Tag Archives: vision

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

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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 ūüôā

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 Рthis 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.

highrise-b&w-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.

How??

  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.

beach-horse-sunset

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

Healthy Leadership Starts Small

Leaders often are the biggest dreamers – they see the horizon and then some. They envision a better future and simply can’t wait to get there. The problem is that for leadership to remain sustainable it needs a¬†solid foundation. This happens when we start small, fail forward and slowly learn what works and what doesn’t work in certain situations. Leadership that has only soared with the eagles and climbed the mountaintop might not be reliable when storms come and people are stuck in the valley.

mountain peak

When I was in Bible college, I must admit that I thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread and that any church would be lucky to have me as a leader. During a time of transition within the children’s ministry, I was allowed to become the leader of a small group of kids who, quite frankly, were unwanted by the key ministry leadership. My “Solid Stones” and I went to the back corner of the building and started a journey that lasts until today. I learned how to lead worship by working with those kids. I learned how to empower kids to lead their own games, teachings and worship and I was taught to be faithful in the little before ever considering the big.

I was so excited to lead this group of children and at the beginning it was truly all about me. However, to this day I still reap the benefits of the many lessons they taught me.

Starting small taught me:

  1. It’s not all about me – no other leaders in the church truly cared what we did, as long as the parents were happy. I had to lay down my agenda and learn how to create an atmosphere where kids could both learn in church and have fun!
  2. I must focus on the details and not get so lost in the dream. No dreams are ever accomplished without taking the baby steps to get there. I learned to take attendance, to pray for kids, to listen to their struggles and to adjust teachings as needed depending upon how they were all doing on a given night.
  3. Leadership is a blast! I still remember starting and ending every Wednesday night class on the playground at the merry-go-round. The goal was to wrap the kids tight around the many poles and then I would spin as fast as possible to their great delight. Having fun together opened the door to many conversations that would not have ever occurred otherwise.
  4. God is not concerned with the glamour, splash, fireworks or show. He is looking for leaders who are faithful with little, who will serve the least of these, and who are willing to work for His Kingdom, regardless of whether or not others notice.

While I would love to say I have lived out this principle of starting small perfectly over the years, I can say at least that it all started in the back room of a church, with a group of unwanted kids, who taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my leadership journey. I am forever grateful to each of them and have even been blessed to see them now as adults on occasion.

Start small, don’t worry about recognition and focus on the next step as you move forward. Your vision won’t change, but I would hate for you to miss the many lessons along the way because you are only looking at the mountaintop.

~ Mike