4 Words of Advice for a New Leader

Elegant leader

I consistently talk to new leaders about the beginning days of a leadership position. In my opinion, the opening days of any job are some of the most important. Apparently others think so also. Recently someone messaged me on Twitter to ask, “What words of advice do you have for a newbie leader? I’m beginning my first pastoring role after years in student ministry.”

It has just been a few years ago I was a “newbie” myself. I speak with more passion, and perhaps even more authority on the subject, because I learned along the way. I Tweeted him back and said “Learn the people first – go slow to change – think intentional in all you do – pace yourself.”

And, that was enough for Twitter. This is my blog, however, so I assume I should explain a little further.

Here are 4 pieces of advice for the new leader:

Learn the people first, before making major changes.

Relational leadership is always most effective, but especially for a new leader. The people need to learn to trust you. They need an opportunity to feel you are committed and connected to them. They want assurance you have the best interest at heart for them and the church or organization they’ve loved and served longer than you have. They need to experience you listening to them for their input. Value – and love people – first and foremost. It’s not only effective – it’s the right thing to do.

Go slow with change when it’s time.

The older the church or organization – or the longer they’ve needed change – the more important it will be you take time to implement change. Know the key players, communicate, communicate, communicate, and help people understand why the change is needed. All change is resisted. Let me say this again – ALL CHANGE IS RESISTED. At some level, someone will not like every change you propose, but fast change is most powerfully rejected. Understand every change comes with an emotion. People are resisting for a number of reasons – anger, fear, uneasiness, uncomfortableness. This doesn’t mean don’t change. Most likely they’ll expect and even want some change, and some of this change may need to come very fast, but listen and learn the things you can change immediately and things where you’ll need to move more slowly. Get lots of input from others. Collaborate. A healthy change process takes time to do well.

Think intentionally in all you do.

The more you can strategically plan your moves, especially in the early days of a new leadership position, the more you can help steer them to a positive outcome. In every area of your leadership, take time to think through the best way to handle the situation. Again, get input from key people. I love a good whiteboard strategy session. When you have to make changes or implement your vision, invite key, trusted people into the room and brainstorm the best way to approach it. Plan your approach. Prioritize. Strategize. You’ll have plenty of surprises along the way, but if you’re intentional in the decisions you have control over, you’ll be better prepared to handle the unexpected.

Pace your leadership for long-term success.

This is so critical. You won’t often know the length of your tenure as leader, but you should script yourself to be there for the long haul. This means you shouldn’t try to accomplish everything in the beginning. Spread some of your enthusiasm and energy over the first year or more. It will keep momentum going longer, keep you from burning out and the church or organization from wearing out, and introduce an expectation of change – which will make change easier to make in the future. Also, think for the church or organization beyond even you – this is the honorable thing to do for any leader – don’t make it all about you. How can things keep building, healthy, vibrant and growing for the years ahead? When you set worthy visions and goals which carry people forward, help them dream and give them hope, they will want to follow your leadership. Finally, protect your soul. As the Scripture says, “Above all else guard your heart.” You will have lots of obstacles – all leaders do – you want to weather them to remain effective. And, get help when needed. (Which for me is pretty much daily.)

I’m pulling for you new leaders! Of course, my best advice – Go with God! He knows best. For another post on advice if give to young pastors – look at THIS POST

Have you ever been the new guy? What would you advise?

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

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18 thoughts on “4 Words of Advice for a New Leader

  1. I’m off to meet my new team today for a couple of hours for a new job that I start at the beginning of September.

    Thanks for these Tips, very useful.

    I especially like the ‘pace your leadership’ tip.

    Iv’e been comforted by the fact that a ‘Leader’ doesn’t have to have all of the answers or be an expert at everything
    One definition of the word ‘expert’ that I liked was ‘a drip under pressure’ (ex-spurt).

    Thanks for your very well timed tips

    Best wishes

    Mandy
    Twitter: cassykindly.co.uk

  2. Pastor Ron great post as usual. I'm building a nonprofit and find your posts so beneficial. I pray a lot of young pastors have opportunity to read your blog I believe the words of advise will help them tremendously with their frustrations regarding change especially in 100 + yr oldchurches.

  3. Thanks for sharing these insights. I have a question in regards to the "make change slowly" point. I've heard that before, and that is certainly appropriate. But what about a situation where if change doesn't happen quickly then death is close at hand because of incredible unhealth and a few other factors. Including an unwillingness to change by an "old guard". Thoughts? Have you ever encountered a situation where time is not a luxury?

  4. Good stuff! I think under the "think intentionally" point it is helpful to remember that change in churches doesn't occur until there is heart change among the people, and as you point out that takes time. If our strategy is led by the Spirit and shaped by Scripture, then we can trust God to work through, and sometimes in spite of, others to bring change in the right way and time.

  5. Good advice not only for leaders but anyone. I've been a leader in whatever I've done for the last 20 years or so. Last week I started a new job. (First time I've had a boss in 22 years!) I think your advice fits just what I needed to hear. "Slow to change" will be something I'm sure I'll have to really watch myself. I'm used to making the change if I see something could work better. I bet that would be a great way to make enemies as a "newbie".

  6. I might suggest that as you are learning the people, find a few, just a few, people that you can really trust! People that will help you read a given sittuation with groups, ideas.
    Twitter: bryankr

  7. This is some great advice. I think it is important to learn the people and culture of the organization that you are joining. You can learn a lot just by observing and listening.
    Twitter: ericspeir

  8. Thanks for writing to issues like this. "Learn the people first" is something I've seen in my short time of ministry as a key. I've done both well with this and rushed this. It's really important to earn trust and influence first. Good stuff, Ron.
    Twitter: jonathanpearson