5 Areas I Micromanaged in Church Revitalization

Sometimes we have to manage closely

Rural chapel

At least once a week a pastor contacts me about church revitalization. I always tell them I’m still learning, but we have seen God do some pretty amazing things in our church. In all measurable areas we have experienced explosive growth in an over 100 year old, extremely established church. Through this blog I’ve tried to share some of the things I’m learning.

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

And, I understand the question. It’s the question I continually ask other church leaders also.

One of the things I’ve learned is there are some things I have to micromanage – some things of which I need to retain control.

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

In church revitalization, I micromanaged a few things a bit closer than I normally would – especially in the first couple of years. We came with an expectation we were leading a church to survive it’s second hundred years. This is an not easy process. It’s not easy for a church to continue to thrive this long. How many vibrant 100 plus year old churches do you know? And, I knew this – not as well as I do now – before I entered this pastoral position.

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

Here are 5 things I micromanaged in church revitalization:

Who we added to our team.

This included even people I don’t directly supervise. Now, I didn’t always make the final call — I didn’t do all the interviewing — but I did part of recruiting, part of discerning and part of the decision process. And, I retained the right to approve or veto all the final decisions. This included nearly every position in with near 100 people on payroll.

Here’s the deal. We were shaping a culture. It’s one of change and adaptability. It’s one where everyone takes ownership. It’s one where people enjoy their work and pull together as a team. This requires a certain “fit” and staff culture. Who we added to the team would say a lot about who we would be as a staff and how well we would work together. I wanted to make sure everyone we added was on the same page with where we were trying to go.

(I continue to speak into this even four years later. We recently hired a key administrative person. I didn’t interview the person nor recruit them, but I did weigh in on the type person we were seeking and signed off on the final decision.)

How we cast vision.

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

Where we placed our greatest energies.

Many times in revitalization efforts we can get distracted chasing after too many ideas. We were trying to grow again and often churches (and other organizations) will frantically move from one bad idea to another trying to find one that works. We needed some common goals and ideas and a limited focus. Again, this was especially true in the early days until we could gain trust with the people and gain buy-in for larger changes.

I knew one of my roles would be to say no to some new initiatives. We had to slow the pace of change in other areas, while fueling pace in other areas. We actually stopped some very large – some would say successful – events, because they took a lot of energy, but didn’t fulfill our key mission. (Our mission, by the way, is the advance of the Gospel.)

Organizational structure.

As an established church, we had over 100 years of structure. Bureaucracy and process we know well. We had rules for everything. Our employees were subjected to counter productive paperwork, for one example, which wasted time and zapped energy for momentum. (We even had a policy on folded chairs. True story.)

Over time, churches don’t stop to analyze what’s working and what isn’t. Typically we just add new layers of structure. Some of our structure, quite frankly, had become extremely burdensome and stood in the way of making progress. Some things we had on paper as “rules” we didn’t even follow. (I don’t like this either.) Some rules we follow were simply archaic. They didn’t work or weren’t necessary. They slowed us down filling out paperwork no one was even going to read. We had duplicated processes and systems.

I knew in the early days I would be a fresh set of eyes on our structure and would need to micromanage quickly before I “settled in” and became just another participant in the established process. (After we do something long enough it becomes habit and we can’t even see it needs to be changed.)

New expenditures.

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

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

So far, God has blessed the micromanagement!

Freedom Passes – The New Math of Leadership

Student studying math on the blackboard full of formulas

When I was in school I had a love-hate relationship with math.

I loved doing math – working to find an answer to a problem. In fact, I was pretty good at it. I even served on the math team for a while.

But I hated having to solve the problem with the teacher’s methods.

On tests I would do poorly if the teacher made us show our work. I could get the right answers, but I wanted to use my own methods. The years I was on the math team and did best were when I had teachers who allowed me the freedom to find answers my way.

I realize the teacher needed to make sure I wasn’t cheating and I knew how to think through a specified process, but I wanted to invent my own process.

I think there is a leadership principle here. I have seen it so many times. 

If you want to empower people – give them a freedom pass.

In fact, if your team is currently stalled – maybe you need to hand out some freedom passes.

What’s a freedom pass? It is giving your people the freedom to complete their assignments in the way which works best for them. 

Successful leaders understand organizational success involves letting people figure out their own way. If you want team members to be energized towards progress they must be empowered to develop their own strategies for attaining the goals and objectives.

You still hold team members accountable for progress, but you allow them freedom to choose the process of completion. In practical terms this could be the hours they choose to work, where they do their work, and often who they include on their individual team. 

When you allow people to script the “how” they are more motivated to complete the “what”. People need space to create. They need to have input into the process of completing the vision of the team or organization.

Give people a Freedom Pass. It’s the new math of leadership. 

7 Dangers of Leading in Isolation

run away

I sat with a new pastor not long ago trying to hold a church together long enough to help it build again. The previous pastor left town – after a series of bad decisions – some decisions the church is still finding out about each new day.

I am happy to help the new pastor acclimate, but my greater concern was for the pastor who flamed out too early. The one who didn’t finish well. The one who left a church in a state of disarray and struggling to recover. 

And, sadly, I see it all the time. This pastor suffered from the same temptation any pastor faces. His number one problem in my opinion – he was leading in isolation.
He had no one on the inside of his life who knew him well enough to know when something was wrong and could confront him when necessary.

Leading in isolation is displayed in numerous ways to the detriment of the church or organization.

There are so many clear dangers I see in leading in isolation.

Here are 7 dangers of leading in isolation:

Moral failure

Without accountability in place many people will make bad decisions, because no one appears to be looking. We are more susceptible to temptation when we are alone.

Burnout

We are made for community. There is an energy we gain from sharing life with other people. When the leader feels he or she is alone the likelihood of burning out, emotional stress and even depression increases.

Leadership Vacuum

The leader is clueless to the real problems in the organization and is fooled into believing everything (including the leader) is wonderful.

Control Freak

The leader panics when others question him or her. He or she tries to control every decision. They don’t want to be found out for not knowing all the answers.

Limits other people

The leader in isolation fails to communicate, invest, and release, which keeps other leaders from developing on the team. And, therefore, the organization isn’t prepared when the leader does exit. 

Limits leader

The isolated leader never reaches his or her full potential as a leader, because they shut out influences, which would actually help them grow.

Limits the organization

In the end, the leader who leads in isolation keeps the organization from being all it can be. The leader sets the bar of how far an organization can go. If the leader is in isolation the organization will stifle.

Leader, are you living in isolation? Be honest.

Do you need to get out of the protective shell you’ve made for yourself?

The health and future success of your organization depends on it.

(I realize many pastors of smaller churches feel they have no option, but to lead in isolation. You feel you have no one you can truly trust in your church and you have isolated yourself, for various reasons, from others in the community. As hard as it may seem, and as great as the risk may appear, you must find a few people to share your struggles with to avoid these dangers.)

My 7 Part Strategy for a New Leadership Position

Man with disorderly business plan on wall.

Whenever I enter a new position, I want to be strategic. The first couple years in my new position were challenging and fun at the same time. I met so many wonderful people, but there were more opportunities than time it seemed.

It has proven to be a great ministry assignment. I thank God for the opportunity.

Since beginning, I have been asked repeatedly what my strategy was for the opening days. If you know me at all, you know I’m pretty strategic.

Here were 7 elements of my strategy for the beginning days:

Got to know key leaders

I tried to get to know the staff and key influencers in the church. I believe God uses the influence of others to build His church, so I wanted to know who I would be working with in the days to come. Think of it this way – if Moses was implementing the “Jethro method”, his primary energy would need to be communicating and investing in those leaders he enlisted to lead others. I used this approach. If I hoped to make any substantial changes I knew I would need these influencers support.

Let people get to know me

For an introvert it was exhausting, but I was very visible in the early days. In fact, in my ministry I’m usually always very accessible, just as I am online. I have written before (HERE) I may not always be available but I can always be accessible. I wanted people to feel comfortable with me and trust my leadership, so I think they needed to see me frequently – even more so in the beginning days of my pastorate.

Set my initial vision

People wanted to know where I was going with my leadership. I set an initial 7 part vision for the people. I really wanted 3 or 4 initial initiatives, but I landed on 7 – because all these seemed important. They were all things I was passionate about implementing. Some got started faster than others – we are really just seeing a couple of them come to fruition – but the church seemed anxious to get behind all of them. And, just to be clear, I didn’t lead all of these initiatives, but I was the chief vision-caster for them.

Identified quick wins

I looked for some things I could immediately impact and change for good. These were things I believed everyone could agree with, didn’t require a lot of resources or long debates. There were a few minor paperwork nuisances which impacted staff morale I changed immediately, for example. I invested energy in some areas of ministry which never received a lot of attention, but motivated people. I re-energized some areas the church had previously been excited about, but weren’t seeing much excitement about currently.

Did the unexpected

It seemed like such a small deal, but I roamed the balcony on Sunday mornings. It took a little more time, but it proved to be a big deal. I talked to the person who would be changing my slides on the screen prior to the service. This was a surprise to them. They said it had never happened before, but it proved to be a big deal. I roamed the halls of the offices during the day, walking into people’s offices, and allowing drop-ins to my office when I was available. All unexpected, but it brought very positive feedback.

Paced myself

I realized I’m only one person and although everyone wanted some of my time and there were more ideas than we could ever accomplish, I knew I would burnout if I didn’t pace myself. This meant I said no to some things – really many things. It wasn’t easy to say no to such eager people, for me or them, but I knew it would prove best in the end if I was able to last for the long run.

Moved slowly on the biggies

Being honest, there were some big items I knew I’d like to change immediately. I had enough prior experience, however, to know some changes are too big to launch quickly. I could have. I was in a honeymoon period. I could probably have “gotten away with them”, but the people didn’t really know me yet. I might have won a battle, but I would have lost the war. (To be clear, there wasn’t a battle – just using a cliche.)

Ever been the new leader or the new pastor? What advice do you have for me?

5 Questions to Ask When Facing Rejection as a Leader

Rejected

When I started an insurance business from scratch, I made hundreds of cold calls. Lots of people told me no. I’ll be honest, I hated this part of starting the business, but in time I got accustomed to rejection. It still hurt sometimes, but I learned it was a natural part of successful selling. I couldn’t get to a yes (which paid the bills) without a lot of no’s. 

Life is this way also. People aren’t always going to buy-in to what you’re selling or presenting. This is never more true than as a leader. No one is going to love every idea you present. 

Leaders lead to somewhere they are hoping will be better than today. But, this in lives change – and there is always tension with change. Always.

And, for the leader – part of their success may be their tenacity through rejection.

The fact is no one likes rejection.

Your proposal. Your product. Your presentation.

You love it. You believe in it. You want it to go forward. How could anyone reject what you’ve put your heart into?

It’s difficult not to make rejection personal, but it should be understood rejection isn’t always against you. Many times – maybe even most times – people reject because of their own level of comfort or acceptance of whatever they are rejecting.

When my ideas are being rejected, I like to ask myself some questions.

Here are 5 questions to ask when facing rejection:

Is the rejection based on truth?

Many times rejection has no basis of truth. People may reject because of their own misunderstandings or their unwillingness to accept something new. If you are selling a product, they may not want what you have to sell. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a poor product, it simply doesn’t match their needs. 

And, then, there are rejections based on truth. The idea you are proposing is not good – or it has some flaws. You need to hear this rejection – discernment is a huge part of leadership. Be willing to listen and learn. If you will allow it, their rejection may actually make your idea better.

Is the rejection about you or your presentation?

If it’s personal rejection then it’s a bigger issue, but if it’s rejection of something you only represent then it should be viewed differently – not taken personally. You’re simply a messenger. This goes for a product you sell or a Gospel you tell. If someone rejects the Gospel they aren’t rejecting you as much as they are God. Let Him deal with rejection. 

If rejection is about you may need to ask yourself bigger questions, such as: Am I too pushy? Do I have a caring approach? Do others genuinely think I care for them? How can I communicate the importance of whatever I’m proposing, without devaluing them or their opinions?  (You may need to get coaching and insight from others if your ideas are constantly rejected because of your approach.) 

Am I the wrong person to present the idea?

Sometimes rejection comes because you’re not an opinion which matters to them. This may sound harsh, but you weren’t called to minister to or lead everyone. A mentor once told me to find my affirmation among the people God sent me to minister to. Great advice. As a church planter, I would have many ideas (ideas dealing with methods, not theology) which were easily rejected by people in established churches. But, they weren’t to whom God had called me to minister. Why should I be bothered by their rejection? 

I’ve learned I’m not always the one to propose something to an audience. I’ve had ideas, for example, which I believe could make our community better. I’ve learned those ideas are often more easily accepted when I can get some seasoned business or community leaders excited about them first. Their opinion often matters more than a pastor who has only been in town a few years. The same is true in the church. Some ideas come better from a volunteer than a paid staff member. 

Is the rejection permanent?

Sometimes people say no – even many times – before they say yes. They have to warm up to the idea. They need to process it in a healthy way. I’ve found these people often become the best supporters, because they have wrestled through their objections first. 

Persistence often makes the difference with great salespeople – and some of the best leaders. No one likes a pest or someone who can only see their ideas as valuable, but don’t be quick to dismiss an opportunity after initial rejection. It may prove to be the best idea ever if you wait. Timing is often everything. 

Is the rejection based on a part or a whole?

This can be huge. Did the rejection have more to do with the overall idea or just some aspect of the idea? This is where you have to learn to ask good questions, know your audience, and be willing to compromise on minor issues and collaborate on major issues. This is where good leadership is necessary. You may have to educate people on what they don’t understand. You may have to allow input to make the idea stronger and more acceptable. If it doesn’t impact your overall goal or mission, be willing to listen, learn and make the final result even better. 

Rejection doesn’t have to mean the end. Instead, it could only be an obstacle and be used to improve things in the end. The best destinations are met with many roadblocks. Standing firm through the rejections are a part of good leadership. 

5 Times Change is Hardest to Lead

20130619-214609.jpg

Change is hard – almost always. Sometimes change is harder than other times. And, it’s then where leadership is tested most, tensions mount and people are more likely to object.

In my experience, if a leader knows these times it helps prepare to approach the change.

Change is necessary. While change may produce conflict, without change there will also be conflict. When people sit still – when growth stalls – people complain. Therefore, since change is necessary and inevitable, understanding these scenarios before we attempt change may help us lead change better.

Here are 5 times I’ve discovered that change is hardest to accept and implement:

When there hasn’t been change in a very long time.

Change becomes more comfortable when it occurs regularly. When nothing has changed for a period of time, people feel even more uncomfortable and are likely to resist more. Leaders in this scenario should make smaller changes to get small wins to hopefully spur hunger for more change – or at least stretch the comfort level for change again. Ease into it.

When there isn’t a culture of change.

Sometimes people are conditioned against change. Imagine a work environment where everyone wears the same colored pants and shirt every day. Black pants and white shirt uniforms. Remember IBM? I was raised to believe they had “uniforms” of black suits and white shirts. Apparently, they never had a policy of a strict dress code. It just sprang up as culture. Changing the IBM culture took years. When the culture is sameness, leaders often have to address culture before they address change.

When the vision for change isn’t abundantly clear.

This doesn’t mean people will always agree with the change even if it is clear. Some people never agree with change – any change. But, when there doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason for the change, opposition is more likely to occur. Good leaders help people understand the why behind the change as much as possible. It would be better to over communicate than under communicate.

When there isn’t an obvious or capable person to cast the vision and lead the change.

People follow leaders they trust. It is vital when implementing change that a leader be in place who can carry the charge for the change. In cases where there is not a clear person to own the vision of change, I usually back away from the change until the leader is in place.

When the risk seems bigger than the return.

By definition, faith moves us into the unknown. When we can’t discern the return on the risk we are more likely to object. While this needs to be understood, it should also be understood that anything of value requires risk. Obedience to God requires faith. Every time. So the greatest things we can achieve in life will almost always appear to have bigger risk than the return we can see in the beginning. Good leaders challenge people beyond their level of comfort. Leadership is the tension between the comfort of where we are and the potential of where we could be.

Again, none of these are reasons not to change, but understanding these can certainly help us better navigate through change.

What other reasons have you noticed that make change especially difficult?

7 Criteria to be a Good Change Agent Leader

image

In my observation, many leaders want change and know they need to lead for change, but they haven’t been able to actually produce change.

I think there are reasons for this.

The process of change isn’t easy. And, it doesn’t happen overnight. Some leaders move too fast. Others move too slow. Plus, not every church, business or non-profit will tolerate change – or at least to the level prescribed by a leader. The leader needs to know when to push and when to leave things alone for a while.

It’s a delicate process leading change. And, the simple fact is, some leaders simply don’t know how to introduce healthy change. (This is not intended as a slam. It’s a reality statement.)

I believe change is necessary for growth. I don’t think everything has to change. Some things never should. But, change, even the hardest kind of change, has to occur if progress towards worthy visions is going to continue to occur.

This post is sort of a gut check for those who want to lead change – attempting to reconcile some of the criteria to be a good change agent leader.

Please understand, I’m not an expert, nor am I claiming to be. I have led lots of change – some successfully and some not so much – but, I’ve worked with dozens of leaders in leading change. And, I’ve there are some characteristics which work better than others.

7 criteria to be a good change agent leader:

A willingness to fail.

Not all change will work. You can strategize and plan, but change at some level involves the risk it may not work. Good change agent leaders know this in advance and are willing to accept the challenge – and not defeated if it doesn’t. They try again in another way.

Able to withstand strong criticism.

Change invites pushback. Change changes things. (That’s deep, isn’t it?) Change is uncomfortable and people will tell you the degree of discomfort they are feeling. Sometimes in passionate – even mean ways. If they don’t tell you they will – with passive aggression – tell others who will eventually tell you. You’ll feel unpopular at times. Rumors may spread about you. Good change agent leaders keep the vision ever before them and are motivated more towards the accomplishment of it than making sure everyone is pleased with them personally.

Constantly evaluate and are willing to adjust their plans accordingly.

You can’t be a good change agent and equally be a control freak. You are leading people through sometimes muddy waters. You’ll need to solicit buy-in from others. You will need to collaborate. You’ll need to process the success rate of the change and recalibrate as needed. You’ll have to delegate – and this means release the right to determine the exact way something is done. Progress towards the goal must be more important than the exact actions taken towards achievement of them.

Must outlast the opponents of change.

When the naysayers show up good change agents are willing to stand strong for that which they believe is worth fighting. It will likely take longer than you hoped it would. At times you’ll feel like quitting, but good change agent leaders stand the test of time.

Think bigger than today.

Change is always going somewhere new. Always. So change agent leaders have to be able to think about the options which aren’t currently on the table. You’ve got to think beyond now and even beyond the most immediate future. You have to look for what others can’t see, choose not to or are afraid to see (or admit).

Must challenge status quo.

This the kicker, isn’t it? Change agent leaders have to go against the way things are being done and the way things have always been done. We are talking about change. Get it? Change. This means something is changing. (Oh, such a deep post.) You have to move people from the center on which they’ve grounded themselves. This is never comfortable. But, good change agent leaders are willing the challenge what has become standard or traditional in people’s minds.

Need to work within a DNA conducive to change.

Here’s another kicker – and this one has more to do with the organization or people receiving the change than the leader implementing change. Every church and every organization in which you are called to bring change isn’t wired for change. The fact is some of those said churches and organizations are going to die – they’ll stall – perhaps for long periods, but they’ll eventually just fade away. And, nothing you can say or do will encourage otherwise. In the end, you can’t lead people where they don’t want to go. The sooner you can learn this fact the quicker you can try to be a good change agent where change may actually occur.

Well, those are some hard realizations. I’ve studied and observed them by working with dozens of churches, businesses and non-profits and in the organizations and churches in which I have led. And, most of all, I’ve seen them true in my personal journey as a leader.

I should note, I believe we can grow in leaders in these characteristics. Of course, the last one we can’t do a lot about – but, even there, I’ve learned some places where others have said change couldn’t or wouldn’t occur haven’t always proven to be true. Sometimes the answer to making better changes is simply we must become better leaders. 

What have you seen as necessary criteria to be a good change agent?

One of My Most Repeated Principles of Leadership – and Life – Which Can Make Your Life Better

I don't know

How’s this for a title? One principal for a better life? Really?

Yea! Really.

And, it is a very simple principle – one every leader knows, but one we often forget. But, understanding this principle can dramatically improve every relationship in your life – and, if you’re a leader, it will improve your leadership – every time. Guaranteed!

Wow! Another emphatic statement! But, it’s true.

Learn this principle and place it into practice and see what I mean. Our staff hears this consistently because it’s so true.  

Here’s the principle:

Are you ready?

Write this down:

People only know what they know.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s big.

It’s not just big – it’s

HUGE

Of course, it takes practice to learn and let a principle this important work in your life, but the reward is worth it.

Let me give some examples:

If an employee isn’t meeting your expectations – tell them. Do it with love. Do it gracefully. Share it in a way which attempts to build them up rather than tear them down, but they may think you’re completely pleased if you’ve not said anything.

People only know what they know.

If your spouse is continually hurting your feelings – be kind, be loving, be graceful, forgiving, and helpful, but let it be known. Communicate your feelings. Chances are they are not doing whatever “it” is on purpose, but out of ignorance. They don’t know.

People only know what they know.

If a child says the wrong thing at the wrong time – Be affirming. Make sure they know you love them first. Assure them you’re in their corner and “for them” either way, but teach them from the experience you have had in life. Likely, someone had to teach you.

People only know what they know.

If a boss seems completely out of touch with reality – guess what? He or she may be. They probably need others to speak into their life. Be respectful. Be kind. Be genuine. Don’t share with others until you’ve shared with them, but share what’s on your heart with love.

People only know what they know.

If a new believer doesn’t quite measure up to the standard you’ve set for a believer. Don’t bash them or judge them or make them feel more guilty than they possibly do. Love them. Disciple them. Help them understand the way Christ would act. It may be they don’t hold or even know the standard Christ set.

People only know what they know.

Insert your own scenario, but before you get upset with someone – before you lose your patience – before you hold it against them – before you give up on a relationship – remember:

People only know what they know.

When people don’t know – and we assume they do – it leads to frustration, anger and disappointment. Communication is key to healthy relationships. 

How could implementing this principle change some relationships in your life?

10 Things You Can Do Today to Improve as a Leader

10

Most leaders want to improve. I hear from leaders weekly who want to get better in their role. They want to improve so the organization they lead can improve.

As much as leaders desire improvement, many leaders wonder where they should go to grow.

Here are 10 things you can do today to improve as leader:

Read the Bible

I know you’d expect this from a pastor, but seriously, this is not a clever attempt to get you to read your Bible. (Although, you should, you know.) The Bible is a tremendous resource for leadership development. Jesus is the Master Leader. And there are plenty of other examples of men and women who, unlike Jesus, were sinful people like you and me. Of course, for me it’s THE source of my foundation, but even if you aren’t a follower of Christ you can learn from the leaders in Scripture. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the flaws within every leader either, so you can learn from people who recover from failure.

Read a leadership book

There are many good leadership books to choose from, but if you aren’t sure where to start, choose a John Maxwell book. Or a Patrick Leoncini book. Or a Chip and Dan Heath book. Any of them. Safe choice every time. You might read THIS POST for some specific books I recommend. I wrote this post several years ago and there are many I would add to the list now. The key is to read. Leaders are readers. One frequent question I ask successful leaders is, “what are you currently reading?” It just takes one fresh idea to launch you into something golden.

Find a mentor

The best mentors in my life have been people I admire whom I have invited to speak into my life. This has included pastors, business leaders and politicians. I look for character first and then competency in an area in which I want to grow personally. (And, yes, there are politicians who qualify.)

Go to lunch with fellow leaders

I usually have 2 or 3 different groups of leaders I meet with periodically. These are peers. They are at similar places in their career of leadership. Some pastors. Some not. We learn from each other. And, often I have to be the one to take the initiative first. I’m game for it, because I know the value.

Join a civic club

I am not in one, but have attended and spoken to them many times. It’s a great option to put you with other leaders in the community. I have, however, always been active in the community. Most communities have formal leadership programs, often through the chamber of commerce. Ask around. There are leadership principles nearby if we are intentional to seek them.

Ask for input from those you lead

I promise the people you are trying to lead have suggestions. They won’t often share them unless they are given permission. You have to be bold – and humble – enough to ask.

Analyze current conditions

Few leaders stop to see where they are currently. What’s working? What’s not? What needs tweaking? What needs killing? The best leaders don’t have all the answers, but they have great questions. You usually won’t know the answer to the question you don’t ask.

Reflect on past mistakes

The best teacher is experience. Most likely you’ve had situations in the past God can use to prepare you for what you are currently facing. Or you’ve watched others make mistakes. Take time to reflect and learn. I keep a record of mistakes I’ve made. I blog about many of them.

Write some goals

It amazes me when I hear leaders who don’t have written goals and objectives they are currently trying to achieve. Writing something puts it in your schema. You are more likely to have the goals at the front of your mind. When this happens you’ll be a walking sponge of new ideas to accomplish them. You will learn as you go because you are living with your current objectives closer to your mind. I keep an Evernote file so as ideas hit me I can quickly record them.

Subscribe to a few leadership blogs

People are talking leadership these days. Have you noticed? Participate. Listen. Contribute to the discussion. You’ll learn along the way.

Growing as a leader isn’t difficult. It does require an intentional effort on your part.

What are some ideas you have to improve as a leader…today?

5 Criteria for Making New Year’s Resolutions We Actually Keep

Clipboard with Checklist

I love a fresh start.

Perhaps it’s because grace is the doctrine I’ve needed so much, but there’s something about a clean slate, which motivates me towards achievement.

I’m like this with my desk at the office. I create stacks. Magazines to be read. Notes to be written. Lists to be completed. Bulletins from other churches. (I am always looking for better ideas.) Stacks, stacks, and more stacks. When the stacks are at capacity – I call it organized chaos.

But, then one day I’ve had enough of the stacks and I go on a cleaning spree. I sort. I file. I trash until the top of my desk shows far more wood than paper. Ahhh… Finally, I’m inspired to work again.

I love a fresh start.

I think this may be why I’m one of the people who appreciates New Year’s resolutions. It’s like a line on the calendar, which screams to me: FRESH START!

But, as much as I appreciate the value in them – beginning new things, stretching myself, making my life better – I’m like everyone else. I find it easier to make resolutions than to keep them.

How do we make resolutions we will actually keep? Because they aren’t going to improve anything if you don’t follow through and they probably just make you more frustrated than before you made them.

Well, first, write them down. This is huge. I’ve heard people say you are twice as likely to keep a written resolution than one you simply state in your mind.

And, then, here are some suggestions for the type of resolutions which seem to work.

My 5 criteria for making resolutions I actually keep:

Reasonable – Another word might be attainable. The resolution must make sense for you to actually be able to do this year. Saying you want to read 50 books in a year – because you heard someone else does it – and, yet you didn’t read any this past year is probably going to be a stretch. You might be able to do it, but it likely isn’t a reasonable goal. Don’t be afraid of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). The key is you’re trying to achieve something, which makes your life better. If you’re successful this year you can set a higher goal next year.

Measurable – To be successful in keeping a resolution you need some way to monitor success towards it – certainly a way to know when you’ve achieved it. If your resolution is simply to lose weight you won’t be as motivated as if you say you want to lose a pound a week. You can track that goal and see your progress. Obviously it will still require discipline, but there is something about a measurable goal which – for most of us – drives us to meet it.

Sustainable – This one doesn’t apply for every resolution, but does in many. Ultimately I have found I’m more motivated to reach goals, which change my life for the better over a longer period of time. It’s great to meet those milestone, once in a lifetime type of achievements – such as running a marathon, or writing a book. And, we should have those type goals in our life – and maybe a milestone resolution is reasonable for you this year. The problem I have seen is if we get off track on reaching them it’s easy to simply give up – maybe even write it off as an unreasonable goal. We feel defeated and so we quit making any resolutions. In making New Year’s resolutions, I find I’m more successful if it’s something which I possibly adopt as a new lifestyle. Some examples would be changing my eating habits, beginning to exercise more often, Bible-reading, journaling, etc – again reasonable and measurable – but something I will sustain beyond the New Year.

Accountable – This is key. Weight Watchers is a great example here of this principle. There is something about their system, which works, and part of it is the reporting portion – where you have to be accountable to others for your progress. If you don’t build in a system of accountability – whether it’s with other people or some visible reminder of your resolution and progress – it’s easy to give up when the New Year euphoria begins to fade.

Reward-able – And, this may be the most important and the least practiced. One secret to actually achieving your resolution may be to find the “carrot”, which will continually motivate you to stretch for the finish line. If losing weight is a goal it could be a new suit or dress when you reach a pre-determined number. If it’s running a marathon (and if this is a reasonable resolution for you this year) it could be you run the marathon in some destination city you can’t wait to visit. If it’s reading your Bible through in a year – promise yourself a new Bible at the end of the year. The reward should fit the degree of stretching and effort it took to accomplish the resolution, but this often serves as a good incentive to helping you reach your goals – especially during the times you are tempting to quit trying.

I hope this will help. It does for me. I have some daily disciplines in my life now, which started as New Year’s resolutions. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found resolutions can help me start the year with fresh goals, and the discipline towards achieving them helps me have more discipline in other areas of my life.

Here’s to a great New Year! God bless!