who decides?

21407490_e45182a94a_oI like it loud.

I like lots of top light on the band.

I like san serif fonts.

I like to feel the kick drum in my chest.

These are my preferences and are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m only one person on a team of people with preferences of their own. So…who’s preferences matter? Who’s don’t?

If our services were put together based on everyone’s preferences, we probably wouldn’t even have a service. Or at least we would have a service that nobody really liked.

So what do we do? Who decides?

In our world today, there is such a high premium placed on the idea that everyone’s opinion matters, so this might feel pretty counter cultural, but unless the leader decides, we won’t really get anywhere important.

From the very top of your organization, for many of us that’s our church, there needs to be very clear idea of what we are trying to do. Not that the senior pastor needs to decide band arrangements or anything that detailed, but at the least they need to have empowered someone to make those decisions.

Then that person needs to empower her/his team to make the decisions necessary to pull a service together. But at the end of the day, someone needs to say what’s most important. When values clash, and they will, who decides the best way to go?

All of our situations are different, but regardless there should be someone we can look to for direction in those moments. When the audio engineer has a preference that clashes with the preference of the band leader, or the lighting designer as an idea of how dark it should be on stage that doesn’t line up with what the video director needs, who decides? I can tell you that it shouldn’t be those individuals, because we would never come to a decision.

If it is your job to decide, don’t make every decision, but help your team by arbitrating on values. You need to be the one to pick which value matters most in a given moment. It is up to you to develop a point of view and share it with the team often. As it turns out, your preferences matter the most. It might feel odd, but it is true.

Now, if it isn’t your job to decide, then get out of the way. Serve up your preference, but let your leader make the final decision.

My impression is that many of us tech people like to make decisions about audio or lighting or video that really aren’t ours to make. Work with your leader to figure out what you can decide and what you should defer to them on.

Who decides? The leader. Is that you or someone else? If it is you, do your team a favor and decide. If it isn’t you, do your leader a favor and let them decide.

responding to complaints

I’m pretty sure it only happens at my church, but from time to time someone complains about it being too loud. I’ve written a few posts already about how loud is too loud, which addresses the philosophies around volume at church, but having values around why your volume doesn’t stop some people from thinking it’s too loud.

Recently we adjusted some setting for the low end in our PA in an attempt to solve a few problems, but we ended up creating new low end issues. As a result, we got more than our usual amount of written and verbal complaints about it being too loud.

For us, we have a pretty decent understanding of how loud it should be, and I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that some people will still complain. So how do you handle those complaints? Since there is no way to make everyone happy with the volume, what do you do?

I have a theory that people want to feel heard. So here’s what I typically do when I receive a volume related complaint.

I first reach out via email explaining that I received their email about it being too loud and that since I am responsible for the live production elements at our church, I would love to talk further. I then ask for the best way to reach them, then wait to hear back from them. I try to respond within 24 hours of getting their original email.

This quick response communicates that someone is listening and cares about their opinion. It also puts the ball in their court to respond back. If I hear back from them (which I normally do) we then arrange to talk on the phone or meet in person.

When we finally talk, I ask them a series of fact finding questions:

  • How long have you been coming? How often do you attend?
  • Was this an isolated volume issue or is it something you feel on a regular basis?
  • Where do you normally sit?
  • Do you notice if the volume changes based on worship leader/worship style?

Once we talk through these, I usually walk through the following:

  • The locations in our auditorium that tend to be quieter.
  • That we keep track of our dB levels over time and know scientifically that we aren’t causing permanent damage to people’s hearing.
  • Our philosophy on volume…in a nut shell, we are trying to match the energy in the room and create a great worship experience for the largest number of people.
  • We are constantly evaluating volume and trying to get this balance right.

9 times out of 10 this conversation goes very well and the experience leaves people feeling heard and valued. In the past, we used to send people an email with documentation and an open letter (that you can read here). These are necessary to have on hand, but they don’t address the real issues, which is a member of the congregation feeling like a someone at the church actually cares. The letter alone is too cold and impersonal.

Picking up the phone to a potentially hostile conversation is not my idea of fun. OK, who am I kidding? Picking up the phone at all is one of my least favorite things.

In all the years that I have been making these particular types of phone calls, I have never had a bad experience. At the end of a conversation, I have made a great connection with someone in the congregation that I serve.

Responding to complaints is a necessary part of leadership. Responding to the production related complaints is a tangible way for your to help carry a small part of the leadership burden for your senior pastor.


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don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 3

Given the title, it shouldn’t be a shock that there is a part 1 and a part 2 to this. In part 3, we’ll look at a more subtle way that I can say someone’s “no” for them.

When a pastor asks me for something that seems undoable, my knee jerk reaction is to NOT tell them how difficult something might be, I just do it. And as a result, I’m saying “no” for them.

For me, I feel responsible to make stuff happen, so I don’t say no.

When someone had a crazy idea that I wouldn’t know how to do with our current resources, I would spend the only capital I had: my time. I would kill myself make an idea happen, without ever talking to the idea person about the costs involved. I used to make an assumption that the person asking knew what it would take and they were asking for it anyway.

By not having a conversation about the cost of an idea, I was wasn’t giving them an opportunity to say “no”. I generally assumed the answer would be “yes”, so I didn’t bother asking.

Then one day, I had an idea of my own.

When my boss would have some crazy idea, I would try to imagine how I could get him to say “no” to his own idea. At first look, this might seem like I was pulling one over on him. In reality what happened, is that I learned how to present several options and let him choose.

Instead of being deceitful, I ended up learning the valuable lesson of providing solutions to the challenges instead of just killing myself to pull of the idea and then becoming resentful and bitter.

Sometimes my boss would say “Yes. We are going to do it.”, but more often he would pick one of the more doable options.  Over time, I noticed that he would choose doable over “no” pretty much every time.  I also noticed that when he said we needed to move ahead with something that seemed undoable, I knew he wasn’t taking it lightly.

This pattern helped us develop trust over time. We started to see each other’s point of view as essential to make things happen. Instead of feeling like we were always on the opposite side of a problem, we acknowledged that we were coming at from different vantage points, and we celebrated it. We needed each other.

When we say someone’s “no” for them, we short circuit the opportunity to get to true collaboration.

don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 1

Bill Hybels wrote a book called Axiom. It is a collection of leadership values that he uses to help make decisions. From a leadership standpoint, I have found it to be invaluable. I say it is a must read. He does a great job of distilling leadership principles into easy to remember phrases.

Say No to Yes

Don’t say someone’s “no” for them, is one that I need to remind myself of often.

There are a few different ways that I say people’s “no” for them and I’ll reflect on some of them over the next few posts.

the big ask

When I am looking for volunteers to help with an event, I tend to not ask, assuming they will say “no”. I’m saying “no” for them.

Whether it is because I don’t think an event is worth someone’s time or it’s too much work or it is something I personally wouldn’t volunteer for, I make choices for other people all the time.

We are getting ready for an event in a couple weeks that I assume nobody would be interested in volunteering for…so I didn’t ask. After getting to a point of desperately needing people, I realized what I was doing.

On one hand, I was saying “no” for everyone by not asking. On the other hand, I was depriving them of an opportunity to use their gifts. Gifts that God has given them to serve the local church.

By not asking, I’m making assumptions about people and I’m not giving people to choose.

Is it because I don’t have a vision for how God wants to use people for His purposes in the local church?

Maybe it’s because I don’t like rejection. If I never ask, then nobody can say “no” to me.

The Body of Christ was designed for us all to play a part; to participate. By not asking, and saying “no” for someone else, I am stopping God’s plan for His church from happening.

I need to ask, and let people decide for themselves.

I need to ask, to give people a chance to participate in what God is doing at our church.

I need to ask.



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a physicist’s guide to leading up

Clarity and accuracy of statement are mutually exclusive. – Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr won the noble prize in 1922 for his work in atomic structure and quantum mechanics.  To simplify:  he was a rocket scientist before their were rockets.

Here’s a guy that understands the mysteries and complexities that most normal humans can’t even begin to fathom.  It doesn’t seem like a shock that he would struggle to communicate what is going on at the atomic level to normal everyday people.  He could either be clear and simple, or accurate.

As a technical artist in the local church, I am always trying to figure out better ways to communicate to those above me, so they can understand.  When something goes wrong, how do I reduce the complexity into an understandable statement?  When it is time to replace a piece of equipment, how do I communicate the reasons that make sense for the organization?

Before reading this quote, I would say I had been shooting for both clarity and accuracy at the same time.  Now the challenge seems like figuring out the balance between the two…or is it one or the other, which is what mutually exclusive means.

It is important for our churches, that we figure out how to lead up.  That we are able to fulfill the role we have in the body of Christ and provide our leaders with the information they need to help make great decisions.  Communicating with accuracy of statement usually gets non-technical people lost.  Sometimes communicating with clarity feels like not I’m not offering enough information.

One of the things I have learned over the years, is the importance of leading up; the necessity of speaking in a way that leadership can understand what I am saying.  As a technical person, it can be easy to speaking in dBs and foot-candles, which don’t mean anything to anyone not involved in production.  I have spent a lot of time trying to craft statements and ideas into ways that are understandable to the people leading me.

This idea that clarity and accuracy of statement can’t exist in the same space, is freeing to me.  It isn’t about trying to cram all the everything into a statement that is clear, but it is about trying to be as clear as possible.  It is important to understand the topic enough to speak with accuracy, but it is only necessary when asked to be more specific.

As you try to lead up to those above you, are you trying to be as accurate as possible, and probably losing people’s understanding of the words you are saying?  

Or are you able to communicate with clarity, and not worry about the intimate details that just bog down the big idea?

Most of us technical people don’t need help with the “accuracy of statement” side of things.  We understand the situation in minute detail.  But, if we are going to be effective at our roles as technical artists in the local church, we need to become masters of restraint, so that we communicate with clarity.


tense or intense

Such similar words with potentially such different meanings.

 I have been reading the book Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman.  I have been amazed at how familiar the content feels to many of my blog posts, especially the most recent set about responding to mistakes.

Along the way, Liz asks the question,

Do you create a tense work environment, or an intense work environment?

I was working with a crew on a large event, and we were cranking out the work.  Not only that, we were working well together, thinking for ourselves and having a good time along the way.  At a certain point, another team member joined in, someone with authority to make decisions on what we were doing.  The atmosphere completely changed in a matter of seconds.  Everyone stopped working, stopped thinking for themselves and stopped having fun.  I was pretty shocked at the difference one person can make on the environment, but there it was right in front of me.

As a leader in production, it is our job to get work done through a team.  The task to be done is too big for us to do it by ourselves, and so figuring out how to leverage people is a key skill that needs to be learned.

In this example, the leader was trying to create an intense work environment, one where we are getting tons of work done efficiently.  Instead, he was creating a tense work environment, one where people are afraid to make decisions for themselves.

In time, what I noticed was that people would end up just sitting around waiting to be told what to do.  Instead of diving in and engaging with the work that needed to get done, everyone just turned off their brain and let this leader tell them exactly what to do.

In the world of live production, things get tense.  No question.  However, do I need to add to the tension by making the people more tense?  

Does my leadership help people work with intensity or just be tense?




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responding to mistakes, part 3

Maybe there aren’t actually 3 parts to responding to mistakes, but there is one more big idea:



It is so easy to think that a mistake is the end of the world.  Worse things have happened.

I think it is great that we care deeply about creating environments that are distraction free, allowing people to experience God without production getting in the way.  However, I think it is easy to take ourselves too seriously.

Work hard.  Cover your bases.  Respond to mistakes.  Figure out how they won’t happen again.  Then get over it.  Move on.

I was having a conversation with a co-worker today, and as we were talking about a mistake that happened this past weekend, it dawned on us that even if we replaced whole systems, it wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of a failure.

Our jobs as technical artists is to make sure that mistakes don’t happen.  As flawed humans, we must realize that mistakes will happen.  The unforeseen happens.  The unplanned for, happens.  You can’t spend enough money to make mistakes disappear forever.

We must push ourselves to do our very best, eliminating mistakes; then we have to let it go. If you are slacking, and mistakes are happening, that is one thing; get it together.  But if you are doing your best, if you are practicing excellence, then give yourself a break.

Perfection is the only answer to no mistakes, and that isn’t possible.



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responding to mistakes, part 2

As I have been thinking more about how to respond to mistakes, (check out part 1 here) one of the challenges that I face is knowing when to jump in and take control and when to let things play themselves out.

For many of us, working with volunteers each week, it can be really easy to just do most of thedifficult stuff ourselves, because we know how to do it and it would be so much faster to just do itourselves.  In the short term, this saves us time each week.  In the long term, we are spending a lot of time on stuff that other people could learn to do and thrive at.

The trouble with planning for the long term, is that it requires living through a certain amount of immediate pain.  For someone to learn how to do something requires them to live through all that comes with it:  the obvious parts, the parts that are easy to forget about and the crisis that can happen in the midst of it.

For people to feel ownership, and to feel like they are not being micromanaged, they need to be responsible for all of the above; the good and the bad.

As a leader, it is important to not give people too much ownership, if they can’t handle it.  Responsibility is something that needs to get released over time, in ways that give the greatest chance for the person to succeed at the task.

OK, so let’s say that we have given someone appropriate amounts of responsibility, and something bad happens in the moment.  How do we decide when to jump in and when to let the person figure out what is happening?

First of all, I wait a few seconds, allowing the other person time to react.  Seconds seem like hours, but I try to remember that it is only seconds.

During these few seconds, I try to measure how big the mistake really is.  Will the service come to a stand still?  Will only a few people notice?  Could I solve the problem faster than the person in the seat?

Depending on the answer to questions like these, I will do one of three things:  let the person figure it out, offer a verbal suggestion, grab the fader myself.  Each response will be in direct correlation to what I know of the situation and the person in the situation.  If I let them work through it, will it tank the service?  Will jumping in save the service?

Regardless of what I choose to do in the moment, I always do 2 things after the moment.

I make sure that I talk through the mistake with the team, figure out how/why it happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Critical to following up a mistake is to make sure that your team understands why it was bad, and what values the mistake might have violated.  Without this step, it doesn’t matter how you respond in the moment, if you don’t have a mechanism for correcting the mistake.

The second thing I do is to take the heat for the mistake myself.  I don’t throw the team under the bus, I own the mistake.  If I am the one deciding whether to jump in or not, I need to be the one who represents that decision.  Generally speaking, mistakes can be linked to a process issue, not a people issue.  I will always blame a process before telling my leadership that a team member is bad.  The process could be cue sheet related, it could be that person wasn’t ready to sit in the seat (my decision), or there is a missing step in getting ready for the service.

There is never one right answer to the question of when to take control.  

Do you always default to taking control, or do you weigh each situation different depending on the person and the scenario?


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don’t, don’t screw up

In the last post, I talked about people being motivated to do great work through the fear of failure.  This post will talk about motivating people to bring their best work to the table.

A few years ago, an audio engineer I used to work with came to the booth at Willow Creek.  He started to tell a few people about his most memorable moment working with me.  I began to brace myself for what he was going to say.

19156061_c0903856aa_b I was TD’ing an event where the band kicked in and it sounded amazing, except the string section was muted.  I leaned over to this guy and calmly whispered “String section.”  He figuratively kicked himself and unmuted the strings.  As he was dialing it in, I then leaned over and calmly whispered “Lead vocal.”

He was devastated that he had ruined that moment, and was so appreciative that I didn’t jump all over him while it was happening.

What a relief!  There were many crazy moments over the years we had worked together that he could have chosen to talk about.

We had worked together for about 5 years, over 15 years ago.  The fact that this was what he could remember tells me a few things.

This guy had a sense that he deserved to be yelled at for is poor performance.  What he did was unacceptable.  I agree, it was.  But my history with him told me that he wasn’t characterized by missing audio cues.  This guy normally nailed it every time.  Knowing this was the key to my response.

If he was known for forgetting to turn mics on, I wouldn’t have entrusted our main service to him.  I would have put him in a lower priority room where there was space to learn the basics of production.

How a person performs is in many ways, a leadership issue.

One one hand, I need to determine if someone is ready to perform a particular task.  Anytime someone starts doing something new, there is always a level of risk.  My job as a leader is to determine if the risk is worth it based on the long term gains.  In this example, this wasn’t the first time he had mixed FOH, so the risk vs. benefit assessment had already happened.

On another hand, what do I do when mistakes happen?  Do I just let them go?  Do I assume the person making the mistakes  is OK with it?  Or do I assume that they are as frustrated as I am?

Since assuming is always a bad idea, a conversation needs to happen to clarify what is important and to restate  any values that need to be brought to the surface.  However, for me, when I do have the conversation, my starting point will be that the other person is as disappointed with the mistakes as I am.

Once I’ve put someone in the seat, I want to empower them to do their best.  I didn’t want this audio guy’s motivation to come from how I might respond if he messed something up.  I wanted him to do his very best because he wanted it to be the very best.

Once we have defined the essentials of what needs to happen, I want him to be freed up to go with his instincts.  I want his first thought to be “How can I build the best mix that represents what the band is doing and that can engage the congregation the best?”  Instead of “What am I forgetting this time that will send Todd over the edge?”

The don’t screw up version of this get his mind off of doing his job and making someone not mad.  The bring your best version puts his mind on the things he needs to do in order to do amazing work.

Are you volunteers worried about making a mistake more than they are worried about doing a great job? 

As a leader, have you set them up to succeed or should they be learning the basics of production in another environment?


I think there is another post involved here, about how to respond in the moment when mistakes do happen.  You can either make things worse or just less worse.  There is no real way to make things better, it is just about minimizing the damage done.



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don’t screw up

Why do you do a good job?  What motivates you?  In the realm of live production, different things drive different people.  In the church setting, you have people who are motivated by the chance to help spread the Gospel through the use of technology.  Some people want to fly under the radar and not take risks.  Some are so burnt out, it is hard to figure out why they are still doing it at all.

5383116954_552018dac1_b But what about doing great work?  I mean doing some amazing work.  For those who are doing it, what motivates you to perform at the top of your abilities, to do your very best?

This is not a “Jesus” answer, question.  I’m not trying to over spiritualize the topic here.

As a leader, I’m often thinking about how to get the best out of people.  In my experience with live production, I have noticed leaders motivating their production teams to great performance in one of two ways:   out of a fear of failure, or freeing people up to bring their very best of who they are.

Let’s tackle the first one:  Doing great work by not failing

This is almost like the idea in sports, playing not to lose instead of playing to win.  Playing not to lose in a production setting means I’m just trying not to screw up or make a mistake.  I’m playing everything safe because I don’t want to cause something bad to happen.

If creating a distraction free environment is one of the things you are trying to create, of course you don’t want mistakes to happen.  We’re attempting to remove all obstacles from people’s experience.  If you are a gifted technical artist, this should be one of your core values.  However, not making mistakes is not all there is.

We used to have a joke here that would involve someone saying right before we started an event “Don’t screw up!”.  It was meant to be funny, but as my wife would say, all kidding is half truth.

Whether we mean to or not, we had created a culture where fear of being yelled at was the motivation for doing your best work.  I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure nobody does their best work by wondering when they are going to screw up next.

I believe that doing great work comes from a much deeper place than the immediacy of potential failure.  We’ll talk about that in the next post.

As you lead your teams, what motivates them?  Is it a culture of the fear of failure?


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