7 Impractical Leadership Principles and Why I Use Them

Adversaries 1

I talk to pastors frequently who find themselves in a difficult situation. Many times they know the right thing to do, but they can’t bring themselves to do it. Often, the advice I give is simply received with a reply such as, “I know it’s probably the right thing to do, but it seems like it would be easier just to _____”.

I understand.

Honestly, good leadership isn’t always practical. Or so it may seem at the time. Think about it. Sometimes it would be easier just to take the most efficient way. It’s less controversial. It allows the leader more control. It happens quicker.

I’ve learned, however, the most practical way isn’t always the most prudent way.

Let me explain.

Here are 7 impractical leadership principles I practice:

I don’t make major decisions alone even if I have the authority.

I always invite a team of people, many wiser than me, to help me discern major decisions. I realize it slows down the process. Sometimes it even kills my plans, but it has protected me over and over from making foolish decisions.

I try to kill my own ideas.

I wrote about this recently HERE, but I try to find the holes in my ideas and even try to talk people out of it after they’ve already bought into it. I know; crazy, right? Time and time again this process has improved the decisions I make and it always builds a sense of ownership for everyone on the team.

I always respond to criticism.

What a way to slow down progress! Talk about insane. Why listen to people who have negatives to add to the positives? But, I even listen to anonymous critics sometimes. I previously wrote the RIGHT WAY and WRONG WAY to respond to critics, but I’ve learned that criticism often is correct and it always makes me better. Whether I yield to it or not, it forces me to consider sides I wouldn’t otherwise.

I don’t meet alone with the opposite sex.

Unless there is someone else in the office, I don’t meet with females alone. I don’t meet with them for lunch or coffee, except in extreme situations. I know, it’s not practical — and I get plenty of pushback from this one — but it not only protects the integrity of my marriage and ministry, it protects the perception of my marriage and ministry. Which is almost as important.

I give away tasks to less experienced people.

I do it all the time. I surrender my right to decide to one with many years less experience than I have. Some would call that dumb, but I call it genius. The best leaders on our team were “discovered” this way.

I push for best.

It’s always easier and faster to compromise. Settling for mediocre saves time and energy…and it makes a leader more popular! I work through conflict to get to the best solution for everyone. I know, time consuming, but in the long run, the organization wins!

I watch people fail.

You heard me. I’ve let people make a mistake I knew they were going to make. How dumb can one leader be, right? Why not jump in to save the day? I’ve learned, however, that if I do always stop what I see as a mistake, I may miss out on something I can’t see. Plus, I’ve learned my best leadership from the mistakes I’ve made. Others will also.

There! So much for being impractical. Way to waste some time. Good job being Mr. Inefficient! But, if you want to be a great leader, find ways to avoid practicality.

Of course, when you consider the bigger picture – maybe these are actually most practical. 

How good are you at being an impractical leader? What other impractical leadership principles have you seen?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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28 thoughts on “7 Impractical Leadership Principles and Why I Use Them

  1. I would call this a very practical list.

    So why do we tend to think that it's not very practical? The reason is because these things are often counterintuitive. We like the world to be intuitive.

    I like to watch NCIS. It's well-written and the character development and team dynamics are interesting. Gibbs is also an appealing boss. He has cojones, protects his people, and is seldom wrong when he gets a gut feeling. It's that gut feeling that I think is appealing to strong leaders in particular. We like the world to work in a way that makes sense to us so that we are right when we get a gut feeling. However, accurate gut feelings are more based in sound reason than we often give credit. Gibbs "gut" is right because he has a lot of training and experience, not because his natural intuition is particularly trustworthy on its own. He can pick up on what would appear to be irrelevant information to the novice and apply it to the situation at hand.

    The same goes for good leaders. We think this list isn't practical because it doesn't seem practical. I've watched enough leaders grow from ignoring these kinds of seemingly impractical rules to embracing them because they learned the hard way that they missed something important. These are things that cost something in time, vulnerability, whatever. But what they yield is invaluable.

  2. If you never meet with a woman alone, I am curious whether you have an alternative system in place for mentoring women into leadership? With so few women in leadership it always seems to me like there are not enough to go around so men are also needed to mentor women. Do you do this in groups then?

    • Honestly, I disagree. I know more women who are mature in faith than I know men. In most churches I've been a part of there are more women in leadership positions than men. I personally think men mentor men best and women mentor women best. My wife does a ton of this with the women in the churches where I've been. There is obviously overlap, and some of this is done in groups, but one-to-one mentoring is best in the same gender. Again, that's my personal opinion.And, I didn't mean to imply I “never” meet with women alone. I meet with women with my wife at times…and I meet with women when my secretary (or someone else) is outside my office. I just don't meet with them alone…with no one else around.

    • It depends to me on how much the failure will injure them versus how much it will teach them. If I can save them unneeded heartache I step in. If I'm stunting their growth by stepping in I may let them fail.

  3. Some of the other impractical leadership principles I have seen:

    — I encourage rigorous debate rather than making centralized/ autocratic decisions.
    — I intend to create an intense environment that requires people’s best thinking and work instead of creating a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capability.
    — I am intentional at using talented people at their highest point of contribution rather than hoarding resources and underutilizing talent.

  4. Just discovered your site today and have been reading for quite some time! Lots of great insights and encouragement. I especially liked the one about the funny Bible verses. I’m looking forward to more of your posts. :)
    Twitter: Suzie Tors

  5. My only question is why you call these ideas impractical. This all seems like great advice that everyone should follow.

    One thing I would add to the "try to kill your own ideas" topic, you mentioned that it keeps you from following through with a poor idea and improves the idea before you go through with it. I would also add that you can think through the obvious criticisms ahead of time and stay ahead of naysayers.

    Also, when you let someone fail on a task that maybe isn't so important, you can see how they either save it in a way you didn't expect or are able to pick up the pieces afterwards. You can learn you to trust with the more important tasks that you can't oversee.

    Great post, not impractical advice at all.

  6. Great list Ron! Could you share or possibly write a post about your relationship with your wife and how you incorporate or make her feel a part of your ministry and relationships?

    This is a struggle for me. Thanks man!

    • Let me consider that as a post. I see us as a team, but it's just something that happens at this point. Not sure I've thought of it scripted.

  7. Wow, trying to kill your own ideas even after other people have bought into them does seem pretty radical. I can see how it might build ownership, as you said, as others start to defend a position that originally wasn't their own. It seems like such a scary step to take, though.