Watering Plastic Plants

I was just trying to be helpful.  

My wife was out of town for 3 days and aside from ordering my favorite take out food and watching Sportscenter til all hours of the night, I made an effort to keep some resemblance of order in our home.  In my case, that largely consisted of running our new Rumba auto vacuum and loading (not running) the dishwasher. 

I also took it upon myself to care for and water the various plants we have sprinkled throughout the house. I figured, dead plants could equal a dead me when she returned so I filled a pitcher and preceded to generously water everything in sight. And I mean…everything. 

It was pretty satisfied with myself until a few hours later I noticed that the two small potted plants underneath our kitchen window were 1/ Leaking water all over the counter.  And 2/ Actually plastic. 

Yes. Plastic. 

Plastic. Looks like a plant, feels like a plant … is not a plant

My effort was admirable.  The results were inconsequential. And also embarrassing. 

It also led to a term I have been using around leadership and strategic efforts.  I call it just that, “watering plastic plants”.  My working definition is… “Leadership efforts that look and feel satisfying, but actually are producing no real value or growth toward the mission of the organization”.   It is easy to invest time, energy, attention and even money into things that we know won’t actually produce impact.

Or maybe we don’t?  Is it possible we are watering plastic plants and don’t even realize it?  We observe and measure, but see little change.  Perhaps we are convinced if we just “pour more on” there will be a change. But in reality, no amount of our current efforts are going to produce the transformation we desire.  It’s just producing a silent satisfaction that is meaningless.

Edwin Friedman leans into a leaders core responsibility when he asserts, “In the search for the solution to any problems questions are always more important than answers because the way one frames the question, or the problem, already predetermines the range of answers one can conceive in response”.  (Failure of Nerve) 

Watering Plastic Plants = “Leadership efforts that look and feel satisfying, but actually are producing no real value or growth toward the mission of the organization”

It’s the team member that we are constantly pouring more energy into that just isn’t getting it…and honestly isn’t going to. And yet, we persevere.

It’s the

The tendency to keep asking the same question over and over again with similar results is a reflection of watering plastic plants.  We are going through the motions while expecting momentum from something that is never going to produce our desired objective or outcome. 

Here are four ways we frequently do this: (I’m sure there are a bunch of others). 

These all involve the delusion of more.  

It usually goes something like this, “If we just ____________________ MORE”.
(You’ve said this… just admit it.  I know I have) 

1/ Talk about it MORE
…the solution is for the primary leader to use their platform to try to create momentum. Or we believe if we talk about a problem enough, after awhile we will believe we actually did something. 

2/ Meet about it MORE
…the solution is for key individuals to spend more time together and it will change things

3/ Strategize MORE
…the solution is intentionality. If we plan better, it will work.

4/ Focus on it MORE
…the solution is alignment.  Let’s get everyone on the same page and momentum will be the result. 

Here’s the truth.  It’s still a plastic plant.  Nothing is going to change that. 

In fact, doing more with something that actually has no potential for impact is just frustrating the team and expending the limited energy available toward something that truly could grow. 

But what if we took a different approach. As we look at increasing our efforts around engagement, it demands asking new, unique questions and pouring our energy into living, breathing solutions. 

Here’s some ways and conversations to have with your team asap. 

1/  Risk a Reality Check: 

The first responsibility of leadership is to clearly define reality. 

Begin an honest assessment of what we are pouring our efforts into.  Yes, an honest one. This will need to consist of both conversations AND any actual data that we have.  Think of it as an ROI conversation. Return on Investment.  I know, I know. You feel weird about that because it’s spiritual church stuff.  Get over it.  Our calling as leaders demands that we be stewards of resources. It may feel a bit painful, but it needs to happen before more “water” is wasted and spilled. 

2/ Reconsider your Assumptions

Anytime we hit a season of unrest, uncertainty and crisis, it is also an opportunity. As we emerge from that recent season, now is the time to really ask the difficult questions and question everything.  Every. Thing. Our tendency will be to cling to the previously held assumptions for as long as possible. 

3/ Ask Hard Questions around Values

There may be gaps in what we say we value and the actions we take. Often these gaps will reveal the plastic paradigms in our organizations. Maybe there are competing values at work that need to be confronted and dealt with. 

5/ Detect and Adapt from Default Thinking. 

As leaders, we all have an overflowing chest of ideas and stories around what once worked.  And so, we naturally default back to those. This tendency, while helpful in crisis, can lead to wasteful strategies that also embed the default thinking deeper into the organization.  

4/ Seek out New Perspectives Through Candid Assessment

As Andy Stanley says, “time in erodes awareness of”.  This truth forces us to aggressively seek outside perspectives and input.  This could come from a number of places both internally or externally (BTW: everyone needs a coach), but gathered correctly, these insights will reveal where we may be wasting water and drive us to make appropriate changes. 

This kind of thinking is going to require leaders who will approach problems differently than they have in the past and uncover solutions that will create a more impactful future. 

Buy yourself a plastic plant. Grab your team. Place it in the middle of the room. Have a conversation. 

You won’t regret it.  Plus … you’ll save some water. 

Leading is hard.
Leading alone is harder.
Leading alone is unnecessary.

At Growmentum, we make learning together and forging new relationships a high priority.

So Think Tank Live is an environment designed specficially for you to connect relational with like minded leaders from around the country alongside focused conversation on the issues that matter as we lead our churches on mission. Plus, in true Growmentum style, we’ve included some relational, replenishment elements to inspire and encourage you during our time together.

Special Session guests include Lance Witt, Ryan Pineda, Ryan Sisson, and Blue Van Dyke plus our Growmentum team.

Space is Limited! Register today!

Your $199 registration includes activities, Think Tank sessions and meals. Plus some awesome opportunities to replenish on Day 3.

Details and registration here!

See you in Vegas!

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Come Down From the Mountain… Your “Vision” Is Right In Front of You

The image is exhilarating and intimidating.  It’s Russell Crowe inspiring the gladiators, Mel Gibson galloping among his men leading the charge into battle.  It’s Alexander Hamilton passionately proclaiming, “This is not a moment, it’s a movement”. As leaders, those images are often the ideal we strive to reach as we take on the expectation that great leaders will ALWAYS have a clear and compelling vision. 

But what if you are currently feeling VERY uninspired? 

And what if that is currently is making you lead from an uninspired place? 

You would not be alone.

I have had endless recent conversations with leaders who, when pushed, will readily admit, “My team, my church, my organization is looking for me to cast vision… and I have no idea what it is. I’m completely lost. Maybe I should just make something up”.  

Perhaps you are nodding in agreement right now.  If we constantly define vision as a “picture of a preferred future”, then we also have defined “the leader” as being ultimately responsible to champion and guide toward that better future. 

But what if the leader doesn’t see or can’t see it? What if the leader looks into the future, prayerfully scanning that horizon and yet comes up empty?  Where does that then leave the organization and those who are part of it?  Are they lost? Treading water? Perhaps.

But only if this is how we see the role of vision discovery in leadership.

The truth is we are overcomplicating it.  A healthy vision should never begin with what tomorrow looks like.  That’s where many leaders get lost. The expectation that every leader has some prophetic lens through which they can accurately predict the future it ridiculous.  More than that, it’s actually dangerous.  Let me suggest something more helpful and productive. 

Healthy, definable vision always begins with a clear and accurate understanding of the present that then leads to the pursuit of our preferred future.

Steve Jobs was an incredible visionary. But just how far did his vision extend? If you ACTUALLY examine the history of the iPhone, it turns out his vision didn’t extend as far as we might think.

Much of what we credit Jobs for was more the result of “seeing” where society was and then tackling the issue with an innovative approach. He used this clarity to discover the appropriate direction toward what “would be”.  For example, Jobs did not begin with a vision of the iPhone you may be actually be reading this on.  

In his book, Digital Minimalism computer science professor Cal Newport reveals that the original vision Jobs had for the iPhone was an iPod that had the ability to make calls. With the iPhone, you would now no longer need to carry two devices—a phone and an iPod.  

If we buy into the vision myth, the narrative of Jobs looks something like this. He finds his own “mountain” and isolates himself from the world for days on end. When he emerges, he has a sketch of the I-Phone, proclaiming it as the new future. 

That’s ridiculous.   And actually not true. 

In his 2007 keynote introducing the iPhone, Jobs began by saying, “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” Apple aimed to make the iPhone “way smarter than any mobile device has ever been and stupid easy to use.” Listening to his talk, it’s clear that Jobs had only a partial view of all that would change.

As Newport observes, Jobs thought he had built a better iPod. Accordingly, when Jobs demonstrated an iPhone onstage during his keynote address, he spent the first eight minutes of the demo walking through its media features, concluding: “It’s the best iPod we’ve ever made!”

His vision was only just barely emerging. 

Jobs vision was instead formed over days, months and years of conversation, observation and posing questions.  And his original “vision” (if we can even call it that) actually fell way short of the eventual realities that would emerge. The vision picture that Jobs forged came into view incrementally over time. 

Vision is always emerging, every changing, and appropriately fluid.

F.A. Hayek has some great guidance for us when he said, “If we are to advance, we must leave room for a continuous revision of our present conceptions and ideals which will be necessitated by further experience.”

Jobs probably never read Hayek, but his life reflects this ongoing reality of vision that is ever evolving.

So as a leader in the midst of multiple disruptive events at the moment, you may find yourself struggling to find your footing in regards to vision. Be encouraged.  

Your vision is most likely right in front of you. 

So begin by asking the “WHAT IS” questions:

  • Where are we presently?
  • What are those we are impacting or potentially impacting feeling? experiencing? worrying about? caring about? Needing?
  • As we deeply evaluate and clarify our current context, how are we uniquely and powerfully positioned to impact our community?

Navigating the nuisances of finding vision in disruptive times demands not only contextual clarity, but also the ability to REFRAME the routine questions. Reframing is “an ability to think about things in more than one way”. As leaders, we have to move through our own emotional connection to the default answers that emerge from the default questions and allow ourselves to ask the abnormally hard, but crucial questions our current context presents.

“In the search for the solution to any problem, questions are always more important than answers because the WAY one frames the question, or the problem, already predetermines the range of answer one can conceive in response.”   – Friedman (Failure of Nerve)

Vision demands that. But we will get gridlocked if we find ourselves on a continual search for new answers to the same old questions rather than making an effort to reframe the questions themselves. (For more on this, do not pass go, order and absorb “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger.

Vision is simply discovering tomorrows answers to today’s looming questions.

It is at this point the “What Can Be” will then emerge based on a clear understanding of “WHAT IS”.  As you  begin to  explore “WHAT CAN BE” questions, here are some helpful lenses to filter those thoughts through.  Please notice the filter begins from the perspective of understanding current context to then open up the possibilities moving forward.

  • Invites: Where are the wide open opportunities in front of us?
  • Demands: What is unavoidable and absolutely necessary ?
  • Allows: Where do we now have permission go?
  • Compels: Where is God leading us that we must go?

One final thought: 

As you do this work of framing vision, keep in mind that the timeline of vision casting has shrunk dramatically. A five year vision is impressive, but largely irrelevant in the fast moving and pivot-filled times that we are leading through.  Your efforts are better spent evaluating the now and forging vision forward within a 12-18 month time frame. This approach with constant reevaluation as part of your leadership rhythm will provide the best opportunity to be aware of the strategy while being led of the Spirit.  

You got this.  So come on down and discover the vision right in front of you.

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Things Leaders CANNOT afford to PIVOT away from RIGHT NOW

If there was one word to describe leadership is the year 2020 it would have to be…PIVOT.  

Pivot here. Pivot there. Pivot this way. Pivot that way. 

Leading through the current uncertainties and realities has forced effective leaders to be fluid with their strategies and often pivot at a head spinning pace. Our team has developed an imaginary drinking game each time someone says “pivot” in a meeting or conversation. We raise our imaginary glasses and smile before leaning into our newest change of direction.  

But here’s a crucial warning. You may now be addicted to pivoting. And that addiction could drive you to PIVOT (take drink) away from the critical priorities of our churches during this new phrase of covid. The initial  regathering phase will provide ample opportunities to inadvertently pull back from the ground gained and pivot away from critical priorities. 

You see there are crucial areas and ground gained during this difficult season that we MUST NOT pivot away from. Be careful you don’t pivot away from the exact things you should be grabbing onto and maintaining at this critical moment and next phase of covid leadership. 

Here’s the thing…Methods will continue to pivot. Key priorities should not. 

Heres the complete list. Over the next few days, we will post a bit more detail around each one individually.


> Pivot from Digital as Influential and Inescapable

> Pivot from Pastoring as a Priority

> Pivot from Presenting the Gospel Obsessively 

> Pivot from Caring for the Community Intentionally

> Pivot from the Flexibility your team needs for Max Efficiency 

> Pivot from the Innovation that continues to be so Necessary

> Pivot from Focused Intentionality on your Personal Emotional Health

Let’s Begin with Avoiding the Digital Pivot.

I know, I know. People have screen fatigue is the argument. Perhaps that is true but I would imagine if you could survey the average screen time of individuals, it is accelerating not declining.  So as you work through the challenges of limited strategic gatherings, if you ignore the ground gained through your covid digital pivot there will be a large missed opportunity and a long term miss. 

I received an email request a few weeks ago from a pastor looking for some collaboration on accelerating their online efforts. We coordinated a phone call the following week and he was excited about the potential and the conversation.

I received a follow up email the day before our scheduled Zoom call. It said the following:
“Lee, I appreciate your willingness to meet and discuss our strategy towards greater online influence. However, I was told yesterday that with our pending in-person regathering, that will be our highest priority and resourced appropriately. I was discouraged from putting too much effort into our online presence right now. So not wanting to waste your time, I’m going to cancel our scheduled call tomorrow. Perhaps at a future date the conversations will change. Appreciate it.

“Frustrated Team Member”

(Ok, I added that part to protect the innocent)

That’s a pivot that I would strongly encourage you to avoid.

Remember, when we are emphasizing digital, please know that it is much, much more than just merely your Sunday service online presence. That is now a minimal expectation. I’m not even sure THAT is the biggest win moving forward. Churches that appropriately leverage the power of digital in a wider fashion within their unique context will see the greatest expanded impact. 

So don’t pivot. 

Instead ask the vital questions around your current model, thinking, and resourcing toward digital:

  • Does your content have the appropriate and effective platforms to reach your desired audience? 
  • Are you still being innovative, intentional and strategic?  
  • Is your content shareable to expand your reach? Is your content engaging or just mostly talking head? 
  • Do your ministries (childrens, students, etc) have a viable digital presence and platform? 

It is also the perfect time to revisit the conversation around your Online Model.

Click HERE for a conversation around our model at Growmentum

The Online Model was developed to help churches determine their objective and subsequent strategy moving forward. In the midst of covid quarantine, everyone expressed enthusiasm for Online Church. Most insisted that their future would include an Online campus and intense presence.  However, as many have begun some form of in-person gathering, digital priority has already begun to drift and slip. So revisit your current and your desired model. Then from that conversation, do the following:

  • Reengergize your efforts
  • Refocus your team
  • Refresh your online experience

Just. Don’t. Pivot. 

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The One Thing Leaders Love…but MUST Avoid During Times of Crisis

My wife and I have an odd, but important conversation every so often. It’s what leaders would probably call a “clarifying” conversation. But this isn’t a leadership convo…just a couple who has been married for a long, long time. Every so often we revisit this important family question …”If there is a fire and we only have a few moments to grab things, what should we scramble out of the house with?”

Inevitably we always land on the same answer … the scrapbooks. Situated in year by year order and occupying a key shelf in our closet are the memories and moments from our lives as a family. Trips, big days, and all kinds of significant snapshots of our lives together.  Over the past few years we have fully converted to digitally so our latest memories live eternally in a cloud sever somewhere. But further back, they only exist on decorative pages of thick books that took hours to put together. 

So we have agreed, if at all possible, don’t even consider leaving the burning embers of our house without those.

And I get it. You get it. Those are precious memories that as we turn each page remind us of special times that truly warm our heart.
It’s healthy. It’s joyful. It’s important. It’s comforting. 

And for leaders…it’s dangerous.

In times of crisis and chaos, leaders can be tempted to get sucked into that exact same thing. What thing?

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What Peloton Can Teach Us About Leadership

I did it. It was 10 days into quarantine and the outside runs day after day were starting to wear on me. They weren’t just killer on my legs, but even more so on my head. I just couldn’t imagine weeks, which stretched into months, of hitting the sidewalks of my neighbor for mile after mile. I needed an alternative.  Which is where the Peloton came in. But let me start from the beginning.

I actually sat there staring at my laptop screen for quite awhile.  I had pulled up the Peloton website, selected the bike, added some accessories and even loaded it all into my shopping cart. Now I was on pause. It came with a pretty hefty price tag. And frankly I was curious whether a stationary bike would really be that appealing.

I got up. I went to the refrigerator. I chatted with my wife and then sat back down in front of my laptop. It was still there waiting for me in my “cart”.  All I had to do was click and I would instantly be the owner of a very expensive stationary bike. 

I took a deep breath. My wife yelled, “Click it already”.  I clicked it. 

Four weeks later a white delivery truck pulled up in front of our house. The glorious day had arrived. The techs assembled the bike, moved it into its predetermined location, gave me a few quick tips and then were gone. We were now in possession of a pretty impressive, state of the art exercise apparatus. 

But that’s where I got it wrong and where the leadership lessons began. 
Allow me to explain.

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Mourning Toward Momentum

I’ve seen the post with the pictures so many times. It’s the family or the teenager making a big move to somewhere new. The post often depicts some of their favorite things, moments, and people from where they are leaving. It’s usually accompanied by a heartfelt caption with tears and hugs. I sometimes find myself yelling (to no one in particular) … “If you are so sad, then why are you moving?”  The truth, however, is that sadness and grief always accompanies the move to something new.

It’s ok. It’s normal. It’s necessary.  

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