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Lessons From The Back Row

You can learn a lot from the back row. Over the last eight years I’ve had a great back row seat to learn from many gifted presenters, trainers and facilitators for the Arrow Leadership Program.

Photo Credit: loop_oh via Flickr

In this post, I’d like to share some of these lessons – not from the content they’ve delivered but from their approach to teaching, training and communications. Whether you are a veteran communicator or gearing up to share your first Sunday school lesson, I trust this post will have a takeaway or two.


Lessons For Teaching, Training and Communicating

  • Come To Serve – I’ve watched world-class presenters who have traveled for hours to join an Arrow week jump immediately into service mode – helping to load suitcases into the water taxi or bus, setting up the training room, connecting with participants after session, etc. Instead of expecting us to serve them, they took the initiative to model servant leadership. This speaks volumes to participants and hosts. Remember, even though you are ‘the speaker’, this isn’t about you. Your aim is to serve your hosts and the participants.
  • Share YourselfLearning often happens best in the context of relationship. While you may have outstanding content and remarkable credentials, be sure to first share you. Make a relational connection early – briefly sharing some of your life journey, introduce your family, humbly share a recent mountaintop and valley experience, etc.
  • Invite Early EngagementIf you are hoping for engagement and interaction, then invite it early. Instead of you praying for the group from the front of the room, ask the participants to find a partner and briefly pray together. Another idea – go around the room and have each participant share one question they have about the topic – if this would take too long, have them do this with a partner or write their question on an index card they post to a bulletin board.
  • Get Started – Sometimes introductions and preliminaries can eat too far into your first session. Be sure to get started into the objectives for the session fairly quickly.
  • Harness the Wisdom of the Room – The combined wisdom, experience and brainpower in the room is usually always going to be more than what you bring. Invite participants to contribute their experiences, ideas, wisdom, etc.
  • Less is Usually More – To give the group their money’s worth and to maximize your time, there’s often a temptation to ‘back up the truck’ and unload all your content. Doing so, however, leaves most participants feeling like they had too much to eat. Instead, go with a ‘less is more’ approach where quality trumps quantity and the participant is left desiring more.
  • Never RushIf your content is greater than your time, don’t let your anxiety overflow to the participants and don’t try to cram everything in. Instead, you can make a choice to cover A and not B – then inform the participants. Or, you can invite the participants to choose whether they would like to focus on A or B in the time remaining. This takes the pressure off everyone.
  • The Twenty Minute RuleYou may have a ton of great material, but most people need a short mental and/or physical break every twenty minutes. This could include exercises like: discuss with a partner, work in a small group, stand for a minute and share one takeaway or question so far, etc.
  • Provide Quality NotesThe quality of your handouts can take your presentation to another level. While it’s quickest to simply print your slide presentation with three slides to a page, this route gives away your presentation, can be hard to read and doesn’t add value. Your notes can provide value-added quotes and extra resources that you can reference but not have to teach. We leave a right-hand column for relevant quotes and to provide participants the space for making notes.
  • To Powerpoint or Not? – I’ve seen professionally designed Prezi presentations used by some presenters and no technology used by others. Interestingly, both have been effective. Be careful not to rely on slides – they can be restrictive and become tiresome. Ask yourself: Does this really need a slide? Could one slide be the concept image for several points I want to make?

Do you know a communicator, teacher or workshop leader who would enjoy this post?  Please use the share option to pass this post along to others.



Follower First

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Leadership matters. Leaders are a strategic leverage point for wider influence, change and transformation. This is the reason ‘leadership’ is in Arrow’s name. It’s why we have specialized for over twenty years in developing, mentoring, resourcing, encouraging and praying for Christian leaders.

One major challenge, however, is that there are now literally hundreds of interpretations of leadership. Too often the focus drifts toward position, power, personality, or charisma. Add to the list giftedness, competency, celebrity or the building of empires. Sometimes leadership is promoted as an individual enterprise with leaders portrayed as knights in shining armor who single-handedly slay any problem.

Despite all the possible definitions, Christian leadership starts with radical discipleship. This kind of leadership flows from the inside-out and is based on Jesus’ call that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

This means that Christian leaders need to first be followers. This ‘follower-ship’ is demonstrated in Philippians 2:6-11 by four key characteristics in the life of Christ. I’ve paired each characteristic below with a self-reflection question for leaders:

  1. Surrender and Submission – Jesus ‘…humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.’ (v.8) Is humble obedience the hallmark of your leadership?
  2. Sacrifice and Suffering – By becoming obedient to death (v.8) and giving his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), Jesus modeled the reality of sacrifice and suffering. Are you willing to endure the costs of discipleship and leadership?
  3. Servanthood – Despite ‘…being in very nature God…,’ Jesus ‘…made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness.’ (v.7) Do you seek to be served or to serve? Could your followers imagine you ‘washing their feet’?
  4. Seek God’s Splendor – Christ’s foremost desire was to glorify the Father. Even as he faced his own death, his prayer was “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28) The result was that ‘God exalted him to the highest place…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (v.9-11). Is God’s splendor – His glory, praise and fame – your primary focus?

These four characteristics are a wonderful illustration of Jesus’ unique leadership style. They are also a powerful reminder that Christian leaders are called to be followers first. May ‘being led more by Jesus’ be the distinctive foundation and unwavering brand of our leadership.



Keys to Engaged Staff and Volunteers

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What can we learn from Gallup’s research of 10 million employee and manager interviews spanning 114 countries and conducted in 41 languages?

Takeaway number one from Gallup’s 12 The Elements of Great Managing is that employee (and volunteer) engagement matters. Greater employee engagement leads to dramatically reduced turnover, absenteeism, product loss and workplace accidents. In addition, greater employee engagement translates into significantly higher positive customer feedback scores on service as well as substantially greater productivity, creativity, and profitability for teams and the organization overall.

Takeaway #2 – Great managers are the ‘glue’ holding together the people who make their organizations dramatically more effective than others. These great managers are leading teams and working with front-line staff and their influence has a profound impact on employee engagement.

What makes these managers great? What leads to greater employee engagement? How does this research impact ministry leaders? Continue Reading

The Power of First Impressions

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We had just moved across the country with our two small children. We didn’t know anyone in the area besides my new ministry colleagues at Arrow Leadership. We longed for community and eagerly wanted to get connected to a local church.

Here’s what happened on the first Sunday morning in our new city:

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Mentoring Question – August


What are you taking away from our time together?

Coffee Mug


This question encourages a mentee to intentionally reflect on the mentoring conversation by externalizing what has been going on internally. This helps the mentee to process, distill and begin to apply their mentoring experience.

For the mentor, hearing the mentee’s response can provide a helpful feedback gauge (i.e. ‘was anything helpful?’) and give specific (and sometimes needed) encouragement for the mentor. It also allows opportunity to learn more about how the mentee processes as well as a real-time window to clarify anything that was misunderstood or needs follow-up.

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Two Overlooked Meeting Maximizers

Meetings matter. The costs (time and money) are sizable.  The potential significant.

For leaders, there is only one thing worse than being part of a bad meeting – leading one.

Since meetings are a primary platform for moving ministries and organizations forward, leaders need to be highly skilled at the art of leading them.

With a new fall season of meetings quickly approaching, I wanted to share two meeting maximizers that are often overlooked: Continue Reading