It can be a challenge for any of us to effectively plan and identify the steps needed for moving forward as we lead others, set personal goals for the new year, or mentor another person. Whether as a seasoned leader or a new leader, we can get stuck. And if we lead alongside someone who plans or leads much differently than we do, it can be even more of a challenge!
As long as we lead, there will always be problems to address and changes to make; and this can be discouraging. And honestly, it can feel easier to just stick to the “same ol’ same ol’,” and pick the path of least resistance. But the “don’t ever change” sentiment written in the back of my 7th grade yearbook really isn’t the advice we want to take to heart! So where do we start?
Recently, we were sitting in our staff meeting planning for the new year. We wanted to know, “How are we doing?”
This is when it can start to feel overwhelming! There are countless things to think about and many different methods and options to use for planning. And some just seem to complicate things! But whatever process or tool we use, there are a few simple and helpful things to keep in mind.
Evaluate— “Reality is our friend”
This may seem obvious- but we need to evaluate. Evaluation brings reality into the picture (yikes!)— and, as my husband likes to remind us, “Reality is our friend.” This is really the first step for making a plan: viewing reality, not as our enemy, but as a tool for shaping our future. If we loosen our grasp on our own plans we have a better chance of identifying what is next. (There is a secret weapon that can help you and your team during this time which I will share in just a moment.)
As we sat in our staff meeting we opened up a time of evaluation. We started with the “happy talk.” We shared the good or positive things we saw happen over the past year. Each of these things were written on the whiteboard. (We sometimes send a short survey ahead of time to the team members, which helps the internal processors.)
Next, we listed the “not so happy,” or weaker areas from the year- the things that didn’t go so well, need attention, or were orphaned.
This is where it can get rough. It is easy and normal to exaggerate the things that seem negative. “Things are SO bad.” Or, “Everyone thinks…” And it can also be easy to take things personally or feel the need to blame someone. Our tendency is always to let the “bad” out weigh the “good.” This is where I don’t want to get stuck. Being a “realist” myself, my propensity is to stay here and then go downhill emotionally.
Besides the team’s evaluation, we sent a google form evaluation to others who were involved. For us, it was the student leaders. After we gave our own feedback as a team we looked at the feedback of others. This helped us to see if we really had the pulse of those we were serving? Did we really see the issues at hand?
Here is an important component of the evaluation process: a time of thanksgiving. As a staff team we took time to go back and acknowledge what God had done. We remembered and gave thanks. We offered thanks specifically and affirmed all is a gift from God. Then we treated everyone to coffee next door at the coffee shop!
Step Back and Pray
Sometimes being too close to something distorts our perspective. After I trim the bushes I have to back up to see if they are even. After putting a sample of paint up on the wall I step away to see if the color is what I want. As a leader we need to be stepping back— giving distance between us and the details of the evaluation and space between our own plans and different possibilities. This helps us to see things a little more clearly and to remember the goal is not to just fix things or usher in our agenda.
Before the evaluation with others I do my own evaluation. As I do this I am also in the process of stepping away from it and trying not to be fixated on figuring things out. This may mean not thinking about it and doing other things for a short time. This is also just sitting in it, noticing and writing down major themes. I will think about these things in light of the overall goals we have.
A few questions to ask:
- What are our goals for the next 3-5 years?
- What are the areas if not addressed will keep us from reaching these goals?
- If I could narrow down the noticed themes to three, what would they be?
Here is the most important part: I want to do this prayerfully. I am asking God continually for wisdom and discernment. I “hand over” all aspects to Him and ask Him to lead. I want to trust God and wait on Him.
After team evaluation, we don’t make any decisions or take any steps that day. We step back and call it a day. There may be more we need to say the next day. But we don’t want to be hasty in trying to figure things out. Our goal is not to hurry up and “fix things.”
Identify the Big Rocks
The phrase “if everything is important, then nothing is important” is good to keep in mind at this point. We will always have more things to address and do then we have time for. In order to see goals reached it is better to focus on fewer things— a few big rocks.
The big rocks are those “non-negotiables” or the things we need to address. “I can’t hit everything, but if I could pick three, what would they be?” (There is the illustration that if you put the big rocks into a jar first you can add small pebbles still to it. But if you fill the jar first with the small pebbles, then the big rocks won’t fit at all.) If we don’t identify our big rocks other things will end up filling our time.
We asked each staff person on our team to share their top three. “If you were the team leader what would you focus on during this new year?” Each shared their three and these were written on the white board. We began to notice overlap in ideas and repeated themes.
Then we stopped. We asked God to lead us.
This is important to keep in mind: it will always be tempting to address more than three areas. But if you pick three, there is a better chance for reaching your goals and seeing growth. Plus it will feel more manageable for your team.
Our Big Rocks
I do think themes become evident. Though this year felt different to me. I felt at a loss. There seemed like there were too many things to consider (as always). But the same areas were returning that had already been a focus during the last two years. Even though there had been some progress, we still wanted to see more.
I also felt perplexed by many areas we face- the isolation and distraction social media brings, the lack of male leadership, helicopter parenting, the changing times, etc.
As we evaluated, prayed and discussed candidly as a team, we did come up with three Big Rocks:
This is it! And I really feel good about what we came up with. I will share more in the weeks to come about each of these, and why we picked them, the steps under each and any progress we have seen. I also will share how we are addressing some of these perplexing themes.
As you plan and set goals, take time to do the above three things (Evaluate, Step Back, and Identify the big rocks) and I think your planning process will go more smoothly and help take you where you want to go- to see lives transformed, growth in new areas and dreams becoming reality.
Next time: Prayer and a few ways we are incorporating it: Creating Solutions with Prayer