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Great Stories
I’ve had many titles in my career: Program Director, Camp Director, Kayak Instructor, Youth Pastor, Church Planter, Board Chair, etc. But one of my favourites is definitely coach.

During my undergrad I earned my certifications in several sports and I’ve coached at least a dozen teams in half a dozen sports since then. This year I’m coaching one of my own kids for what may be the final time (and our PeeWee hockey team is undefeated as of this writing). Teaching, motivating, challenging, and encouraging athletes to do their best both individually and as a team is something I love to do!

But one of the most gratifying coaching opportunities I’ve ever had came a couple years ago when I leader I respect extremely highly asked me to become his “Celebration Coach”.

After being exposed to The REACTION Dashboard material several times he caught the emphasis on the power of skilled celebration to improve organizational culture and drive results and wanted some help to excel in this area. I was honoured to oblige.

We meet a couple times a year to talk through how he’s doing at invigorating celebration in his organization. It’s always a lot of fun and the early results are impressive. They are recognizing that, even in a place where celebration was already pretty strong, being intentional about pausing to notice and share the things that are meaningful and relevant makes a difference.

I was so proud last week when I got a text from Scott sharing his latest intentional celebration. His Board of Directors were completing the important but demanding task of establishing a Board Policy Manual. In an organization with a lot of history that is a monumental task and they had dug deep to do it well. 

Most boards would simply approve the finished document and move on to the next item on the agenda. But most boards don’t have a lead staff person who believes in the power of celebration.

Scott surprised the board with a cake decorated with the words “We Did It!” and a few excerpts from the complete document on top (picture above). It didn’t take a lot of time or money but it sent a powerful message of appreciation and success to the volunteers who make up the board.

It capped off a significant accomplishment with a brief and memorable moment of joy.

That’s a win!

What’s one creative way you have (or can) celebrate an accomplishment in your organization this week?

Leadership, Uncategorized
Toronto sports coverage this week has talked a lot about leadership, specifically whether Raptors star forward Kawhi Leonard is a leader or not.

While the specifics of that situation are debatable and ultimately probably of little importance to most of us, it does raise a couple interesting questions about what qualifies as leadership. Kawhi is indisputably one of the top basketball players in the world. He is also famously reserved.

Being an outstanding performer is often associated with being a leader. Being introverted is often seen as detriment to leadership. But in fact, neither is necessarily true.

Quiet people can be phenomenal leaders. They have advantages of observation and listening that extroverts struggle to accomplish. The ability to think before speaking and acting avoids impulsive errors and stability builds trust. In fact, some of the most powerful visionaries and communicators I know are strongly introverted in most settings.

Personality characteristics and profiles can be useful tools to understand and work effectively with others but they are inappropriate for deciding whether someone is or is not capable of leading.

In a similar way, the ability to perform at a high, or even elite levels is no reliable predictor of leadership potential. While there is certainly a tendency for us to look towards achievers for their example and best practices; the skills of leadership are often quite different from those of technical or individual excellence. It is often those who have less innate ability who have the capacity to equip others to succeed.

The best players are not often the best coaches.

So I really don’t know if Kawhi Leonard is a leader on his team. But I know that his personality and performance alone don’t tell us enough to figure out the answer.

Great Stories, Leadership, Resources
October 10, 2018 is the print release day for The REACTION Dashboard.

This book has been a work in progress for about four years and making it available to the world brings feelings of excitement, relief, anticipation, and hope. I am deeply grateful to al the leaders and friends who’s experiences and insights contributed to what it is.

The REACTION Dashboard is a tool that equips leaders to understand, assess, and improve their organizational culture. The tool is practical, simple, and quick. It pushes action and results. And it emphasizes the discipline of Celebration, a largely untapped approach that brings out the best in every member of your team.

The first half of the book is The Story, a fictional account of a handful of leaders applying the REACTION principles in realistic situations. The second half is The Elements, a direct explanation of how the tool works and how to use it in your context. It’s a quick read and highly memorable.

The book is available in print and ebook formats from all major retailers. Learn more at

Great Stories, Leadership
Are you more enthralled by vigilantes or saints? Do you get more excited when the bad guy gets gunned down, or when the troubled soul finds new hope? Are you more into stories of frontier justice or remarkable transformation?

I had an interesting Facebook dialogue last week about the power of redemption stories. It seems there is something deep in the human condition that resonates with tales of rising from the ashes and becoming something new. 

We also respond strongly to stories of retribution. The visceral thrill of justice served, especially when it is deserved, swift, and explicit; brings a primal satisfaction.

These contrasting plots show up in so much of our literature and entertainment that they are immediately recognizable. In fact, the tension between which outcome will occur is one of the most compelling ways to maintain our interest in a book, movie, or tv show. 

I find myself intrigued by the essential difference between those who we celebrate for a dramatic turn around in their character and behaviour and those who we cheer as they get what they have coming to them.

It’s an old concept, but it seems the key is repentance.

We are in an age when examples of prominent people being exposed for some of their worst deeds are frequent (and often long overdue). And yet, offering even as little as a sincere sounding apology that isn’t obviously written by a professional PR fixer is tragically rare. The pattern seems to be scandal – spin – silence where what we really want is scandal – sorrow – solution. Instead of protecting our power and positions, we need to see people own their errors and do what they can to make it right.

The problem is that we want to shortcut the process of redemption. We want to be welcomed back into the community without having to really face our failures and deal with the consequences. We want what some religious leaders have called “cheap grace”.

But grace isn’t cheap and reconciliation requires more. It requires repentance.

Repentance is the active process of understanding where we have transgressed, understanding the harm we have done, experiencing sorrowful regret, sincerely apologizing, and determining to do better. It is a painfully honest assessment of the attitudes, actions, and issues that contributed to our sins and a resolution to change. It depends on humility and accepting consequences before seeking restoration.

To be honest, I’m not all that good at repentance. I’d prefer if my screw ups could be overlooked and people would always give me an enormous benefit of the doubt. I want cheap grace.

But it never works in the long run.

So here’s to those who have the courage to see truth in the mirror and deal with it openly, honestly, and without a defensive agenda. We could sure use a lot more of that story.

Christian media has been dominated in recent weeks by reports about Willow Creek Community Church founding pastor Bill Hybels. The many allegations of inappropriate conduct towards women are disturbing and must be fully addressed, but the leadership issue is the way the church leadership has responded to them. I don’t know any more than what is public media, so I won’t speculate on how this will all be resolved. But there are some important lessons for leaders, and particularly for governance.

Note: I am refraining from linking to reports on this situation because it is still developing.

Lesson #1: Everyone is vulnerable to failure.

Bill Hybels is a massive figure in evangelical circles globally. His vision, leadership, and teaching have played a huge part in church strategy around the world in the past few decades. His accomplishments are remarkable. He has also been a strong voice for the empowerment of women in leadership and for leaders to carefully watch their integrity.

It is very sad to think that any of the stories being shared are true.

But it should serve as a caution that success and charisma are not absolute. Everyone has temptations to violate their standards. Our first response to any similar scandal should be to take an inventory of our own lives and see where we need to be more diligent.

Lesson #2: Respond quickly and transparently.

Accounts show that concerns had been raised by credible people several times in the past. Some were directly to Hybels, others to members of the staff and board. There was no public response until outside media became involved. Even then, the investigations into the allegations were done only by internal leaders until far too late.

It undermines the credibility of the organization when it appears that there may have been a cover up. When years of complaints come out in just a few weeks it looks like a pattern, whether it is one or not. Err on the side of external trusted people to lead any investigation, and let people know that you are doing so.

Letting people know that you have heard the allegations, that you take them seriously, and that you are taking action to fully understand them as soon as possible should be expected. nothing less is a breeding ground for rumours and gossip. Often what people imagine in the absence of your statements is far worse than reality.

Lesson #3: Expect the waves to grow.

Where there is one accusation of impropriety there are often several. I suspect the leaders at Willow felt they had handled things completely, possibly more than once, before each new story surfaced. It must be a terrible feeling each time another allegation is brought forward. 

Wisdom would remind us that there is usually more beneath the surface than is initially apparent. So anticipate the possibility that things will escalate and/or deteriorate beyond the initial stage of concerns. Our natural desire to conclude the process needs to be tempered by the potential for additional unwanted surprises.

Lesson #4: Don’t rush for resolution.

Leaders tend to be action-oriented. Especially when dealing with controversy we want to bite the bullet, deal with the damage, and get back to work on what we’re really all about. As admirable and understandable as this is, it needs to be resisted.

A thorough outside investigation, time to properly consider what must be done, lots of space for truth-telling, and a determination to do what is right as far as that can be determined, even when it is costly is the required posture. The integrity if the organization requires it. This means slowing down, listening more, reserving judgment longer, and accepting that some people will accuse you of stalling. Better to be a little late on your final response than to have to start all over with egg on your face by hurrying.

Lesson #5: Align your loyalty.

As leaders we want the best for our people and our organization. We want to give the benefit of the doubt to those who have served well. We want to ensure that the mission goes forward. All of those good intentions can trap us into serious mistakes.

Our highest loyalties should be to our values and mission, not to the leaders or even the organization. We must be willing to make hard decisions about beloved founders, long-term staff, and amazing volunteers for the higher purpose of what is right and true. The responsibility to protect the organization cannot be fulfilled if doing so requires us to deny what the organization is really supposed to stand for. 

In painful situations we need to believe that there is something bigger than our own brands and bosses. There will be another leader, and if necessary there will be a new organization to rise up and take our place. There are far too many examples in this time of misplaced loyalty leading to an organization rotting from the inside and losing any meaningful voice or credibility.

Of course, all of this is easy to say from the sidelines. I sincerely hope those at Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association will have the strength and wisdom to find their way through. I don’t envy them the season there are in, or the fact that they are doing it under such scrutiny. We need to support and honour those leaders who can do the incredibly costly work of leading through scandal.

And we need to learn from it so we can lead well if or when our turn comes.

Addendum: A couple readers have pointed out that I omitted something essential. The organization must prioritize caring for those who have been mistreated. Far too often they are excluded, condemned, slandered, and re-victimised by those who owe them the highest duty of care. I will add that I have also seen situations where the person accused was not cared for with tragic results. We must not let self-protection or fear of legal repercussions prevent us from offering support to those who are suffering.

For several years I’ve used running as an alternative way to meet with some of the leaders I advise. The combination of activity, nature, and being side by side brings a different quality to the conversation that can be helpful.

Today I added another sport to the arsenal: Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP).

For those who haven’t tried it, SUP is sort of a cross between canoeing and surfing. You stand on a fairly large board and use a long paddle to make your way across the water. My wife and I have been doing it for a few years and we love it!

I’ve introduced a bunch of people to the sport and I always tell them; “The first 30 seconds it will seem impossible, but then you’ll settle in a bit and it will start to work really quickly”. With the right board, and a willingness to get wet occasionally, almost anyone can learn and enjoy it.

While paddling today the leader I was with commented that he could feel the muscles in his feet and lower legs working constantly to find and maintain balance. It’s absolutely true. It takes a while to get used to the constant corrections your body needs to make to stay upright. Most of it is subconscious, and it has to happen.

I think the same is true for finding balance in life and leadership. Especially when trying something new we often find that we are constantly having to make small adjustments to stay on top of things. We do a lot of it intuitively and spontaneously, but it can be fatiguing. Over time we become more comfortable and confident and find it all comes more naturally.

We also noticed today how much easier it was to stay balanced when we were going with the wind and waves. Somehow that extra momentum had us forgetting how tricky it really was, until we turned around and had to fight against it.

There are seasons of leadership where things are going pretty well and we can forget how complex and important leading really is. But when our course or the circumstances around us change we can suddenly find ourselves struggling to not go under, let alone to make any headway.

The leadership lessons from our SUP session pretty much write themselves. The challenge will be applying them.

The good news is, the leader I paddled with today is eager to come out again, and to take what we’re learning back to his organization. I think I’ll be “SUPsulting” with a few others this summer. 

What unusual activity had taught you something that has helped your leadership?

If you want to set up a runsult, SUPsult, or just a regular conversation about healthy leaders and healthy organizations you can contact us here.

Great Stories, Leadership
Most policy manuals are useless, and many are holding back results.

I’ve had several conversations and consulting sessions in the last couple months where organizational policies featured prominently. In the midst of cultural shifts in expectations and greater diversity of demographics and opinions, the desire to establish clarity often results in voluminous binders of procedures and practices that take days to read; let alone to write, review, and implement.

And a lot of it is garbage.

I don’t mean that politically. It’s not the specific content of the policies that concerns me. It’s the sense that we need to define and monitor so much of the behaviour of our teams.

We don’t.

In fact, if your organization feels like you need policies for just about every eventuality that may occur it is more than likely that you have an unhealthy culture where the push for authority and control has replaced any form of meaningful trust and communication. 

A long term successful leader I spent time with recently said: “We create policies when we want to avoid conversations”. It rings true.

If our people can’t make even basic decisions on their own we have the wrong people. Or, more likely, if we haven’t developed that ability in employees then we are the wrong leaders.

Of course there are regulatory and legal realities that require us to enact policies. Those are unavoidable, whether they are well designed or not. Some things need explicit instructions. The danger comes when we begin establishing rules when principles or values would suffice.

I almost cheered out loud when I heard on The Unpodcast that GM’s CEO Mary Barra, in the midst of  bankruptcy and enormous pressure, focused on improving organizational culture in part by reducing the reliance on policies. She replaced a ten page workplace dress code with two words: Dress Appropriately.

I love it! If it can work in one of the largest corporations why can’t small and mid-sized organizations follow the example?

Healthy leaders build healthy cultures where control is minimized and conversations abound. Instead of detailed policies that feed autocratic supervision and motivate people to look for loopholes, they take a strong stand on values and establish principles that honour maturity and empower choice wherever possible. Trust becomes a real thing when we let people make the decisions they are capable of making.

You may be thinking, “Sure, but what happens when someone does something inappropriate and we don’t have a specific rule about it?”.

Probably something very similar to what would happen with a rule: you have a conversation with them. But in this case it is educational instead of disciplinary. Over time the few who don’t fit will either choose to leave or give every reason for termination. And the people you want to keep will appreciate being treated with respect. I’d bet they’ll start aspiring to higher standards instead of gravitating to the bare minimum.

Tell me: What’s one policy you could simplify to see how people will respond?

If you’re working on understanding, assessing, and improving your organizational culture we can help.

Catalyst, Leadership
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

As always, some people make a really big deal out of it, spending small fortunes on flowers, chocolates, gifts, and dinner out. Proclaiming their love as publicly as possible as an expression of romance.

As always, others point out that Valentine’s is a fabricated holiday that really doesn’t reflect the true story of St. Valentine, and serves mostly to guilt people into unnecessary stereotypical purchases. They claim that they don’t need a nudge from a consumer driven date to demonstrate their feelings.

I can’t help but wonder if those who criticize the holiday really are regularly showing their partners how much they love them. 

The simple truth is that, as artificial as it may be, many of us benefit from the reminder.

The nudge works.

Like romance in an intimate relationship, organizations are better, richer, and stronger when they celebrate their successes. And like romance, celebration is easily and often overlooked.

This is true in many areas of our lives. We are intentional about building habits and rituals that regularly remind us of the things we believe are important. So we have an annual physical, schedule date nights, set reminders on our phones, and wear accessories that nudge us to pay attention and take action.

For me, that’s a big part of going to church.

Some leaders don’t fully appreciate the significant impact skilled celebration can bring for their organization. And few consistently make it a priority. It’s easier to invest ourselves in problem solving and strategy sessions than in leading a culture that brings out the best in people. 

But every organization is better when leaders leverage the power of celebration.

I was honoured last year when a leader I respect asked me to be his “celebration coach”. He wants me to remind him to celebrate the things that matter, and to help him to do it well. He needs the nudge.

So whether you like Valentine’s Day or not, it’s a good idea to find some way to remind yourself to show your love for the people you care about.

And if you want to lead your organization to be healthy, vibrant, and as impactful as possible, you need to find a way to ensure that you don’t take celebration for granted. You might even want to find yourself a coach.

Catalyst offers workshops in Celebration for leaders, teams, and organizations. Contact us for more information.

A lot of the charity leaders I work with don’t get proper accountability from their Board of Directors. Sometimes they kinda like it that way.

But the truth is that providing a proper performance review of the lead staff person is a basic duty of the board. Failing to do so handicaps the leader and ultimately the organization. Every employee deserves to know how well they are doing and what they can do to improve.

I am occasionally asked to advise or participate in a leader’s performance review. Over the year’s I’ve seen both excellent and ineffective approaches. I recently offered the following thoughts to a board member from a familiar charity about designing a performance review for their leader:

(Edited for confidentiality)

-The first consideration is what is the purpose of the evaluation. Is the board considering whether she is still the right leader for the organization? That would lead to a different process than if you are confident in her and trying to give her some feedback to continue her growth.
-Assuming you’re happy with her, I think there are two prime aspects of evaluation:
1. Organizational Results: Is the organization achieving its purpose and hitting strategic targets (as approved by the Board) consistently under her leadership? This information should be fairly easy to gather and evaluate against the strategic plan.
2. Organizational Culture: Does she cultivate a healthy atmosphere where people are equipped to perform at their best and their achievements are celebrated? Our REACTION Dashboard has been effectively adapted and facilitated for this purpose. 
-A third aspect is her leadership health and development. Is she preparing herself to thrive in the role as the organization continues to grow? Does she know what she needs to do to be the leader the organization needs for the next 5 years? A leaders success is tied to being healthy and being intentional about development.
As for the process; there could be a range of approaches depending on the degree of detail you want. A basic survey of 10-20 key people (board, staff, donors, etc.) could be summarized for the board and leader with a few simple questions on the above topics. Something more formal or systematic would require more expertise than I can offer.
There are lots of viable options for an effective performance review. Determining which approach is most appropriate depends on the current situation of the leader, board, and organization. However, for any review to be useful it will have to address the above areas in some way.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are one of the most culturally significant realities of the last two years. It seems like every couple days another prominent male figure is accused of sexual assault and this may well be just the beginning. The local and grassroots levels of society haven’t yet felt the same degree of impact. But it almost definitely on the horizon and approaching quickly.

The relevance of this for leaders is complex, and it is urgent.

Every organization must be prepared for the possibility that there will be allegations involving one of their leaders or employees. There are any number of excellent resources available for legal guidance, and there is no longer any excuse for not having policy in place for properly handling a complaint or accusation.

But there are leadership aspects to these situations that are not only matters of law and reporting.

(I am acutely aware that I write and live in a position of privilege. My reflections on these difficult and all too common matters come from what I hope is recognized as a place of sincere compassion and concern for all who have been victimized.)

1. It can happen here. Every sector of society is affected by sexual misconduct. There is a natural tendency to magnify the offence of those we consider “other”by religion, industry, or politics; while minimizing what’s happening in our own tribe. As the reports increase we are seeing clearly that no community is immune and some of those that might appear cleanest on the surface are most damaged at the core.

2. This video of Rachel Denhollander addressing the court about the horrific crimes committed by Larry Nassar should be required viewing. Her eloquence, courage, and poise while revealing the lasting harm done to her and many others, and the way she exposes the systemic factors that enabled the abuse to continue year after year, are an important window into both the reality of victimization and the power of survivorhood. It is well worth the time for every leader, but it is graphic and disturbing.

3. False accusations can happen. The court of public opinion can be harsh and is not bound by the rule of law and that should concern us. I have had friends lose their careers and worse to allegations that were either later proven false or were never tested in a court of law. But I have had far more friends reveal past abuse that they never reported because they tragically blamed themselves or believed no one would believe them. All the research I can find is clear that the incidence of false claims is very rare and pales in comparison to the rate of unreported assaults. So yes, it is possible that someone with an axe to grind will make a malicious false report. But too many abusers have been enabled to continue their harm because we didn’t want to believe their victims.

4. Your voice matters. Meaningful change requires that these conversations happen in board rooms and locker rooms, at dinner tables and in places of worship. For survivors to come forward and for society to become safer we need to change the atmosphere that has silenced and shamed those who have been victimized. That will happen when we move these issues from the hidden corners of our communities into the light. And that requires more of us to participate. It should go without saying that this is not a women’s issue. This is a fundamental human issue and we all have something at stake.

5. Refuse paralysis. Do not let taking harassment seriously keep you from your work. The scale and frequency of stories emerging is overwhelming. Even more if we consider the ones that are happening that don’t make the news. It is tempting to turn all our attention to caring for the victims, identifying the offenders, and seeking justice for everyone. But for most organizations that is not our primary purpose. We need to see this as a critical reminder to ensure we are doing what we can to prevent and address harassment while maintaining focus on the reason for our work.

6. Hold to a higher standard. Ontario politician Patrick Brown was pushed to resign despite no charges being filed against him. However leadership does not offer the presumption of innocence that is a hallmark of our legal system. A leader who is not trusted cannot be effective. The Bible’s admonition for leaders to be “above reproach” and that those who lead “will be judged more harshly” applies to every leader. Recommit to having exemplary character and accountability, and make it a non-negotiable for your organization. Character counts. Even when there are high profile leaders who seem to be exceptions.

What we are experiencing is fundamentally a good thing. We are way past due for real conversations about sexual assault and harassment in society, and in our families and organizations. It should be uncomfortable and certainly there will be examples of it not being handled ideally. But all decent human beings should be united in wanting to shine light on the ugliness that has been hidden and enabled for far too long. This is time for leadership; but it must include real listening, grieving, and change.

If you can point to excellent resources for training organizations in preventing sexual misconduct and/or responding properly to a report please add it in the comments.