10 Attributes of a Humble Leader

Closeup portrait, handsome, modest, young smiling man putting hands out, thank you for the compliment, but i'm not that good, isolated white background. Positive human emotion facial expression

Almost a decade ago I recruited a mentor. He was more than 20 years older than me, had been widely successful, and was extremely respected in our community. I admired his business success, his family life, and his standing in the community — but I didn’t ask him to mentor me in any of these areas.

I wanted him to mentor me because of the humility I observed in his life.

If you didn’t know he was successful — you would have never known it from him.

Humility is a desired, but often neglected characteristic of good, servant leadership. It seems in the day of platform-building and social media the more we promote ourselves online, the more the characteristic of humility is being forgotten and certainly is less celebrated. (As one who has an online presence, I consistently sense God reminding me that I’ve been on the bottom and I can return there.)

Pride is a struggle for many leaders (author included), but we must strive to bring humility to our leadership roles.

What is humility in leadership? What are some characteristics of a humble leader?

Of course, the real example of humility is Jesus. And, as I already knew, He was the mentor of my earthly mentor. Spending time with this mentor I learned a few things I am still striving to live. I haven’t mastered them, but I have better targets. 

Here are 10 attributes of a humble leader:

Dangerous Trust

Humility always demands a certain level of trust. Obviously, for a believer, it begins with a trust in God. But, a humble leader is willing to take a risk on others also, trusting them with the sacredness of the vision, even at the chance they may be disappointed with the outcome.

Sincere investment

Humble leaders know the vision is bigger and will last longer than they will. Wow! That’s a hard reality, isn’t it? But, knowing this humble leaders willingly invest in others, raising up and maturing new leaders.

Gentle, but strong

One can’t be a leader and be weak. The two — weakness and leadership — don’t go together. Every position of leadership will provide a challenge to the leader, but humble leaders have learned the balance between being gentle and remaining strong. (Think Jesus!)

Readily admits mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, we often learn more through failure than through success. The humble leader is quick to admit when he or she has done wrong and deals with the fault-out without casting blame or making excuses. And, they seek forgiveness when the mistakes they make impact others.

Forgives easily

Leadership is filled with disappointment; often at the expense of other’s mistakes. A humble leader forgives easily, remembering how many times he or she has been forgiven.

Quickly diverts attention

We all like to be recognized for accomplishments, but a humble leader is quick to divert attention to others, sharing the limelight for successes with those, who many times, may have even had more to do with the success than the leader did. They celebrate the success of others louder than personal success

Remains thankful

A humble leader is appreciative of the input of others into his or her leadership. So much so, that a humble leader naturally praises the actions of others far more than the time spent patting themselves on the back for personal accomplishments. Humble leaders recognize that all good gifts come from above.

Recognizes limitations

No one can do everything. A humble has the ability to say, “I can’t do that or I’m not the one who should“.

Shares authority

Humble leaders don’t take all the key assignments for themselves, but gives out prime responsibility and authority to people he or she is leading.

Invites feedback

A humble leader wants to learn from his or her mistakes and wants to continually see improvement. Humble leaders initiate other’s suggestions and feedback, not waiting until complaints come, but personally asking for the input.

Humility is not putting yourself down as a leader. It’s ultimately recognizing who you are in view of Christ and others. The danger in not being a humble leader or considering ourselves better than others, is that one day we may be “humbled”. Many of us learn humility the hard way.

What would you add to my list?

5 Secret Traits to Make a Better Leader

Young woman telling a secret to a man

When I became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility which stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, now a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

What in the world does a senior in high school have to add to the field of leadership?

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

(Recognizing a need is one key to being an effective leader — but I still had no clue how to accomplish this.)

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter as a new leader.

(Every new leader needs someone who believes in them, mentors them, and helps them get back up when they fall.)

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few “secrets”, which helped me as student body president. I carried them with me as I entered the business world and later as I led my own businesses. I used them in an elected office. 

Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

(Good leaders learn good principles and build upon them, contextualizing them for each leadership position.)

The principles started with the investment of my principal in me.  

Here are 5 secret traits to make you a better leader:

Let go of power

The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST as a test to see if you’re an empowering leader.)

Give up control

You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned that secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Don’t always know the answer

If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. If you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered, you’ll be dismissed as a respected leader, and you’ll close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new…many times from the people they lead.

“Waste time” is not wasted

Great leaders have learned that spending time that other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Spend time investing in people, in ways that may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bounce off attention 

The more you deflect attention from yourself to others, the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

Those are some of my secrets. Thanks Principal Huggins! And, life for continually showing me these are true.

What secret traits have you learned that make one a better leader?

7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath – A Challenge For My Pastor Friends

Man using a tablet computer while relaxing in a hammock

This is a hard word for some pastors, but after a recent post I was asked about how I protect my Sabbath. That’s a great question, because many pastors struggle in this area. In fact, many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout, in my opinion.

Protecting my Sabbath has proven to be crucial in protecting my ministry.

I observe my Sabbath day on Saturday most weeks. It’s my day with Cheryl. It’s not a day where I do nothing. That’s not how I rest. It’s a day where I do what I want to do. On my Sabbath, I don’t work. I play. I rest. I recharge. I clear my head and prepare for the week ahead.

Here are 7 ways I protect my Sabbath:

Recognize the value – I have to realize there is a reason to observe a Sabbath. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing. :) If I value it enough, I’ll make it a priority. The value of a Sabbath is not only for myself, but it aligns me with God’s design for mankind. “On the 7th day He rested”. Have you read that somewhere? We were created with a need for the Sabbath. That makes it valuable.

Make it a priority – Not only do I value the importance, but I make it a priority in my week. As important as any other day, my Sabbath is a must do part of my week. A Sabbath is good for the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. That’s worth prioritizing.

Place it on the calendar – The Sabbath needs to be planned in advance. If you think it’s going to happen when you “catch up”, you’ll never take a Sabbath. Depending on the size of your staff or the demands of your church, your day may not be the same as mine, but you choose a day that works best and calendar it regularly.

Trust others – One of the leading reasons I hear for pastors not taking a day off is that they don’t have anyone who can handle their responsibilities. This is especially true in churches where the pastor is the only staff member. Regardless of staff size, pastors need to surround themselves with some healthy people and take a risk on them. I delegate well so that when I’m gone I know things will continue to operate efficiently. Ultimately, however, when I honor my Sabbath I’m demonstrating that I trust God. After all, the plan was His idea.

Discipline myself – I just do it. I make myself take a day off. (You should consider this discipline!) Now, here’s the hard part of that. In addition to saying “Yes” to yourself, you have to discipline yourself to say “No” to others. Without a doubt, if you try to protect a day there will be multiple invitations, seemingly good opportunities, and non-emergency interruptions. It will happen. You’ll have to continually help others (and yourself) understand the value in this discipline. It’s part of being a healthy pastor. And, I assume, most churches want that. Frankly some will never understand the value in your Sabbath (even if they see the value for themselves), but they will also be the first one to complain if you aren’t performing at your best in other areas of your ministry.

Prepare for it – I have to work hard prior to a Sabbath so I can comfortably take it without reservation. That means I handle any details I can in advance. Whether a pastor works five or six days a week, (I personally work 6) it is important to work hard and smart enough where there is no guilt in taking your deserved and commanded sabbath. Not trying to be cruel here, but if you are not finding time to take a Sabbath, it could be a planning and organizational problem as much as it is a demand of your time problem.

Learn to enjoy -Some pastors, like me, are not wired for a Sabbath. I realize some people have no problem taking a day off, but I honestly would work seven days straight if no one stopped me. There’s always plenty to do. I’ve learned, however, that I function better the other 6 days if I have one day that I’m not working. It’s been a challenge to maintain it, but I now truly look forward to the rest. It’s proven to be as important for my wife as it is for me and when she’s happy, I’m happy.

Now, please understand, there are no perfect plans. This works most of the time for me, but not all of the time. There are, of course, exceptions, interruptions, and Kingdom opportunities, which cause me to not be able to protect every Sabbath day. (Jesus had those too.) As much as is possible, however, I stick with this plan, and when it is interrupted, especially if it happens several weeks in a row, I will make up the time with some extra time away. I try to get my downtime back at some point. It’s that important to me now.

Pastor, are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest.

The strength and success of your ministry may depend on it.

Pastor, what tips do you have for helping some of my burned out pastor friends maintain a weekly Sabbath?

Bonus question: Pastor, do you have a plan for extended time a way…a Sabbatical of some form? Could you share what you do in this area to help the rest of us?

10 Disciplines I’d Recommend Everyone Start in Their Twenties

Closeup of mature man´s hand giving a book to his son,conceptual image, over white background

This is one of those posts I hope someone learns something from which can help them in life.

Okay, I hope that for all of my posts — otherwise why am I writing. But, I see this one as a life-giving post for those who will read it and take some of it to heart. Specifically, my target is those who are in their 20’s, who are starting out in their adult life and career. As I’m writing, I’m thinking of my own two sons in that demographic, the young people who work on our team, and the hundreds of college students and young adults in our church. Those who come to mind are driving my desire to invest something in you who will read this.

I’m 51, which is certainly not old — although it may have seemed like it was when I was younger — but it is old enough to have learned a few things. Like things I wish I had done when I was younger. And, some things I’m glad I did.

I have learned the only way to really sustain something in your life is through self-discipline. No one is going to force you to do some of the most important things you need to do.

If I were in my 20’s again, there are some disciplines I would make sure I incorporated into my life. I would practice them enough that they would be natural for me today.

Here are 10 disciplines I would recommend everyone start in their 20’s:

Saving. It’s easier to start setting aside money before you start spending it. Setting a budget and living by it makes so much sense to me now. It didn’t in my twenties. I wanted all the disposable income I could make. But, I didn’t spend it wisely and now I have to make up for lost time saving for my future.

Exercising. I exercise everyday. Now in my 50’s I recognize more than ever my need for regular physical activity, but some mornings the body doesn’t want to get going. Without it being intrinsic to who I am I’m not sure I would start now.

Journaling. I have journaled off and on throughout my life. It is so much fun to read my thoughts from 30 years ago and reflect on how much I’ve learned and things God has done in my life. Still, there are periods missing where for years I didn’t journal. Knowing the value in what I do have I wish this had been a more defined discipline.

Friending. Those deep, lasting friendships often start early. And take work. At this stage in life friendships have deeper meaning and importance to me. I need people who can speak into my life who know me well. I have those, but not necessarily among people I knew in my 20’s — who have a long history with me. I look on Facebook at friends from high school and college and I wish I had worked harder to keep those friendship strong. I miss them. At the time I thought they would last forever. They didn’t. They are still “friends”, but not at the level they once were. I’d make sure I surrounded myself with the right friends — and those may or may not be the people from your 20’s, but I’d build healthy, long-lasting friendships.

Identifying. Specifically here I’m referring to learning who you are — who God designed you to be — and then living out of that truth throughout your life. This is the discipline of faith. Figuring out what you believe about the eternal and why you believe it and then putting faith into practice is vitally important. It will be challenged so many times. The author of Ecclesiastes writes, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come.” Such wise advise. Knowing what you believe — nailing it down without reservation — will help you weather the storms of life which surely come to all of us. As a believer, knowing God’s approval of you will help you believe in yourself and your abilities and empower you to take the God-sized risks you may look back and regret if you don’t. This discipline also helps you develop the discipline of prayer — seeking wisdom from God. When you fully recognize the value of being “in the family of God” you are more likely to cry out regularly to “Abba Father”.

Giving. Just as saving is an easier discipline if you begin early so is giving. Whether it’s time or money I now realize the value there is to me in helping others. I have practiced this one throughout my adult life and it is one of the most rewarding parts of my life. I highly recommend starting this discipline early before the world and all its demands takes the ability from you.

Resting. Those in their 20’s now seem better at this one than my generation was but for those who need it — start resting now. Work hard. I think that’s a Biblical command and a good virtue. But, the older you get and the more responsibility that comes upon you the harder it is to find the time to rest. It needs to be a discipline.

Life-planning. Creating a discipline of stopping periodically to ask yourself huge questions will keep you heading in a direction you eventually want to land. Questions such as — Am I accomplishing all I want to do? If, not — why not? Where should I be investing my time? What do I need to stop doing — start doing — to get where I want to go? In what areas of my life do I need to improve? These can be life-altering questions. Ideally, we should ask them every year, but at least every few years this is a healthy discipline to build into your life — and the sooner the better.

Honoring. This discipline is honoring the past — learning from those who have gained wisdom through experience. When you’re young you can be guilty of thinking you know more than you really know. It’s not until you get to a certain age — certainly I’m there now — where you realize how much you don’t know. There is always something to be learned from another person’s experience you don’t have. This one seemed to come to me naturally, because I grew up most of my early life without a father in the home. I craved wisdom — especially from older men. But, I cannot imagine where I would be in life had I not developed the life-long discipline of wisdom-seeking early in my life.

Coaching. Pouring into others is a great discipline — and should begin early in life. In my 20’s I didn’t realize I had something to give others from what I had already learned. Imagine the impact of a 20-something person investing in a middle or high school student — maybe someone without both parents in the home. It wasn’t until I recruited one of my mentors in my mid-20’s and he said, “I’ll invest in you if you invest in others” that I began this discipline. I wish I had started even earlier.

It’s probably not too late for most who will read this to start most of these. Most of them, however, become more challenging the older you get.

Someone will wonder how I chose the order of these or if some are more important than others. There may even be push back because I started with one about money. I get that and it’s fair. Obviously, one on this list is MOST important. In my opinion, it would be “Identifying”. All else is an overflow of that one. But, had I started with it then the natural question is which one is number two, and number three, etc. Whichever one would have ended up number ten could seem less important. I think all of them are important, so I didn’t prioritize them.

Any you would add to my list?

10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader

clueless leader

A couple years ago there was a consistent problem in one of our areas of ministry. It was something which I would have quickly addressed, but no one brought it to my attention. Thankfully, I’ve learned the hard way that what I don’t know can often hurt my leadership or the church the most, so I’m good at asking questions and being observant. Through my normal pattern of discovery I encountered the problem, brought the right people together, we addressed the problem and moved forward.

End of story.

If only that was the end of the story every time. I’ve missed problems equally as much.

It reminds me — the leader is often the last to know when something is wrong. I have consistently told this to the teams I lead. You only know what you know.

And many times, because of the scope of responsibility of the leader, he or she isn’t privy to all the intricacies of the organization. Some people, simply because they would rather talk behind someone’s back than do the difficult thing of facing confrontation, tell others the problems they see before they share them with the leader. Without some systems of discovering problems the leader may be clueless there is even a problem.

Not knowing is never a good excuse to be unaware.

It’s not a contradiction in terms. I’m not trying to play with words. I’m trying to make an important leadership principle.

As a leader, you may not know all the facts — and you don’t need to know everything — will keep an organization very small and very controlled. I spend lots of energy on this blog denouncing that type leadership. But you should figure out how to be aware enough as a leader to discover the facts which you need to know.

Unaware leaders have some commonalities among them. (By the way, I’ve written this in a general sense for all organizations, but its equally true in the church context.)

Not certain if you are an aware leader?

Here are 10 symptoms of the unaware leader:

  • Not knowing the real health of a team or organization.
  • Clueless to what people are really saying.
  • Unsure of measurable items because they are never measured or monitored.
  • Not asking questions for fear of an unwanted answer.
  • Not dreaming into the future; becoming content with status quo.
  • Preferring not to know there was a problem than there is one.
  • Ignoring all criticism or dismissing all of it as negativity.
  • Not learning anything new, relying on same old ways to consistently work.
  • Making every decision without input from others.
  • Assuming everyone supports and loves your leadership.

Those are just some of the ways a leader remains unaware. There are possibly many others.

Some things the leader will never know. That’s okay.  There are issues within the life of an organization, however, that while the leader may not know readily, or even want to know, he or she should explore continually.

One of my rules of thumb in determining what I need to know and what I don’t. If it has the potential to impact the long-term health of the organization then I need to know about it. It could be a change we are about to make, a mistake we made, or just perceptions that people have within the organization. But, if I’m eventually going to hear about it anyway I want to hear about it as early in the process as possible.

Want to test your awareness?

Try this simple experiment. Send an email to a fairly sizable group of people you trust — key leaders, staff members, friends — people who know your organization fairly well. These could be from the inside or outside depending on the size of the organization. Make sure there are some people on the list who you know will be honest with you. In fact, tell them you want them to be. Tell them that you are trying to be more aware as a leader and need their help.

Pick some or all of these questions and ask people to respond to them:

What am I currently missing as a leader?
What do you see that I don’t see about our organization?
What should I be doing which I’m not doing — things if you were in my position you would be doing?
Do you think we are changing fast enough to keep up with the needs of the people we are serving?
What are people saying about me or our organization which I’m not hearing?
Would you say I am generally aware of the real problems in our organization?
Who on my team is keeping from me how they really feel?

If you really want to a challenge from this experiment, let them answer anonymously. You trust them, right? We set that in the parameters of who you asked to answer. Set up a Survey Monkey account and let them respond without having to add their name.

See what responses you receive.

Not ready to do that?

You could simply address the symptoms above and see how that improves your awareness as a leader. Whichever you choose.

What other symptoms are there of an unaware leader?

5 Traits of the Aware Leader

Mature man cupping hand behind ear

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize I don’t always fully know the real health of my team or organization at any given time — at least as much as others do.

Don’t misunderstand — I want to know, but often, because of my position, I’m shielded from some issues.

I’ve learned, right or wrong — agree or disagree — that some would rather complain behind a leader’s back than tell them how they really feel. Others assume the leader already knows the problem. Still others simply leave or remain quiet rather than complain — often in an attempt to avoid confrontation.

I’ve made the mistake of believing everything was great in an area of ministry or with a team member, when really it was mediocre at best, simply because I was not aware of the real problems in the organization.

It can be equally true that a leader doesn’t know all the potential of an organization. Some of the best ideas remain untapped for some of the same reasons. People are afraid of their ideas being rejected, so they don’t share them. They assume the leader has already thought of it or they simply never take the time to share with them.

If a leader wants to be fully “aware”, there are disciplines they must have in place. For example, as a leader, do you want to easily recognize the need for change and the proper timing to introduce it? That comes partly by being a more aware leader.

Here are 5 traits of the aware leader:

Asks questions

Aware leaders are consistently asking people questions and making intentional efforts to uncover people’s true feelings about the organization and their leadership. (Read a post of questions I wrote called 12 Great Leadership Questions HERE.)

Remain open to constructive criticism

Aware leaders make themselves vulnerable to other people. They welcome input, even when it comes as correction. They realize that although criticism never feels good at the time, if processed properly, it can make them a better leader. (You may want to read THIS POST and THIS POST about how to and not to respond to criticism.)

Never assumes everyone agrees

Aware leaders realize that disagreement and even healthy conflict can make the organization better. They expect differences of opinions on issues and they are willing to wrestle through them to find the best solution to accomplish the vision of the organization, even if that opinion belongs to someone other than the leader.

Never quits learning

Aware leaders are sponges for information. They read books, blogs, or they might listen to podcasts. They keep up with the current trends in their industry through periodicals and newsletters. They never cease to discover new ideas or ways of doing things.

Remains a wisdom-seeker

Aware leaders surround themselves with people further down the road from where they are in life. They most likely will use terms like mentor, coach or consultant. They are consistently seeking the input of other leaders who can speak into their situation, make them a better leader or person, and ultimately help the organization.

Great leaders are aware leaders.

Does that describe you as a leader or your leader?

What would you add to my list to describe an aware leader?

7 False Assumptions Made About Introverts

Thinking man

I am an introvert. Some people can question whether they are or not. I don’t. I’m certified in Myers Briggs, so I know the language well. I’ve studied the concept. It didn’t require much study though for me. I’m in the camp.

It means Sundays I’m more tired when I go home. It means I avoid certain crowds unless I have a clear purpose for being there. It means I run alone…and I’m okay with that. It means I’m probably harder to get to know that some people. I get all that. I own it. It’s me.

I’ve written before about the struggles of introversion in ministry (read that HERE) and ways I work to overcome those limitations (read that HERE). What surprises me is how misunderstood introverts are sometimes. There are a lot of false assumptions made when someone is introverted.

Here are 7 false assumptions made of me as an introvert:

I’m shy – That may be your word, but it’s not mine. I prefer purposeful for me. Others may call it something else. I talk when there’s a purpose. I’m not even afraid to do so. Three year olds are shy when they hide behind their daddy. That’s not me.

I need more courage – Why I oughta… (You’ll get that if you are a Moe Howard…Three Stooges fan.) Seriously, I “ain’t chicken” when I choose not to speak. I’m just being comfortable.

I’ve got nothing to say – Actually I have lots to say. Did you notice I blog almost every day? Do you see how often I update Twitter and Facebook? I have bunches to say. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t express it, but many times how I choose to communicate will be different than how others choose to communicate.

I’m ignorant – Yea, in a lot of ways I am. But, in some ways I’m smarter than the guy who never quits talking. You know the one. I am less likely to say the thing I wish I hadn’t said, because I didn’t think before I talked. It happens, but not as often as it might for some.

I am arrogant or don’t like you – Honestly, I love everyone. Or at least my Biblical commitment and personal goal is to do so. Whether or not I talk to you will not be a good determination of whether or not I like you. It might even mean I respect you enough to listen more than speak. Maybe.

I need you to talk for me – Ummm — actually I’d rather you not. Now that said, I sometimes let my wife talk for me. She’s good at it too. But, if I have an opinion I think needs sharing, I’ll speak for myself. Or regret later than I didn’t. But, either way, please don’t try to be my voice.

I need to change, mature, grow as a person or leader – There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just quieter than some leaders you know — or your immediate perception of a leader. Actually, there are lots of things wrong with me. Introversion isn’t one of them.

Those are some of the false assumptions that have been made of this introvert.

Introverts, what misunderstandings have been made about you?

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

wonderful-life-bank-scare

Let’s be honest! Criticism hurts. No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves or finding out that something you did wasn’t perceived as well by others as you hoped it would be.

Criticism, however, is a part of leadership. It comes with the territory. And, if handled correctly, it doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership — or at least not as bad as we make it.

The truth is there is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.

Recently I posted 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism. This is the companion post.

Here are 5 right ways to respond to criticism:

Listen to everyone

You may not respond to everyone the same way, but everyone deserves a voice and everyone should be treated with respect. This doesn’t necessarily include anonymous criticism. It’s hard to give respect to someone you don’t know. I listen to some if it, especially if it appears valid, because I’ve often learned from that too. Plus, I always wonder if something in my leadership prompted an anonymous response. At the same time, I never “criticize” leaders who don’t listen to anonymous criticism. I don’t, however, weight unidentified criticism as heavily as I would criticism assigned to a person. (Feel free to leave a comment about anonymous criticism and how you respond.) But, the point here is to at least listen to criticism when people are willingly to put their name behind it.

Consider the source

In a stakeholder sense, how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer to the criticism but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. Years ago our church met in two schools, for example, so if the Director of Schools had criticism for me I would invest more time responding than if it’s a random person complaining about our music who never intended to attend our church again.

Analyze for validity

Is the criticism true? This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important. You have to check your ego, because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with completely. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement.

Look for common themes

If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.

Give an answer

I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer even if the answer is you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, especially during seasons of change, I save answers to common criticism received because I know I’ll likely be answering the same criticism again.

The picture with this post is from one of my favorite movies “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In this scene, George Bailey responds to criticism the Bailey Building and Loan is going to collapse. I love how he takes the criticism serious, considers the importance of the critics, responds as necessary, attempts to calm their fears, and refocuses on the vision. What a great leadership example during times of stress!

Obviously, this is an extreme and dramatic example, but it points to a reality that happens everyday in an organization. And, some times it is extreme and dramatic. Many times people simply don’t understand so they complain — they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.

What would you add to my list? Where do you disagree with me here? I’ll try to take the criticism the “right” way!

5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism

Naughty Naughty

Criticism accompanies leadership.

Every leader knows this. Make any decision and some will agree and some won’t.

The only way to avoid criticism as a leader is to do nothing.

If a leader is taking an organization somewhere, and really even if he or she isn’t, someone will criticize his or her efforts.

That said, the way a leader responds to criticism says much about the maturity of the leader and the quality of his or her leadership.

Here are 5 wrong ways to respond to criticism:

Finding fault with the critic

Instead of admitting there might be validity to the criticism, many leaders immediately attempt to discredit the person offering it. Granted, there may be fault — and some people are terrible complainers (some are just mean), but it’s never helpful to start there.

Blaming others

Many leaders realize the criticism may be valid, but they aren’t willing to accept personal responsibility, so they pass it along to others. This is dangerous on so many levels and is truly poor leadership.

Returning criticism

Often a leader will receive criticism and instead of analyzing whether there is validity or not, the leader begins to criticize other organizations or leaders. It’s a very immature response. In elementary school it went like this — “I know I am, but what are you?”

Ignoring an opportunity to learn

This is a big one, because criticism can be a great teaching tool. It needs a filter. The person and circumstances need to be taken into consideration, but with every criticism rests an opportunity to learn something positive for the organization or about the leader.

Appeasing

Many leaders are so fearful of conflict they attempt to satisfy all critics, even if they never intend to follow through or make changes because of the criticism. They say what the critic wants to hear. If there is no merit to criticism then don’t act like there is merit. Be kind, but not accommodating.

I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another. Awareness is half the battle. Identifying the wrong ways to respond to criticism and working to correct this in your leadership is part of growing as a leader.

In my next post I’ll share some right ways to respond to criticism.

What else would you add as a wrong way to respond to criticism?

5 Dangers of Explosive Growth and What to Do About It

explosive growth

I have been blessed to witness what I consider extremely fast growth in several churches since entering full-time vocational ministry. In church planting and church revitalization we have seen hundreds come to faith in Christ or reconnect with the church creating churches which have grown faster than we could anticipate. It’s been an amazing journey — a miracle of God — filled with lots of excitement.

One thing I have learned along the way is growth impacts every ministry in the church. When explosive growth is occurring it is felt by every staff member — every stretched staff member.

I have also learned there are dangers with fast growth in any organization. The fact is growth can cover over a multitude of problems. Being aware of these is critical to sustaining health — and ultimately growth — in the future.

Here are 5 dangers of explosive growth:

Masks real problems – Growth gets the attention. Everyone is excited. Momentum is high. Problems within a team or organization won’t show up immediately — but they will eventually.

Leadership poor – Not “poor leadership”. Leadership poor. When the organization is growing fast, you can never seem to afford adequate staff or train volunteers quick enough. In time you jeopardize future success because there aren’t leaders to take you to the next level.

Inadequate Systems – When current systems do not support the rate of growth you often spend too much time playing catch-up to implement adequate systems. Eventually you can become distracted from the things which helped you grow.

People feel scattered/left behind – With the rate of growth, communication is more important than ever, but people are stretched — pulled in many different directions. This often producing holes in the communication process. People forget to communicate, they make too many assumptions or there just is more information than can be easily absorbed.

Reactive rather than proactive – In a fast growing organization, “just keeping up” will be a prevailing emotion among leadership. You’ll often find yourself “making it up as you go”. With the speed of life in the organization, there never seems to be time to get ahead of the growth curve.

Well, those are some of the problems with explosive growth — which only produces a question.

What can you do about it?

Be aware – Realize that everything may not be as seems. If momentum slows, the real problems will be revealed, but the sooner you can identify these areas of weakness the less damage it will cause in creating sustainable growth. Ask lots of questions. Stay grounded in your faith. Continue to work on team development — even though it seems you don’t have time.

Recruit – It’s even more important in fast growth situations you be constantly looking for new and developing leadership. There must be an intentional effort in every area to empower people and train volunteers for leadership positions. Again, you may not feel you can pick your head up from the “real work” to recruit — but you must. Make sure someone has this as one of their key roles on the team, but it should be the responsibility of everyone.

Systematize – As much as possible, you should add structure to the organization along the way. You may never catch up with growth, but as problems are discovered it will often be a systems problem. Again, the more ahead of this issue you can be the better. Continually think strategically of what is needed to ensure you can continue to grow at the current rate. This is another area it helps to have someone specifically designated — someone who is wired to think systematically — to specialize in this vital area.

Communicate – The faster you are growing the better your communication must become. Communication is always a struggle in any organization, but healthy organizations continually analyze their approach and attempt to improve. In stressful times, communication must receive even more attention.

Planning – It’s important, even during explosive growth — maybe especially — to discipline yourself enough to plan for the future. Leaders need to be visionary enough to look for what’s coming next and attempt to get some forward-thinking goals and objectives in place. In spite of the constant demand due to growth, leaders must take time away from doing the work to evaluate and ensure operations are improved to maintain growth and momentum.

Sometimes God brings supernatural growth and during those seasons leaders should be especially aware of potential dangers. (Can you imagine the first century church adding 3,000 to their numbers in a single day?)

Have you ever been in an organization with explosive growth? What would you add to my list?