7 Guarantees in Leadership

Closeup of businessman or salesman pointing to a white card with a Guaranteed sign on it. Conceptual of business marketing and quality trade.

I once had a leader who was an emphatic talker. He made statements with no reservation in them about things – honestly – I simply didn’t believe. He would say stuff such as, “There is no way this would ever work.” Really? No way? Maybe the chance is limited, but no way?

He impressed upon me enough I’ve always been hesitant about emphatic statements – unless they are Biblical truths, of course. 

But, I have some emphatic statements to make. I’m calling them guarantees. And, since I talk a great deal about leadership on this blog – these are leadership guarantees.

Here are 7 guarantees of leadership:

Every decision you make will produce a multiple of responses.

Some will agree. Some will not. And, some will not care either way. 

Change is inevitable. 

You can deny it. You can attempt to avoid it. You can be afraid of how people will react to it. But, change is coming either way. It’s best to be on the side of change where you at least have some chance of helping the change be for the best overall good of the people you lead. 

You will many times feel under appreciated. 

This is especially true if you are looking for appreciation. Of course, we all want to be appreciated, but great leaders are not as concerned about what other people think as they are about doing the right thing. And, because of this, they aren’t necessarily seeking personal recognition or applause. These leaders are methodical in their pursuit of progress, but not usually aware of how much good they actually are doing. 

You can never adequately predict how people will respond.  

Even the people you felt were your best supporters will sometimes turn on you if the decision you make does not go in their favor. And, then there will be some people who will rise to your support you didn’t even know were in your corner. 

You will seldom be 100% certain.  

There is always a level of risk with every decision you make. If you wait for perfect conditions you will seldom do anything. You should ask good questions, get plenty of input, and certainly pray for wisdom. Sometimes, however, you simply have to pull the trigger and get started. 

Some days it won’t seem you’ve accomplished anything.  

And, sometimes, looking back, these will be your best days. It might be because you spent all day investing in others – while other “work” goes undone. But, remember, if you are leading you are in a people business. People will always be your best efforts. 

You will make mistakes.  

And, you will make lots of them. But, you will learn from them even more than the things you do right. The best leaders I know do not hide the mistakes they make. They use them as life lessons and help others grow through them. 

I guarantee these to be true. Emphatically. 

Or, at least I’m 97.9% sure. 🙂

Freedom Passes – The New Math of Leadership

Student studying math on the blackboard full of formulas

When I was in school I had a love-hate relationship with math.

I loved doing math – working to find an answer to a problem. In fact, I was pretty good at it. I even served on the math team for a while.

But I hated having to solve the problem with the teacher’s methods.

On tests I would do poorly if the teacher made us show our work. I could get the right answers, but I wanted to use my own methods. The years I was on the math team and did best were when I had teachers who allowed me the freedom to find answers my way.

I realize the teacher needed to make sure I wasn’t cheating and I knew how to think through a specified process, but I wanted to invent my own process.

I think there is a leadership principle here. I have seen it so many times. 

If you want to empower people – give them a freedom pass.

In fact, if your team is currently stalled – maybe you need to hand out some freedom passes.

What’s a freedom pass? It is giving your people the freedom to complete their assignments in the way which works best for them. 

Successful leaders understand organizational success involves letting people figure out their own way. If you want team members to be energized towards progress they must be empowered to develop their own strategies for attaining the goals and objectives.

You still hold team members accountable for progress, but you allow them freedom to choose the process of completion. In practical terms this could be the hours they choose to work, where they do their work, and often who they include on their individual team. 

When you allow people to script the “how” they are more motivated to complete the “what”. People need space to create. They need to have input into the process of completing the vision of the team or organization.

Give people a Freedom Pass. It’s the new math of leadership. 

The Way a Leader is Expected to Respond – Determines the Response They Receive


The way others expect you to respond often determines the way they respond to you.

Have you learned this valuable principle about your leadership?

For example:

If they expect you to respond in anger – they’ll dance around issues – never confronting them with you or bringing them to your attention.

You will seldom know the true health of your team or what others are thinking.

If they expect you to respond defensively or with a closed-mind to every new idea which doesn’t come from you – they’ll only respond to your ideas – refusing to take risks of their own.

You’ll be limited to how creative you are, but you’ll leave some of the best new ideas untapped and off the table.

If they expect you to respond with condemnation – they’ll be tempted to make excuses when things go wrong – and maybe try to hide them altogether.

You will be considered unsafe and treated as unapproachable.

If they expect you to respond with belittling or sarcasm – they’ll never be serious with you – you’ll never know their true feelings – afraid you’ll crush them if they do.

You will never really know people. They will only know you. And, they will be very surface-level with you relationally.

If they expect you to respond with the final say to every decision – they’ll soon stop having new ideas. They’ll wait before moving forward on anything new.

You’ll get to run every meeting and feel very much in control, but your team isn’t really a team they are employees. And, most likely very unfulfilled and under-utilized.

Insert your own examples. The way a leader is expected to respond, built over time by experience, determines the way people respond to the leader. Every time.

However, the contrast is true:

If they expect you to respond supportively – they’ll be more likely to offer their opinions.

You’ll hear the best they have to offer. You’ll encourage creativity and dreaming.

If they expect you to respond with care and understanding – they’ll be more likely to share their heart, their pain, their life with you.

You’ll truly know people and you will be able to lead more relationally than strictly because of your position.

If they expect you to respond with empowerment – they’ll be more likely to take risks and try something new.

You’ll get the best from people. They will feel more a part of a team. And, great things have a better potential to happen.

If they expect you to respond with grace – they’ll be more likely to share the good, the bad and the ugly.

You’ll know when they failed and they’ll come to you for help to improve.

If they expect you to respond with a listening ear – they’ll come to you when they need to bounce ideas – before they have all the answers.

You’ll become part of their development, helping them improve individually as they attempt to help improve the team.

Leaders, how do others expect you to respond?

There are so many other scenarios I could have offered. You have some of your own no doubt.

Think about it – do you not tend to alter your response based on how you expect others to respond? Is this not true in family and friend relationships also? It certainly is in leadership.

Fair or not – as a leader, the response others expect from you may help determine the way others respond to you. Their response will be how we have conditioned them to respond to us, based on past experience of how we have responded to them.

More importantly, however, is ultimately our response to people in a great way determine the health of the team or organization.

5 Mature Ways for a Leader to Respond Under Stress

Money Worries

Every organization and team has times where everyone is stretched, stress abounds, and even times where it seems things are going backwards for a while. It could be a crisis or an exceptionally busy season. It could be internal or external issues causing the stressful times. During these seasons good leadership is more critical than ever.

Mature leaders know the way they respond in stress will directly impact the organization and everyone attempting to follow them.

Here are 5 mature ways for a leader to respond during stressful times:

A level head

A leader must display a calmness in the midst of crisis. If the leader panics everyone panics. Trying times test a team and the leader doesn’t needs to add a calmness to the situation, helping assure people everything will be okay. This does not mean giving a false hope. People should understand reality, but it does mean helping people find their sense of balance in the midst of what may seem hopeless in their minds.


There will always be temptations to give up under stress. A leader walks by faith and keeps the team moving forward. You can read the hard lesson I learned about this issue in my post of advice to the leader when things are going wrong. Through good times and the bad times the leader must stand firm.


Character is tested during stressful times. A leader must remain unquestioned in his or her integrity for the health of the team and organization. People will watch to see how a leader responds. What a leader says or does will be taken seriously and subject to people’s own interpretations. This is why we must strive to be above reproach.


Decisions are harder to make but more important during stressful times. The leader must think strategically for the organization – helping to steer towards clarity and progress. (Read a post about thinking strategically in the moment HERE)

Personal well-being

Leaders must remain healthy personally in order to continue to lead the organization. There will be a tendency to never leave the office, but during times of stress, the leader must continue to exercise, eat well, and be disciplined in rest. The leader must guard his or hear heart spiritually, knowing temptation is especially powerful under duress. The health of the leader directly impacts the health of the team.

Leader, have you ever had to lead during especially stressful times? Are you there now?

What would you add to my list?

7 Of My Most Repeated Leadership Advice

Leadership Arrow

Here is how a post like this develops. I meet with leaders weekly (largely pastors) either in person or online. It fuels me to invest in younger leaders and always challenges me as I learn from them.

I’m a better leader because I intentionally invest in other leaders. There’s a hint for some of you more seasoned leaders. Want to grow as a leader? Find someone younger in whom you can invest?

But, it always seems the so-called wisdom I share gathers in seasons. When I say something to one pastor I usually end up repeating it to another shortly afterwards. It could be the word of advice is in my schema or it is another way God stretches and teaches me so He can use me. I learn best with repetition.

And, eventually, once I’ve repeated it several times, I write it down. Then it becomes ingrained in my memory bank.

(There’s another hint there. Write down what you are learning – especially if God is the teacher.)

Here are 7 of my most repeated leadership advice:

Copy principles not practices.

Principles are almost always transferable. Practices seldom are. You can’t be someone else as effectively as you can be yourself. You’ll lose if you try to compare yourself to someone else’s success. Your success will likely look different from anyone else’s. And, the comparison game is a terrible treadmill of diasappointment.

Don’t trip over your own humility.

It’s great to be humble. I’d advise it if you want to please God. But, don’t refuse to do the right thing because you’re afraid it appears to be self-serving. I’ve seen so many pastors who don’t want to be accused of getting “credit” for something, so they do nothing at all. Tell that to people like Martin Luther King, Jr. Or Mother Theresa. Do the right thing. Be humble. Then don’t brag on yourself. (And, sometimes they won’t even give you credit. Be okay then too.)

Limit your energy to a few key areas.

Delegate the rest. I’ve found I’m seldom effective past four or five major initiatives. Really three is a good number. There are some who think they are super-human. But, they are almost always wrong and it is proven over time.

Don’t be afraid to make people wait for excellence.

I see leaders burnout and be far less effective because they try to do everything at once. It’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s actually healthy. I love the phrase “Caged Momentum”. I’m not at all saying do nothing, but waiting until it’s the right time may bring more people on board and keep you from overextending yourself or the church/organization.

If you ever lack energy inside the building — get outside the building.

I see pastors get so frustrated at the lack of progress. They beat themselves up because things aren’t changing fast enough. They lose their energy dealing with the negativity of change. I say to those pastors, get back to the coffee shops. Talk to people outside the church. Fuel yourself among the darkness of a hurting world which is changing faster than we can capture on the nightly news.

It’s actually what most of us have been called to do. Make disciples. Spread light. And, when the disciples in the church start arguing over potlucks, get outside – into the community and refuel your passion with people searching for hope. And, watch your energy rise.

Invest in a few key leaders.

You can’t invest effectively in everyone who’s trying to follow you. Jesus had lots of followers. He had 12 disciples.

All of these could be their own complete blog post. I’ve spent as much as an hour talking about each one to pastors.

12 Tweetable Leadership Principles

follow leader

Here are 12 random leadership axioms in less than 140 characters each.

  • Some people will only support change after it’s proven to be a success. They are the same people who will say I told you so if it doesn’t work.
  • Sometimes the strongest thing to do is to turn the other cheek. Sometimes it is to stand your ground.
  • Solicited applause is seldom given genuinely.
  • The best opportunities seldom come wrapped neatly in a package with a bow on top. They usually come with work. Get your hands dirty work.
  • The best leaders are often the ones smart enough to get out of the way of smarter people.
  • Part of leadership is the willingness to make hard decisions no one else on the team wants to make.
  • Change always invokes an emotion. The best change agents recognize and respond accordingly.
  • The leader has a responsibility to do the right thing for the organization, regardless of whether it brings instant popularity.
  • The more you say “I” the less your team will feel a part of “we”.
  • Some of a leader’s best work is not what the leader does but what he or she inspires others to do.
  • Without the right systems in place, the best visions will eventually suffer. Systematize what you want and need repeated.
  • One of the most important disciplines of a leader is the discipline of rest.

Feel free to tweet a few.

7 Words of Wisdom for Church Planters – and Other Ministry Leaders

St John Church

While meeting with a potential church planter some of the words of wisdom spoken to me over the years flooded my mind. I think they are valuable for all leaders, but especially my friends in ministry.

Some of these were given to me by others. Some were learned firsthand by experience.

Here are 7 words of wisdom for church planters and leaders:

Seek approval among the people to whom God sent you to minister

Obviously, we work for the approval of God, not man, but all of us need assurance at times from other people what we are doing matters. Church planting is unpopular among some established churches. There may be days when you feel like the “church’ community is working against you. When you lead an established church to grow your critics will be inside the building and those who resist change. Either way there will be critics.

A seasoned church planter gave me this advice. Most likely God didn’t call you to your assignment so you could be popular – or even to simply satisfy people who already love their church the way it is. He sent you to reach hurting, broken people – to be His witness to a dark world. My guess is those whom you are reaching are happy with your efforts.

Love God and you’ll love the people wherever God sends you

This happened to me when I just knew I was supposed to plant a church in New York City. I wanted to. I felt “led” to, at times. But, still, there wasn’t the peace or opportunity to do so. While walking the streets of NYC, I asked God to give me a clear heart for the people of New York if it was where He wanted me to be.

This line was one of the clearest words from God to me I’ve ever heard. If I truly love God, I will love the people and have a heart to make disciples among them, wherever I go. This is true in church planting and in church revitalization.

Don’t ignore churched people

When I was a new church planter, we ran from anyone who had any church affiliation. They weren’t our target. We didn’t want to offend other churches. We felt it was the “best” thing to do. In doing so, we robbed ourselves of potential leaders and kept some people from following the ministry God had laid on their heart.

The same is true in the established church. It can’t be all about the “new” people. You have to love the people who are already there. They are your best resource and partners to reach the lost and hurting. Learning to embrace them – even in the difficult days of change – is part of your Kingdom work.

Your wife may have to trust you

My wife has often known we were supposed to do something, but her heart has often been more tender when it comes to leaving the people we love. Her faith follows quickly, but her heart often lingers with the previous church.

At times, I have had to ask her to trust me, and my walk with Christ, when she can’t seem to force her heart to shift. (You actually can’t force a heart to change.) Unless she has a conviction against moving forward, if she’s willing, it is often helpful if she relies on my logic more than her emotions. Her emotional commitment always follows in time.

Peace comes through obedience

Sometimes the complete peace in a decision doesn’t come until I’ve said “Yes Lord” to what I sense He’s calling me to do. Saying yes, before I have all the assignment or all my questions are answered, seems to open the door for God to bring peace about the move. And, His blessing and glory.

God stirs the nest

Deuteronomy references God and the eagle stirring its nest. I’ve been told (and read) eagles build their nest with the roughest products they can find. Then they cover the structure with the softest, most comfortable material available. A baby eaglet never wants to leave the comfort of home, so to teach them to fly, a mother eagle stirs up the nest, uncovering the roughest part.

If things become real uncomfortable where you are it could be a God thing. He could be “stirring the nest”. Don’t be afraid of those times – they lead to His best for you.

Build DNA slowly

Once DNA is set, it’s very hard to change it. (My friends in the established church know this one well.) Secure senior leaders slowly. Add staff slowly. Add rules and structure slowly. What you repeat very many times will become tradition quickly and when you try to change it there will be resistance. Make sure it’s something you want in your DNA, before you allow it to get there.

To all my ministry leader friends – I’m pulling for you.

10 Common Complaints about Leaders

Complaint Concept on Red Puzzle.

As a result of this blog, I receive emails regularly from staff members of other churches or non-profit organizations. There is usually a question they have about leadership, but along with the question often comes a complaint about their leader. And there are many.

I’ve been in a leadership position for near 30 years so I know complaints are common in leadership. If you’re in leadership you will receive complaints – about the organization you lead, the people in it, and about you. Period.

And, let’s be fair – some of them are valid. Some of them are not, but some are, because leaders aren’t perfect. None of them. Definitely including this one. There is validity in many of the complaints we receive.

I once decided I would compile a list of some of the most common complaints I hear. After grouping them together for brevity, I  went with the top 10 most repeated.

Why is this important? It’s not to lump more hot coal on a burdened leader. I love leaders. Investing in them is part of my calling. But, I also have a conviction. I believe I am less likely to improve where I don’t know I need to improve. Compiling this list became an awareness exercise for me as much as anything.

Here are 10 common complaints about leaders:

Controlling – All the decisions are decided and announced. No one gets to provide input. The final decision must come from the leader.

Defensive – The leader challenges every challenge. You can’t talk to him or her about a problem. They refuse to be wrong or admit anything is wrong. (As if we can refuse to be wrong, right?)

Stuck – Some leaders love routines and structure so much they never attempt to move things forward until they are forced into change. They are always playing defense – never offense.

Fearful – Whether because of people pleasing or lack of faith, the leader suffers from risk aversion to the point of crippling the team.

Lazy – It’s not do as I do – it’s do as I say – because I’m not going to do anything.

Unpredictable – There’s never a dull moment, but not in a fun kind of way. The leader is inconsistent and causes people to always be on edge.

Never satisfied – It doesn’t matter how large the win, instead of lingering in celebration, this leader is always asking “What’s next?”

Unclear – When they give direction or cast a vision it’s never understood by the one supposed to implement. Confusion leads to frustration.

Prideful – They take all the glory. Enough said.

Indecisive – These leaders can’t make a decision. And everyone waits. And waits. And everything stalls.

Distracted – Sometimes leaders appear so busy those trying to follow don’t believe they ever have their full attention.

Phony – This leader’s personal life, and the one seen by those closest to the leader, doesn’t match the public persona the leader displays.

There is the list. I think it could be good for all leaders to read through them – and ask some tough questions of yourself. Which of these would be most said about you?

You may be wondering, if you were to hear from someone on our team – which of these would be complaints about my leadership? Probably many of them at different times. If I had to guess, however, they would probably point to three intially.

Never satisfied, unclear and distracted.

Often, though I have no problem making decisions, I can easily get locked into minutia if presented with too many options and appear indecisive.

I am aware of these areas and continually attempt to address them in my leadership, but it is an ongoing process.

Now, on behalf of leaders, as a word to those trying to follow, let me say many times the leader is totally unaware they are perceived in these negative ways. And, most, if they knew, would make some attempts to improve in that area of their leadership.

Leaders, the word for us is we must continually work to become more aware of what is being preceived which often isn’t being spoken. It might not even be reality, but perceived reality is often just as damaging. (Some of the complaints I listed about me would fall into the perception category – not the reality. But, perception is someone else’s reality.)

If you are uncertain, the best thing to do is ask. Hand this list to some on your team and ask them to identify one or two they think you could work to improve. You’re not asking them to complain – just to give you honest, helpful feedback.

So, leader, be honest, which of these would most likely be the complaints said about you?

7 Dangers of Leading in Isolation

run away

I sat with a new pastor not long ago trying to hold a church together long enough to help it build again. The previous pastor left town – after a series of bad decisions – some decisions the church is still finding out about each new day.

I am happy to help the new pastor acclimate, but my greater concern was for the pastor who flamed out too early. The one who didn’t finish well. The one who left a church in a state of disarray and struggling to recover. 

And, sadly, I see it all the time. This pastor suffered from the same temptation any pastor faces. His number one problem in my opinion – he was leading in isolation.
He had no one on the inside of his life who knew him well enough to know when something was wrong and could confront him when necessary.

Leading in isolation is displayed in numerous ways to the detriment of the church or organization.

There are so many clear dangers I see in leading in isolation.

Here are 7 dangers of leading in isolation:

Moral failure

Without accountability in place many people will make bad decisions, because no one appears to be looking. We are more susceptible to temptation when we are alone.


We are made for community. There is an energy we gain from sharing life with other people. When the leader feels he or she is alone the likelihood of burning out, emotional stress and even depression increases.

Leadership Vacuum

The leader is clueless to the real problems in the organization and is fooled into believing everything (including the leader) is wonderful.

Control Freak

The leader panics when others question him or her. He or she tries to control every decision. They don’t want to be found out for not knowing all the answers.

Limits other people

The leader in isolation fails to communicate, invest, and release, which keeps other leaders from developing on the team. And, therefore, the organization isn’t prepared when the leader does exit. 

Limits leader

The isolated leader never reaches his or her full potential as a leader, because they shut out influences, which would actually help them grow.

Limits the organization

In the end, the leader who leads in isolation keeps the organization from being all it can be. The leader sets the bar of how far an organization can go. If the leader is in isolation the organization will stifle.

Leader, are you living in isolation? Be honest.

Do you need to get out of the protective shell you’ve made for yourself?

The health and future success of your organization depends on it.

(I realize many pastors of smaller churches feel they have no option, but to lead in isolation. You feel you have no one you can truly trust in your church and you have isolated yourself, for various reasons, from others in the community. As hard as it may seem, and as great as the risk may appear, you must find a few people to share your struggles with to avoid these dangers.)

Sometimes It’s Not a Systems Problem – Identifying the Real Issue

Full body isolated portrait of young business man

In one of my first vocational leadership roles, I managed a large retail division of a major department store. The division had several departments within it and each department had a separate department manager. Most of the departments were efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. One department, however, continued to fall behind the others. It was frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to get them to improve.

I was young and inexperienced, so I innocently thought the problem was me. If I could implement the right strategy in working with this department – find the right system – I could improve performance. I tested numerous systems to try to increase their productivity, but nothing seemed to work.

I was wrong in my assessment and the experience taught me a valuable lesson. 

You can have the best systems – the best strategies – the best programs – and still struggle with the performance of a team.

Sometimes it’s not a systems problem.

Sometimes it’s strictly a people problem.

I realized the problem was the leader in this department. This person always said what I wanted to hear. She was nice to me personally. She talked a good game, but she was grossly under-performing and bringing her department down with her. Through due process, and after months of trying to coach and encourage this leader to improve, I eventually had to replace her leadership and the department dramatically improved, almost instantly.

Since then I’ve always tried to remember to never try to handle a people problem with a systems approach.

Handle people problems, with people.

This doesn’t mean you’ll always need to replace the people, but you seldom improve people problems with better systems. You improve people problems by improving people.

Many times, in my experience, we try to create systems when the problem isn’t a systems problem, it’s a people problem.

Churches are notorious for this, by the way. We try to solve problems in people’s lives, for example, by creating rules, systems, programs, etc, designed to help make them better people. The problem is it’s not a systems problem. It’s not a program or committee problem. It’s a people problem. If their heart doesn’t change, the problems in their life will continue.

Knowing the difference between a systems problem and a people problem, and being mature enough to handle it, will make you a better leader.

Have you seen organizations and leaders create systems, instead of handling the real problem?