10 Tensions of Every Leader

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Being a leader isn’t easy. There are tensions with every decision a leader makes. I was thinking recently about some of those tensions.

Here are 10 tensions of every leader:

Displaying confidence without being arrogant.

Being inclusive without simply accommodating.

Making bold decisions while building collaboration.

Showing strength while displaying compassion.

Controlling energy towards a vision but allowing individuals to chart their path.

Funding dreams and curtailing needless expenses.

Celebrating victory while not resting on current success.

Honoring history while pushing towards the future.

Creating structure but allowing the freedom to create.

Learning from other leaders but being who you were uniquely wired to be.

Do you have some to add?

Lead Alone…Never Lead Alone: What?

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Sometimes I seem to contradict myself.

I say one thing…then I say another.

Yet, both are true.

For example. I say: Sometimes a leader has to lead alone.

Another time I say: Leaders should never lead alone.

Both are true.

Let me explain.

Don’t fear times when you seem to lead alone. No one seems to understand. There will be days in the life of a leader where you feel like everyone is against you. That’s normal. Happens to the best of leaders. You’ll have to keep going. That’s leadership. There will be times you have to lead when no one else sees what you see. You can have a firm, even God-given conviction, but it may take time for others to join in on the vision. Every leader will at times have to lead through the darkness of doubt into a greater reality.

But you shouldn’t lead alone for long.. Even when you don’t feel like it, there are usually people who support you. More than that, you should surround yourself with people you have given the freedom to speak into the deepest places of your life. You should allow people to help build the vision, give others ownership, and be a people builder by giving others the chance to lead. There shouldn’t be very long periods where you aren’t stretched by a doss of reality or correction. You should never lead alone…for long.

Both principles are true.

I’ve come up with a better way to say it:

Be willing to lead alone, but never lead in isolation.

Good Leaders Know the Difference in Popularity and Trust

Most popular stickers

In leadership, its important to know the difference in popularity and trust.

I’ve seen leaders… whether pastors, politicians or in business…try to take people places…even worthy places…and believe people would follow because they are popular as a leader. But, people didn’t follow…because the leader hadn’t developed enough trust. Misunderstanding this can dramatically damage a leader’s performance. (This is especially true for newer leaders.)

Many leaders assume they are trusted because they are popular, but that is many times not the case. The leader may be very popular, but that doesn’t always translate into trust.

Popularity has some importance in leadership. It is easier to follow a leader we like personally. But, popularity may be seasonal and temporary. Popularity can be altered by current successes or disappointments. Popularity can cause followers to cheer or jeer, because whether it is good or bad, popularity is mostly built on people’s emotions.

Trust is what is needed for the biggest moments in leadership. Major changes involve trust. Times of uncertainty need established trust in leadership. Long term success requires trust. And, trust must be earned. Trust develops with time and experience. Trust invokes a deeper level of loyalty and commitment that helps people weather the storms of life together. Trust develops roots in a relationship that grow far deeper than popularity ever could.

Leader, know the difference and don’t confuse the two. Popularity often disguises itself as trust when people appear to be agreeing with you. And it may fool you into thinking you can do anything…because you are…after all…popular. But, if you are not careful, you will cross a line of people’s level of trust and see a backlash towards your leadership.

It will make you a more effective leader when you can begin to discern when you are popular and when you are trusted.

Have you seen this mistake made in leadership?

7 Things Leaders Must Do To Be Effective Today

female leader

What makes an effective leader these days?

I was asked that question recently and I had to think for a moment. The question was asked in a way that caused me to believe the questioner felt my answer would be different today than ten or twenty years ago. Would it? Is leading any different today than in years past?

Well, it’s a good question, and I’m not going to attempt to answer it in this post (how’s that for dodging a question?), but let me attempt to put some answers to the question I was actually asked.

What makes an effective leader these days?

Perhaps in thinking through that question we’ll find answers to the question this question raised in me.

Here are 7 things leaders must do to be effective “today”:

Think bigger – Leaders don’t have the luxury of “resting in the moment” for long. Celebrate yes. But, then the leader must begin thinking “What’s new?”, “What’s next?” or “What needs improving?” Things are changing fast and to keep up, you’ll have to always be thinking beyond today.

Include others – There once may have been a day where a solo leader could flourish, but those days are gone. People want a seat at the table of decision. Information can no longer be controlled. (Not that it ever should have been, but it was easier. We can Google most anything today.) Reclusive leaders aren’t trusted and therefore not followed far. In the process, they waste valuable talent and opportunities from people on their team.

Remain positive – Leading isn’t easy. To say it is would mean life is easy…and it isn’t. Leading involves navigating through ups and downs and the successful leader will be the one who can keep people anxiously and excitedly looking forward through each season. On dark days a leader must point people towards better days…towards hope.

Challenge status quo – Change has always been part of society, but today change is happening at warp speed. Leaders must be agents of discovery and agents of improvement. Effective leaders must continually encourage people beyond what they think they can do.

Insure strategic thinking – We rarely reach a destination by chance, and so effective leaders are strategy experts. They work with people to craft a path to reach a destination that may not always look exactly like what we thought it would, but gets us closer to achieving our vision. We must get better with less resources and that will require strategy.

Communicate effectively – In a day where information is at everyone’s fingertips, and the quantity of information is overwhelming for all of us, the most effective leaders will be skilled communicators. They will be able to filter us through the mass of information to the most important information in the context of achieving our vision.

Stand firm – The successful leader will be able to guide a group of people towards a well-defined, easy to understand, worthy vision…in spite of hardships, setbacks and disappointments. As fast as change is changing, there must be some things which are consistent, which can grab and keep people’s heart and energy long term. Otherwise, we will see no real progress. That means effective leaders can’t get distracted with things that in the end won’t even matter. (Of course, for me, my constant guiding vision is the Gospel.)

That’s my answer of what it takes to be effective in leadership today. How is that different from years past? Is it?

How would you answer the question?

When you’re trying to figure out your right structure

Questions and Answers signpost

I received the following email, with a few key points disguised for anonymity, and thought it could be a question others are asking. Do you ever wonder the right structure for your church? If so, this post is for you.

“Pastor Steve” wrote (not his real name):

Hi Ron,

We are a small town church about 100. I have one full time and one part-time staff besides me. I would like to reorganize for better efficiency. We have a deacon board leadership and would like to come up with different titles and job descriptions for the leadership. Right now we have assignments for building, music, finance, missions, education and chairman. Pretty standard, traditional titles.

I lead the board and, thankfully, they are open to change. I’ve pastored here for over a dozen years, so they trust me.

Any suggestions on structure, purpose and job descriptions?

Thanks,

Steve

My reply (Slightly expanded from the original):

Steve,

I applaud you for thinking about how to be more efficient as a church. Frankly, that almost seems unusual for pastors, churches and church leadership.

I’d probably start, however, by asking bigger questions. Not magical questions. Just bigger.

Start with questions like these:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What is our vision?
  • Who has God uniquely called and equipped us as a church to be to our community and world?
  • What are my unique passions as a pastor?
  • What do we want to be known for above everything else as a church?
  • What are three or four activities or programs we would do if we had to quit everything else?

Once you (And I’d invite others) have spent sufficient time brainstorming and summarizing some those questions, (feel free to add your own) then you can ask:

  • Considering our answers above, what are vital steps needed to accomplish each of these listed?
  • What’s an appropriate timeframe to expect to be doing these?
  • What are action steps, with timelines, for the future goals we have as a church?
  • How can I and/or the staff or leadership improve so we can lead these new initiatives?
  • What are things we are currently doing that simply aren’t needed anymore or don’t work?

And finally, ask yourself or as a group:

  • Who do we have on the team to accomplish this list?
  • Who is gifted best to serve where?
  • What can I do and what will others need to do?
  • What can other staff members do?
  • Are there key leaders in the church we’ve not tapped for leadership who could fill some of these roles?
  • Where are the biggest holes in people and leader resources we need to fill?

Keep in mind these are broad, general questions designed to get you and your team brainstorming. You’ll need to choose the questions best for you and adapt them accordingly.

After you’ve gone through the questions, which is not a quick process, you can then begin to organize the new structure around tasks and people. This type process gives you a more realistic and effective structure. Keep in mind, the more you keep the list of things you are trying to do to a minimum, the more you will increase your effectiveness.

To summarize:

I always try to start with the biggest vision and work backwards. We want to reach people. We want to disciple people. Etc. Always start with what you MUST complete and do well.

Then, I lead us to ask, how are we going to accomplish that? Finally, we need to know who the people on the team are to help us do that.

If you spend time working through that process you’ll be close to having your new structure. Also, you’ll need to review this process again over time as people and times change. Your broad answers of what you’re trying to answer will likely stay the same, but it is always good for review. Your more specific answers will change depending on who the people are in the church at the time and how things need to be done now.

Quick response, but hope that helps some.

Ron

3 Basic Needs of Every Organization or Church

Learn & Lead

Several years ago I read an article by Raymond P. Rood’s entitled “How Then Should Organizations Live”. (http://www.humantechnologies.com) Rood makes the point that every organization has three basic needs. This philosophy resonated with me and, based on my experience, I can see how it relates to the churches, businesses, and non-profits I have led.

Here are 3 things Rood says every organization needs to thrive:

Growth – Rood says “growth needs focus on productivity and expansion.” The growth of any organization is vibrant and fast-paced and requires lots of energy and attention. It’s a world of numbers and percentages of increases. Without growth, the organization will eventually die, but if an organization only grows and never matures, that growth will not sustain itself for long.

Maintenance – According to Rood, “maintenance needs focus on order and the reduction of problems.” The more an organization grows the more it needs a structure in place to manage the growth; that’s maintenance. Systems. Some people love the maintenance world. Maintenance is extremely necessary for the organization to remain healthy. Still, if all an organization does is maintenance it will become dull, boring, legalistic, and uninspiring. (Did I paint that well enough?) Some organizations, and even churches, die because they live in the maintenance world. They become one large bureaucracy of rules and regulations, designed with good intentions, to sustain the organization’s growth. That leads to the third basic need of organizations.

Development – Rood writes that “development needs focus on organizational quality.” The development needs of an organization are designed to take it to the “next level” of success. This is where an organization really matures, develops lasting principles and values, and prepares itself for years of growth and success. Without developing an organization it will eventually wither and die.

(A common mistake is to confuse development with growth. Growth is always growth. It is focused primarily on things getting bigger. We need that focus. Development is focused on things getting better, which may or may not lead to growth. It may be completely internal. As a development person, I always hope this leads to growth, but quality is my main objective. An example here would be developing or improving the internal accounting or paperwork systems…the maintenance function. It’s more difficult to tie these directly to growth sometimes, but they can always be tied to development.)

For an organization to thrive it must do all three well. Using this information, I have expanded my thinking around these areas.

I’ve discovered, for example…

  • Everyone in the organization tends to prefer one of these three, even though all of us need all three to be successful in our role.
  • For a position to be most successful, it should have a primary focus on one of these three, although, again, all of them are necessary, for every position.
  • If a person is mismatched in one of these they will more quickly burnout. A person with a preference for growth, for example, will burnout sooner when they are function in the maintenance function.
  • We have to discipline ourselves as leaders and team members to make sure all three of these are a part of our work and the organization.
  • I have heard some people say they love all of these…or really “confident” people say they are good at all of them. I question this. In my experience, they may enjoy elements of all of them, and may even be good at all of them to some degree, but there will be one preference in the bunch (and weaknesses they can’t see in one of them.) For years, I thought I would be good at maintenance need, because I like organizational efficiency. When I was put in that position exclusively, I bombed at it.
  • When shaping a team, we need to make sure people specializing in all three are represented, and allowed to lead in their area of strength.

With these understandings, I have frequently walked our staff through each of these in a retreat setting. We expand our thoughts on these three needs as they relate to the life of our church and each individual area in which we serve. The discussion always leads to ways we can improve in each of these areas. As a pastor/leader, knowing the importance of each of these, I want to make sure we are excelling in all of them. That’s a healthy church.

For disclosure, I’m a development guy. My lesser strength is in the maintenance area, but I have seen what happens when we are weak in this area. I love the growth area, being a starter and entrepreneurial, but in an established organization, I always drift towards development…which usually involves starting something new in the same organization. If that’s all I had to do, I’d be happy. To be an effective leader, however, I must discipline my time to focus on all three needs. I can specialize in one, but I must be committed to playing a part in each area.

Some questions to ask, considering these three basic needs:

  • Which of these are missing most in your organization or church?
  • Which of these do you prefer doing most? (If you say all, let me encourage you to reconsider your answer.)
  • Should you discipline yourself in the other areas so you can be a healthier organization?

7 Vital Steps Prior to Implementing Major Change

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As a pastor and leader, I am continually dealing with change. Everyday. Change is a part of life. For all of us.

Some change occurs without us doing anything. Some change is so routine it requires little thought or preparation by the leader. But, when making major change…change that impacts everyone…change the may be controversial…there are some steps to take before you begin implementation. Failing to do most or all of these, in my experience, could derail the effectiveness of the change. Keep in mind, these are steps I take. You may have a better system in place. If so, please help me learn from you.

Here are 7 steps before implementing major change:

Establish trust authority – I wrote about this principle HERE. Leaders shouldn’t attempt to implement change until they have enough trust of the people to solicit the support necessary for the change. You will need people to follow your leadership and that requires an established relationship of trust. Leaders need to be careful to not move until enough trust is in place for the size of the change. This doesn’t mean people will trust, or even like, the change, but it does mean they have trust in the leader.

Personal confidence and conviction – Check your heart. Have you prayed about it? Do you sense any reason you shouldn’t do it? In my experience, God gives tremendous freedom to us in how we carry out the mission. That’s why there are hundreds of styles and structures of churches all carrying out the same Great Commission. But, before you do anything else, make sure you are in this enough to see it through. Would you be willing to fight the naysayers on this one? Are you willing to lose people over it? I’m not saying it will come to that, but that’s the level of commitment you need to have before you introduce major change.

Leadership – Make sure you get buy in from those who will most likely end up implementing the change. Personally, I’m seldom willing to move forward if the staff I’ve surrounded myself with doesn’t believe in the change. There may be times I need to vision cast better and help them see the need, but their support is critical if major change is going to be successful.

Focus group – On major changes, I like to bring in a group of people who are generally supportive of my leadership, but represent all the major groups within the church. I cast the vision for the change, get their feedback and answer questions. Again, they may or may not immediately agree with the change, but I know they will be a respectful audience. I always tell them that as a leader, I will have to follow the direction I feel God is leading me, but I value their input in the process of discernment. (And, I genuinely do. Make sure you are open to this as a leader.) This step always makes the change better by their input and helps build a base of support for the change.

Stakeholder analysis – I wrote about this concept HERE. I try to know the most interested and influential people in the particular change. We attempt to reach out to them first. Again, this step builds support among influencers and usually further enhances the change with their input and hopefully their support. Many times this group become supporters of the change, or at least they don’t work against it, because they feel included in the process. (Again, leader, make sure you are open to this input. You need people to make any change effective. The more buy-in you get early the more effective you will be.)

Major questions answered – (Or a plan to get them.) One of my goals is getting as many answers to questions as possible on the table before the change is implemented. We can never anticipate all the questions or scenarios that will arise, but the more we can address in advance the better prepared we will be to handle them when they do. In each of the groups listed here, I always ask what questions are in the room and what questions they may sense others will have.

Timetable – It is impossible to do this perfectly, but having a planned approach to implementing the change makes the change more successful. This needs to be planned, as much as possible, before the change implementation begins. People WILL ask this question. Be realistic with your timetable, but don’t be afraid to let it stretch you either. The best change requires an element of faith.

Those are some of the steps I think through before making major change. As a pastor, I know God has called me to lead a church that will always need to be changing as the people we try to reach our changing. Refusing to change simply diminishes our effectiveness and shortens our lifespan as a local church. The more I can do to prepare people for change, the more effective that change can be.

Any steps you would add?

5 Ways to Hear from People Different from You

Leadership Ahead

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is:

Forgetting that everyone doesn’t think like the leader.

People are different. They think differently. They have different desires. Thankfully, they have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are different from the leader.

If you want to lead people who are different from you…and you should…you’ll often have to lead differently from how you wish to be led. Frankly, I’d be comfortable leading by email, but how healthy would that environment be?

When you fail to remember this principle of leadership, that people are different, you frustrate those you are trying to lead. You get poor performance from the best leaders on your team and your team fails to live up to its potential.

Here are some thoughts to warrant against this:

(Please understand, I am using the word “I” a lot here. I don’t really like that term much, because I’m a leader in training too, but I want you to see how I being intentional in this area and provide a few practical examples.)

Intentionally surrounding yourself with diverse personalities. One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person, even outside or my work. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me that everyone isn’t introverted like me. On any church staff I lead, I know I want some different personalities to compliment mine. Building my comfort with this in my personal life helps me welcome it even more in my professional life. We will all share a common vision, but we should have some unique approaches to implementing it. Ask yourself, “Have I surrounded myself with people who think just like me?”

Asking questions. Lots of them. Personally, I ask lots of questions. I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. We do assessments as a team. I have quarterly meetings with direct reports. We have frequent all staff meetings. I periodically set up focus groups of people for input on various issues. I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible. I try to consistently surround myself with different voices so I receive diversity of thought. I place a personal value on hearing from people who I know respect me, but are not afraid to be honest with me.

Never assuming agreement by silence. I want to know, as best as I can, not only what people are saying, but what people are really thinking. To accomplish this, I periodically allow and welcome anonymous feedback. I realize, just because of position, and partly because of personalities, that some are not going to be totally transparent with me. I try to provide multiple ways for feedback. Even during meetings I welcome texting or emailing me (depending on the size and structure of the meeting) during the meeting. I’ve found that approach works better for some who may not provide their voice otherwise.

Welcoming input. This probably should have come first, but this is a personal attitude. I have to actually want to hear from people on my team. Even the kind of information that hurts to hear initially. I personally want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office, at any time, and challenging my decisions. (I keep candy in my office knowing it attracts them for frequent returns.) Granted, I want to receive respect, but I expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Structuring for expression of thought. Here I am referring to the DNA…the culture…for the entire team. And, it is very important. There has to be an environment with all leaders that encourages people to think for themselves. That kind of culture doesn’t happen without intentionality. As a leader, I try to surround myself with people sharper than me, but I want all of us to have the same attitude towards this principle of hearing from others. I believe in the power of “WE”. If we want to take advantage of the experience and talents in our church, we have to get out of the way, listen, and follow others lead when appropriate.

It’s not easy being a leader, but it is more manageable when you discipline yourself to allow others to help you lead.

How do you structure yourself to hear from people different from you? What are some ways you have seen this done by other leaders?

Warning: Don’t Be the Senior Leader Unless…

Warning

Here’s a warning:

Don’t Agree to Be the Senior Leader Unless…

You are ready to lead alone at times…or at least feel like you are.

You aren’t striving for popularity, knowing that every decision you make is unpopular to someone.

You can make the hard decisions, even the ones involving people or conflict.

You will try to see all sides of an issue.

You are comfortable with change and thinking outside the box.

You are okay when others receiving credit; even for something you initiated.

You can delegate leadership…and truly empower others, believing things are better when other people help make decisions.

You don’t let criticism derail you for long, but stay committed to the task before you.

You can think beyond today and help others join you by casting an engaging vision.

You highly value people and their contributions.

And _________?

Senior leaders…share yours.

7 Ways to Help an Introvert Engage in Meetings

power meeting from above

I am asked frequently how to engage introverts on a team in meetings. I guess because I am an introvert, and have written extensively about the subject, people assume I know how to engage someone completely different from me, but who also happens to be an introvert. We aren’t all alike…you know. :) Although it is a common perception that all introverts are reserved, constantly quiet, and unsocial, introverts are a diverse group, with varying degrees of introversion. My best advice for leaders about engaging people into meetings would be to consider everyone different. When it comes to meeting dynamics, everyone has something to add and does so in their own way. It takes me time to understand the team. Part of my job, if I’m leading a meeting, is to analyze the people in the room, as much as I can, before the meeting begins.

But, I understand. Many introverts don’t engage in meetings. They keep to themselves, especially in large group settings. They aren’t as easy to get to know. And, yes, I can even be that way, especially if I’m not in a leadership position where I have to force myself out of my introversion.

So, here’s my attempt to answer some of the questions about engaging introverts in meetings. Keep in mind, we aren’t all alike, even though we share the introvert characteristic, but try a few of these and see if they improve your meeting dynamics. And, just to be clear, some of these can help extroverts make better in meeting decisions too.

Here are 7 suggestions to help introverts engage more:

Give them time to respond – This is huge. Introverts typically reflect inward, so they respond only after they have thought through their answer. This is a great characteristic if used well, because it usually means their answer has already been tested in their own mind. They are likely to be some of the most valid options on the table if you give the process time to work.

Ask specific questions…ahead of time – Give them a problem and time to solve it and most introverts, if left alone, will enjoy the challenge. If you want them to brainstorm effectively, tell them exactly what you are going to brainstorm about prior to beginning.

Let them respond in writing – When I know there are numerous introverts in a group, I will usually find a way to let them put something in writing. I have even allowed them to text or email me during the meeting. It’s amazing some of the suggestions I’ve received when an introvert doesn’t have to say it aloud.

Don’t put them on the spot – If you call on them for an immediate response you might get an answer if you do, but it won’t be their best answer and it will often keep them from ever sharing again. Introverts are often not huge fans of being singled out to answer a question. They may be better prepared if you ask a question, let people respond who have instant answers (usually the extroverts), then call on the introverts later in the process.

Separate them from the most extroverted – If there are too many extroverts in the group, introverts and even more likely to shut down communication. Try putting a group of introverts together, give them plenty of time and thought provokers to stimulate conversation, then allow the process to work on their time. You may be amazed.

Give them an assignment they can control – Many introverts (this one included) can perform to task if we are put in the seat of responsibility. It could be speaking to a group or working the crowd at a banquet, but when it’s purposeful and I have an assigned responsibility, and can control how I do it, I’m more likely to perform like an extrovert.

Express genuine and specific interest in their ideas – Introverts, like all of us, love to be respected for our thoughts and ideas. If you want an introvert to share more, remind him or her how valuable they are to the team and how much their thoughts are needed. This is best done before the meeting starts.

Some of these suggestions might help with your church Sunday school or small group meetings also.

As already stated, this isn’t an exact science. We are all different. Knowing introversion, however, as I do, it’s a little easier for me to land on these points. Don’t overlook the introverts on your team as if they have nothing to add to the discussions. They do. They will simply share that information differently. They may not talk as much as some or seem to have as many opinions, but when they do, it will often be golden.

Are you introverted? What tips could you share?

You might read THIS POST and THIS POST for more posts on introversion.