What are the big rocks in your life? The answer is not what you may think it is

There is a good chance that all (or most all) of you have heard the story of the MBA professor and the “Big Rocks,” but just in case you haven’t, here it is again, with it’s personal relevance to you. Even if you have heard it, it bears revisiting and sharing with others who struggle with being overwhelmed, over-committed and leading on empty:

A professor entered a classroom and placed a large mason jar on the lectern which contained three large rocks. The rocks pretty much filled the jar to the top. He then asked the attentive class if the jar was full. In unison they responded yes, noting there was no way to get another rock in the jar. The professor replied that the jar was not full and added gravel, asking if the jar was now full. He then added, in turn, sand and lastly water, asking each time if the jar was now full. After the water was added, all agreed the jar was full and nothing more could be added without causing the water to spill over the top.

The smiling professor then posed the question as to what the illustration was communicating. One bright student answer that the point was that no matter how full our lives may be, we could always cram in one more thing.  The professor responded emphatically that the point was actually that if you don’t get the big rocks in first, you will never get them in. No way were you going to push the rocks through gravel, sand and water; but if the rocks were in first then one could add the gravel, sand and water.

So then the pivotal question for you as a leader is: “What are the big rocks in your life?” When you ask the average (or not so average) leader that question, his/her answer might well revolve around various aspects of their leadership responsibilities. I have shared this story with many of my coaching clients and we discuss the fact that the truly big rocks in your life have nothing to do with your leadership responsibilities at all.

The truly big rocks are:

  • Your personal time with Jesus
  • Investing quality time with your spouse (assuming you’re married)
  • Investing quality time with your children (assuming you have children)
  • Being a part of a genuine community with a few other brothers and sisters
  • Sleeping adequately
  • Eating properly
  • Exercising regularly

These are the things that will keep you emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy so you can minister from strength and health and not become yet another burnout casualty, whose number seems to be legion.

Let’s assume you work 50 hours a week (most of the leaders I coach work between 50-60 hours a week) and sleep on average 8 hours a night. That leaves 52 hours each week for the big rocks mentioned above. That’s right! Do the math: 168 minus 50 (work) and 56 (sleep) leaves 52.

Think about that for a minute. Every single week you have 52 hours for: Jesus, spouse, children, authentic community, eating and exercising--not to mention fun, friends, hobbies and anything and everything else you truly enjoy doing which replenishes your body and soul. If you don’t actually have 52 hours, one of two things is happening: you are either working more than 50 hours or sleeping more than 8 hours a night. Which do you think it is?  Are you really counting all the work hours and not just those at “the office?”

My fellow leader, is it perhaps time to do a personal audit to determine where your time is truly going and why you don’t have the time you should have, and need to have, in order to steward well the energy and gifts you have been given by paying attention to the “big rocks” so you can be a “Leader Who Lasts?”




How to get "Unstuck"

Leaders get stuck and can’t seem to maintain forward momentum.

It happens to all of us at one time or another. How do you get “unstuck?” Here is Brad Lomenick, founder of the Catalyst movement, with some simple solutions.

Originally posted by Brad Lomenick.

Sometimes we just feel stuck. Not that anything is really wrong, but more the sense that we’re not going anywhere. That place where you sense that things are okay, but not great. Where it seems like you are just going through the motions. Dependable and reliable, yes. Consistent, absolutely.

But not necessarily bringing your A-game.

I know the feeling. For me, this usually happens after an event is over, or completing a big project. About 10 days-two weeks later. I usually just feel stuck at that point. I have a hard time being creative, being intentional, getting things done, moving the ball forward, and making decisions. I feel like I’m walking in knee deep mud at these points.

Another time of the year many of us feel stuck is mid to late summer, right about now. You feeling it right now?

If so, here are a few things to do:

1.  Get out of your “normal” routine. Break up your schedule. Go on a trip. Visit someone you’ve wanted to see for quite a while. Hang out with people you don’t know but want to learn from. The key on this is break up your “normal” with something that is out of place, out of context, or just simply breaks up the rhythm. Makes you see things from a different vantage point. For me, when I travel, it usually “unsticks” me.

2.  Go back to the Basics. Sports teams will go back to the basics to get out of a rut. In football it’s back to “blocking and tackling” or in basketball it’s back to “passing, dribbling, and shooting.” For you, this could mean a number of things, but in essence, returning to the foundations of what you do, why you do it, and how you are uniquely designed to be doing what you are doing.

3.  Jump on the Inspiration train. When I get stuck, I usually take time to find some stories of inspiration, read some emails, watch some videos, and allow myself to be re-inspired and re-energized.

4.  Talk with someone who motivates you. I also like to make sure I find some time to spend on the phone or in person with people who inspire me, because they usually can pull me out of my funk that I’m in. Make sure you have some people in your life who are motivators and inspiration icons- when you are around them it just fires you up. Could be a friend, a boss, a mentor, or someone you don’t know well. For me, I’ll call Bob Goff. If you know Bob, you know what I mean!

5.  Keep it simple stupid. Kiss. Figuratively, not literally…! Start a new to do list with no more than 5 things on it. Get those done. Then move on to the next 5 things to do. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a to do list that is unachievable and not reachable. Focus on simplicity and clarity.

6.  Hang around kids. Whether your own kids or someone else’s. Children have a way of providing inspiration because of their imagination, childlike faith, and sense of amazement at everything.

7.  Return to the core. What do you love to do? What brings you to life? Maybe it’s reading a good book, or taking a drive in the country, or playing golf, or playing guitar or singing. Reconnecting to our areas of strength and passion usually reignites the momentum.

8.  Exercise. Take a run, go swimming, work out, climb a mountain, jump on a bike, water ski, play basketball, or whatever activity fits you


Far and away, this is always listed as the biggest time waster by most leaders and managers.

Many leaders spend a fair amount of hours sitting in meetings which are always mentioned in surveys as the biggest time waster.

For the most part, meetings I have experienced over 49 years of Christian ministry are poorly prepared, poorly executed, with poor follow-up.

One of the key issues is that we spend too much time discussing and not enough time pulling the trigger and making decisions. We can discuss something to death, but seem afraid to make the necessary decisions.

There are a number of reasons that meetings have a well-deserved bad rap. Here are a few:

1.  There is no clear purpose for why we are having this meeting in the first place. Some are held simply because they have always been held…the first Monday of every month.

2.  There is no agenda so people are not prepared by having thought through some of the issues to be discussed, getting their problem-solving skills cooking and their creative juices flowing. Additionally, it’s easy to go down rabbit trails with no clear pathway for the meeting

3.  Some of the people who need to be there (for whatever reason) are not there and some who are there don’t need to be there.

4.  The meetings start too late and take too long, often eating up more time than is actually necessary and that was originally agreed upon.

5.  No one is taking notes so there is a lack of clarity on what (if anything) was decided, who is responsible for executing the decision(s), what the time-line is for the execution and how this person(s) will be held accountable?

6.  We optimistically think we can accomplish more than is realistic, so go longer or leave with a lot of unfinished items which is always frustrating

Do any of these sound familiar to you? What can you do (whether you lead your meetings or not) to address some of these common reasons for “Poor Meetings?”

In my thinking, there are three kinds of meetings:

1.  Meetings where the ball is moved down the field

The agenda is followed without allowing things to go down rabbit trails. It is clear from the get-go what needs to be discussed and what needs to be decided. It is clear who has authority to make certain decisions. If it is not clear who can and will make the final call, not much will happen, to most everyone’s disappointment.

2.  Meetings where we sit on the ball

In meetings where you are striving for consensus, it takes only one person to hold everyone hostage. I was in a meeting once (as a consultant) where the same topic came up yet again and was voted down by one individual. I was told afterward that this same person has been doing this for a number of years and they have never been able to make this decision because they feel they need to have 100% unanimity. Lord, have mercy!

There is a difference between taking your time and patiently waiting before making a decision and simply procrastinating because you feel you need more time or more information. In many cases you will never have all the information you would like to have, but more than likely have enough to make an intelligent, God-honoring decision.

3.  Meetings where we actually allow the ball to move backward

In some meetings we can actually move the ball backward by second-guessing ourselves and reversing a decision which has already been made because we have thought of more reasons not to make it; among them, caving to the fear of what others may think or the fear of making a wrong decision.

Here are some simple, but helpful, ideas on making decisions in your meetings. These are from the little book “Managing Your Time, by Ted Engstrom, which I purchased for 95 cents in the 1960s.  What follows here is as relevant today as it was when first written in 1967--for sure an oldie-but-goody.


  • Don’t make decisions under stress
  • Don’t make snap decisions
  • Don’t drag your feet
  • Consult other people
  • Don’t try to anticipate everything
  • Don’t be afraid of making a wrong decision
  • Once the decision is made, go ahead to something else


Readiness to risk failure is probably the one quality that best characterizes the effective leader.  Never vacillate in making a decision.  Indecision at the top breeds lack of confidence and hesitancy throughout an organization.

Indecision ranks high among the time robbers, frequently resulting from fear of failure.  Failure to make timely decisions can result in significant long-run waste of effort and loss of time.

It has often been observed that a less desirable decision made in a timely fashion and implemented with discernment may result in far more progress than the best decision which is first delayed then implemented with hesitancy.

The risk of decision-making is inherent in the executive position.  Those unwilling to take the risks involved do not belong in this position.  Most important, yet perhaps least recognized, is the factor of time allowed for corrective action by a decision made and implemented in a timely way.  Even if it is not the best decision, prompt action often provides the added margin of time for correction.








Traits of a Faithful Leader from a famous movie!

Great leaders have traits that set them apart and give them that leadershp edge. Here are four such traits shared by Steve Graves.

Originally posted by Steve Graves

Not all individuals in leadership positions are leaders. A title might give you authority and it might place people under your direction, but it doesn’t mean anyone is following you. For that to be true, you have to be a person worth following, and that’s something a title can’t give you. Tom Hanks’ character in Saving Private Ryan, Captain Miller, is a leader I’d follow. Among other things, he earns and gives respect in an authentic way as this scene profoundly illustrates.  

We see another useful and powerful picture of great leadership in 1 Corinthians 3:4-9. In response to the people’s argument about who their leader was, Paul, the first century apostle and super-leader writes the following:

“For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?  What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (NASB).

Hidden behind the imagery and analogy are four traits of great leadership. Here they are:

          1. Great leaders know that function is more important than titles.

When the pressure is on I want the person who can deliver…regardless of their official title.  I want the guy who cares about the job because he wants to do the job right.  This is the type of leader Mark Sanborn was talking about in his book You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader when he wrote, “Look for people who are as interested in making a difference as they are in making money.”

In similar fashion, David Brooks says great leaders are internally driven. Their outlook was grounded before ambition took hold of them.

Sometimes we get the titles right and sometimes we miss it. But there is no mistaking someone’s contribution, and everyone can be a contributor because contributing is more about fulfilling a function than playing a role with a title.

          2. Great leaders have a healthy sense of selflessness.

“Are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants.”

Keep in mind who Paul was at this time. He was easily one of the two or three most globally recognizable followers of Jesus. But you don’t get that from this reading. Great leaders have a healthy sense of selflessness. It’s what Jim Collins describes as a Level 5 Leader.  

Be warned, though: I have never met a leader with a messiah complex who started out that way. Typically we start slow and take an inch and keep claiming real estate. Our peers or subordinates stop challenging us because it just isn’t worth the grief, drama, or risk. It is just easier to let the messiah complex leader live in his own world. And then he only gets worse.  

          3. Great leaders see their leadership as one piece of a bigger process.

Paul says, “I planted, someone else watered.” It’s like saying, “I framed and someone else came in with the finishers.”

We are all a part of the story. Every story has a backstory and a forward story just like every product is part of a larger supply chain and demand chain. I do my part and you do your part and it all comes together at the end. But often we begin to think we are the full or only story. We see our leadership as a one-man brand model of life, work, and ministry that all story flows from and around.

I have been involved in hundreds of successions in my executive coaching business, and every structure has its unique challenges. But the one-man brand, the messiah complex leader always presents the greatest challenges. Period. I am always amused at leaders who think that there is no life or growth after their tenure. Either they’re wrong or something’s wrong with the company they lead.

On July 2, 1962, Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Ark. In 1988 Mr. Sam become sick and passed the keys to the $16 billon company to David Glass, who served twelve years then handed it over to Lee Scott. Scott cleaned out his desk in 2009 and helped transition Mike Duke into that small efficient office. And then recently Mike handed over the CEO role—a role leading 2.2 million associates worldwide and serving more than 200 million customers each week at more than 11,000 stores in 27 countries generating almost $500 billion in sales—to Doug McMillon.

Who would have ever imagined the results of each “next guy in line”? Some expanded the borders and some firmed up the infrastructure. Some did both. But they all realized they were part of something bigger than themselves.

          4. Great leaders recognize that there is a God component and a people component to all success.

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

On a recent trip to the Tuscan region in Italy I was reminded that the entire grape harvest depends on sun and rain—two qualities outside the role and responsibility of any human.   

Sure, we do the clearing of the land. We do the planting. We do the watering. We might even do the harvesting. But it is God that is causing the growth. Regardless of title, pedigree, wealth, intelligence, and experience, we have clear limits. Only a fool thinks they are controlling the weather.

Rick Warren said it this way: “A pretentious and showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life.” Simply do what is in front of you and trust the results to God.


Maybe you notice a theme here. In each of these four traits, the focus is not on the leader but rather is pointed outward—at the task at hand, at the co-laborers, at the larger story, at God Himself. It was true for Paul, and it was true for Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan.

Ironically, we always want to talk about the leader, but the great leaders always want to talk about something else.





Add this to your relational skill set and see what happens!

I have never met a person who felt they were encouraged too much.  Maybe those people are out there, but I have never them. Most people are starved for affirmation and encouragement and get little of it.

Many come from families where it was sparse or non-existent; which was the case in my family of origin. Even among workers in churches and those on your team--those who report to you want to know that who they are and what they do, based on who they are, is valuable, significant and that they, and their efforts, are noticed and appreciated.

The renewed emphasis on expressing thanks--acknowledging both privately and publically the person and what they are doing--has been written about and addressed in a myriad of ways over the last few years, both in the business world as well as in the Christian leadership world. 

It may then come as a surprise that a recent Gallup pole (mentioned in an interview with Mattison Grey) uncovered the fact that 65% of workers said they had not received any positive feedback in the previous year. 

There is a good chance that we are missing an important truth related to giving positive feedback.

Mattison Grey, a Houston-based leadership coach and author with consultant Jonathan Manske, wrote a book titled The Motivation Myth.

Ms. Grey speculates that the praise, affirmation, feedback and encouragement people are receiving is perceived as being more about others and the organization  rather than about them.

If we are not careful, the praise can be perceived to be all about making the boss or company look good and not about the work done by the employee. The issue is not that they didn’t get any feedback, but that they didn’t hear it.  What they hear is:  “I really appreciate what you did as it is important to me and has helped the company. It has helped me achieve my goals. It has helped the company be more profitable, etc.”

Grey suggests that the praise be focused on the worker and not over emphasize yourself or the company.  “You did an outstand job of delivering this product on time.”  “You hit a homerun with that new idea you presented at our meeting last week.”

The main issue is that what came across loud and clear was not about them but about the boss and the company.

In a Christian context, let’s take it one step further by focusing on who the person is in Jesus and how Jesus has gifted and graced them to be able to do what they do. “I love the fact that you are gifted in administration by Jesus and that He has enabled you to do the awesome work you did on the project we just finished.  Thank you for your faithfulness and dependability.”

Okay, application time:

Are you too busy to praise people at all?  Do you need to slow down and take time to acknowledge who they are and what they’re doing? Are some of the 65% previously alluded to people who work for you or with you?

Do you have too many people reporting to you so that the greatest need is to develop another level of leadership? When you offer praise, compliments, affirmation and encouragement, are you making it about them and Jesus who has gifted them and not about you as the boss or the church, or organization you both work in?

I do not do a good job at this. I easily fall into the trap of expecting excellence, faithfulness and dependability in people and don’t affirm enough who they are in Jesus and what He is enabling them to do.  I tend to be more focused on what is not right rather than what is right and affirming that. I need to grow in celebrating all wins--small and big.  I need to catch more people doing something right!

God has been changing me to be more of an encourager, but it doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. I’ve got a long way to go.

There is a book on my blog under book notes, “Practicing Affirmation” that deals with this issue.  Check it out.

As you read Paul’s letters to people and to churches, they are filled with thanks and appreciation. Philippians is just one example: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Philippians 1:3-5. 

Paul was a great encourager.