A Critical Leadership Error and 4 Ways to Approach It

Car driving

There is one critical error most leaders make at some point. I make it frequently. If you’re leading – you probably do also.

We forget that people are trying to follow.

We get so caught up in our own world that we forget people we are trying to lead are trying to follow. We “think” we know where we are going — and we assume they do also — almost at times like they can read our minds.

Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car?

Some are good at that kind of leading and some aren’t. Some take quick turns — even without using a blinker. Some dodge in and out of traffic — forgetting that the person behind can’t react as quickly.

It’s that way with a team or organization also.

Some leaders get so passionate about what they are thinking and doing that they forget others are trying to keep up with them. The leader sets the pace for the organization. – almost every time.

Good leaders frequently evaluate to make sure the current pace doesn’t leave someone behind — unless that’s intentional — which would be the subject of another post.

What can a leader do to keep from losing those who are trying to follow along the way?

Here are 4 suggestions:

Ask questions. Granted, most people are not going to call out the leader. That’s true regardless of how “open” the leaders door might be. So, good leaders ask questions. They are continually evaluating and exploring to discover what they wouldn’t know otherwise. They check in with people often to make sure they understand where they are going, have what they need and are able to continue the pace healthfully.

Be vulnerable. While the leader ultimately sets the pace, good leaders allow others on the team help set the pace for the team. They share leadership across the team. It’s more difficult to argue against the pace when the team helped to set it. It takes humility, but they allow the decision making process of the organization to be spread throughout the team. They are open to correction — giving people permission to speak into their life and are not easily offended when someone challenges them — or even sometimes corrects them.

Be systematic. One way to control pace is to operate under well-planned and executed written goals and objectives. These are agreed upon in advance. Of course, things still change quickly — that’s part of life — and we must be flexible to adapt, but having even a short term written plan gives people a direction that keeps them making progress without chasing the whims of a leader.

Keep looking in the mirror. Ultimately, it’s up to the leader to self-evaluate frequently. Clueless leaders push and pull people with no regards to the impact it is having on organizational health or the people trying to follow. (And we are all clueless at times – we only know what we know.) Good leaders are self-aware. They know their tendencies to push too hard or their struggle with contentment — or they’re lack of clarity in details — whatever it is that makes them difficult to follow at times.

Here’s a hard question every leader should consider:

Are you allowing those attempting to follow you a fair opportunity to follow?

Leader: Address the Elephant in the Room

elephant in room

Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. He always saw the glass as half empty and was negative about everything. It’s okay to have someone who asks questions to make things better — but this guy was a doomsayer in the room. It wasn’t helpful.

It was annoying, but was allowed to continue by leadership. Everyone talked about it outside of the meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team, but he insisted he had counseled with this person privately, and it never seemed to improve.

It led me to the conclusion:

Sometimes, as a leader, you have to address the “elephant in the room” — in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leaders may have to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room.

Yes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often, but it may be necessary.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume this type performance is tolerated.
  • The negative actions will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.
  • Respect for the leader — with this issue and others — will diminish.

Address the elephant!

You must. Everyone already knows it’s there. The best excuses won’t hide an elephant. And, elephants don’t often leave the room on their own.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team?

7 Ways to Make Yourself Invaluable to a Team

Value

Here are 7 ways to make yourself invaluable to a team:

Be a chief encourager. Be one who helps people feel better about themselves and their contribution to the team.

Support the vision and direction. Be honest about it, but be a verbal proponent of the overall objectives of the team and where things are going. Be a known team player.

Respect others. In the way you treat and respond to everyone on the team.

Give more than required. That doesn’t mean you have to work more hours. It might. But it might mean you work smarter than everyone else. Plan your day better. Be better at setting goals and objectives. Hold yourself accountable.

Be an information hub. Be well read and share what you learn. Information is king. Be the king of it. Without being obnoxious — of course.

Celebrate other people’s success. Send notes or encouragement. Brag on someone else. Tell others what you admire about them. Without being creepy — of course.

Be a good listener. Everyone loves the person they can go to and know they won’t just be heard they will be listened to. A good person to bounce ideas off of his invaluable to the team. Then keep every confidence.

What other ways do you know of to make oneself valuable to a team?

7 Non-Negotiable Values for Teams I Lead

teamwork concept on blackboard

Leader,

What do you look for when you bring a person on to your team?

What expectations do you have for people who serve on your team?

I think it’s important to know yourself well enough that you understand the qualities in people with whom you work best.

Several years ago I took time to put together my own list of non-negotiables. I pretty much have to have these characteristics if we are going to work well together long-term. Keep in mind, these aren’t skills. These are values — the principles we use to interact with one another on a team.

I would assume a few of these, maybe most of them, would be non-negotiables on any healthy team. Some of them are things we may have to instill in people over time, but I’ve learned my leadership well enough to know that I’ll struggle with a team member who doesn’t equally value — or at least strive to display — each of these.

Here are 7 non negotiable values for a team I lead:

Responsiveness - It is a personal value, maybe even a pet peeve of mine, but I believe it is imperative to respond to people in a timely manner. Of course, this is a subjective value, but it’s one the entire team soon recognizes — and not with good results — if it is absent.

Honesty – Teams are built on trust. You can’t have trust without honesty. And, therefore, in my opinion, without honesty it’s just a group of people, but not a team.

Respect - A personal value for me is mutual respect on the team. When making a hiring decision — because I try to find leaders — I ask myself if I would respect the person enough to follow them as my leader. If I wouldn’t, it will be hard for me to respect them as a team member. Consequently, I hope they wouldn’t join our team unless they believe they could respect my leadership. I want to respect people I lead and, therefore, I believe it’s only fair they want to respect me.

Openness – I don’t like hidden issues. Drama destroys a team and, frankly, I’ve got little time for it. Gossip is a sign of immaturity. If it’s important to you or the team, let’s talk about it. Let’s certainly not talk about it behind each other’s back.

Work ethic – To the best of your ability, realizing that the best plans sometimes fail, do what you say you will do when you said you will do it. I extend lots of grace in leadership. We all make mistakes and we learn from them, but a value of mine is that each person does their best efforts and pulls their share of the load. It’s one reason I need clear goals and objectives for myself and everyone on our team. Ambiguity in what’s expected leads to frustration for all of us. I protect my family time and try to create an environment that allows that to be a value for everyone on the team, but when we know where we are going and who is responsible for what — when we are at work — let’s get it done.

Limited need for oversight- I can’t stand micro-management. I don’t want to do it nor do I want it done to me. I believe in setting some goals, assigning tasks, and celebrating at the finish line. I’ll even come back and hold your hand across the line if needed, but if you don’t ask, I assume you’re still running on your own. Yes, this is frustrating for some people at times who need lots of detailed directions, and we have to work through the frustration, but one of the previous values is openness. Ask if you don’t know or understand and tell me when I’m moving too fast.

Participation – A personal value for me is that everyone on the team feel they play a vital role in completing our vision. (I even think that’s Biblical.) We provide ownership of responsibilities, regardless of titles. I don’t want anyone sitting on the bench on a team I lead. There are plenty of innings ahead…let’s play ball. In fact, if I feel someone is hiding out in the dugout, afraid to get up to bat, I’m probably going to help them find a better position — and more coaching if needed.

So what do you think? Fair? Harsh? Reasonable?

Leader, have you thought through the values important for teams you lead?

I believe it will help you be a better leader, help you find people you can better work with to add to your team, and reduce frustration for everyone.

7 False Beliefs of the Leadership Vacuum

vacuum

Many times a leader can be clueless about the real health of the organization they lead. If a leader refuses to solicit feedback, doesn’t listen to criticism or stops learning, they can begin to believe everything is under control — when in reality — things are falling apart around them.

I once watched as a church crumbled apart while the pastor thought everything was wonderful. He always had an excuse for declining numbers and never welcomed input from others. It got bad enough for the church to have to ask him to leave. It was messy. It could have been avoided, in my opinion.

And, sadly, that could be the stories of hundreds of churches and organizations.

The best leaders, however, avoid what I call the leadership vacuum.

I have heard the term leadership vacuum used to describe the need for more leaders, but I believe the biggest void may be within leaders themselves.

The leader in a leadership vacuum believes:

Everyone on the team understands me. And, I understand them.

Everyone on the team thinks like I think. We are in complete unity. I know this without asking anyone.

Everyone on the team likes me. And, they are glad I’m the leader.

My team is completely healthy. And, so am I. We don’t need to worry about that kind of thing.

I am this team. This team needs me. In fact, they couldn’t do it without me.

The organization is headed in the right direction in every area. We don’t need any changes.

Our systems and plans are flawless. Nothing can stop us now.

Granted, any or all of these may be true at a given time, but if we always assume they are is when we get into trouble as a leader. When the leader is clueless to the real problems and needs in the organization, he or she is living in the leadership vacuum. The best leaders are aware of the vacuum trap and guard against it in their leadership.

Leaders, have you ever lived in the leadership vacuum? Are you there now?

Have you followed a leader in the vacuum?

Are You a Boss or a Leader?

mean boss

Are you a boss or a leader?

I have to be honest I hate the term boss. When someone refers to me as their boss I almost feel like I’m doing something wrong as a leader.

Forgive me for making me think I’m the boss.

There are so many differences in a boss and a leader. If only in connotation.

A boss seems to have all the answers — even if they really don’t.
A leader solicits input to arrive at the right answer.

A boss tells.
A leader asks.

A boss can be intimidating — if only by title.
A leader should be encouraging — even if in a time of correction.

A boss dictates.
A leader delegates.

A boss demands.
A leader inspires.

A boss controls systems.
A leader spurs ideas.

A boss manages policies.
A leader enables change.

People follow a leader willingly. You have to pay someone — or force them — to follow a boss.

By connotation there is really only one boss.

In fairness, there are times I have to be the boss. Even the “bad guy” boss — at least in other people’s perception.

But I much prefer to be a leader.

And in any healthy organization there will be many leaders.

Do you work for a boss or do you serve with a leader?

Be honest.

7 Ways to Tell It’s Time for Change in the Organizational Structure

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

I’ve been a leader in an almost 200 year old company and a new business. I’ve led in a church plant and now in an over 100 years old established church. One thing I’ve learned is that there are many similarities in organizational structure — especially when it comes to the need for changing that structure.

Healthy organizations maintain an unchanging vision long-term by being willing to change their organizational structure as needed.

When it comes to organizational structure not everything needs changing. If the structure works. Keep it. It’s comfortable. People understand it. Progress is happening.

But progress is happening is key.

There are times to change. It’s important that leaders realize those times.

How do you know when organizational structural change is needed?

Here are 7 considerations to discern it is time:

When you continually encounter obstacles trying to move forward. If every decision you are trying to make hits roadblocks or dead ends, it may be time to build a new road.

When the steps to make the change is more exhausting than the value the change provides. Change should be exhilarating once you get to it. Change brings momentum. When the process to get there is so long or difficult that it wears you out and you’ve got no excitement left — it may be time for some structure change.

When you can no longer attract leaders. When people are controlled more than empowered you will attract doers but you won’t attract visionary leaders. Creative leadership will die, because genuine leaders rebel against controlling environments.

When you spend more time discussing than doing. Granted we need to meet about some things. We need to plan, strategize and organize. I suggest we have better meetings, but more than that we need action. Our visions are hungry for progress towards them. Meetings should create action. The best structures help you get busy doing not attending yet another meeting.

When the structure you have now isn’t sustainable long term. Structure based upon people, for example, rather than progress, will eventually need changing as people change. Ask yourself will this structure work 10 years from now? If not, the time to change is now.

When all creativity is structured out of the system. Sometimes the process can become so clearly defined that nothing new is needed. There is no room for different ideas or opinions. No one needs them anymore. Every question is answered. When people fall into routines, they get bored, and complacency becomes the norm. Development stops. Time for some structural change.

When there is no longer any confusion. If everything is so carefully scripted you may need some organizational structure change. Some of the best discoveries are found amidst chaos. I love what Andy Stanley says about “a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved”. Good organizations have some of those.

Those are some of my thoughts based on experience. What would you add to my list?

5 Times You May Need to Micromanage Your Team

Leader and big red arrow

I prefer to be a macro-manager. I like to lead leaders. That means I try to cast the vision for a team and get out of the way, releasing each team member to do his or her work in their own individual way.

There are times, however, where more micro-management may be needed by senior leadership. More coaching, encouraging or correction may be needed for a season.

Here are 5 times to consider some micromanagement:

When a team member is new to the organization. They need to learn your culture and way of doing things. They don’t know. This doesn’t mean you don’t allow them to invent, dream and discover, but they also need to know how decisions are made, the unwritten rules, and the internal workings of the environment. It will serve everyone well and they’ll last longer on the team if these are learned early in their tenure.

When a team or team leader has been severely crippled by injury or stress. I’ve had a few times where a member of our team just wasn’t mentally or emotionally capable of making the right decisions. It could be what they were dealing with in their personal life or with the stress of their work, but I had to step in and help them more than I normally would for a season to help them succeed.

When in a state of uncertainty, transition or change. I once had a strong leader quit abruptly from his position. His team was devastated. I quickly realized they had relied too much on his leadership and were now lost without him. It required more of my time initially until we could raise up new leadership and better empower everyone on the team.

When tackling a new objective, critical to the organization. This is especially true when, as the senior leader, I’m the architect of the idea. They need more of my time to make sure things are going the way I envisioned them to go. That doesn’t mean the outcome will look exactly like I planned, but in the initial start, the team can waste time and resources trying to figure me out without my input, rather than doing productive work.

When a team member is underperforming in relation to others. As a leader, I feel it is part of my role to help people perform at their highest level possible. Sometimes that requires coaching, sometimes instruction, and sometimes even discipline. Part of being a leader is recognizing potential in people and helping them realize that potential within the organization. For a season, to help someone get on track for success on our team, (or even to discover they aren’t a fit for our team) I have to manage closer than I normally prefer.

I obviously wrote this in the context of an organization and not specific to the church, but these principles equally apply in the church. The important thing is that the end goals and objectives need to be reached, so at certain critical times a leader must step in and ensure the vision is being accomplished.

Are there other times you revert to micromanagement?

7 Times When It is Not A Good Time To Change

No keyboard key finger

I’ve never been a proponent of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sometimes you need a change and nothing is “broke”. It just isn’t as good as it could be, it’s keeping other things from being better, or it’s soon going to be broke unless you change.

But, there are times not to change — certainly when you are not ready to change.

Here are 7 times not to change:

When there isn’t a compelling purpose - There should always be a why. It might be as simple as if you don’t change you’re going to be bored out of your mind — but have a reason before you change.

When there are no good leaders behind it – You need people who buy into the change. If a change has value you can usually find supporters. They may be few. They may do nothing more than speak up for the change, but if no one can get excited about the change, you probably need to raise up some supporters before moving forward. (There are rare exceptions to this one, but again, they are rare.)

When you haven’t defined a win – Changing before you know what success looks like will keep you running in a lot of ineffective directions without much progress.

When the loss is more expensive than the win – Sometimes the cost just isn’t worth it. You can’t justify the people and resource expense for the potential return.

When the leader isn’t motivated – There are times to wait if senior leadership can’t get excited or at least support the change if push back develops. Eventually, without their support, you’ll be less likely to experience sustaining, successful change.

When too many other things are changing – Any organization or group of people can only handle so much change at a time. This requires great discernment on the part of leaders to know when there is too much change occurring and it is best to wait for something new.

When an organization is in crisis mode – When a ship is sinking, fix the leak or bail some water, before you choose your next destination. When things are in crisis, is not the time to make a ton of changes. There may be needed changes to get things moving again, but catch your breath first, make sure a core of people is solid behind the vision, and take careful steps to plan intentional, helpful and needed change.

This isn’t intended as a checklist. I would never want to stop someone from making needed changes. I love change. But, I do want to encourage better change. I hope this helps.

10 Common Traits among the Best Leaders I Ever Had

Many identical businessmen clones

All my life I’ve been a wisdom seeker. I have had some great leadership influence in my life. Beginning with my high school principal when I was student body president and a man in retail who took interest in me in college, I’ve been blessed with good role models.

Looking back, the best leaders I ever had shared some common traits.

10 Common Traits among the Best Leaders I Ever Had

Believed in me more than I believed in myself.

Were available to me when I needed them.

Ask good questions of me.

Challenged me to be better than I thought I could be.

Encouraged my dreams, while equally providing for me a sense of reality.

Had a character worthy of following.

Were skillful and competent, but not arrogant or self-serving.

Continued to learn personally.

Were visionary and challenged mediocrity.

Kept their word, but didn’t over-commit themselves.

Would you add any to my list from the best leaders in your life?