Uncommon Leadership

I like to study organizations and the people that makeup them up. I enjoy studying how people can have the same title and yet perform completely different. We love an underdog story. We love watching organizations with less resources out perform larger well funded organizations. Organizations with enthusiastic leaders and people will outperform mediocre ones.


What makes these realities possible?

How can people hold the same title, but be an uncommon leader?
First of all, it doesn’t take a title or position to lead. Leading is an influence. Organizations that recognize this have a shortcut to being uncommon leaders.


1. Uncommon leaders are readers.
On average, authors put about 2 years of life experience into the content of a book. 2015 I started mapping out my reading plan for my year. No matter what title I hold, I wanted to be like leaders who never stopped learning, and we’re always maturing.


Author and Pastor, Mark Batterson, read 3,000 books before he ever authored his first book. He wanted as much life experience as possible before he penned his first book.


My personal maturity map looks like reading 30 books a year, listening to 104 podcasts a year.


2. Uncommon leaders are completers.
This may sound simple, but there is something that stands out in our culture for keeping your word. If you say you’re going to do something and actually doing it, you’ll stand out in the right way in our society.
As we raise our sons, we are emphasizing this more and more. I want our sons to have a reputation for completing jobs and responsibilities. No matter their titles.


3. Uncommon Leaders Feed others.
In a world of negativity, anxiety, and depression, a person who encourages others is so crucial. Merrillville Intermediate School has a banner posted that says, Throw Kindness like Confetti. It’s a great reminder of how vital our kindness and encouragement are. Lead by encouraging.


4. Uncommon Leaders garden.
A gardener understands that gardening is a system. There is a time of preparing the soil, planting seeds, pulling weeds, watering etc. This is a system.


The harsh reality of all workplaces is that there is waste, imbalanced, & overwhelmed. Uncommon Leaders know this. They also don’t attempt to solve these issues on their own. Toyota factories have boards posted. These boards are for any associate to suggest improvements.


These suggestions used to reduce Muda (waste), mura (imbalanced), and muri (overwhelmed). Engineers and production team leaders set up a process knowing that it should change and improve. No production process stays the same. The constant process of kaizen allows for change to happen by the people who are doing the work. Uncommon leaders create a system to allow that to happen that goes beyond the suggestion box.


5. Uncommon Leaders heed.
We’ve all seen past successful businesses avoid and resist change. Companies like Sears, Blockbuster, and Kodak resisted the changing climate of business. They are now scrambling to stay relevant.


Uncommon Leaders heed the changing times and adjust. Will Netflix change with all the recent additions to the streaming market? Will we look back in 10 years and wonder how Netflix went out of business? Will they change?


No matter what capacity of leadership we are in, things change.


6. Uncommon Leaders plead.
Every leader has to hold people accountable. People will always fail at something. Uncommon Leaders know this. What makes uncommon leaders uncommon is how they address the failure.


Uncommon Leaders keep humanity while they address failures.
Uncommon Leaders plead for others to rise up to their standards.
Plead for humans to be more humane start by leading by example.
Application Step:


Which of these traits do you already show?


Which 1 of these traits will you begin to practice?

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Success for the generations

One of the most challenging parts of my role as a pastor is knowing when you’ve won.  I know most pastors will say they aren’t in competition. Not me, I’m a competitor. The problem is, is church life a competition? If so, how do you know when you’re winning? 

Our prayer maps throughout Merrillville.  One of our ladies, Tanisha Washington highlighting where she has prayed over.
Our prayer maps throughout Merrillville. One of our ladies,
Tanisha Washington highlighting where she has prayed over.

As a church, our people have committed to driving down streets praying for justice, mercy, grace, and peace.  I realized something the other day as I drove through my community praying. I had the realization that I might be playing by the wrong set of rules. 

 What if winning looks like my nutrition journey instead of a game of football? 

I eat ‘clean’ 90% of the time.  As a family, we have primarily followed the paleo way of eating for the last six years.  I work out 4-5 days a week as well. I’m in a new season of lifting more weights and less cardio.  Can I get an amen?! I hate cardio! I’m using lifting as my cardio. 

When I started my adult workout journey twelve years ago, I ran all the time and lost weight quickly.  I could eat almost whatever I wanted and still lose weight as long as I ran.

I viewed succeeding in my nutrition journey as a game of the weight scale. Making sure that number went down each week was the only thing that mattered. 

Now I’m more concerned with healthy life choices that will allow me to live a long healthy time.  I am also concerned with the food that goes into my body. I’ve noticed some foods are better for me to eat.  I’ve seen eating patterns that are better for me to follow, as well. The goal now is for me to live a healthy life, not just reduce the number on the scale.  My goal now is to have more muscle mass and lower body fat percentage. 

What if we are playing by the wrong set of assumptions? 

How often do you review your quarterly reviews?  I love the concept of a twelve-week work year by Brian Moran.  His idea is about getting more done in twelve weeks than most people do in a year.

I’m an action-oriented leader.  I’d rather move forward and then plan, plan and plan some more. 

Last week, a 15-year-old girl challenged me.  She asked what our community should look like in ten years if RE.THINK Church is successful.  It was such a great challenge! At times, I’ve been so consumed with growing an audience and building my influence.  I play by the wrong set of rules. I’ve been thinking about success wrong. What if my success as a pastor isn’t about a larger church? 

What if winning as a pastor doesn’t mean my church seats are full? 

What if it means that crime rates in our community are lower?  What if it means sixteen-year-old boys aren’t murdered and graduation rates rise?  What if it means immigrants and refugees find help instead of hiding out of shame, businesses thrive and young people are safe?  What if it means racial tension is gone, even the diet racism?  What if it looks like people have found hope and true life in Jesus?  What if it looks like people finding their true potential that Jesus has for them? 

When I attempted to answer the 15-year old’s question last week, I felt so selfish and self-centered.  As a pastor, the above is what I’m going after now. My efforts aren’t to fill our church seats. My efforts are to change our community. 

This translates into positioning our church and our budget to accomplish our long term goal.  

We can fall into the trap of the shortsighted goals of monthly reviews and profit margins.  Let me echo the question to you. What does our community look like in ten years if YOUR COMPANY is successful?

Let’s start thinking and leading to impact and influence generations! 

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

The Middle Phase

In 2015, Heather and I (Marc) were wrestling through what our next step as a family was.  We sensed God leading us away from a church and community that we were extremely comfortable in.  We had friends and support systems. We loved the city and we loved the people. We thought we’d retire there.  However, it became crystal clear that God was moving us away from the comfortable toward an unknown future.

The unknown isn’t bad.  The unknown is simply uncomfortable.  

In August of 2015, we found ourselves driving through Northwest Indiana with a couple of shady characters, Tom and Sarah Cochran.  We stopped at a Merrillville Elementary School, Salk Elementary School. While walking around, I was praying the whole time.

I don’t use this term flippantly.  I sensed God leading us to Northwest Indiana to start a church that unchurched (we define “unchurched” as people who have never gone to church, people who have stopped attending church, find church to be irrelevant or feel like the church has given up on them) people would want to attend.  Herein lies the problem and the challenge. The reality of any business is that any long term success comes when people who don’t currently use your product start using your product.

Business leaders, we must realize we aren’t selling products.  We are selling solutions to problems. You might be selling drill bits today, but once someone discovers a new more efficient way to make holes with accuracy, your drill bit business will be scrambling for business.  As a church leader, I face the same issues.

It’s so tempting to think that our organization is selling or offering a product.  I’d encourage you to think through what problem your organization solves and how you can leverage your organization to solve problems.    

As you start the adventure of exploring what problems your organization solves and offer solutions for them, you might start a new ad campaign or you might discover your products don’t actually offer solutions to any problems, so you revamp your product line.  You might realize that there is a completely different market in the process. You also might discover that your passion isn’t in this field and start a new adventure in a different field. No matter what, there is a rhythm that most likely will take place. There will be a launch phase, a middle phase and a peak phase.  The key to finding lasting success is repeating this process in the right time.

Plenty has been written about the launch and peak phases.  I’ve not come across a lot of material on the middle phase however.  I find myself leading an organization in the early stages of the middle phase.  

As we do this, there is a fun part of the process.  At the launch of any new business or church, there is a lot of energy…then the middle phase hits.  Expenses build up and you spend the same amount of energy and money attempting to generate the same amount of results you accomplished in the launching phase…and It just doesn’t happen.  

You must create more energy.  

Actually, what I have found is that we should create systems instead of products and campaigns.  Systems take a long time, a LONG time to get started. The beautiful thing about systems is that once they are up and running, they will accomplish more results than you ever expected.  

Rich Birch, a seasoned church leader who has served in three innovative culture-shaping churches, uses the example of a flywheel or a merry-go-round.  In the beginning, it seems that nothing is going to the thing moving, but when you stick with it, momentum starts to build up. After a while, momentum takes over and eventually keeping that momentum going isn’t difficult.  

A leader should be strategic and intentional about when to interject to keep the momentum going once the systems are in place and creating momentum.   

This is exactly what happens when the right systems are at work for any organization.  

In the middle phase of the process, the most important and yet most difficult questions to answer are “which systems do you put energy into?”  

I love watching productivity increase while mistakes and process defects decrease.”

You might just have a solution that would solve their problems, but they don’t know you offer it, because of how busy you might be at improving your system.  If you aren’t careful, that focus will be the end of your organization.

We might be working at improving our systems and miss a huge opportunity right in front of us.  In the 90’s, there wasn’t a weekend that I didn’t head to the local Blockbuster Store to rent a movie.  When I was in college in the early 2000’s, I spent most of my Saturdays doing the same thing. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie rented from Blockbuster.  Why is that?

There was a little start up in 2000 called Netflix.  Founder, Reed Hastings, approached Blockbuster’s CEO John Antioco about purchasing Netflix.  Blockbuster didn’t see the potential in Netflix. They couldn’t see that there would be a new way of watching movies in the near future.  They were focused on improving their systems within Blockbuster and they missed a chance of a lifetime.

Blockbuster filed bankruptcy in 2010 and now Netflix is no longer a fledgling startup.  They have moved well beyond that. They are assessed as a $28 billion company which just happens to be 10 times what Blockbuster was worth!  

The laws of thermodynamics remind us that any system left in isolation will always reduce to zero.  Entropy always increases in an isolated system. The beautiful thing about that law states that any system can come back to life by introducing a new life.  (And all the sales people rejoiced!)

I have a tendency toward creating systems.  I use my time and resources to ensure I have the right systems in place to reduce waste, increase productivity and become efficient.  This simply helps me manage assets we have as an organization. This is a worthy cause. It’s necessary.

I’ve learned, however, that if I am not intentional about ‘selling’ RE.THINK Church (sounds worse than it is), new life will not get introduced into our system.  So, I intentionally put myself in places and environments to tell others about RE.THINK Church.

I refer to these places as my “tribes”.  Author and marketing Jedi master, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.  I am heavily involved in the chamber of commerce in our community. I spend a lot of time at luncheons and networking events. I am part of a community within the chamber called, EPIC (Engaging Professionals Inspiring Change).  I love telling the story of RE.THINK. I love connecting with these people.  

I also spend time at a local coffee shop.  Connecting with the baristas and the other regulars helps me tell the story of RE.THINK in our community as well.  I’m actually writing this blog in this coffee shop right now.

Each Wednesday, I have lunch with a group of fifth graders at Merrillville Intermediate School. Here’s a blog I wrote about that experience. As a church, we have adopted MIS to love on. We bring snacks to the teachers throughout the year.  The generosity of the people of RE.THINK is poured into our community in various ways like providing lunches for the teachers and staff of MIS.

I’d encourage you to find opportunities within your community that you could simply tell the story of your organization.   

The best method of telling your story starts with identifying problems people face that your organization offers solutions for.  

As a church, we have identified that people are searching for solutions for such problems as hopelessness, isolation, judgmentalism and loneliness. Many people also feel that they are simply a cog in a machine, living for a paycheck.  The solution we offer people is to engage with RE.THINK Church where a person has the opportunity to find hope, community and purpose.

I do honestly believe that RE.THINK Church is the best church in our area for people who are looking for a safe place to explore their faith.  It is the best church for someone looking for community to connect with and to find purpose in their life beyond a paycheck. I remind myself that RE.THINK Church’s vision is from God.  That vision is to help unchurched people explore their faith and mature in a relationship with Jesus.

We’ve created systems within our church’s organization that offer solutions to these problems.

I bet you believe the same thing about the solutions your organization offers as well.  

Certain days it feels like I am running in circles.  I am continually putting my figurative “salesperson” hat on, taking it off 15 minutes later and putting on my figurative “systems” hat.  

This is the story of most entrepreneurial people.  If we spend all of our time catering to current customers without being aware of people who don’t currently use our services to solve their problems, we might have extremely efficient systems but no customers.  

If we ignore systems, we might have an amazing amount of customers, but it might cost us more money, energy and effort to keep them than it should.  Eventually, our inefficiency will cost us customers.

There is a double-edge sword here.  Seth Godin, reminds us that it costs us more to generate new customers than to get an already existing customer to reengage or buy again.  Remember, we shouldn’t be selling products, we should be offering solutions to people’s already existing problems.

The challenge for us entrepreneurial people is that we must wear both hats of the salesperson and systems person.  How long and often we wear each hat is determined by our current reality.

The middle phase of any venture, in my opinion, is the most difficult to push through.  I believe breakthroughs, innovations and advancements have been missed by millions of people because they gave up in the middle phase of a venture.  The middle phase is where thousands of great dreams, inventions, skill sets and innovations lay because people gave up in the middle of the process.

This is even true for people who aren’t necessarily looking to start a new organization but maybe a new habit or skill set.  There will still be a launch phase, middle phase and a peak. I believe that people might miss the opportunity to develop new skill sets because of the middle phase.  

Let’s use the idea of creating a system to help crush the middle phase.  

For example, a leader encourages an employee to give a presentation at the next staff meeting.  The employee is nervous but does it. Everyone comments on how great the presentation was. The employee believes for a minute that she could give more presentations in the future.  This would be a great skill to have as she was hoping to advance in the company. She gives the next presentation and people comment, but not as vocally about how great the first one was.  The employee finds herself a little discouraged. She’s asked to give a third presentation. As she considers it, she decides to do it but doesn’t get her hopes up. She believes it’s not going to be as great as the first one.  So, she goes through the motions of the presentation. No one comments good or bad. She decides that must mean she’s not good at giving presentations. So when she’s asked in the future to give presentations, she brushes the opportunity off because she doesn’t want to set herself up for failure or disappointment.  

So what is needed in this scenario?  The answer is simple. A system.

They need a system that will enable them to push through the middle phase.  Remember, it’s easier to stay in the comfort of the known. The unknown isn’t bad.  The unknown is simply uncomfortable.

The innovator or inventor who gives up in the middle phase of a process should set a system in place that rewards him for accomplishments.  They could be arbitrary rewards, but rewards are still rewards. Who doesn’t want a reward?

I remember a time when I was in the middle phase of revamping a production system.  This process was a long one, like 10 months of innovations, trials and testing processes etc. The company I worked for followed the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) system.

I decided to break down the end goal into attainable steps.  I also decided to mentally break the processes into steps that would allow me to test any and all options.  My reward system was not based on how many successes we discovered as a team, but on how many options we tried.  If we as a team tried at least five options per week, I bought everyone on my team orange Hostess cupcakes from the vending machine.  If we tried ten options, then I bought everyone pizza. When we found what worked along the way, everyone got a five minute longer lunch break.  Eventually we changed gears and our reward system was based on finding success.

Like so many leaders have pointed out, great is the enemy of good.  In the early phase, we needed to find good not great or perfect. In this scenario, we continually improved on our changes.  We realized that continually improving was the key, not perfection. This is also known as kaizen.  

The same system could be modified for the person who is stepping out to start a new venture or company.  Creating a reward system based on how many customers you call or how many flea markets you set up your booth at.  I have created a system throughout my week that once I meet with three leaders in my organization for the purpose of leadership development, I allow myself to watch youtube videos for 15 minutes throughout my workday.  

The Middle is brutal.  It’s relentless.

So, for the employee who is wanting to acquire a new skill set that would help her in her promotion path, she would need to create a system that allows her to develop her skills in a safe environment.  Employers who help create those safe environments will benefit tremendously as well. If she will find moments throughout her week to work on small aspects of a skill set, it will lend to massive development in a year.  

Let’s take the skill of giving a presentation. There are so many skills that could be developed in weekly chunks.  For example, the art of breathing while giving a presentation, the pace of speech so that you’re engaging, but not speaking too fast that no one can keep up or the tension of looking at notes too much or not using notes at all.

I think the tension comes because people become disappointed that success doesn’t happen right away.   Why? The middle phase is brutal, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Taking the time to create a system helps us push through the middle phase.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash