Leadership Development for Dummies

Here's all there is to it.

Sorry if the title is crude. No implication about anyone here. But leadership development may not be as difficult as we often make it out to be. So why not share the oversimplified version?  The dummy version. 

One of the number one questions I get about leadership is how to develop new leaders within an organization. The task can often seem overwhelming. Few organizations or churches I know are viewed as experts in the field. Ours certainly isn’t. 

Maybe it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Perhaps all of us can figure this out. 

Leadership development begins with an underlying understanding that the success of any organization depends greatly on the leader’s willingness to delegate responsibility to others in the organization. This attitude – especially among top leadership – is vitally important to developing new leaders. 

The more a leader tries to control, the less likely others will be to help him or her accomplish the vision. Of course, without people willing to follow a leader, there is no leadership development.

(For pastors who reject this idea, please read Exodus 18 or Acts 6 – or just follow Jesus through the Gospels.)

Here is my simple formula. I believe the best leadership development is accomplished by allowing others to gain experience by doing. Basically, this means we must find ways to allow others to lead.

In fact, delegation can be simplified into two words.

INVEST and RELEASE

Invest

Personally spend time with and mentor others so they understand the vision of the organization and have the resources, skills and authority to accomplish their assignment. Allow them to ask questions, to take risks, fail, and begin again. 

Release

Let people lead. Allow them to add their strengths, creativity and energy to accomplishing the vision. Give them real responsibility and authority. Don’t micromanage.

I realize this is a very simplified answer to a very complicated process, but perhaps simplifying leadership development is needed to ensure we tackle this necessary part of growing a healthy organization.

And, you can easily monitor whether leadership development is occurring in your church or organization with my simple model. Simply ask yourself – look around – is anyone being invested in on a regular basis. Then, more important, is anyone being released to lead? 

If you have any questions, or need a model to follow, simply pay more attention to Jesus. It’s exactly how He did His leadership development.

Are you holding other potential leaders back because you will not release them to lead?

Great Leaders Develop a Leadership Vocabulary

I’ll never forget in my first church when a very Christlike deacon pulled me aside and offer me some advice in leading a church. I had been a leader in the business world a long time, but this was new for me. He helped me in ways which are being realized even today in how I lead in the church.

The best leaders I know are always learning.

Recently, I sat in on a leadership meeting for another organization. I didn’t feel I had the relationship to do so, but I left sincerely hoping someone would speak into this leader’s life – and he would be willing to learn.

The problem?

This leader had a terrible leadership vocabulary.

Part of maturing as a leader is developing a language which will help the organization and it’s team members achieve greatest success.

Here are some examples of what great leaders learn to say:

“Yes” (to other people’s ideas) more than “No”

“Why not?” more than “I don’t think so”

“Our” more than “My”

“We” more than “I”

“Thank you” more than “You’re welcome”

“Let’s do it” more than “We’ve never done it that way before”

“I believe in you” more than “Prove yourself”

“Here’s something to think about” more than “I command you to”

“What do you think?” more than “Let me think about it”

“How can we?” more than “This is the way”

“I take full responsibility” more than “I’m not responsible”

“They work with me” more than “They work for me”

Great leaders understand the power of their words. The things they say develop the culture of the organization, team member’s perceptions of their individual roles, and the overall health and direction of the organization. Great leaders, therefore, choose their words carefully.

How is your leadership vocabulary? What would you add to my list?

The Speed of Change is Relative

A huge reminder to leaders attempting change

This is a reminder to leaders who are attempting to lead change. If you miss this one principle you can greatly damage the effectiveness of change or even your reputation as a leader in the change.

It’s simple, but it is powerful. Huge.

Here it is:

The speed of change is always relative.

See, I told you – simple. No rocket science here, but you must understand this when leading people through a change process.

As the leader, or someone on our team, I may feel like we are moving at a snail’s pace. It’s taking forever. We are spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere fast.

At the same time, others may feel we are moving at rocket speed. Change is coming so quickly they cannot process it in their mind. They feel the world – or this change – is out of control.

Perception to the speed of change is relative to:

  • A person’s propensity or aversion to change.
  • The degree of comfort established in what we are currently doing.
  • Who or what initiated the change.
  • The perceived size of the change.
  • The degree of personal risk involved.
  • How the change is implemented.
  • My understanding of or buy-in to the “why” behind the change.
  • The level of personal sacrifice involved in the change.
  • The trust established in current leadership.

When you hear people talking about how fast or slow things are changing, remember their response is relative to their individual context.

Understanding this one principle will help the leader be more sensitive to the reaction of others. It will help him or her with casting vision effectively. It will protect the leader from the perception of “running over people” with change.

This one understanding will make you a better change leader.

Think of this principle – the speed of change is relative – in your present context.

How fast are things changing in your life right now? Do you wish they were changing faster or slower?

4 Theories of How a Leader Becomes Controlling

One of the most dangerous forms of leadership, and one of the most frustrating, in my opinion, is the controlling leader. I’ve written about this issue previously, because I believe it is one of the leading reasons for stalled growth and low morale in an organizational or team setting.

Under a controlling leader’s watch, leadership development is virtually non-existent. Pride is rampant. Ideas are squashed. Momentum is curtailed. It simply never works well.

A friend of mine and I were discussing this issue. He works in the business world and his boss is a controlling leader. It has led to burnout for my friend and caused him to start putting his resume out. He’s done – he simply can’t take it anymore. I realize this business is going to suffer long-term, because the leader can’t let go of the reigns. As an outsider, it appears they will be losing a quality person if they lose my friend. At this point in the life of the business, it will be a devastating blow.

In the conversation, my friend asked an important question. “How does one become a controlling leader?”

Good question.

I don’t know that I can answer for every controlling leader, but I have some theories. I know things which trigger controlling tendencies in my leadership – and, I think if we are honest, all of us leaders can control at times.

These are just my thoughts.

Here are 4 ways a leader becomes controlling:

Faith – or lack there of

Typically, this leader doesn’t trust anyone except him or herself to do the job. They are afraid to release the vision to others, often because they don’t have faith enough either in others, or in themselves, or even in God. It requires faith to trust when you release control others will do as they are supposed to do. Especially in the church, trusting the body’s many parts is an act of faith that God’s plan works.

In terms of the church, our vision is shaped by Christ. He was the master at delegation. He obviously set the vision, but then handed the entire ministry over to His disciples. The ministry leader who struggles with their faith will always default to trying to make things happen on his or her own.

Failure

This leader has witnessed failure – either personally or in the lives of others. They are now leery of things going wrong under their watch and so they refuse to let anyone else take charge. Controlling appears to be the “safer” option.

Fanfare

These leaders thrive on attention they receive from the limelight. They have been motivated over the years by the name they can build for themselves. They want the power, prestige and privileges which come with leadership, so they shut down anyone else who may appear to be easing into a position of influence or gaining in notoriety.

Fear

Mostly due to a lack of confidence in themselves, these controlling leaders always believe the sky is falling. They see the glass as “half empty” and don’t want to take too many risks or chances. When everything is under their control they feel a sense of security.

I don’t know if any of us can answer this question as it applies to every leader, but these are some theories I’d suggest.

Have you ever worked with a controlling leader? Anything you’d add to my list?

Leader, do you have controlling tendencies? Do any of these apply to you?

3 Problems with Being Too Nice as a Leader

I remember talking with a leader not long ago. She’s an incredibly kind and gentle person. She’s smart, hard-working, and loyal. She’s a relational leader and usually brings out the best in people, so she’s had success in leadership. At the time of our conversation she was experiencing problems in a new position and asked for my help.

In talking through the specific situation, it quickly became obvious she had one weakness and it was effecting her entire team. It’s a common weakness among leaders. At times, most of us will struggle in this area.

Her weakness?

She was being too nice!

I realize this doesn’t sound like it could ever be a weakness. And, it has made her well-liked in the organization. She’s incredibly popular. And, she likes that. But, it also had made her team less successful than it could have been. And, thankfully, she recognized it, but wasn’t sure how to fix it.

A few team members were taking advantage of her niceness by under-performing in their role. She hadn’t challenged the problems, even though she knew she should. She was losing sleep over it, but didn’t know what to do. The relational leadership in her, which is a positive about her leadership style, was not working for these team members.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in an organization. Maybe you’ve been on either side of this issue. If this is your situation, you have probably even thought or said things such as, “I gave them an inch and they took a mile.” 

I am not suggesting one become a mean leader. It would be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be Biblical leadership. I am suggesting one become a wise leader. Wisdom learns to guide people in the direction which is best for them, the leader, and the entire team or organization.

In this situation, I advised my friend to take off her “nice hat”, at least temporarily, to address the few people causing the majority of the problems which were impacting the entire team. As hard as I know it would seem at first, in the end it would be a blessing for the entire team – and my leader friend.

I have learned people accept the what better if they first understand the why – so then I shared with her why I feel her default niceness is causing current problems for the team.

Here are 3 problems with being too nice as a leader:

It’s bad for the leader

The leader ends up stressing over the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the big picture, the leader is focused on a few problems with usually only a few people. The leader feels unsuccessful, even like a failure at times, as the team achieves less than desired results.

It’s bad for the organization

The team suffers because a few people mess up the system and progress for everyone else. Those on the team who wish to do the right thing lose respect for the leader. Others will follow the example of those taking advantage of the leader and lower their own performance standards. The organization loses.

It’s bad for the person taking advantage of the leader’s niceness

Enabling bad behavior is never good for the under-performing team member. It keeps him or her from identifying their full potential and from realizing personal success. They may be a superstar if they were given structure and held accountable to complete their work. And, they may never improve. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person – certainly the team – is help them move on to something new.

And, for those still struggling with my concept here, let me give a more sobering example. I understand this is extreme, but it is the same principle. We have friends who’s adult son got into a serious drug problem. He’s now recovering, but they parents and child would tell you the answer came only when they decided to demonstrate tough love, not enable him, and literally refuse to bail him out again.

Again, extreme example, but sometimes being “too nice” is not the best way to love others.

“To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭12:1‬ 

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to challenge them. 

Leader, have you become too nice as a leader?

Are you allowing problems to continue out of a fear of not being liked? There is nothing wrong with being a relational leader. That can be a great style of leadership, but part of developing any healthy relationship involves conflict, tough conversations and difficult decisions.

If you are not careful you can become everyone’s friend, but nobody’s leader.

Leading is hard – some days harder than others. The sooner you handle the problem (and the problem people), the sooner things will begin to improve on your team for everyone – and the sooner you can get a good night’s rest.

7 Reasons Leaders Dump Delegation

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I see for stalled growth, low morale of teams, and not sustaining momentum has to do with leaders who refuse to delegate. They simply won’t. Either they don’t know how, they don’t see the value or they simply don’t want to delegate, but it hurts their team’s potential.

Here are 7 reasons some leaders aren’t delegating:

They might appear to be doing less.

Everyone knows they are the leader. What will people think if they are not the one doing everything?

(Pastors struggle with this one a lot.)

They fear losing authority.

And, this is a legitimate fear. Delegation, if it is done right, means they give up the right to control every outcome.

They still have to be available, even when delegating.

Delegation doesn’t mean a leader can dump and run. They have to be available to assist, advise and encourage. So, some leaders feel if they are going to be involved anyway – they might as well do it themselves.

Someone might not do things the way they would.

Let’s be honest. This is huge, isn’t it? And, those who have this as an excuse naturally assume their way is always best.

(And, that one leads to the next one.)

It might get done faster and better.

Okay, this one is certainly hard to admit. Faster is one thing, but better? What if someone else gets credit? What if they think someone is better than the leader? It might expose or grow a new leader – and, how threatening could that be?)

(I know. It’s a pride issue. And, yes, all of us leaders struggle with it at some level.)

Someone else might get credit.

Their credit! Credit they once got before they decided to delegate.

They simply don’t know the value in delegation.

Frankly, in my opinion, this is the bigger issue. They’ve never seen a healthy enough team where everyone has a role to play, everyone is a leader at some level, and everyone gets credit.

Any other reasons you can think of why leaders don’t delegate?

3 Critical Ways Every Leader Must Spend Time

Time is one of the greatest assets of any leader.

Learning to balance a leader’s time effectively is often a key in determining the level of success the leader attains. In my experience, every leader has three critical segments where they must invest their time on a regular basis.

It also seems to me leaders tend to do one of these especially well, so by default they spend most of their time on that one – often to the neglect of the other two.

All three are needed. All three.

Learning to balance a leader’s time in each of these three areas will greatly enhance the leader’s productivity, so the leader must discipline for the other two.

Here are the 3 critical ways every leader must spend their time:

Time reflecting on past experience

If a leader doesn’t evaluate where they have been and what has been done, he or she will soon be disappointed with where they are going. Leaders must spend ample time in personal, team member and organizational evaluations. This includes celebrating success. People need this too.

Evaluation should be done after each major events but also on a regular basis evaluating overall activity of the organization should be considered.

A leader can’t get frozen on this one though – always thinking of what has already happened. At some point it’s time to move forward.

Time focusing on current obligations

A leader must be disciplined to take care of the immediate needs of the organization. The busier a leader becomes, unless a leader is naturally wired for this one, the more he or she tends to naturally neglect routine tasks. Things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, for example, remain critical at every level of leadership. This may also include simply catching up with co-workers, even in social conversation.

I find personally if I don’t operate with some scheduled time for current obligations I will get dreadfully behind and end up not being effective for anyone.

Honestly, this one is a drag for me at times. I’m wired for what’s next. But, sometimes the routine stuff I do is huge for other people. And, necessary for me.

Time dreaming about the future

Leaders must spend time dreaming of the future. If a leaders doesn’t, no one else will either. This is critical to an organization’s success. I believe the larger an organization grows or the leader’s responsibilities expand the more time must be spent on this aspect of time management.

This comes natural for some leaders and not for others. Personally, I love this one. Again, if it’s not natural it must be scheduled. Planning a few hours a week to read, brainstorm, interact with other creative leaders can make a big difference. Several times a year it may be important to spend a day or more away from the office with the sole purpose of dreaming of what’s next.

The place in the organization and season of responsibility will determine which of these get the greatest attention at the time, but none of them can be neglected for very long periods of time. Again, a leader learning to balance these three components of time is a key aspect in determining the ultimate success of the leader.

Here are a few questions for personal evaluation:

  • Which of this are you more geared towards as a leader? (Please don’t say all come naturally.)
  • Which of these needs your greatest attention at this time in your leadership? (Be honest.)
  • How do you balance your time between these three areas? (Be helpful.)

7 Unwritten Rules which Shape an Organization

In an organization the unwritten rules are just as, if not more, important than the written rules. I wrote about this idea HERE.

If you are considering making changes, implementing something new, adding staff, or any of dozen other decisions in your organization, you need to also consider the these “rules” of the organization.

Here are a 7 examples of unwritten rules:

The culture

How does it responds to change? How does it addresses problems? How does it plans for the future? How trusted is leadership? These are all unique to any organization.

The leader’s accessibility and temperament

Every senior leader is different. If you change the leader you change some of the unwritten rules. Is he or she considered approachable? Does he or she participate with the team normally? Would he or she know if there was a perceived problem in the organization? Do team members trust leadership? These answers shape responses to change.

The relationships of team members to each other

Is there a friendship or just a working relationship among team members? Is conflict acceptable and healthy? Do team members feel freedom to speak freely when in disagreement? Do people respect one another? Is there a silo culture or a common vision everyone is working to achieve? The healthiest organizations have people working together who genuinely like one another. If that isn’t there, change will be more difficult.

The sense of work satisfaction

Are there long-term team members? Are team members generally happy with the organization? Is there any unrest among team members? Are there unspoken concerns within the organization? Many times this has been formed over the years, sometimes even before a leader has been in the position, but it is valuable information for any leader.

The reaction to change

Is the “way it’s always been done” changeable? Has change usually been accepted or resisted? Who has to initiate change? What is the anticipated speed of change? Who needs to know about it? The success of change will be directly related to the answers to these questions and the way a leader responds to them.

The way information flows

How does communication really happen? What are the circles of influence? Who drives discussion? Who has influence with peers? What are the expectations regarding the “need to know”? Communication is key in any organization so, as leaders, we must understand the way it occurs.

The real power structure

Who really makes the decisions? Is it a board? A few key people? A consensus of the largest percentage of people? Power structures are rarely as purely formed as what is written on a piece of paper. Knowing this is critical to navigating change.

As a leader, it’s important that you not only concentrate your attention on what is easily measured, written in a policy manual, or even spoken as a value. Other considerations may be more important, even though they may have never been expressed formally. When change occurs or is to be implemented in an organization, paying attention to these unwritten rules is necessary for success.

By the way leaders, most likely you helped write (or are helping to write) these unwritten rules.

What are some of the unwritten rules of your organization?

5 Situations You May Need to Micromanage

For The People on Your Team

I prefer to be a macro-manager. I like to lead leaders. This 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 this 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.

7 Ways to Lose Favor with Senior Leadership

I can be pretty hard on senior leadership. Having been in such a position for over 25 years, I know the bad side of senior leadership. I’ve witnessed it and, in full candor, I’ve been it.

My goal is always to improve senior leadership for all of us, which has been a chief goal of this blog. When I’m coaching other leaders, predominately I’m coaching senior leadership.

But, what about those who are supporting senior leadership?

Any good senior leader knows he or she is nothing without the people on their team. Without people to lead there is no need for leadership. And, a huge part of good leadership is having confidence in the people on is trying to lead.

So, a good leadership question might be: What causes senior leadership to lose confidence in people they are trying to lead?

How do you lose favor with senior leadership?

Here are 7 common ways I have observed in my own leadership:

Give half-hearted devotion to the vision.

Speaking for someone in senior leadership, who feels the weight of completing the vision before us, there’s little time to waste on people who don’t share the same vision. It’s one thing not to understand it, to have questions about it, or need development. Everyone has bad days and bad seasons, but, it’s a completely different story when the person has lost passion – or never had passion – for the vision. Especially when they demonstrate it by their work.

Sometimes the best thing for the rest of the team – and the person – is for them to find a vision they can support. These are tough decisions leaders often have to encourage.

Work for a competing vision.

This one is slightly different. In the previous one, the person has lost heart. This person has plenty of heart – but, for a completely different vision. Any team will crumble under competing visions. When a team member starts competing, it’s hard to maintain the support of senior leadership.

Eventually, competing visions cause others on the team to choose sides. The division results in ineffectiveness and poor morale. Again, hard decisions may have to be made.

Always bringing surprises.

As a senior leader, there’s a surprise everyday. Something is always coming we didn’t see coming. It’s part of the job – and honestly – it keeps most leader-types energized, even when the surprise presents a new challenge. But, because they are so frequent, a healthy team helps limit them.

If someone on the team, for example, knows there is a problem brewing, and doesn’t share it with senior leadership in a timely manner, there is the potential for a bigger, more complicated challenge. It might have been avoided with prior information.

Whether in the person’s area of work or in their personal life, if there are frequent “surprises” the senior leader begins to lose confidence in the team member. The key here is good team members practice good communication. It’s paramount to a healthy team. It’s much easier to address an issue with advance knowledge. We can get through almost anything if we handle it together.

Never learning from mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes. Good leaders actually expect them as a part of the development process. It’s easy to lose the confidence of senior leadership, however, when mistakes made never produce improvement – or when there is an attitude of indifference towards them.

Failing to follow through.

Work has to be done. And, every great idea is just an idea until someone follows through with a plan of accomplishment. This is what separates great teams from mediocre teams. When team members never complete the tasks assigned, they lose the confidence of senior leadership.

(This one deserves a sidebar. If there are more tasks assigned than possible to complete, there could be a problem on the senior leaders side. This is another post, but sometimes you have to “lead up” to help senior leadership understand this, but make sure the problem is too many tasks and not a need to develop as a task master. Make sure you’re doing all you can to get better at time-management, for example.)

Causing your loyalty or respect to be questioned.

This one will raise eyebrows, but it’s true. Obviously, this requires a vision worth following, but loyalty towards senior leadership is necessary to complete the vision. I posted recently on some of my most repeated leadership nuggets. One of them is “Don’t trip over your own humility”. Basically, I described it as don’t refuse to do the right thing because it seems self-serving. And, this is certainly the case when you expect loyalty of followers. But, mutual loyalty and respect – from leaders and team members – is necessary to carry a team forward in a healthy way.

Say one thing. Do another.

There’s no place where letting our “yes be yes and our no be no” is more important than on a healthy team. And, every good leader knows this. People-pleasers don’t earn respect on a team once they are exposed. And, yes, this does start with senior leadership, but it must be carried through at every level of the team.

These are meant to be helpful. I work with a lot of ministry leaders who report to a senior pastor. I have never met one who didn’t want the support of the senior pastor, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with everything the pastor did. They want to be supported. When you’ve supposedly bought into the senior leadership, you want to be a team player, this is simply a gut honest look at some common ways to lose their support.

And, the same goes for senior leadership. We want people we can support, believe in, and want to work with on our team. And, every senior leader I know is trying to build such a team.

Granted, some are better at this than others. And, frankly, there are lots of senior leaders who aren’t worthy of much of the items on this list. They are difficult to follow, because they are difficult to trust. They may be incompetent, lack drive and be very controlling. Those are subjects of other posts – subjects I write about frequently. I realize if you’re in one of these situations there may be a natural push-back to a post like this. This post assumes at some point you believed in the senior leadership.

(And, if not, this too is a subject of another post, but maybe this post serves as another reminder to you it’s time for a change.)

Senior leaders, anything else you would add?