7 of the Hardest People to Lead

tug of war

Someone asked me recently, “Who has been the most difficult person you’ve had to lead?” That’s a great question. As a leader for over a quarter of a century (wow, that sounds old), I’ve experienced just about everything you can imagine in leading people.

I once had an employee call in sick because her snake was peeling. And the snake got depressed when he shed. She needed to be home to comfort the snake. That was a new one…and a story for another time…but I’ve learned not to be surprised at what people you are trying to lead may say or do.

I’ve also learned some people are easier to lead than others. Often personalities, experiences and preferences negatively impact a person’s ability to be led effectively.

Here are 7 of the hardest people to lead:

Know it all – It’s difficult to lead someone who won’t listen, because they don’t think they have a need for what you have to say. They think they know more than you…and everyone else. They may or may not, but it makes them very hard to lead.

Gifted leaders - Don’t misunderstand this one. I don’t mean they try to be difficult. They just bring higher expectations for those who try to lead them. I have had some very successful retired pastors in my churches. I love having them…but they keep me on my toes! (And, that’s a good thing.)

Hyper-critical – When someone is always negative it becomes difficult to lead them, mostly because they zap the motivation from you to do so. They never have anything positive to add to the team, the glass is always have empty, and the sky is always about to fall. Draining.

Wounded – Wounded people are more resistant to being led to something new until they heal. I’ve had staff members who came to our church injured. I knew before I could effectively lead them I had to help them heal from their past.

Insecure – Those who lack self-confidence are harder to lead, because they are hesitant to take a risk. The best leadership involves delegation. It’s people who assume responsibility for a task. Insecure people will usually only move when they are given specific tasks to complete. And, while good leaders encourage followers, insecure people need constant feedback and assurance, which can be exceptionally time demanding for leaders.

Traditionalist – This may not be the right word, perhaps risk-averse would be better, but leadership always involve change. Always. Without change there is no need for leadership. So, those who cling so tightly to the past are harder to lead to something new. There is nothing wrong with tradition or with enjoying the memories of the past. It’s when someone’s love of our history prevents them from embracing their future that it becomes difficult leading them.

Myself – The hardest person to lead is almost always the leaders. If leaders could always perform as we’d have others perform, we’d be better leaders. In fact, most of us would be excellent leaders.

I’m sure I missed some. The fact is everyone can be difficult to lead at times and during seasons. It’s what makes leadership fun, right? Seriously, all of these scenarios and types of people serve a role. Whether or not they prove to be a good fit for your team, they sharpen our skills of leadership.

What type person have you found hardest for you to lead?

10 Common Complaints about Leaders

Complaint Concept on Red Puzzle.

I receive emails everyday 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 over 25 years so I know complaints are common in leadership. If you’re in leadership you will receive complaints. Period. You will be misunderstood. Period.

But, leaders aren’t perfect. None of them. Definitely including this one. There is validity in many of the complaints.

Several months ago I began compiling a list of some of the common complaints I hear. I grouped some of them together for brevity and went with the top 10, most repeated. I personally believe I am less likely to improve where I don’t know I need to improve. This was 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.

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 that 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 that 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.

You may be wondering, which of these would be complaints about my leadership? Probably many of them at different times.  If I had to guess, however, if you surveyed the people I’m attempting to lead, 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. It’s an ongoing process.

Now, on behalf of leaders, as a word to those trying to follow, let me say that many of these complaints are often false assumptions. As I have observed in my own leadership, 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 that we must work to become more aware of what is being preceived that usually isn’t being spoken. It might not 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…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?

What are some other complaints you’ve seen waged against a leader…fair or unfair?

7 Leadership Tensions of Biblical Leaders

Acts Bible

I meet with a group of Christian senior level leaders in my community every couple of months. They lead large organizations in government, business, non- profit and, represented by me, the church. They are all experienced and successful leaders, who happen to also love Jesus. I learn great things from them each time we meet and feel privileged to call them friends.

Recently, I opened our discussion by sharing 7 examples of leadership tensions found in the Bible. It provided for a great discussion. My question was simple, of which of these stories can you most identify with currently? It was interesting that all of us had experienced each of these at some time, but could specifically identify with one or two of them currently.

I decided it was a blog worthy topic…but especially if you participate. Which of these are most representative of your current leadership tension? (Add a quick comment to this post, if you will, as I’d be interested to see which are the most common among my readers.)

7 leadership tensions of Biblical leaders:

David – Fighting a giant.

Joseph – Preparing for the future. (Maybe a bleak future)

Paul – Addressing a changing culture.

Gideon – In over your head.

Moses – Overwhelmed with responsibility.

Abraham – Leading into an unknown.

Noah – Standing alone in obedience.

There are a few possible takeaways you could get from this post.

  • You can identify that you are not alone in your struggles…they even have Biblical examples.
  • You can use this as an exercise to discuss with other leaders in your circle of influence…and find suggestions and solutions together.
  • You can, if needed, consider forming your own leadership circle of influencers. This type of thing has been invaluable to me over the years.

But, now, it’s your turn to participate here…add a comment…it can be short or long answer:

Which of these would you like to see me expand into a future blog post?

What other Biblical leadership tensions would you add?

7 Suggestions NOT To Do When the Church is in Decline

Downtrend chart and red pencil. Selective focus

Part of my ministry involves working with other churches. Sometimes when I hear from a church they have been plateaued or in a season of decline for several years. They are often looking for answers of how they can turnaround.

I love helping churches, but there truly are no standard answers. It’s unique for every church and every situation. I do know, however, that if a local church never adds new people…eventually it will cease to exist. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is not what they should do…but what they shouldn’t. I’ve seen churches make, what appears to me, to be an abundance of wrong decisions towards growing again. The purpose of this post is to help churches who may find themselves in a declining period avoid mistakes I’ve seen some churches make.

Here are 7 suggestions NOT to do when in decline:

Blame others – It’s easy to blame the decline on a former pastor…or one the deacons…or one the seniors…or even on the culture. But, the reality is, when you are in decline, this matters less than what you are going to do about it. And, as long as you are blaming someone or something you won’t address the real issues.

Make excuses – There are a multiple reasons we could probably discover…many of them true…of why a church begins to decline. You should know them, but at some point, excuses only cloud our ability to move forward. We tend to live in them rather than move past them.

Pretend – I’ve seen so many churches pretend there isn’t a problem…when everyone knows there is one. (Or many.) If you want to grow again, you’ll have to admit there is a problem that needs addressing. (And, this is the subject of another post…but…in full disclosure…just so you know…that may involve implementing some change. No…that’s not full disclosure. It WILL involve some change.)

Lower expectations – It seems natural when the church is in decline to expect less, but that never works. You are trying to attract new people. You need more excellence, not more mediocrity to do that. You may need to lower some of the programs you offer, but never lower expectations of the ones you do.

Cut expenses – This one has dual meanings, of course, because reducing expenses may be exactly what you need to do. The point here is to make sure you lower the right expenses. Don’t cut the things that got you where you are or will get you where you need to go. Don’t cut promotional or community investment dollars, for example, just because they are intangibles or an easy decisions to make. The fact here is that many times the expenses you may need to cut are difficult decisions…unpopular decisions. So we often avoid them and cut the things that we should be doing to spur growth.

Overreact – Too much change during a period of decline can be deadly. Too little change can be equally damaging. Panic of leadership almost always leads to panic in people trying to follow. Strive not to react too strongly either way. Don’t change everything and don’t clamp down and refuse to change anything. Renew the vision God called you to…set good, clear goals and objectives to chart a course forward, and then trust that God will see you through this period.

Give up – There may be a time to quit. The fact is the church, as in the Body of Christ, is here to stay. Jesus promised that. That promise isn’t made to every local church. Local churches close every year. But, before you give up, or before you resolve that church growth is for other churches…but not this one…make sure you haven’t given up too soon. In my experience, we often quit just before the breakthrough. Do all you know to do, then stay close to the heart of God, waiting for Him to bring the increase again or lead you in making harder decisions.

In THIS POST, I share 7 suggestions a church should do in a period of decline.

(Let me address the pushback I often receive on posts like this…many times from well-meaning people who think I’m too strategic to be Biblical. God is in charge. He sets the rules and adds the increase. But, that does not leave us without responsibility. Read the parable of the talents…or the story of Nehemiah…or multiple others. God has given us minds to be used for His glory.)

Have you pastored a church in decline? What mistakes did you make?

One and Only One Leadership Principle

Leadership Ahead

I received this email recently:

Ron, a question for you.

If you had to pass one and only one leadership principle to others leaders, What would that one principle be and why that one?

That’s a hard question, but I thought for a minute and came to a thought.

Here’s my reply:

It’s not about you.

Why?

Because, leadership is about something bigger than you.

If ever we begin to believe its about us, or our agenda, or our plan…or even more dangerous…our people…we will become controlling, prideful and eventually ineffective.

How would you answer?

10 of my favorite John F. Kennedy Quotes

image

Obviously, John F. Kennedy spoke many memorable quotes. As with any leader of significance, I knew there were probably some statements that are lesser known, but are meaningful. In fact, in light of what we know now, some may even be more relative today. (I discovered these with simple Google searches and several sites attributed these to JFK.) If Twitter had been around, some of these would have been retweeted and favorited.

Here are 10 of my favorite John F. Kennedy quotes:

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.

We would like to live as we once lived, but history will not permit it.

Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Once you say you’re going to settle for second, that’s what happens to you in life.

The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

Do you have a favorite JFK quote?

5 Ways to Fuel Creative Thoughts

ideas spinning

I’m an idea guy. No on has ever accused me of not having an original thought. Most of the time the opposite is more accurate. The teams I lead usually fight overload with the number of ideas I produce. I have to discipline myself to “unthink” and give teams permission to tell me “bad idea”.

But, even idea people have lulls in their creative process. We grow stagnant. Get bored. Need help spurring thought.

So, how do idea people get new and original ideas?

Here are 5 ways that work for me:

Get up and walk – If it is cold I walk inside, but outside is my preference. Several times throughout the day I take a hike. My best ideas rarely happen sitting at my desk.

Whiteboard – Diagraming or drawing my thoughts makes me think. I have one wall in my office covered  with idea paint. If thoughts get stale…I play with dry erase markers. Literally. Start writing or drawing and it leads to more ideas. Every time. (I also have several doodling apps on my iPad.)

Exercise – Whenever I’m in a lull, exercise triggers my brain. And, it’s good for my health. Sometimes a mid afternoon sweat will make the last half of the day my most productive in thought.

Hang out with creatives - Iron sharpens iron. Creatives sharpen me. I like to occasionally hang out with random thinking, highly creative types. I’m random, nut structured, so I have to pace my time with the over-the-top creatives, but they always trigger new ideas.

Different environments – Going somewhere I’ve never been always fuels me. A new city. A new park. A new restaurant. A new coffee shop. A different library. Change the space…expand the pace (of thought).

Those are a few that help me.

What triggers your creative process? 

5 Suggestions When Firing Someone in Ministry

Unemployment

My post on firing people in ministry created a great deal of interest. As I expected, some felt it made the church seem too much like a business. I get that, but the other fact, and many understood although sadly through difficult experiences, is that if we don’t address this very serious issue, Kingdom dollars are often misused. And, if we are honest, that has been allowed in ministry far more often than it should be. Our command to love or even to be kind shouldn’t cause us to waste Kingdom dollars.

Please read THAT POST before reading this one.

The fact is, in nearly every situation I’m aware of where this type decision is made, it’s not an issue of likability. It’s not that we don’t love the person or their family. If that was the case, all this would be easy. It doesn’t always even mean the person did something wrong. At times, it is a simple issue of chemistry or fit and often the person proves later to be a great fit elsewhere. Making this difficult decision has many times proven best for all parties involved, but admittedly, getting to the point of release is sometimes a most difficult process. As hard and delicate an issue as this is, it is poor stewardship, in my opinion, not to address the issue.

With that in mind, I’ve had several ask me to expand on that post. If you have to release someone from a ministry position, what are some best practices to protect the church and person?

Here are 5 suggestions when you have to fire someone in ministry:

Be certain – Not as much from a legal sense, but from a moral sense, we need to be sure this is the right move. (You need to be legal too and if you aren’t sure in that area ask. I have always consulted an attorney before anyone is released.) The fact is it will be difficult. It may even be messy. There is usually some damage done to the body. You shouldn’t hide from the right decision because of it, but you should make sure you’re making the right decision.

Be generous – This will differ depending on the person’s tenure with the church and the reason for dismissal, but be as generous as you reasonably can be. This could be financial, but it could also be in the way you allow an exit to take place. I’ve had some unique situations to accommodate. Knowing how hard this is going to be for the affected party, as much as possible, be overly generous.

Be graceful – I’ve been involved in a few messy situations involving the release of a staff member. Many times the most gracious thing to the departing staffer is the information that’s not shared. There is always more to the story and everyone wants to know the “more”…sadly many times for the wrong reasons. Keeping that information as confidential as possible extends grace to the person, the person’s family and the church. Grace should also be extended in creating an exit strategy that protects the person’s future employment possibilities, as much as possible. There may be moral or legal issues you feel obligated or legally have to share, but as much as possible, extend grace.

Be honest – Here, I am talking about what you communicate to the person being released. Don’t sugarcoat. Now is not the time. What’s the real reason? Hopefully, by this point, there has been sufficient due process and fair warning, except in cases where an immediate exit is the only option. Either way, tell the truth. I’ve seen churches disguise the real issues in an effort to land a “softer blow”. Many times this only creates more tension, because of the ambiguity and uncertainty of the dismissal.

Be helpful – How can the person improve for their next position? What are the areas they do well? In what ways can you help them land better into their next role? The person won’t always be open to your “help”, but you should be available to help them wherever and however they might be.

This is admittedly hard. No one enjoys this discussion or this process. I don’t even enjoy writing this blog post. We should be Biblical in our approach always, but it’s not Biblical to avoid hard issues hiding behind a label of ministry.

What other suggestions would you have when you have to release a person in ministry?

The Transition of a Founder: Handing off the Reigns

Meeting handshake

Starbucks Howard Schultz had to return to the helm at Starbucks. Apparently, according to numerous reports, he tried to leave, but came back to attempt to reverse the suffering the company experienced. Dell’s Michael returned to help steer Dell back to health. Steve Jobs once returned to Apple. Other companies, who have founder with lesser known names, have seen their founding fathers return to the helm of leadership. Companies like Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Vonage saw founders return. They all returned to help the company succeed again. In some of these cases things were never the same after the return, but my point is they were forced to return to the companies they founded.

I have a theory.

Companies today will face this dilemma more than companies founded in years past.

Could it be that because companies today begin with such an imprint of their founder in their DNA that it is becoming more difficult to pass the reigns of the top spot to another person? Study Starbucks and you have to study Howard Schultz. (He even wrote a book about it.) Look at Dell computers and you see Michael Dell all over the company philosophy. Even today, as he is trying to rebrand the company that holds his name with a newer identity, his personality appears to drive the process. Companies today are very much an impression of their founders. Google’s corporate “fun” environment apparently IS Larry Page. Every time I’ve heard Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, interviewed he describes the social network with a passion that only a founder could exhibit.

Companies are launching into their niche faster than ever before. The information age and technology allows for growth at a pace unknown in previous generations. Much of that growth is a direct reflection on the personality and passions of the founder who is seen in the public as the chief representative of the company. Social media fuels that even faster. I’m not sure building around a personality has been the case as extreme as it seems to be today.

As I view this phenomenon within corporate America, I can’t help but wonder if there are implications for churches as well.

Doesn’t Northpoint have the personality of Andy Stanley? Lifepoint certainly embodies the imprint of Craig Groeschel.

What will happen when these leaders attempt to retire? The answer to that question remains to be seen. I have no doubt these two mentioned are thinking about those issues, but are their lesser known counterparts? We certainly are planting lots of churches. And, that’s a good thing.

But, certainly also, we are planting many churches today that share their DNA with the founding pastor. The world of social media elevates the role of the founder in churches too. People follow leaders…personalities. We can agree Jesus is to be that personality…it is Him we are to follow…but even still, society tends to look for individual leadership to follow these days. Hopefully, those churches are preparing to be churches that will last for years to come.

This thought process encourages a few things churches (and organizations) may want to consider in their beginning years:

  • We must be thinking transition of the founder from the founding.
  • We must be careful not to elevate people or personalities over a vision.
  • Whenever possible, we may want to consider easing a leader out gradually, rather than allowing a fast exit of the founder.
  • We must make sure our visions are easily transferable, if we want the church (or organization) to exist long-term.

As with most posts, I don’t have all the answers. I’m, hopefully, just triggering thoughts.

What are yours?

7 Unique Abilities of Good Leaders

man looking

Leadership is never easy. To lead well requires unique abilities.

Here are 7:

Ability to stand alone – You don’t have to always stand alone as a leader. In fact, that should never be the goal, but there will be times it takes others time to catch the vision you are certain you have been called to lead. There will be days when everyone appears a critic. You’ll still have to lead. That’s why not everyone is willing to lead.

Ability to see what others can’t see – Leaders are taking people into the unknown. They see beyond the clutter of today into a bigger picture; a brighter reality. Many times they can view the end goal…as blurry as it may be…before others can. That’s why people need a leader.

Ability to think beyond today – Leadership is different from managing. It’s not about maintaining systems. It’s about what’s next. What’s ahead. What’s yet to be realized. That requires a more heads up rather than heads down approach. Not everyone has that ability.

Ability to cast a vision – People need to know the why behind the what. They need something to inspire them for the difficult days ahead. Good leaders can communicate effectively, share passion and motivate others to endure and succeed.

Ability to include people in the process – Leaders have a unique understanding that they can’t complete the task without the assistance of others. Genuine leaders share credit and acknowledge the contributions of those they lead. There is little room for selfishness or dictatorial control in good leadership.

Ability to make the first move – Leaders aren’t intimidated by fear or the unknown. They aren’t emotionless, but they know the journey to victory begins with the first step…and they will lead others in taking that step. This ability alone eliminates many from the field of leadership.

Ability to stay when others are leaving – There will be times of chaos when everything seems to be falling apart. The leader holds the banner of stability, pointing people back to the vision, reminding them of the rewards for staying the course.

Certainly there are others and I welcome you to share them. I’m also certain there have been great leaders who don’t have all seven of these, but good leadership will requires each of these at some point. And, great leaders, in my opinion, display each one often or when required.

What unique abilities would you add for good leadership?

Leader, do some soul-searching. Upon which of these do you need to improve?