Thursday, April 9, 2009

AXIOMS: Powerful Leadership Proverbs (Book Review)

AXIOMS: Powerful Leadership Proverbs
by Bill Hybels

As I’ve said many times, Bill Hybels is pretty much I think my favorite Pastor when it comes to teaching and inspiring and edifying the spiritual gift of leadership. I love to hear him speak and have read several of his books. Last August, at the Summit Leadership 08 conference, Hybels introduced one of his excellent talks on what he calls “Axioms”, or leadership principles/proverbs that he has learned and been able to articulate. Hybels recorded 76 of these axioms in one of his latest books and I’ve been power-skimming and reading and studying it for several months now. I wanted to highlight for the sake of book review and leadership edification my favorite of Hybels’ axioms. The italicized comments are my own words, the rest are from Hybels.

Axiom # 2 Make The Big Ask
-Leadership is a lot about asking. After casting bold visions, leaders ask people to help make them become reality.
-The nature of human beings is such that we tend not to drift into better behaviors. We usually have to be asked by someone to consider taking it up a level.
I’ve seen all too often what happens when a leader has a dream, even a God-inspired vision, yet is afraid to ask for the right things to make that dream a reality. I want to be the type of leader who is unafraid to make the big ask, yet learns to do so wisely, humbly, and confidently.

Axiom # 7 An Owner or a Hireling
-Wise leaders understand that the single greatest determinant of whether followers will ever own a vision deeply is the extent to which those followers believe the leader will own it…you can’t fool people on this one. They see and smell and sense just how deep your ownership goes.
-A “hired hand” is committed to the vision God gave them to carry out until it gets too hard, the price gets too high, the fun factor gets overshadowed by onerous challenges, and the honeymoon gets declared over and done.
-The owner says “God, you gave me this vision, and it’s your power that’s fueling it and your people who are accomplishing it and your glory alone that we’re fighting for. Right here and right now, I tell you all over again that I will pay any price to achieve this vision so that someday, when I get to the finish line, I’ll be able to say with Paul that I fought the good fight.”
I want to wake up every day, ready to do battle on behalf of a God-given vision for one simple reason: to hear the commendation of Christ. “Well done, Well done! You did it as an owner, all the way to the end.”

Axiom # 13 Vision Leaks
-You or I could deliver a mind-blowing, God-honoring, pulse-quickening vision talk on Sunday that leaves everyone revved up to go change the world, but by Tuesday, many people have forgotten they were even in church the previous weekend.
-People in our church have real lives.
-Ask key staff, “How full is your vision bucket these days?” Ask volunteers, “Do you sense progress around here toward our vision?” Ask members of your congregation, “Which part of our church’s vision is the most meaningful to you?” Get a gauge on how full buckets are around you, leader, and then get busy topping them off.
This one is so easy to understand because I see it in myself so frequently. I can be very passionate about something and then a few weeks later actually seem to forget why I ever even supported it. Vision leaks in me and needs refilled, just like vision leaks in church people and they need refills regularly too.

Axiom # 22 Never Say Someone’s No For Them
-It’s an odd tendency I see in even the most discerning and faithful leaders: when they’re trying to add a great board member or an elder or a small group leader or other key leader, they ask God who would be the very best person on planet Earth to fill the position. Upon receiving the answer, they proceed to pursue everyone but that individual.
Hybels said it all in the quote above.

Axiom # 30 Pay Attention To Greetings and Goodbyes
-I make it a habit to do a personal, enthusiastic, genuine, warm, highly relational, look-you-in-the-eye greeting to every single person sitting around the table before I even think about starting the meeting.
I am absolutely no good at this at all. I tend to think that small talk is a waste of time. The clock is ticking and the more we banter the more we are wasting other people’s time. However, I am sure that Hello’s and Goodbye’s are much, much more important than I like and I must improve this aspect of leadership. To an exaggerated extent, Dave Kingrey is an excellent role model for this axiom.

Axiom # 33 Just Say It!
-People who work in Christian settings often feel obligated to present opinions with a level of politeness that can often dilute the point they are making to where it is barely recognizable. The other people in the room respond with blank stares, wondering what in the world this person has just said.
Often, the weird silence lingers until some brave soul finally pipes up. “Huh?”…
-Even if they have to interrupt the person midsentence, the best leaders I know refuse to tolerate mushy communication.
Wow, this is a tough road to navigate when trying to balance grace and truth. Sometimes I just want to say, sp-sp-sp-spit it out and get to the point and say what you really think (and usually what everyone else really thinks but they won’t say – finally acknowledging the elephant in the room): Just Say It!

Axiom # 46 Sweat The Small Stuff
-The best leaders I know right-size the amount of small stuff required to do their job well and then tend to those things furiously…They return phone calls and acknowledge correspondence. They answer followers questions clearly and in a timely manner….Please return every phone call (within 24 hours). Nobody likes to feel ignored, especially at a church.
This comes easily to me and but my challenge and unresolved consideration to my leadership is how, as a leader, to convince others around me to sweat the small stuff as well.

Axiom # 49
Is It Sustainable?
-Good leaders call out high commitments from people. They cast pulse-racing visions and say, “If we all rally together, we can take this hill!” But at some point along the way, they have to ask themselves how many hills they realistically can ask their congregations to climb in a given time frame.
-The sustainability concept is catching on in kingdom circles, and its arrival is long overdue. As leaders of the most important endeavor on planet Earth, we have to get better about implementing what we can sustain. They people we partner with deserve it.
This is such a great evaluative question we can ask for every ministry endeavor (as well as personal life endeavors): is it sustainable? Now, with the right questions being asked, I just have to continue to ask for and seek the wisdom to know the answer.

Axiom # 59 Let’s Debrief
-Debriefings are not about judgment and condemnation and ripping something to shred; they are about taking responsibility for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Debriefing and honestly evaluating a ministry endeavor is such an important last step in the process cycle of making something better and more effective.

Axiom # 64
What Life Are You Waiting For?
-This is the only leadership life I get, my one and only shot at following God the way I feel him prompting me to do so. This isn’t some pregame warm-up. It’s the game, and the clock is ticking!
This is a great consideration in the process of discerning God’s will. Especially when we know and everyone else around us knows as well, what we are supposed to do. We can’t be controlled by fear. There is no ‘later’. This is the one chance we get.

Axiom # 70
Arrive Early Or Not At All
-Promptness is about character, and leaders are not beyond the rules that govern things like courtesty and character.
Again, I am very well aware that punctuality is not my ‘gift’. However, I must, absolutely must get better at this essential proverb of a good leader. To arrive early shows others that their time is important; that I am thinking of others as better than myself (Philippians 2).

Axiom # 73 Excellence Honors God and Inspires People
-Leaders in every arena possess an internal quality-control mechanism, a longing for excellence that won’t let them off the hook.
-We must fight for excellence because it is excellence that honors God. It is excellence that inspires people. And it is excellence that means trouble for the enemy of our souls.
I really hate when people say we don’t have to take the business of the church seriously, because it’s “just church”. I’ve always thought that we should take the ministry of the church way more seriously than any profitable business or anything else. I don’t know the chapter and verse that says that excellence honors God but I do believe it’s true. More subjective and even more assuredly true, excellence inspires people, including me! Excellence breeds excellence just like mediocrity produces more mediocrity.