7 Rookie Mistakes New Leaders Should Avoid

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I deal with a lot of new leaders. I’ve been one myself numerous times. To some, as I approach 3 years in my position, I’m still the “new guy”. Starting as a leader is difficult regardless of the experience one has as a leader. Each time a leader is new there will be new experiences that challenge everything the leader knows or has experienced previously. It’s like you’re a rookie leader all over again.

But, just because a leader is new, doesn’t mean they have to make rookie mistakes.

I’ve watched new leaders who start strong, find success, and build a long-term healthy relationship. And, I’ve watched some new leaders shoot their proverbial foot and take years to recover — if they ever can.

What makes a new leaders beginning years successful? What are some hard lessons learned?

I seem to learn best from my mistakes and observing the mistakes of others. Let me share a few that I’ve made or seen.

Here are 7 rookie mistakes new leaders often make:

Making changes too fast upon arrival

Effective change is built on trust. Trust is nearly impossible to gain quickly. There may be some things you have to move quickly to do — especially if everyone knows the change is needed or it’s a mission critical change. When changing things that impact an organization’s core identity — the kind of change where people are thinking “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” — wit’s that kind of change it is wise to take your time, build relationships first, bring people along and earn their trust. Only then can you make change that builds rather than disrupts community and has lasting impact.

Holding grudges when someone doesn’t agree

That’s the thing about new leaders. They are new. They will do things differently than previous leaders. Everyone expects that, but it causes tension. People will complain. They’ll resist change. It’s a rookie mistake to hold it against some of the initial complainers. Some of my more loyal supporters weren’t crazy about some of the first changes we made. They were adjusting to new. Again, they were learning to trust. Some people do that better — and faster — than others. It’s wise to forgive easily and extend grace. A humble approach helps build solid relationships — even from some who were once critics.

Controlling every decision

There will be things that need to be controlled. I wrote recently about the things I did control in the initial days of my leadership. Some of those I am still controlling. They are that vital to what we are trying to do. But, those things are rare. Leaders need to empower people. Delegate. Welcome the input of others. Allow some things to happen without the leaders’s direct input. And, frankly, that takes discipline for some of us leaders. But, it communicates to  people you are trying to lead that their input matters and that you want to lead a team, not issue decrees to your “servants”.

Taking credit for every win

One of the good things about “new” is that it often triggers new momentum. But, when a leader takes all the glory for the wins, they are deciding who will help them get to the next win. People want and desire to feel needed. Celebrating the difference others have made to success makes everyone feel a part of the team and builds a healthy culture. People will sacrifice again if they know their contribution was appreciated.

Refusing to make — or admit — a mistake

A sure way to lose people’s support as a new leader is to pretend to have all the answers or that you never make a mistake. Or when you won’t ask for the opinion of those who have been there longer. You’ll be proven wrong quickly, but, even worse, the message it sends is that you are either egotistical or unaware. It’s very difficult to trust a leader for either reason.

Devaluing prior work

When the new leader arrives and doesn’t recognize the work of the organization existed before them, it quickly alienates people who have been there a while. When I came to my current church, which was over 100 years old when I arrived, it would have been arrogant (and very unwise) of me to pretend their “savior” had arrived. This church has been seeing God do amazing things long before I was even born. Thousands of people have gone before me — and everyone in our church for that matter — laying the foundation upon which we now build.

People pleasing

Everyone expects the leader to lead. Even when we don’t agree with a leader’s decisions, no one thinks that a leader should attempt to make everyone happy — that’s true even when the complainers are louder than the cheerleaders. As leaders, we lose support when we say what we think people want to hear, but we aren’t willing to make the hard calls. If we are not making the other rookie mistakes — we are building trust and making wise and good decisions — valuing the input of others — make bold moves. Do the hard change

Leadership is never easy, but new leadership is extremely difficult. It’s a fragile time. The more you can eliminate the rookie mistakes — the more successful your leadership will be.

I’m pulling for you!

Lasting Transformation vs. Routine Fundraiser

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This is a guest post by Kevin Herr, with Water Missions.

(This is not a paid post. I believe in this mission.)

In my role at Water Missions International I often talk with church leaders who want to get their churches involved in our ministry, which provides safe water solutions and the Living Water message of Jesus Christ to people around the world. These groups often participate in a special event like our Water Sunday initiative and while many encounter great breakthrough and mountain top experiences, some end up disheartened with little lasting impact.

Here are a few key points that can drive your church event towards transformation and action rather than being just another fundraiser.

Cast The Vision

Casting the vision means praying about how God can use your church, speaking with other key leaders and making a clear case for what you’d like to see accomplished. Want your church to provide safe water to an entire community? GREAT! Share that vision and what it will take for your church to achieve it. Make a goal, communicate it, and go for it! If you don’t set a clear goal, you will never reach it.

Engage More than Checkbook

Take your missions engagement a step further than simply asking them to write a check. Start to engage their hearts! How can you incorporate the mission or message into other activities they’re involved in? How can they engage spiritually and actively?

Start engaging your church early: the longer the involvement the deeper the impact. For Water Sunday, we encourage groups to do a beverage fast where they drink only water for a period of time, keep a tally of the money they would have spent on other beverages, then donate that amount on Water Sunday to provide safe water to people around the world. During this time they pray for those who lack safe water, develop the spiritual discipline of fasting, talk about it with their friends, and realize how much they spend on something that’s really not important.

Another fun way for people to engage actively is by participating in Walk for Water where they simulate the trek that people around the world do every day for dirty water. Take buckets and walk from your church to a local water source then walk back.

The key idea here is to provide them with an experiential touch-point that re-emphasizes the theme of your message.

Make it a Team Effort.

Don’t do it alone! Use it as an opportunity to draw out leadership in some of your church members or staff. As people prepare and talk about the event, God will be at work in their hearts. Allow others to participate and be impacted!

Celebrate The Win

In order to effectively motivate your members to participate and experience life-change, you need to emphasize the outcome and celebration. What happens if you achieve your goal? How are you going to celebrate?

Water Sunday 2015 | Chris Ndikumana from Water Missions on Vimeo.

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To learn about how your church can make a transformational difference both around the world and in the lives of your own members, visit www.watermissions.org/watersunday.

We’re praying for 100 churches to come alongside us on April 26th and focus on the global water crisis through a variety of activities, studies, and sermon. All the resources are done for you, totally free, and designed to transform lives in your church! Take your next step HERE.

10 Ways Winning Organizational Teams are Like Winning Athletic Teams

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I live in basketball country. This area specializes in horses, bourbon and basketball. But, during a few months of the year, basketball seems to trump everything.

As a Baptist pastor, if I’m going to embrace the community, I had to embrace what the people love. So, of the three — I’ve chosen basketball.

(And, all God’s people said?)

(Seriously, though, everyone should take a ride through the horse farms of the bluegrass area and the science behind making bourbon alone is worth touring a distillery.)

Watching the University of Kentucky men and women’s basketball teams, however, always inspires some great thoughts for me on leadership.

It takes good leadership to coach a team well. And, we see good coaching around here. I’ve observed some great leadership principles watching these teams.

The win for me is that organizational teams that win — even church staffs — have a lot in common with athletic teams that win.

Here are 10 traits of winning teams:

1. The coach cares personally about the players.

2. All players understand and believe in the team strategy.

3. Dreams of big wins are a part of the culture. Everyone cheers for them in anticipation.

4. When it’s a players turn they’re ready. And, likewise, they are equally supportive when it’s someone else’s turn to shoot. They share the load and are always willing to jump in the game.

5. Risky plays are encouraged. Stupid plays are not.

6. There is a common vision. The entire team agrees on not only what a win looks like, but what it takes to get one.

7. There is ample team spirit is prevalent. Everyone participates in building momentum.

8. Losses are evaluated and used to learn how to improve for the next game.

9. Wins are celebrated. Wildly.

10. The team restructures when needed to meet the current competition.

Follow my analogy? Leader, how could these athletic team traits impact your team?

What would you add to the list?

2 Critical and Dangerous Assumptions in a Marriage

Happy senior couple.

There are 2 critical assumptions in a marriage relationship.

I mean critical.

And, dangerous assumptions to make.

Making these two assumptions and not understanding the gravity of them can cause major problems in the relationship.

In my experience, the assumptions happen naturally — and often cause conflict — but when they are misunderstood, the conflict magnifies exponentially.

Two critical assumptions:

Assuming that what you value your spouse values.

The fact is you will likely have different values.

Let me give you a very practical example from my own marriage. I think our house is always relatively “clean”. Things are in place. I’m not tripping over stuff as I walk through the house. I’d be fine if people “dropped in” unannounced.

Cheryl isn’t okay with that. She sees things I don’t see. She values a “clean” house much more than I do. She sees the dust on the furniture. She knows if it’s been 3 days or 7 since the bathrooms were last “cleaned”. It bothers her if the shoes at the front door are not in their proper place. Her value system is different on those issues than mine.

And, there could be plenty of examples of things I would value that she may not. One for me, as an example, is getting out the door when it’s time to leave. “Come on, let’s go.” But, at that moment, her values of having everything in it’s place conflict with my value to get on the road in a timely manner.

This type conflict in values happens continually in every marriage.

And, equally critical — and dangerous:

Assuming that your spouse’s values don’t matter to you.

They do. They matter greatly. Even if they conflict with your values.

They matter to me because they matter to my spouse.

When I fail to validate a person’s values — any person’s, but especially my spouse — even if they aren’t my values, I speak volumes to them that I don’t care. That may not be true, but that’s the perception received.

Part of having a successful marriage is learning the values of the other person, validating them, and working to balance each other in them.

Cheryl can’t expect me to have the same values as her. Actually, over time, our values do tend to align more. We will always be different, because we are different — designed by God to be different.

Cheryl should expect me to value her values. And, likewise for her to value mine. It’s part of what makes a marriage work.

What Leading Error-Free Communicates

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I sent an email to the church recently with the word “cease” instead of “seize”. My wife was the first to catch it. She always is — and it’s another reason she completes me well.

I quickly sent a correction email — because I know close-readers like my wife can’t get past one typo and read the intent of the entire message. But, before they could read the second email, my inbox was full of people letting me know about the mistake.

I understand that. Honestly, I’d have to be intentionally trying to edit something to catch that type of mistake in an email. And, I should have been more intentional about that email. I’m not wired to catch details, but, as one who studies personalities — and being married to a detail person, I can at least appreciate that a person is wired this way. (Which is why I sent the correction.)

But, I still hate making errors like that. I really do. Even though I’m not a detail-oriented person, I do strive for excellence. Some might say I have perfectionist tendencies. So, I want to be detail and error-free, as much as possible. And, I keep trying.

I realized though that I could beat myself up about the mistake, or I could learn from it and move forward. But, I couldn’t do both.

(Someone reading this needs to pause right here. That’s you’re biggest take away from this post. You need to learn from your mistake and move forward. It’s time.)

Plus, the experience was actually a good reminder of an important leadership principle.

This is true for detail-oriented people and non detail-oriented people. Leaders, you must know this principle — and you must know it for everyone you are trying to lead.

You can’t lead well and not make some mistakes.

Seriously, you can’t. Mistakes happen. No one is perfect. No one. Only those who think they are perfect think they are — no one else thinks they are.

And, if you’re leading well, you’ll be making mistakes, learning from them, and attempting to do better the next time.

But, you’ll keep making them.

In fact, I have some concerns about anyone attempting to be error-free in leadership. I’m not sure the two terms “error-free” and “leader” can reasonably go together. (Someone should have already laughed at the title of this post.)

An error-free leader indicates to me:

(Or, I probably should say “a leader who is attempting to lead error-free indicates to me:)

You’re moving too slow. There are so many times in leadership that fast decisions have to be made. The leader too slow to make routine decisions is a bottleneck-creating leader. Slowing down on minor impact decisions also slows down the potential of the organization — as everyone waits on the leader to decide. It’s important to slow down on the really big decisions, to eliminate as many mistakes as possible. Good leaders learn by experience which decisions require more time. And, really good leaders probably give away far more decision-making responsibility than they keep. But, even still, there likely still 100’s of decisions a leader will make in a day and most will have to be made quickly. Along the way, some mistakes will be made.

You’re afraid of taking risks. Let’s be honest — There is little room for error if nothing changes. If the goal is sameness then we just need a good manager. But, if you want to lead well — in fact, if you want to be what I believe is the definition of a leader — then you’ll have to take some risks. Leaders are leading into an unknown reality. Leaders spur change, they stir momentum, they even create healthy tension at times as people react and adjust to the changes around them. And, along the way they make some mistakes. Lots of them usually.

You second-guess yourself too often. If you are afraid to make a mistake and you play that mind game of back and forth about every decision — you probably are your own worst enemy as a leader. (That’s true of someone reading this, isn’t it?) Effective leaders learn to pull the trigger — even if it’s only a discipline against their natural inclination. They gather as much information as time will allow, they consult with their team, they rely on their experience and their gut, but they make a call. They make the best decision they know to make — and stand behind the decision and their team even when it is proven to be an error in decision. (Then they readjust, learn, and begin the process again.)

You hold others to a higher standard than is fair or they can live up to. Others make mistakes. Did you know that? And, some of them are even okay with that because they know it’s part of the overall learning process. But, when the leader attempts to be personally error-free, they usually pass that expectation on to others. (This happens in the home also.) The culture of the team becomes demeaning. The atmosphere is very controlling, even threatening. People are afraid to do anything for fear of being wrong. People never feel they are living up to potential.

You have no mistakes from which to learn and make you better. Here’s the reality — we learn more from mistakes than we ever do by getting everything right. When a mistake is made, if I’m a serious leader, it plants something deep in my core that makes me conscious of that same mistake again. I’ll be determined to figure out a better way. I don’t get that conviction without making a mistake.

Leader, are you refusing to make a mistake? Are you trying so desperately to be an error-free leader? I’m not sure that’s even possible, but don’t deny yourself, your team, or the vision you’re trying to attain the privilege of a few good mistakes.

Now let me be clear. This is not a post that diminishes our need to strive for excellence. Quite the contrary. We need to be learning and growing from our mistakes and we should never take a callous approach to them. As Christians, we should always strive to do our best — since we are to do everything “as unto the Lord”.

This is intended to be a freeing post — recognizing the reality that mistakes are a part of the process towards victory.

(And, if you find mistakes in this post — well — keep in mind, I’m just a leader — writing a lot of posts — always trying to get better.)

Dr. Martin Luther King Wasn’t Perfect — And That Should Be Encouraging

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Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.

And that should be encouraging to all of us.

I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.

Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.

And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a person — just like us.

If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.

Was he great? Of course.

Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.

Did he do great things? Without a doubt.

These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.

But, was Dr. King perfect?

I don’t think so.

I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.

We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.

In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.

We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.

We honor him because he was willingly to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.

Yet, sadly, his dream yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.

This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Your city.

Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.

Peace has not been achieved.

And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.

If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. That we could never attain greatness, because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.

In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.

So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe that such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.

But, that’s not true, is it?

Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.

Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”

Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.

That kind of living honors the legacy.

The fact is that all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones that honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.

There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.

But, there will never be another you either.

And, we need your dream.

We need your work.

We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.

So start honoring Dr. King!

Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!

Having a Gut-Honest Talk with Jesus

Jesus asleep

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Mark 4:38 NIV

I have been told that the stern is the strongest part of the boat. The Creator of the universe was asleep there.

The One who made the waters and was there when the waters were parted; who led Moses as Moses led the people through on dry ground — that same One had His head on a cushion — sleeping soundly.

The One who walked with three guys in the fiery furnace — in all of His current humanity — had decided He needed some rest.

The disciples, however, had apparently lost sight of the fact that, Jesus was not only human — not only needing rest — He was also God. Creator. Master.

The One who was asleep was never out of control. He was never without a plan. (It was His idea to get in the boat.)

I am reminded that I forget the same thing at times. I accuse Jesus of not caring. Of not being aware of my current situation.

No, I don’t say that — at least not very loud. I have too much respect for the Creator to do that. So, I just mumble it under my breath — or think it loudly — as if He who reads the heart doesn’t already know.

Have you ever felt like the disciples felt?

Have you ever wondered if Jesus cared?

Has the thought crossed your mind that Jesus might not even be aware of your current situation?

Have you thought, “Jesus, I see my problems, don’t you?”

Or maybe, if you are completely honest, have you ever felt something like, “Jesus, don’t you care?”

Wow!

Of course, our spiritual piety would never allow us to admit our weakness in this area fully. Could I as a pastor really admit that I doubted His love?

Could you?

Yet if I am honest, sometimes from my perspective, it appears that Jesus is nowhere to be found when I need Him most and I am left all alone to wallow in my sorrows.

Did I just say that?

I think the best thing we can possibly do in those situations is to be like the disciples and admit our frailty to God.

And, here’s the truth we may know but not always live.

When we get gut honest with Jesus about our insufficiency — is often when He is most willing to do what only He can do.

Do you need to have an honest talk with Jesus today?