Almost on a weekly basis I hear from a young pastor who wants to grow as a leader. He feels the pressure placed upon him and knows that others are looking to him to steer the church on a healthy course. Most of these leaders are humble, knowing that ultimately Christ is the head of the church. What they also know is that there are expectations of their position, decisions that have to be made which are not clearly defined in Scripture, and that seminary didn’t train them to make.
Sometimes it seems I’ve given the same advice many times; either reminding myself or to another pastor. The more times I share the same concept, the more it becomes a short, paradigm shaping idea that summarizes the basic issue the leader is facing. What isn’t always clear is that I’ve learned these concepts mostly by living these concepts. I’ve made more mistakes in leadership than I’ve had success. That’s what this post is about. These are some warnings I’ve observed first hand in leadership positions I’ve held. I’m trying not to continue to live them and I’d love to help other leaders avoid them.
Here are 7 warnings for aspiring leaders:
What you “settle for” becomes the culture.
Mediocrity isn’t created. It’s accepted.
Your actions determine their reactions.
Don’t assume they agree because they haven’t said anything.
You’ll never get there just “thinking about it”.
If you’re the leader, they are likely waiting on you to lead or release the right to lead.
What the team values becomes apparent by your actions, not your words, no matter how well spoken they might be.
What warnings would you share to aspiring leaders?
If you want to eliminate risk from leadership…
Here’s what you have to accept:
It will be expensive – You’ll have to eliminate every thing which could go wrong. That will not be cheap to accomplish.
It will be time consuming – You will have to research all scenarios and answer all questions. That will take considerable time.
It may seem impractical – Getting to zero risk may never actually happen regardless of how hard you try. Risk seems to find its way back into the equation, in my experience.
It may be unrealistic- Life is a risk. Risk is all around us. If it involves people, time or circumstances, risk seems more realistic than no risk…to me. I’m not saying it won’t, I’m just questioning how practical that really is and really whether or not that’s even leadership. Leadership by application involves risk.
I’m not trying to stop you from trying to eliminate risk in leadership. Study. Evaluate. Question. Critique. Make practical plans as much as possible. That certainly sounds like good stewardship. I try to do each of those. You can certainly keep doing so until you are comfortable the risk is eliminated. Go for it!
My personal thought, however, is that when eliminating risk is a primary motivation you may lose opportunity. Try to eliminate risk and the world and the best ideas may pass you by.
Eliminating risk certainly doesn’t mesh with my understand of faith, nor does it mesh with the passion or adventure God seems to have given to the people He created. We seem to be by nature seekers of adventure, discovery…risk.
But, if that’s your goal…to eliminate risk…don’t let me stand in your way. Zero risk on the way…right?
Bonus question: What is the biggest risk you are currently attempting?
Recently, I was talking to a church planter. He was asking questions about the initial days of a church plant. Since I have been involved in two church plants, and I get those questions frequently, I referred him to a few blog posts I’ve written.
We talked through some of these concepts, then he asked me another question.
A great question.
What things did you try to control and which did you release to others?
Love that question. Not sure I’d ever had it before, at least that directly, in terms of church planting.
I gave the first answer that came to me:
The only leadership lid you will ever create is whatever area you choose to control.
It came out quickly, but I still liked and agreed with my answer. I then realized, as much as I love delegation, there are some things I felt the need to control. I expanded our conversation to include a few things I do control…or at least have a major impact upon: (Some of these came to me after the conversation ended)
Vision – Senior leadership should make sure the vision of the organization is maintained.
Staff culture – Senior leadership, especially in the early days, plays a primary role in setting the morale, approach to structure and formation of the DNA of the organization.
The organization’s pursuit of excellence – People will never push for more excellence than the level expected, led, and lived by senior leadership.
The moral value of the organization - The character and integrity of the organization will reflect senior leadership. Period.
The velocity of change – Senior leadership sets the speed that change and innovation is welcome in the organization.
As a leader, especially in a new organization (church plant), I realize the less I control, the more I can allow others to lead. The result is a healthier, happier organization that is more prone for growth. There are things, such as the above, that by default and, for their importance, senior leadership should control. If control seems to harsh a word, choose another, but these should not be delegated too far beyond the ability to guide them.
Make this post better:
Is there anything else you think a leader should attempt to control?
Give them a problem to solve
If the answer is already found, you can hire a manager for that job…and you’ll need a good one. You’ll have other problems to solve and a good manager can free you up to lead.
But, to attract a leader…
Help them see a need…give them some freedom to find a solution…give them support…get out of the way…and let them go.
Leaders seek opportunities to lead
Challenge…opportunity…problems…something everyone says cant be done….
That’s an environment that fuels a leader’s energy. It’s what attracts a leader to your team.
Are you in an environment that attracts leaders? What makes it so?
Are the real rules
In an organization, what is passed down, maintained over the years, repeated the most, become a part of tradition…that’s what is real.
That’s the DNA
They may have never been written down, voted on or “put in the minutes”, but they are assumed true by the majority.
Those are the rules people will defend and protect the most.
They’ll fight to keep them from being changed or bended.
If you are a new leader or a veteran, understanding this principle will increase your effectiveness.
Trust me in this.
Have you ever learned the principle the hard way?
After the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41)
How did Paul respond?
Read it for yourself:
After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2
That’s the role of a leader in times of crisis. In times of uncertainty. In times of change.
The people following you are looking for assurance that everything is going to be okay. They want to know there is a plan. They want to hear things are moving forward with confidence.
Help people process the pain of their circumstances.
Give them hope. Encourage. Challenge them to continue.
What is a key to successful delegation?
Don’t just delegate responsibility.
Give people the authority to determine how the work gets completed. In healthy delegation, you have already helped them determine what a win looks like. You helped shape the vision. Now, let them set the tasks to complete the job. Let them determine timing and the players on their team. It’s so much better than simply holding them responsible. When people have authority they take ownership. They assume (partial) liability. They become personally attached to the outcome.
Responsibility without authority only puts pressure on people. When a person is responsible for completion, but has no authority of how to make it happen, it becomes a job more than a mission. It’s frustrating.
Granted, letting go of authority is hard. It won’t always work. The truth is people will disappoint you…they won’t do the job the way you were expecting. Simply releasing responsibility seems freeing. Releasing authority seems risky.
Oh, but when it does work…when delegation takes hold completely…effectively…you, the organization and the entire team benefits. And, the reward is far greater than a project not properly delegated.
Great leaders push through the fear of letting go by trusting people to make decisions, so that ultimately more decisions can be made, leadership development occurs, and the organization grows.
Not to sound contradictory, but this doesn’t mean you are off the hook as the delegating leader. I wrote about that in THIS POST. Successful delegation requires releasing responsibility, and authority over the delegated project, while maintaining a healthy, though distant, oversight until the project is completed. I know, that’s difficult, but it’s part of what makes leading so much fun …and so much better.
Be honest, how are you at releasing authority?
A few weeks ago, someone asked me what my “biggest frustration” is as a leader. As I thought about it, I have to be honest, I have lots. That may point to another area of struggle for me personally…that I’m seldom satisfied…with me or others. In many ways I am still learning the secret of being content, but I like continual improvement and think there is usually room to get better in all areas of our life. I think that is true in leadership too.
But, the question was my “biggest frustration”, so I opened an Evernote file, titled it “Biggest Frustrations” (since I knew I had more than one) and decided to record some of my actual frustrations over the next few weeks. Some of these are mine from observing people directly and some are from the stories my readers share with me each day. When I reached seven, based on my obvious past love of the number seven, I figured it was time to share my findings.
Here are 7 of my biggest frustrations as a leader:
Pettiness – It bothers me in leadership to argue over things that really, in the large scheme of things, just don’t matter. When it comes to arguing, I can almost always find issues of bigger significance. (If you consider it this way…it may make a case….even a Biblical case…not to even argue.)
Selfishness – I get frustrated when people have to have things “their way”. It destroys any hope of a healthy team when people are only thinking of their personal wishes. (Doesn’t sound very Biblical to me either.)
Rudeness – The way you talk to someone, always determines the way they respond. To me, there is no place for disrespect in an organization or on a team or in any relationship, for that matter. This should be especially true in churches. Even when we don’t agree with one another, we can address one another in kindness. (Remember, kindness is a fruit of the spirit.)
Narrow-mindedness – When someone can’t think beyond the way it’s always been done, it limits the organization from achieving all it could achieve. There are issues…Biblical, foundational, value-driven issues…where narrow-mindedness is a positive, but in the mode of operation, of the way we get things done, or how we accomplish our God-given vision, I think change is not only good…it’s vital for continued growth.
Stubbornness – Equally frustrating, is when people are unwilling to change. When a person refuses to accept what’s best for the good of everyone, and it’s not a Biblical issue, their stubbornness only hurts the organization (and frustrates the leader. )
Unforgiveness – When someone has been injured, they have a choice. They can choose to hold a grudge or they can choose to forgive. Holding a grudge keeps the injury alive. Forgiving opens the door for healing. (Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.)
Recklessness – It is frustrating to observe people who seemingly have no regard for other people. They make decisions without the consideration of others. They say things without thinking how they hurt. They use their influence to disrupt an organization’s progress, rather than enhance it. They derail progress with a disregard for what’s best in favor of what’s personal to them. It’s frustrating.
There is my list. If I kept the Evernote file open, I might find some more. Of course, you can help too.
What are your biggest frustrations in leadership?
In my last post, “Do You Want to Grow Leaders?”, I said that experience…good and bad shapes us as a leader. The bigger the experience…the more we grow.
Continuing that thought process, how do we create the environment where leaders can grow? What are some common elements that are necessary in every organization? What tools do we need to help leaders grow?
Here are 4 tools I use to grow people:
Knowledge – It has been said that knowledge is power. That’s certainly true when it comes to developing leadership. I knowI must share information if I want to grow leaders for the church.
Character – Character isn’t taught, but it certainly can be modeled. A leader desiring to grow other leaders of character must display a character worthy of following. I realize my personal character will greatly determine the quality of leaders we attract.
Opportunity – Most aspiring leaders are waiting for a break. They are seeking opportunity. They are screaming “Give me a chance”. I know I must create opportunities for others to explore the process of leading others.
Experience – Opportunity gives experience. As I said in the previous post, it is in the tension of stretching where we learn the most. Leaders give others the opportunity to experience firsthand the stress of leadership. I realize that one of my roles in the church is releasing my right to control an outcome to provide people with their own experience as a leader.
By the way, I used the term people, because these work in other contexts, besides the field of leadership development.
How are you introducing these tools into your leadership development? What other tools do you use?
In one of my first professional leadership roles, I managed a large retail division of a major department store. The division had several departments within it and each department had a separate department manager. Most of the departments were efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. One department, however, continued to fall behind the others. It was frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to get them to improve.
I was young and inexperienced, so I innocently thought the problem was me. If I could implement the right strategy in working with this department…find the right system…I could improve performance. I tested numerous systems to try to increase their productivity, but nothing seemed to work.
I was wrong. The experience taught me a valuable lesson.
You can have the best systems…the best strategies…the best programs…and still struggle with the performance of a team. Sometimes it’s not a systems problem.
Sometimes it’s strictly a people problem.
I realized the problem was the leader in this department. This person always said what I wanted to hear. She was nice to me personally. She talked a good game, but she was grossly under-performing and bringing her department down with her. Through due process, and after trying to work with this leader to improve, I eventually had to replace her leadership and the department dramatically improved, almost instantly.
Since then I’ve always tried to remember:
Never try to handle a people problem with a systems approach.
Handle people problems, with people.
This doesn’t mean you’ll always need to replace the people, but you seldom improve people problems with better systems. You improve people problems by improving people.
Many times, in my experience, we try to create systems when the problem isn’t a systems problem, it’s a people problem.
Knowing the difference between a systems problem and a people problem, and being mature enough to handle it, will make you a better leader.
Have you seen organizations and leaders create systems, instead of handling the real problem?
(Churches are notorious for this, by the way. We try to solve problems in people’s lives, for example, by creating rules, systems, programs, etc, designed to help make them better people. The problem is it’s not a systems problem. It’s not a program or committee problem. It’s a people problem. If their heart doesn’t change, the problem will continue. That’s the subject of another post.)