Know Where You Are

The leadership lessons of Jocko Willink have been one of my favorite discoveries this past year. Jocko is an ex-Navy Seal, trainer of soldiers and businessmen, and overall badass dude. His book Extreme Ownership is excellent, and you can find some great interviews of him with Tim Ferriss and also The Art of Manliness. I also really enjoy his personal podcast, but it might be a little intense/extreme for some.

In one of his recent podcasts (Ep. 38- BOOTS), he was going into detail about the importance of soldiers knowing how to navigate using a map and a compass (and not just relying on a GPS.) He said he would often ask infantrymen and officers, “What’s the most important thing for you to know on the field?” And the answers would vary. Some would say, “Knowing where the enemy is.” or “How many enemy there are.” or “What the weather conditions will be for the next few days.” Stuff like that. Jocko would always bring it in- “No, the most important thing to know on the field is where you are.”

Now, there are a ton of practical military reasons for this. You need to know where you are so that you don’t get into friendly fire situations. Etc. But in general, I thought this was just a great leadership idea. It doesn’t matter if you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are in relation to that. If you don’t have an honest assessment of the situation at hand, what resources you have to work with, and what markers and milestones you should look for along the way. You need to know where you are. You need to take an honest, sober account.

Now this can apply to so many avenues of our lives- our finances, our physical health/fitness, our relationships with friends and family. We need to be honest and aware about where we are.

Here’s how I’ll apply it to small groups. We may have some grand idea of where we want our group to go. What kind of relationships we’d like to form. How we want to see people’s faith grow, and how we want the conversations each night to flow. But an important thing to really grasp before all of those things is where are the people in your group individually. Take an honest assessment. Get to know people and where they are at before you worry about where you’re hoping to take them.

Here are some practical ways to assess where your group is:

Model Vulnerability- In order to get to know people really well, you need them to be honest and vulnerable. In order for them to be vulnerable, they need to know that the place is safe and that others are willing to go there too. I’m not saying dump all of your junk on people all at once, but be willing to model the kind of vulnerability you want others to share. Be honest, don’t worry about trying to protect your image of being the almighty, all-knowing, all-holy small group leader. Check out Jon Acuff’s thoughts on that here.

Take Notes and Pay Attention- (mentally or literally) Pay attention to what people are saying, especially during small talk before and after the groups. What are their hobbies, what’s going on in their lives. What is their general disposition/body language during the group. If you are leading the discussion, ask your partner to focus on paying attention to the group energy and body language. Reach out to people you don’t know as well and grab coffee and get to know them.

Keep the Conversations Personal, at Least at First. For the longest time, I thought the main purpose of a small group was to dig deep in the Scriptures and talk about lofty ideas and theology. While that’s important, here’s the deal- people who are in the valley don’t care about the nuances of theology. They need help getting through the valley. So, at least at first, try and keep the conversation grounded on what is going on in people’s lives and how God can meet them there. Direct the questions and comments towards their current reality, not abstract theology.

What are some other practical ways to get to know where people are so that you can know how to best lead them?