10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader

clueless leader

A couple years ago there was a consistent problem in one of our areas of ministry. It was something which I would have quickly addressed, but no one brought it to my attention. Thankfully, I’ve learned the hard way that what I don’t know can often hurt my leadership or the church the most, so I’m good at asking questions and being observant. Through my normal pattern of discovery I encountered the problem, brought the right people together, we addressed the problem and moved forward.

End of story.

If only that was the end of the story every time. I’ve missed problems equally as much.

It reminds me — the leader is often the last to know when something is wrong. I have consistently told this to the teams I lead. You only know what you know.

And many times, because of the scope of responsibility of the leader, he or she isn’t privy to all the intricacies of the organization. Some people, simply because they would rather talk behind someone’s back than do the difficult thing of facing confrontation, tell others the problems they see before they share them with the leader. Without some systems of discovering problems the leader may be clueless there is even a problem.

Not knowing is never a good excuse to be unaware.

It’s not a contradiction in terms. I’m not trying to play with words. I’m trying to make an important leadership principle.

As a leader, you may not know all the facts — and you don’t need to know everything — will keep an organization very small and very controlled. I spend lots of energy on this blog denouncing that type leadership. But you should figure out how to be aware enough as a leader to discover the facts which you need to know.

Unaware leaders have some commonalities among them. (By the way, I’ve written this in a general sense for all organizations, but its equally true in the church context.)

Not certain if you are an aware leader?

Here are 10 symptoms of the unaware leader:

  • Not knowing the real health of a team or organization.
  • Clueless to what people are really saying.
  • Unsure of measurable items because they are never measured or monitored.
  • Not asking questions for fear of an unwanted answer.
  • Not dreaming into the future; becoming content with status quo.
  • Preferring not to know there was a problem than there is one.
  • Ignoring all criticism or dismissing all of it as negativity.
  • Not learning anything new, relying on same old ways to consistently work.
  • Making every decision without input from others.
  • Assuming everyone supports and loves your leadership.

Those are just some of the ways a leader remains unaware. There are possibly many others.

Some things the leader will never know. That’s okay.  There are issues within the life of an organization, however, that while the leader may not know readily, or even want to know, he or she should explore continually.

One of my rules of thumb in determining what I need to know and what I don’t. If it has the potential to impact the long-term health of the organization then I need to know about it. It could be a change we are about to make, a mistake we made, or just perceptions that people have within the organization. But, if I’m eventually going to hear about it anyway I want to hear about it as early in the process as possible.

Want to test your awareness?

Try this simple experiment. Send an email to a fairly sizable group of people you trust — key leaders, staff members, friends — people who know your organization fairly well. These could be from the inside or outside depending on the size of the organization. Make sure there are some people on the list who you know will be honest with you. In fact, tell them you want them to be. Tell them that you are trying to be more aware as a leader and need their help.

Pick some or all of these questions and ask people to respond to them:

What am I currently missing as a leader?
What do you see that I don’t see about our organization?
What should I be doing which I’m not doing — things if you were in my position you would be doing?
Do you think we are changing fast enough to keep up with the needs of the people we are serving?
What are people saying about me or our organization which I’m not hearing?
Would you say I am generally aware of the real problems in our organization?
Who on my team is keeping from me how they really feel?

If you really want to a challenge from this experiment, let them answer anonymously. You trust them, right? We set that in the parameters of who you asked to answer. Set up a Survey Monkey account and let them respond without having to add their name.

See what responses you receive.

Not ready to do that?

You could simply address the symptoms above and see how that improves your awareness as a leader. Whichever you choose.

What other symptoms are there of an unaware leader?

5 Traits of the Aware Leader

Mature man cupping hand behind ear

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize I don’t always fully know the real health of my team or organization at any given time — at least as much as others do.

Don’t misunderstand — I want to know, but often, because of my position, I’m shielded from some issues.

I’ve learned, right or wrong — agree or disagree — that some would rather complain behind a leader’s back than tell them how they really feel. Others assume the leader already knows the problem. Still others simply leave or remain quiet rather than complain — often in an attempt to avoid confrontation.

I’ve made the mistake of believing everything was great in an area of ministry or with a team member, when really it was mediocre at best, simply because I was not aware of the real problems in the organization.

It can be equally true that a leader doesn’t know all the potential of an organization. Some of the best ideas remain untapped for some of the same reasons. People are afraid of their ideas being rejected, so they don’t share them. They assume the leader has already thought of it or they simply never take the time to share with them.

If a leader wants to be fully “aware”, there are disciplines they must have in place. For example, as a leader, do you want to easily recognize the need for change and the proper timing to introduce it? That comes partly by being a more aware leader.

Here are 5 traits of the aware leader:

Asks questions

Aware leaders are consistently asking people questions and making intentional efforts to uncover people’s true feelings about the organization and their leadership. (Read a post of questions I wrote called 12 Great Leadership Questions HERE.)

Remain open to constructive criticism

Aware leaders make themselves vulnerable to other people. They welcome input, even when it comes as correction. They realize that although criticism never feels good at the time, if processed properly, it can make them a better leader. (You may want to read THIS POST and THIS POST about how to and not to respond to criticism.)

Never assumes everyone agrees

Aware leaders realize that disagreement and even healthy conflict can make the organization better. They expect differences of opinions on issues and they are willing to wrestle through them to find the best solution to accomplish the vision of the organization, even if that opinion belongs to someone other than the leader.

Never quits learning

Aware leaders are sponges for information. They read books, blogs, or they might listen to podcasts. They keep up with the current trends in their industry through periodicals and newsletters. They never cease to discover new ideas or ways of doing things.

Remains a wisdom-seeker

Aware leaders surround themselves with people further down the road from where they are in life. They most likely will use terms like mentor, coach or consultant. They are consistently seeking the input of other leaders who can speak into their situation, make them a better leader or person, and ultimately help the organization.

Great leaders are aware leaders.

Does that describe you as a leader or your leader?

What would you add to my list to describe an aware leader?

5 Suggestions to Make Family Time More Effective

happy family

Frankly, I wish it happened more often, but I am always encouraged when it does.

Occasionally a young father will come to me wanting to know how to be a better husband or father. One thing they specifically ask is how to take advantage of the time they have with their family and to be more effective with the family’s time together.

Time seems more at a premium these days than ever in my life. Time has always passed quickly. It has always been valuable, but today’s family time seems more stretched than ever. So many distractions, activities and interruptions face busy families.

Wise parents realize the need to make the best use of the time they have together.

To be candid, our family never excelled at “family devotions”. Having a weekly Bible study and prayer session together just never seemed to take root in our family. We tried them — and we did some — but we were far more intentional with the unstructured time we had. Reflecting now, we have two young men as sons who love Jesus, are active in their church, and strive to serve Christ vocationally.

From what we learned — much by mistake and all by grace — we learned a few things about making the best use of our time as a family.

Here are 5 suggestions to make family time more effective:

Begin with a plan for your home and each child

You seldom hit a target you aren’t aiming to hit — certainly less likely to hit one you haven’t defined. Just as adults may have a plan for their career or finances, parents need a plan for operating their home. It may help if it is written, but should definitely summarize the major goals you hope to accomplish in your home. Because each child is different, I also believe parents should have different plans for each child. Ask yourself:

  • What do we want our children to be like some day?
  • What kind of people do we want them to be?
  • What should their character be like?
  • How can we best encourage them to get there?
  • What does this child need from me most — right now, at this stage of their life?

You’ll find your family time more effective when you have a plan, because it will consciously and unconsciously help focus your attention and energies on the things that matter most when you are together. And, here’s the flip side — without a plan you waste a lot of energy on things which really won’t accomplish what you say you want to accomplish.

Major on the majors, not on the minors

I found my boys were more willing to talk, listen, and interact with us when they weren’t always worried if they measure up to our approval. Children feel burdened under the yoke of rules. It weighs them down trying to stay within the lines. Some things matter and some things don’t. Figure out the non-negotiable issues and primarily concentrate on them. I tended to lean towards character issues as majors and individual preferences as minors. You’ll choose what these are for your home, but everything shouldn’t be major. Majoring on everything produces very stressed-out, perfectionist children, who always seem to struggle to meet other people’s expectations of them. And, when this is the culture of your home your time will be less than effective. It made it easier to concentrate on bigger issues they would carry into life — character, moral type issues.

Make the guidelines in your home easy to figure out

There does need to be rules. Children need guidelines to follow — again, especially those that focus on the major things you want to accomplish in them. Talk about the rules you have for your home and be sure to tell the children the why behind those rules, as much as they can understand. Be consistent in carrying out the rules in the home, in a firm, but loving way. If you’re not going to enforce a rule — don’t have one. Children shouldn’t have to guess how you’ll respond to an issue. As children learn your heart and ways, they can better trust you, which will help them enjoy themselves around you and rely on you for your wisdom and input as they get older. That’s really the overall goal we were were seeking in our time as a family. We knew we were raising them to be adults. The bond we built with them when they were young has directly impacted our relationship with them as adults.

Be purposeful with your time

Look for teaching moments as they are presented and keep your desired outcomes in mind as you parent. For our family that was often at dinner time — which we tried to make happen most nights in spite of our busy schedules of work, ball, school activities, and church. It also involved me kicking or throwing a ball, even some nights when I was tired and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch with a remote in my hand. I’ve never seen effective parenting accomplished while in front of the television. (Ouch!) If you want more effective family time, take advantage of the time you do have and be intentional, implementing the plan you have for your family. Children won’t always be available to you, especially as they get older. As much as you can, to be an effective parent, always strive to be available to them when they want you to be.

Surround everything with grace and love

We wanted our home to be a “fun” place for children to be. We wanted to belly laugh often and have special memories of those times. That required lots of grace and love. I tried to remember, as a dad, I was many times modeling Christ for my children. Much of their understanding of Christ would come from their relationship to their earthly father (and mother). I’ve been given so much grace shouldn’t my children reap the benefit? Great families realize everyone makes mistakes — parents and children — and so they give multiple chances, forgive easily, and reconcile quickly.

Obviously these are just suggestions. Implementing them in your home will be different than it was in my home, because you are different and your children are different. Thinking through your parenting in a more systematic, intentional way will make you a better parent and help your time as a family be more effective.

What are some suggestions you have for making family time more effective?

7 False Assumptions Made About Introverts

Thinking man

I am an introvert. Some people can question whether they are or not. I don’t. I’m certified in Myers Briggs, so I know the language well. I’ve studied the concept. It didn’t require much study though for me. I’m in the camp.

It means Sundays I’m more tired when I go home. It means I avoid certain crowds unless I have a clear purpose for being there. It means I run alone…and I’m okay with that. It means I’m probably harder to get to know that some people. I get all that. I own it. It’s me.

I’ve written before about the struggles of introversion in ministry (read that HERE) and ways I work to overcome those limitations (read that HERE). What surprises me is how misunderstood introverts are sometimes. There are a lot of false assumptions made when someone is introverted.

Here are 7 false assumptions made of me as an introvert:

I’m shy – That may be your word, but it’s not mine. I prefer purposeful for me. Others may call it something else. I talk when there’s a purpose. I’m not even afraid to do so. Three year olds are shy when they hide behind their daddy. That’s not me.

I need more courage – Why I oughta… (You’ll get that if you are a Moe Howard…Three Stooges fan.) Seriously, I “ain’t chicken” when I choose not to speak. I’m just being comfortable.

I’ve got nothing to say – Actually I have lots to say. Did you notice I blog almost every day? Do you see how often I update Twitter and Facebook? I have bunches to say. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t express it, but many times how I choose to communicate will be different than how others choose to communicate.

I’m ignorant – Yea, in a lot of ways I am. But, in some ways I’m smarter than the guy who never quits talking. You know the one. I am less likely to say the thing I wish I hadn’t said, because I didn’t think before I talked. It happens, but not as often as it might for some.

I am arrogant or don’t like you – Honestly, I love everyone. Or at least my Biblical commitment and personal goal is to do so. Whether or not I talk to you will not be a good determination of whether or not I like you. It might even mean I respect you enough to listen more than speak. Maybe.

I need you to talk for me – Ummm — actually I’d rather you not. Now that said, I sometimes let my wife talk for me. She’s good at it too. But, if I have an opinion I think needs sharing, I’ll speak for myself. Or regret later than I didn’t. But, either way, please don’t try to be my voice.

I need to change, mature, grow as a person or leader – There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just quieter than some leaders you know — or your immediate perception of a leader. Actually, there are lots of things wrong with me. Introversion isn’t one of them.

Those are some of the false assumptions that have been made of this introvert.

Introverts, what misunderstandings have been made about you?

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

wonderful-life-bank-scare

Let’s be honest! Criticism hurts. No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves or finding out that something you did wasn’t perceived as well by others as you hoped it would be.

Criticism, however, is a part of leadership. It comes with the territory. And, if handled correctly, it doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership — or at least not as bad as we make it.

The truth is there is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.

Recently I posted 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism. This is the companion post.

Here are 5 right ways to respond to criticism:

Listen to everyone

You may not respond to everyone the same way, but everyone deserves a voice and everyone should be treated with respect. This doesn’t necessarily include anonymous criticism. It’s hard to give respect to someone you don’t know. I listen to some if it, especially if it appears valid, because I’ve often learned from that too. Plus, I always wonder if something in my leadership prompted an anonymous response. At the same time, I never “criticize” leaders who don’t listen to anonymous criticism. I don’t, however, weight unidentified criticism as heavily as I would criticism assigned to a person. (Feel free to leave a comment about anonymous criticism and how you respond.) But, the point here is to at least listen to criticism when people are willingly to put their name behind it.

Consider the source

In a stakeholder sense, how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer to the criticism but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. Years ago our church met in two schools, for example, so if the Director of Schools had criticism for me I would invest more time responding than if it’s a random person complaining about our music who never intended to attend our church again.

Analyze for validity

Is the criticism true? This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important. You have to check your ego, because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with completely. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement.

Look for common themes

If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.

Give an answer

I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer even if the answer is you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, especially during seasons of change, I save answers to common criticism received because I know I’ll likely be answering the same criticism again.

The picture with this post is from one of my favorite movies “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In this scene, George Bailey responds to criticism the Bailey Building and Loan is going to collapse. I love how he takes the criticism serious, considers the importance of the critics, responds as necessary, attempts to calm their fears, and refocuses on the vision. What a great leadership example during times of stress!

Obviously, this is an extreme and dramatic example, but it points to a reality that happens everyday in an organization. And, some times it is extreme and dramatic. Many times people simply don’t understand so they complain — they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.

What would you add to my list? Where do you disagree with me here? I’ll try to take the criticism the “right” way!

5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism

Naughty Naughty

Criticism accompanies leadership.

Every leader knows this. Make any decision and some will agree and some won’t.

The only way to avoid criticism as a leader is to do nothing.

If a leader is taking an organization somewhere, and really even if he or she isn’t, someone will criticize his or her efforts.

That said, the way a leader responds to criticism says much about the maturity of the leader and the quality of his or her leadership.

Here are 5 wrong ways to respond to criticism:

Finding fault with the critic

Instead of admitting there might be validity to the criticism, many leaders immediately attempt to discredit the person offering it. Granted, there may be fault — and some people are terrible complainers (some are just mean), but it’s never helpful to start there.

Blaming others

Many leaders realize the criticism may be valid, but they aren’t willing to accept personal responsibility, so they pass it along to others. This is dangerous on so many levels and is truly poor leadership.

Returning criticism

Often a leader will receive criticism and instead of analyzing whether there is validity or not, the leader begins to criticize other organizations or leaders. It’s a very immature response. In elementary school it went like this — “I know I am, but what are you?”

Ignoring an opportunity to learn

This is a big one, because criticism can be a great teaching tool. It needs a filter. The person and circumstances need to be taken into consideration, but with every criticism rests an opportunity to learn something positive for the organization or about the leader.

Appeasing

Many leaders are so fearful of conflict they attempt to satisfy all critics, even if they never intend to follow through or make changes because of the criticism. They say what the critic wants to hear. If there is no merit to criticism then don’t act like there is merit. Be kind, but not accommodating.

I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another. Awareness is half the battle. Identifying the wrong ways to respond to criticism and working to correct this in your leadership is part of growing as a leader.

In my next post I’ll share some right ways to respond to criticism.

What else would you add as a wrong way to respond to criticism?

5 Dangers of Explosive Growth and What to Do About It

explosive growth

I have been blessed to witness what I consider extremely fast growth in several churches since entering full-time vocational ministry. In church planting and church revitalization we have seen hundreds come to faith in Christ or reconnect with the church creating churches which have grown faster than we could anticipate. It’s been an amazing journey — a miracle of God — filled with lots of excitement.

One thing I have learned along the way is growth impacts every ministry in the church. When explosive growth is occurring it is felt by every staff member — every stretched staff member.

I have also learned there are dangers with fast growth in any organization. The fact is growth can cover over a multitude of problems. Being aware of these is critical to sustaining health — and ultimately growth — in the future.

Here are 5 dangers of explosive growth:

Masks real problems – Growth gets the attention. Everyone is excited. Momentum is high. Problems within a team or organization won’t show up immediately — but they will eventually.

Leadership poor – Not “poor leadership”. Leadership poor. When the organization is growing fast, you can never seem to afford adequate staff or train volunteers quick enough. In time you jeopardize future success because there aren’t leaders to take you to the next level.

Inadequate Systems – When current systems do not support the rate of growth you often spend too much time playing catch-up to implement adequate systems. Eventually you can become distracted from the things which helped you grow.

People feel scattered/left behind – With the rate of growth, communication is more important than ever, but people are stretched — pulled in many different directions. This often producing holes in the communication process. People forget to communicate, they make too many assumptions or there just is more information than can be easily absorbed.

Reactive rather than proactive – In a fast growing organization, “just keeping up” will be a prevailing emotion among leadership. You’ll often find yourself “making it up as you go”. With the speed of life in the organization, there never seems to be time to get ahead of the growth curve.

Well, those are some of the problems with explosive growth — which only produces a question.

What can you do about it?

Be aware – Realize that everything may not be as seems. If momentum slows, the real problems will be revealed, but the sooner you can identify these areas of weakness the less damage it will cause in creating sustainable growth. Ask lots of questions. Stay grounded in your faith. Continue to work on team development — even though it seems you don’t have time.

Recruit – It’s even more important in fast growth situations you be constantly looking for new and developing leadership. There must be an intentional effort in every area to empower people and train volunteers for leadership positions. Again, you may not feel you can pick your head up from the “real work” to recruit — but you must. Make sure someone has this as one of their key roles on the team, but it should be the responsibility of everyone.

Systematize – As much as possible, you should add structure to the organization along the way. You may never catch up with growth, but as problems are discovered it will often be a systems problem. Again, the more ahead of this issue you can be the better. Continually think strategically of what is needed to ensure you can continue to grow at the current rate. This is another area it helps to have someone specifically designated — someone who is wired to think systematically — to specialize in this vital area.

Communicate – The faster you are growing the better your communication must become. Communication is always a struggle in any organization, but healthy organizations continually analyze their approach and attempt to improve. In stressful times, communication must receive even more attention.

Planning – It’s important, even during explosive growth — maybe especially — to discipline yourself enough to plan for the future. Leaders need to be visionary enough to look for what’s coming next and attempt to get some forward-thinking goals and objectives in place. In spite of the constant demand due to growth, leaders must take time away from doing the work to evaluate and ensure operations are improved to maintain growth and momentum.

Sometimes God brings supernatural growth and during those seasons leaders should be especially aware of potential dangers. (Can you imagine the first century church adding 3,000 to their numbers in a single day?)

Have you ever been in an organization with explosive growth? What would you add to my list?

12 Killers of Good Leadership

wrecking ball

I know numerous leaders with great potential. They have all the appearance of being a good leader. But they lack one thing — or two.

In my experience, some of this self-learned the hard way, there are a few killers of good leadership.

I decided to compile a list of some of the most potent killers I’ve observed. Any one of these can squelch good leadership. It’s like a wrecking ball of potential. If not addressed, they may even prove to be fatal.

It’s not that the person can’t continue to lead, but to grow as a leader — to be successful at a higher level or for the long-term — they must address these killers.

Here are 12 killers of good leadership:

Defensiveness – Good leaders don’t wear their feelings on their shoulders. They know other’s opinions matter and aren’t afraid to be challenged. They are confident enough to absorb the wounds intended to help them grow.

Jealousy – A good leader enjoys watching others on the team excel — even willing to help them.

Revenge – The leader that succeeds for the long-term must be forgiving; graceful — knowing that “getting even” only comes back to harm them and the organization.

Fearfulness – A good leader remains committed when no one else is and takes risks no one else will. Others will follow. It is what leaders do.

Favoritism – Good leaders don’t have favorites on the team. They reward for results not partiality.

Ungratefulness – Good leaders value people — genuinely — knowing they cannot attain success without others.

Small-mindedness – Good leaders think bigger than today. They are dreamers and idea people.

Pridefulness – Pride comes before the fall. Good leaders remain humbled by the position of authority entrusted to them.

Rigidity – There are some things to be rigid about, such as values and vision, but for most issues, the leader must be open to change. Good leaders are welcome new ideas, realizing that most everything can be improved.

Laziness – One can’t be a good leader and not be willing to work hard. In fact, the leader should be willing to be the hardest worker on the team.

Unresponsiveness – Good leaders don’t lead from behind closed doors. They are responsive to the needs and desires of those they attempt to lead. They respond to concerns and questions. They collaborate more than control. Leaders who close themselves off from those they lead will limit the places where others will follow.

Dishonesty – Since character counts highest, a good leader must be above reproach. When a leader fails, he or she must admit their mistake and work towards restoration.

A leader may struggle with one or more of these, but the goal should be to lead “killer-free”. Leader, be honest, which of these wrecking balls do you struggle with most?

What would you add to my list?

Can you think of any other killers of good leadership?