Some people thought I had taken a few steps backward when, at 27, I left the stability of a great job and tremendous responsibility to join the team of a startup nonprofit that had no building and a small following. But over the next 15 years, we saw that little startup grow to reach thousands.
As that growth occurred and the organization grew more complex, my leadership had to bend and morph with it. But the results were more than satisfying: Our little "startup," Granger Community Church, in Granger, Indiana, was eventually noted in a national poll as the second most innovative church in America. And, when I left my position as pastor in 2014, the church had more than 100 employees, multiple buildings, spin-off organizations, a restaurant and a preschool.
Today, I’m a part of a for-profit start-up search firm that helps nonprofits build great teams. We’re implementing the same 15 principles that helped that long-ago startup grow, scale and innovate. I'd like to share those 15 principles -- practices that can revolutionize a workplace and produce immense returns on investing in a company culture focused on leadership.
1. Live a life with "margins."
A margin is the portion of the page that you intentionally leave blank. Yet, in life, everything in our culture is telling us to ignore the margins. I disagree: Margins make you pleasant; no margins makes you grumpy. Margins give you the space to learn, grow and dream. Without them, you become stale and empty. If you made just one change to increase the margins in your life, what would that be?
2. Go "dark."
We’re all addicted to our smartphones. Technology is intended to make us more productive and efficient. However, it can also be a way of escape and distraction when we don’t set up boundaries. When was the last time you disconnected digitally in order to renew your body, soul or mind?
3. Know yourself.
I’m in my 40s, and I’m just now beginning to figure myself out. I’m realizing that to be whole and healthy, there are certain things I need. I need time with my kids. I need to write. I need to know I’m succeeding. The best leaders know what gives them energy, and they know what drains it away. Do you know what you need to be whole, loving and full of grace?
4. Leave a legacy.
Be a leader who walks with integrity day after day, year after year, decade after decade. Every choice you make today will lead you either toward the path less traveled, where you die with your integrity intact, or toward a life of regrets. It’s your choice. Who do you know who has consistently made good choices? Seek him or her out and ask questions. You might learn something.
5. Be a lifelong learner.
One of the biggest differences between leaders and followers is that leaders are learners. You have to decide how you learn best. It might be books, conferences or hands-on environments for others. Are you making sure your schedule allows time to learn?
6. Wherever you are, be fully there.
When is the last time you put away your cell phone or computer in a meeting to let your team know you were fully present, hearing every word of their thoughts and ideas? Your team might never tell you, but know that if you are constantly distracted by what’s next on your calendar, what emails are coming in, what that new text message says, you’re communicating that everyone else is more important than your team members. What habit do you need to change so people know you are fully listening to them?
7. Get naked.
It’s okay to admit you are human. In fact, the leaders for whom I have the greatest respect are often the most vulnerable. Have there been times when you’ve cared more about looking smart and having the right answers than being a trusted leader?
8. Control your calendar.
Leaders who don’t gain control of their calendars will constantly be spinning out in the dirt without making much progress. Put priority items on your calendar first. What can you do right now to make sure your priorities get put on your calendar for the next six months?
9. Guard your family.
Look at your calendar. Does it reflect the priority you place on your spouse and kids? What needs to change? A leader who is successful at work but a failure at home is not a successful leader. What are you doing to intentionally build your marriage in ways that will last well after your kids have left for college?
10. Develop rumble strips.
When you hit rumble strips while you’re driving, it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. But it does mean that if you continue on that path, you are going to go off the road and wreck your life. What rumble strips do you need to incorporate into your life to avoid a wreck?
11. Be careful what you wish for.
We live in a society that is geared to make you want what you don’t have. Are your wants out of control? Which practices do you need to immediately begin to refocus to stay true to your priorities?
12. A résumé Is worthless.
Almost all résumés contain two categories of information: education and jobs held. Yet when we’re helping our clients hire great leaders, our team at Vanderbloemen Search Group is looking at much more than those two categories. We’re looking at skills, leadership, capacity, passion, heart and character. Are you experiencing a high turnover? If so, it might be due to some hiring practices that need to change.
13. Teams trump personality.
Before you start pointing fingers at your CEO, calling him or her a dictator, take a look at your own area. Do you operate as a team? Or are you a mini-me dictator barking orders and giving directions rather than leaning on your team to help define direction and strategy? Having a team and operating as a team are very different concepts.
14. Fairness is overrated.
“That’s not fair!” is one of the most often repeated phrases parents hear from their children. When it comes to the business world, however, fairness should not be a priority. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But fairness is overrated. We make decisions based on priority, not fairness. Where have you tried to be fair in order to keep people happy when a decision needed to be made regardless of fairness?
15. Watch for signs of an unhealthy culture.
Unhealthy cultures include a revolving door for staff. A high turnover is a symptom of deeper troubles and wastes precious resources on downtime and continual retraining. If there is a lack of communication and trust on your team, you need to wake up to the realization that you might have an unhealthy culture.
Overall, this list may feel overwhelming if you’re in an unhealthy company culture. But don’t lose hope. Do what you can today, and then tomorrow and the next day after that, to make small changes within your sphere of influence. Before you know it, your team will transform before your eyes.