10 Common Traits among the Best Leaders I Ever Had

Many identical businessmen clones

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?

7 Ways to Stretch Yourself as a Leader

Close-up of a jogger stretching his legs

Those who succeed in the future workplace must be innovative. Adaptable. Able to change quickly.

You knew that, right?

It’s not an option these days.

It’s mandatory just to keep up with the pace of change. We can wish for days gone by, but to keep up, leaders will have to stretch themselves and work smarter.

In fact, when hiring decisions are made these days, most leaders I know (including me) look for these abilities as much, if not more, than experience or education. We need generalists, who can fill a plethora of responsibilities. If you can’t keep up with the speed of change, and adapt accordingly you’ll have a harder time advancing in your career in the future.

How can a leader keep up? What can you do?’

I am constantly learning how personally, but I have always been conscious of my own need to continue growing as a leader, so I’m sharing from my experience and some of what works for me.

Here are 7 ways to stretch yourself:

Read something different from what you normally read. If you love to read history, occasionally read a book of fiction. Pick up a tech magazine, even if you’re far from being a techie. Read the comics, or the opinion page, or a biography — whatever something is different from what you usually read.

Hang out with people not like you. One of my favorite ways to stretch myself has been to surround myself with many different personalities and interests among my friendships. I am introverted. I have some very extroverted friends. I’m not usually loud in a crowd — and a few of my close friends are always the life of the party. I’m conservative. I have some very liberal friends. Honestly, it’s sometimes more comfortable to only hang out with people who think like me, but I realize I’m missing opportunities to grow when I do.

Move forward on something with uncertainty. This will be a challenge for some of you reading this. For others it’s easy. It comes fairly easy for me. But, the fact is rarely will we have all the answers when making decisions. That eliminates faith when we do, by the way. Take a new risk on something. It’s the surest way to stretch yourself.

Attempt something you’ve never done. That goes with taking a risk, but not only something that you consider “risky” — try to do something beyond what you think you can do. Take a college class, even though you’ve been out of school for years. Learn a language or to play an instrument. Take up photography or baking. Try to do a home repair — with just the help of the guy at the hardware store. If you’ve never done it — all the better. The more different from you it seems — the greater the stretch.

Spend more time on opportunities than on problems. This is huge, because problems tend to weigh us down and discourage us. Opportunities challenge and encourage us. Yes, fixing problems is exhilarating for some of us (like me), but only getting back to ground zero pales compared to finding new potential for growth. We can’t avoid handling problems, but we can discipline ourselves to focus more energy towards advancement rather than repair. Try it. In my experience, when I do this, some of the problems I thought needed so much of my attention no longer do.

Schedule and discipline time to dream. Dreaming can quickly become a lost art in a sea of mediocrity and repetition. We get so caught up in systems, routines and processes that we fail to imagine what is yet to be realized. I try to schedule a few hours a week of blank calendar time and shut everything down to think and pray. Sometimes I take a walk. Sometimes I read. Always I try to think of something new.

Stay physically active. Numerous studies I’ve read indicate what my experience already knows. I stretch my mind when I stretch my body. And, the more I stretch my body, the more I stretch my mind.

I realize an obvious question some of my ministry friends are wondering. How does this apply to the church?

Well, I personally believe the church should be well led, well-managed, efficient and productive. We have the greatest mission challenge ever extended. We are in a life-changing profession. Why would we ever sacrifice quality or settle for less than best in carrying out our work? So, of course this impacts ministry. We must continue to stretch ourselves to become better servant leaders.

What ideas do you have to stretch yourself as a leader?

20 Things Good Dads Do!

Father singing

What good dads do — like nobody else can do.

They joke.

They challenge.

They inspire.

They build.

They provide.

They encourage.

They discipline.

They listen.

They counsel.

They validate.

They play.

They model.

They pray.

They forgive.

They teach.

They strengthen.

They believe.

They lead.

They protect.

They love.

Dads!

There are no perfect ones — except our Heavenly Dad — but good dads try. Every good dad I know wants to do the best he can.

And, some good dads have left us already — at least from this earth — and still, they do what they do through the memories they left behind.

Give a shoutout to a good dad today!

Thank you God, for good dads.

Which of these remind you most of a good dad you know?

My 10 Favorite Cities In Which To Run

running alone

I’m an avid runner. It’s my best thinking time. If I’m out of town, I usually run longer distances because of the new surroundings. I’ve had some glorious running experiences.

Here are my favorite cities (communities) in which to run, somewhat in order:

  • Chicago
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Philadelphia
  • New York City
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Dallas, TX
  • Lexington, KY
  • Saugatuck, MI
  • Santa Monica, CA

This is actually my domestic list. I have had some international running opportunities. I may rank them someday.

Do you know of a great city in which to run?

Tell me where I am missing.

7 Reasons Introversion Works Well for Me as a Senior Leader

Sarcastic background

I read an article recently that suggested the majority of senior leaders think extroversion is necessary to be an effective senior leader. Obviously — and hopeful I am correct — I disagree. In fact, I see benefits in being an introverted senior leader.

I also know people who can’t believe I can pastor a large church and be introverted. I’ve written before about the false assumptions of introverts. Introverts can be just as caring, loving and “shepherding” as extroverts. It’s a personality trait, not a heart monitor. But, again, I see benefits in being a lead pastor and an introvert.

Here are 7 ways introversion works well for me as a senior leader:

I think first and speak later. I don’t stick my foot in my mouth very many times. I’m not saying extroverts do, but I am saying that as an introverts I tend to choose my words very carefully. One characteristic of the personality is we don’t speak quickly. We choose our words more intentionally. Understand, I do say things I regret, but it doesn’t happen often.

I’m less likely to struggle with the loneliness of leadership. This is a real leadership emotion, and I certainly have it some, but I’m very comfortable being alone in a room to my thoughts. Long runs by myself are energizing to me. I know many extroverted leaders who can get very lonely — and some days for them are very difficult, especially when they are in the midst of harder leadership decisions.

I create intentional moments. My introversion forces me to be very intentional about my time interacting with others. I say continually to introverted leaders — introversion should never be a crutch or an excuse for not engaging with people. Leadership is a relational process for all of us. But, my relational time is very focused. I tend to make the most of my time. A calendar is one of my essential leadership tools. Sunday mornings I’m the most extroverted person in our church building. It’s strategic, intentional, and I enjoy it — because I truly love people — even though it is draining.

It’s easy to concentrate on the big picture. You’ll seldom find me chit-chatting. It’s not that I don’t have casual conversations — I certainly do when I’m connecting with people — but communication for me is usually very purposeful. As a result, I tend to be able to be very big picture oriented. Very strategic in my thinking. I step back and observe everything often. I’m a deep thinker. Those are traits especially strong with most introverts. That has proven to be very profitable for my leadership and the teams I lead.

Processed randomness. People often wonder if I know how to have fun. “Pastor you seem so serious” or “What do you do for fun?” I hear comments like that frequently. Those are usually people who only see me when I’m working and don’t know me very well. And, I do work hard, but I can sometimes be seen as the class clown too — by those who get to know me. Some of that comes through online. But when those times occur, they are usually intentional times. My work is caught up, I have done all the things I have to get done, and I’m ready to “come out and play”. That quality can be in extroverts or introverts, but for me as an introvert, they are more intentional moments than spontaneous.

I network intentionally. I recognize the value of every conversation I have. So, I have lots of conversations. Every Sunday is a gold mine of networking opportunities. Plus, I meet dozens of people every week in the community where I serve. I enjoy meeting people knowing that people are my purpose — and I love people — I really do. More than that, I love how God wants to develop and grow people, and I see my role in that as a teacher. People are the reason for everything I do.

I tend to listen well. People on my team usually have a very good chance of having their voice heard, because in any meeting setting, I don’t feel the need to be the one always talking. My introversion allows me to be quiet, sit back, listen, and reflect and offer input when and where most needed.

Sure there are struggles with being an introvert at times, but I have found it to be a blessing in my leadership. It is who I am — it is NOT a curse. Much of that has to do with how I manage my introversion in an often very extroverted world.

How does introversion make you an effective leader?

5 Necessary Ingredients for Healthy Delegation

No Dumping

I have seen, and probably been accused of, dumping responsibilities on people inappropriately and calling it delegation. That form of delegation actually does more harm than good for an organization, because it leaves projects undone or completed sub-par, kills employee morale and motivation, and keeps the mission of the organization from reaching its full potential.

Over the years I have frequently asked staff people to whom I delegate frequently how I am doing in this area It is always sobering — and always helpful. This post originates from learning the hard way.

The bottom line of delegation is this….

Delegation involves more than ridding oneself of responsibility.

You can’t dump and run and call it delegation.

Here are 5 necessary ingredients for healthy delegation:

Expectations – The person receiving the assignment must know the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve. They need to know what a win looks like. in your mind. They will want to please their leader. Everyone wants to know they did good work. The question “Why are we doing this?” and “What are we trying to accomplish?” should be answered clearly in their mind.

Knowledge - The delegator should be sure the proper training, coaching and education have been received. The delegator should remain available during the process so that questions or uncertainties of details that arise can be answered.

Resources – Good delegation involves having adequate resources and money to accomplish the task assigned. Nothing is more frustrating than being asked to complete a project without the tools with which to do it.

Accountability – Proper delegation involves follow up and evaluation of the delegated assignment. This is healthy for the delegator, the person receiving delegation, and the organization.

Appreciation – The delegation isn’t complete until the delegator recognizes the accomplishment of the one who completed the task. Failing to do so limits the leader’s ability to continue healthy delegation.

What would you add? Have you ever received a “dumping” that was called delegation?

5 Things I Learned in Church Planting

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I’ve planted two churches. In each plant, God overwhelmed us continually with what He did among us. I feel humbled and blessed to be a part of such healthy environments God uses to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I have learned a few things in the process. Some of these were new insights and some of were things I had confirmed, but all are things I would suggest other church planters consider.

Here are 5 lessons I learned in church planting:

Don’t shy away from leaders, even though they are churched — you’ll need them – When we started, if a person showed up who regularly attended another local church, we shied away from them. We weren’t rude to them, but we really didn’t pursue them as we did other visitors, simply out of respect of other churches. What I have learned, however, is that many times this was standing in the way of something God was doing in the person’s life. At the same time, we were suffering from a leadership void not having enough people ready to lead in a church setting. There’s a huge difference in recruiting and accepting people churched people into a church plant.

Don’t be afraid to talk about money — you’ll need it - I know this is a problem for many church planters, because a perception is that people church plants reach are repelled by money talks. Granted, some people wrongly feel that all churches talk about is money and so they push back anytime money is mentioned. We can know and tell people that Jesus talked much about money (some say more than any other subject), but in an attempt to be attractive to unchurched people, church plants often avoid any money talk whatsoever. What I learned, however, is that it takes money to minister to people. Additionally, part of the spiritual growth process of a person is how they view and handle money and one of my roles is to help them mature in this area. I can’t do that unless we talk about it. And, the pushback when we do, if handled with truth and grace, is far less than I expected it to be.

Surround yourself with some encouragers — some days they’ll keep you going - The work of church planting by itself is tough and places a strain on the planter and his or her family, but church planting also has plenty of naysayers. The church world can be very competitive and church planters are not always the most popular pastors among the established church world. And, because things are new and in the discovery phase of building a church, not everyone will agree with every decision. (That’s in every church setting.) I’ve learned I needed enough people around me who believe in me and the vision of the plant so that on the days when I was down they could encourage me to pick my head up and keep moving forward towards what God had called us to do.

Know what to control and what to let go of — you’ll be stretched if you don’t - There are some things to hold on to very tightly, such as vision or senior leadership positions, but I learned to let go of things such as how the vision gets implemented or what color we use for rugs in the preschool area. (I never would have stressed about that last one — but you get the idea.) The more I allowed others to do and take leadership of, the greater success we had in reaching our overall vision.

Embrace hurting people — as much as it hurts - We extended so much grace to people — and we were burned a few times. I have been personally hurt by people to whom I invested so much love and support, who quickly fell back into their old way of life. I know God rewards this sacrifice, but it still stings. The fact is however, that some of the best leaders we developed over the years were hurting, broken people when they arrived. God still does miracles with people when we extend His grace and truth. (And, those have to be extended on an equal basis.)

I am not sure these are unique experiences to church plants — in fact, they are true now that I’m serving in church revitalization, but certainly church planting was where these paradigms were shaped in me. It was a learning process every day — as all leadership positions are, but my hope is that others will learn from our experience.

Which of these do you most need reminding of today?

10 Tweetable Pieces of Advice for Pastors

senior pastor

I was in the business world longer than I’ve been a pastor, so I’m still relatively “new” in the field of vocational ministry. I do have many years of experience with life and leadership. It has been amazing to watch how those principles have transferred for God’s glory into the work in the church.

One of my favorite things to do is to invest in other church leaders. I am frequently asked by pastors what my best leadership advice is for them. I don’t know how I could contain all I’d share in a single conversation or post. Plus, I’m still learning. I learn something new everyday.

So, this post is random. And, this post is not exhaustive.

Here are 10 Tweetable pieces of advice I share with pastors:

1. Don’t trade searching for a “Word” on Sunday for searching for a personal relationship with God. That’s where you’ll get your “word”.

2. Don’t allow a need to protect your reputation to keep you from welcoming accountability. You need it!

3. Never compromise one Biblical principle to keep another (shepherding the flock/caring for your family). Your family needs you and so does your church.

4. Don’t waste energy on those people who aren’t trying to help you build a ministry, but trying instead to tear it down.

(A pastor friend of mine once said, “Seek your need for affirmation among the people to whom God has sent you to minister.”)

5. Allow criticism to shape you, but not control you. Every leader doing anything of value attracts critics.

(BTW, criticism often has some elements of merit, so don’t dismiss it completely, but realize the source of your critics, their intent and how it fits with the vision God has given you.)

6. Don’t get so comfortable to where you refuse to walk by faith. God called you to a life of faith-walking.

7. If God is stretching you, it may be uncomfortable for a while, perhaps even hurt, but eventually you’ll love the new shape.

8. As a leader, you’ll seldom make everyone happy. In fact, if that’s your goal, you might consider whether or not you’re a leader.

9. The more you know and trust the heart of God, the less you’ll stress when you don’t know or understand the ways of God.

10. I’d rather lead with character than competence. I can surround myself w/competent people, but no one can make up for my lack of character.

7 Hints You’re About to Make a Bad Leadership Decision

No keyboard key finger

I’ve made many bad decisions in my leadership. Thankfully, the longer I lead, the more I develop warning signs I’m about to make another. I think these may apply to all leaders.

These aren’t full proof. They don’t mean you are definitely making a bad decision. But, they are hints you might and worth considering before you make the decision — especially major decisions.

Here are 7 hints you’re about to make the wrong decision as a leader:

It makes everyone happy. Chances are you’re settling for less than best. The best decisions almost never please everyone.

It’s easy. Some decisions are. Most aren’t. Especially major decisions.

You made it alone. Plans fail for the lack of counsel. With many counselors plans succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

You made it too quickly. Some decisions need time to gel in your mind and heart. Most major decisions need a good nights sleep — or several.

You made it too slowly. When you’ve wrestled with it long enough — and you know the right thing to do — some decisions just need to be made — even without having all the answers.

It changes nothing. Change is a part of leadership. In fact, without change you don’t need a leader. People can stay the same on their own.

Your gut tells you otherwise. You have a gut for a reason. Most likely it was developed over the years. It’s dangerous to ignore it.

Put some of your major decisions through this grid. I’m speaking from experience or many bad leadership decisions. It might help you avoid some of my mistakes — and make better ones.

What are some ways you diagnose a potential bad decision?