7 Statements Every Leader Needs To Use Often

Recently, I shared 7 questions every leader should use often. It opened some good discussion around the post. It also made me think there was a similar set of 7 phrases leaders should consider using frequently. These are not questions, but statements.

One of the goals of a leader should be to encourage, strengthen and challenge a team to continually improve. Almost as a cheerleader rousing the crowd at a game, the leader uses his or her influence to bring out the best in others.

How do leaders do that? One way is by the questions and statements we make as leaders. This post is an extension of that thought.

Here are 7 phrases leaders should memorize and use often:

I believe in you.

You are an asset to this team.

Let me know how I can help you.

You are doing a great job.

I need your help.

I want to help you reach your personal goals.

You are making a difference here.

You may not be able to use these phrases every day. You shouldn’t overuse them. They need to be genuine, heartfelt and honest. That may not even happen every week. But, as often as you can, slip a few of these into your memory bank and pull them out where appropriate. It will help you build a better team.

What phrases would you add?

The Reason Many Policies are Written

Many policies are written because someone didn’t want to solve a problem.

In her book “Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands”, Nancy Ortberg talks about the need to differentiate between “a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved“. One example for me is the constant tension between the administration/money side of ministry and the discipleship/hands on side of ministry. As pastor, I’m always going to have to balance tension between our business administrator working to conserve cash and our youth pastor finding legitimate ministry needs in which to spend it, for example. That’s a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved. On the other hand, an employee who is taking advantage of a more casual organizational structure, which I typically prefer…that’s a problem to be solved. Quickly. A system, which is not working, causing more harm than good to the organization…problem to be solved. Now.

Most of the time, however, in my experience, churches are notorious for creating a new policy to attempt to manage the problem rather than doing the difficult work of solving it. Solving the problem often involves getting personal with people. It involves challenging people. It involves change. It involves holding people accountable to a higher standard. That’s messy. It’s never fun. Most churches like neat, clean and seemingly easy. (Just being honest.)

Using my illustration above, if the youth pastor has a perceived spending problem, rather than addressing the problem with him directly, many times a policy is created to “solve” the problem and curtail spending. Every other staff member may be performing satisfactorily, but the policy controls everyone. Plus, without wise counsel, the youth pastor never learns principles of healthy budgeting or how to manage cash flow, for example, and it continues to impact his ministry for years to come. Problem not solved.

Policies are easy. They are a piece of paper. They may involve some discussion, perhaps a committee meeting (maybe even a tense committee meeting), maybe even a church vote, but they seldom specifically address the people who are causing the problem in the first place. They make people feel better about the problem, but they almost never solve real problems. In fact, they usually only create more problems…which later need to be solved!

For more of my thoughts on policies, see THIS POST. I realize this problem is not limited to churches. Even the best organizations and corporations struggle to address problems as needed.

My advice:

Manage the tensions, but solve the problems.

Do the hard work. It’s what leaders are supposed to do. Not always easiest. Always best.

Have you seen churches (or organizations) try to manage a problem that needed to be solved?

Bonus points if you give me an example.

7 Questions Leaders Should Use Often

Questions are a powerful tool for every leader. The greatest leaders I know ask lots of questions. Whenever I consult with leaders, one of the first things I do is analyze what questions the leader is asking.

Here are 7 questions leaders should memorize and use often:

How can we improve as a team?

Will you help me?

How can I help you?

Do you understand what I’m asking?

Do you have what you need?

What do you think we should do?

What’s next?

What questions would you add?

7 Times Leadership is at Its Best

In my opinion…

Leadership is at its best when:

People follow willingly, not under coercion or force.

People can keep up, but are still being stretched.

People feel valued, while being challenged to continually improve.

People are assigned to their specific passion, but readily do what needs to be done.

People have a clearly defined vision, but have freedom to invent and dream along the way.

People have real responsibility and authority, but don’t feel dumped on or abandoned.

People take time to celebrate, but aren’t allowed to sit still for long.

What would you add?

Leader, I’d prefer you say no…

…than to tell me “I don’t know”…

…yet you already know your answer.

When you know the answer is no. Tell me no.

In my experience, weak leaders use phrases like:

“Let me think about it”…

“We might consider this…”

“Let me pray about that…”

“I don’t know, but we’ll see…”

“That could be an option down the road…”

Afraid of potential conflict, weak leaders make you believe there’s a chance…even when they’ve already decided there is not a chance.

What’s the damage of saying “maybe” when the real answer is “no”?

  • Unanswered questions bring confusion to the team.
  • Energy is wasted dreaming about something that will never happen.
  • Disappointment is bigger when the person learns the real answer (Or never receives one).
  • The team loses confidence in the leader.

Is that you want, leader?

Strong leaders, even though they know “no” is not what you want to hear, tell you the truth up front.

Hopefully if you follow this blog you know without me saying it that the answer shouldn’t always be no. I’ve written numerous posts about how good leaders empower rather than control. If, however, you know you’ve made your mind up, stop the guessing, stop building false hope, and tell me what you’re really thinking.

What door have you kept open even though you know you’ve already closed it?

Make the call. Do it now.

You may now want to read:

7 Personal Development Benefits of Saying No

Pastors Learning to Say No

How to Know When to Say No to Seemingly Good Things

8 Most Dangerous Leadership Traits

There are no perfect leaders…except for Jesus. For the rest of us, we each have room for improvement. Most of us live with flaws in our leadership. Good leaders learn to surround themselves with people who can supplement their weaknesses.

There are, however, some leadership traits, which a leader can never delegate away. If the leader can’t work through them, in my opinion, his or her leadership will be crippled. With these traits, the best the leader has to offer will never fully materialize.

These leadership traits will eventually wreck a leader’s success.

Here are 8 dangerous leadership traits:

Immoral character – If the leader’s character is flawed, the leadership will be flawed. A leader can never escape the quality of his or her heart.

Assuming everyone’s support – Leaders seldom hear the complete story unless they pursue it. Environments have to be created that produce transparency and honesty. Even in the healthiest organizations there will always be things a leader doesn’t know.

Assuming everyone understands – In my experience, most leaders think they are communicating effectively. What’s clear to them they assume is clear to others. It’s usually not as clear as the leader thinks. Good leaders ask lots of questions to identify the level of clarity.

Continually avoiding conflict – Conflict never, ever, ever, goes away. Ever. Unresolved conflict damages the strength and integrity of organizational health. It may get ignored, overlooked, or stifled, but until conflict is dealt with it continues to stir strife in an organization.

Pretending to have all the answers – The less a leader listens to others, the less willing others will desire to help the leader succeed. Arrogant leaders never attract the best from people. Great leaders invite input, knowing that with more people involved, decisions will be stronger and more buy-in will be achieved.

Allowing friendship to derail progress – Great leaders value relationships and recognize friendships with others as an important part of their personal well-being. At the same time, some leaders fail to separate their friendships from their callings as leaders. They confuse loyalty as a friend from their responsibility as a leader. A leader cannot allow personal friendships to negatively alter the course to success.

Refusing to let go of control – When the leader doesn’t delegate, he or she stifles the growth of the organization. Healthy delegation involves releasing authority over a project. If a leader continually maintains the right to control, the organization will be limited to his or her abilities, rather than the strength of the team.

Living in the past – Unless you’re a teacher of history, the leader’s primary focus needs to be on the future. Leadership is about moving things forward. That requires progressive thinking, welcoming change, and refusing to let past failures determine future success.

Be honest, of which of these are you most guilty? As difficult as it may be, until you push through them and improve in that area, you’ll never experience the leadership success you desire.

What examples would you add to my list of things you can change and things you can’t?

4 Reasons They Don’t Want to Learn… and 5 Suggestions

I’ve learned in leadership:

You can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

It is true. Perhaps you’ve tried. I’ve been worn out trying to teach principles I know someone needs to learn…everyone can see they need them…but they seem to ignore them. They keep making the same mistakes. They never seem to catch on. They never seem to learn. It doesn’t even seem they want to. Many times it’s because they don’t.

It can be frustrating, but sometimes the person who doesn’t want to learn is me. Sometimes it’s you.

It’s not only in leadership. It’s true with all of life. Some people simply don’t want to learn. They aren’t teachable at the moment.

I’ve discovered that the reasons someone isn’t willing to learn may not always be the same. The reason may not always be what we think it is. In fact, there may be several reasons.

Here are 4 reasons people may not want to learn:

They don’t think they need to learn anything – This is the one that frustrates us the most, and it’s the one we accuse people of the most. It’s true, arrogance is common in leadership, but also among those who need to be led. Many leaders feel they are in a position because they are the only ones who could do the job. Everyone around them may know that’s not true, but they can’t see it. They don’t care to learn from others, because they aren’t willing to admit or see they have anything to learn. Sometimes those who still have much to learn are too proud to admit it.

They don’t know they need to learn anything – It may sound similar, but this is a different reason. It isn’t arrogance than causes this one, but rather ignorance. We’ve all been there at times. Many times I’ve assumed I had the answers already. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in learning more…I just didn’t know there was more to learn. I’ve said before, the older I get the more I realize I don’t know yet. Some of that comes with maturity and age. Some of it comes with experience. But, many times we don’t think we need to know anything new, because we don’t see enough problem with what we already know.

They don’t want to learn from you – This is a hard one for leaders to accept, but it’s actually quite common. It could be a relational issue or a positional issue…it might simply be a personality clash, but for whatever reason, it keeps them from desiring to learn from you. As a parent, there were seasons when my boys learned more from others than they did from me. I welcomed that and was appreciative of those who spoke into their life. This has been true also when someone was supposed to be leading me, but I knew more about a subject. It takes a very humble person to learn from those you’re supposed to be leading. I’ve had times when someone on my team hears the same thing at a conference I’d been saying for months. It sticks coming from someone new. Don’t be offended if they aren’t always listening to you, but make sure they are listening to someone.

They want to learn on their own – There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as they remain teachable. In fact, it should be encouraged at times. Some of the best lessons in life come from trying something and succeeding or failing. If they aren’t being arrogant, give them the freedom to explore independent of you. It will help you, them and the organization.

But, regardless of the reason….

You can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

That’s why the best leaders I know…the best teachers…the best parents…

Spend as much time motivating the learner as they do teaching them.

In the book “Switch”, authors Dan and Chip Heath call it “motivating the elephant”. Your job as a leader, if you desire people to want to learn from you, or even from others, is to motivate them to want to learn.

How do you do that?

If you want people to listen to you:

Here are 5 suggestions:

Value the person – No one follows someone willingly who they don’t believe cares for them. Zig Ziglar’s famous line “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is true. Don’t expect people to want to learn from you until they know you have their best interest at stake and that you care for them personally; not simply what they can do for you or the organization.

Paint a great vision – You have to give people something worth following. It needs to stretch them, while still being attainable by risk, faith and hard work. When they know there’s a glimmer of hope to the finish line, they’ll be more willing to learn what it takes to attain it.

Communicate it frequently – Even the best vision fades over time. People get bored. Andy Stanley uses the phrase “vision leaks”. If you want to maintain your audience of followers, you have to keep reminding them why you are doing what you are doing.

Tell compelling stories – People are motivated by example. They want to know that what they are doing makes a difference. People will be more likely to seek your input if they know you are leading them to something of value and importance.

Share in the reward – People only feel valued when they get to celebrate the victory. If all the recognition goes to the leader, the follower feels taken advantage of to some degree. If you want people to keep listening…listen to them…share the credit…celebrate often.

What other ways have you found to get people to want to learn from you?

5 Secret Traits to Make a Better Leader

When I first became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility that stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, now a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter.

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few secrets, which helped me as I entered the business world, led in the corporate world, and later as I led my own businesses. Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

Here are 5 secret traits to make you a better leader:

Let go – The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST about empowering leaders.)

Give up – You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned that secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Don’t know – If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. If you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered, you’ll be dismissed as a respected leader, and you’ll close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new…many times from the people they lead.

Waste time – Great leaders have learned that spending time that other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Spend time investing in people, in ways that may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bounce off – The more you deflect attention from yourself to others, the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

What secret traits have you learned that make one a better leader?

When You Can’t Stand the Heat in the Leadership Kitchen

When I was growing up I frequently heard the phrase…

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Are people still saying it and I’m just not hearing it?

Either way, I think that phrase applies in leadership, only I’m not sure that’s the only option.

Are you experiencing the “heat”; the stress of leadership? Do you feel you are in over your head? Are you not able to keep up with the demands on you personally and you are, therefore, questioning your abilities as a leader? Do others have the perception you can’t accomplish what you are supposed to do? Perception is often more powerful than reality.

I have been there numerous times as a leader. At 20 years of age, I was thrust into a management position, because the manger left suddenly. By default I was given responsibility I had bluffed upper management into believing I was prepared to do. I wasn’t. When I became a self-employed small business owner I quickly realized the ball rested in my court, I was responsible for meeting payroll for others and myself, and I was in well over my head. As the pastor of a fast growing church, there have been many times I’ve not known what to do. Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to admit it these days.

When you find yourself in over your head in leadership, using the analogy of the heat in the kitchen…

I think you have a 3 basic options:

Get out of the kitchen – Let’s be honest and admit that you may be in the wrong kitchen. The heat may be too much for you. Sometimes you simply aren’t a fit for the role. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a fit for any role, just not this one, or in this organization. My leadership style wouldn’t work in many churches. Being willing to admit it saves you heartache, your team from destruction, and the organization from having to make difficult decisions regarding your leadership in the future…when everyone discovers you’re out of your league.

Learn from better cooks – Maybe the oven temperature is set too high. Perhaps you are using the wrong ingredients. Maybe you need better assistant chefs. I’m not trying to stir up a recipe simply to fit this point in the post (Okay, please admit that’s funny), but you may need to invite input from people who have been cooking (leading) longer than you have. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be done alone. Find those who are willing to invest in you. That often begins with the humility to admit you need help and the willingness to ask for it.

Improve the kitchen – Perhaps it’s the environment you’ve created in the kitchen. You may need to change the people who are seated at your kitchen table or who are watching you cook. You may need to get a better stove or, as I’ve learned, even getting the right spatula will make me a better cook. Again, I’m not trying to overuse this analogy, but the point is that in leadership we usually have to get better before we can get bigger. Sharpening our personal skills, growing the strength of our team, placing the right people in positions around us and improving the organization’s culture and environment can be helpful when a leader feels overwhelmed. You have to do what it takes to become a better leader. I got a second master’s degree to help me in leadership. You may not need to go to that extreme, but you should be intentional about gaining the training and experience you need to be a lead at a higher level.

Feeling hot in the leadership kitchen? You may need to get out…but there may be other options.

Got any other kitchen leadership analogies you’d care to share?

Share your story of when the kitchen was too hot for you in leadership. What did you do?

The Question Behind the Question

You’re familiar with the common scenario where someone approaches you for advise for a “friend”. Everyone knows that “friend” is the person asking the question.

That scenario happens in leadership also.

Good leaders attempt to get to the question behind the question.

The question behind the question may be the most important question.

When someone is asking the leader a question, the leader needs to consider if the question is the real question or a disguised question to get to an unspoken question.

Confused?

Sometimes, whether because of fear, insecurity or intimidation, people are hesitant to share what’s really on their mind. They ask questions or make statements that are really innuendos of a bigger issue.

Good leaders look beyond what’s being verbalized. They attempt to discern the motive and intent of the question or statement. They ask follow up questions to make sure they understand the concern or input being given.

The health of the organization may depend on knowing what’s really being communicated…or not being communicated.

Next time someone asks you a question…or makes a statement…consider whether there is a question beyond the question.

You may now want to read “10 Symptoms of the Unaware Leader“.