Staying In Your Gift Zone, But Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone Or Gift Zone?

He "instant messaged" me while I was on a trip, catching up on some e-mail, saying he wanted to talk to me, NOW. I got offline, prayed and called him. It caught me by surprise. I thought he was doing okay. He enjoyed his job, seemed to be doing well in his family relationships and spiritually was experiencing joy and intimacy with the Savior.

When he told me over the phone that he was under psychological care and was in the midst of an emotional and physical meltdown, I was stunned. I felt like Job's friends in the beginning, not knowing what to say, how to react. He’s multi-gifted and a leader of great capacity and energy. "How did it happen," I asked. "You seemed to be doing great?"

There were two or three contributing factors, but the one that caught my attention was one I had seen before in other leaders with whom I’ve been involved. My friend told me he had accepted responsibility for things that were beyond his personal design, gifting and passion.

In the process of saying yes to these things, he was moving away from the things that were an expression of who he really was. He had slowly been exchanging "definitely me" for "not me" in some major areas of his responsibilities.

My mind started in with the questions. Why did he allow this to happen? Did he know it was happening? Could it have been avoided? Why would he knowingly do this? Was it because of guilt, loyalty, fear, money, peer pressure, or desire to keep everyone happy?

He is still trying to sort it out for himself. I am sure I will learn much for myself and others as I continue to reflect on his experience. Here is one observation that quickly came to me:

We should be open to the challenge of moving out of our "comfort zone," but careful about moving out of our "gift zone" into the "danger zone."

Think of a circle within a circle. The inner rim is "my comfort zone" and the outer rim is "my gift zone." When I move out of my comfort zone, I allow God to stretch me, challenge me, give me experience in believing and trusting him in areas that are new or uncharted. This can be, and should be, exciting and stimulating.

But when I move beyond my gift zone, I could very well be violating God's plan and purpose for me. This can be draining and conflicting. There is a big difference between saying, "I don't feel comfortable doing this or that" and saying, "this or that is just not me—it’s in violation of how God has designed me (Psalm 139) and gifted me (1 Corinthians 12)."

Now, I know that we need to be careful not to confuse gifts and responsibility. "I don't have the gift of evangelism" is no excuse for not participating in sensitive and meaningful outreach. Understanding "I don't have the gift of intercession" is no excuse for not praying for others.

But still, my experience has taught me that when a Christian leader is spending large portions of his or her time in activities that are "not me" by design and gifting, it’s just a matter of time until something gives, resulting in breakdown, burnout, or destructive anger.

Within days of that phone conversation, I read 2 Corinthians 10:13 in the New Living Translation. "Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God's plan for us, and this plan includes our working there with you."

First of all, I need to get a grasp on who I am in Christ and what God's purpose is for me in light of my design and gifting. Then I would want to make sure I am operating within his boundaries and limits for me, asking for wisdom in what that includes and doesn't include.

Where are you in all of this? Are you safe and comfortable? Has the joy disappeared from your work? Are you allowing God to move and stretch you beyond your comfort zone? Have you moved too far and find yourself outside of your gift zone? Are you tired a lot, losing motivation, discouraged, depressed?

Could it be that a lot of what you are doing is not a reflection of how God made you? Is it time to make some changes? Talk to some close friends…your boss? What will you do? When will you do it?





Having The Painful Performance Conversation

People need to know how they are doing in their work. When they are doing well, they need affirmation and when they are not doing well they need confrontation. The conversations when things are not going well are often painful. Here is Dan Rockwell on how to deal with those painful conversations  that most leaders would prefer to avoid.

Originally posted on December 5, 2014  by Dan Rockwell

Everyone slips into old habits.

You make progress.

It feels good.

You lose focus.

Old patterns return.

Nothing changes.

Successful leaders focus on improving performance.

3 reasons performance conversations are painful:

  1. Infrequency. You’re a hand-holding, back-patting leader who procrastinates when it comes to performance conversations.
  2. Ignorance. You don’t understand what makes your people tick. Worse yet, you don’t feel confident in how to bring up performance without sounding mean or aggressive.
  3. Formality. You make performance conversations a big deal rather than a daily deal.

Secret #1:

Avoid formal performance conversations as much as possible.

Secret #2:

Make performance conversations part of everyday life.

Have performance conversations while walking to lunch.

Secret #3:

Follow a performance conversation pattern.

“How’s that project going,” is the beginning of a performance conversation.

“It’s going great.” they reply.

“What are you doing to make it go great?”

Pause. Listen for strengths, passion, and behaviors. “We’re working hard,” isn’t the answer you’re looking for. Watch for them to light up. Follow that topic.

“That’s great. What are the sticking points?”

Pause. Listen for reasons why they aren’t doing as well as they could. Don’t resolve their reasons. (Sticking points are often teammates.)

“What would you like to do about that?”

Listen for behaviors. “Work harder,” isn’t the answer you’re listening for.

Identify simple behavioral responses to sticking points.

Attach a time-frame to the behavior.

“When might you do that?”

“How will you know things are improving?”

Clarity and simplicity are your friend.

Lower expectations. Aim for small gains, frequently.

Frequency enables lower expectations. You don’t need giant leaps.

How can I help?

Let’s talk about this next week.

Cheer when you see success. Explore when when things fall short.

Create situations where stepping forward is more likely than falling short. Create wins.

How can leaders remove the pain from performance conversations? 


The Essence of True Leadership

For years I have been collecting definitions of leadership. I’m fascinated by seeing how writers, thinkers, educators, pastors, Christian leaders, etc. understand and describe what leadership is.

I really appreciate author Marcus Buckingham. I have seen some of his articles in various publications, heard him speak and have read most of the books he has written. I find his understanding of what a leader is and does resonating with me. He (along with many others) has created his own definition of a leader:

“A leader is a person who rallies others to a better future”

I really like this and have been sharing it with the pastors I coach and in my seminars. For quite a while I have been teaching the who, where and what of leadership: who the leader is, where the leader is going and what the leader does to bring others along on the journey. Marcus explicitly mentions two of the three and is probably assuming the third. The what is “rally”; the where is “a better future”; the who is assumed. That is to say, he is assuming that this “leader” is the kind of person who has the ability to see a better future and has the ability to rally others to it because of some personal traits and gifts he possesses.

Now, I have no idea if Marcus Buckingham is a Christian; but, nevertheless, think he captures the essence of Christian leadership in his definition. If he is missing anything, it would be who this leader is at his core…his character, his walk with the Lord. Perhaps no short combination of words in defining leadership will be perfect and include everything.

I do definitely believe that a Christian leader in any context must first see a better future for whatever endeavor he is involved in, and then have some God-given ability to rally people toward that future.

Let’s take the two phrases and go a bit deeper:

A better future:

For the leader and his people to go there, the future he is envisioning must be perceived as better than the present they are now experiencing or else why would they want to go there? This is the heart of vision: seeing into the future and being captivated by something that is better than the present.

It is having a God-given vision that is stretching and exhilarating; but, at the same time, realistic and doable.  It was retired baseball manager Sparky Anderson who quipped, “I’ve got my faults, but living in the past isn’t one of them. There ain’t no future in it!” A real leader doesn’t live in the past but lives in the present with an eye toward the future.

Marcus Buckingham in “The One Thing You Need To Know,” in which his leadership definition is found says “What defines a leader is his preoccupation with the future. Leaders are fascinated with the future. You are never satisfied with the present, because in your head you can see a better future.”

A little girl was sailing with her father from Long Beach, California to Catalina Island.  It was an unusually clear day. In her excitement she exclaimed, “Daddy, I can look further than I can see.” Leaders often see before others see and more than others see. They are visionaries at heart.


A while back, I was on the phone with a coaching client in New York.  We were talking about what was pulsating in his heart and where he saw his church going.  He then said, “But what if they don’t want to go where I want to go?”  That is always the question at stake in taking people to a better future. As a leader, I have to both have confidence that my picture of the future is God-given and doable and, at the same time, be able to trust God working through me, using me, to “rally” people.

There are a lot of activities that go into that one word, “rally”: persuade, motivate, guide, equip, develop, shepherd and catalyze, to name a few.  I first need to rally the key influencers among my people and then allow them to rally others toward our better, preferred future.

I truly believe that leadership is simple to understand. It takes a lot to pull if off, but understanding exactly what’s involved is not overly complicated--at least not to my way of thinking. It was Steven Covey who came up with the brilliant statement: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Two simple but profound main things in leadership are

1.  Seeing a better future

2.  Rallying your people to that better future

Here are three closing questions:

1.  As a leader, do you see a better future?

2.  How are you doing at rallying people to that better future?

3.  What obstacles are you facing in seeing that better future, moving toward it and taking others with you?

As always, your comments, opinions and insights are welcomed.



Five Key Practices of Excellent Leaders

Here is Dan Rockwell expanding on the key principles from the book , “The Leadership Challenge,” a book that is on my top ten must reads for leaders.

Originally posted on January 16, 2015 by Dan Rockwell

The Five Practices of Leadership

Leaders aren’t mommy or daddy.

Successful leaders encourage everyone to think and act like competent people of influence.

When leaders act like mommy, team members act like children.

Family-style leadership, depending on it’s expression, is awesome. But, when family-style leadership means depending on mommy to solve our problems, power shifts upward and dependency increases.

Act more like the weird uncle who lets kids steer the car when no one is looking.

Who’s their daddy? You aren’t!

The five practices of leadership:

People of influence knowingly engage in the five practices of leadership described in, “The Leadership Challenge.”

  1. Model the way.
  2. Inspire shared vision.
  3. Challenge the process.
  4. Enable others to act.
  5. Encourage the heart.

#1. Model the way:

  1. Know your values.
  2. Affirm the values of others.
  3. Model the way by aligning actions with shared values.

Join in and get your hands dirty. Don’t be willing to help; actually help.

#2. Inspire shared vision:

“You can’t command commitment; you have to inspire it. You have to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.” James Kouzes and Barry Posner

#3. Challenge the process:

Every step toward remarkable requires courage to challenge the status quo.

  1. Invite the outside in.
  2. Design and celebrate small wins.
  3. Adapt as you go.

#4. Enable others to act:

Fear solidifies mediocrity.

  1. Give power. Seizing control disempowers.
  2. Choose the best way, not your way. Their imperfect idea is more empowering than imposing your “perfect” idea.
  3. Build trusting relationships.
  4. Develop capacity in others.

#5. Encourage the heart:

Work that goes unnoticed feels like it doesn’t matter.

  1. Reward progress.
  2. Honor effort, even if results fall short.
  3. Show people where they fit in and what their contribution means.

The purpose of encouragement is bold action, anything less is coddling.

Which of the five practices are most important to you right now?

How can you encourage others to think and act like competent people of influence?


The Secure Leader

I have struggled for years with a serious problem that has been the undoing of many leaders.  It often lies below the surface but slowing rises to the top when a leader gains power or is given increased responsibility. It has been the achille’s heel of many leaders in the church, the business world and in the world of athletics.

I am speaking of insecurity.  It is the “silent killer” of ministry effectiveness and longevity because the insecure leader might not see the evidences of his/her insecurity until it is too late.  Over the last five years or so the Lord has allowed me to experience an increasing degree of joy and contentment in whom He made me and is increasingly delivering me from competing and comparing with others to (in a sick and harmful way) find out where I am in the “pecking order.”

The purpose of this issue is not to delve into a detailed Biblical and theological exploration of security in Jesus Christ, but more to share a bit of my own thinking and journey in the hope that it would be helpful to fellow leaders.

I did not get off to a good start in life.  I lived in a home where there was not a lot of love or affection and struggled early in life with not feeling good about myself.  As a result I did not do well in school and was very withdrawn, shy and inhibited.  I was prone to take criticism of any kind very personally and it would often devastate me for weeks or months on end. I was extremely fearful of what people might say about me or think about me and fell into the trap of doing really stupid things to be liked or appreciated. 

When I was twenty, Jesus Christ became the center of my life and birthed in me a sense of belonging and security; at least in theory.  But it has taken me 30 years or so for that to sink down to a deep level and enable me to not be overly obsessed  with myself and other people’s perception of me; to get to that frame of mind where I can hear criticism or have people strongly disagree with me and not have it affect me in a negative way. 

In the first 20 years of my ministry experience, I often said or did things in order to get my leaders to appreciate or accept me. Often, it bordered on dishonesty or manipulation of those I led in order to produce better results.  I was not very teachable and not open to the thoughts of others or flexible and willing to change my thinking or ideas because of my fears and insecurities.

Sad to say, I hurt and used a lot of people I should have been encouraging and pasturing as their leader.  I am deeply regretful of that.

One verse in the NIV has been a close friend and companion for quite a few years and first set my mind to thinking.

“Moreover, when God gives any man wealth or possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, accept his lot and be happy in his work, this is a gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19

I now consider my “personal design” as a possession that God has allowed me to have.  This verse is clearly telling me that I need, by His grace, to enjoy rather than endure what God has made, accept my lot and state in life and be happy in the work (my ministry) He has allowed me to have. 

But I, on the other hand, for many years, was not enjoying who I was, not able to gratefully accept my lot and certainly was not happy with both the nature of what I was doing or the results from what I was doing.  In short, I was not a happy camper and was constantly comparing with other leaders whom I perceived were doing better or were better.

A few years ago, I came across John 5:41 in the New Living Translation, where Jesus is speaking to some of the Jewish leaders, “Your approval or disapproval means nothing to me…” I then and there deeply understood that people’s approval or disapproval of me had dominated my life  and enslaved me for far too long and there needed to be a change. My journey away from insecurity, comparing, completing and discontent continued forward.

Here a few passages from The Message I am meditating on which are having a profound and lasting impact on my security and contentment in Jesus.

“Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God?  So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing?”

--I Corinthians 4:7

Everything I am by way of design and everything I have by way of gifts, and results are God’s sheer gifts to me. If I really, truly, deeply believed that, there would be no need to compare or compete in order to feel good about who I am.

“Let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be somebody we aren’t “

--Romans 12:6

I want to be consistently delivered from trying to be somebody I’m not and thankfully accept and live out who I am

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” 

--Galatians 6:4,5

God has made me who I am and given me work to do that reflects who He has made me.  I neither want to be self-observed or compare, but get on with sinking myself into what He has called me to be and do

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from Him. The world in all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”

--I John 2:15,16

The phrase in this passage that hit home was, “wanting to appear important.”  It continues to hit me hard every time I review it.  I honestly ask myself, what have I been doing to “appear important” and why am I continuing to do this?  What drives and motivates me to do what I do in my leadership role?  Is it love for God and people, or love for power, position or popularity? Difficult questions for me to ask, but essential to maintain purity of motive before Jesus.

A few years ago, I was offered a new responsibility that I had been thinking about and praying about for quite a few years. I told the person offering it that needed a few weeks to check my motives.  Why did I want this responsibility?  What was driving and motivating me?  I needed to do some deep heart searching before accepting. I am not sure if he understood the need to wait, but given my past I certainly did.

So there it is.  A bit of my journey from abject insecurity to one who is experiencing increasing joy and contentment in serving Jesus with purity of heart and motives and not consumed with where others are, what they are doing, the success they are having, or what they may or may not think of me.  I’m not what I want to be, not what I should be and not what I will be, but thank Jesus I’m not who I was!