7 Steps to Achieve Your Dreams

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I love and encourage dreaming.

I think dreaming is healthy for our emotional well-being. It’s a process that helps us accomplish great things personally and for God.

We are told we serve a big, creative God, whose thoughts will always be bigger and better than ours. We are to walk by faith. We are to trust God into the unknown. Dreaming should be natural to believers. Dreaming stretches the vision of churches and organizations, it fuels creativity, and many great opportunities develop first as a dream.

The reality is –‘however — that more people have dreams than attain them.

Perhaps you have dreams you have yet to accomplish. I certainly do. One reason dreams never come true is that we don’t have a system in place to work towards them. I love to be an encourager for people with great dreams, so with that in mind, here are some steps to help you move towards reaching your dreams:

Identify your dream – This is where you list specifically what the dream would look like. Obviously it needs to be attainable. If your dream is to create a new moon you may be disappointed, but don’t be afraid for it to be a stretch either. For example, suppose your dream is to be to be an author. That’s a dream you can accomplish, but it may not be realistic to write the next Purpose Driven Life.

Make an action plan – Write down specific action steps you can take towards attaining your goal. (The writing down part is important.) Sticking with the the idea of being an author, perhaps you could start with a blog for which you write post regularly to build the discipline of writing. Then move to outlining chapters. Then you might set aside a few hours a week to actually write the book. Record realistic dates to begin/complete each step.

Develop accountability – Most of us work harder when we know someone is going to challenge us to do so. Consider the success of programs like Weight Watchers. Accountability works, so share your plan of action with a few people who will continue to challenge you to completion.

Share the load – Even though it is your dream, the best ideas are accomplished when people work together towards a common vision. Don’t be afraid to invite others to help you accomplish your dream as needed.

Take a risk – If you really want to succeed, you must be willing to risk failure. Every great dream has an element of risk involved and the ones who achieve their dreams are the ones wiling to assume the risk.

Stay consistent – If you want to achieve your dreams, you will have to keep at the task, even during the set backs. Push yourself to complete scheduled action steps even on days you may not want to do anything. These is how habits are developed. Many give up too soon, often just before the tipping point towards success occurs. Unless you know it’s time to try another dream, stay consistent with the one in front of you.

Get started – The longer you wait, the more you delay achievement and the less likely you are to begin. If you know the dream is worth achieving, if you are confidant it’s a God-honoring, morally right, and worthy dream, then start today!

What is one dream you have yet to attain? Why not take one meaningful step to get started today?

A 4 Word Script to Evaluate Any Event

Smiling Asian businesswoman doing a presentation

I think evaluation is important. In fact, it may be equally important to the planning that goes into any event. And, for churches, just as we ask God to direct our thoughts and energies in creating and implementing an event in the church, we should ask God to direct us in evaluating what worked and what didn’t work.

We recently evaluated a major day (Easter) with some of our team. It flowed naturally. We got great feedback and learned some things to improve next year.

The evaluation process doesn’t always go that easily.

When evaluation isn’t being productive or your team isn’t in the routine of evaluating, let me share an idea that might help.

You need to script your evaluation process.

(Granted, some will struggle with the word “Event” being used to describe Easter weekend. And, I understand that, so you can call it anything you want. I’m using the word so that this idea can help you evaluate more than just Easter weekend.)

First, make sure the right people are in the room. I’ve done this in large and small settings, but you want voices at the table that can speak to most of what you were evaluating. For example, we since we were evaluating our Easter weekend, it would have made no sense if the only ones evaluating were the worship team and me. We were on the platform most of the time or only in our worship center. We needed people who could observe how guests were treated, what was happening in our parking lots, if children were cared for and whether or not the bathrooms were kept clean. Of this group, I also want positive-minded people who love the church and want to continue to see us improve — even if that means change.

So, after the right people are in the room, here’s something I’ve done when things aren’t progressing. It’s simple, but it works.

I’ve often gone to the board (I have one whole wall in my office painted with whiteboard paint) and written an outline for us to follow — a script if you will — to guide our thoughts to evaluate effectively.

Write down each of the words in bold, ask the questions — and you can think of better questions to add — and let people talk through each one.

Duplicate –

  • What did we do well?
  • What worked best?
  • What do we know we want to do again next time?

The goal here is to talk about and discover those things that need to be repeated next time. They worked. They fully helped you live out your vision and the goals for the event. These are often the “no-brainers” and are usually easily drawn out from the discussion.

Develop –

  • What was good, but could be better?
  • Where did we see the greatest energy, that with a little more effort could be huge?
  • What do we know is a part of our values for the event — or for our church (or organization) — but it didn’t get enough attention?

This is perhaps the most important part of the discussion. Here you want to discover those things that have the potential to really take your event to the next level. Try to keep discussion centered only on the development of existing things you do at this point — not new things — you will get there in a minute. You don’t want to add a ton to an event unless what you did was terribly bad and you need to start completely over with all new. Most of the time developing what you currently do and making it better is easier, more palatable for people’s tolerance to change, and more effective.

Dump –

  • What do we not need to do again?
  • What didn’t work at all?
  • What was the most draining effort, but produced little or no return for the investment?
  • What is tired, worn out, ready to be laid to rest before we do this again?

I tried to word those questions as pleasantly as possible, and if you prefer, use the word “delete”, but the idea here is what do you need to not do next time? You need to discover what needs killing. Don’t be shy here. This could be the hardest one, because this is where turf wars develop and feelings can come to the discussion, but you have to do it. If it didn’t work and it was expensive or labor-intensive — get rid of it next time. And, the reason it’s so important is that you can use that energy to pour into things you listed under the develop heading. And, that’s important too, because you don’t just want to take too much away from people without giving them something back that’s even better.

Dream –

  • What’s the wildest idea we could think of to do next time?
  • What could we add next time that has the potential to be a “signature” aspect?
  • If money was not an option, what would we do to make this better?

I love this one, but don’t put a ton of time into it — and don’t do it at all until you’ve done the others — but give some time to dreaming about the future. Honestly, I prefer the Develop one over this one as far as sustainability and productivity goes, but some really great ideas can originate here. Perhaps time this and stop when the ideas begin to turn really crazy, but allow people an opportunity to stretch the event into something no one has imagined.

Leader, you don’t have to be the moderator of this. Depending on the group someone else may be better at this and let you participate more in the discussion.

Make someone is the recorder in the room. We sometimes write ideas under the words and take a picture of the board — but I always suggest someone record these ideas into a document of some kind. We frequently create a Google Doc that we can share with others and store for later use. The more organize you are with your notes the more useful they will be next time you’re ready to do the event again.

Finally, I’d limit the time on this whole process. Maybe allot time to each one and then come back to them if you have time. It can grow stale if you linger too long in one of these discussions.

Hope this helps — and I’d love to hear from you if it does.

7 Critical Abilities of Senior Leaders

female leader

I have held a senior leadership position for over 20 years and been in leadership over 30 years. In this post, I want to express some things I’ve observed (and experienced) as some of the critical abilities that a senior leader must have to be effective.

The intent of this post is not to appear arrogant as a senior leader, as if I have qualities others may not have, although I’m confidant some will take it that way. (Isn’t being misunderstood part of being a senior leader at times?) I’m not afraid to admit my weaknesses — of which I have many — but there are certain abilities senior leaders need to do their job well.

And, you may not be able to understand that completely until you’ve served as a senior leader. That’s true of many things in life. Take parenting:

  • I remember how many people told me I wouldn’t understand parenting until I was a parent. They were right.
  • I remember how many people told me I should enjoy parenting at every stage of life while my boys were home. It passes fast. They were right.
  • I remember how many told me that I would adjust to being an empty-nester. They were right.

The point is that sometimes we can’t understand something until we experience it firsthand.

That’s the way it is with being the senior leader in an organization.

When I was a mid-level manager in a large corporation, I remember questioning why senior leadership made some of the decisions they did. Looking back — indeed — I would have made some of them differently. But, many times I can see why the view from their position motivated them to the decisions they made.

All leadership is challenging, but the senior position is a pressure unlike any other. Show me a small business owner, a president, a senior pastor or CEO and I’ll show you someone who carries — in an organizational leadership sense — a heavy burden.

I’ve learned — from observation — that some are qualified to lead from that position and some are not. Some want it. Some don’t. Some know it. Some don’t — often until they try.

I’ve also learned that a senior leader will struggle in the position when they lack some of these abilities — until they grow in them. And, one can grow in them — if they are willing to learn. To be most effective they must be aware of where they need to develop and continually be working towards them. These may be important abilities for all leaders — but they are critical for senior leaders.

Here are 7 critical abilities of senior leaders:

Ability to quickly and strategically think big picture

The senior leader doesn’t have a choice but to think big picture for the organization — at all times. There are lots of decisions made in a day and each of them could be huge. The impact of a senior leader’s decision often impacts everyone in the organization. He or she must learn to “think strategically in the moment“, realizing the impact — and the weight — of their decisions.

Ability to remain steadfast during adversity

The senior leader must continue to stand strong when everyone else is running from the problem. Especially in times of crisis or controversy, the organization and community around will look for leadership. A senior leader doesn’t have the choice of burying his or her head in the sand when troubles come to the organization. (By the way, I learned this one the hard way and wrote about that HERE.)

Ability to unquestionably keep a confidence

The senior leader usually knows things that aren’t ready to be released or talked about publicly. He or she must be trusted to keep these confidences. A senior leader must learn how to answer questions and address issues of importance to people without divulging confidential information. They must not say what people want to hear just to be “liked”. One of the quickest ways to lose trust as a senior leader is to develop a reputation as one who “talks too much”. (I wrote about that HERE.)

Ability to fully release control and delegate

The senior leader must wear many hats and oversee all areas of focus within an organization. He or she must be able to trust others and take risks on people to so growth can continue apart from the senior leader’s direct involvement. Delegation is important at all levels of leadership, but for the senior leader it is not an option. In fact, the best leaders I know give the implementation of the vision away freely. (I wrote about that HERE.)

Ability to see all sides to an issue

The senior leader can’t always have things their way — or play favorites for any one way, but must balance all the needs within an organization. This is another part of thinking strategically in the moment. Since an organization is built with many separate but equally important parts, the senior leader must view every scenario as it relates to each part of the organization. In a business, as an example, those who are in charge of sales and marketing are just as important as those who keep track of controlling costs. In a church, the music ministry is just as important as the discipleship ministry. (I wrote about that HERE)

Ability to make unpopular decisions

The senior leader must make the wisest decision possible — for the entire good of the organization — based on all the information he or she can gather — even when that means the decision will not be popular. And, that’s hard. In fact, at times it can produce a loneliness of leadership that keeps many from being able to handle the senior leader position. Leadership involves change and some people can navigate through the reactions people have to change better than others. (I previously wrote about the Emotions of Change. Senior leaders must learn to expect and deal with all of them.)

Ability to embrace healthy conflict for the good of the organization

Wherever there are people there will be conflict. The senior leader can’t shy away from conflict that is critical to maintain the health of the organization. The senior leader must recognize the importance of allowing times of conflict to strengthen the organization. They shouldn’t go looking for conflict, but not run from it either. It’s a delicate balance at times. (I wrote about ways to address healthy conflict HERE.)

If you don’t have these abilities — don’t quit leading. Although, if you would after reading one opinion blog post maybe you should. (Just saying.) I don’t have all of these perfected. I’m very much a continual work in progress. But, I do believe it’s important to recognize areas of improvement and seek ways to grow as a senior leader.

I’m sure there are others. These are from my observations and experiences. What is missing from my list? What would you add?

Make this post better: Share examples of ineffective senior level leaders you’ve known and which of these were lacking from his or her abilities.

Easter Reminder: Don’t Look for the Living Among the Dead

empty garden tomb

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you.

Luke 24:5-6

Easter reminds me that I often make the mistake of those who were seeking the crucified — now risen — Christ.

I look for the living among the dead.

I look at my past mistakes and think I can’t recover.

I look at my failures and think I’m defeated.

I look at those who cast doubt upon me and think they speak truth.

I look at my inadequacies and think I’m limited.

I look at my problems and forget that His mercies are new every morning.

I look at my struggles and think I’m limited to my own abilities.

I look at the circumstances of the world and feel all hope is gone.

I look for the living among the dead.

Let Easter remind us that we serve a RISEN Savior!

He’s on His throne. He has a plan. He has not forgotten us!

The tomb is empty!

Still.

Let’s live that way!

7 Small Changes That Produce Huge Results

Plant Sequence

Sometimes the small changes reap the biggest results.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that I’ve often done things the wrong way. I’ve tried to make huge changes in my life only to quickly fail. I didn’t keep going. I stopped. Overwhelmed. I tried to change too much too soon. It didn’t work.

What I have learned is that when small changes are repeated over time — not only are they easier to implement — they tend to stick longer. I’ve made some good habits in my life simply by starting with small changes.

Here are 7 small changes that produce huge results:

Read one chapter of a book each day.

This is gold. Most people would like to read more but they never seem to find time — or make time. Leaders are readers, right? Establishing a discipline of one chapter per day will get you averaging a couple dozen books a year. That would be an improvement for most of us. And, it usually only takes about 15 minutes per day.

Two glasses of water each morning.

This may sound small, and that’s kind of the point of all of these, but this has proved to be huge. I started this months ago. It’s a great way to wake up in the morning. Apparently we wake up needing hydration. I squeeze a fourth to half of a lemon in mine. I’ve been told that works wonders. I can’t swear by that, but it does improve the flavor. I crave this now. It wakes me up more than coffee — and I love coffee.

Exercise as a part of your daily routine.

You don’t have to run a marathon to maintain health. Just being active when you can will do wonders. Park further from the building. Park on the opposite end of the mall from where you’re going. Take the stairs if possible. Walk while you talk on the phone. I take frequent “mind” breaks and walk around our office or my neighborhood. I’ve even asked people to “walk” with me as we meet about something. I find myself interacting more with our staff because I’m all over the building during the day.

Spend 10-15 minutes in prayer and reflection.

You may wish you could pray for an hour or dissect the book of Romans like the spiritual giants you know. (I’ve learned they aren’t always as “mature” as we think they are. Knowledge does not equal maturity — obedience does.) But, what can you do? When I began a daily discipline of investing in my spiritual growth it was like I put fertilizer on my soul. It’s amazing what God can do with a seed of interest invested in knowing Him.

Take 5 minutes to plan the day.

At the beginning of each day — before you begin your first task — spend some time prioritizing how you will do the work. You’ll be so much more effective in your day if you’re working from a plan.

Routine your week.

Of course, there are no routine weeks. Life happens and it doesn’t happen routinely. I have found, however, when I have some idea of what my week should look like I am more likely to see some semblance of a routine. For example, I know that Mondays and Tuesdays are going to be meeting days. I plan my schedule around it. If someone asks to meet with me I try to steer them towards Monday and Tuesday. This frees up Wednesday as my primary day to write and prepare for Sunday. I keep Thursday fairly open for meetings but more for last minute meetings — depending on how my Wednesday preparation goes. I can push to Monday or Tuesday if needed. Friday I use for a catch-up day. I’m currently re-evaluating my routine, but having one helps me to have a more productive week. I’m certainly more prepared for the things that happen to interrupt my routine because I attempt one.

Make a list.

Feeling overwhelmed? Make a list. I realize the pushback against living by lists. I get it. You can become so scheduled that life is no fun. But, when you learn to manage your lists effectively, it can give you more freedom than you have now. You can even put “fun” on your list. When you have a list you can choose to tackle the hard ones or the easiest ones first — I typically go for the easiest — because it does something powerful to your mind and momentum when you get to check something off your list. You want more.

With several of these I now do far more than what’s listed, but this is where it started. For example, everyone seems to know we need to drink more water, and my small change has made me crave water even more. It actually keeps me more alert during the day – which is been a huge benefit to my productivity.

Another example: I also exercise — a lot — but it starts with a small mindset change of being active throughout the day. My body naturally desires activity, because I’ve planted that into me through a small change.

Small changes repeated over time. Huge results.

10 Scenarios to Help Determine if it’s Time to Quit

Job loss concept

How do you know when it’s time to leave an organization?

In a previous post I wrote “Leave Before You Have To”. Sometimes it’s more damaging to stay than to quit.

I am asked frequently to help someone think through the decision of whether to stay or to leave their current position. Obviously, if God calls you to stay somewhere, you should stay. Period. No questions asked. If God calls you to it — even when you’re miserable — you stay.

But many times, in my experience, we stay for the wrong reasons. We stay for a false sense of loyalty. We stay because we are afraid. We stay because we don’t know what we would do if we left.

The following are some times to consider leaving. I think these may apply if you are in a church or business setting.

This decision should never been entered lightly. I believe in loyalty. But, when careful consideration and prayer has been given, there are some common indications it’s time to move on to something else.

Here are 10 scenarios that may indicate it’s time to leave:

When God has freed you from your commitment – I believe God’s call is ultimately to the person of Christ, not to a place, but there are times God has us in a specific place for a specific season. You may only be a leader for a season. If you sense God has released you to pursue other positions, it may soon be time to leave.

When your work is finished – It could be that you’ve accomplished what you were sent to accomplish. I once wrote about leaders needing a challenge to stay motivated. If you have become too comfortable, it may be a time God is preparing you for a change…a new challenge. (Read more of that thought HERE.)

When your heart has left the organization or it’s vision – Sometimes you need to reenergize your heart. If God hasn’t released you from the position, for example, then you have to find a way to make it work. In many cases, however, you are freed to move elsewhere. You shouldn’t harm the organization by staying when you no longer have a heart for the mission. If you’ve quit having fun, don’t keep making life miserable for everyone else.

When you can’t support the leadership – You need to know where the power rests in the organization. It’s nearly impossible to change the organization working against an ingrained power structure. Ask yourself, “If it’s always going to be like this here, would I be content staying?”

When your family or personal life is suffering, because of the demands of the organization – If you have to neglect one of them, your career or your family, in twenty years, which do you hope it will have been?

When your mind starts working against the mission of the organization – If you would rather see the place fail than succeed; it could clearly be time to go.

When your relationship with co-workers or leadership is damaged beyond repair – You should try to work out these differences, you certainly should offer grace and forgiveness, but when it is obvious a professional relationship cannot be mended, it may be time to move forward with your life.

If the organization or senior leadership is venturing into immoral or unethical practices – Don’t get caught in the next news scandal.

When you find yourself physically ill if work crosses your mind – On the weekend (or when you are off work), if the emotional stress is greater than you can handle, you may need to protect your health over your career.

When you don’t have the energy to pull your own weight – For whatever reason, whether it’s because you’ve given up, you are bored, or just can’t keep up the pace, if you are dragging down productivity and you don’t have the incentive to improve, perhaps it’s time for a change in your workplace.

Please understand. I’m not a quitter. God may leave you in the miserable environment for a season…or even years. He certainly did for some of the men and women in Bible history. I also believe that the times described above are not always to be viewed as negative experiences. Sometimes God uses the difficult experiences of life to draw us to Him and to open our eyes to the next opportunity He has for us. I would have never made some of the moves I’ve made in life…that I know now were of God…had it not been for my miserable situation at the time.

At the same time, I believe there are times a false sense of loyalty, co-dependency or irrational fear keeps us from moving forward even though God is not holding us to the position. In my opinion, protecting our heart is more important than protecting a professional position. I wouldn’t make a decision solely on just one of these scenarios, but if numerous of them apply…

Consider this list as it compares to your situation, then ask God to confirm in your heart:

  • If you are free to leave.
  • If now is the time.

What would you add to my list?

You might also read: Discerning a Change in Ministry Assignment

5 Tips For Leading Strong-Willed People

Stubborn donkey

Have you ever tried to lead someone who didn’t want to be led?

The same children that were labeled “strong-willed” by their parents often grow up to be strong-willed adults. Perhaps you know one. Perhaps you are one.

(I know one personally — me!)

But, have you ever tried to lead one?

It’s not easy.

In fact, I’m convinced many strong-willed people end up leading just because they couldn’t be led — and yet they probably didn’t need to lead. But, no one ever learned to lead them.

And, I’m not sure I am an expert. But, I have some ideas — since I’m speaking to my own kind.

Here are 5 tips for leading strong-willed people:

Give clear expectations

Everyone responds best when they know what is expected of them. That is especially true of those with strong opinions of their own — shall I say — those of us more stubborn people. If you have a definite idea of how something needs to be done and you leave it as an undefined gray area — we will redefine things our way. Keep this in mind with strong-willed people: Rules should be few and make sense or they’ll likely be resisted or broken more often.

Give freedom within the boundaries

Once the guidelines and expectations are established, allow people to express themselves freely within them. That’s important for all of us, but especially for strong-willed people. Strong-willed people need to know they can make some decisions — that they have freedom to explore on their own.

Be consistent

Strong willed people need boundaries, but they will test them. They want to know the limits of their freedom. Keep in mind they are head-strong. We’ve even labeled them — strong-willed. They aren’t the rule followers on the team. Make sure the rules you have — and again there shouldn’t be too many — are consistent in application. If it’s worth making a rule — make sure it’s worth implementing.

Pick your battles.

This is huge. Strong-willed people can be the backbone of a team. They can loyal, dogmatic, and tenacious — all for the benefit of the vision. What leader doesn’t want that? But, those same qualities can be where the problems start also. Don’t cross a strong-willed person over issues of little importance to the overall vision of the organization. If you back them in a corner they will usually fight back.

Respect their opinions and individualities

Strong-willed people ultimately want to be heard (as all people do). They aren’t weird because they sometimes seem immovable. But, they do resist leadership most when their voice is silenced. Learn what matters to them and give credence to their opinions — you’ll find a loyal teammate.

Be honest: Are you strong-willed? How do you like to be led?

Every Life On Mission Matters – By Aaron Coe

Full body isolated portrait of young business man

Here’s a truth you can count on: God is on a mission to reconcile people to Himself, and this mission sweeps both history and the globe. More importantly, it includes regular, ordinary people like you and me.

But, if we’re honest, we might say we don’t feel much like we’re a part of God’s grand mission.

Right now you may be navigating a busy airport wondering if you’ll make your next flight because of a late connection.

Or perhaps you’re focused on getting the kids ready for school and just realized you forgot to make their lunches last night. Now you’re trying to hastily make peanut butter sandwiches and figure out what you’re going to tell your boss because you’re going to be late for your meeting!

By the time you get settled in your hotel room or have the kids in bed, you’re ready to kick back and watch some television. Your role as a missionary bearing the hope of the world is not exactly what you’re thinking about or how you’d describe yourself. Maybe in theory, but in practice, your mind is far from it.

WHY DON’T WE EMBRACE GOD’S MISSION?

Frankly, it’s because we have our own mission. We have our own way of calling the shots. We decide what’s meaningful or worthwhile and order our lives accordingly. Some people’s life mission is to pursue entertainment and comfort. For others it might be security and wealth. Still, for others, it is rising up the corporate ladder or being the most respected mom in the neighborhood.

We like to be the boss of our own lives.

In 21st century North America, we don’t exactly use the kingdom language we find throughout the Bible. Nor do we like to think of ourselves as living in someone’s kingdom and being subject to his rule. This is because we know the history of injustices at the hands of human kings.

In fact, when you think about earthly kings and queens, odds are you may think about some faraway, inaccessible royalty who is not even able to relate to the everyday needs and feelings of his subjects.

But what if we lived under a perfectly good and wise king whose every decision was for our benefit and eternal good?

Jesus is an altogether different kind of king. He took on the very plight of His subjects to provide a way out of the mess they had made for themselves. He is far from aloof, uncaring or inaccessible. Jesus is a king who got down into the mess of humanity and went to ultimate lengths to seek and save the lost and restore people back into His kingdom.

Jesus is the best king imaginable, because He is that perfectly wise and good king who always works everything for the best for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

TRUE FREEDOM IS FOUND ON GOD’S MISSION

As believers, this is our reality. We live not only as the subjects of the King, but also as His adopted children. Every decision He makes—from our salvation to our call to His mission—is for our own good and for the good of the world.

There is nothing more freeing than abandoning your own mission and joining the everyday mission of God.

EVERY LIFE ON MISSION REALLY DOES MATTER

Recently I was reading Urban Apologetics by Christopher W. Brooks and came across this paragraph:

“The gospel should meet people at the point of their deepest confusion
and at the height of their loftiest ideals. What matters most is that we
bring Christ into every moment of human history and every point of
human concern.”

It stood out to me as describing the Great Commission at its most essential. As believers we are called into the unreached places of the world and into the deepest struggles and needs of people’s lives. Each and every one of us is called to this most noble of ambitions of making Christ and His gospel known.

Unfortunately there is a tendency for most Christians to see this as a job for church professionals and to see their 9-to-5 job, their circle of friends or their work as a stay-at-home parent as somehow outside the realm of where God seeks to make disciples of all nations.

Christians seeing themselves and their daily lives as integral to God’s mission is really the only way the Church in this generation can faithfully proclaim the gospel at the point of people’s “deepest confusion” and within “every point of human concern.”

When we choose to to join God on His mission through His church, we dare to be the everyday missionaries we are called to be. Your life has a mission. Your life on mission matters!

This is a guest post by my friend Aaron B. Coe. Aaron is a strategy and mobilization consultant and co-author of Life on Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God (Moody Publishers, 2014), available at Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronbcoe.

7 Suggestions for Challenging a Controlling Leader

Business People having conversation with colleague during break

After one of my posts about controlling leadership, I received this question:

Any chance there is an upcoming post or two on how/when/where to confront a controlling leader? Especially for those of us who have had it drilled into our heads from childhood to not question authority? Some practical, nitty gritty tips would be really helpful.

That’s a pretty big request and I’m not sure I can speak into specific situations with a general response, but I think it’s a topic worth considering.

I wrote previously. In my previous post I wrote about the 3 options with a controlling leader. They are Quit, Compromise or Collaborate. In order to get to collaboration — which most of us would want — there almost always has to be a challenge to the controlling leadership. This would be an expansion of the “challenge” thought.

I should point out that while I believe the Bible teaches to respect authority, I don’t believe it says we must ignore the abuse of authority. All children should honor their parents, for example, but respect is never an excuse for abuse. There are times when it is appropriate to confront authority. Jesus certainly did during His earthly ministry.

Here are 7 suggestions with how to challenge a controlling leader:

Discern the need – Pray about it. Talk it through with a select few you can trust with their confidence — emphasis on select few. You should make sure your perception of this leader is correct. Is it them…or is it you? Then ask this question: Is this my responsibility? Do I sense the burden to do this? Will it make a difference, and if not, do I feel compelled to do it anyway?

Consider the timing – When addressing any conflict, timing is everything. Pick a day when things appear to be going well — from the leader’s perspective. Find the least stressful, calmest time you can find. You want to catch the leader in the best mood possible. If necessary, schedule an appointment with the leader.

Plan your approach – What are you going to say? How will you say it? Will you do this alone or with someone else? You may want to write your response first and rehearse it. In stressful situations, I think it is okay to bring notes. It shows you came prepared and have thought about the issue. Make sure you show as much respect for the leader as you can. Balance your critique with ample and genuine compliments. (There are even times, depending on the expected response of the leader or your expected ability to keep your composure where I would recommend writing a letter. I wrote about how to do that HERE.)

Bite the bullet – You can keep putting it off, but at some point you’ll have to approach the controlling leader if you hope to see a change. It will never be easy, but who knows that you were not put in this place for “such a time as this” — and by this point you’ve already discerned the need to do this.

Couch in love and respect – This can’t be over-emphasized. People don’t listen to people who don’t show genuine love for them or at least the respect the things or people they love. Most controlling leaders are hungry for respect…it’s part of their problem…so if you want to gain their attention, be respectful. (Again, because I know this is difficult for some people, but being respectful does not mean being silent, just as being meek or gentle does not mean being weak.)

Be clear and direct – Know what you offer to the leader that can add value to the team — and to the leader. Have some specific areas where you can collaborate with the leader. This is very important. Vagueness accomplishes nothing. Don’t make the leader wonder what you are talking about when you confront him or her. Talking around the problem will not be clear to a controlling leader. Most controlling leaders think their control is a sign of good leadership. They don’t realize they are the problem. You will not want to take this step to confront more than once, so make sure you are clear with the issues as you see them and how you want to help. If you’re going through the stress and preparation to confront, make sure you address the real problem.

Live with your consequences – You’ve prayed and prepared. This is not something you will do very often in your career. But, if you know you are doing the right thing, you confronted the leader with love and respect, you were clear about the problems, then the response of the leader is out of your hands. You can’t control the leader’s response, but you can control your response to the leader’s response. Be willing to live with the consequences of your actions. That may be the one thing you end up modeling for the controlling leader.

3 Ways to Respond to a Controlling Leader

One,Two or Three list written on a blackboard

I have written a good deal recently about controlling leadership.

Read ways people respond to controlling leadership and some warning signs you may be a controlling leader.

Most of my posts stem from current or past experience in leadership. Since I’ve been blogging on leadership, I have talked with dozens individuals in ministry or business who experience this type of leader. It impacts their personal leadership, as well as the health of their organization — and honestly, even their own personal health. Many younger leaders have told me they feel a controlling leader not only controls their work — but their career and their life.

And, the issue of controlling leadership seems to be more in discussion now than ever in my leadership career. And, that’s true in the church also. I hear almost weekly about a senior pastor who controls every decision in the church — and most of the time the staff culture is very unhealthy — even toxic.

One theory I have is that younger leaders want a voice at the table early in their leadership. They are intersecting with seasoned leaders who are trying to hold on to power. I get that. But, how should a younger leader respond?

I previously wrote a post about “leading up“. Please read that post first. Although it addresses a more senior leader who may not be giving a younger leader a seat at the table — not one who is necessarily a controlling leader. But, some of those principles apply here also. For example, I do think it’s important to respect a leadership position — even controlling leadership — especially if you intend to continue in the position.

Controlling leadership appears to be a more difficult issue, however. A leader who attempts to control everything within his or her realm is much harder to influence.

So, here is my answer when I’m asked how to respond — long-term at least — to a controlling leader. You basically have three options, in my opinion. These three are summaries — and there are probably multiple points under each one — but three and no more.

Here are 3 ways you can respond to a controlling leader:

Quit

I have had people challenge me that winners never quit, but I disagree. If you were placed in a position by a call of God, this may not be an option until God releases you — and I personally would consider the other two options before considering this option — but sometimes the best thing for the individual and the organization is to make a fresh start. And, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that if that is indeed the only option. It should not be a rash or a vindictive decision, you should attempt to leave on the best terms possible, but you simply may not mesh with this particular leadership style. And, to be true to yourself and have integrity in your loyalty you may have to seek another environment that allows you to better grow as a leader and person. I have seen too many people stay too long. And, sometimes they stay for all the wrong reasons. It could be fear, a false sense of loyalty or just because they think they have no other options. It injures them, the rest of the team, and interrupts the progress towards a vision that hopefully is bigger than any one person.

(You might read my post on 10 ways to know it’s time to quit.)

Compromise

You can learn to live with what you’ve got in a leader. There are seasons where you have no choice. You can’t find anything new and you need the work. (Sometimes we call those seasons — life.) There are also times God has placed you where you are for a reason. You’ll learn a lot from the situation — even with a controlling leader. If nothing more, you can use the time to reinforce how you will someday lead differently. If you compromise — if you stay — you should remain respectful, even loyal. You should do your best work, have a positive attitude towards others, and attempt to make life better for those around you. That’s the right thing to do. We don’t get an excuse from Biblical principles because we don’t agree with the leadership. If you can’t, one of the other options should be your choice, in my opinion.

Collaborate

This is almost always the best option. Most leaders — even controlling leaders — have areas in which they are willing to admit they need help. Much of their willingness to do so will be based on the degree of trust placed in others or how important an issue is to them personally. Working to build a relationship of trust and seeking common ground on issues allows some people to excel under a controlling leader. If the leader sees you not as a threat, but as a compliment to their leadership, they may be more willing to invite your input.

To get there will require a risk on your part. You’ll have to gracefully challenge the controlling leadership. Like it or not, most complex issues do not disappear on their own. A good question to ask yourself: “Will I be content if this environment continues for the next year or longer?” Also, “Do I think it’s time to move on to something else?” If the answer to both questions is no, then the best option may be to challenge the controlling leadership — attempting to get to some collaborative work — where you can do meaningful work for which you feel valued — and less controlled. It should be noted that you can’t challenge anyone daily, so a challenge like this should be planned, considerate, and infrequent, but it may be this is the best option or the only one with which you can live. And, it may take one person to introduce change to the rest of the organization. (In my next post, I’ll get more specific with how to do this type challenge.)

Let me offer this closing reminder:

Every situation is unique and so no post can answer your specific situation. These are very broad, general responses. Your response may fit someone between one of them (probably between the second and third.) One thing that all situations share, however, is that regardless of how one responds, each of us have an obligation to be humble, kind, gracious people. In either of these three steps we should behave likewise. Also, remember that your response to a controlling leader often determines his or her response. Momma always said “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” The Bible says it another way…”A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)