In Faith Leadership, Some Days We Walk Blindly

A personal experience

Recently I came across a journal entry from January, 2005.

I talked about some of the goals I had for the year and my progress and lack thereof towards meeting them. I shared some current frustrations I was having in ministry. I then asked God to help me be more disciplined.

Then I read the last sentence of that day’s journal.

I wrote, “God, at 41 years of age, some days it feels that I’m not accomplishing anything.”

Wow!

Looking back at my life now, I’m sure it was a one day “pity party”. Yes, even pastors have those.

The reason I’m certain it was, is because that was during a season when eleven core families were meeting regularly in our living room, preparing to launch a church. That would be our second plant, and this one would go on to be one of the fastest growing churches in the country and, even today, is accomplishing more than we ever dreamed possible for them as a church.

I don’t share this to bring attention to myself or our accomplishments. And, I wouldn’t suggest a church needs to grow at that pace to be successful. God may use you, as leader, in completely different ways than He has ever used me. God has a unique plan for every person’s life. I share my story because it points to an important principle in ministry which is true for all of us. I’ve seen it so many times. I wish I had a journal entry for each season.

We seldom see the good God is doing through us as we are doing it.

In fact, sometimes it can be months or years after our obedience before we realize the good God was allowing us to be a part of leading.

And, I’m not sure we’d be as successful – in God’s eyes – if we did.

Walking in the unknown keeps us humble. It keeps us in prayer.
And, best of all, it keeps us desperate for God’s hand to be upon us. It truly becomes His work and not our own.

Are you in the middle of a stressful season of ministry or life? Are you wondering if any of your efforts are making a difference?

I’m not suggesting you may not need some people speaking into your life. You may not be able to see the good you’re doing, but don’t falsely assume the silence of God is the approval of God either. Allow others to speak into your life. Remain teachable. Make sure you’re solid on God’s plan, but hold your own plans loosely. Others may have better ideas than you.

But, if you are striving to be obedient to God’s will as much as you know how, then stand firm. I’m praying He allows you to see some fruit – soon – from your labor, as you continue to trust Him. But, until then don’t give up! Stay tuned!

God is always up to things we can’t even imagine.

God is using you, Mighty Warrior! (Judges 6:12)

You simply are having to walk by faith. Faith walking is never for sissies, but always rewarded by God!

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?

3 Ways Silence is Misdiagnosed on a Team

Good communication is so important on a team. Equally important, if the team is to be healthy, is that everyone on the team has their thoughts and opinions heard.

I am a firm advocate that everyone on the team should have a vital role. It’s why I write so much about delegation and empowerment. If a leader believes in someone enough to have them on the team then they should believe that person brings something unique and valuable to the team.

This also means leaders should want everyone on the team to have an equal opportunity to express themselves – to let their voice be heard.

Through the years of leading, I have learned there are a number of reasons a team may not share their opinions. It could be their introversion is more dominant than the extroverted atmosphere invites them to participate. (I can relate to this one personally.) It could also be, even in spite of what a leader says, there is a perception among the team of when one can speak. And, many other reasons.

The biggest problem for team dynamics, in my opinion, is how misunderstood silence can be. When someone doesn’t communicate, we may never get to the real reason – certainly not to the team dynamics – because we misdiagnose their quietness.

Here are 3 common ways silence is often misdiagnosed:

Ignorance

Some people falsely believe a person who isn’t communicating is not smart enough to join the discussion. They believe they can’t compete intellectually, or keep up with the current discussion fast enough. They may dismiss them from deeper discussions falsely believing they couldn’t keep up with others.

I have learned some of the smartest people are some of the quietest people. When we do hear from them it’s always valuable and helpful.

Apathy

Some think the one not communicating doesn’t care – either about the subject or the team. They feel they have checked out from the discussion. The leader may still support the person on the team as a whole, but they overlook their participation on a particular subject or project.

This is a common misunderstanding in team meetings. It could be the person takes notes on their phone – or they are multi-tasking (which can be frustrating), but it may not mean they are disinterested. As leaders, we may even need to help people our teams learn some ground rules of meeting etiquette. 

Loss of interest 

This is usually for someone on the team who used to participate freely – their voice was heard, but they currently seem disengaged.  They falsely believe the person not communicating – or their lack of expressed opinions – indicates they have become shallow in their commitment to the team.

This is perhaps the most dangerous misdiagnosis, because at this level the leader may mistakenly believe this person has “checked-out” from the team. They basically give up on the team member and stop really investing in them. For the person, it could be a season they are in, personal issues they are dealing with , or even a misunderstanding between the leader and team member. It’s important as leaders we explore this new silence.

Leader, be careful not to misdiagnose silence. Silence can be deadly to a team. Some people are simply quiet because they are quiet. It’s personality, but doesn’t indicate intelligence, commitment or interest. Others go through seasons – and, you can lose a really good person if you overlook the real causes of silence.

Part of growing as a leader is learning your team and how to hear from everyone on your team. It’s a continual work in progress for most of us.

5 Ways Leaders Can’t Be “Normal” Today

Leading outside the norm

Leadership is so much different today than when I first started leading almost 35 years ago. To lead today we must learn to think outside some things once considered normal in leadership.

And, hopefully “normal” is a play on words for most leaders now. 

When I was first in leadership as a retail manager, I could set the schedule for people, tell them what to do, hold them accountable for routine tasks with high expectations, and then evaluate them by whether or not they did the job. This was called a job – and, if you wanted a paycheck you worked for it.

It doesn’t work quiet like that anymore. It hasn’t for some time, and, to be honest, I tried to do more with leadership even then, but some of those still in leadership still haven’t caught on that “normal” leadership isn’t normal anymore. 

For example, in today’s leadership, the informal aspects of leadership are as important as the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to systems and structures – for a leader to be successful today – leaders must engage a team on personal levels. 

We must build team spirit. Energize. Motivate. Engage. Even sympathize. Those have always been important, but these days they may trump some of our policies and procedures.

In informal leadership environments, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. Again, they have always been important, but in today’s leadership it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

Adapt leadership to followers individual needs and expectations.

Cookie-cutter leadership doesn’t work as well among today’s workforce. Leaders must be wiling to individualize their leadership based on the current setting, culture and individualism of team members. It makes really getting to know the people you lead even more important. Leaders must ask lots of questions to understand personal values of others. It helps us lead according to a person’s individual strengths and abilities and helps them perform at their greatest effectiveness.

Raise up new leaders.

Those on the team with the propensity or desire to lead, must be given opportunity to help lead the organization. This is no longer an option. Not only is this good for the organization by creating future leaders, it is key to keeping the best people on the team. Those entering the field of leadership today – or desiring to – will want a seat at the table of decision. They want to make a difference. This can be a great things for our churches and organizations if we will welcome it. 

Balance kindness or friendship with authority.

John Maxwell’s axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has never been more true. People follow leaders they can trust. They follow leaders who believe in them and will invest in them. While leaders sometimes must make difficult and unpopular decisions, authoritarian or controlling leadership is not well received by today’s workforce. Following orders from the “boss” has been replaced with a desire for servant leaders.

Give others ownership in the vision.

People want and need to be stakeholders – knowing they are making a difference with their work. To do this means they must have ownership in the creation of vision. Allowing a team to help shape the agenda helps assure their heart buys into completing the mission. Letting people help write their job description gets people in places where they can bring their best contributions to a team.

Create what’s “next” for a community’s greater good.

Great leaders think beyond themselves – even beyond their own team or the vision, goals and objectives of the organization. Today’s leaders must understand they play one part in a more global sense. We are much more connected these days through social media and online instant connections. The world around us is watching – as are the people we have on our team. The way an organization treats it’s employees, supports the community and how it interacts with the people the organization encounters daily is important. We can’t sit back, make a profit or fulfill our individual goals (even as churches) and ignore the myriad of social needs all around us. If it’s not done well the world will know about it quickly.

Finding the right balance between a formal style of leadership – where everything is clearly spelled out for people to follow with a carefully created structure – and an informal style – where a team helps to shape the course of action – is critical to an organization’s success.

With my 35 plus years of leadership experience, I realize I’m from an “old school”, but I’m still learning – and re-learning.

I have learned this: Leaders today must continually strive to find the balance between formal and informal structures.

10 Problems with Doing the Best You Know How To Do

Years ago in a company we owned, there was a young man who worked for me who had tremendous potential. I believed in him so much I personally invested in him and paid special attention to him. I thought his future with our company was worth the extra time. Sadly, he never measured up to my expectations and we ended up having to part ways.

Every time I would meet with him to “encourage” him, he would say the same thing.

I’m doing the best I know how to do.

At the time, I really thought it was a fair answer. I have come to realize, however, that this response was actually his primary problem. He was doing the best he KNEW HOW to do.

But, here’s the reality I know:

The best you know how to do is never the best you can do!

It’s not. I wish it was, because it would make things much easier. But, there’s so much more. In fact, the line is really just an excuse. And excuses never get you where you say you want to go.

Here are 10 problems when you do the best you know how to do:

You leave out a critical thinking.

You quit learning new things.

You fail to be stretched.

You never develop personally.

You stop asking questions.

You resist change.

You dismiss new ideas.

You stop growing in your field of expertise.

You can’t as easily help others grow when you aren’t growing.

You stop walking by faith.

There is a huge difference in doing the best you know how to do and doing the best YOU CAN DO. The best you can do is to continue to get better. The times you are being stretched beyond what you know how to do may prove to be the best times of your personal development.

Never settle for the best you know how to do. It seldom will take you to the places you really want to go!

Here’s a challenge question: What are you currently doing to produce future personal growth? 

7 Suggestions to Motivate the Leaders on Your Team

Have you ever wondered how to motivate a leader?

If you have leaders on your team, no doubt you want the maximum potential out of them. You want their best contributions to your team. How do you motivate them to achieve their best – personally and for the team?

It may not be as difficult as we one may think. Most leader-types share some common traits. They may lead entirely different – they may have different causes and interests, but most leaders are motivated by similar influences.

Here are 7 suggestions to motivate a leader:

Give them a challenge to meet

If there’s a task that would be a huge accomplishment, you’ll likely grab a leader’s interest. Be careful telling a leader it “can’t be done”, unless you want to see some motivation accelerate. (I wrote about this principle in my life HERE.) Leaders love to strive for the impossible. Give them something which seems out of their reach and you are likely to get them on board.

Celebrate results

When a leaders celebrate a win, it fuels their desire for another. Leaders thrive on accomplishment. There may be lots of reasons behind this – and, frankly, some of them could even be pride, which is wrong. But, the point here is that something in the DNA of a leader which loves to win.

Share enthusiasm

Leaders are motivated by those who have a passion and drive to achieve. Make the vision exciting and compelling and you’ve likely got a leaders attention. This is another reason to repeat the vision often. A strong, compelling vision is fuel for a leader’s passion.

Involve some risk

Tell a leader something is “dangerous” – or others may not approve – and he or she may be motivated to attempt it. Leaders love a challenge. In fact, one way to tell the difference in a potential good leader and a good manager is the amount of risk he or she is willing to assume.

Embrace change

Leaders, by definition, are creators of movement. When things get stale, throw a little change in the mix, and a leader has a new incentive to lead. When a leader gets too comfortable they get bored. They’d often rather live with drama than staleness or routine.

Invite chaos

It sounds strange, but even a little controversy or conflict can fuel a leader. When the situation is overwhelming a leader goes to work. One difference in managers and leaders is that managers like (and need) to bring structure. They systematize things. Leaders love to fix things – improve them – make things better. It may even be messy along the way. (Which is also why every good leader needs a good manager.)

Have big dreams

Leaders are visionary. They want to accomplish something bigger than today. The bigger the dream, the bigger the motivation for the leader.

In my opinion, it is useless to have leaders on your team if you don’t lead them lead or use them to their full potential. And, if you want to get the most out of a leader – keep them motivated!

Are you a leader? Which of these motivate you most?

What would you add to my list?

7 Ways to Help a New Staff Member Succeed

I recently received the following message from a pastor friend:

“I have a new full-time associate pastor starting next week. What suggestions would you give for getting such a person off to a great start?”

What a great question! I’m so glad someone is actually asking it.

Through the years I have hired hundreds of people. I don’t do a lot of things right, but finding good people seems to be one of my strengths.

Getting a new person started in a good way is probably equal to finding the right people – especially if we hope to keep them. I can’t say I’m the best at this. I tend to be less hands-on than needed some times.

But, I have learned from some bad experiences too!

Here are 7 ways to help a new staff member succeed:

Lower initial expectations.

Lighten their initial work load. I like to tell new staff members not to attempt too much the first 90 days or so – perhaps even longer depending on the complexity of the job. Give them a chance to acclimate to the church, learn the people and some of the unwritten rules and culture. Also, most likely they also have home responsibilities to get settled and need to feel free to take care of those things also. 

Help the new team member’s family acclimate.

As much as it is important the staff member feel welcomed, it is equally important for the family. This includes spouse and children. Don’t overwhelm them with expectations either. Give them space, but make sure they have support if they need it. In my experience the transition can be harder on the family than the person joining your team. They get a fairly instant support group and know their purpose. This can be harder and take longer for the family to realize. The more you help the family the more you will be helping your new team member. 

Help them understand the current vision, direction and culture.

Where are you hoping to go as a church? What are the current and long-term dreams? What are people getting excited about these days? Where is there momentum? Where are you lacking motivation? What are the key weakness of the church? What are the key strengths? Answering as many questions like this as you can for the person. Information is powerful. They will learn much of it on their own, but the more you can share with them the faster they will feel a part of the team. 

Stay close.

You want to give them space to explore, but don’t ignore them either. Let them ask lots of questions. Give them plenty of access to you and others on the team. This should always be true of a healthy culture, but especially during the initial days. 

Help them understand what a win for their job looks like.

They will likely hit the ground excited about accomplishing something. Make sure they know, in your mind, how they will be considered successful. Don’t make them guess what you are looking for them to accomplish. 

Introduce them to key stakeholders.

Don’t make him or her find out on their own who the influencers are – good or bad. Every church has people who everyone listens to – and many have people everyone has a bit of fear of how they will react. While I’m not a fan of empowering these people or cowering to them, don’t let the new person step on a land mine either. Introduce them to people also who will be their biggest supporters. They will likely need these in the days ahead. 

Extend the honeymoon period.

New people will make mistakes. They want always know the “right” way to do things according to the culture of your team. (And, this can be a good thing. Let them bring something new to the culture.) You went out on a limb to bring this person in now give them ample time and grace to prove themselves. And, give them all the support they need to succeed.

Someone reading this has another great suggestion to help a new staff member succeed. You’ll make this post better by sharing it in the comments.

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?

7 Characteristics of Effecitve Change Agent Leaders

If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. It’s part of the experience of every leader. The best leaders get accustomed to leading change.

Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change. I love to learn from these special leaders.

I’ve observed some common characteristics change agent leaders share.

Here are 7 characteristics of good change agents:

Flexible

It doesn’t have to be their design. They simply want progress towards the overall vision. These change agents are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. They navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.

Courageous

Change agent leaders are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. They know how to filter through what is valid criticism – worth hearing – and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. They unwaveringly push through the junk which clouds progress.

Relational

Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know ultimate change can’t happen without human capital and they are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.

Strategic

A change agent leader realizes there are steps to take and they carefully choose the timing of when to take them. They almost have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.

Creative

Good change agents are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. I need to be honest here and say I’d rather be strategic than creative. There are some who can always find a way to make their ideas work, but it comes at the expense of others. But, change often happens because someone chose to be creative. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. This takes creativity.

Intentional

Change agent leaders make change for a specific purpose. They never waste a change. They know that every change has the potential to make or break a team and they work diligently to bring the best results.

Thorough

A good change agent follows through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. They don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.

Think about your experience. Who are some of the best change agent leaders you have known?