Almost on a weekly basis I hear from a young pastor who wants to grow as a leader. He feels the pressure placed upon him and knows that others are looking to him to steer the church on a healthy course. Most of these leaders are humble, knowing that ultimately Christ is the head of the church. What they also know is that there are expectations of their position, decisions that have to be made which are not clearly defined in Scripture, and that seminary didn’t train them to make.
Sometimes it seems I’ve given the same advice many times; either reminding myself or to another pastor. The more times I share the same concept, the more it becomes a short, paradigm shaping idea that summarizes the basic issue the leader is facing. What isn’t always clear is that I’ve learned these concepts mostly by living these concepts. I’ve made more mistakes in leadership than I’ve had success. That’s what this post is about. These are some warnings I’ve observed first hand in leadership positions I’ve held. I’m trying not to continue to live them and I’d love to help other leaders avoid them.
Here are 7 warnings for aspiring leaders:
What you “settle for” becomes the culture.
Mediocrity isn’t created. It’s accepted.
Your actions determine their reactions.
Don’t assume they agree because they haven’t said anything.
You’ll never get there just “thinking about it”.
If you’re the leader, they are likely waiting on you to lead or release the right to lead.
What the team values becomes apparent by your actions, not your words, no matter how well spoken they might be.
What warnings would you share to aspiring leaders?
Give them a problem to solve
If the answer is already found, you can hire a manager for that job…and you’ll need a good one. You’ll have other problems to solve and a good manager can free you up to lead.
But, to attract a leader…
Help them see a need…give them some freedom to find a solution…give them support…get out of the way…and let them go.
Leaders seek opportunities to lead
Challenge…opportunity…problems…something everyone says cant be done….
That’s an environment that fuels a leader’s energy. It’s what attracts a leader to your team.
Are you in an environment that attracts leaders? What makes it so?
After the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41)
How did Paul respond?
Read it for yourself:
After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2
That’s the role of a leader in times of crisis. In times of uncertainty. In times of change.
The people following you are looking for assurance that everything is going to be okay. They want to know there is a plan. They want to hear things are moving forward with confidence.
Help people process the pain of their circumstances.
Give them hope. Encourage. Challenge them to continue.
What is a key to successful delegation?
Don’t just delegate responsibility.
Give people the authority to determine how the work gets completed. In healthy delegation, you have already helped them determine what a win looks like. You helped shape the vision. Now, let them set the tasks to complete the job. Let them determine timing and the players on their team. It’s so much better than simply holding them responsible. When people have authority they take ownership. They assume (partial) liability. They become personally attached to the outcome.
Responsibility without authority only puts pressure on people. When a person is responsible for completion, but has no authority of how to make it happen, it becomes a job more than a mission. It’s frustrating.
Granted, letting go of authority is hard. It won’t always work. The truth is people will disappoint you…they won’t do the job the way you were expecting. Simply releasing responsibility seems freeing. Releasing authority seems risky.
Oh, but when it does work…when delegation takes hold completely…effectively…you, the organization and the entire team benefits. And, the reward is far greater than a project not properly delegated.
Great leaders push through the fear of letting go by trusting people to make decisions, so that ultimately more decisions can be made, leadership development occurs, and the organization grows.
Not to sound contradictory, but this doesn’t mean you are off the hook as the delegating leader. I wrote about that in THIS POST. Successful delegation requires releasing responsibility, and authority over the delegated project, while maintaining a healthy, though distant, oversight until the project is completed. I know, that’s difficult, but it’s part of what makes leading so much fun 🙂 …and so much better.
Be honest, how are you at releasing authority?
Recently I was talking with a staff member of a larger church. She consistently fears the stability of her job. She never knows what her pastor is thinking. She’s considering looking for a new position, not because she doesn’t like her work, but because she isn’t sure about the future of her work. She claims that living with uncertainty is the standard when working on this church staff.
I’ve learned over the years that communication is one of the most important aspects of the field of leadership. In fact, it may be the thing that makes or breaks a leader’s success.
When a leader fails to communicate, it actually communicates a great deal to the organization. Unfortunately, it’s not always an encouraging message. The unknown invites people to create their own scenarios, which rarely turns out well for the leader, the team, or the organization.
Failing to communicate says to the people on your team:
You don’t care – You are apathetic towards the emotional and practical needs of people on your team.
You don’t know -You may not be brave enough to say so, but, don’t worry, others are probably saying it for you.
You can’t decide – Your team thinks that you’re incapable of making a decision, either because you’re afraid of people’s reactions or you’re not a strong enough leader to make a decision.
You don’t value – Your silence produces perhaps the most dangerous scenario when people believe you don’t think they are worthy of knowing. Put yourself in their shoes and see how that one feels.
What’s the bottom line?
Communicate through a decision.
Keep people informed along the way.
In one of my first professional leadership roles, I managed a large retail division of a major department store. The division had several departments within it and each department had a separate department manager. Most of the departments were efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. One department, however, continued to fall behind the others. It was frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to get them to improve.
I was young and inexperienced, so I innocently thought the problem was me. If I could implement the right strategy in working with this department…find the right system…I could improve performance. I tested numerous systems to try to increase their productivity, but nothing seemed to work.
I was wrong. The experience taught me a valuable lesson.
You can have the best systems…the best strategies…the best programs…and still struggle with the performance of a team. Sometimes it’s not a systems problem.
Sometimes it’s strictly a people problem.
I realized the problem was the leader in this department. This person always said what I wanted to hear. She was nice to me personally. She talked a good game, but she was grossly under-performing and bringing her department down with her. Through due process, and after trying to work with this leader to improve, I eventually had to replace her leadership and the department dramatically improved, almost instantly.
Since then I’ve always tried to remember:
Never try to handle a people problem with a systems approach.
Handle people problems, with people.
This doesn’t mean you’ll always need to replace the people, but you seldom improve people problems with better systems. You improve people problems by improving people.
Many times, in my experience, we try to create systems when the problem isn’t a systems problem, it’s a people problem.
Knowing the difference between a systems problem and a people problem, and being mature enough to handle it, will make you a better leader.
Have you seen organizations and leaders create systems, instead of handling the real problem?
(Churches are notorious for this, by the way. We try to solve problems in people’s lives, for example, by creating rules, systems, programs, etc, designed to help make them better people. The problem is it’s not a systems problem. It’s not a program or committee problem. It’s a people problem. If their heart doesn’t change, the problem will continue. That’s the subject of another post.)
This is a guest post by Jeremy Kingsley. Jeremy is a professional speaker, best-selling author, and the President of OneLife Leadership. Since 1995 he has spoken to over 500,000 people at live events around the world. He has given over 2000 keynote speeches and his messages have reached millions through radio, television, and the internet. Jeremy holds bachelors and masters degrees from Columbia International University. He is the author of four books, his latest: Inspired People Produce Results – (McGraw Hill 2013). Jeremy lives in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife and two sons. Learn more at www.JeremyKingsley.com
Lack of loyalty is a serious problem in organizations everywhere today.
No longer do people join a company and devote the rest of their working lives to it. Companies are, of course, not exactly known for offering up thirty or forty years of employment, a gold watch and pension plan.
Organizations preoccupied with short-term, bottom line thinking often view their employees as little more than resources to be hired, fired, and manipulated as the need arises.
Both sides pay a price for this lack of loyalty. Workers are naturally less happy on the job when they sense little or no loyalty from their employer. I agree with Carmine Coyote about how the negative impacts on productivity are truly alarming:
People expect to be continually under threat of layoff, so they keep their resumes permanently on the market, changing jobs without concern for anything save their own short-term advantage.
Top level emphasis on quick, short-term returns (especially to themselves), permeates the organization as a whole, leading to everyone focusing on what will give them the biggest, quickest return—even if that means elbowing colleagues out of the way, playing the dirty politics, or hyping resumes to leverage a quick move somewhere else that is paying a few bucks more.
Loyalty to colleagues can turn into an us-versus-them attitude toward those higher up.
Worst of all, people feel devalued and see their work as less and less worthwhile. This creates emotional and psychological stresses and problems that go beyond the workplace and may last for some time.
What can you do to avoid this terrifying outcome? Learn from others.
A century ago, Ernest Shackleton was one of the most renowned explorers of his time. Today, however, Shackleton is best known for a failed mission. In January 1915, while trying to be the first to journey across the Antarctica, he and his men aboard the Endurance were trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea and forced to abandon the ship. They floated on icebergs and paddled three small lifeboats to reach a remote, deserted island. From there, Shackleton and five men embarked in one of the lifeboats on an eight-hundred-mile voyage through some of the planet’s stormiest waters, landing more than two weeks later at South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. After a rest, Shackleton and two of his men hiked and climbed across treacherous mountains to a whaling station, where Shackleton procured a ship and sailed to rescue his comrades. Every member of the twenty-eight-man crew returned home safely.
Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capprell, in their book Shackleton’s Way, list eight principles Shackleton applied to forge unity and loyalty among his team. As a leader, Shackleton was ahead of his time. His principles are just as important in today’s modern workplace as they were in the Antarctic a hundred years ago:
- Take the time to observe before acting, especially if you are new to the scene. All changes should be aimed at improvements. Don’t make changes just for the sake of leaving your mark.
- Always keep the door open to your staff members, and be generous with information that affects them. Well-informed employees are more eager and better prepared to participate.
- Establish order and routine on the job so all workers know where they stand and what is expected of them. The discipline makes the staff feel they’re in capable hands.
- Break down traditional hierarchies and cliques by training workers to do a number of jobs, from the menial to the challenging.
- Where possible, have employees work together on certain tasks. It builds trust and respect and even friendship.
- Be fair and impartial in meting out compensations, workloads, and punishments. Imbalances make everyone feel uncomfortable, even the favored.
- Lead by example. Chip in sometimes to help with the work you’re having others do. It gives you the opportunity to set a high standard and shows your respect for the job.
- Have regular gatherings to build esprit de corps. These could be informal lunches that allow workers to speak freely outside the office. Or they could be special holiday or anniversary celebrations that let employees relate to each other as people rather than only as colleagues.
If you demonstrate a strong measure of loyalty to your team, you’ll find that same measure of loyalty being returned to you. In these trying times – inspiring loyalty will help you get the most out of your team and lay the foundation for lasting success.
What do you think?
Recently someone came to me for advice in starting a new position. He wanted to know how he could set himself apart and make himself a valuable team member. I loved the question. It shows intentionality and purpose. I decided not to give him just a few suggestions, but to give him a dozen.
Here are 12 ways to make yourself valuable as a team member:
Be an encourager of others on the team
Embrace change willingly
Remain positive when others are negative
Laugh deep and smile often
Value other people’s opinions
Remain steadfast to vision and values
Be flexible with methods
Genuinely love people
Give more than required
Think critically for improvement
Have a servant’s heart
Never gossip or talk bad about another team member
What would you add to my list?
This is a strong word every leader must learn. Sadly, many of us learn it the hard way. We try to please everyone. We live for the approval of others. Only to find out that…
It’s often not that some people don’t like your leadership…or don’t like you as a leader…
The strong word to learn is:
Sometimes people don’t like their life.
Your leadership simply gets blamed by default.
It’s a hard lesson, but learning it keeps you from feeling defeated when unhealthy people do unhealthy things and blame it on your leadership. They’ve been injured by others and now they blame everyone around them. You are in the leading position, so you are often the recipient of the greatest blame.
Learning when this is the case will make you a better leader.
You can’t lead people effectively who are unhealthy personally, either emotionally or spiritually. That’s why much of leadership is helping people get better so the team can get better so your leadership can get better.
Have you ever tried to lead people who were unhealthy and took it out on others?
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.
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.