7 Ways to Fuel Creative Thoughts When You’re Stuck

Or When Your Brain Can Only Think Routine

Small light bulb glowing on wood background

I’m an idea guy. No on has ever accused me of not having an original thought. Most of the time the opposite is more accurate. The teams I lead usually fight overload with the number of ideas I produce. I have to discipline myself to “unthink” and give teams I lead permission to tell me when something is a bad idea.

But, even idea people have lulls in their creative process. We grow stagnant. Get bored. Need help spurring thought.

So, how do idea people get new and original ideas? How do you spur creativity when you’re stuck in routines or can’t seem to come up with anything new? 

Here are 7 things which often work for me:

Take a walk

I stop what I’m doing and go for a brisk walk. Several times throughout the day I take a hike. In fact, since I began using FitBit I set myself a goal to walk at least 250 steps every hour during normal work hours and 10,000 steps per day. I usually have nearly twice that number and I have only missed the minimum number two days in three years. Here’s the deal – the best ideas rarely come to me when I’m sitting at my desk – which, I never do anyway because I use a standup desk. (The added benefit to walking throughout the day is I better know my staff when I’m roaming the halls of the church.)

Whiteboard

Diagraming or drawing my thoughts makes me think. I have one wall in my office covered  with idea paint. If thoughts get stale – I start to play with dry erase markers. Literally. If I start writing or drawing always it leads to more ideas – every time. I also have several doodling apps on my iPad and a couple of mind-mapping apps. Mind Vector and Simple Mind are two I can recommend. (You don’t need both – I just get bored enough I switch back and forth.) 

Exercise

This isn’t just taking a walk. It’s sweating. I workout hard. Whenever I’m in a lull, exercise triggers my brain. Sometimes a mid afternoon sweat will make the last half of the day my most productive in thought. And, it’s good for my health. 

Hang out with highly creative types

Iron sharpens iron. Creatives sharpen creativity. I like to occasionally hang out with random thinking, highly creative types. I’m random, yet structured, so I have to pace my time with the over-the-top creatives, but they always trigger new ideas.

Change environments

Going somewhere I’ve never been always fuels me. A new city. A new park. A new restaurant. A new coffee shop. A different library. Change the space and you expand the pace (of thought).

Take a shower

Seriously, don’t the best ideas hit you when you’re in the shower with no good way to record them? Or, is this only me? I’ve been working on a message – get stuck – go take a long shower and I come back loaded with new thoughts. Try it. Who says you can’t take more than one shower a day? 

Play a game

This may seem so juvenile, and if it does, I’m sorry – though not really. You picked the wrong blog today, perhaps, but it often works for me. Before I tackle a writing project I’ll often first play a game of solitaire or a crossword puzzle on my iPad. If I’m really stuck I have found value in reaching into my playful self. I actually have toys in my office. I often challenge our staff in a game of putt putt through obstacles I have created. Playing brings out the kid in me – and the creative juices. 

These are a few which help me when I need to be more creative.

What triggers your creative process? 

8 Common Emotions of Change – and How to Deal with Them

Grumpy, pissed off, unhappy old man

I speak frequently to pastors and ministry leaders – and some business groups – about leading healthy change. Every time I mention one thing any leader attempting change needs to understand – the emotions of change.

You cannot lead successfully if you do not understand every change has an emotion. Plus, if you don’t emphathise with those emotions – and, I’m not trying to sound dramatic here – you are either being cruel or ignorant as a leader.

So, how do you deal with the emotions of change. Well, let me offer a few suggestions.

Here are 8 ways to react to common emotions of change:

Fear

Give information. People usually fear what they don’t know more than what they do. During seasons of change it’s important to increase the level of communication.

Grief

Allow time to adjust – even to heal. There’s been a loss. The biggest objection people have to change is usually the sense of loss, which fuels the emotion. You don’t get over this immediately. Obviously, if a person can never get over it you may have to move forward without them. But, make sure you don’t move without them because you stepped on their season of grief.

Enthusiasm

Temper celebration when change is still hurting some people. Don’t slap those opposed in the face immediately. Of course, never say “I told you so”. That screams arrogance. Celebrate yes, but do it with taste when feelings are involved.

Anger

Give it time to see if it calms. Extend forgiveness where necessary. Allow people to express their anger without retribution. Anger is usually the result of unmet expectations. Don’t agitate even further by not following through on commitments made. Some people can’t move forward once they’ve gotten angry. They don’t know to move forward. But allow time to see if it’s just an initial, reactionary outburst.

Confusion

During times of change attempt to be the king of clarity. Use various methods of communication. People hear things in different ways. Make sure everyone hears you or has an opportunity to it they are listening. (And some won’t)

Loneliness

To address this one you have to somehow replace the loneliness people feel with something they can enjoy even more. It will take time. Again, some won’t get there, but if the change is worthwhile, most people will eventual see some value in the change – especially as it relates to their personal values. Bottom line here: Make good changes.

Sadness

Recognize and acknowledge that some people will have a genuine lack of happiness about the change. That’s okay. Don’t force it. Don’t expect it. Give it time. Sometimes giving them new roles within the change gives them relief from the sadness. But the best response here is to be patient with people. Sadness doesn’t heal under pressure.

Numbness

Energize them with the vision. Let the vision drive their enthusiasm. That means you have to repeat the vision often. Sometimes daily. And you celebrate vision accomplishment more than anything else you celebrate.

Any ideas you would care to share?

3 Common Fears of Every Young Leader

Businessman showing thumbs up

I’m convinced. After years mentoring younger leaders, there is something all of us leaders with more experience need to know.

Every young leader shares some common fears.

Granted, I’ve mostly worked with young male leaders (and I am the parent of boys), but I suspect these fears aren’t gender exclusive.

And, they aren’t talked about much – or even admitted. The pressure to perform often keeps us from admitting fear, but these are real fears.

Here are 3 common fears of every young leader:

Am I good enough?

Do I have what it takes to do this job? Can I perform to expectations? Will people really even follow me?

I have a young pastor friend who actually looks younger than he is. Almost every week a person in his congregation will say something such as, “That was a pretty good message for a 20 year old.” He’s in his 30’s – and super sharp. It causes him to question, however, if these people are actually following his leadership – or even believe in him.

Am I performing to expectations?

Our biggest critic is usually ourselves. We second guess even our best work. Young leaders don’t have a track record to know when they are doing well and when they are not. They only know what they know. I feel many young leaders are always looking over their shoulder wondering if other people approve of them and their leadership.

What happens if I fail?

Seriously, what will I do if mess this up? Will I ever be given another opportunity? Or, is this a one shot deal?

Common and legitimate fears.

Do you want to make a difference in the life of a young leader? Help them answer these questions – in the affirmative. Help them know they’ve got this, you believe in them, and you are in their corner.

Above all, help them believe in themselves. Help them discover their inner strength – their God-given grace – their God-given talent. Give them words of affirmation. Help them know, by God’s grace and His strength working through them, they can weather any storm and overcome any obstacle which may get in the way of being all God has called them to be.

Seasoned leaders, this is a great pursuit for us. It’s a great way to allow your experience to work for Kingdom good. Find a young leaders who needs to hear from you. Something tells me we can help build future leaders – and, in the process, leave a legacy.

5 Quandaries of Leading Creative People

And, a few thoughts which could help

ideas spinning

Leading creatives can be difficult. In fact, I love having creatives on the teams I lead, but, honestly, they can make leading much messier.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the top Google definition of a creative:relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creatives’ minds are always wandering. It makes leading a team meeting harder. They get bored easily. They are never completely satisfied with their work – and often with the work of others.

And, before you creatives get too defensive – just so you know…

I’m a creative.

I’m not an artsy creative. I don’t paint, do music, etc. And this always confused me and kept me from considering myself one.

But, I’m a dreamer. I have a vivid imagination.

I’ve never met a day I didn’t have a new idea. My mind wanders quickly — randomly — often.

Wait, what were we talking about?

Oh, yea, creatives.

But, when I began to understand these things about myself it helped me understand the minds of other creatives on our team.

And, the main reason I love creatives being on the team is they bring new ideas. They stretch others. They add energy. They challenge mediocrity.

One huge paradigm for me, however, was realizing the quandaries of being a creative. I think this is the word I’m trying to illustrate. A quandary — “a state of perplexity” — confusion.

It is in some of these quandaries which might makes us creatives more difficult to lead.

Consider what I mean – and see if this is familiar with you – or the creatives you lead.

Here are 5 quandaries of the creative:

1. We don’t like boundaries, rules, policies (and we may test them or rebel against them)  but we need them in order to be effective.

The fact is we need deadlines. We don’t like deadlines, or being held to them, but deadlines are usually the only way to keep us on task, so we actually crave someone to give them to us. We need to know what a win looks like. We need – dare I say it – structure. We don’t need needless rules – we need healthy rules which empower more than limit or control – but, we produce our best for organizations and teams under some restrictions.

2. Sometimes our minds wander in so many directions, with no clarity, that we can’t even catch a single thought, and nothing makes sense other times the idea is laser-focused, and we can’t write, paint, draw, or sketch it fast enough.

Which is why even within the deadlines we need freedom to decide how and when we do our work. Creative flow doesn’t always happen in cooperation with standard office hours.

3. We have lots of ideas – they are endless. Ideas come fast; really fast, too fast sometimes. As fast as they arrive they’re gone if we don’t record them quickly, but sometimes we can’t get them out of our head and onto the canvas, or put them into a format which helps you understand what we are even thinking.

Which is why having us on teams can be beneficial, especially when there is more than one creative on the team. We like to process our ideas – often out loud – with others. And, even when we don’t feel like it – we probably really should. It helps eliminate confusion later. Brainstorming can be loads of fun and beneficial with a room full of creatives. (We will need more structured people to help make sense of things.)

4. Nothing we observe is ever wasted, every new thing we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, can lead to another idea but it also means our mind is never still, and if we are forced still long enough, we become very bored.

Long meetings lose us. Long emails never get read. Details make our heads explode. Leading creatives really does necessitate creative methods of leading.

5. We are tremendously flexible in our imagination – in the things we can dream about or create, but we can often be dogmatic in protecting our original ideas, and inflexible when it comes to changing them.

It’s true. I admit it. We actually like change, but can resist on changing our “masterpiece”. Don’t be afraid though to challenge us to improve. It is often just the push we need to get to our best work.

Have you noticed these quandaries? Any others?

Do you see how we could be more difficult to lead?

These quandaries of creatives can actually produce the challenge in leadership – the quandary of leading creatives. Within each quandary is a decision I have to make as a leader — knowing when to place boxes around them and when to give them free reign, etc.

It can be difficult. A friend of mine said recently, “The most difficult person to lead is myself.” I agree. It’s sometimes a quandary.

But, it often begins with an understanding – of the quandary – and ultimately of the people we are attempting to lead.

4 Reasons People You Lead May Not Want to Learn or Grow

And, 5 Suggestions to Motivate Them

school bus

I’ve learned in leadership – you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn or grow personally.

Perhaps you’ve tried. I have. I see one of my jobs as a leader to help people grow – learn new ways to do things better, more efficiently, to improve as individuals – and ultimately, as a team. I’ve at times been worn out, however, trying to help some people develop. At times, it seems they want to keep doing things the same way – sometimes even keep making the same mistakes. They never seem to seek out – certainly not embrace – new or better principles to their life. 

This is not only in leadership. It’s true with all of life. There are seasons we aren’t very teachable.

I’ve discovered the reasons someone isn’t willing to develop individually may not always be the same. In fact, there may be several reasons.

Here are 4 reasons people you are trying to lead may not want to learn or grow:

They don’t think they need to learn anything.

This is the one which frustrates us the most, and it’s the one we accuse people of the most. It’s true, arrogance is common in leadership, but also among those who need to be led. Many leaders feel they are in a position because they are the only ones who could do the job. Everyone around them may know it’s not true, but they can’t see it. They don’t care to learn from others, because they aren’t willing to admit or see they have anything to learn. Sometimes those who still have much to learn are too proud to admit it.

They don’t know they need to learn anything.

It may sound similar, but this is a different reason. It isn’t arrogance which causes this one, but rather ignorance. We’ve all been there at times. Many times I’ve assumed I had the answers already. It wasn’t I wasn’t interested in learning more – I just didn’t know there was more to learn. I’ve said before, the older I get the more I realize I don’t know yet. Some of this comes with maturity and age. Some of it comes with experience. But, many times we don’t think we need to know anything new, because we don’t see enough missing holes in what we already know.

They don’t want to learn from you.

This is a hard one for leaders to accept, but it’s actually quite common. It could be a relational issue or a positional issue – it might simply be a personality clash, but for whatever reason, it keeps them from desiring to learn from you. I have especially seen this one when the leader was once a peer to a person they are now trying to lead. 

As a parent, there were seasons when my boys learned more from others than they did from me. I welcomed it and was appreciative of those who spoke into their life. This has been true also when someone was supposed to be leading me, but I knew more about a subject. It takes a very humble person to learn from those you’re supposed to be leading. I’ve had times when someone on my team hears the same thing at a conference I’d been saying for months. It sticks coming from someone new. Don’t be offended if they aren’t always listening to you, but make sure they are listening to someone.

They want to learn on their own

There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as they remain teachable. In fact, it should be encouraged at times. Some of the best lessons in life come from trying something and succeeding or failing. If they aren’t being arrogant, give them the freedom to explore independent of you. It will help you, them and the organization.

But, regardless of the reason – you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to be developed.

This is why the best leaders I know – the best teachers – maybe even the best parents – spend as much time motivating the learner as they do teaching them.

In the book “Switch”, authors Dan and Chip Heath call it “motivating the elephant”. Your job as a leader, if you desire people to want to learn from you, or even from others, is to motivate them to want to learn.

How do you do that?

Here are 5 suggestions f you want people to listen to you:

Value the person.

No one follows someone willingly who they don’t believe cares for them. Zig Ziglar’s famous line “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is true. Don’t expect people to want to learn from you until they know you have their best interest at stake and that you care for them personally – not simply what they can do for you or the organization.

Paint a great vision.

You have to give people something worth following. It needs to stretch them, while still being attainable by risk, faith and hard work. When they know there’s a glimmer of hope to the finish line, they’ll be more willing to learn what it takes to attain it.

Communicate it frequently.

Even the best vision fades over time. People get bored. Andy Stanley uses the phrase “vision leaks”. If you want to maintain your audience of followers, you have to keep reminding them why you are doing what you are doing.

Tell compelling stories.

People are motivated by example. They want to know that what they are doing makes a difference. People will be more likely to seek your input if they know you are leading them to something of value and importance.

Share in the reward.

People only feel valued when they get to celebrate the victory. If all the recognition goes to the leader, the follower feels taken advantage of to some degree. If you want people to keep listening – listen to them – share the credit. Celebrate often.

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.