Posted in Leadership

If It Stinks, Investigate (the task a leader can't ignore)

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You’re approving odd expense reports. You keep seeing someone in a place they shouldn’t be. One department seems to always have the latest technology. An employee quickly minimizes their screen when you enter their office.

These scenarios stink.

In my home I change some diapers, but my wife wins the “most diapers changed” award. My primary responsibility is diaper disposal. Disposal involves picking up the dirty diaper, placing it in a bag, and taking it to the outside trash (where squirrels, cats, and our neighbors can enjoy the smell).

Sometimes before I’m asked to dispose of a diaper, I smell something that stinks (a diaper left on the changing table, bed, or moved by some other child to unforeseen areas, like under a couch). I smell it, but I don’t want to investigate. If I investigate, I’m agreeing to the disposal chore – which clashes with my preferred option: to move farther away from the smell.

Many leaders take the same approach to issues that stink at work.

Investigation of difficult and stinky situations can’t be ignored. Investigation is the incumbent responsibility of the leader, and it shouldn’t be abdicated.

To your boss, board, congregation, denomination or judge, these words won’t cut it: “I thought something was off (smelled bad), but I didn’t really check into it.”

Your lack of investigation makes you culpable. Whether accountable to God’s standards, a judge’s, (or in my case, my wife’s) we must provide an answer for what we did or didn’t do.

What stinks in your work-place today?

What situation have you been unwilling to engage, because it might be trouble? Waiting only increases the trouble. The smell worsens.

Don’t wait for someone else to find out what smells. Don’t wait for the annual audit. Don’t wait until the stink has impacted your organization beyond repair. Don’t allow a dirty diaper to create a spiritual problem in your church.

Good leaders investigate, engage, and deal with whatever they find.

And sometimes after investigation, it turns out to be just a wet diaper, and it hardly stinks at all.

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Thinking Gray

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The times when I implement “thinking gray,” I have most often saved myself from making a poor decision and usually save myself time. Steven Sample, in his book The Contrarians Guide to Leadership, unpacks the idea of “thinking gray.”

The major takeaway is this: when an important decision isn’t mandated to be made at the moment it’s asked for, pause and think gray. Thinking gray means this:

  • Back away;
  • Don’t pull the trigger when more time could help bring clarity;
  • And set the decision point just prior to the deadline for the decision.

It may seem as if you’re dragging things out and procrastinating. But the created mean-time can provide your answer. What transpires before the decision deadline can be magical.

The people asking for your decision often find other ways to go about getting what they need. The decision-seekers think creatively and often think of a work-around to get a solution. And oftentimes, some external factor occurs and renders your pending decision null.

Thinking gray also gives you time to think clearly and do a virtual SWOT in your head. Many times you’ll come back to your initial thought (gut reaction) on making the decision. But many times, things change, and you have no decision to make.

When you can save your decision-making for the highest leadership questions—the decisions no else can make—the better off you and your organization will be. You only have so much personal power, and saving that power for critical decisions has pay-offs.

A simple way to begin the process of “thinking gray” is to ask these questions when a decision has been requested:

  • What options and solutions have you (the asker) considered?
  • Who else is involved in making the decision?
  • What’s the deadline for a decision being reached?

By nature, I tend to be black and white. I like quick results. But paradoxically, thinking gray has served me well and might do the same for you.

 

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The Best Kind of Encouragement

“I was talking to Nancy the other day, and she was bragging about how well you’ve been ministering to the Smith family through their crisis. Well done!”

Third-party encouragement can be the best kind of encouragement.

Typically, triangulation has a negative connotation. But when you can triangulate someone in encouragement, you can actually multiply the compliment.

As a leader, this requires you to listen for those times when people are bragging on others. This can happen by waiting on coffee in the break room, skimming social media updates, or asking your direct supervisors who’s doing exceptional work.

Then, it takes some personal initiative. Make a point to send those people notes, or stop by their offices and compliment them.  Telling them you’ve heard others complimenting their work is a central part of the third-party encouragement only you can provide.

To the recipients, it communicates that their bosses (or others) are proud enough of their work to discuss it openly, and that the “big boss” thought it was important enough to repeat back to them.

Multiply the blessing.

Praise with collateral impact.

Third-party encouragement will make your employees’ or volunteers’ day, and maybe even their week.

Long live encouragement-triangulation.

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