Communicating Expectations Well

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One of the things I have most enjoyed about blogging over the past year has been the lessons I have learned and processed through my writing. Almost a year ago, I broke an unwritten rule I have about not writing about an idea or topic that recently took place when I wrote about communicating expectations.

The truth is, that post came directly out of a lesson I learned while on our annual Spring Break trip. You can click the link above to read the full post, but the short version was I got frustrated because my adult leaders were not following the schedule I had worked up, but I had never given them a copy of the schedule. So, in reality, I was frustrated with myself, not with the incredible team of volunteers who serve in the youth ministry.

As I am spending this week getting ready for the same trip, I am keeping in the forefront of my mind: communicate expectations well.

I believe this is a foundational leadership principle for my personal journey. If those who serve with me do not know what I expect, how can I realistically hold them to those expectations?

Plus, I can be a rather intense person, so learning to write down and communicate those expectations helps me manage them to a more realistic level. In other words, my unspoken expectations are often unrealistic expectations.

So, I have two questions for you today.

  1. Do you struggle with communicating expectations? If I was to ask the people you lead what you expected of them, would their answer line up with your answer?
  2. On a grander scale, what leadership lesson have you learned in the last year and what changes are you making as a result?

Just a side note to finish today: this is why I am so passionate about teaching the 3 questions to student leaders. I can teach a simple concept, and we are then on the same page moving forward!

Know Yourself: Trust Your Instincts

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Have you ever seen Napoleon Dynamite? Unfortunately, the story that follows may make me seem a lot like Napoleon, and the comparison is very likely true.

In high school, I was in FFA. As part of my FFA experience, I joined the Dairy Products judging team. Our contests did not occur like the scene in Napoleon Dynamite (where he sits at a table on a stage, drinks some milk, and says the cow had gotten into an onion patch), but the basic principle of the contest was similar.

Our team would split into different groups and we would rotate through different rooms: milk, cheese, natural/artificial, and a written test. In each room, there would be a number of samples and our role was to determine the identity or defect of each sample.

I judged dairy products for four years and walked away with quite possibly one of the most productive life lessons I have ever gained, but it wasn’t how to tell if milk has gone bad.

I learned to trust my first instinct.

I remember one contest in particular, maybe my Junior year. It was early in the judging season, and the contest was right up my alley because it did not include the written test.

We went through the contest, turned in our scorecards, and our Ag teacher took us back through the contest so we could see how we did. Well, as we went through, I realized I scored a perfect score. I did not miss a single defect, flavor, or texture. I was ecstatic, until the awards ceremony.

I was wrong. I missed one milk defect (still impressive, but not perfect). The confusion came because I second guessed myself and changed my answer on my official scorecard, but not on the one I kept for after the contest.

I learned a very valuable lesson that day: trust my first instinct because it generally will not let me down.

Since that contest, especially in school, I learned to trust my gut, especially on tests and homework. Still today, however, I have worked this into my identity as I set out to accomplish different tasks.

Often times today that first instinct is a nagging feeling that I need to have a tough conversation with someone, or that something needs to change. Sometimes, my first instinct is to simply listen, or to walk away.

So, let me ask you today: do you know yourself? Are you the same way? What have you learned about yourself in your leadership journey? Can you trust your first instinct, or are you better when you deliberate?

Don’t Be Surprised

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I think we all pick up leadership lessons to which we continually return. You learned something along your leadership journey, then forget what you learned, then are reminded of the validity of the lesson.

Recently, I found myself returning to a simple principle I learned a few years ago: don’t let someone’s character surprise you.

Along your leadership journey you will encounter more and more people. After a period in the same situation, you will start to learn more about individuals-their interests, habits, and character.

Then, one day, the inevitable will happen. Someone will do something to disappoint you. They will drop the ball on a project. They will show up late, again. They will gossip. They will fail to show up at all. Any number of possibilities, and they leave you, the leader, dealing with the fall out.

Before you take it out on them, or if you’re like me, take it out on yourself, ask yourself one thing: is this in line with who I know them to be? Do these actions line up with their past behavior?

I cannot promise the answer to this question will soften the blow for you, but I learned a long time ago if I can avoid expecting people to behave in the same way I would behave, I will be much healthier.

We all have faults. I can change my faults. I cannot change yours, nor can I change the faults of those I lead. I can encourage change in others, but I can only change myself.

What recent disappointment in your life resulted from expecting your values and character from someone else? How have you worked through that disappointment? Take some time today to process the situation through the lens of “don’t let someone’s character surprise you”, and see what changes.

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6 Tips to Implement the 3 Questions

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Let’s zoom in on local church ministry today. How can you use the 3 questions to help develop student leaders? (Not sure what the 3 Questions are? Click here to read more.)

  1. Teach them to ask the 3 questions. Make the 3 questions part of your language. Repeat each question individually, challenging them to incorporate the questions into how they approach situations. Do not neglect the repetition it takes to change mindsets, because it takes a lot of repetition.
  2. Give them opportunities to put the questions into practice. Go one step further by highlighting different opportunities they might have to influence a room. Walk with them through the process, pointing out the opportunities they missed or how they naturally worked through the process. Early on, you will find some who work through the questions naturally, and others who struggle. That’s okay, everybody is here to learn, including you.
  3. Highlight the positive. When you see a student answering the 3 questions, celebrate it! As you celebrate more and more, you will see more and more students buy into the concepts. Create a culture, at the beginning, where positive reinforcement reigns.
  4. Evaluate Regularly. If you want your students to put the 3 Questions into practice, find a time to regularly evaluate. For my ministry context, I send out a reminder text prior to our mid-week service, and we sit down following the service to share how we answered the 3 questions. The students know what’s coming, and they know they’re going to be asked how they answered the 3 questions.
  5. Personally commit to becoming a better leader. As a leader, you will not be able to lead someone to accomplish what you’re not pursuing yourself, so make the 3 questions part of what you do on a regular basis. Build them into your vocabulary. Evaluate situations you encounter with the 3 questions. As you learn the ins and outs of the 3 questions, you’ll be able to highlight those ins and outs with your students and help them along the way.
  6. Never forget the why. The 3 questions are a tool to teach and implement servant leadership. Why do we implement servant leadership? Because the greatest example we hold as Christians was quite possibly the greatest servant leader to ever live. I want to teach students (and adults) to answer the 3 questions so they can influence the world for Christ.

You Can Make a Difference

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In group settings, I usually tend to be a listener first.

I remember taking a senior level class in college with about 12 people. Somewhere around 7 weeks into the class I was talking in the hallway with someone else in the class and mentioned a concept we talked about. They paused and said “I forgot you were even in the class with us.”

What I am about to say does not come from an extrovert or someone who owns a room when they walk into it.

You can make a difference in any room you enter. Really, you can.

Not only can you make a difference, you need to develop a mindset that says “I will make a difference.”

I am not suggesting arrogance and conceit. Nor am I advocating being the center of attention. But, if we seriously intend to grow as leaders, if we genuinely want to expand our leadership influence, it starts with believing we can help.

Help. Influence. Impact. Whatever word you choose, the bottom line is the same: you have something to offer. But what is it? What do you bring to the table? What can you do better than anyone else around you?

I have a mentor who has a knack for finding people with leadership potential and giving them a platform to experiment. I know another friend who has an ability to connect with people and in turn connect people with people.

Influence happens not when we decide to have influence, but when we decide to make the most of what we have.

Leadership happens not when we decide to exhibit leadership, but when we decide to make the most of what we have.

I may be a listener first, but I aim to be able to understand a situation and provide new views and new ways to examine what is happening.  So not only do I listen, but I process at the same time.

As I seek to answer the 3 questions, I have to believe that I can help. You can help, too. Find a way to lead today.