10 Bad Bosses We’ve All Been or Experienced

mean boss

I started working almost full-time at the age of 12. I would ride my bike to the grocery store every afternoon after school. It was a necessity in our home if I wanted the cool clothes and eventually the cool car. (I wish I still had that first car, by the way.)

But, along the way, I’ve had so many different bosses. Some good. Some not so good.

In fact, for years, I didn’t even know the term leader. I only knew the term boss.

I cringe at the term now.

Part of that reason is the number of bad bosses I have either personally had or the ones I have encountered through coaching people who attempted to serve under a bad boss. But, the term indicates everything to me that leadership is not supposed to be. I don’t want to be a boss. I want to be a leader.

But, with the list I share below — sad to say, but in all honesty — I’ve been the bad boss at times in my leadership career. Times I wasn’t leading at all. I was just the boss — in title — but offering very little leadership. Sometimes that’s for a season and then I catch myself and get back to leading. And, in full disclosure — there are times I have to put the boss hat on to deal with an issue. But, we should always avoid being a “bad boss”.

Here are 10 of the worst bad “boss” types I’ve encountered:

The Bully Boss

This boss beats production out of their team. They promote at atmosphere of fear — and think that’s a good thing. I once had a bully boss throw my sales book at me across the room — as if that would motivate me. Team members feel intimidated, which causes them to perform at less than capable performance levels.

The Passive Boss

This boss refuses to lead. They will not confront problems, and allows dissension among the team. Team members often run the show and politics destroys progress. Gossip is rampant. Chaos prevails.

The Fence Leaner Boss

This boss always sees the grass as greener in another position or in another organization. They never fully buy-in to the current vision. People on their team feel abandoned without a voice and eventually begin to look for their own greener grass.

The “My Life Is A Mess” Boss

All of us have problems in life, but this boss has more than most of us. They bring their messed-up personal life into work to the extent that they can’t lead. Employees are caught in a sea of drama, which keeps the team in turmoil.

The “Too Good For You” Boss

This boss is unapproachable. They never interact with or invest in the team. They only hang out with their peers, never with their subordinates. And, they are treated as subordinates. People following feel unappreciated, unprepared, even unwanted.

The “Scared of Competition” Boss

This boss is afraid people on the team will outperform them and so the team is given few responsibilities. The boss micro-manages all work. The best team members — the potential leaders — feel underutilized and eventually leave the organization in search of more opportunities.

The Never Satisfied Boss

This boss is overly critical and hard to please. Team members wear themselves out trying to make the boss happy. They never think they are doing what they should be doing. In fact, they don’t know what the real expectations even are. Consequently, they feel very unproductive and unfulfilled.

The Incompetent Boss

This boss hides behind their lack of qualification. Team suffer personally from a boss who cannot lead them, but is too proud to ask for help.

The Aimless Boss

This boss has no clear expectations for the organization. Or they are always changing. Goals and objectives are never clearly defined and stuck to, either because the boss doesn’t know what they should be or keeps changing their mind. Team members are left without meaningful direction — and with plenty of frustration.

The Silent Boss

This boss never says anything one-way or the other. You never know where they stand on anything, so you keep doing the best you know how. Then one day — seemingly out of nowhere — the boss has an issue with the way you’ve been performing. Say what?

Here’s what is crazy. I have learned valuable leadership principles from each of these bad bosses. Sometimes nothing more than what not to do as a boss. In fact, not to even be a boss.

Let’s don’t boss. Let’s lead!

Have you ever had one of these bad bosses?

7 Good Reasons for a Leader to Learn and Use the Word NO

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I hate disappointing people.

And, every time I say the word “No”, someone isn’t happy with my answer.

That’s reality.

“Can you do a wedding — this weekend?”

“Can you speak at my event?”

“Will you write a guest post for my blog?”

“Can I have an hour of your time — today?”

“Will you mentor me?”

And, so many more similar questions.

They are all legitimate questions. Usually there is nothing wrong with any of them as questions. And, many times I say yes to questions such as this. Many times.

But, sometimes I don’t say yes. I say no. And, I personally think that’s one secret to my success in ministry and leadership.

And, this post is to explain why. I’d love for some of my friends who know they can’t seem to say no to be inspired, encouraged, and challenged to use the word more. In leadership — even though it is an unpopular word — it may be one of the most valuable words we use.

The fact is that I get far more questions like this than I could ever accommodate. Ever. There’s one of me. And, one is not enough for the number of questions like this — questions that demand my time — that I receive.

I’ve had to learn the power of saying no. And, believe me — I’m still learning — sometimes I do better than other times. And, it requires discipline.

And, learning the power of no also means taking the heat at times from the ones who disagree with my answer.

I’ve learned, however, that my failure to say no costs me far more than developing a discipline to not always say yes.

Here are 7 reasons for a leader to learn and use the word NO:

Your family. We recently had our 87 year old Pastor Emeritus talk to our staff. He was at our church 25 years and is still respected for his huge influence on our church. He admitted the way ministry is done has changed over the years, but one thing he wish he had known then and would encourages all of us still in ministry to do is to “protect the family”. He said that, looking back, it might have been more important than anything else he did in ministry. Golden wisdom!

Your work. You can’t do everything and do everything well. You can’t. You may think you can — and others may think you should — but you can’t. Expectations, whether personal or placed upon us, do not dictate ability. Your efficiency depends on your ability to prioritize. In fact, you’ll likely burnout if you try. Great leaders learn to specialize in what only they can do. That’s not always possible — and there are exceptions every week of things that arise which we didn’t see coming — but as much as possible, this should be our goal. When you say yes to everything, you’re causing your team to sacrifice your best energies where it’s needed most.

Your health. How effective are you from a hospital bed? Think I’m being overly dramatic? Research the impact of stress on the body. Talk to your doctor about it. Developing a discipline of being able to say no when needed protects your personal health and well-being. It’s not just organizationally critical — it’s often life-critical. Saying no to another appointment so you can say yes to an hour in the gym may actually give you a few more productive years to add value to the world.

Your future. You’ll flame out if you try to do too much. Leadership is a marathon. Sometimes we have to sprint, but until we learn to balance our pace we will never really accomplish all we could. The power of no provides fuel for longevity and continuance. It’s a vision critical word. If you don’t start saying no to some things — there may come a day when you crash hard enough that you have to say no to everything — and it may not be by choice.

Your integrity. When you always say yes, you eventually put yourself in a position of being necessary for everything to succeed — if nothing more than n the expectations in people’s minds. The organization becomes built around you. “Yes, I’ll be there.” “Yes, I can do that.” In time, you become the center — the necessary ingredient in all things that matter. Wow! That is a dangerous place for most of us to handle. Talk about a power position. If not careful, we can become prideful, arrogant, and boastful — thinking that the organization can’t exist without us. Here’s reality: it can.

Your example. People will follow the leader. If you never say no your team will begin to think it’s not a culturally approved answer. They’ll suffer from all the things you’ll suffer from for always saying yes. And, believe me, a leader who learns and practices the power of no becomes a huge blessing to the people they lead — and their families.

Your soul. This really is the bottom line. Leader, you have my heart. I love leaders. And, I know that if you try to do everything — if you never say no — eventually you’ll injure your soul. You can’t do it all. Someone reading this right now knows they are overwhelmed. You are in over your head. You’ve allowed people to hold you to very unrealistic expectations — or you did it to yourself — and it’s injured your soul. You need a break. And, it all started because you couldn’t say no. You never valued the power of the word. The Proverb is profound (and true) “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Do it! Protect your soul!

Any questions?

Now, please understand, this post is not an excuse for doing what we need to do as pastors and leaders. Sometimes the answer has to be yes. And, we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. Knowing how to choose the right word, at the right time, is part of maturing. But, it may be one of the most valuable things we can do to protect the integrity and longevity of our leadership is to learn the power of the word no.

I’m praying for you — you can do it — NO is in you!

9 Ways for a Leader to Lose Favor — And Some Advice to Guard Against It

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One of the hardest losses for a leader is when they lose favor with the people they are trying to lead. It’s very hard to regain trust once it’s lost.

Sadly, the longer I serve as a leader, the easier it seems to be to lose a follower’s trust. People are more skeptical — it seems to me — of leadership these days than in days past.

I think it’s important to know what causes us to lose favor with the people we are attempting to lead. Of course, there are many things, but let share some of the more common ones I’ve observed.

Here are 9 ways to lose favor as a leader:

Sloppy work – Sometimes when we get overwhelmed, or even bored, we tend to rush through our work. We neglect all the principles of good leadership we know. We make more mistakes than usual. Other’s view it as losing interest in our work. They become suspicious.

Advice: Slow down. Delegate. Invite correction.

Dictate by email – Exclusively. Email is often misunderstood. It causes confusion and retaliation by email. It promotes fear. It is impersonal leadership. And, when a leader refuses to get their hand dirty by having real conversations — and doing real work — they lose favor with those on the front lines.

Advice: Sometimes — especially when the matter is important, or any correction is involved — you just need to pick up the phone or arrange a meeting.

Absentee leader – The busier we get the more we sometimes have to isolate ourselves to get anything done. This is especially true of leaders with an “open door” style of leadership. If we aren’t careful, rather than being productive, we appear absent. By the way, this could be a leader who doesn’t listen well also. A constantly distracted leader is equally damaging. It communicates disinterest. And, it’s promotes weak and unhealthy commitments among the team.

Advice: Make your schedule known. Communicate frequently.

Appeasing people – Let’s face it. Everyone wants people to like them. If we aren’t careful we will find ourselves saying what people want to hear, even if it’s the wrong thing. It causes us to lose favor with those trying to do the right thing.

Advice: Be transparent and honest. Say everything in love, but don’t communicate what you don’t mean. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Always having an answer – You lose favor when decisions are made singularly rather than as a team. Sometimes leaders don’t listen, because they assume nothing is going to be said that they need to learn. When you always have the answer — even if you really do — it will eventually make people feel they can’t live up to your expectations. Or, you’ll be seen as very arrogant.

Advice: Sometimes don’t have an answer. It’s that simple. It’s okay to be quiet sometimes. Especially when the issue doesn’t jeopardize the integrity of the organization. Let other answers surface and other people rise to the top. Stir energy to find the answer, but don’t be the sole voice.

Devaluing other’s work – As leaders, with so many “big picture” ideas, we can sometimes fail to notice what other’s are contributing to the team. We fail to value their role in the overall success.

Advice: Be aware. Practice the discipline of observation and of celebrating other people’s individual contributions and success.

Lacking courage – You can’t lead without taking risks. When a leader lacks courage — followers look for someone willing to take them into an unknown.

Advice: Stay grounded in your faith and move forward in confidence that God is working things for an ultimate good.

Character slippage – Leadership involves trust — unwavering trust — and the character reputation of a leader is fragile. The leader is always being evaluated by the strength of their moral value. Traits such as honesty and integrity usually trump every other quality a leader brings to the position when it comes to gaining (or losing) favor with those who are trying to follow.

Advice: “Above all else guard your heart, because from it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23. Do good things and discipline yourself to avoid temptation.

Arrogance – I saved the best for last. But, “best” is not the right word, is it? Nothing loses favor faster than a pride-filled, braggart leader. If it is all about the leader, most followers willingly let the leader have the recognition — and they will let the leader celebrate — completely alone.

Advice: Be humble leader. Be humble. And, if you don’t know how, ask God to help you be humbled. That’ll do it — nearly every time.

No leader want to lose favor with the people we are trying to lead. Great leaders recognize the privilege of the trust placed upon them and work hard to protect it.

10 Suggestions to Handle Conflict in a Healthy Way

team conflict

Where life involves people — whether among family, friends or co-workers — there will be potential for conflict.

Any disagreement there?

Want to fight about it? :)

In fact, if relationships are normal, conflict is inevitable.

But, conflict doesn’t have to destroy relationships. It can actually be used to make relationships better. That takes intentionality, practice — and a whole lot of grace.

In an organizational sense, conflict is certainly a huge part of a leader’s life. Even in a pastor’s life.

It seems to reason that learning to deal with conflict successfully should be one of our goal as leaders.

Here are 10 suggestions to effectively handle conflict:

Understand the battle. Make sure you understand the real source of the conflict. Many times we address symptoms, but we really aren’t even addressing with the real issue. That wastes time, frustrates people, and makes the conflict linger longer. It’s usually a heart issue that is controlling everything being said. (Proverbs 4:23) Discovering that is key. Make sure you ask lots of questions and attempt to clarify the root issue of the conflict. (This is where a third party help is often needed.)

Find the right time and place When emotions are high is not good timing for dealing with conflict. Personal conflict should not be handled in public. Don’t be afraid to schedule a time to address the conflict.

Examine yourself first. Sometimes the issue is personal to you and you are only blaming others for your problem. That’s not fair, nor does it provide a healthy resolution to conflict. Look carefully at the “plank” in your own eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Consider the other side of the conflict. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their viewpoint. (Philippians 2:4) Why would they think the way they think? Is it a difference in personal values or a misunderstanding? What if I were in their situation — how would I respond?

Do not overreact to the issue or overload on emotion. Stick to the issue at hand. When emotions are exaggerated it disarms the other party and a healthy resolution is harder to attain. Control yourself from extremity or absolutes. Avoid phrases like “You always…”. (Proverbs 25:28)

Do not dance around or sugarcoat the issue or disguise it in false kindness. Sometimes we fail to address the conflict because we are afraid of how the other person may respond or we are afraid of hurting feelings. The avoidance usually will cause more conflict eventually. Be kind, but make sure you are clear, direct, and helpful.(Proverbs 27:5)

Do not allow the small disagreements to become big disagreements. The way to keep most huge conflict (the kind that destroys relationships) from occurring is by confronting the small conflict along the way. Minor conflict is always easier to handle than major conflict.

Be firm, but gentle. Learn the balance between the two. It’s critical in dealing with conflict. (Consider Jesus’ approach in John 4.)

Work towards a solution. Never waste conflict. Use it to make the organization and/or the relationship better. Everyone wants a win-win situation, and sometimes that’s possible. Getting to the right decision should always be the ultimate goal. (Proverbs 21:3)

Grant forgiveness easily. Healthy conflict makes relationships stronger, but to get there we must not hold a grudge or seek revenge. That never moves conflict forward towards resolution. Learn the art of grace and forgiveness. It’s a keeper of healthy relationships. (Ephesians 4:32)

Conflict is a part of relationships. All relationships. As leaders, we shouldn’t shy away from conflict. We should learn it’s value and how to navigate conflict for the overall good of the team.

What would you add?

7 Rookie Mistakes New Leaders Should Avoid

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I deal with a lot of new leaders. I’ve been one myself numerous times. To some, as I approach 3 years in my position, I’m still the “new guy”. Starting as a leader is difficult regardless of the experience one has as a leader. Each time a leader is new there will be new experiences that challenge everything the leader knows or has experienced previously. It’s like you’re a rookie leader all over again.

But, just because a leader is new, doesn’t mean they have to make rookie mistakes.

I’ve watched new leaders who start strong, find success, and build a long-term healthy relationship. And, I’ve watched some new leaders shoot their proverbial foot and take years to recover — if they ever can.

What makes a new leaders beginning years successful? What are some hard lessons learned?

I seem to learn best from my mistakes and observing the mistakes of others. Let me share a few that I’ve made or seen.

Here are 7 rookie mistakes new leaders often make:

Making changes too fast upon arrival

Effective change is built on trust. Trust is nearly impossible to gain quickly. There may be some things you have to move quickly to do — especially if everyone knows the change is needed or it’s a mission critical change. When changing things that impact an organization’s core identity — the kind of change where people are thinking “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” — wit’s that kind of change it is wise to take your time, build relationships first, bring people along and earn their trust. Only then can you make change that builds rather than disrupts community and has lasting impact.

Holding grudges when someone doesn’t agree

That’s the thing about new leaders. They are new. They will do things differently than previous leaders. Everyone expects that, but it causes tension. People will complain. They’ll resist change. It’s a rookie mistake to hold it against some of the initial complainers. Some of my more loyal supporters weren’t crazy about some of the first changes we made. They were adjusting to new. Again, they were learning to trust. Some people do that better — and faster — than others. It’s wise to forgive easily and extend grace. A humble approach helps build solid relationships — even from some who were once critics.

Controlling every decision

There will be things that need to be controlled. I wrote recently about the things I did control in the initial days of my leadership. Some of those I am still controlling. They are that vital to what we are trying to do. But, those things are rare. Leaders need to empower people. Delegate. Welcome the input of others. Allow some things to happen without the leaders’s direct input. And, frankly, that takes discipline for some of us leaders. But, it communicates to  people you are trying to lead that their input matters and that you want to lead a team, not issue decrees to your “servants”.

Taking credit for every win

One of the good things about “new” is that it often triggers new momentum. But, when a leader takes all the glory for the wins, they are deciding who will help them get to the next win. People want and desire to feel needed. Celebrating the difference others have made to success makes everyone feel a part of the team and builds a healthy culture. People will sacrifice again if they know their contribution was appreciated.

Refusing to make — or admit — a mistake

A sure way to lose people’s support as a new leader is to pretend to have all the answers or that you never make a mistake. Or when you won’t ask for the opinion of those who have been there longer. You’ll be proven wrong quickly, but, even worse, the message it sends is that you are either egotistical or unaware. It’s very difficult to trust a leader for either reason.

Devaluing prior work

When the new leader arrives and doesn’t recognize the work of the organization existed before them, it quickly alienates people who have been there a while. When I came to my current church, which was over 100 years old when I arrived, it would have been arrogant (and very unwise) of me to pretend their “savior” had arrived. This church has been seeing God do amazing things long before I was even born. Thousands of people have gone before me — and everyone in our church for that matter — laying the foundation upon which we now build.

People pleasing

Everyone expects the leader to lead. Even when we don’t agree with a leader’s decisions, no one thinks that a leader should attempt to make everyone happy — that’s true even when the complainers are louder than the cheerleaders. As leaders, we lose support when we say what we think people want to hear, but we aren’t willing to make the hard calls. If we are not making the other rookie mistakes — we are building trust and making wise and good decisions — valuing the input of others — make bold moves. Do the hard change

Leadership is never easy, but new leadership is extremely difficult. It’s a fragile time. The more you can eliminate the rookie mistakes — the more successful your leadership will be.

I’m pulling for you!

10 Ways Winning Organizational Teams are Like Winning Athletic Teams

Basketball going through net

I live in basketball country. This area specializes in horses, bourbon and basketball. But, during a few months of the year, basketball seems to trump everything.

As a Baptist pastor, if I’m going to embrace the community, I had to embrace what the people love. So, of the three — I’ve chosen basketball.

(And, all God’s people said?)

(Seriously, though, everyone should take a ride through the horse farms of the bluegrass area and the science behind making bourbon alone is worth touring a distillery.)

Watching the University of Kentucky men and women’s basketball teams, however, always inspires some great thoughts for me on leadership.

It takes good leadership to coach a team well. And, we see good coaching around here. I’ve observed some great leadership principles watching these teams.

The win for me is that organizational teams that win — even church staffs — have a lot in common with athletic teams that win.

Here are 10 traits of winning teams:

1. The coach cares personally about the players.

2. All players understand and believe in the team strategy.

3. Dreams of big wins are a part of the culture. Everyone cheers for them in anticipation.

4. When it’s a players turn they’re ready. And, likewise, they are equally supportive when it’s someone else’s turn to shoot. They share the load and are always willing to jump in the game.

5. Risky plays are encouraged. Stupid plays are not.

6. There is a common vision. The entire team agrees on not only what a win looks like, but what it takes to get one.

7. There is ample team spirit is prevalent. Everyone participates in building momentum.

8. Losses are evaluated and used to learn how to improve for the next game.

9. Wins are celebrated. Wildly.

10. The team restructures when needed to meet the current competition.

Follow my analogy? Leader, how could these athletic team traits impact your team?

What would you add to the list?

What Leading Error-Free Communicates

Hooks on a cable #4

I sent an email to the church recently with the word “cease” instead of “seize”. My wife was the first to catch it. She always is — and it’s another reason she completes me well.

I quickly sent a correction email — because I know close-readers like my wife can’t get past one typo and read the intent of the entire message. But, before they could read the second email, my inbox was full of people letting me know about the mistake.

I understand that. Honestly, I’d have to be intentionally trying to edit something to catch that type of mistake in an email. And, I should have been more intentional about that email. I’m not wired to catch details, but, as one who studies personalities — and being married to a detail person, I can at least appreciate that a person is wired this way. (Which is why I sent the correction.)

But, I still hate making errors like that. I really do. Even though I’m not a detail-oriented person, I do strive for excellence. Some might say I have perfectionist tendencies. So, I want to be detail and error-free, as much as possible. And, I keep trying.

I realized though that I could beat myself up about the mistake, or I could learn from it and move forward. But, I couldn’t do both.

(Someone reading this needs to pause right here. That’s you’re biggest take away from this post. You need to learn from your mistake and move forward. It’s time.)

Plus, the experience was actually a good reminder of an important leadership principle.

This is true for detail-oriented people and non detail-oriented people. Leaders, you must know this principle — and you must know it for everyone you are trying to lead.

You can’t lead well and not make some mistakes.

Seriously, you can’t. Mistakes happen. No one is perfect. No one. Only those who think they are perfect think they are — no one else thinks they are.

And, if you’re leading well, you’ll be making mistakes, learning from them, and attempting to do better the next time.

But, you’ll keep making them.

In fact, I have some concerns about anyone attempting to be error-free in leadership. I’m not sure the two terms “error-free” and “leader” can reasonably go together. (Someone should have already laughed at the title of this post.)

An error-free leader indicates to me:

(Or, I probably should say “a leader who is attempting to lead error-free indicates to me:)

You’re moving too slow. There are so many times in leadership that fast decisions have to be made. The leader too slow to make routine decisions is a bottleneck-creating leader. Slowing down on minor impact decisions also slows down the potential of the organization — as everyone waits on the leader to decide. It’s important to slow down on the really big decisions, to eliminate as many mistakes as possible. Good leaders learn by experience which decisions require more time. And, really good leaders probably give away far more decision-making responsibility than they keep. But, even still, there likely still 100’s of decisions a leader will make in a day and most will have to be made quickly. Along the way, some mistakes will be made.

You’re afraid of taking risks. Let’s be honest — There is little room for error if nothing changes. If the goal is sameness then we just need a good manager. But, if you want to lead well — in fact, if you want to be what I believe is the definition of a leader — then you’ll have to take some risks. Leaders are leading into an unknown reality. Leaders spur change, they stir momentum, they even create healthy tension at times as people react and adjust to the changes around them. And, along the way they make some mistakes. Lots of them usually.

You second-guess yourself too often. If you are afraid to make a mistake and you play that mind game of back and forth about every decision — you probably are your own worst enemy as a leader. (That’s true of someone reading this, isn’t it?) Effective leaders learn to pull the trigger — even if it’s only a discipline against their natural inclination. They gather as much information as time will allow, they consult with their team, they rely on their experience and their gut, but they make a call. They make the best decision they know to make — and stand behind the decision and their team even when it is proven to be an error in decision. (Then they readjust, learn, and begin the process again.)

You hold others to a higher standard than is fair or they can live up to. Others make mistakes. Did you know that? And, some of them are even okay with that because they know it’s part of the overall learning process. But, when the leader attempts to be personally error-free, they usually pass that expectation on to others. (This happens in the home also.) The culture of the team becomes demeaning. The atmosphere is very controlling, even threatening. People are afraid to do anything for fear of being wrong. People never feel they are living up to potential.

You have no mistakes from which to learn and make you better. Here’s the reality — we learn more from mistakes than we ever do by getting everything right. When a mistake is made, if I’m a serious leader, it plants something deep in my core that makes me conscious of that same mistake again. I’ll be determined to figure out a better way. I don’t get that conviction without making a mistake.

Leader, are you refusing to make a mistake? Are you trying so desperately to be an error-free leader? I’m not sure that’s even possible, but don’t deny yourself, your team, or the vision you’re trying to attain the privilege of a few good mistakes.

Now let me be clear. This is not a post that diminishes our need to strive for excellence. Quite the contrary. We need to be learning and growing from our mistakes and we should never take a callous approach to them. As Christians, we should always strive to do our best — since we are to do everything “as unto the Lord”.

This is intended to be a freeing post — recognizing the reality that mistakes are a part of the process towards victory.

(And, if you find mistakes in this post — well — keep in mind, I’m just a leader — writing a lot of posts — always trying to get better.)

Dr. Martin Luther King Wasn’t Perfect — And That Should Be Encouraging

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Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.

And that should be encouraging to all of us.

I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.

Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.

And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a person — just like us.

If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.

Was he great? Of course.

Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.

Did he do great things? Without a doubt.

These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.

But, was Dr. King perfect?

I don’t think so.

I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.

We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.

In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.

We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.

We honor him because he was willingly to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.

Yet, sadly, his dream yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.

This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Your city.

Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.

Peace has not been achieved.

And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.

If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. That we could never attain greatness, because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.

In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.

So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe that such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.

But, that’s not true, is it?

Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.

Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”

Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.

That kind of living honors the legacy.

The fact is that all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones that honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.

There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.

But, there will never be another you either.

And, we need your dream.

We need your work.

We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.

So start honoring Dr. King!

Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!

You Feel You Are To Be A Leader, But You Aren’t Yet Leading — Here Are 5 Possible Reasons

Elegant leader

Let’s be honest. Leadership is an attractive subject to many. I talk with so many younger people, and some my age, who want to be in leadership. They may feel they’ve been passed up, haven’t been given their chance (or second chance) or they sometimes they are patiently (or not so patiently) waiting.

I understand. If you are prone to leadership, or have your eye on being a leader, nothing quite satisfies you until you get to do what you think you’re ready to do.

But, in my observation, there may be some common reasons you aren’t yet leading. Perhaps understanding them can help you, if you’re in that situation. I’ll follow each one with my advice.

Here are the 5 reasons I have observed of why people aren’t yet leading:

You don’t have anything or anyone to lead – You say you would lead if someone gave you an opportunity.

My advice: Find something to lead! The world is full of problems.  Choose one of them you are most passionate about and start leading. Motivate people towards finding or working a solution. Lead. We need you.

You are afraid – You really want to lead, but you fear you may not have what it takes.

My advice: Get over it. Pray hard, lean on God strong, but lead. That’s what leaders do. Leading takes people into the unknown. It’s natural to be afraid. Be willing to walk by faith.

You gave up. – You tried leading and it was hard. You got hurt. Perhaps you failed. So you quit.

My advice: Get up and try again. The best leaders have failed many times, perhaps more times than they have succeeded. That’s what makes them a success. That they tried again and again until something stuck. Get back in the game. You’ll motivate us by your return.

You  don’t think you know how – You don’t think you ever learned the secrets of leadership. You have more questions than answers. You’re waiting until you have more answers than questions.

My advice: Join the school of leadership. Leaders are all around you. And, they are still learning too. The best never quit learning. So join in. Watch, listen, read, ask questions. It’s what we do. You can learn skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still figuring it out daily.

You think you don’t have authority to lead. – You feel you are in a stifling environment. No one is looking to you to lead them.

My advice: Either learn to “lead up” — influencing people that are supposed to lead you — or find a place that values your input. The world is changing and the newest and healthiest environments allow people to grow in leadership. Or learn to lead within your own context. If you’re in a ministry, lead volunteers the best you know how. Be the best where you are today. Or, find a cause outside your work environment — and be a leader there. The experience will shape you for future assignments.

Just a few thoughts. But, here’s a final one. If you feel you’re supposed to be a leader — and you’re currently not — no more excuses. Lead. That’s what leaders do.

Let Your Leaders Lead

FairnessIsOverrated[1]

This is a guest post by my friend Tim Stevens. Tim is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders. Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

We call it the Loose/Tight Principle.

That is, you have to decide as a leader what you are going to hold on to loosely and what you are going to hold on to tightly.

For example, you likely want to hold on to your mission tightly. For most organizations, it’s not up for debate. When you define your mission and communicate it over and over in many ways, it gives clarity to your direction. You likely have some major values and beliefs that are also tightly held.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things in the loose category. I love to bring great leaders on a team and then free them up to lead. They can make decisions, spend money, set direction, and develop initiatives—all without a huge approval process or a bunch of hoops to jump through to get permission.

In many organizations, problems emerge like this: Perhaps bad hiring decisions are made, so senior leaders jump in and start running things. Then the organization starts to get bottlenecked, and people get frustrated. High-capacity leaders begin to leave the organization. And the senior leader is too busy running things to properly interview potential replacements. So more bad hiring decisions are made. And the cycle continues.

If you want to develop a healthy culture, decide the non-negotiables, bring great people on your team, then get out of the way and watch them do great things.

But even when you hire great people, there is another cycle that can take you down—and that also relates to running things with too heavy a hand. Perhaps you hire a great person. You take the time to ramp her up on values, vision, and the DNA of the organization. (So far, so good.) But then you give that leader responsibility without authority. You let her make all the micro-decisions, but hang on to the big decisions such as setting direction, approving expenditures, or making hiring decisions for her area. The high-capacity leader gets fed up and leaves your team. The leader isn’t disloyal; she is just wired by God as a leader and a developer. And you won’t let her do either. So now you have to start over looking for a great leader. You spend all your time looking for new staff and restating the values because you don’t have any great leaders next to you to help.

Authority is the ability to make decisions without asking someone else’s permission. So often we give a leader responsibility (e.g., run the youth ministry or oversee the marketing department) without also giving him the authority. The department leader has to get approval from the senior leader, or the person who says yes or no about expenses, or worse yet, a committee. Nothing frustrates a true leader more than not being able to make decisions, or than making decisions that are later reversed.

How to Free Your Leaders

If you want a great culture in which leaders are excited, then do six simple things.

  • Train them so their blood pulses with the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
  • Set them up to succeed. Lend them your credibility by telling everyone they are the leaders, and they have your full confidence.
  • Give them the authority to make decisions including spending money, hiring and firing staff, and setting direction for their areas.
  • Get out of the way and let them lead.
  • Connect with them continually for evaluation, values review, and rare course corrections. Be available as a sounding board to process decisions. Remember, they don’t need you to tell them the answer. Rather, they need you to ask questions and help them process the right course of action.
  • Celebrate their wins publicly, and reward them with greater responsibility as appropriate.

This is easy to put on a list, but much harder to practice. Find a leader you know who is great at empowering and releasing other leaders—and watch him or her closely. Within that leader you will likely find someone who is great at producing a healthy culture.

Learn more about Tim’s new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.