7 Statements Every Leader Needs To Use Often

Recently, I shared 7 questions every leader should use often. It opened some good discussion around the post. It also made me think there was a similar set of 7 phrases leaders should consider using frequently. These are not questions, but statements.

One of the goals of a leader should be to encourage, strengthen and challenge a team to continually improve. Almost as a cheerleader rousing the crowd at a game, the leader uses his or her influence to bring out the best in others.

How do leaders do that? One way is by the questions and statements we make as leaders. This post is an extension of that thought.

Here are 7 phrases leaders should memorize and use often:

I believe in you.

You are an asset to this team.

Let me know how I can help you.

You are doing a great job.

I need your help.

I want to help you reach your personal goals.

You are making a difference here.

You may not be able to use these phrases every day. You shouldn’t overuse them. They need to be genuine, heartfelt and honest. That may not even happen every week. But, as often as you can, slip a few of these into your memory bank and pull them out where appropriate. It will help you build a better team.

What phrases would you add?

The Reason Many Policies are Written

Many policies are written because someone didn’t want to solve a problem.

In her book “Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands”, Nancy Ortberg talks about the need to differentiate between “a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved“. One example for me is the constant tension between the administration/money side of ministry and the discipleship/hands on side of ministry. As pastor, I’m always going to have to balance tension between our business administrator working to conserve cash and our youth pastor finding legitimate ministry needs in which to spend it, for example. That’s a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved. On the other hand, an employee who is taking advantage of a more casual organizational structure, which I typically prefer…that’s a problem to be solved. Quickly. A system, which is not working, causing more harm than good to the organization…problem to be solved. Now.

Most of the time, however, in my experience, churches are notorious for creating a new policy to attempt to manage the problem rather than doing the difficult work of solving it. Solving the problem often involves getting personal with people. It involves challenging people. It involves change. It involves holding people accountable to a higher standard. That’s messy. It’s never fun. Most churches like neat, clean and seemingly easy. (Just being honest.)

Using my illustration above, if the youth pastor has a perceived spending problem, rather than addressing the problem with him directly, many times a policy is created to “solve” the problem and curtail spending. Every other staff member may be performing satisfactorily, but the policy controls everyone. Plus, without wise counsel, the youth pastor never learns principles of healthy budgeting or how to manage cash flow, for example, and it continues to impact his ministry for years to come. Problem not solved.

Policies are easy. They are a piece of paper. They may involve some discussion, perhaps a committee meeting (maybe even a tense committee meeting), maybe even a church vote, but they seldom specifically address the people who are causing the problem in the first place. They make people feel better about the problem, but they almost never solve real problems. In fact, they usually only create more problems…which later need to be solved!

For more of my thoughts on policies, see THIS POST. I realize this problem is not limited to churches. Even the best organizations and corporations struggle to address problems as needed.

My advice:

Manage the tensions, but solve the problems.

Do the hard work. It’s what leaders are supposed to do. Not always easiest. Always best.

Have you seen churches (or organizations) try to manage a problem that needed to be solved?

Bonus points if you give me an example.

7 Times Leadership is at Its Best

In my opinion…

Leadership is at its best when:

People follow willingly, not under coercion or force.

People can keep up, but are still being stretched.

People feel valued, while being challenged to continually improve.

People are assigned to their specific passion, but readily do what needs to be done.

People have a clearly defined vision, but have freedom to invent and dream along the way.

People have real responsibility and authority, but don’t feel dumped on or abandoned.

People take time to celebrate, but aren’t allowed to sit still for long.

What would you add?

8 Most Dangerous Leadership Traits

There are no perfect leaders…except for Jesus. For the rest of us, we each have room for improvement. Most of us live with flaws in our leadership. Good leaders learn to surround themselves with people who can supplement their weaknesses.

There are, however, some leadership traits, which a leader can never delegate away. If the leader can’t work through them, in my opinion, his or her leadership will be crippled. With these traits, the best the leader has to offer will never fully materialize.

These leadership traits will eventually wreck a leader’s success.

Here are 8 dangerous leadership traits:

Immoral character – If the leader’s character is flawed, the leadership will be flawed. A leader can never escape the quality of his or her heart.

Assuming everyone’s support – Leaders seldom hear the complete story unless they pursue it. Environments have to be created that produce transparency and honesty. Even in the healthiest organizations there will always be things a leader doesn’t know.

Assuming everyone understands – In my experience, most leaders think they are communicating effectively. What’s clear to them they assume is clear to others. It’s usually not as clear as the leader thinks. Good leaders ask lots of questions to identify the level of clarity.

Continually avoiding conflict – Conflict never, ever, ever, goes away. Ever. Unresolved conflict damages the strength and integrity of organizational health. It may get ignored, overlooked, or stifled, but until conflict is dealt with it continues to stir strife in an organization.

Pretending to have all the answers – The less a leader listens to others, the less willing others will desire to help the leader succeed. Arrogant leaders never attract the best from people. Great leaders invite input, knowing that with more people involved, decisions will be stronger and more buy-in will be achieved.

Allowing friendship to derail progress – Great leaders value relationships and recognize friendships with others as an important part of their personal well-being. At the same time, some leaders fail to separate their friendships from their callings as leaders. They confuse loyalty as a friend from their responsibility as a leader. A leader cannot allow personal friendships to negatively alter the course to success.

Refusing to let go of control – When the leader doesn’t delegate, he or she stifles the growth of the organization. Healthy delegation involves releasing authority over a project. If a leader continually maintains the right to control, the organization will be limited to his or her abilities, rather than the strength of the team.

Living in the past – Unless you’re a teacher of history, the leader’s primary focus needs to be on the future. Leadership is about moving things forward. That requires progressive thinking, welcoming change, and refusing to let past failures determine future success.

Be honest, of which of these are you most guilty? As difficult as it may be, until you push through them and improve in that area, you’ll never experience the leadership success you desire.

What examples would you add to my list of things you can change and things you can’t?

If you have to live by the rules

Write better rules…

That principle came to me recently in a personal illustration.

Cheryl and I love to travel, and we have done a lot of it together. Several years ago we realized that we were getting close to visiting all 50 states. Friends of ours had that as a goal of theirs, so we adopted it. Again, our goal was simple: visit all 50 states together. Since then we’ve planned many of our vacations around trying to get to all 50 states. At present count we are missing 9 states.

(I’m praying some churches in Alaska and Hawaii need me to fill in some Sunday or lead a retreat for them soon. :) )

Cheryl needs a plan, so we needed some criteria in her mind for the visits. So we developed the “rules” for a state to be considered “visited”. There were only two rules:

  • We had to be in the state together.
  • We had to spend the night there.

Pretty simple, right?

Recently we were on vacation attempting to cover a few more states. Our plan would allow us to mark four states off our list. As we started planning, however, we realized we could mark five states off our list, if only we didn’t have to “spend the night there”. Our own rule got in the way. As anxious as we are to mark off all 50 states, especially since we are so close, we still had a rule to follow.

Then the thought occurred to me. They were our rules. We could change them if we want to. We could say we had to eat a meal there. Or we could say we had to spend 6 hours there. But, the point I’m making:

We could change the rules and still not alter our original goal…to visit together all 50 states.

It was a huge relief. Cheryl agreed. We added the fifth state to our list. As it turned out, we were able to spend the night there, but not out of the pressure to obey a rule, but because we wanted to.

Now that’s a silly example, but it illustrates a much bigger problem we face in many churches and organizations.

Sometimes we confuse our rules for our goals.

Rules aren’t goals. Goals aren’t rules.

Rules are meant to help us attain goals, not keep us from them. We need rules. They guide our way to progress.

As much as rules are a part of the process…

Why live by rules that keep us from accomplishing our goals?

Many times we limit ourselves to doing things strictly according to rules we’ve set for ourselves, or others have set for us, but they actually hinder progress. Instead, we don’t need to change our end goal. We don’t need to lower our standards. Many times we really just need to write better rules.

Help this post. What’s a rule that’s currently getting in the way of progress?

5 Reasons Your Pastor may not be Leading Well

I was talking with a godly man recently about his church. He’s concerned that the church is wasting a lot of resources. They have a large building, a large staff, and a rich history of Kingdom-building, but the building sits empty most days of the week and there is a steady decline in baptisms and Sunday attendance. There is no momentum in the church and he’s concerned than in 20 years the church will be gone. He blames it all on the leadership of the pastor.

I don’t know if that’s completely fair, but certainly leadership is a critical part in the success of any organization, including the church. I’ll address this again later in the post, but I’ll make it clear here also. I believe Jesus is the head (and the leader) of the church, but God uses men and women to lead people within the church. It’s the subject of another post, but regardless of what you term it, leadership, as a concept among God’s people and the church, is exemplified throughout Scriptures.

About half of my readers are pastors. (I’ll apologize to you in advance for this post. My goal is to help pastors, not injure them more. I’m a firm believer, however, that until you identify the problem you have a hard time finding a solution.) I frequently hear from staff ministers and church members who are concerned about the direction of their church. The number one issue churches appear to face is that of leadership; specifically pastoral leadership. In fact, many would say if the pastor isn’t leading well, the church will likely suffer at some level.

When a pastor isn’t leading the church well, there’s usually an answer as to why. I’ve listed some of them I’ve observed here.

Here are 5 reasons your pastor may not be leading well:

Ignorance – I don’t mean this one to be cruel. Its just that most pastors don’t learn everything we need to lead a church in seminary or any other school…for that matter. Many pastors have never developed leadership skills prior to be assigned a position of leadership within the church, so much of pastoring becomes on-the-job training. Because much of a pastor’s job involves people, the realm of possibilities a pastor might encounter are as wide as the differences are in people.

The solution for this reason is training, mentoring, and growing by experience. The church should be understanding and supportive of opportunities for the pastor to learn from others and the pastor needs to be humble enough to admit the need for further training.

Innocence – Many times the pastor simply doesn’t see what you see…or for that matter, value you what you value. I’ve learned I’m often the last to know of a problem within my church. If there’s an issue in preschool ministry, for example, if someone doesn’t tell me about it, I won’t know about it. I don’t have preschoolers anymore, and most of the time, while I’m preaching preschool ministry is in full function. Now I value preschoolers, so I would want to know if there is a problem in that area. There may be other areas of ministry that the pastor doesn’t spend time thinking about, because it isn’t an area he’s passionate about. That doesn’t make the ministry wrong, or unimportant, but it simply may not have the pastor’s first attention. Many times the thing you think the pastor should be addressing is on the list of the things of which the pastor isn’t aware there is a problem or simply hasn’t been considering that area as an issue of importance.

The pastor needs to learn the art of asking questions to see what areas are struggling and what’s important to people in the church. The church needs to find ways to share information more readily with the pastor, without arguing and complaining (because that’s not the Biblical way :) ).

Burnout – In my recent survey of pastors, 77% of pastors said they were presently or had been in a burnout situation. Burnout is when you aren’t healthy enough to function at full capacity. When a pastor is facing burnout, leadership will suffer. The pastor needs to be diligent in remaining healthy physically, spiritually, mentally and relationally, and needs to seek help when any of those areas begin to slip beyond the normal stress of life.

Pastors need to learn how to recognize the signs of burnout and address them early, before they significantly impact their leadership. The church needs to be mindful of the amount of demands placed on the pastor, consider the needs of the pastor’s family, and build a structure that invests in and protects the pastor. One of the best things a church can do is give the pastor significant enough downtime to recover from the demands of ministry. That need will vary based on the level of demands placed on the church, pastor and pastor’s family at the time.

Structure – I hear from pastors weekly who feel they are handcuffed to tired, worn out, traditions that keep them from accomplishing their God-given vision for the church. Many times the restraints placed against a pastor prevent effective leadership. A pastor is restricted when there are too many unnecessary rules, the committee system is cumbersome and inefficient, or when the demands of the church on the pastor are unrealistic. Pastors and churches are often threatened by power hungry people and extreme resistance to any change.

If the pastor is expected to lead, then latitude and freedom to lead needs to be afforded to him without the constant fear of retribution. Church members should ask the question, if the church expects the pastor to lead, does the structure of the church allow the pastor to lead the church? If not, then the church will either need to adapt the structure or lower the expectations placed on the pastor’s leadership.

Arrogance – Let’s be honest. Some pastors confuse a call to a position for a mandate of dictatorship. Jesus is the head of the church. God allows men and women of God to lead in His church, but some pastors assume more control than has been afforded to them. If a pastor is not careful, pride will take over and humility will be absent. When this is the case, people naturally resist leadership, stir controversy, and resist change.

The pastor needs to build an accountability structure around him of people who have been given the authority to speak into his life. As for the church’s role, I believe this type issue is handled best with one or a few people approaching the pastor first, rather than making it a Sunday afternoon, “sit around the table and bash the pastor” event. If the pastor is struggling with arrogance, however, it needs to be addressed as it is not honoring to God and could be the “pride before the fall”.

I realize I’ve just scratched the surface on each of these. I’m happy to dialogue about them more in the comments. I’ll consider a separate post for those that stir the most discussion.

What are some other reasons pastors don’t lead well?

5 Secret Traits to Make a Better Leader

When I first became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility that stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, now a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter.

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few secrets, which helped me as I entered the business world, led in the corporate world, and later as I led my own businesses. Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

Here are 5 secret traits to make you a better leader:

Let go – The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST about empowering leaders.)

Give up – You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned that secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Don’t know – If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. If you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered, you’ll be dismissed as a respected leader, and you’ll close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new…many times from the people they lead.

Waste time – Great leaders have learned that spending time that other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Spend time investing in people, in ways that may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bounce off – The more you deflect attention from yourself to others, the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

What secret traits have you learned that make one a better leader?

When You Can’t Stand the Heat in the Leadership Kitchen

When I was growing up I frequently heard the phrase…

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Are people still saying it and I’m just not hearing it?

Either way, I think that phrase applies in leadership, only I’m not sure that’s the only option.

Are you experiencing the “heat”; the stress of leadership? Do you feel you are in over your head? Are you not able to keep up with the demands on you personally and you are, therefore, questioning your abilities as a leader? Do others have the perception you can’t accomplish what you are supposed to do? Perception is often more powerful than reality.

I have been there numerous times as a leader. At 20 years of age, I was thrust into a management position, because the manger left suddenly. By default I was given responsibility I had bluffed upper management into believing I was prepared to do. I wasn’t. When I became a self-employed small business owner I quickly realized the ball rested in my court, I was responsible for meeting payroll for others and myself, and I was in well over my head. As the pastor of a fast growing church, there have been many times I’ve not known what to do. Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to admit it these days.

When you find yourself in over your head in leadership, using the analogy of the heat in the kitchen…

I think you have a 3 basic options:

Get out of the kitchen – Let’s be honest and admit that you may be in the wrong kitchen. The heat may be too much for you. Sometimes you simply aren’t a fit for the role. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a fit for any role, just not this one, or in this organization. My leadership style wouldn’t work in many churches. Being willing to admit it saves you heartache, your team from destruction, and the organization from having to make difficult decisions regarding your leadership in the future…when everyone discovers you’re out of your league.

Learn from better cooks – Maybe the oven temperature is set too high. Perhaps you are using the wrong ingredients. Maybe you need better assistant chefs. I’m not trying to stir up a recipe simply to fit this point in the post (Okay, please admit that’s funny), but you may need to invite input from people who have been cooking (leading) longer than you have. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be done alone. Find those who are willing to invest in you. That often begins with the humility to admit you need help and the willingness to ask for it.

Improve the kitchen – Perhaps it’s the environment you’ve created in the kitchen. You may need to change the people who are seated at your kitchen table or who are watching you cook. You may need to get a better stove or, as I’ve learned, even getting the right spatula will make me a better cook. Again, I’m not trying to overuse this analogy, but the point is that in leadership we usually have to get better before we can get bigger. Sharpening our personal skills, growing the strength of our team, placing the right people in positions around us and improving the organization’s culture and environment can be helpful when a leader feels overwhelmed. You have to do what it takes to become a better leader. I got a second master’s degree to help me in leadership. You may not need to go to that extreme, but you should be intentional about gaining the training and experience you need to be a lead at a higher level.

Feeling hot in the leadership kitchen? You may need to get out…but there may be other options.

Got any other kitchen leadership analogies you’d care to share?

Share your story of when the kitchen was too hot for you in leadership. What did you do?

The Question Behind the Question

You’re familiar with the common scenario where someone approaches you for advise for a “friend”. Everyone knows that “friend” is the person asking the question.

That scenario happens in leadership also.

Good leaders attempt to get to the question behind the question.

The question behind the question may be the most important question.

When someone is asking the leader a question, the leader needs to consider if the question is the real question or a disguised question to get to an unspoken question.

Confused?

Sometimes, whether because of fear, insecurity or intimidation, people are hesitant to share what’s really on their mind. They ask questions or make statements that are really innuendos of a bigger issue.

Good leaders look beyond what’s being verbalized. They attempt to discern the motive and intent of the question or statement. They ask follow up questions to make sure they understand the concern or input being given.

The health of the organization may depend on knowing what’s really being communicated…or not being communicated.

Next time someone asks you a question…or makes a statement…consider whether there is a question beyond the question.

You may now want to read “10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader“.

10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader

A couple years ago there was a consistent problem in one of our areas of ministry. It was something which I would have quickly addressed, but no one brought it to my attention. Thankfully, I’ve learned the hard way that what I don’t know can often hurt my leadership or the church the most, so I’m good at asking questions and being observant. Through my normal pattern of discovery I encountered the problem, brought the right people together, we addressed the problem and moved forward.

End of story.

It reminds me though that the leader is often the last to know when something is wrong. I tell this to our team consistently. You only know what you know and many times, because of the scope of responsibility of the leader, he or she isn’t privy to all the intricacies of the organization. Some people, simply because they would rather talk behind someone’s back than do the difficult thing of facing confrontation, tell others the problems they see before they share them with the leader. Without some systems of discovering problems the leader may be clueless there is even a problem.

Not knowing is never a good excuse to be unaware.

It’s not a contradiction in terms. I’m not trying to play with words. I’m trying to make an important leadership principle. As a leader, you may not know all the facts, but you should figure out how to be aware enough as a leader to discover the facts which you need to know.

Not certain if you are an aware leader?

Here are 10 symptoms of the unaware leader:

  • Not knowing the real health of a team or organization.
  • Clueless to what people are really saying.
  • Unsure of measurable items because they are never measured or monitored.
  • Not asking questions for fear of an unwanted answer.
  • Not dreaming into the future; becoming content with status quo.
  • Preferring not to know there was a problem than that there is one.
  • Ignoring all criticism; dismissing it as negativity.
  • Not learning anything new, relying on same old ways to consistently work.
  • Making every decision without input from others.
  • Assuming everyone supports and loves your leadership.

There are some things the leader will never know. That’s okay. Walking by faith is a good thing. I highly encourage it. There are issues within the life of an organization, however, that while the leader may not know readily, or even want to know, he or she should explore continually.

Want to test your awareness?

Try this simple experiment. Send an email to a fairly sizable group of people you trust…key leaders…staff members…friends…. Make sure there are some people on the list who you know will be honest with you. In fact, tell them you want them to be. Tell them that you are trying to be more aware as a leader and need their help. Ask them: What am I missing? What do you see that I don’t see? What should I be doing that I’m not doing? What are people saying that I’m not hearing? Who on my team is keeping from me how they really feel?

Now, to really make this experiment successful, let them answer anonymously. You trust them, right? Set up a Survey Monkey account and let them respond without having to add their name.

See what responses you receive.

Not ready to do that? You could simply address the symptoms above and see how that improves your awareness as a leader. Whichever you choose…here’s to knowing what you do not currently know! :)

What other symptoms are there of an unaware leader?