Though first published in 2008, Bill Hybels’ Leadership Axioms is my new favorite leadership book. I walked away with six fresh lessons that I needed to hear.
1. Cast vision as a picture, not a goal. I like Hybels’ definition of vision: “A picture of the future that produces passion in people.” When we attach the right theme, wording, or catchy phrase to a vision, people will emotionally own it. They will live it out. Vision must become a charged-up idea that easily rolls off the brain and the tongue.
2. Script your difficult conversations. A smart leader writes out his thoughts before he walks into a tough meeting. “The other person is probably going to remember only a few sentences from our conversation,” Hybels writes, “so I want to work hard to select accurate phrases of note.” I’ve done this myself and find the conversation always goes much smoother.
3. Prioritize your work in six-week increments. What are the six greatest contributions you can make in the next six weeks? There are decisions and initiatives only you can accomplish and staff issues only you can address. Prioritize these things and attack them at the expense of tasks you can delegate or put off. When Hybels did this, he found not only increased clarity and satisfaction levels, but he implored God for help more often, because these were some big tasks. God gave him peace about the things he wasn’t able to get to, while helping him achieve the all-important “six-by-six” list.
4. Begin management meetings with emotional check-ins. At the start of every management round-up, Hybels gets a read on each person’s emotional state. He’ll say something like, “I know you all look great, but are you really doing great? Give the rest of us a minute or two of insight into that question, and then we’ll tackle the business issues we need to tackle.” I tried this recently and it led to some significant personal conversations. 5. Get the right people around the table. Speaking of meetings, he believes “every serious problem known to humankind is addressable and solvable when the right people are invited into the dialogue.” I would add, “And when the wrong people are not invited.”
6. Define who’s driving meetings. This is another concept that has worked for me. Clarifying who’s in charge makes it plain to everyone who is on the hook to run a successful meeting. It’s a good leadership development tool, too, especially for a new leader you think may have potential or who could use a boost from you in front of the group. Crafting an agenda and coordinating feisty conversations are harder than they look to untested leaders. But the most important part of driving is not the meeting itself; it’s making sure assignments are accomplished and that follow-up happens as it needs to.
Tom Harper is president of Networld Media Group, a publisher of online trade journals and events for the banking, retail, restaurant and church leadership markets. He is the author of Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (B&H).