My Top 10 Favorite Personal Blog Posts In 2013

Photo by iabusa

Photo by iabusa

Preface

During this holiday week, I thought I would share some of my favorite blog posts that I have written over the last year here on my personal blog, larrywjones.com. I believe these posts demonstrate some of my best writing and most thought-provoking information that I have shared with my readers. Please note, this list includes my personal favorites, but they do not necessarily reflect the most popular posts according to pageview traffic. I’m saving those for a post next week.

In order to read each post listed below in its entirety, just click on the embedded links. So, without further delay, here are my top ten favorite posts [drum roll, please]:

Larry’s Top 10 Favorite Blog Posts In 2013

10. Stop Blaming Others And Take Ownership Of Every Aspect Of Your Life. I wrote this post after discovering and reading through the book QBQ! The Question Behind The Question. I was so impacted by the philosophy expressed in the writing of John Miller, that I was compelled to write a post about it. Check out the post and get these QBQ! books. They’re excellent!

9. What Should You Do When You’re Waiting On God For Your Next Move? I decided to include this post in the list, because I received a favorable response from several people saying how much the post personally spoke to them. I believe this post spoke to others because it reflects some of my one personal frustrations as I circle about in my own circumstantial holding patterns. I can speak from the knowledge of my own personal experience.

8. Drawing A Line And Taking A Stand On Debt. If you’re ever going to get serious about your financial future as well as achieving financial freedom, you have to address the debt issue in your life. You have to draw the line. You have to declare your debt dependence as completely over and you’re getting out as soon as possible! In this post, I successfully address the “debt thing” head on, and even use a Bible verse to thump people on the head!

7. 8 Characteristics Of An All-Star LinkedIn Profile. The true, engaged professional has a killer LinkedIn profile. The best profiles are similar to online resumes, but on digital steriods! Over the last two years, I’ve become a huge fan of the various tools and features that LinkedIn has to offer professional business people. In this post, I outline the eight characteristics of the very best profiles out there, today.

6. 17 Strategies To Be Successful In A Continuing Bad Economy. No one really likes the bad economy that has set in over the last 5-6 years here in the United States. But, it’s time to stop whining and complaining about it, and actually get busy doing something about the problem. In this post, I offer up 17 strategies to be successful, even though the economy is still sluggish.

5. 5 Great Leadership Lessons from the Movie Star Trek Into Darkness. I placed this post in the mix of my Top 10 favorites because I love the topic of leadership and I enjoy the Star Trek franchise. I put two great personal tastes together, kind of like peanut butter and chocolate. Doesn’t get much better than that!

4. A Financial Vision For America. Using Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech as a model, I crafted this blog post in an inspiring speech-styled format. Here, I attempt to give a compelling vision of better financial solutions than we are currently pursuing in the United States.

3. What’s Your “Why,” And Why Haven’t You Discovered It Yet. A couple of years ago, I ran across Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk on YouTube called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action?” This is one of those TEDx talks where all the light bulbs go off in your head, but the reality is that Simon is just reminding us of the importance of our “Why” or our purpose in anything we do.

2. 5 Spiritual Lessons On Stuff Management From A Busted iPod. Last year, my daughter dropped her iPod and cracked her glass screen, exactly two weeks after I purchased it for her. Needless to say, I wasn’t too impressed or happy about it, either. So, my solution was for her to earn money to be able to have it repaired. Along the way, I believe we both learned some important spiritiual lessons.

1. 14 Practical Leadership Lessons I Have Learned From Being An Orchestra Director. I’ve been directing volunteer orchestras now for almost 20 years. During this time, through much trial and error, I’ve picked up several important leadership lessons. In this post, I share what I’ve discovered about leadership along the way. Interestingly enough, this post really “caught fire” in my digital circle of influence, and this post was also featured over on the XPastor.org website: A Recent Post Featured Today Over At XPastor.org | 14 Leadership Lessons.

Stop Blaming Others And Take Ownership Of Every Aspect Of Your Life

Photo by Pushkar V

Photo by Pushkar V

Book Review

Have you ever read a book that was so good that you needed to share it with others? Well, last weekend, I happened to download a really good book on my Kindle app, and I blasted through it within a couple of days. It’s a really easy read with very short chapters. Each chapter gets straight to the point, which I really like! Anyway, the book is called QBQ! The Question Behind The Question.

The Question Behind the Question has to do with practicing personal accountability at work and in life. It’s so easy to blame others for when something goes wrong at work or within the family. Amazing, extraordinary people, though, are able to stop blaming others and simply embrace personal responsibility. Sure, all of our jobs “out in the real world” would be a lot easier if every employee within our companies shouldered their own personal responsibility in their positions. But, the unfortunate reality is that people don’t always approach their work in this way. Many of us end up picking up the slack of others.

According to the book, this is simply a great opportunity for you to be an exceptional employee, husband, father, team member, and so on.

Take Ownership

One of the primary keys to personal responsibility is taking ownership within the organization. According to QBQ!, “Ownership does not require having an equity stake in the organization or holding an official position of leadership. It simply means facing problems head-on instead of blaming, complaining, procrastinating, or making excuses. Ownership is personal accountability in its purest form.”

At work and at home, stuff will happen. Our fellow employees will drop the ball on a critical work project. Our spouse will forget to take care of an important family financial detail. Our kids will fail to do their chores around the house. As a result, we can blame everyone else around us, or we can assume the responsibility and attempt to correct the problem.

Does this mean that we chase everyone around at work and home with a giant “pooper scooper” and clean up everybody else’s messes? No, not necessarily. What it may mean for us, though, that we strive to set the bar a little higher at home and on the job.

We model personal responsibility to our co-workers and family, first. Then, we turn around and encourage a spirit of personal ownership to those around us.

The Foundation of QBQ: Ask Better Questions

The key concept behind QBQ! is asking ourselves questions.

But, instead of asking questions like:

“Why don’t others work harder?”
“Why is this happening to me?”
“Why do they make it so difficult for me to do my job?”
“Why don’t I ever get a break?”
“Why don’t people care as much as I do?”

We need to ask ourselves better, more empowering questions. The formula for creating a quality QBQ is the following:

  1. Begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,” “When,” or “Who”).
  2. Contain an “I” (not “they,” “we,” or “you”).
  3. Focus on action.

The question “What can I do?” follows this 3-step formula, perfectly.

Instead of focusing your time and energy on a bunch of ineffective questions that lead to stress and disappointment, decide today that you will pursue creating better questions that lead to way better results at work and in your life.

Questions: Do have a tendency to ask too many “Why me?” questions? What do you need to do to start asking yourself better quality questions? Have you ordered your copy of QBQ! yet?






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5 Great Leadership Lessons from the Movie Star Trek Into Darkness

Photo by Miguel Angel Aranda (Viper)

Photo by Miguel Angel Aranda (Viper)

Movie Night

Back at the beginning of the summer, I had a rare evening to myself. My wife was out-of-town and my daughters were all having sleepovers at friend’s homes. The latest Star Trek film Into Darkness had just opened in theaters, and I been dying to see it. So, I jumped in the car and ran down to my local theater to grab a late night flick.

I’ve always been a big fan of the entire Star Trek franchise. When I was a kid, I started out watching the original TV series in syndication back in the 1970s. Later, I got hooked on the other various TV series and movies that have spun out from the original.

As a leader, I tend to look through my “leadership lens” at media such as this. The Star Trek franchise always has several great leadership nuggets to gather. Star Trek Into Darkness was no exception, and I walked away with five great leadership lesson takeaways from this awesome movie.

[Spoiler Alert: if you still haven’t had an opportunity to see this movie, I apologize in advance! It just came out on DVD, so get a hold of a copy and watch it!]

5 Great Leadership Lessons From Star Trek

  1. Hand Off The Baton, Well. In just a few short opening scenes, we see a rotation in leadership as a result of some poor choices by Captain Kirk. Admiral Pike is reassigned as captain of the Enterprise. Kirk is demoted to Commander of the Enterprise. Spock remains a commander, but is transferred over to another starship. As the movie progresses, the leadership roles are changed up even more. In real life, the leadership baton in many organizations is regularly passed around depending on timing and circumstances. I call this the “leadership dance.” If you’re in an organization where you have a rotation of leadership, then learn to lead well when it’s your opportunity to lead. When it’s your turn to hand off the baton to another leader, then attempt to hand it off with a smooth transition and be a good follower for the next leader.
  2. Act Like A Leader. In the movie, there’s a wonderful scene where Captain Kirk makes Sulu the “Acting Captain.” This was the first time Sulu has sat in the captain’s chair, and it seems to come quite naturally to him. Sulu is able to “pull off” the role because once he has been handed the reigns of leadership, he acts like a captain should act. Being a great leader has to do a lot with acting like a great leader. Sure, great leadership has much to do with knowledge and experience, but when the opportunity comes to lead, though, it’s mostly about leading people with confidence. In the actual leadership moment, are many leaders scared? Sure they are, but great leaders are able to lead and inspire their followers in spite of their fear.
  3. Embrace Humility. When Captain Kirk is demoted near the beginning of the movie, Admiral Pike tells Kirk straight up that one of his biggest problems as a leader is his lack of humility. As the movie progresses, we see Kirk learning his lesson as he humbly apologizes and submits to the great and powerful Kahn (the movie villan). Great leaders understand that humility doesn’t make them weak leaders. The best leaders actually embrace it.
  4. Go With Your Gut. There’s a really interesting scene halfway through the movie when Kirk and Spock are discussing a leadership decision by Captain Kirk that doesn’t seem logical. Kirk turns to Spock and says something like, “Spock, I know this doesn’t seem logical, but my gut is telling me to go this direction.” Leadership is a lot about gut instincts. Sure, we look at all the logical facts that surround the problem. In the end, though, we end up making a decision based on what our gut seems to be telling us to do.
  5. Model Self-Sacrifice. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” This is a recurring theme in Star Trek. Spock has discussed the concept with Kirk on many occasions. Captain Kirk demonstrates this truth through his willingness to sacrifice his life in order to save the Enterprise and its crew. The best leaders are not always out for themselves or their own reputation. They model self-sacrifice to advance the organization. And, the greatest demonstration of great leadership is the willingness to lay down one’s life for his followers.

Questions: Have you seen Star Trek Into Darkness, yet? If so, did you come away with some similar leadership lessons? Do you have additional leadership thoughts to add to my list?






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Energy Management Is The New Time Management

Photo by useitinfo

Photo by useitinfo

Old School: Time Management

For decades now, there has been a tremendous emphasis in leadership and management circles regarding time management. Perhaps you’ve read some of the following books and are familiar with the time management concepts of these authors:

These books are all great resources and contain wonderful time management concepts. In our ever-changing, fast-paced digital, information overload world, time is a precious resource that is getting more difficult to manage with each passing day.

Time management is an attempt to become more efficient in our processing and scheduling of time in order to do even more. The problem with this approach is that we expend additional energy to accomplish more in our schedules and to-do lists. As a result over time, we lose energy and focus and end up accomplishing less than we were before.

A better approach in today’s age is energy management. Here’s what I am talking about.

New School: Energy Management

All of us have specific capacities of energy in our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical lives. If we don’t cycle through by using these capacities to their greatest extent as well as renewing these energies, then we can become less effective, difficult to deal with, and maybe even downright moody.

Let me give you two quick examples with commentary.

First: Spiritual Capacity. As a Christian, I need to be connected to a God-purpose that is bigger than myself. I receive energy and renewal through the power of the Holy Spirit. In order to engage the power of the Holy Spirit, I must be active in my faith through carrying about the great commission as well as using the gifts and abilities God has given me for ministry. I must not only be active in my faith and using my gifts to their greatest capacity, but I also need to spend time renewing that Holy Spirit capacity through reading and meditating on God’s Word, time in prayer, and worshiping in church each week.

Second: Physical Capacity. My physical body needs to be pushed to its fullest capacity. I must move! I need to create rituals of both aerobic exercise and strength training. I need to expend physical energy in order to receive more energy that will assist me in being fully engaged in the workplace as well as at home. I renew my physical energy capacity through proper rest, recreation, excellent eating habits, and physical exercise each day.

Focus Your Life On Energy Management

I can testify from first-hand experience that a focus on energy management in the areas of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical has an unbelievable impact on your life, family, and work in every way.

I highly recommend a great book resource I just finished reading a few days ago: The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Check out the link below for more information.

Questions: are you still engaged in old-school time management principles, or have you discovered the power of full engagement through energy management? If you are familiar with these energy management principles, what has been your own personal experience with this approach?

Do You Want To Be An Amazing Leader? Learn To Power Pose

Photo by Snap Man

Photo by Snap Man

Try A Powerful Pose

Stand right where you are. Stand tall and proud. Spread your feet about shoulder length apart. Put your hands and arms up in the air in a victorious “Yes! I just won the race!” – type of pose.

Or, maybe instead of putting your hands and arms above your head, try putting your hands on your hips. This is affectionately known as the “Wonder Woman” pose.

How do you feel after doing these poses? Strong? Powerful? Ready to take on any problem thrown at you?

Good. This is how you’re supposed to feel after power posing.

A TED Talk Video

I recently ran across this interesting TED talk given by Amy Cuddy on what she describes as power posing. You can check out it below, and then come on back to the blog post.

In this video, we learn several key thoughts that can help us all be better leaders:

  • We communicate to others through our body language.
  • We communicate power and dominance through opening up and expanding.
  • We communicate powerlessness through closing up and making ourselves smaller.
  • Our gender typically plays a role in our body language. Women tend to close up and make themselves smaller. Men usually open up and expand.
  • Our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us.
  • Powerful, effective leaders have high testosterone, a dominance hormone, and low cortisol, a stress hormone.
  • You probably don’t want leaders in your organization who are highly stress reactive. You want laid back, confident leaders.
  • Our bodies change our minds … and our minds change our behavior … and our behavior changes our outcomes.
  • Tiny tweaks can lead to BIG changes.
  • You can “fake it, until you become it” through power posing.

So, What Does Power Posing Mean For You And Me?

Are you a leader in the workplace? Do you struggle with self-confidence? Do you need to “be on your A game” on a regular basis? Are you a key performer or presenter in your area of expertise?

Power posing is a real science that has been proven to work in clinical studies as well as real life scenarios. Many a shy, backward personality has been transformed through this concept of power posing.

The next time you don’t feel very confident in a certain situation, try power posing. If you’re in a meeting, then sit up straight, put your shoulders back and chest out. Think expansion. Sit in a larger stance, not a smaller one. Definitely don’t cross your arms and slump in your chair.

If you’re about to walk out on to a stage to make a presentation, then try some power poses back stage. Look, feel, and act confident before you speak.

If you’re about to go in for a job interview, then quickly duck into the rest room and practice a few power poses. Get yourself into a powerful state of mind before meeting with the interviewer. Raise your testosterone levels and lower your cortisol. Fake it until you make it. Make a great first impression.

This stuff does work. Try it for yourself and find out.

5 Steps To Shape The Culture of Your Organization

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Photo by chomiji

What Is Culture?

Dictionary.com defines organizational culture as the customs, rituals, and values shared by the members of an organization that have to be accepted by new members.

A specific example of culture in the workplace might include all the employees showing up for work between 7:55 and 8:10. Why this time range? Did all the supervisors demand it? No, not at all. This is just the way it is. This is the group norm. As employees have been hired into the company, these new employees just realized that this was around the time that most employees arrive to work. They followed the culture of the organization. Herd mentality.

How Is Culture Created?

Let’s say you just started leading a certain organization. As you spend time getting to know your organization over the first few weeks and months, you begin noticing that there are significant problems within the culture of the organization. What do you do? As the leader, how can you change specific things you don’t like about your culture?

You can’t create culture, at least not immediately. You can’t force a culture on an organization, either. But, there are specific steps you can take to begin the process of reshaping your current culture.

Here are some thoughts on shaping or reshaping an organization’s culture.

5 Steps To Shape Your Culture

  1. Write about it. In all of your organization’s written communications, figure out ways to include quotes, articles, and interviews that reinforce the desired outcome. And, the more written communication from the very top leaders, all the better.
  2. Talk about it. At any and every opportunity, such as in meetings or conferences, talk about the culture you desire to take root in your organization.
  3. Dispense it. In your organization’s leadership hierarchy structure, the vision must successfully move from the top down. The top leaders get with the leaders under them, then those leaders take it to their teams, and so on.
  4. Live it. All the key, highly visible leaders in the organization must model the desired culture, or it’s never going to take place.
  5. Reward it. You can’t force a specific culture on your organization. It either happens or it doesn’t. But, you can reward behaviors, though, to get those to stick. Financial bonuses or other significant gift rewards given to individual employees publicly in front of their peers has the potential to bring cultural changes.

Questions: Do you have experience in shaping or reshaping organizational cultures? What has been your experience in shaping cultures? Do you have anything to add to my five steps above?

Leadership Is A Stewardship

Photo by WillowCreek D/CH

Photo by WillowCreek D/CH

The Catalyst Podcast

I enjoy listening to the Catalyst podcast regularly. It’s one of a few podcasts that I like to listen to while I’m working out. If you’re familiar with this podcast at all, there are some great leadership quotes by well-known leaders spoken in the front-end bumper music portion of the program.

My favorite quote in the opening bumper is Andy Stanley‘s statement, “Leadership is a stewardship. It is temporary, and you’re accountable.” This is a simple, yet profound statement that always causes me to pause and reflect on my own leadership of those I have been called to lead.

The Stewardship of Leadership

Stewardship. There’s one of those fancy, King James Bible kind-of words. A simple definition of the word is “management.” A steward is simply a manager of the owner’s property.

Because of its connection with God’s Word, I also believe stewardship has a very serious, spiritual connection. It’s not simply a management role. Stewardship is a spiritual discipline that Christians are expected to engage in. We have all been called to manage well everything that God has given to us manage in our temporal life here on earth: our personal finances, our possessions, our talents, our families, and our career calling.

If God has made you a leader, then He’s expecting you to manage with excellence your leadership role, however big or small that role may be.

You Will Be Held Accountable

The second half of Andy’s statemement “ … It is temporary, and you’re accountable” is where this whole stewardship concept can get a little scary. There is coming a day for all who follow Christ in which we will hand off the leadership baton to others and then give an account to God of our management ability of what He has asked us to manage.

I’m reminded of these New Testament passages in regard to the accountability of our stewardship of leadership:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you (Hebrews 13:17).

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer’ (Luke 16:1-2).

It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:11-12).

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

One day, we will all give an account to God for our management abilities. For those of us who are leaders, especially within the church, we will be held to a higher standard than other believers.

I would encourage all of us to live and lead today as though our personal evaluations by God will be held tomorrow.

Question: In light of this revelation that the management of your leadership role will be evaluated by God Himself, how will you lead differently, now?

“Second Chair” Leadership | How To Lead Well In A Secondary Leadership Role

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Photo by randomcuriousity

Uniquely Qualified

I’ve been somebody’s “#2 guy” for the majority of my career. I’ve been someone’s Commander Riker to their Captain Picard for almost 20 years. And, yes, I realize I’m dating myself with this analogy. Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of my favorite TV shows from the early 1990s.

My first major experience in a secondary role came during my high school and college days. During this time, I often had the privilege of playing second trumpet to strong first trumpet player personalities. In fact, I was so good at being a second trumpet player in college that I gained the attention of a hot-shot doctoral candidate who ended up forming a brass quintet down in South Florida. He enjoyed my attention to detail in following his lead, so he asked me to move down to Florida to play in his quintet.

My second and current major experience in the number two role includes holding the role of associate music minister. I’ve had the opportunity to hold two positions at two large churches under the leadership of two strong music ministers.

As a result of these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about secondary leadership roles.

Why Is The Second Chair So Special?

The number two position is unique because it requires a continuous leadership dance. There are times when you have zero authority. You are doing everything your boss wants, no questions asked.

Then, there may be times when the boss is out of commission (vacations, health problems, etc.) and you assume full authority. You call all the shots. You make the difficult decisions [Just think: Captain Picard is turned into a Borg and Commander Riker now becomes Captain Riker].

During the majority of the time, though, there is a give and take of leadership. Your boss may hand off the baton for you to lead, and then he may reel you back in and take the baton from you. Your leadership role may vary depending on project circumstances.

For those of us as second chair leaders, though, the consistent, daily action is a continuous evaluation of our leadership position. We are always asking ourselves the question, “are we currently in a position of leadership or are we supposed to be following right now?”

5 Thoughts On Playing Second Chair

  1. Always praise your boss. Publicly and privately, say nothing but great stuff about your boss. You may or may not always agree with everything he says and does. That’s okay and it really doesn’t matter. He’s the boss and you play a supporting role to him. Give him the respect that he deserves.
  2. Understand how to “ride in the boss’s wake.” This is difficult to explain if you’ve never truly led in a secondary role. If you’re a musician, then you will probably understand what I’m about to write here. When I play second trumpet to a strong first trumpet player, I’m constantly following their lead. I’m listening for their volume, pitch, articulations, phrasing, and more. I’m attempting to match and complement how they are performing. And, I do something similar in following the leadership of my bosses. I’m always asking myself, “how can I match and complement their performance?”
  3. Ask the right questions in the right way. There will be times when you don’t agree with your boss’s leadership or decisions. Depending on the situation and circumstances, you may or may not feel the need to “put yourself out there” to discuss disagreements. But, whenever you do feel the need to talk through a decision, always be sure to do this respectfully, behind closed doors.
  4. Always defer to your boss’s leadership, unless you have been clearly handed the leadership baton. In the leadership dance, if you’re not exactly sure who is in charge at a particular point in time, then always submit to your boss.
  5. When you have been handed the leadership baton, don’t be afraid to lead with excellence. Just because you’re now in the head leadership position doesn’t mean that your leadership needs to be inferior to your boss’s leadership. In fact, I’ve always attempted to make sure there was a zero perceptible dip in excellence, quality, or leadership ability when handed the baton. The mission of the organization must continue with excellence, whoever is in charge.

Questions: How about you? Do you play a secondary leadership role? Can you relate to my thoughts and personal experience? Do you have any thoughts to add to my list?

5 Strategies To Develop Your Volunteer Teams

Photo by mtsofan

Photo by mtsofan

Volunteer Development

In a normal work environment, employees are routinely and strategically developed in their professional growth. While most employees typically understand the necessity for their own proactive, self-motivated development, I’m not quite as confident that volunteers always have the same view of their individual role within an organization. Of course, volunteer development is strictly based on the type of task that needs to be performed.

For example, if you’re volunteering to feed the homeless at a soup kitchen, then a minimum of training is required (i.e. stand here and scoop these potatoes onto each plate). If you’re volunteering to teach a 5th grade boys Sunday School class at church, then I can see the potential for training in the areas of teaching, discipline, classroom management, and so on. Every volunteer position will vary in difficulty and training required to accomplish the task.

I believe the majority of volunteers show up to fill a spot. They can see and understand that there is a need. Then, they step up to meet the perceived need. I’m not always sure, though, that they understand the training and development necessary to perform their role.

If you are a leader of volunteers, then you need to passionately guide volunteers in their personal growth and development. Here are some strategies I have found useful in leading my volunteer groups.

5 Strategies For Your Volunteer Development Arsenal

  1. Model Superstardom: if you want your volunteer group to perform at an amazingly high level, then your own personal performance has to be at the extreme high-end of your own expectations. The groups that you lead will not typically rise past your own level and ability as the leader. If you desire for them to be superstars, then you need to be a superstar performer yourself, first. “You can’t lead anyone else further than you have gone yourself. “ – Gene Mauch
  2. The 5-Minute Motivational Speech: no, this isn’t shades of Matt Foley (“… living in a van, down by the river” stuff). This is actually a quasi-newer addition for me in my development arsenal. So far, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from my volunteers. They view it as spiritual devotional at the beginning of our time together. I actually view it as a way to teach and motivate my volunteers each week. Either way you view it, though, it works well as a connecting and teaching opportunity.
  3. Print and digital newsletter: for 16 years, I have done several motivational activities within the context of print media. For my own volunteer organization, we utilize a print newsletter and digital pdf version that we email out each week. Within each publication, I typically utilize these two articles to subtly and consistently develop my team. The Quote of the Week: at the top my weekly newsletter, I attempt to include a motivational and encouraging quote. You know you’ve hit a home run on a quote when members take that quote and put it up on Facebook after reading it! Note from Larry (or Note from the Leader): in this section of the newsletter, I always try to be an encourager of their successes and grateful for their commitment to the mission and vision.
  4. Workshops: whenever possible, we schedule small workshops to assist in the development of our volunteers. We occasionally will also go off site for larger workshops and conferences.
  5. Books: there have been a few occasions when I have utilized short books with smaller groups of leaders. Books are always great tools to learn and grow, even in the context of a small group. You can read through them together and have group discussions regarding what you’re learning.

Questions: Are you a leader of volunteers? Do you use any of these five strategies and have they been effective with your teams? What other strategies have you utilized and how effective have they been?

14 Practical Leadership Lessons I Have Learned From Being An Orchestra Director

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Photo by nasa hq photo

The Life And Leadership Of An Orchestra Director

I think everybody has a certain perception of symphony orchestra directors, especially the top-end professionals. People probably view them as suave, sophisticated, jet-setters who have a pretty cushy job (yeah, sure, that’s me!).

While that may be true for a small minority of the top professionals, in my experience, being an orchestra director has awesome rewards as well as very unique challenges. This is particularly true of those of us conductors who lead volunteer orchestras. The musicians in our orchestras can walk whenever they feel like it. As music directors, we either lead them well or they will bail on us, guaranteed.

Over the last 16 years of leading volunteer orchestras (as well as from being a trumpet player under a bunch of great and horrible conductors), I’ve learned several valuable leadership lessons that apply not only to directing orchestras but also really to leading any organization.

14 Leadership Lessons From Orchestra Conducting

  1. Clarify the mission and vision. Every group is energized by its own unique vision and mission. If your group is not clear on what their mission is, then the organization will break down over time. As the leader, be sure the mission is clear in your own mind, first. Then, find creative ways to communicate the team’s mission on a regular basis.
  2. Model the organization’s values. Let me give you an example here. One of the values that I regularly discuss with my orchestra is excellence. If I preach excellence each week with my orchestra, but then come into rehearsals and worship services unprepared to direct them, I am essentially a hypocrite. I need to practice what I preach. Whatever values your organization upholds, be sure that you model those values for your followers.
  3. Communicate clearly and consistently. As a conductor, I have to be extremely clear with my baton, hands, and verbal instructions in order to communicate exactly how I need my orchestra to perform. My personal leadership pet peeve is communication. There are a lot of bad communicators out there, that’s for sure. I believe all leaders need to be obsessed with the flow of clear communication between them and their followers. Without good, secure, clear lines of communication, the team will break down over time. Communicate a clear, consistent message through phone, email, social networks, text messaging, newsletters, and personal talks with your team.
  4. Set high expectations. “High expectations are the key to everything.” – Sam Walton. The groups you lead will rise (or fall) to the level of your expectations. Make sure you are crystal clear in the expectations you have for yourself as well as for those you lead. If your people believe in your leadership, then they will do whatever they can to rise to your desired level of expectation.
  5. Be prepared to lead. Anytime you’re out front leading your team in a meeting, a project, or any event, be sure you have your act together. Prepare heavily on the front end before meetings or events, so that things flow well on the back-end. Come prepared to lead your team in order for your team to be inspired to follow you.
  6. Focus your best energy on leading your leaders. The most effective leaders understand this key principle. Spend the majority of your time leading and developing your leaders. Your team will achieve more long-term when all the leaders are leading at their highest potential.
  7. Be respectful of your team. Gone are the days of the tyrant director on the podium. Stomping around and yelling at your followers just doesn’t fly anymore. They will stop following you. You must lead your team as a group of (mostly) equals. You just happen to be the one who has been placed in the position of leading the team.
  8. Prioritize the work flow. As you analyze the work projects that need to be accomplished, be sure that your team understands the priority assigned to each task. Have them focus the majority of their best time and energy into those tasks that are the highest priority.
  9. Prepare the work environment. Your team will have physical, tangible equipment needs at some level. Make sure your team has everything they need to do the work you are asking them to do. Have everything set-up in the right manner, ready to be put to its best use.
  10. Quality practice leads to excellent performance. Musicians understand this concept better than anyone. The better my practice time flows, the better my performance will go. Work hard for excellence in the private practice room, in order for your public performance to match that same level of excellence.
  11. Be an encourager. “A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly.” – Kevin Bacon. Your group is going to climb higher, faster based on the amount of encouragement that you give them individually and corporately. I’m not talking fake encouragement, either. When you catch them doing awesome stuff (and you will), then give them a bunch of high-fives and pats on the back. Your followers will appreciate the sincere encouragement you give them.
  12. Praise publicly. Criticize privately. I’ve learned this leadership lesson the hard way, mostly in reverse, though! Here’s what I mean. Several years back, one of the leaders in my orchestra went on a critical rant during a rehearsal in front of the entire orchestra about something I did that he didn’t like. It really threw me off-balance the rest of the evening. The next day, I set-up a time to have lunch with this individual. When we met for lunch a few days later, I shared with him this principle. I simply and politely asked him that when he had a specific problem with my leadership, if we could meet privately to discuss the issue. I didn’t think our rehearsal time was the best time to “air our grievances.” Thankfully, we have never had another issue, since!
  13. Celebrate the victories. Honestly, I always struggle with this one. I’m the type of leader that has the tendency to move on to the next project as soon as possible. Take time to publicly “bask in the glory” of a job well done with your team.
  14. Quietly analyze the defeats. While victories should be celebrated publicly, your team’s defeats should be analyzed privately. Meet with the various leaders of your team to determine why you failed and how the failure can be corrected. Turn your team’s immediate failures into learning and growth opportunities for future wins.

Questions: Of these 14 leadership lessons, which ones do you personally embrace? Which ones are new concepts for you? What leadership lessons have you learned and developed in your specific career field? Feel free to leave a comment and share with this community.