7 Qualities of Good Change Agent Leaders

Chalkboard with text Changes

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 qualities 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 that clouds progress.

Relational – Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know that 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 that 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 happens with creativity. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. That 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?

Balancing Leading for Me and Leading for the Organization

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Every leader needs to balance the tension of “leading for me and leading for the organization.”

I balance it everyday.

Here’s what I mean.

I’m sometimes going to lead for me. My preferences. My tastes. My individual style is going to be reflected in the church. That’s part of leadership.

I’m certain leadership of the people looked different under Moses than under Joshua. (Joshua apparently didn’t have a stick. :) )

If my leadership is effective at all it will have an impact on the church. At the same time, I have to be very careful as I lead, and with the structures we implement, and the vision I cast, that I’m not being egocentric. We have a bigger vision at stake. Hopefully the church lasts much longer than me.

I know the church is going to resemble me. It is going to reflect my leadership.

But the church doesn’t need to look like me. It should look like Jesus.

Do you see the difference?

This is a tension for every organization. Christian or not. Non-profit or for profit.

Consider Apple. Apple resembles Steve Jobs. It should. He built the company. He’s a mastermind behind it all. But it didn’t need to look like Steve Jobs. It needed to look like Apple. Imagine what would happen now if it had only been built around Steve Jobs. Apple looks like Apple. That’s a good thing if you like Apple products.

I see too many planters and pastors shaping the culture to look like them. It’s dangerous. It’s not sustainable. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s Biblical. When they leave the church will likely struggle with an identity crisis.

Here are some ways I attempt to balance this tension:

  • If the decision has long-term implications I include multiple voices.
  • I try not to always have an answer to every problem.
  • I surround myself with really smart people. And, give them authority to question my judgment.
  • I step back often to observe a bigger picture.
  • I’m trying to shape paradigms of good leadership more than specifics of structure.
  • I try not to micromanage.
  • I empower people to make decisions without my stamp of approval.

People want to follow a vision that is bigger than today. They want progress. And, granted, to accomplish that, people want and need a leader. I believe God even allowed things to be set up that way. The tension is to not use that felt need of people as an opportunity to build my own kingdom.

Here’s a very practical example of how that is currently playing out in our church. Our church governing structure needs some tweaking. The current system, with a monthly business meeting on a Wednesday night, where major decisions eventually have to be made, attended overwhelmingly by seniors — who by the way are among the most faithful members of our church — is not sustainable long-term. The younger generation of people are not buying into that system. They don’t care about the business of church as much as the mission of church. In 10 years, unless we make changes, the room will be much smaller and it will be difficult to get anything done effectively with our current structure. That’s not being cruel. It’s being realistic.

In recommending that we need changes, I have suggested a team that is cross representative of the church, made up of laypeople in the church. I’ve offered resources and other church models for them to consider. But, then I’ve tried to get out of the way, as much as possible. I’ve even suggested, should anyone think this is personal to me, that they make changes effective the day I leave office as pastor. (I’m not anticipating they will do this but I’m that serious about not shaping a church to look like me.)

The bottom line in this illustration is that I’m in a church that’s 105 years old. That is over twice my age. I hope this local church body survives long after I’m gone (unless of course Jesus returns.)

That will be easier if I’m not the identity of this church – Jesus is.

10 Common Traits among the Best Leaders I Ever Had

Many identical businessmen clones

All my life I’ve been a wisdom seeker. I have had some great leadership influence in my life. Beginning with my high school principal when I was student body president and a man in retail who took interest in me in college, I’ve been blessed with good role models.

Looking back, the best leaders I ever had shared some common traits.

10 Common Traits among the Best Leaders I Ever Had

Believed in me more than I believed in myself.

Were available to me when I needed them.

Ask good questions of me.

Challenged me to be better than I thought I could be.

Encouraged my dreams, while equally providing for me a sense of reality.

Had a character worthy of following.

Were skillful and competent, but not arrogant or self-serving.

Continued to learn personally.

Were visionary and challenged mediocrity.

Kept their word, but didn’t over-commit themselves.

Would you add any to my list from the best leaders in your life?

7 Ways to Stretch Yourself as a Leader

Close-up of a jogger stretching his legs

Those who succeed in the future workplace must be innovative. Adaptable. Able to change quickly.

You knew that, right?

It’s not an option these days.

It’s mandatory just to keep up with the pace of change. We can wish for days gone by, but to keep up, leaders will have to stretch themselves and work smarter.

In fact, when hiring decisions are made these days, most leaders I know (including me) look for these abilities as much, if not more, than experience or education. We need generalists, who can fill a plethora of responsibilities. If you can’t keep up with the speed of change, and adapt accordingly you’ll have a harder time advancing in your career in the future.

How can a leader keep up? What can you do?’

I am constantly learning how personally, but I have always been conscious of my own need to continue growing as a leader, so I’m sharing from my experience and some of what works for me.

Here are 7 ways to stretch yourself:

Read something different from what you normally read. If you love to read history, occasionally read a book of fiction. Pick up a tech magazine, even if you’re far from being a techie. Read the comics, or the opinion page, or a biography — whatever something is different from what you usually read.

Hang out with people not like you. One of my favorite ways to stretch myself has been to surround myself with many different personalities and interests among my friendships. I am introverted. I have some very extroverted friends. I’m not usually loud in a crowd — and a few of my close friends are always the life of the party. I’m conservative. I have some very liberal friends. Honestly, it’s sometimes more comfortable to only hang out with people who think like me, but I realize I’m missing opportunities to grow when I do.

Move forward on something with uncertainty. This will be a challenge for some of you reading this. For others it’s easy. It comes fairly easy for me. But, the fact is rarely will we have all the answers when making decisions. That eliminates faith when we do, by the way. Take a new risk on something. It’s the surest way to stretch yourself.

Attempt something you’ve never done. That goes with taking a risk, but not only something that you consider “risky” — try to do something beyond what you think you can do. Take a college class, even though you’ve been out of school for years. Learn a language or to play an instrument. Take up photography or baking. Try to do a home repair — with just the help of the guy at the hardware store. If you’ve never done it — all the better. The more different from you it seems — the greater the stretch.

Spend more time on opportunities than on problems. This is huge, because problems tend to weigh us down and discourage us. Opportunities challenge and encourage us. Yes, fixing problems is exhilarating for some of us (like me), but only getting back to ground zero pales compared to finding new potential for growth. We can’t avoid handling problems, but we can discipline ourselves to focus more energy towards advancement rather than repair. Try it. In my experience, when I do this, some of the problems I thought needed so much of my attention no longer do.

Schedule and discipline time to dream. Dreaming can quickly become a lost art in a sea of mediocrity and repetition. We get so caught up in systems, routines and processes that we fail to imagine what is yet to be realized. I try to schedule a few hours a week of blank calendar time and shut everything down to think and pray. Sometimes I take a walk. Sometimes I read. Always I try to think of something new.

Stay physically active. Numerous studies I’ve read indicate what my experience already knows. I stretch my mind when I stretch my body. And, the more I stretch my body, the more I stretch my mind.

I realize an obvious question some of my ministry friends are wondering. How does this apply to the church?

Well, I personally believe the church should be well led, well-managed, efficient and productive. We have the greatest mission challenge ever extended. We are in a life-changing profession. Why would we ever sacrifice quality or settle for less than best in carrying out our work? So, of course this impacts ministry. We must continue to stretch ourselves to become better servant leaders.

What ideas do you have to stretch yourself as a leader?

7 Reasons Introversion Works Well for Me as a Senior Leader

Sarcastic background

I read an article recently that suggested the majority of senior leaders think extroversion is necessary to be an effective senior leader. Obviously — and hopeful I am correct — I disagree. In fact, I see benefits in being an introverted senior leader.

I also know people who can’t believe I can pastor a large church and be introverted. I’ve written before about the false assumptions of introverts. Introverts can be just as caring, loving and “shepherding” as extroverts. It’s a personality trait, not a heart monitor. But, again, I see benefits in being a lead pastor and an introvert.

Here are 7 ways introversion works well for me as a senior leader:

I think first and speak later. I don’t stick my foot in my mouth very many times. I’m not saying extroverts do, but I am saying that as an introverts I tend to choose my words very carefully. One characteristic of the personality is we don’t speak quickly. We choose our words more intentionally. Understand, I do say things I regret, but it doesn’t happen often.

I’m less likely to struggle with the loneliness of leadership. This is a real leadership emotion, and I certainly have it some, but I’m very comfortable being alone in a room to my thoughts. Long runs by myself are energizing to me. I know many extroverted leaders who can get very lonely — and some days for them are very difficult, especially when they are in the midst of harder leadership decisions.

I create intentional moments. My introversion forces me to be very intentional about my time interacting with others. I say continually to introverted leaders — introversion should never be a crutch or an excuse for not engaging with people. Leadership is a relational process for all of us. But, my relational time is very focused. I tend to make the most of my time. A calendar is one of my essential leadership tools. Sunday mornings I’m the most extroverted person in our church building. It’s strategic, intentional, and I enjoy it — because I truly love people — even though it is draining.

It’s easy to concentrate on the big picture. You’ll seldom find me chit-chatting. It’s not that I don’t have casual conversations — I certainly do when I’m connecting with people — but communication for me is usually very purposeful. As a result, I tend to be able to be very big picture oriented. Very strategic in my thinking. I step back and observe everything often. I’m a deep thinker. Those are traits especially strong with most introverts. That has proven to be very profitable for my leadership and the teams I lead.

Processed randomness. People often wonder if I know how to have fun. “Pastor you seem so serious” or “What do you do for fun?” I hear comments like that frequently. Those are usually people who only see me when I’m working and don’t know me very well. And, I do work hard, but I can sometimes be seen as the class clown too — by those who get to know me. Some of that comes through online. But when those times occur, they are usually intentional times. My work is caught up, I have done all the things I have to get done, and I’m ready to “come out and play”. That quality can be in extroverts or introverts, but for me as an introvert, they are more intentional moments than spontaneous.

I network intentionally. I recognize the value of every conversation I have. So, I have lots of conversations. Every Sunday is a gold mine of networking opportunities. Plus, I meet dozens of people every week in the community where I serve. I enjoy meeting people knowing that people are my purpose — and I love people — I really do. More than that, I love how God wants to develop and grow people, and I see my role in that as a teacher. People are the reason for everything I do.

I tend to listen well. People on my team usually have a very good chance of having their voice heard, because in any meeting setting, I don’t feel the need to be the one always talking. My introversion allows me to be quiet, sit back, listen, and reflect and offer input when and where most needed.

Sure there are struggles with being an introvert at times, but I have found it to be a blessing in my leadership. It is who I am — it is NOT a curse. Much of that has to do with how I manage my introversion in an often very extroverted world.

How does introversion make you an effective leader?

5 Necessary Ingredients for Healthy Delegation

No Dumping

I have seen, and probably been accused of, dumping responsibilities on people inappropriately and calling it delegation. That form of delegation actually does more harm than good for an organization, because it leaves projects undone or completed sub-par, kills employee morale and motivation, and keeps the mission of the organization from reaching its full potential.

Over the years I have frequently asked staff people to whom I delegate frequently how I am doing in this area It is always sobering — and always helpful. This post originates from learning the hard way.

The bottom line of delegation is this….

Delegation involves more than ridding oneself of responsibility.

You can’t dump and run and call it delegation.

Here are 5 necessary ingredients for healthy delegation:

Expectations – The person receiving the assignment must know the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve. They need to know what a win looks like. in your mind. They will want to please their leader. Everyone wants to know they did good work. The question “Why are we doing this?” and “What are we trying to accomplish?” should be answered clearly in their mind.

Knowledge - The delegator should be sure the proper training, coaching and education have been received. The delegator should remain available during the process so that questions or uncertainties of details that arise can be answered.

Resources – Good delegation involves having adequate resources and money to accomplish the task assigned. Nothing is more frustrating than being asked to complete a project without the tools with which to do it.

Accountability – Proper delegation involves follow up and evaluation of the delegated assignment. This is healthy for the delegator, the person receiving delegation, and the organization.

Appreciation – The delegation isn’t complete until the delegator recognizes the accomplishment of the one who completed the task. Failing to do so limits the leader’s ability to continue healthy delegation.

What would you add? Have you ever received a “dumping” that was called delegation?

10 Tweetable Pieces of Advice for Pastors

senior pastor

I was in the business world longer than I’ve been a pastor, so I’m still relatively “new” in the field of vocational ministry. I do have many years of experience with life and leadership. It has been amazing to watch how those principles have transferred for God’s glory into the work in the church.

One of my favorite things to do is to invest in other church leaders. I am frequently asked by pastors what my best leadership advice is for them. I don’t know how I could contain all I’d share in a single conversation or post. Plus, I’m still learning. I learn something new everyday.

So, this post is random. And, this post is not exhaustive.

Here are 10 Tweetable pieces of advice I share with pastors:

1. Don’t trade searching for a “Word” on Sunday for searching for a personal relationship with God. That’s where you’ll get your “word”.

2. Don’t allow a need to protect your reputation to keep you from welcoming accountability. You need it!

3. Never compromise one Biblical principle to keep another (shepherding the flock/caring for your family). Your family needs you and so does your church.

4. Don’t waste energy on those people who aren’t trying to help you build a ministry, but trying instead to tear it down.

(A pastor friend of mine once said, “Seek your need for affirmation among the people to whom God has sent you to minister.”)

5. Allow criticism to shape you, but not control you. Every leader doing anything of value attracts critics.

(BTW, criticism often has some elements of merit, so don’t dismiss it completely, but realize the source of your critics, their intent and how it fits with the vision God has given you.)

6. Don’t get so comfortable to where you refuse to walk by faith. God called you to a life of faith-walking.

7. If God is stretching you, it may be uncomfortable for a while, perhaps even hurt, but eventually you’ll love the new shape.

8. As a leader, you’ll seldom make everyone happy. In fact, if that’s your goal, you might consider whether or not you’re a leader.

9. The more you know and trust the heart of God, the less you’ll stress when you don’t know or understand the ways of God.

10. I’d rather lead with character than competence. I can surround myself w/competent people, but no one can make up for my lack of character.

7 Hints You’re About to Make a Bad Leadership Decision

No keyboard key finger

I’ve made many bad decisions in my leadership. Thankfully, the longer I lead, the more I develop warning signs I’m about to make another. I think these may apply to all leaders.

These aren’t full proof. They don’t mean you are definitely making a bad decision. But, they are hints you might and worth considering before you make the decision — especially major decisions.

Here are 7 hints you’re about to make the wrong decision as a leader:

It makes everyone happy. Chances are you’re settling for less than best. The best decisions almost never please everyone.

It’s easy. Some decisions are. Most aren’t. Especially major decisions.

You made it alone. Plans fail for the lack of counsel. With many counselors plans succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

You made it too quickly. Some decisions need time to gel in your mind and heart. Most major decisions need a good nights sleep — or several.

You made it too slowly. When you’ve wrestled with it long enough — and you know the right thing to do — some decisions just need to be made — even without having all the answers.

It changes nothing. Change is a part of leadership. In fact, without change you don’t need a leader. People can stay the same on their own.

Your gut tells you otherwise. You have a gut for a reason. Most likely it was developed over the years. It’s dangerous to ignore it.

Put some of your major decisions through this grid. I’m speaking from experience or many bad leadership decisions. It might help you avoid some of my mistakes — and make better ones.

What are some ways you diagnose a potential bad decision?

7 of the Hardest Paradigms I Had to Learn to be an Effective Leader

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One of the hardest parts of leading for me has been the things I’ve had to learn or do that may have been contrary to the way I would have naturally done them.

For example, I like to be in control of my surroundings. I don’t like the feeling of being out of control. There have been several incidents in my personal life which have shaped that in me as a person. Yet as a leader there are many times I don’t have the privilege of being in control. To some that may sound like the opposite of being a good leader. Learning to empower people, however, has proven to actually be a better leadership model for me.

So I decided to share some of the hardest paradigms I have had to learn in order to be effective as a leader.

Here are 7 hard paradigms I had to learn to be an effective leader:

I had to develop the ability to say no more than I get to say yes. I love to say yes. It’s easier. It makes people happier. It’s such a more positive word. And, I’m a positive person — the glass is always half full for me — three-fourths even. But, I’ve learned that always saying yes makes me very ineffective as a leader and eventually leads to my burnout. How healthy is that for our team?

I have to live with sometimes being unpopular. The natural tendency is to believe that the leader is well known and, frankly, well liked. I’ve learned however that every decision I make seems to make some people happy and some not so happy. I’ve even made some people angry — with some of the decisions I have made — even some that in time proved to be the best decision.

I have to move forward sometimes in uncertainty. I’ve never been able to have all the answers before a decision has to be made. That would totally remove the faith factor and it would stagnate us. I’ve learned to be an effective leader I have to be willing to go into the unknown.

I had to get comfortable challenging mediocrity. If you don’t know, you can ruffle someone’s feathers if you challenge the way they’ve been doing something. That includes if what they are doing isn’t working and they’ve “always done it that way”. But, I’ve learned that as a leader it’s part of my job to challenge us to improve — in all areas. Granted, sometimes we can push too hard or too fast, but it’s incredibly difficult to recover from complacency.

I had to lower my pride and admit I can often be wrong. I came into leadership, as most leaders do, believing I had some answers to offer. And sometimes I do. But I’ve also learned that my team often knows more than me. In fact, if I surround myself with the right team — that statement would be — my team always knows more than me. At least in the individual areas they lead. I have to yield to them and empower them for us to achieve our maximum potential.

I had to come to a reality that I couldn’t be everywhere or do everything. As a creative, my mind has a tendency to wander. If I’m not careful, I’ll try to be too involved in everyone else’s work and the work I’m supposed to do suffers. I want to help the discipleship ministry, the mission ministry, the music ministry, and the administrative ministry of the church, and every other ministry — in an in depth way. Granted, I need to be involved at some level, and part of my job as leader is casting vision for the entire church, but micromanaging never produces healthy or the best results. Disciplining myself not to always have an opinion has proven to be a more effective form of leadership.

I had to realize that sometimes the best thing to put on my calendar is rest. I’m from a generation and a family history of work. Rest doesn’t come without discipline for me. How can doing nothing be a good thing? I am wired for it to seem counter-productive to me. I’ve learned, however, that without proper rest, I’m eventually very ineffective as a leader. There have been days — extremely busy days — where the best decision of my day was to stop take a nap and started again. Needing proper rest is true of days, weeks, and seasons in order for my leadership to remain effective.

Those are some that come to my mind. I’m sure there are others.

What paradigms have you learned that have helped you be a more effective leader?

2 Things We Don’t Talk About That Leaders Desperately Need

next up

This is a guest post by my friend Jonathan Pearson. Jonathan is the Orangeburg Campus Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and Assistant Director of The Sticks Network. He is the co-creator of MillennialLeader.com, an online community for young leaders. His book Next Up releases today!

2 Things We Don’t Talk About That Leaders Desperately Need

One of the things we hear about everywhere right now is dieting and exercise. Turn on any info commercial or look at any magazine and you’re going to see a variety of different programs, products, and fads designed to get you “shredded” or “ripped” in just a few weeks or months.

If you’ve ever tried any of these brilliant, cure-all inventions, you’re probably like me and you’ve been left disappointed and slightly mad at yourself that you spent your hard earned money on that pill or that book or that program (again).

Several years ago a hot new weight loss pill came out that promised (at least in the commercial and the larger letters on the bottle) that it would help anyone who tried it to lose weight and look better without changing their diet or exercising. Being someone that’s always looking to try new things, I gave it a shot. Thirty days later, I gained 3 pounds because I had quit thinking any about what I was eating because I didn’t want to “change” anything.

I failed at that weight loss venture and people fail at fad diets and exercise routines because there is no short cut. Any thing worth having requires 2 things in order to get it…

Conviction and Consistency

I said it like this in my book, Next Up,

Consistency requires conviction. In order for us to do something consistently, we have to have a conviction that the end result is worth it.

The reason that many leaders fail to make the necessary changes in their lives and in their organizations isnt because they lack good ideas, but because they lack conviction and consistency. They lack the conviction that what they think needs to be done HAS to get done. Making changes in our lives and in our leadership requires that we are consistent with our actions and that consistency comes from a conviction from within.

Solid changes don’t happen from fad diets or the latest leadership book, they happen from people and leaders that are consistent in their actions and help bring about that change.

Leader, people are watching you to see if you have the conviction that the vision is worth the process. They’re watching to see if you’re consistent in your effort to make lasting change.

There’s no fad. We just have to do it the hard way. Little by little. Victory by victory.

Read more about topics like this in Jonathan’s book Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make. To find out more about the book, go to nextupbook.com. To find out more about Jonathan go to JonP.me.