It’s January 1. You’ve probably already heard that perennial question: “What are your goals for the year?”
May I speak frankly?
We leaders get frustrated with annual plans because (1) stuff happens that no one could have anticipated, and (2) we are fearful of being held accountable to a plan we created with imperfect information.
Far too many of us build an annual plan, file it away, and (maybe) don’t review it until it’s time for the end-of-year performance review or end-of-year report to donors or shareholders.
In short, we go through a planning exercise because “we’re supposed to” rather than as a stewardship approach to leadership.
You’re a better leader than that – so don’t let this year’s plan be wasted energy or a pro-forma exercise.
The planning question you should ask and answer is, “How can I make this year worthy of Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)?”
Let’s begin with the big Why, so we have confidence that our tasks and projects are glorifying to the Master.
A Christian leader – no matter who we serve, what business or non-profit we’re part of, or scope of influence – acts as a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus gave us the Great Commission and the Great Commandments, which are the What and the How of our leadership calling. It is God who sets the overall vector of our direction:
You play a part. Your life, your calling, and your service all contribute to God’s vector for his people. We don’t set this vector; our part is day-by-day, year-by-year obedience to serve as the Holy Spirit directs us.
God is directing many leaders, not just you. We can trust in the sovereignty of God to pull together all the threads of leadership into his beautiful plan.
We might wish for a different life, but we trust God that there is no better one for us. Being part of the many “platoon-leaders” of God’s people gives us enormous confidence.
Now we can make our plans given this grand vector, with trust in the Lord and confidence that he will direct us into specific work that we should accomplish for his glory.
Leaders must always be listening for direction from the Holy Spirit because he will direct us into the highest value contributions, even if we didn’t exactly plan for them in advance:
Why would leaders make plans or set goals if the Holy Spirit directs us? After all we read, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Even secular atheists have observed that life is what happens when you were planning something else.
There are four reasons Christian leaders should make plans, however imperfect:
- Planning is conscious stewardship of the gifts we’ve been given. Everything we have has been provided by God (see 1 Corinthians 4:7).
- We often receive insights and guidance from the Lord as we consider ideas and make commitments.
- The act of planning helps us structure work so that it’s more likely to be fruitful. We – and the organizations we serve – only have certain strengths, and we have limited time.
- Experience shows us that leaders who have carefully planned are more successful at adapting when new situations arise.
How to Create Your Annual Plan
I recommend you combine your imagination, your calendar, and other people in your planning process.
Begin by looking up and thinking further out.
What happens if you focus your eyes on your belly button and start running? (I recommend you try this experiment in a soft grassy location). Can you plow a straight line across a field if you only look at the front of the tractor, or paddle a canoe to a distant point across the lake if you focus on the bow of the boat?
You can trust the Holy Spirit to assist your imagination. Dream big for God! Our Lord does not call leaders to shrink and hide and be “safe.” We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what could happen in five years – but most of all we tend to dream too small for any time period. We serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who holds the universe together by divine power!
Think about calendaring.
We are time-bound creatures, and plenty of work needs to be delivered on a schedule. There are predictable events in your year. What needs to be accomplished for these, and when does the pre-work occur?
Hold the ambitious “we’re going to do THIS” in constructive tension with the facts that you’re human, need rest, and cannot predict everything you’ll need to do this year. Build in the rest breaks you need and learning time for your own development.
People are served out of the overflow of good things pouring into your cup. Many of us have roles we need to execute when unscheduled events occur. We must allow time to be available to others, to deal with new problems, and to pivot to new opportunities.
Be specific and positive in your language describing your plans.
How will you and others know if you’re reaching your goals unless you commit to concrete, measurable statements?
Think about the who/what/where/when facts. Always use positive language to describe your objectives. Positive language engages people rather than dividing them or focusing them on negative behaviors.
Work with others to refine your plan.
There’s a limit to how much a leader can plan by himself. You need to round out plans with key people in your organization.
Dream with them about possibilities that you could create together. Enroll them in the plan—engaging their hearts, minds, attention, and commitment.
I recommend using a leadership planning calendar to help your team do this. This practice will help you work together on both strategy and tactics. Also, engaging others in this planning work is a significant way we mentor other leaders.
Don’t finish until you’ve laid it out before the Lord.
Our objective is to honor our Master, Teacher, Savior, and Friend Jesus. Prayerfully put your plan in front of him again. If Hezekiah was blessed by presenting the threats of an enemy before the Lord (2 Kings 19:14), how much more should our plans be put before him?
Seek his feedback over a few days. Pay attention. Edit.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
Keeping Your Plan Useful
Great, you have a plan for the year! Congratulations on your investment in the planning process.
Your plan isn’t done until you have “review & adjust” times on your calendar. Schedule a quarterly review and make adjustments based on new opportunities and new information. Make this an actual calendar appointment and keep it. You’ll probably need a personal review and a review with your team.
I recommend you establish a practice of planning six-week deliverables. Six weeks is long enough to accomplish significant work and short enough that you can’t procrastinate. Six weeks is half a quarter, and many of us have roles with quarterly rhythms. Emphasize deliverables – not “working on” but what you finish. Build your daily and weekly to-accomplish lists based on your six-week plan.
Leaders who invest in careful planning and adjust plans as new information and opportunities arise will honor God and serve others. They will be worthy of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”