One Sign of Great Leadership: Admitting You Aren’t the One

Handshake - extraversio

Leadership is not about having all the answers.

One sign of a great leader — in my opinion — is to be bold enough to say, “I don’t have all the answers”.

Perhaps even harder, “I’m not the one to carry this task forward.”

That takes humility.

I observed the pressure some pastors and leaders place on themselves to have all the answers and to be good at everything they do. And, churches and organizations sometimes hold leaders to this level of excellence and expectation.

The fact is, however, that most of us only do a few things really well. Understanding that and being willing to admit it is an indication one is becoming a mature leader — and will actually help them be better leaders.

I love the story of King David in 1 Chronicles 28. The preceding chapters outline how David had diligently organized the kingdom, but then David humbly handed over reins to his son.

Of course, he did this at the command of God, but his speech to the people is not filled with bitterness and anger, but with encouragement and challenge to keep the vision moving forward. There are several Biblical examples of this type leadership.

I love some of the succession talk that is taking place in the church world today. I’m watching as some more mature pastors help the church figure out what’s next for the church — after their leadership. My friends William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have actually written a book on the subject.

But, I think this is a daily issue. Few of us are good at admitting we need help or releasing areas from our control. Again, that takes humility. I see that especially true in church leadership. (And, for those who will say the church expects it — I get that — but that’s where leadership is needed even more.)

Great leaders are willing to admit when they don’t know the answer, when they don’t have a plan for the current situation, when they need help figuring out a solution, when they are in over their head, or even — when they are no longer the right one for the job.

Even greater leaders are willing to allow and even promote and encourage others who are skilled in areas they are not and more capable of leading at the time.

Two questions:

Pastor or leader, in what area of your life do you need to humbly step aside and let another lead? It might be in the best interest of everyone if you did.

And, do you have any personal examples of where you’ve seen or are seeing a senior leader extend power to others? Share a story with us.

What to do When You’re Waiting for a Lead Position

Portrait Of Happy Businesspeople

Recently I posted “The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position“. The point was there is a fine line between when a person is ready to be in a senior leadership role and needs to remain in a learning position. The post was to help discern that proper time to make the transition.

I know some 20-something year old youth pastors who will some day be senior pastors, for example. When’s the right time to make the jump and when should they stay in their current position? I know some entry-level managers in large organizations who could move to a higher position in a smaller organization. When should they jump? That was the idea behind the post.

It stirred quite a discussion offline.

One repeated question:

How does one manage the tension well while in a learning position until the transition to a leading position takes place?

I would first say make sure there is a tension. These suggestions are intended for those who sense they are being called to a senior leadership position — someday — but haven’t made the jump for whatever reason. They are living in the “tension”. The advice is hopefully good at any stage of life, but that’s my intent of this post.

But, also know that you’re asking the right question. Never waste a wait. God is doing something where you are — He’s working behind the scenes in ways you cannot see. So, you do your part. It’s good if you’re in that waiting position that you’re asking these type questions.

Now here are 5 suggestions:

Recruit a mentor.

Everyone needs a mentor — at every stage of life — but especially if you want to move upward in positional authority. Find someone who is in a position of responsibility at the next level you hope to eventually be and ask them to meet with you on a semi-regular basis. Don’t expect it to be often. They’re likely busy people. I’ve had mentors I met with only every few months. Others were more frequent.

Consider also, that the mentor doesn’t always have to be in the same field that you are in, just with similar level of responsibility as the next level on your radar. The same would be ideal, but not always available.

When you arrive at the meeting, don’t waste their time. Do the hard work of preparing for the meeting. Have questions prepared in advance. And, make sure you take notes. It’s helpful for review later and demonstrates how serious you are taking the advice.

Set a tentative timeline in your mind for transition.

How long do you realistically think you should attempt to be at the next level of leadership? Ask yourself probing questions, such as, “If I knew I was going to be here 3 more years — without any changes in my level of responsibility — am I going to get frustrated?” A realistic timeline is probably not 2 months, but a year certainly could be. And, so could five years be. Much of that depends on your current heart for what you’re doing now, how much you’re thinking about where you need to be next, and how much tension there is between those two. Soul search.

Set a realistic timeline in your mind, but then don’t bind yourself to this — that’s dangerous. Life happens and ultimately God is in control, but this gives you a sense of hope and perspective. If you think you’re three years out from a transition, then you know you have three years to grow where you’re at currently. It’s not the time to be looking actively. It’s the time to excel in what you’re doing. If you know in a year you’re going to be bored to death, then you know how fast you have to respond to seek another position.

Discerning this timeline is a good talk through with a mentor or other people who know you well and believe in you.

Prepare for what’s next.

You should always be doing this. Even if you never moved to a position with more authority you should prepare for what’s next. The needs within our jobs are always changing because the people and cultures we encounter are always changing.

Learn all you can. Take notes as you observe other leaders. Read books. Attend conferences. Build your network. Don’t waste the wait.

Stay very loyal and faithful to the job you have now.

Please don’t accept any of my other suggestions without doing this one. This one should perhaps been my first suggestion. It’s that important.

Do your best work every single day in the job you are currently doing. Respect the leadership where you are now. Learn what you can from them too — even what you would do differently some day. This is what you’d hope for from people you will one day lead.

Staying loyal is only fair to the opportunity you’ve been given, but it also protects your resume. Never ruin a relationship where you are — it will only come back to hurt you later. Plus, staying faithful as you wait says a lot about your character.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

In my experience, if you’re asking these type questions, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be looking to make the transition to a lead position. It could be years, so don’t live in the future when the present needs your attention, but opportunities are often closer than you think.

In my most recent transition, Cheryl and I had known for 2 years that God was doing something new in our life. We didn’t know what or where. We also entertained several opportunities. We listened and had conversations. We didn’t jump until it was clearer. But, when the opportunity was presented that lined with our hearts it was much easier to discern the move. Had we not been watching and listening, we might have missed a God-sized open door.

Any other questions? Thanks for the dialogue.

7 of the Most Dangerous Leadership Mindsets I’ve Observed

Businessman Slipping on Wet Floor

I’ve seen it so many times.

A leader could even be doing everything else right and one flawed mindset can overshadow — jeopardize all the good leadership principles we know.

One constantly repeated action. One trait. One habit. One mindset.

And, sadly, many times it’s not even that the person isn’t a good leader — it’s that one mindset that gets them off track. And, so I believe leaders should constantly be working on bad mindsets that keep them from being as successful as they can be.

Here are 7 of the most dangerous leadership mindsets I’ve observed.

In full disclosure, I’ve been guilty of some of these — sometimes for a season — sometimes until someone helped me discover I had a poor leadership mindset.

Allowing small details to overwhelm a view of the big picture.

There will always be details that have to be handled, but the smaller a leader is forced to think, the less he or she can focus on the larger vision ahead. I can get bogged down in minutia that wastes my energy and drains me. Sometimes it’s a systems problem that requires too much of my time and sometimes its a failure to delegate. Interestingly, I have personally found that when I’m free from the responsibility of handling as many details I’m more likely to notice the smaller things that greatly need my attention.

Seeing the glass as half-empty.

A negative leader will almost never be successful long-term, simply because people will not care to follow. Some people have this mindset all the time (and I don’t personally think leadership is their thing), but this mindset can also last for a season — especially when there are numerous setbacks around us either in our personal life or where we lead. It could also occur in times of fast change, when the complainers seem to outnumber those offering compliments. If we aren’t careful — we can let negative mindsets carry over into every other area of our life — and start to view our world that way. It’s very difficult to follow a negative-minded leader.

Not enjoying the journey.

Never taking time to celebrate. High achieving leaders can often fall into this trap. I get there at times and have to be reminded — either through personal discipline or when others speak into my life. I’m always seeing the next big opportunity ahead and striving for constant improvement. I can fail to recognize current success while continually searching for future potential. The problem is that a constant forward push isn’t sustainable long-term. It burns people out, makes them feel under appreciated, and leads to a very low team morale. People need a break — they need a plateau where they can rest, catch their breath and celebrate the victory already achieved.

Expecting more from others than you’re personally willing to give.

I once worked with a leader who had high expectations for everyone — not only in quality of work, but also in how many hours they should be working. The problem was this leader didn’t appear to have high expectations for himself. He would work just enough to bark out a few orders, but then he was gone. And, because he was mostly an absentee leader, even if he was working when he wasn’t around (and I personally knew that he was often working out of the office), no one believed he was. He created a perception of laziness. It was frustrating for everyone trying to follow. They felt used. People following a leader with this mindset mostly stay for a paycheck.

Assuming all the credit.

And, especially if the leader’s mindset thinks he or she deserves it. There is no success on a team without the efforts of others. When a leader takes all the accolades or rewards for himself, the team becomes employees of a boss rather than followers of a leader. Work becomes a job, not a career. It could be simply in the language of the leader. If “I” did it – if it was all because of “me” – “they” may soon — even if in only in their motivation — let “me” do it on my own. Shared success is paramount for a leader’s long-term success.

Never shutting down.

You can’t do it. You can’t. You may think you can always be on — do everything — be everywhere — you can’t. Superman couldn’t. Jesus didn’t. Don’t try. (Someone reading this still thinks they can — okay — you’ve been warned.) And, I have to be honest, this is one of the hardest ones for me. It usually comes when I don’t discipline myself to say no, worry too much what people think who expect me to be everywhere or haven’t released things I shouldn’t even be doing. Thankfully, I’ve matured enough that I won’t let the season go long without an intentional shut-down. (And, for me, that usually involves me getting out of town. There’s always something to do here.)

Isolating yourself from others.

The mindset that a leader can’t let others too close to them is one of the most dangerous I’ve observed. Leadership can be a lonely job. But, it shouldn’t be the job of a loner. We need people. We need accountability. We need community and those who can speak into the dark places of our hearts and lives. And, I’ve seen that with so many leadership failures — even with so many pastors. When we become islands to ourselves we are an invitation for the enemies attacks.

Those are a few dangerous leadership mindsets I’ve observed. Any you’d care to add?

Three Common Fears of Every Young Leader

Businessman showing thumbs up

I’m convinced.

After years mentoring younger leaders, there is something all of us leaders with more experience need to know.

Every young leader shares some common fears.

Granted, I’ve mostly worked with young male leaders (and I am the parent of boys), but I suspect these fears aren’t gender exclusive.

And, they aren’t talked about much — or even admitted — the pressure to perform often keeps us from admitting fear — but they are real fears.

Three fears of every young leader:

Am I good enough?

Have I got what it takes?

What happens if I fail?

Common, legitimate fears.

Do you want to make a difference in the life of a young leader? Help them answer these questions — in the affirmative.

Help them believe in themselves. Help them discover that inner strength — that God-given grace — that God-given talent — that helps them weather any storm and overcome any obstacle that may get in the way of being all God has called them to be.

Seasoned leaders, this is a great pursuit for us. Find the young leaders who need to hear our words of affirmation. Something tells me we can help build a future. And — in the process — we will leave a legacy.

4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Christmas Holiday

Portrait Of Loving African American Couple In Countryside

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems that developed — or were exaggerated — between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? That’s a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?

Plan a budget together. Stick to it. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. The principle is this: Don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your family first. Even if that means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong — and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.)

Build traditions that build family. We often get distracted by things that matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born — He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas — the real Christmas — and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside. The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets. Decide now that nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple. Make this a celebration season that grows your heart stronger as a couple.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?

10 Harsh Realities of Leadership

Rocky road ahead.

I love leadership. I feel called to it. I realize the need for good leadership,but the fact is that leadership is hard.

I meet regularly with some high-level, senior leaders to glean from them. We talk about our common challenges in attempting to lead others. One shared discovery we have made in our time together is about the perception of people who haven’t served as a senior leader have about people in that role. It’s the same one we had before we were in senior leadership. It often looks easier — and maybe even more glamorous — from the outside than it is in reality.

As a student and blogger of leadership, I want to be realistic with people who desire to be senior leaders.

Here are 10 harsh realities of leadership:

You will at times be unpopular. Every leader is at some point. Change is hard and people will agree and disagree.You open emotional wounds through change. In fact, they will often blame you for changes happening in their own life because of the change you are making as a leader.

You will have to make decisions no one else will make. That’s what leaders do. It’s what inspires people to follow. It’s what challenges the paradigms. It’s what leads us to a discovery — and hopefully even a better reality.

You have to be able to see farther than today. If you can’t, maybe leadership is not your thing. Leaders aren’t stuck in today. They are leveraging influence today for something better that may not be realized until some tomorrow.

You won’t be successful long by making excuses. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll be more likely to attract followers through your ownership of them. Humility is an admired leadership trait.

You can motivate, but you can’t mandate. Attempting to control or bully people to produce more won’t work long-term. It isn’t a sustainable technique. People will either rebel, fail to live up to potential or leave.  

You’re only as good as your team. No matter how good you are — if you’re team is lousy, so will you be as a leader. 

Your legacy will mostly be formed by the investment you made in others. Not by the great ideas you had or the success you can personally take credit for producing. People investments always last longest. 

You can’t avoid conflict indefinitely. You can run but you can’t hide. Eventually little things can become big things. Hidden and unresolved conflict eventually explodes. 

You will be misunderstood at times. You can have the best intentions, but you’ll still be misunderstood. You’ll have to continually get better at communicating, but you’ll still keep being misunderstood. It’s part of leading people who are different from you.

You can’t neglect your soul for long. If you do — you’ll crash and burn. 

Just a few of mine. Any you would share?

5 Areas I Have Micromanaged in Church Revitalization

Rural chapel

At least once a week a pastor contacts me about church revitalization. I always tell them I’m still learning, but we have seen God do some pretty amazing things in our church. Through this blog I’m trying to share some of the things I’m learning.

The primary question I receive is where I spend my time. What am I doing to lead the church to grow again?

And, I understand the question. It’s the question I’m asking other church leaders also.

One of the things I’ve learned is that there are some things I have to micromanage.

It’s important to know I’m not a micro-management leader. It goes against everything I stand for in leadership and even how I’m wired personally. I have written extensively about the need for delegation in leadership. I’m not good with details. I have a problem focusing minutely, So, I really do control very little that happens on our team. Plus, I love the team process. I don’t like the word “I” as much as the word “we”. (Even though I’ll use “I” more than “we in this post.)

In church revitalization I’ve micromanaged a few things a bit closer than I normally would. We are leading a church to survive it’s second hundred years. That’s not easy. It’s not easy work and it’s not easy for a church to continue to thrive that long. And, I knew that — not as well as I do now — before I entered this pastoral position.

I began with a keen sense that some things were vital to our success long-term. I view it as one of my roles to see the bigger picture and make sure all of us are going in the same direction. Therefore, I have micromanaged some things. I’ve not necessarily made the decisions, but I’ve made sure I had a strong voice in the process. (Actually, some of these were just as true in my years of church planting.)

Here are 5 things I’ve micromanaged in church revitalization:

Who we add to our team. Even people I don’t directly supervise. Now, I haven’t always made the final call — I don’t do all the interviewing — but I’ve been part of recruiting, part of discerning and part of the decision process. We are shaping a culture. It’s one of change and adaptability. It’s one where everyone takes ownership. It’s one where people enjoy their work and pull together as a team. That requires a certain “fit” and staff culture. Who we add to the team from this point forward says a lot about who we will be as a staff and how well we will work together. I want to make sure everyone we add is on that same page.

How we cast vision. We knew that having a common voice as a staff was vitally important — especially in the earlier days of change — but really always. We purposely developed some common language that would serve as rallying points for the church. We had a few key areas of focus. We said the same things repeatedly. I didn’t come up with those exclusively — we developed them as a team — but I led the charge and micromanaged to keep us on that track until it began to stick as our common vision.

Where we place our greatest energies. Many times in revitalization efforts we can get distracted chasing after too many ideas. We are trying to grow again and often churches (and other organizations) will frantically move from one bad idea to another trying to find one that works. We needed some common goals and ideas and a limited focus. Again, this was especially true in the early days until we could gain trust with the people and gain buy-in for larger changes. I knew one of my roles would be to say no to some new initiatives and to slow the pace of change in some areas, while fueling that pace in other areas.

Organizational structure. As an established church, we had over 100 years of structure. Bureaucracy and process we know well. We had rules for everything. Over time, the church doesn’t stop to analyze what’s working and what isn’t. Typically we just add new layers of structure. Some of our structure, quite frankly, had become extremely burdensome and stood in the way of making progress. Some things we had on paper as “rules” we didn’t even follow. (I don’t like that either.) And, some rules we follow were simply archaic. They didn’t work or weren’t necessary. They slowed us down filling out paperwork no one was even going to read. We had duplicated processes and systems. I knew in the early days I would be a fresh set of eyes on our structure and would need to micromanage quickly before I “settled in” and became just another participant in the established process. (After we do something long enough it becomes habit and we can’t even see that it needs to be changed.)

New expenditures. As with most churches in need of revitalization, our finances had been struggling for several years. Thankfully we had good people in charges of our finances and they had held the church together through very difficult times. But, I knew to be successful long-term we had to be in the best financial condition possible. And, I knew that as the senior staff leader I had to be the primary voice for this on a day-to-day basis. Even though changes were needed (and are needed) that can be expensive, we have been extremely careful to make sure our basic financial condition is stabilized first. I don’t make economic decisions alone — and shouldn’t — but I’ve been a key driver in that process. And, we have done remarkably well financially (again thanks to tremendous finance committee and staff efforts), but we still have a ways to go.

I’ve not worried about a lot of things in church revitalization. What color carpets or wall coverings don’t excite me very much. I’ve given a few song suggestions, but I’ve not been too involved in that process. Apart from my normal responsibilities of preaching and being a pastor, these are the things I’ve concerned myself with most and that have received my best energies.

How to Identify Constructive Criticism

Man drawing a house blueprint in nature

Constructive:

“Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.”

Criticism:

“The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.”

Constructive Criticism

You’ve heard the term. As a leader, I hear it all the time.

If you’re a leader then you’ve certainly had people offer criticism. Some even say they are just giving “constructive criticism”. Or, they believe so at the time.

Most of my pastor friends have heard, “Pastor, let me give you a little constructive criticism” — (Sometimes just as they are about to deliver the weekly message. :) )

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse that phrase.

And, it’s not just with leaders. It’s in every phase of life. I think it’s a societal issue. It’s even on social media. We think we are offering “constructive criticism” when we update our Facebook status or Tweet about our service with an airline or a restaurant or a school system — for example. Or anywhere else we feel a need to criticize for some reason. We may not label it that way, but I’m convinced it’s what we think we are doing — offering constructive criticism.

In reality, I’ve learned that phrase — constructive criticism — is sometimes just a nice way to say, “I have a personal complaint about a personal issue, but it will make me sound less self-serving and more justified if I label it (maybe just in my mind) as constructive criticism.”

I have been thinking about that term lately. Even as I might use it personally.

First, let me be clear, I’m not down on constructive criticism. I think it’s good. And, needed.

Using that definition (serving a useful purpose; tending to build up) constructive criticism serves a place within any organization — even the church. It can, by definition, help us all.

There is a place for constructive criticism.

But, how can we make sure the criticism we offer is actually constructive?

And, what is it actually? I think that’s the bigger issue.

How do we know when it is “constructive criticism”?

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone. It’s helpful for the good of the entire vision. Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism.

It is not self-serving. It doesn’t seek a merely personal gain. Scripture makes humility an ideal, encourages unity among believers and commands us to consider others better than ourselves — even to pray for our enemies.

It offers suggestions for improvement. I’m not saying it does every time. Sometimes we just know something is wrong, but this would be an indicator the criticism is constructive (by definition).

It creates useful dialogue. Again, this may not happen every time, but if conversation can lead to the benefit of everyone, then it could be an indicator of being constructive — it helps build — construct.

It affirms others or the vision. Constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. That would be counter to the definition. Criticism might, but not constructive criticism.

It can be realistically implemented or discussed. I’m just working with the term and definition here, so if the criticism is an impossibility — would never work — then it seems to me it isn’t “serving a useful purpose”. (Extreme example: I once had someone criticize my allowance of phones in the worship center. They thought I should be like a school teacher and take them up at the door. Okay…)

It is not overly divisive. Constructive criticism serves to build up — not tear down, so to meet the definition it must not divide people as much as it at least makes an attempt to bring people together around common values and vision. Of course, that’s not always possible. It’s near impossible to get everyone to agree on anything, but constructive criticism doesn’t seem to be the type criticism that would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

That’s my rambling thoughts on the issue. I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism.

There may be a need for non-constructive or destructive criticism sometime. Jesus cleared the temple that way. We may need to clear some things. If so, let’s deconstruct.

But, all I’m saying is — if I can attempt to constructively criticize the way some of us criticize — constructive criticism should live up its name.