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Leadership on the Fly

Leadership on the Fly

There are times a leadership need or opportunity comes at you for which you don't have a home field advantage. By that I mean it is outside your preparation or expertise. You may or may not have relational equity with the participants and yet you are on the hook to lead. Where do you start? What is the process?

Recently I've had two situations pop up on my radar that fit this description and got me thinking about leadership on the fly. The first came when our Mayor in Olathe asked me to find Latino leaders to tackle some of our cities challenges in dealing with quality of life issues for Hispanics in Olathe. I appreciated his confidence and trust but where should I start? I had all the deficiencies listed above.

The second came shortly afterward when a group of 80 pastors in KC felt the need to explore creating a KC Coalition that would draw Christ following leaders from churches, not-for-profits, movements and business together as a working unit for the good of the Church in Kansas City. I was asked to lead this effort. I felt over-matched but there was a sense inside of me that God was in it. What process should we choose?

Define Reality
The first job of a leader is to define reality. You may be tempted to go straight to vision but you are wise to gather a realistic reading on both the problems and the opportunities. Assess your position from both a qualitative view and a quantitative knowledge base. Gather objective analysis and subjective discernment before attempting to chart a path. If you don't know where "here" is you can't chart a path to "there". And before you can move people, in addition to vision, you must make it clear why you can stay here. It is dissatisfaction with the present that most often moves people to a new position.

Gain Vision
Vision grows most naturally out of need and opportunity. It could be either or both. Vision is the picture of a preferable future. You should be able to use your senses to see the picture in your mind's eye. Feel in your spirit what it would be like to live there. Hear the excitement of the people when they catch it. And taste the sweetness of the outcome which you seek. You need to elicit this sensory process in others in casting a vision. Lead with it and tell stories about what it will be like, or is already like if you have them, to live out the vision. Use your factual data to support the viability of the plan but lead with vision and highlight the way it will affect those you love. Tell stories. People respond to helping people.

Build Your Team
You may go further faster alone but you will go farther longer with a great team. Take your time and choose with discernment. This step will propel you forward or potentially cripple your results. Size isn't necessarily helpful here. You don't want to create a congress. You don't have to accept every volunteer. You want people with a bias for action, who will own responsibility, who can both delegate and receive assignments. You are looking for people who are unselfish and don't need to be needed. You want problem solvers. Anyone can find problems, make them or describe them. You don't need them on your team. You will want to create a process to gather their contribution but don't give in to creating a place on the team for them. Seek out a well rounded team of a strategist, a knowledge expert in the field with recent experience, a networker, a thorough thinker, an administrator, someone with wisdom and discernment. You may need to pay for professional assessments. There are times where you will want to find or hire a coach.

Define the Desired Outcome
You may be tempted to jump right into creating a plan but that is the work of implementation. First, identify the outcome. Write a Mission statement and take the necessary time to get it crystal clear. Use the strengths of your team so everyone is collaborating in the process. This builds ownership and helps each one feel necessary. Don't get stuck wordsmithing you can make it a living mission and edit as you go. But until you agree on the outcome you don't know where you are going. If you have differing outcomes settle it before you move or you will inevitably pull in different directions.

Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
Understand that this is a critical part of team building and needs definition so you know how to relate to one another. People naturally want to know how to contribute and what is out of bounds. If a leader doesn't create consistency and safety in the team environment he or she won't get the best from the team. It is often helpful to agree on a set of values that will guide your teamwork. Here is an example of coaching on values, grant umbrellas of mercy so there are no bad ideas. Move forward with consensus don't feel the need for unanimous approval. Avoid the approval trap. Don't make it personal or take it personal. It often feels like it but you've got to be bigger than the problem. Strive to create a culture that is affirming, welcomes risk, is truthful, encourages pushback, gives equal value to each member and is forgiving.

Set Goals
Only now are you ready to go after those good ideas we all have in our pockets. If you don't do the above first you may have a great idea that doesn't hit the true target. Or you might build it in a way that launches with an incomplete design and it is destined for a short lifecycle. There is a lot written today about using S.M.A.R.T. Goals (Google it) but truthfully you don't have to over-complicate the process. Those are good guidelines to be sure but don't get stuck in the mud of detail if you feel yourself losing traction. Goals look at the target from the 1,000 foot level. Implementation is where you will learn some of the final details; as you get your feel on the ground. Create a living document you are willing to amend as you go.

Form the Plan
This is where execution and attention to detail come in. From your goals create sequential steps. Add the needed resources and the desired timing. It is possible that the team that got you this far needs others to now pull off the completion of the work. It is best to differentiate the strategists from those skilled at execution. The one really good at one is unlikely to be the best at the other. Invite the execution team leaders to meet with your strategists and then hand off the work.

Oversee Execution
Set attainable timeframes to go with your goals and target some quick wins. You need to build momentum. Resist the need to micromanage the execution. Use your team's energy to oversee mission alignment, outcomes, culture, people management and measurables. Keep the work on target and on time. Don't be afraid to intervene to give direction but be careful not to disempower those doing the work. Responsibility must always be tied to the authority to get the work done.

Make it fun along the way. Develop a one for all and an all for one team spirit. Encouragement and praise are like oil in the gears of an engine, they keep people working smoothly together. Celebrate the wins. A big job is more like a marathon than a sprint. Ensure that your team forms unity. There is a cliché that says teams form, norm, transform then perform. Do your work in such a way that you not only live to tell about it but you enjoy the journey.

In Conclusion
This is a thumbnail sketch of what it takes but the good news is you don't have to be an expert in every field to get an excellent result if you form the right team and go after your mission in the right way. By the way, both of those teams I mentioned are doing well, progressing toward the outcome and enjoying the journey. Sometime in the future it will be fun to tell the results.

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