Heroes, Finding Mentors and Getting Good

If you want to get good at something, you need to do three things.

  1. Learn.With all the books, articles, podcasts, conferences and courses to you, you’ve got plenty of opportunities.
  1. Practice.Knowledge alone won’t make you an expert – you’ve got to practice and this is hard work.
  1. Get a coach.Even with knowledge and practice, you’re missing the secret sauce.  You need a coach and a mentor.

But finding a coach or a mentor can be tough.

Maybe you’ve asked someone to mentor you but that relationship never got traction. Maybe you’ve met someone for coffee but it never grew beyond that. Maybe you’ve sent a few emails to people you respect, but they didn’t have time for a mentoring relationship.

Here are some ideas and strategies to help you find (and learn from) the right mentor.

You need mentors and heroes.

The most famous and successful person in your industry might not be the best mentor.  In my business, I work with pastors and church leaders. It’s easy to look to the pastors of successful mega-churches as mentors, but it’s more likely these are heroes.

Your mentor doesn’t have to be in the same industry.

You’re looking for someone who has broken through similar issues, not necessarily someone who works in your exact industry.  If you’re an aspiring filmmaker looking to build an agency, you could learn from the small town doctor who grew her practice to five specialists.

Look for someone two steps ahead of you.

If you’re the pastor of a 150 member church, look for a mentor who has led trough that type of growth in recent years.  If you’re running a restaurant and want to franchise, the McDonalds model might not work from you. Look locally and find someone who opened a second location.

Offer value.

I’ve been guilty of taking time, energy and resources from people ahead of me and failing to offer value to them.  Instead of thinking “what can I get” ask yourself “what can I offer.”  One quick tip…offering to buy a mentor a $3 cup of coffee is nice, but her time and expertise is worth so much more.  That’s not really the kind of value they are looking for.

Hire professionals.

I hope you have an extensive network of friends and family who love to hear your ideas.  But there’s absolutely no substitute for HIRING a coach.  You don’t need to pick their brain, you need to pay for their services.

Be a mentor.

When I was starting out in business, I hoped someone would take me under their wing and show me the ropes. But hope isn’t a good strategy for much of anything. One of the best things you can do to find mentors is start giving away your time.

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Behind the Startup – Building a Team

This is the third post in the series.  First, we talked about choosing a name.  Then, I shared the struggle of building a brand.  In this post, I’ll introduce you to the team.

You can go to Barnes and Noble and buy books on entrepreneurship. You can take an online course on how to launch business . You can listen to podcasts, read articles, and go to conferences. There’s more knowledge on this topic than any other time in human history.

But it’s still hard work. And anyone who says otherwise is wrong and should take it back.

Over the years, I’ve bought and sold Beanie Babies, co-created a Christian youth camp business, helped start a church, and helped grow a company from startup to The Inc 5000 List.  I’m a sucker for the startup.

But Church Fuel is different. This company feels more…real.  Maybe real isn’t the right word, because the other organizations were real. But it feels like there’s more at stake.

I’m 41 years old with three kids and a wife. We’ve got a mortgage and bills and college coming in just five years. Common sense (someone should rename that, by the way) says I should stick something out for a good salary and healthcare benefits. The security of a “real job” is tempting, but there’s just something in me that wants to start my own business.  Like I said, I’m a sucker for the startup.

When I was 10 years old, I started a neighborhood magazine. The main articles were hand-written, essentially copied from our local newspaper or Time magazine.  The classified section was built by be driving around the neighborhood and seeing what houses were for sale or who was having a garage sale.  The printing press was the copier at my dads office. I sold about ten subscriptions and a few stand-alone issues before shutting it down.

I went to a conference one time and the speaker was talking about discovering what you were meant to do. Ben said everyone should think back to what they enjoyed as a child, because those desires are often still there, waiting to be uncovered and refueled. He said what we loved as a child is a key to what we should do as an adult. As a kid, I loved creating content and I loved business.

So a startup it is. One that’s going to focus on providing insanely practical resources to pastors.

Good Leaders Build Great Teams

At this point in the journey, I had a name and a mission.  But before I started building a mailing list or creating products, we needed a team. Sure, I could make some products and set up a website and probably generate some revenue. That’s what I was tempted to do.  But I didn’t want this to be a one-man side project.  I want Church Fuel to be a legitimate company.  In order to do that, we needed some good people involved at the very beginning.

About this time, I read a book by Ed Catmull called Creativity, Inc.  Ed is the President of Pixar, one of the most successful companies of our time.  In this book, he says, “getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.” Pixar has incredible ideas, and those ideas turn into Incredible movies (see what I did there?). But what really makes Pixar great is their people.

Jim Collins gives similar advice. “First think who, then ask what,” he says.  Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants.” The Bible speaks to this subject, too  Solomon, the wisest person who ever lived said, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.  But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Over and over again, it turns out to be true: Failure happens alone but success comes with a team.

A Friend at Work

A 2010 survey on US job satisfaction by the Conference Board found only 45% of Americans were satisfied with their jobs.  When they drill down on stats like this and ask people what truly makes people happy at work, they hear curious responses.

People want to have a friend at work.  It’s more important than a higher salary. For many people, good relationships at work are more important than compensation.  Relationships matter more than money.  That’s why people leave good-paying jobs with bad bosses to take lesser-paying jobs with great bosses.

For Church Fuel to ultimately succeed, we need the right people on board. But selfishly, I want to work with people I like. I want to work with friends.  And I don’t want to do this alone.

Three Kinds of People Every Organization Needs

I know a guy named Les McKeown. I’ve attended his workshops, read his books and can attest to his practical brilliance.  Les is one of the few guys who will answer your question directly. One time, I heard a guy ask what he should do if he wanted to facilitate change bus his boss wouldn’t budge.  “Quit,” Les answered in front of a rather large audience.  The he put down the mic.

Les wrote a book called Predictable Success and it should be required reading for everyone that leads an organization or teams.  He tracks the lifecycle of a company and ties it into the three kinds of people every organization needs. They are worth mentioning here.

  • Visionary. Often the one with the idea, the visionary leader sets the tone for the organization. They like to come to work whenever they feel like it.  If left unchecked, visionary leaders will practice seagull management, flying high for a little while then coming down, crapping on everyone, then flying off again.
  • Operator.  Operators take the idea and run with it. They are hard workers and get stuff done. They are first ones in and the last to leave. But an operator without anyone else is a maverick, getting stuff done no matter the cost.
  • Processor.  Processors are the technicians and love rules.  The right processor brings necessary systems to the mix.  And those systems should enable vision, not strangle it. They work 8-5 and take a 1-hour lunch.  A processor without anyone else is a bureaucrat, stubbornly sticking to rules and policies even if they are no longer effective.

Visionaries think the processors are slowing things down. Operators think they are there to provide adult supervision to the visionaries. Processors think others don’t play by the rules.  There’s a dance between all these personalities, but when they are all in step, it’s a beautiful thing. You can take the Predictable Success quiz here to see if you’re a visionary, operator or processor.

Les says you need all three of these personalities to move from startup, through chaos into predicable success.  That’s the place where goals are consistently met and everything scales. For Church Fuel to be successful, we need a visionary leader, a strong operator and the least-annoying processor we could find.

Meet the Church Fuel Team

So let me introduce you to the Church Fuel founding team. Each of these people own a part of the company and we’re all committed to make it work.

YBPV9pw_400x400-150x150Rob Whitmire is the Chief Operating Officer and he runs the day-to-day operations.  He graduated from Emory University and found a lot of success in commercial real estate.  He loves helping churches move forward and recently spent time as an Executive Pastor at a young church in California. He is a pastor’s kid and loves the beach. Rob is married to Shelley and they have three boys.  On the weekends, you’ll probably find him on a surfboard. I met Rob a few years ago at Buckhead Church. He and Shelley were our small group leaders.

Screenshot-2015-02-26-09.21.14-150x150Jeremie Kubicek is the founder of the GiANT family of companies and owns and operates the global brands of Catalyst and LeaderCast. He’s the author of Making Your Leadership Come Alive and enjoys helping people become leaders worth following.  He’s a creative leader, intentional connector and big idea thinker.  Jeremie is married to Kelly and they they have three great kids. On the weekends, you’ll probably find him connecting with friends and family. Jeremie is a partner in the company. I met Jeremie through a GiANT coaching network and last year, Jennie and I spent time with him and Kelly in London.

Screenshot-2015-02-26-09.21.21-150x150Steve Cockram is the co-founder of GiANT Worldwide and travels extensively teaching and consulting with senior executives and their teams all over the world; from the likes of the British government and multi-national corporations, to small start-ups in Sheffield, UK or Atlanta, GA. Steve is a serial entrepreneur and loves starting things.  He’s married to Helen and they have three great girls.  He’s got the best accent of the group because Steve lives in England. Steve is a partner in the company. I met Steve through Jeremie and I’m really excited about his insight and network. He has so much to offer the church.

And there’s me. But these guys are superstars. They are gifted, skilled, talented guys.  They love Jesus, their family and the local church.  Our company will be better and customers will be blessed because of their involvement.

Senior Leaders are Chief Clarity Officers

Leaders of organizations have a lot on their plate.  At times, it feels like I’m doing the visionary, operator and processor jobs all at the same time.  But if you’re in charge, there’s nothing more important you can do than creating clarity for your team.  Your team NEEDS this from you.   They need you to create clarity around two words.

  • Clarify Roles.  Everyone on your team, whether it’s 1 other person or 100, needs to know what they do.  They need you to say, “This is where you add the most value” and “Of all the things you do, this is the most important thing.”  I’m not talking about a job description listing 42 things, the last one being something ridiculous like “other duties as necessary.”  Those kind of documents are ridiculous.  Take it all and boil it down to a tweet.  If you can’t tell someone what they do and why it matters in 140 characters, keep working.
  • Clarify Goals. Not only do people need to know their roles on the team, they need clear goals.  Some people are great at setting goals for themselves.  Others need help.  But everyone needs to know where they are going and this should be shared knowledge.  In a way, we all really do need to know each other’s business.

When I work personally with churches on their leadership structure or development process, we focus on creating clarity around roles and goals.  “The most important thing you can do for your team,” I say, “is create clarity about what matters most for their role and help them reach specific goals.”  Now I’ve got to practice what I preach.

Clarifying Roles on the Team

Yesterday, Rob and I had our first official staff meeting.  It was stupid and weird and totally unnecessary, because there were just two of us.  But we’re going to grow and it will get less weird. We met in order to hammer out our roles and responsibilities.

Since there are just two of us working full time on this venture, it’s easy to say things like “we should do this” or “let’s do that.”  We’re both involved in nearly every decision.  But that doesn’t mean we should both be responsible for every decision. We needed to create clarity because if two people are responsible for it, nobody is responsible for it.

Based on our strengths and the position of our company, we came up with the following list.

Michael’s Responsibilities

  • Setting and tracking company goals. Using the strategy learned in a book called Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, I’ll make sure we set great goals and stay focused on meeting them.
  • Creating a Marketing Strategy. For our startup, growing our mailing list and generating revenue is a top priority. I’m handling this for now.
  • Content Creation. There’s free content and paid content. There are emails and blog posts and webinars. And there’s a content calendar to hold everything all of this together.
  • Working with Content Providers. A big part of our model is partnering with church leaders to create courses on specific topics. I can’t wait to introduce you to our first round of experts.
  • LeadPages. We use this tool to create landing pages like this and this, and for now, this is on my plate.
  • Managing Twitter. This is my favorite social network so I’ll manage posting content and interacting with people. You can follow Church Fuel on twitter.
  • Branding and Graphics. I believe in the power of branding and want the Church Fuel brand to look professional and consistent.
  • Running the Affiliate Program and communicating with partners. I’ll handle recruiting and updating partners. You can learn more about the affiliate program here.

Rob’s Responsibilities

  • Marketing Execution. While I’m good with marketing strategy, Rob is better with details.
  • Infusionsoft management. We use this tool to manage our communication, sales and just about everything else in the company. Rob’s the point person on this powerful software.
  • Project management. Whether it’s releasing a new course or launching a new program, Rob will keep all of our projects on course. We also use Basecamp.
  • Wish List Member. This is the tool we’re using to manage our private membership and content delivery pages. It’s a WordPress plugin.
  • Legal. Hey, someone’s got to do it.
  • Facebook. I handle Twitter but Rob is on Facebook. He handles content as well as advertising. Plus, we have a private Facebook group for clients.  Like us on Facebook here.
  • Finances. This includes paying the bills, handling payroll, dealing with merchant processors and banks, plus all the HR stuff. As soon as possible, we’re going to outsource this.
  • Sending Emails and Posting Blogs. I write the content but Rob posts it. This gives him the opportunity to make changes, add tags, and make it better.
  • Customer Service. If you have a billing issue or need help, Rob will likely be the one to handle it.

Those lists are pretty ridiculous, but over the next few months, we’ll bring more people in according to their specialties. There are a lot of things on my list that won’t be there in a year. And the same goes for Rob. But for now, we’re doing what it takes to get this startup going.

In the next post, I’m going to share about the process of clarifying our mission, vision, and values. I’ll unveil our one page business plan and dive into how things (hopefully) will work.

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12 Things You Must Clarify for Your Organization

If you lead an organization of any kind, you’re the Chief Clarity Officer.  Here are 12 things you must clarify.

  1. Mission – Why do we exist? Too many organizations have no why, a weak why or a fuzzy. Clarify this first or nothing else matters.
  2. Vision – Where are we going?  While you’re always striving to accomplish your mission, your vision should be a tangible picture of what it looks like in a couple of years.  Very few organizations have a clear vision.
  3. Values – What beliefs drive our behavior?  Gino Wickman, author of traction says these are “Vital and timeless guiding principles for your company.” Values will create culture.
  4. Strategy – How will we accomplish our vision?  If mission answers the WHY question, strategy answers the HOW questions.
  5. Core Focus – Dan Sullivan calls this your “Unique Ability.”  Jim Collins says it’s your Hedgehog Concept.  Knowing what you’re really doing will allow you to say “If you’re looking for that, we’re probably not right for you…we excel at this.”
  6. Goals  – What is our target? A Harris Interactive/Frankin Covey poll of 23,000 employees found 37% of employees didn’t understand their companies priorities.  Only 1 in 5 were enthusiastic about company goals. If you know where you want to go, clarify some real goals.
  7. Calendar – When do we do it?  It’s not sexy but a tool as simple as a calendar will help you know when to work on what.
  8. Systems – What processes facilitate progress?  A lot of organizations fail not because a lack of talent or vision, but because they lack the systems and process to sustain growth.
  9. Meetings – When and why do we gather?  If you’re just meeting in response to problems, you’re not proactively creating growth and health.  Clarify what meetings are really necessary and who should be there.
  10. Team – Who will get us where we want to go?  “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” says Patrick Lencioni inThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
  11. Metrics – What numbers tell us how we are doing? Anything that is measured and watched is improved.  So clarify what numbers really matter and create a system to track them on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.
  12. Target – Who are we trying to reach?  Some people call this a persona, but you’ve gotta know who your best customer is.  And it might not be as generic as you think.

If you need help clarifying any or all of these items for your organization, drop me a note.  I love helping leaders create clarity.  There’s nothing like it.

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The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Here are my notes from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  It’s an inspirational book that will help you focus on your work.

  • It’s not the writing part that’s hard.  What’s hard is sitting down to write.
  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unloved life within us.
  • If you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing…relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.
  • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.  We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony,” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m going going to start tomorrow.”
  • The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit.  We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
  • Trouble is a faux form of fame. The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work.
  • We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
  • When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.  If it meant nothing, there’d be no Resistance.
  • Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance.  They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
  • Resistance knows that the more psychic energy we expend dredging and re-dredging the tired, boring injustices of our personal lives, the less juice we have to do our work.
  • The principle of priority.  You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important and you must do what is important first.
  • The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
  • The professional conducts his business in the real world.  Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged.
  • By toiling beside the front door of technique you leave room for genius to enter by the back.
  • The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment.  The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had the guts.
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
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Great Leaders Do This Well

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several great leaders in my life and here are some things I’ve observed.

1. Great leaders own their schedule. Andy Stanley is one of the best leaders in the world.  And you know what?  I’ve never seen Andy tweet about how busy he is. That’s something I’ve noticed about other great leaders, too. They control their schedule and carve out time to do what they need to do.

2. Great leaders communicate expectations. Nobody can read your mind – not even your spouse. Whether its deadlines, costs, or next, work on being as clear as possible.  ASK people if you’re providing enough clarity.  Practice saying “just to be clear…” and summarizing your expectations.

3. Great leaders paint a clear and compelling picture of the future.  Jack Welch said, “A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be.”  Great leaders don’t cast vision in an annual talk or a weekly email – they cast it all the time.  They live in the reality of what IS but inspire people with what COULD BE. Great leaders don’t become inspirational after they get followers – people follow them because they are headed somewhere.

4. Great leaders surround themselves with great people. There are great leaders, and there are great leaders you respect. The people in that second category always own mistakes and heap out praise. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s true. The leaders you respect the most do the hard work of building a great team. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” That’s a really good perspective, and it’s common among great leaders.  If you’re the smartest person in the room, go in a different room!

5. Great leaders are FOR people. My friend Jeff Henderson is a great leader. “For too long, people have known the church by what it’s against. We want to be known by what we’re for,” he says. It’s been inspiring to see Gwinnett Church create a positive reputation by being for things.

It’s powerful when organizations are FOR people.  And it’s powerful when people are FOR people. The best leaders don’t act like their team is there to accomplish their vision.  Instead, they understand their role as a leader is to help people succeed in their hopes and dreams. Don’t hire people to make your life easier.  Hire people to make their lives better.

If you want to be a great leader, practice doing these things. Don’t wait for someone to appoint you a leader – get started now.

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