5 Traits of the Aware Leader

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize I don’t always know fully the real health of my team or organization. At least as much as others do. 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 him or her how they feel. Others assume the leader already knows and still others simply leave or remain quiet to avoid any 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 already knows, or they simply never take the time to share them.

If a leader wants to be fully aware, there are disciplines he or she 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 leader aware.

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 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 or your leader?

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

Making Decisions versus Finding Solutions

I was working with a church recently that has a leadership issue, which is causing harm to the church. One of the staff members is extremely popular with the people in the church, but he is considered a lousy team player by the rest of the staff. He’s lazy, divisive, and disrespectful to the senior pastor.

The pastor and key leadership realize a change needs to occur. He’s been counseled and threatened with his job, but he knows he is popular and therefore refuses to change. The pastor, who has been at the church less time than the other staff member, knows he could never recover from letting him go.

I was asked to help the church find a solution to the dilemma. If I were simply encouraging them to do the right thing…that would be easy, in my opinion. He needs to go, because of the flippancy he’s shown towards leadership. Unfortunately, what is easy isn’t always best.

It was a reminder:

The answer to problems is often easy, but the solution can often be hard.

Want an easy answer to the above scenario?

There can even be three options on the table. The senior pastor can either fire the associate pastor, quit as the pastor, or live with the problem. That’s easy isn’t it. Choose the one that seems best to you. You could even draw numbers out of a hat for that one if you can’t decide. (One for fire, two for quit, and three for live with…in case you weren’t following.)

Finding the solution to a problem is much more difficult.

I have my particular easy answer, but finding a solution is a more delicate process. It involves making hard decisions and dealing with hard consequences. It could be either of the three easy answers, but a solution is bigger than making a decision. To be a solution it would involve the follow through…clean-up…and the working of the situation for the ultimate good of the organization. That’s hard, messy, difficult work.

Making decisions…Easy

Finding solutions….More difficult.

By the way, great leaders don’t just make decisions…they find solutions.

Honestly, would you rather make decisions or find solutions?

(Please know I changed some details of this story to protect identities.)

If You Want to Attract Leaders…

One of the most frequent criticisms I receive from young leaders about their organizations is that they aren’t given adequate responsibly or authority. They are handed a set of tasks to complete, but they don’t feel they have a part in creating the big picture for the organization. Since most of the young leaders I talk to are in ministry, this means it’s happening in the church too. :)

Do you want to lead a successful organization (church) that attracts leaders? Here’s my best advice:

Hand out visions more than you assign tasks.

In order for the organization to be successful, you’ll need to attract leaders. You know that, right? You need to know something about leaders and potential leaders.

Leaders want to work towards a vision, more than they want complete a set of tasks.

Leaders don’t get excited about checklists and assignments.

Leaders want to join a great vision, then help develop the tasks to accomplish it.

Leaders get excited about faith-stretching, bigger-than-life, jaw-dropping acts of courage. That’s the kind of vision they want to believe in and follow. “To do” list often gets in the way of that kind of fun. Visions excite them, details to complete them don’t.

So, if you want to create a successful organization, recruit leaders, hand them a big vision, with lots of room on the implementation side, then allow them to choose how they will accomplish that vision.

Hand them the vision, then get out of their way and let them do their work.

That doesn’t mean your work is over. They’ll need your help along the way. They’ll still need your help to develop structure, discipline and follow through. But that’s way different than handing them a set of tasks. That’s practicing good leadership and delegation skills. (You can read 4 Critical Aspects of Healthy Delegation HERE.)

I realize this is especially hard for perfectionist leaders who want to control every outcome. (Leaders like me; just being honest.) You’ll have to take a risk on the people you’ve recruited to lead and discipline yourself to let them work in their own way. You’ll get burned a few times, but overall, you’ll find more success when you:

Paint big visions…not specific tasks…

When you do this you’ll attract and develop more leaders and a more successful organization will be built and sustained.

How are you at releasing your vision to others?

Would you rather be handed a vision or a set of tasks to be completed?

12 Great Leadership Questions

One of the best things a leader can do is ask the right questions. I love to say, “A leader can only see what a leader can see”. The leader can often be the last to know where there is a problem or what others are thinking, so asking questions is critical to good leadership. Great leaders ask great questions.

Here are 12 great leadership questions:

What can we learn from this?

Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?

How can I help you?

What’s next?

Where should we be placing our best energy?

What am I missing or forgetting?

How can we do it better next time?

What do you think?

What changes could we implement to make your work life better?

What would you do differently if you had my position?

Are you enjoying your work?

How can I improve my communication with you?

Pick a few of those questions, try them on your team, and let me know your results.

What question would you add? (See, there’s another great question.)

What’s the Greatest Killer of Motivation?

Did you catch it?

What’s the greatest killer of motivation?

You thought it was a lack of vision, didn’t you?

But, you can have the greatest vision ever and still see motivation dwindle and momentum die.

The fact is, we have an amazing ability to get bored with good things over time. It doesn’t matter how much we love something, time can cause us to lose interest. All of us can think of something we once loved, but now it’s old news. We have a the sad ability of tiring of wonderful things.

Buy a child a toy at Christmas and they love it…it’s the best Christmas ever…but a few weeks later…they probably aren’t as excited about it anymore. They are ready for some new toys.

Marketers know they have to keep changing things to keep us buying. We get bored easily. That’s why Apple’s stock is through the roof. They keep introducing new products because we get bored with the old ones.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll do that in our relationships too. One of the biggest obstacle in many marriages is boredom. We quit dating…we quit courting…we quit surprising each other… Over time, we get bored in the relationship.

That feeling of boredom comes into the church also. Greeting at the front door was great at first. We met lots of new people and genuinely felt we were making a difference. Now we know everyone and the job has become old. I’m bored. Time killed my motivation.

Going to small group? Working with students? Playing in the band? Fun at first, but time has made me bored.

Perhaps you understand by now. Maybe you’re bored with this post. It was great when it started, but time has taken away your enthusiasm. Let me get to some help. It’s time.

If time is a killer of motivation, what’s the solution?

Keep retelling the vision – Remind yourself and others of why you are doing what you are doing. If your mission is to reach people for Christ, then get excited about that again. Renew your passion for others.

Keep practicing the vision – Sometimes we get busy with doing that we don’t really do what we were called to do. I know, that doesn’t make sense…but perhaps it makes too much sense. I’m not sure what I’m saying, but I know this. If you want to restore your motivation, do the things you’re motivated to do. If reaching broken, hurting people for Christ was the original passion God called you to do, then step away from the routines and busyness of life to start winning a few broken, hurting people for Christ again. Drop the mundane and follow the heart. Renew your personal passion.

Keep sharing the impact of the vision with others – Most likely there are still some people motivated for the vision. Surround yourself with them. Share their stories. Let their enthusiasm rub off on you and others. Live out the vision with others who believe in it as much as you do. It will motivate you as you share the vision with others again.

Have you seen time destroy motivation? What are you doing about it?

10 Things in Leadership that Drive Me Crazy

There are some things in leadership that I could honestly say I despise. Perhaps you have your own list, but this is mine.

Here are 10 things that drive me crazy in leadership:

Responsibility without authority – If you ask someone to lead something; then let them lead.

Small-mindedness – I like big dreams and those that dream them. I’ve never once out-dreamed God. Neither have you.

Naysayers – There is always someone who says it can’t be done.

Laziness – Not only is it a sin, if it is allowed to fester it can be contagious or disruptive to an organization.

Settling – Even if it involves conflict, I want to push for best over mediocre.

Popularity seeking – Leaders who say what they think people want to hear in order to be liked drive me nuts. (Not sure they are technically leaders.)

Power hunger – Leaders who are easily threatened by others or who always try to control others limit people and organizations.

Caution out of fear – I prefer a bold faith every time.

Bullied management – Some leaders get their way from force. That seems cowardly to me.

Passion squelchers – Leaders should energize others to realize their dreams, not stifle them.

What are some things you despise in leadership?

(I posted this basic idea several years ago, but brought it forward again since my readership has grown substantially since then.)

7 Qualities of a Followable Leader

Are you a followable leader?

A followable leader has people who want to follow. They inspire followers to join them on a journey and they develop loyalty from their team.

Ask yourself: Do people want to follow my lead? Why would they want to follow me?

The best example I know of a followable leader is Jesus. Let’s consider some of the reasons He was able to develop such loyalty among the people He led.

Here are 7 qualities of a followable leader:

Have a vision worth following – To be followable, a leader needs a vision that lasts beyond today. There to be an element of faith and risk and to motivate followers. The vision needs to take people somewhere they want to go, but aren’t sure how to get there.

Be willing to lead the way – Followable leaders go first. They pave the way. They lead by example.

Remain steadfast – Even through difficult days, a followable leader stays the course. Followers know they can depend on the, resolve, strength and fortitude of the leader during the darkest hours.

Display patience – A followable leader extends grace and forgiveness when mistakes are made. They pace the team until the team is ready for greater challenges. They equip the team with the proper training and resources to complete assignments.

Challenge followers with high expectations – People want to follow someone who sets the bar for achievement high. There’s no intrinsic value in following easy-to-attain goals.

Practice humble servanthood – To be followable, a leader should display humility and be a servant of others; especially those he or she is supposed to be leading.

Place energy into others – Followable leaders consistently invest in other people. They give real authority and responsibility as they encourage and develop other leaders. They even replace themselves in key positions.

Can you see Jesus in each of these?

Would you follow a leader with such qualities?

Which of these do you most need to improve upon?

4 Reasons Why I Hate Policies and What to Do About It

I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of policies. It may be because I’m not a very good rule follower, but I honestly don’t think they work as well as they are intended.

Policies are a course, plan or principle of action. They are designed to offer a sense of control. In theory, policies are to make things better. They are a necessary part of dealing with people in an organizational setting.

My problem with polices is that they often interrupt progress rather than enhance it. If not careful, a policy may control the success you want to see as a leader.

Here are 4 reasons I hate policies:

Policies control a sense of freedom – Policies, by nature, are methods of control, which can limit people’s sense of freedom.

Policies limit ability to think outside the box – Policies can limit thoughts to a pre-determined outcome, which keeps the random and potentially explosive thoughts from developing.

Policies stall attempts at excellence – The parameters of a policy often produce an atmosphere of mediocrity.

Policies curtail the pursuit of progress – The weight of meeting a policy’s demands can take energy from pursuing things with the opportunity of greater progress.

My suggestion?

In lieu of a policy, here are 4 suggestions:

Handle individual problems individually – Rather than create a new policy to control an issue, deal directly with the individual who needs more control. (It works…try it.)

Treat people differently – If a team has more than one person, then there will be more than one type of person on the team. Did you follow that? Policies treat everyone the same, which ignores individuality and personality differences. (I wrote about that HERE)

Lead rather than manage – Management is much about implementing policies and seeing they are adhered to completely. Leadership sets a vision and guides people towards it. Less policies are needed in that process. (I wrote about that HERE)

Allow for more mistakes – Policies are easier to measure. They have a pass/fail assessment attached to them. Without policies, grace and forgiveness can be more freely applied. People can learn from their failures, without the repercussions of breaking a policy.

My bottom line:

I’m not suggesting we can do without policies, but I am suggesting they should not be the “go to” solution to a problem. Most problems in an organization don’t need a new policy. Policies can weigh down progress. Leadership can be more difficult without policies; even a little messy, but with less policies you’ll have more opportunities for success.

Be honest. Are you more likely to want a policy or resist a policy?

Try to Kill Your Ideas, It Will Make Them Better

Sometimes I try to kill my own ideas.

Especially with an idea that has major consequences for change and potential.

I brought it to the table.

I believe in it.

I want it to happen.

I got people excited about it.

I energized the team.

Now I’m attempting to kill it.

I’m trying to find holes in the idea.

I am questioning the validity of the idea.

I’m even causing some to ask if I still support the idea.

My idea.

What’s my point?

Am I that difficult as a leader?

Well, that may be a matter of opinion, but I have a good reason.

I want the idea to stand the test of time and scrutiny.

If it survives, it has a better chance of succeeding.

If it doesn’t, well, let’s move on to a new idea.

As a leader, I’ve learned I can often get excited about my own ideas. I can get other people excited about my ideas…I can pitch an impressive vision…I can motivate people to say yes to my suggestions.

Whether because of position or power of persuasion, I have the ability to excite people around a cause. I can even find ways to justify my idea, even, if necessary, make it appear it was a “God-given” idea.

The bottom line is I’m capable of being wrong. I’m capable of some really bad ideas. I’m even capable of justifying my personal idea as a “God-idea”. Just being honest.

When an idea hasn’t been tested thoroughly before it meets the vote of the public, and it fails, it puts a strain against my credibility as a leader. If it has been tested, questioned and kicked around thoroughly, especially among the team I lead, it has the full support of everyone from the beginning, actually starts to feel like their idea, and has a better chance of succeeding.

Have a great idea?

Be the first to try to kill it and see if it’s worth pushing forward.

If it passes the test, you’ve got the potential of a great idea.

Have you ever tried to kill one of your own ideas?