspective I can begin to spend my time chasing shadows, worrying about things that don’t need worrying and find myself rundown. Since I am really not interested in living this way, I must intentionally seek perspective.


  1. The Word of God – my perspective becomes healthy when it filters through the Bible. While I know that not everybody subscribes to this lifestyle, it is what works for me. I have too many experiences without this filter and they never end well. Daily disciplined reading, prayer and meditation make a huge difference for me.
  2. Slow down and look around – when did it become cool and fashionable to be busy, to be late and to over schedule? This is a terrible way to live and definitely does not give space for perspective. The old phrase “stop and smell the roses” carries more truth than most give it credit.
  3. Try something new – drive a different path to and from work, listen to a new podcast, take up a hobby, volunteer at church or learn a language. Whatever the specifics, new things force us out of our comfort zones which naturally leads to new perspectives.
  4. Spend time with people more than tasks – I believe this is obvious. Tasks do not typically alter perspective, but working with and doing life together with people does. It requires that I listen more than speak (not easy, I must admit) and that I am okay with agreeing to disagree. Also, I must intentionally spend time with different generations as perspectives change drastically between them.

So, how important is perspective to you? Which of the suggestions resonates with you? Be encouraged to take that challenge for a test drive this next week and see what happens.

~ Mike

Getting Back in the Saddle Hurts

I’m a rhythm guy. I like to wake up at the same time, eat the same foods, go to the same places and in general stick with what works. I take risks and try new things, but I have my standards that get me through life pretty well.


Unfortunately, holidays can disrupt my rhythm fairly easily. I have not posted in over a month, my alarm is my enemy, my eating discipline was replaced by homemade fudge and egg nog, and in general a sense of laziness began to creep in.

So, how can I get out of the rut and back into the saddle again? I know that it’s gonna hurt…but the alternative is far worse than taking the steps to get back to where I need to be.

First, there is great wisdom in reflection and evaluation. Was the rhythm I was in previously the ideal? I have taken the time in the past week to determine the best wake up time, the best bedtime, book reading, devotions, exercise, etc. While most has stayed the same, there are a few areas to tweak for 2016.

Second, write it down. Write down the goals, the ideal, the plan and the rhythm hoped for. Make it visible and memorable. It is far too easy to avoid discipline when it remains a theoretical idea in one’s mind. Writing it down brings a greater level of accountability and reality to the process.

Third, aim high! I don’t know about you, but at times I will lower the standard in order to feel more accomplished. Sad?? Yes…but true nonetheless. The problem is that this does not actually work because deep down I know that I could have done more. Truth is that I do better aiming very high and then coming up a bit short.

Fourth, provide grace for yourself. You might fail, forget or just need a day off from discipline. The perfection expectation is a guarantee for failure which then often leads to quitting. Don’t go there! Understand that you are human and might not always reach the lofty goals.

Lazy feels good for a time, for a moment or maybe even for an entire weekend. However, it does not last so no matter how much it might hurt, be encouraged to get back in the saddle.

~ Mike