I recently returned from a beach destination wedding. Someone has to do those you know. Cheryl and I tacked on a few days of vacation since we were at the beach. It was refreshing.
As I was finishing my last vacation run — vacation runs are the best — a friend texted me. He’s a great leader and we’ve talked often about leadership issues — and the stress of leadership. When he learned I was heading home from vacation, he asked me a powerful question. I’m not even sure he knew how powerful, but knowing him, he was probably asking with intentionality.
He asked, “Excited to be going back or dreading it?”
My friend wanted to know — and encourage me to think — if my vacation had been successful. He knows the purpose of vacation.
What is the purpose of vacation? Another way I might ask this question: What are the goals of a vacation?
Here are my thoughts.
5 goals of vacation for the leader:
Rest – God has actually given us a Biblical command to rest — to Sabbath — as if He knows something about what we need. (Duh!) You may not “rest” like everyone else, but everyone should rest. This particular friend who texted me was also returning from vacation. He does something that I think shows he understands his need for rest. He leaves his work cell phone with his administrative assistant when he goes on vacation. How cool is that? I know because I texted him while he was gone and she texted me back. Intentional. Love it. Rest should be a huge goal of taking a vacation. We all need it.
Reconnect – Vacation should allow us time to restore relationships to maximum health. With God. With family. With ourself. The busyness of life can strain relationships. Vacation gives you the opportunity to pause and get back to optimum health with the most important relationships in our life. On vacation, I talk to God more. I spend deeper quality time with Cheryl. We date more intensely — ask each other more questions. In years past, I got to spend more time with my boys on vacation. (I’m an empty nester now.) But, vacation helps me reconnect to those I love the most.
Play – We all need to play — regardless of our age. We fuel all the rest of these with this one. As I said already, I run more on vacation. That’s my form of play. But, when I run, I’m better equipped for all the other goals. You may not be a runner, but you have things you enjoy doing that aren’t work. (I tweeted from vacation that a friend of mine got a Lego set for Father’s Day. Cool playing to come for that dad!) Playing enhances my mental energies, my creativity, and my enjoyment of life. Making time to play — with whatever you enjoy doing — is a great goal for vacations.
Dream – What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to doing in the future? One of Cheryl and my greatest enjoyments on vacation is dreaming about where we see ourselves in a year, 5 years, 10 years, into retirement. We also dream where we could see our boys and their families. We dream about careers, personal interests, places we’d love to travel. Dreaming stretches our mind and heart towards each other and energizes us about our future together. A great vacation goal is to take time to dream.
Rejuvenate – Vacation should help you reengage with your work when you return. That’s the understanding my friend had about vacation. And, it is a huge goal. This will be hard to say to some, and some may disagree, but if you leave vacation dreading going back to work, it maybe you don’t know how to do vacation or you’re in the wrong job. It’s work. I get that. We all have Mondays we dread. The day back doesn’t have to be the most fun day at work ever, but a goal of vacation is to help us recover so we can gather more energies to do the work we were designed to do.
Does that describe your vacation?
What goals do you have for vacation?
As a leader, there have been numerous times when I have been in over my head with the challenges and opportunities I was facing. God seems to call me to huge tasks.
I suspect if you’re a leader, you understand. I think He does that to many people! It keeps us humble. And, dependent — on Him!
Regardless of how comfortable a leader may be in his or her position…
- There are times when the leader has no answers…
- He or she has exhausted every bit of knowledge gained…
- The current strategies don’t seem to work anymore…
- The situation is beyond the current plans and systems…
- People are complaining…
- It seems you’re on a treadmill — getting no where…
- Some days you leave thinking you accomplished nothing — maybe even most days…
Ever been there? Did you think someone was talking to me about you?
When the leader doesn’t know what to do and/or doesn’t have a clue what to do next, here are some suggestions:
Admit – The first step is to be honest with where you are currently as a leader. Pretending to know the answers when you don’t know them will not solve the problem. Most of the time, the people you are leading already know your inadequacies. Come clean. You’re overwhelmed. No shame. All of us have been there at times.
Pause - It’s okay to take a break to clear your head. It could be an afternoon, a day, or a week, but sometimes you just need to get away from the situation long enough to gain a fresh perspective. I often disappear from the office Thursday afternoons on especially difficult weeks. I may take a long run, mow my grass, pray or read. The busier the season — the more overwhelmed I feel — the more I need to pause. I know it sounds counter-productive. It’s not. At all. It’s life-giving.
Seek help – Find a mentor who has walked where you are currently walking. I have several older men I call when I’m maxed out with stress. There is a benefit in surrounding yourself with people smarter than you about a matter. This is the time for the believer to rely more than ever on his or her faith; trusting that the God who called them to the task will be faithful to complete it. (1 Thess 5:24)
Learn – Leaders should always be teachable. Again, assuming or pretending to have all the answers only slows or curtails projects and is quickly be discovered by others. Stretch yourself and learn something new. Read. Definitely be reading. Attend a conference. Listen to some TED talks or sermons from pastors you admire. Feed your mind. It needs some new energies.
Improve – Make better checklists each day. Spend more time planning. Learn to better delegate. I always say, you have to get better before you can get bigger. As you learn improvements needed, be willing to change. The tighter you hold onto methods that aren’t working the longer you’ll delay moving forward. Push through the overwhelming period and become a stronger, more capable and better leader. You can do it!
Do you need help? Are you overwhelmed? Start the process towards getting better.
I’m pulling for you — and I’ll trade you a prayer!
I’ve never been a proponent of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sometimes you need a change and nothing is “broke”. It just isn’t as good as it could be, it’s keeping other things from being better, or it’s soon going to be broke unless you change.
But, there are times not to change — certainly when you are not ready to change.
Here are 7 times not to change:
When there isn’t a compelling purpose - There should always be a why. It might be as simple as if you don’t change you’re going to be bored out of your mind — but have a reason before you change.
When there are no good leaders behind it – You need people who buy into the change. If a change has value you can usually find supporters. They may be few. They may do nothing more than speak up for the change, but if no one can get excited about the change, you probably need to raise up some supporters before moving forward. (There are rare exceptions to this one, but again, they are rare.)
When you haven’t defined a win – Changing before you know what success looks like will keep you running in a lot of ineffective directions without much progress.
When the loss is more expensive than the win – Sometimes the cost just isn’t worth it. You can’t justify the people and resource expense for the potential return.
When the leader isn’t motivated – There are times to wait if senior leadership can’t get excited or at least support the change if push back develops. Eventually, without their support, you’ll be less likely to experience sustaining, successful change.
When too many other things are changing – Any organization or group of people can only handle so much change at a time. This requires great discernment on the part of leaders to know when there is too much change occurring and it is best to wait for something new.
When an organization is in crisis mode – When a ship is sinking, fix the leak or bail some water, before you choose your next destination. When things are in crisis, is not the time to make a ton of changes. There may be needed changes to get things moving again, but catch your breath first, make sure a core of people is solid behind the vision, and take careful steps to plan intentional, helpful and needed change.
This isn’t intended as a checklist. I would never want to stop someone from making needed changes. I love change. But, I do want to encourage better change. I hope this helps.
If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. It’s part of the experience of every leader. The best leaders get accustomed to leading change.
Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change. I love to learn from these special leaders.
I’ve observed some common characteristics change agent leaders share.
Here are 7 qualities of good change agents:
Flexible – It doesn’t have to be their design. They simply want progress towards the overall vision. These change agents are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. They navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.
Courageous – Change agent leaders are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. They know how to filter through what is valid criticism — worth hearing — and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. They unwaveringly push through the junk that clouds progress.
Relational – Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know that ultimate change can’t happen without human capital and they are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.
Strategic – A change agent leader realizes there are steps to take and they carefully choose the timing of when to take them. They almost have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.
Creative – Good change agents are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. I need to be honest here and say that I’d rather be strategic than creative. There are some who can always find a way to make their ideas work, but it comes at the expense of others. But, change happens with creativity. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. That takes creativity.
Intentional – Change agent leaders make change for a specific purpose. They never waste a change. They know that every change has the potential to make or break a team and they work diligently to bring the best results.
Thorough – A good change agent follows through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. They don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.
Think about your experience. Who are some of the best change agent leaders you have known?
Cheryl and I are in a good season of life and marriage. We’ve been empty-nesters for a few years now — we’ve adjusted — it was hard missing our boys at first — but now life is good. Really good.
This weekend we had a destination wedding (I love those) and added a few days for time just the two of us. We needed it. As great as a season as we are in it’s a busy season. We’ve been running hard for several months.
The good thing — we can’t think of anyone we’d rather be with when we are off from work.
Isn’t that a great feeling?
Cheryl and I intentionally strive to keep our marriage strong. It’s a work in progress. We know that if we ever let up the enemy will win. The Scripture is clear — Satan crawls around like a roaring lion, waiting to devour.
So, how do we keep our marriage strong? I’ve been asked that so many times.
Here are 7 ways we keep our marriage strong:
We walk. Cheryl and I walk together almost every day. When weather and time permits, we walk hours and miles together. This may sound strange unless you’ve experienced it, but as an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. When my boys were home, I engaged more when we were throwing a ball together. For Cheryl and me, it’s walking. And, here’s the key: Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So — we walk.
We talk. And, that’s so incredibly important. Every day we talk about our days. We debrief our life. There are always moments of the day we would have to explain to understand them. We explain. It cuts down the surprise factors in our life. I’m a part of every aspect of Cheryl’s life — and she is of mine. Our work. Our friends. Our families. Our hobbies. Our thoughts. Our fears. Our dreams.
We question. Cheryl and I have been known to ask some strange questions of each other. More than, “What are you thinking?”. Cheryl or I might ask something such as, “If you had one prayer — and only one prayer — for our boys, or for me, what would it be?” Questions that may seem silly to some, but to us they make perfect sense, because it keeps us thinking deeper about our life and each other.
We dream. Everyone has them. Some of us hide them better than others. Cheryl and I have a consistent habit of dreaming together. No dream is too small or too large. It’s a dream. It may or may not become reality, but that’s okay. It’s fun and energizing of our relationship to dream together.
We laugh. A lot. We don’t have the same sense of humor, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoy laughing together about whatever there is to laugh about at the time. It would probably be silly and not funny to anyone else, but that’s okay. Our mutual humor keeps us close at heart.
We cry. Okay, I’ve got to be honest on this one. I’m not a big crier. I cry, but very selectively and very privately. But, Cheryl and I share something with each other. We are vulnerable to each other. Very vulnerable. I’m not afraid to tell her I’m afraid. That I’m hurt. That I wish life was different than it is — even if I have to say it with tears in my eyes. Our lives are open books with one another. It builds a closeness that is hard to destroy.
We love. Deeply. I’ve heard it said I’d rather be deeply loved than widely loved. Cheryl and I deeply love each other. It’s the kind of love that can overlook the flaws we bring to the relationship. And, we bring a lot. Mostly me. But, love is ultimately a choice we make — a deep, committed, loyal kind of choice. I choose Cheryl. She chooses me.
That’s our seven. Do you have more to share?
What keeps your marriage strong?
I sent out a couple of tweets recently that received some attention. They had the hashtag #ThingsGodMightSay and were intentionally designed to encourage people.
In my work, I always know a lot of struggling people. I see social media as an outlet for ministry.
So, I decided to expand on the theme.
Here are 20 #ThingsGodMightSay:
I thought about you today. A lot. #ThingsGodMightSay
I forgave you. Shouldn’t you forgive him? #ThingsGodMightSay
Don’t worry. I’ve got this. #ThingsGodMightSay
What do you think about the butterfly? Yea, I’m pretty proud of that one too! #ThingsGodMightSay
That love one another thing — I meant it. #ThingsGodMightSay
Did you miss the part about me being a jealous God? #ThingsGodMightSay
When you get time, can we talk? #ThingsGodMightSay
I wrote this book. Have you read it lately? #ThingsGodMightSay
No, it wasn’t a mistake. You just can’t see the whole picture right now. Just wait… #ThingsGodMightSay
I can tell — you’re worried again. You forgot about my promises to you, didn’t you? #ThingsGodMightSay
Have you thought about my son lately? Isn’t He wonderful? #ThingsGodMightSay
Restoring broken people. It’s kind of one of my specialties. #ThingsGodMightSay
Today’s a great day to follow me. #ThingsGodMightSay
I’ve loved you since the minute I thought of you — which was way before your time. #ThingsGodMightSay
Quit trying to be like everyone else. I’m pretty proud of who I designed you to be. #ThingsGodMightSay
Have you ever watched a child giggle? Yea, that gets me every time too. #ThingsGodMightSay
I love what you’re doing with Instagram, but you haven’t seen anything yet. #ThingsGodMightSay
Waiting doesn’t offend me. I’ve got plenty of time. #ThingsGodMightSay
You can trust me. Seriously. #ThingsGodMightSay
No matter how hard you try, or how good you are, this is NOT going to work without me! #ThingsGodMightSay
Feel free to tweet your favorite.
Let me be clear that I’m not assuming I have anything to say for God. He can and has spoken for Himself. Every time I preach I try to amplify His Word and help people apply truth to their life. That’s my goal here. It’s just an attempt to provide a fun, easy to read way to get concepts and encouragements of God into our minds. For ultimate truth, stick with what’s already been written — The Bible.
What would you share of #ThingsGodMightSay?
Every leader needs to balance the tension of “leading for me and leading for the organization.”
I balance it everyday.
Here’s what I mean.
I’m sometimes going to lead for me. My preferences. My tastes. My individual style is going to be reflected in the church. That’s part of leadership.
I’m certain leadership of the people looked different under Moses than under Joshua. (Joshua apparently didn’t have a stick. )
If my leadership is effective at all it will have an impact on the church. At the same time, I have to be very careful as I lead, and with the structures we implement, and the vision I cast, that I’m not being egocentric. We have a bigger vision at stake. Hopefully the church lasts much longer than me.
I know the church is going to resemble me. It is going to reflect my leadership.
But the church doesn’t need to look like me. It should look like Jesus.
Do you see the difference?
This is a tension for every organization. Christian or not. Non-profit or for profit.
Consider Apple. Apple resembles Steve Jobs. It should. He built the company. He’s a mastermind behind it all. But it didn’t need to look like Steve Jobs. It needed to look like Apple. Imagine what would happen now if it had only been built around Steve Jobs. Apple looks like Apple. That’s a good thing if you like Apple products.
I see too many planters and pastors shaping the culture to look like them. It’s dangerous. It’s not sustainable. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s Biblical. When they leave the church will likely struggle with an identity crisis.
Here are some ways I attempt to balance this tension:
- If the decision has long-term implications I include multiple voices.
- I try not to always have an answer to every problem.
- I surround myself with really smart people. And, give them authority to question my judgment.
- I step back often to observe a bigger picture.
- I’m trying to shape paradigms of good leadership more than specifics of structure.
- I try not to micromanage.
- I empower people to make decisions without my stamp of approval.
People want to follow a vision that is bigger than today. They want progress. And, granted, to accomplish that, people want and need a leader. I believe God even allowed things to be set up that way. The tension is to not use that felt need of people as an opportunity to build my own kingdom.
Here’s a very practical example of how that is currently playing out in our church. Our church governing structure needs some tweaking. The current system, with a monthly business meeting on a Wednesday night, where major decisions eventually have to be made, attended overwhelmingly by seniors — who by the way are among the most faithful members of our church — is not sustainable long-term. The younger generation of people are not buying into that system. They don’t care about the business of church as much as the mission of church. In 10 years, unless we make changes, the room will be much smaller and it will be difficult to get anything done effectively with our current structure. That’s not being cruel. It’s being realistic.
In recommending that we need changes, I have suggested a team that is cross representative of the church, made up of laypeople in the church. I’ve offered resources and other church models for them to consider. But, then I’ve tried to get out of the way, as much as possible. I’ve even suggested, should anyone think this is personal to me, that they make changes effective the day I leave office as pastor. (I’m not anticipating they will do this but I’m that serious about not shaping a church to look like me.)
The bottom line in this illustration is that I’m in a church that’s 105 years old. That is over twice my age. I hope this local church body survives long after I’m gone (unless of course Jesus returns.)
That will be easier if I’m not the identity of this church – Jesus is.
All my life I’ve been a wisdom seeker. I have had some great leadership influence in my life. Beginning with my high school principal when I was student body president and a man in retail who took interest in me in college, I’ve been blessed with good role models.
Looking back, the best leaders I ever had shared some common traits.
10 Common Traits among the Best Leaders I Ever Had
Believed in me more than I believed in myself.
Were available to me when I needed them.
Ask good questions of me.
Challenged me to be better than I thought I could be.
Encouraged my dreams, while equally providing for me a sense of reality.
Had a character worthy of following.
Were skillful and competent, but not arrogant or self-serving.
Continued to learn personally.
Were visionary and challenged mediocrity.
Kept their word, but didn’t over-commit themselves.
Would you add any to my list from the best leaders in your life?