On Vision

This is a post that has been percolating as a draft post for nearly two or three months now.  But as a theme, its something I’ve wrestled with far longer.  Those who know me well, know that at my core, I’m kind of a systems and strategy kind of guy. What makes gets my ticker picking up its pace,  is when I get to work with a big picture idea and help generate/coach the strategies and systems to see that that big picture come alive and grow.  And so, that’s why this post reflects something that strums the passion bone in my body.

I want to spend a little bit of time articulating some things I’ve come to believe about a word that gets used a lot,  but is rarely understood fully.   This post is sparked in part because I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what vision is, and what it is not.  Part of that is because its so elusive, and part of it is because it frequently rides the buzzword wave.  So here’s what I think about vision:

Vision inspires curiosity.

You know you’ve heard, read, or experienced vision when it leaves you hanging,  when it sparks that desire in you to know more.  That’s why some of the most compelling visions are those that paint a picture, or connect a story, with a future.

Vision does not answer all the questions.  It doesn’t tell you how something is going to happen.  It doesn’t tell you when something is going to happen.  It sometimes doesn’t even articulate where.  But compelling vision will always leave you with questions.

In the end, vision begs strategy because it inspires curiosity.

Vision Polarizes.

This is crucial.  A vision that everyone likes, is not vision, its a sedative.  The reality is, visionaries (you know, those people with a vision), have a lot of enemies.  They get a lot of flak and its often only in hindsight through the eyes of history, when they start to get labelled visionaries, that the animosity tapers down a bit.  The reality is, really compelling visions have haters and lovers.  A compelling vision is something that either calls people to it, or repels them.

It polarizes.

Coincidentally, that’s why vision is so powerful.  While a vision is polarizing, its also uniting. How?  People who are captivated by the vision, who buy into it share a common cause – a cause worth fighting for.  Sedatives, don’t inspire that kind of passion, or unity.

This also means that its really difficult for a committee to come up with a vision.  Committees are great for hashing out ideas, for brainstorming, for strategizing, for planning, coming up with mission statements, x year plans, etc..  But not for creating vision.  If a vision is launched by a committee I can pretty much guarantee you it will be safe, not polarizing and ultimately, not really a vision. Maybe what they’ll have is a really great mission statement, or slogan, or even a plan – but not a vision.

Incidentally, this also means, that great visions aren’t always popular, and not so great visions sometimes are.

Vision is an “impossible” future.

More than just a picture of something different than the status quo, on the surface, visions seem impossible.  That’s because visions paint a picture of something that isn’t in the midst of what is.  Anything else isn’t a vision it’s just a report.

This is also why having a vision is not the same thing as having a goal.  With vision, you don’t even know if it will come to pass.  You dream for it, you desire it, you’re passionate for it (if you’ve caught it), you even pursue it,  but at times it seems so impossible that you’re not sure you’ll ever see it happen.

Sometimes you don’t.

A goal on the the other hand is something you expect to reach.  It has an obtainable finish line.  Difficult maybe, and certainly something you may not complete.  But nevertheless can happen.  It’s possible.  Visions aren’t really like that.

This is one of the reasons why visions are so polarizing because some people will hear a vision and laugh at the audacity of those who believe in that vision.  “Such an impossible goal!”, they say.  Except, its not a goal.

A goal is deciding that you are going to quit smoking.  A vision is seeing the entire world free of the addiction of tobacco.

A goal is to build a rocket to reach orbit.  A vision is to land a man on mars.

A goal is to build an electric car.  A vision is to end humanities dependence on oil.

Catch the drift?  Oh and here’s another little interesting thing.  Visions are realized by goals. Lots and lots of incremental, obtainable, strategical, itty bitty, goals. The impossible reached by a long chain of possibles.  But it all starts with a dream for something outrageous.

This is why…

Vision requires sacrifice.

To get from here to there is going to take a lot more than wishful thinking.  If a vision is a picture of something impossible, then it its not a skip, hop, and dilly dally dance away.  It’s hard work, and perseverance, and endurance and sweat and tears, and loss, and pain to get there.  Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

The interesting thing is, compelling vision has increased value because of the cost to achieve it.  But conversely, without any cost, does the end really matter?

That’s why its interesting to watch what happens with people who are captivated by a vision.  No amount of sacrifice seems too much to inch closer to realizing that impossible reality.

Vision doesn’t always generate a movement.  But it always starts with one person.

The funny thing about vision, is that it sometimes can be so polarizing that the only person who believes it, is the one in who it was birthed.  Vision can live and die in the life of one individual.  Sad, but true (and sometimes good).

But the underlying truth, is that regardless of whether vision results in a movement or not, it is always birthed in the heart and soul of a single person.  Call it muse, or God given, or calling, or inspiration – but that spark is awakened in some guy or some gal and lives when they can’t shake it, and then embrace it.

Yet another equal and perhaps even more powerful truth, is that while a vision starts with one person, it never gets completed with just one.  That’s why I’ve found that a vision often lives and dies on how well it gets communicated, and I guess in the end, how polarizing (and thus compelling) it really is.

Vision isn’t taught, it’s caught.

You can’t teach people vision.  You invite them.  You can’t reason vision with people. After all, it’s impossible right? No, reasoning doesn’t work.  You inspire, you challenge…

You lead.

Visionaries, don’t get people on their vision train by fancy billboards, and great marketing campaigns (it only seems like they do).  Great visionaries have a vision that captivates people because they are living it, they are leading it.  An impossible reality, that’s already real to them.

Vision is not complicated.

Ha! Once the planners and the strategy masters, and engineers start mapping out the goals to see that impossible vision become reality, it certainly starts to seem complicated. But the vision itself, the essence of what gets dreamed about and communicated, and shared, isn’t complicated.

It may be impossible, but it’s simple. If you can’t remember a vision, then it’s complicated, and not really a vision (probably more a plan).

But let’s not confuse a slogan with a vision. Slogans are birthed from visions, but a vision never comes from a slogan. When you hear the well known slogan “I have a dream”, you immediately connect it with the vision Martin Luther King Jr. had for a better world.

Without the vision, “I have a dream” is just an incomplete sentence.

What’s your vision?

Here’s another somewhat uncomfortable truth.  Some of us will never have vision sparked, or birthed in us (and unfortunately some people uncomfortable with that try to manufacture it).  The reality is, that’s okay.  I believe that some of us were never meant to birth the vision…

But all of us are meant to carry a vision.

In the end…

These are just a few thoughts and observations I’ve had/made about vision.  As time goes on there likely will be more I could add (and may add) to this post.  But for now, just wanted to get this written out.  What do you think about vision?  What would you add to this?

 

 

The conversations you have with yourself…

…impact what you do and how you feel.  What have you told yourself lately?  Have you been an encourager or a life sapper?  Do you hear justification or warning?  Do you bargain with yourself or hear, “you can do better?”

The inner voice is a powerful influence on our lives.

This is why you must guard what influences your inner voice.

Are you?

coaching

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series 2011: A look back A look forward

This post continues the series I’ve been writing on as a part of my year in review.  Here’s something else I wrote last year when thinking about the year ahead:

One of the highlights in the past year for me was taking some training on being a leadership coach.  Every now and then I think we come across something that as individuals we really connect with as something we’re created to do.  Coaching is one of those things for me.  I’ve decided that I’m going to pursue the path to becoming a certified leadership coach as it really jives with what I believe God created me for.  I’m starting off this year by leading my church pastoral team through a peer coaching course and I’ll also be attending another training session myself.

What happened:

I completed the Level Two coaching course I enrolled in.  It was VERY helpful.  I also led our ministry team at my church through most of a peer coaching course but we ended up not finishing do to things getting busy.  On a good note, other staff has (or is) enrolled in the coaching course themselves (including our Lead Pastor) because of the value they have seen in it.  I have used these new skills numerous times throughout the past year.  It’d be nice to pursue the coaching certification at some point but it’s no longer high on my list of priorities BUT the skills learned are still something I’m using all the time.

What I’ve learned:

Coaching ranks up there as one of the most valuable skills I have learned and I’m constantly working at becoming better every opportunity I get.

Another thing I learned while leading the staff through the Peer coaching lessons is that it is something you cannot teach effectively over a 5 month period.  I’m convinced that one of the reasons we didn’t finish it is because in an attempt to compensate for our busy schedule we spread the lessons over a long period.  It killed momentum and the effectiveness of the lessons.  The good thing is it gave staff a peek at the value of coaching as a skill and (as I already stated) some of them have gone on to enroll in the full coaching course.  The bad thing is we didn’t finish the peer coaching lessons.

Now a question for you:  Have you experienced the concept of leadership, or life “coaching”?  If so, what was it like for you?

At the focal point of history…

I read an interesting article a couple weeks ago about a little known guy named Ron Wayne who is actually one of the founders of Apple Computers.   You can read the article for the details on his story but it was fascinating to read some of the comments from this guy who sold away his 10% Apple Stock back in 1976 for $800.  That same stock would be worth about $22 billion today.  Yeah, that’s what I thought, wow.  But notice what the guy has to say,

  • “Well, I’m one of the founders of Apple Computer”
  • “I’m living off my Social Security and I do a modest trade in collectors’ stamps and coins”
  • “What can I say? You make a decision based on your understanding of the circumstances, and you live with it”
  • “We did get fairly chummy, had lunch together, dinner together and had conversations,” (about his relationship with Steve Jobs back then).
  • “What Jobs had in mind was that he and Woz [as Wozniak is sometimes called] should each have 45 percent and I would have 10 percent as mediator in any dispute that would come up,”
  • In talking about the growth of the company and the risks Steve and Woz were taking, “I could see myself getting into this situation again, and I was really getting too old for that kind of thing,…” (Ron had been unsuccessful at a slot-machine manufacturing business around this time)
  • “The way these guys were going, they were going to bulldoze through anything to make this company succeed. But it was going to be very rough ride, and if I wasn’t careful, I was going to be the richest man in the cemetery.”
  • [I’m] “…enamored with money as anybody else.”
  • “But when you’re at a focal point of history, you don’t realize you’re at a focal point of history,”
  • “I never had a real use for computers,”

Some interesting statements from a guy who because of  decision missed on a huge payoff.  All in all it looks like he’s not dwelling on it too much (although I wonder how much of his gambling is driven by a sense of loss for what could have been). In hindsight, it’s always easy to say “If I only knew then what I know now…”  How often do you find yourself saying that statement?  That’s why the blurb spoken by Ron that I bolded above really stood out to me.  The big moments in life – the crucial junctures, the “focal moments in history” where a decision could have a huge impact are not always so obvious.

Too often people avoid risk because they are focusing only on what they might lose.  Maybe justifiably.  After all, Ron already had the experience of failing in business and didn’t want to experience it again.

People avoid risk because they want to protect themselves from loss.  The risk takers, those who jump, are those who have focused on what can be gained, not lost.  That’s not to say they don’t consider what might be lost.  But what convinces them to GO is the crazy idea that it might actually work, that something might happen, that change will result.  Previous failures don’t intimidate them, they just learn from them and take what they learned in the next venture.

Here’s the thing, we will never know that we were at the “focal point of history” until after the fact.  The question then is this.  Is it possible that that decision you are facing personally, that decision you are facing as a leader, or as a church or other organization is one of those HISTORY making moments?

Is quitting, or cashing out because of the potential loss going to cost you more than the potential gain?

(Anything else that you want to add after reading this article? Feel free to comment below!)

(Oh, and by the way the picture with this post is a representation of the story of the apostle Peter stepping out of his boat to walk on water to Jesus.  You can read the story in Matthew 14:22-33. For some reason its a biblical story that came to mind when I was writing this post – I wonder why….)

Getting the Most Out of the Books I Read

Any leader worth their salt will be investing in personal growth by, among other things, reading. It is incredible the vast resource of knowledge and insight that is available via all the books being written today! It is a tragedy if any leader is not feeding themselves from it!

For some time I’ve wanted to write a post about the system I follow when it comes to reading. Here it is:

1. Cultivate a “to read” list.

There are literally thousands of books published every day and our access to these books is unprecedented.  The hardest thing anyone has when it comes to reading books is actually choosing which books to read!  That’s why I cultivate a list of books that I want to read at some point.  Here’s how I get my list:

  • bibliography of books you’ve benifited from – if you’ve just finished a GREAT book and it has a bibliography of some sort, that provides a great resource for finding books to read.
  • other books written by authors you like – like what a particular author has to say?  Chances are you’ll like other books by that same author.
  • recommendations from leaders you respect – This is an important one.  I have discovered many books that I might not ordinarily take a look at because a leader I respect has recommended it.
  • recomendations from blogs you read – Similar to the above point.
  • books written by blog authors you’ve read – If you read other blogs, or articles in magazines by a certain author and like what they have to say then you will probably find their books interesting as well.

It’s important that you have a method of collecting this list of books so when it’s time to go to the next book you can easily pick one.  I’ve used many different methods over the years but my current method is using an online app called anobii.  The reason why this is cool is because I can put books on a wishlist (and all I need is the title they take care of adding all the other details of a book).

I also have a “to read” shelf on my bookshelf that contains all the books available  (*ahem) to read.  It’s a good way of keeping new books easily accessible when you’re ready for a fresh one.

2. Schedule your reading.

If you don’t have a set plan for reading, you won’t read anything. Take advantage of the normally wasted moments that always pop up in life.  That’s one of the reasons I always have a book handy in my laptop bag.  With the growing popularity of e-readers (such as the Amazon Kindle, and now the iPad [drool]), there’s even easier ways to have books ready to read on the go.  I haven’t quite jumped on the e-reader bandwagon yet but know I’ll get there eventually.

It’s worth repeating.  If you don’t plan to read a book, you won’t read the book.  Are there certain times each day that work better for reading for you?  Do you travel a lot?  Can you read while on the plane or on the train/bus?  Do you have time during a lunch break to read for 30 minutes?  Do you have a few minutes before going to bed each night to read?  Are you always waiting at meetings for the late-comers to come before getting started?  There are plenty of places you could discover for a few minutes of reading time if you’re looking for a place to plan your reading.

3. Don’t sweat dropping a book that doesn’t wow you.

I have a terrible propensity to have to finish everything I’ve started.  Sometimes it makes my life really miserable because frankly,  there are things that don’t need to be finished.  Books are one of those things.  I’ve learned that nothing kills the momentum of reading than forcing yourself to get through a dry and uninteresting book.  Here’s the thing, not everything you read is going to be of value to you.  So if you are reading something dry and uninteresting and you are dreading picking up the book to read…PUT IT DOWN!  Leave it!  Put it on the shelf and don’t sweat it.  At some point you may want to come back to it but it’s okay to let go and pick up a different book!

One exception however –  if a book is making you uncomfortable, finish it. Usually the books that make you uncomfortable (in a stretching, growing kind of way) are the ones that have the greatest impact in your life.  After finishing a book like that, evaluate why it made you uncomfortable.

4. Develop a system of recording (and using) what you learn.

I’ve read a lot of GOOD and GREAT books over the years.  Unfortunately, some of those books I remember the title of and not much else.  I’ll say to someone, “That was a GREAT book” and they’ll ask why, and I’ll answer, “good question…” and will quickly pick up the book and read the back cover to try to remember.  Here’s the thing, it’s one thing to read a book, it’s another thing to learn from a book and remember what you’ve learned.  There’s two ways to remember, record and apply. So it’s important that you develop some sort of system for recording and applying what you are learning from the books you’ve read (if they are going to make any difference in your life).

Here’s mine:

  • Highlight everything significant – if I like a phrase an author has wrote or there is something they suggest that really resonates with me I will highlight it.  I also pay attention to emotional cues.  If something creates an emotional connection with me – it get’s highlighted.  If something makes me uncomfortable, it get’s highlighted.
  • After I finish reading the book I will record all the highlighted quotes in my tumblr.com stream.  Why?  I want all these important connections I’ve made with this book to be recorded in a way that is easily searchable and accessible no matter what platform or computer I’m at.  Currently tumblr does this for me (as a side benefit – I’m sharing highlights from my reading with others who may happen upon my tumblr stream)
  • I’ll pick one or two things from the book I can apply to my life and make an action step from it. (I’m not always able to do this but I try)
  • Reread the books that really impacted me at least once a year (another thing I’m not great at because my list of “to read” books is so huge!  I often do this though when I’m wanting to read through the book with other people I’ve recommended it to or I’m working through an area in my life that the book will help with).
  • Sometimes I’ll record a review of the book in anobii.com. Lately anobii.com has become my place to rate all the books I read and keep track of when I read them.  I wish I had of known about this resource earlier.

Finally,

5. Read books just for the fun of it to break things up.

Why?  Because sometimes your brain just needs a break!  Pick up a fiction book once in a while or pull out a comic (yeah I still read comics occasionally).  Or even biographies can be a really cool break from the usual reading to inspire and encourage!

So, do you have a system for reading books?  What’s your system?

Raising the Value of Volunteers

One of the things I’ve chosen to work on as part of the staff at my church is raising the profile of volunteers and developing ways for people to find on-ramps to serving in our church.  Any person doing this will tell you that it’s not an easy task.  Still it’s one I relish in tackling because I love seeing people discover their “fit” and living in it.

Some time ago I came across an interview Tony Morgan conducted with Ritchie Miller, the senior pastor of Avalon Church in McDonough, Georgia.  Tony writes that,

Of all the churches I’ve worked with in the last number of months, Avalon has the highest percentage of people serving in volunteer roles.

A little bit later, Ritchie gave the stats that show this:  Their weekly attendance average for 2009 is 1,419 and of that attendance they have 602 active adult volunteers (which does not include the middle and high school volunteers). So of course, I wanted to read what Ritchie had to say about volunteers.  Here’s some takeaways from this interview as Ritchie discussed what he believes are the reasons for such a high volunteer rate (Ritchie’s points are italic – the rest are my thought’s):

  • It’s a part of their discipleship strategy:  They “simply expect people to serve as a volunteer in ministry”.  In other words, being a disciple isn’t just about sitting and learning facts about the Bible.  I agree here.  Making disciples has to have a big emphasis on the growth that comes from doing ministry (not just participating).  One way I hope to implement this is by providing opportunities for people to be matched up with a “coach” who will work with them in discovering areas that they could serve and then trying it out. The coach would solicit feedback on the experience and help people discover a better fit if the first didn’t work out.
  • We talk about it a lot – If it’s not communicated (and frequently at that) then people aren’t going to get that you volunteers are valued.  One of the ways I hope to ramp up communication about volunteers at my church is by highlighting stories of volunteers who are in ministry.  These stories will be told via web, via print and video –  but more importantly from the pulpit as well.
  • We keep it simple – That’s a challenge in a established and bigger church. However, one of the activities our staff are currently engaged in is evaluating the effectiveness and necessity of our existing ministries.  This is because we want to focus our energies on the things that we know God has called us to do as a church and are proving effective in fulfilling His vision for us.  Ultimately,  we want to offer opportunities to volunteer with things that matter.
  • We try to keep easy entry points into ministries – This year we made the effort to have a clear job description for every ministry position in the church highlighting all the kinds of things that would help people better match to a position (spiritual gifts, talents, abilities that would make a good fit etc.).  All these ministry descriptions will be made accessible to those looking for a place to serve using a online matching tool as well as by coaches that will be trained to help people find an area to serve.  I also want to develop a “open opportunities” page of some sort on our website that people can see some of the available ministries they can volunteer in.
  • We emphasize the recruitment process  –  Everyone needs to be involved in the recruitment of volunteers.  In my opinion, some of the best recruitment potential can come from among the volunteers themselves.  If volunteers love what they are doing and have opportunity to share their story, others will want to be involved.
  • We try to keep it fun – Every year we hold a volunteer appreciation dinner where we celebrate the volunteers at our church.  Another thing that makes volunteering fun is making sure to celebrate the AWESOME things God does through the volunteers.  This is something I hope to do more of.

Finally, it’s worth repeating what Ritchie says will motivate people to give their time:

  1. …when it is clear how they can get involved
  2. …when it is clear what the value is.
  3. …when they feel like they are making a difference.
  4. …when you celebrate with them.

I learned some great things about valuing volunteers from this interview.  Go ahead and read the whole thing -> and let me know what you think here.