7 Pillars of Long-term, Successful Leaders

19th century engraving of classical Greek pillars

I love observing leaders. I consistently strive to be a better leader and the best way I know to improve is to watch and learn from other leaders. Whether they have more experience, have learned things I haven’t learned or they reinforce principles of leadership I know – I improve observing other leaders. 

In my observations, there are some common traits among the most successful, long-term leaders. It can be easy to lead for a season, or a special project, or even for a decade or more. But, leaders who last and are successful for multiple seasons, multiple decades – often in different environments or organizations, with different people – these leaders are rare. And, they have shared characteristics. 

I call these traits the pillars of leadership. 

Pillar:
1. a firm upright support for a superstructure
2. a supporting, integral, or upstanding member or part

In my opinion, I believe you’ll find these pillars among all truly great leaders.

Here are 7 pillars of long-term, successful leaders I’ve observed:

Vision

Great leaders believe in something bigger than today. They are going somewhere. And, they believe it’s a worthy enough vision they are willing to help others get there. They have a vocabulary around their vision. They know how to engage and rally people around the vision. 

Commitment

Great leaders remain rock-solid in their dedication to their cause and their people. They stick to what they feel in their heart God has called them to do. They are unwavered by public opinion or the “mood of the day”.  They aren’t only present in the good seasons, but weather the storms of time. Their faith keeps them grounded. 

Decisiveness

Great leaders make decisions – even the difficult ones – even the unpopular ones. People are willing to follow them, because they know they won’t sit on the sidelines while the world passes. They aren’t exclusive in making decisions – great leaders encourage collaboration – but they won’t compromise principles either. They are firm in their convictions and willing to stand for them when others won’t. 

Courage

Long-term, successful leaders don’t jump ship when times get difficult. In fact, some would say you don’t realize you need a leader until times are hard. These leaders confront reality head-on; leading through needed change to a better reality. They don’t cower to pressure to conform or fail to say what needs saying. Equally, they aren’t hogs of attention. They don’t need to receive all the credit in order to lead the people to victory. 

People

Great leaders realize others matter. They know there is no leadership without people to follow. They believe in the value of those on their team and are willing to invest in them. They aren’t users of people, they are people-builders. They love people and love to see them succeed. They recognize and reward other people’s contributions. 

Passion

It’s what gets a leader up in the morning ready to face another day. They believe in their call to lead. They are zealous to see it come to reality. They have a contagious enthusiasm. They are positive-minded and believe and hope in the days ahead. 

Character

Great leaders are strong in what matters most – their character. They have integrity, high morals, and qualities others can and want to follow. And, they are consistent over time in protecting their character to be above reproach. 

Obviously, in my specific role as a pastor, these are pillars worthy of my quest to achieve. I certainly see them in my Savior – the best leader I know – Jesus. I’m striving to get there. I want to possess the pillars of leadership. Who’s with me?

What would you add to my list?

5 Ways to Benefit from Your Organization’s Best Asset

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Do you want to harness the greatest power in your organization?

The best assets of your church, business or non-profit never appear on your balance sheet.

The truth is any organization is only as good as the people within it. Take the greatest idea and put the wrong people behind it and little progress will be realized. With the right people – even average ideas can achieve tremendous results.

The key to success is to learn how to get the best ideas out of the people within the organization. It’s often been called Human Capital. Learning to glean from this valuable resource takes experience and intentionality.

Are you relying on the knowledge, insight and experience of everyone on your team to make the organization better? Do you understand and appreciate the human capital your team brings to the table?

Here are 5 ways to capitalize on the people value of your team:

Brainstorm

Have assigned times periodically where everyone on the team gets to give input into the organization’s future. It’s important to provide ways for even the most introverted on the team to share thoughts. Information shouldn’t be defined to a “chain of command”. Everyone has something they know better than the leader knows.

Allow mistakes

Create an environment where team members are willing to take risks without fear of repercussion if things go wrong. This atmosphere will often be created with the leader’s instant reactions to mistakes made, but will be reinforced by how the organization learns from failure. When people feel free to explore they will enjoy doing so.

I recently read 12 things discovered by making a mistake.

  • The slinky
  • Penicillin
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Potato chips
  • The pacemaker
  • Silly Putty
  • Microwave ovens
  • Fireworks
  • Corn flakes
  • Ink jet printers
  • Post it notes
  • X-rays

Now where would the world be without Silly Putty – right? Seriously, God has given us creative minds. What is your team trying, which could prove to be a mistake – but it could be genius?

Ask questions

The best leaders ask the best questions. Genuinely seek help from those around you.  Recognize the fact others may know more than you know about a particular subject. I like to follow others on the team when they are the expert in a subject. And, sometimes, I ask questions – not as much for the answer – but to get their minds churning. It’s proven to be gold at times.

Don’t pre-define solutions

If you want help solving a problem or planning for the future, start with a clean slate, without having a pre-determined outcome when addressing an issue.  If the leader always has the answer, team members are less likely to share their input. They’ll simply wait – holding out the best solutions at times – knowing the leader will trump them anyway.

Be open to change

New ideas never come in an attitude of control or when the goal is always protecting tradition. The leader must genuinely desire new ways of doing things – and must lead others to the same mindset.  Everyone on the team knows if the leader is really considering other people’s opinions. If team member’s suggestions are never implemented, they eventually will stop sharing them.

How are you currently taking advantage of the human capital in your organization? Is your church, business or non-profit experiencing the blessing of different ideas? 

7 Ways a Leader Can Invite Constructive Feedback

Portrait of an attractive young man talking about himself during a job interview

I remember an especially hard year as a leader. It was so bad several members of our staff had told me where I was letting them down. So much for having an “open door policy”. The next year I closed the door. 🙂

Not really, but this was a year where staff members said to me, “I have a problem with you.” They may not have used those exact words, but the point was clear – I can be an idiot at times. There were significant areas where I needed to improve. Thankfully I haven’t had many of those years, but I’m glad now I had the ones I have. 

There is room for improvement with any leader and maturing leaders welcome instruction from the people they are trying to lead.

I realize some would question me for allowing such correction, but most of the time when I’ve been corrected by someone I’m supposed to lead, I deserved it. Plus, anytime an associate is brave enough to rebuke an employer, you can be assured he or she is either:

  • Desperate and willing to do anything.
  • Ignorant or doesn’t care.
  • Feels welcome to do so.

In my opinion, good leaders work to live within the third option. I hope this was the case in my situation.

I should say – because I know some are thinking – criticism comes easily to leaders. Do anything at all in leadership and someone will have a problem with it – and they won’t always be kind in how they voice their complaint. But, I’m not talking about this type criticism. I am referring to constructive feedback from people I care about and who respect me. We all need that at times.

Here are 7 ways I welcome correction from the people I lead:

An open door.

This is more than keeping the door to my office open. I try to make my schedule available to the people I lead. The person who keeps my calendar always knows people on staff get in first if something needs to be scheduled. And, if I’m in the office, my door is “open” – they can walk in anytime. In addition, my team knows I consider responsiveness to be of the highest value.

Include others in decision making.

If a decision affects more people than me, then I want more people helping to make the decision. This is true even if it’s a natural decision for me to make. The more I include people in the decision-making, the more likely they are to want to follow the decisions made. In fact, I seldom make decisions alone.

Ask for it.

Consistently, throughout the year, I ask people to tell me what they think. I ask lots of questions. I solicit opinions on almost every major decision I make. It’s a risky move, because many will, but it’s invaluable insight. And, the more you ask, the more freedom people feel in sharing.

Admit mistakes.

It’s important that I recognize when decisions made are my fault. People feel more comfortable approaching a leader who doesn’t feel they are always right.

Take personal responsibility.

In addition to admitting fault, I must own my share of projects and responsibility. The team needs to know that I’m on their side and in their corner. When they are criticized I own the criticism with them. I have their back. (By the way – this is only learned by experience.)

Model it.

It’s one thing to say I welcome correction, but when correction comes, I must model receiving it well. If I overreact when correction comes, I’ll limit the times I receive it. If I chooser retribution, I’ve shut further feedback off before it comes.

Trade it.

The best way to get your team to offer healthy correction of the leader is to create a relationship with your team where there is mutual constructive feedback. The goal is not for the leader to receive all the correction. The goal is for correction to be applied where correction is needed.

I should also say all these are still not enough. Constructive criticism from people who care about you and want your best – especially from people you lead – only develops over time as trust is developed. They have to trust you and you have to trust them. 

Receiving correction – or constructive feedback – is difficult for anyone, perhaps seemingly unnatural for most leaders. I believe, however, when a leader is open to correction from his or her team, the team will be more willing to follow the leader wherever he or she goes.

Leader, are you open to correction? Is your leader open to correction?

7 Words of Encouragement for Leaders Who Tend to Worry

Woman worrying

The title is confusing, isn’t it? It assumes some leaders worry and some don’t. The truth is, however, most leaders will have occasions of worry. Worry is an emotion – and, often far more powerful than principles of leadership are the emotions of leadership.

I’ve talked to some who say at least one day a week they are consumed with anxiety and fear. It’s the kind of frustration which, left unchecked, makes them almost want to quit. I talked to a pastor recently who is struggling with stomach problems (I won’t get more graphic than that), because of the worry he is dealing with as a leader.

The fact that you worry shows you are normal, human, and conscientious as a leader. You want to be successful and the natural reaction is to worry when you feel you may not be.

But, emotions play tricks on us. They’re fickle. They’re unreliable. Our desire to do well, causes our emotions to produce worry. And, constant worry can destroy a good leader, because it will control how the leader responds to others.

Obviously, Jesus said, “Do not worry!” We know this truth. We believe it. We want to live it. So, what’s the practical side of Jesus’ command in leadership and how do we actually live out the command?

And, here’s something you need to know – or may need reminding – Having a strong faith is no guarantee your emotions – worry – won’t play tricks on you at times.

All of us worry, but how you respond when you worry seems to control you as a leader?

Here are 7 words encouragements for leaders who worry in leadership:

Pray and study.

You knew I’d say this, didn’t you? Worry is, by definition, a misplaced trust. Ultimately your answer is in God’s ability and His control, not your own. If worry is consistently plaguing your leadership, improving your relationship with Christ through Bible study and prayer is step one.

Remember your purpose.

You have to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. When worry hits you, you need grounding to something more permanent than your worries. You have a purpose. You believe in a vision. You have goals. You need to remember what fuels your fire and why you are willing to take the risk of leadership. If worry has gotten to the place where you’re not sure of your purpose anymore, stop everything and find it again. You can’t afford not to.

Contact an encouraging friend.

I always find other leaders can speak truth into my life just when I need it most. God uses relationships to strengthen us and make us better. I have to be bold enough to text a friend and say, “I could use some encouragement”, but I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve been that bold. If you don’t have someone like this in your life that’s your assignment. The goal is to find the person and build the relationship before you need them.

Review your track record.

Most likely you’ve had success which led to the position you have now. You can do it again. One reason I keep an encouragement file is so I can read through the positive things I’ve done on days when nothing seems positive.

Count your blessings.

And, name them one by one. There are always others who would love to have what you have. Someone is always worse off than you are. Most likely, even outside the position you have as a leader, God has blessed your life. Spend some time remembering the good God has allowed you to experience. The list is probably longer than you think and will help you avoid worry as you recall what God has already given you.

Get some rest – and hydrate.

Worry is more present when you are tired. And, I’ve learned we are often dehydrated and it makes an impact on us physically and emotionally. You may have to quit for the day so you can prepare for better days. The depth of the worry should determine the length of the period of rest. I’ve also learned part of being fully “rested” also includes making sure you are as healthy as you can be by eating the right foods and exercising, especially during the busiest seasons of life.

Rationalize.

People who most need to rationalize hate this one, but most of the things we worry about never come true. Is your worry based on reality or based on your emotional assumptions? Dismiss the things you can’t control, aren’t certain will go wrong, or the unknown. The more you limit irrational thoughts, the less for which you’ll have to worry.

How do you battle the moments of worry as a leader?

7 Ways to Help the Introverts on Your Team Better Engage in Meetings

power meeting from above

I am asked frequently how to engage introverts on a team in meetings. I guess because I am an introvert, and have written extensively about the subject, people assume I know how. I try to remind them other people are different from me, even other introverts.

Although it is a common perception that all introverts are reserved, constantly quiet, and unsocial, introverts are a diverse group, with varying degrees of introversion. For example, if you give me authority, I’ll lead the meeting. No problem. That would never be comfortable for some introverts.

So, my best advice for leaders about engaging people into meetings would not be to consider the introverts, but to consider everyone different. When it comes to meeting dynamics, everyone has something to add and does so in their own way. It takes me time to understand the team. Part of my job, if I’m leading a meeting, is to analyze the people in the room, as much as I can, before the meeting begins. If it’s “your” team this is done over time – getting to know the team. If the meeting involves people you don’t know or know well, it’s more difficult, but good leaders learn to study people – things such as the way they respond before the meeting, when they are introducing themselves, or their posture during the meeting.

But, I do understand the introvert question. Many introverts don’t engage in meetings. They keep to themselves, especially in large group settings. They aren’t as easy to get to know. And, yes, I can even be that way, especially if I’m not in a leadership position where I have to force myself out of my introversion – or it’s a meeting full of extreme extroverts.

So, here’s my attempt to answer some of the questions about engaging introverts in meetings. Again, we aren’t all alike, even though we share the introvert characteristic, but try a few of these and see if they improve your meeting dynamics.

And, by the way, some of these can help extroverts make better in meeting decisions too.

Here are 7 suggestions to help introverts engage more:

Give them time to respond

This is huge. Introverts typically reflect inward, so they respond only after they have thought through their answer. This is a great characteristic if used well, because it usually means their answer has already been tested in their own mind. They are likely to share some of the most valid options on the table if you give the process time to work.

Ask specific questions – ahead of time

Give them a problem and time to solve it and most introverts, if left alone, will enjoy the challenge. If you want them to brainstorm effectively, tell them exactly what you are going to brainstorm about prior to beginning.

Let them respond in writing

When I know there are numerous introverts in a group, I will usually find a way to let them put something in writing. I have even allowed them to text or email me during the meeting. It’s amazing some of the suggestions I’ve received when an introvert doesn’t have to say it aloud.

Don’t put them on the spot

If you call on them for an immediate response you might get an answer if you do, but it won’t be their best answer and it will often keep them from ever sharing again. Introverts are often not huge fans of being singled out to answer a question. They may be better prepared if you ask a question, let people respond who have instant answers (usually the extroverts), then call on the introverts later in the process.

Separate them from the most extroverted

If there are too many extroverts in the group, introverts and even more likely to shut down communication. Try putting a group of introverts together, give them plenty of time and thought provokers to stimulate conversation, then allow the process to work on their time. Then, prepare to be amazed.

Give them an assignment they can control

Many introverts (this one included) can perform to task if we are put in the seat of responsibility. It could be speaking to a group or working the crowd at a banquet, but when it’s purposeful and I have an assigned responsibility, and can control how I do it, I’m more likely to perform like an extrovert. Before you have the meeting, if they are willing, give introverts an assignment where they are responsible for sharing.

Express genuine and specific interest in their ideas

Introverts, like all of us, love to be respected for our thoughts and ideas. If you want an introvert to share more, remind him or her how valuable they are to the team and how much their thoughts are needed. This is best done before the meeting starts.

Some of these suggestions might help with your church Sunday school or small group meetings also.

As already stated, this isn’t an exact science. We are all different. Knowing introversion, however, as I do, it’s a little easier for me to land on these points. Don’t overlook the introverts on your team as if they have nothing to add to the discussions. They do. They will simply share that information differently. They may not talk as much as some or seem to have as many opinions, but when they do, it will often be golden.

Are you introverted? What tips could you share?

7 Benchmarks Towards Success in an Organization

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Great organizations don’t just appear. There is a method to the madness. I wonder sometimes, however, if we make it seem more difficult than it is to create success in an organization. While nothing worth doing well is ever easy, there are certain benchmarks we can aim for which seem to exist in successful organizations I’ve observed.

In the church where I lead, I would say we have experienced some “success” relative to our mission in the last few years. I think there is much room for continual improvement – we aren’t fully “there” yet – but we’ve made tremendous progress.

Looking back at some of our benchmarks, there are things I knew in the beginning we needed to achieve for us to gain traction, grow and improve in accomplishing what God has called us to do.

And, having led in business, government, and now ministry worlds – these appear to be shared attributes of achieving any level of success.

Here are 7 benchmarks towards success in an organization:

There is a clear vision and strategy. Everyone knows the objective we want to achieve in the end. Why are we here? What’s our purpose? It’s clearly and succinctly communicated in a memorable, easy to embrace way. Obviously, in my world, this vision comes from God’s leading, not man’s invention, but “without a vision the people perish”. Good organizations (and churches) do also.

There are clear goals in place. People are operating with reasonable, attainable, measurable and worthy goals. They have the resources in place to complete them. These are update regularly to meet the demands at the time and to encourage continual improvement.

A great team has been recruited. This is critical. You’ll spin your wheels and never have good traction otherwise. And, because someone was a good fit yesterday doesn’t mean they always will be. As organizations (and churches) change, so do the needs of people who sit on the team. People are always the greatest asset – and frankly – can be the greatest hindrance to achieving success. Continually asking who are the right players is critical to progress.

Tasks are divided equitably – I’ve learned this one the hard way. I’ve been working since I was 12 years old. It’s all I know. I was naive early in my leadership to believe everyone shared my work ethic. They don’t. Can you believe it? (For those wondering – I believe in working hard and playing hard. I strive to honor the Sabbath. Rest is important too.) But, if an organization is to succeed everyone must pull their weight. There can be no stragglers. And, there is much hard work to be done. Everyone goes through seasons where they aren’t as productive, but if someone lingers there for a career they injure everyone else – and the vision. (I’ve learned churches can be slow in making people changes everyone know needs to be made – and they do in the names of love and grace – but sometimes it’s called poor stewardship. )

Communication is fluent – This is a tough one, because as the organization grows people know less and less about everything. People only know what they know. Over time, people become specialists rather than generalists. Communication becomes more critical, but it never seems to be enough. There’s a danger of silos developing. The challenge for any successful organization is communicating throughout the organization.

There’s a resolve to endure. Wow, this is big! I never knew how big this one was until I was in a struggling company and discovered – the hard way – some of the people I thought were most dedicated weren’t. And, it hurt everyone. If an organization (or church) wants to be successful there must be a strong, committed core of people who are in it for the long-haul – regardless of the setbacks and disappointments, which will naturally come. (Side note to my church revitalizer friends – if you don’t have some of these people, I wouldn’t think of attempting to turn around the church.)

There’s a communal atmosphere. People need to have fun! There should be a joy in the journey. They need to know they are valued, a part of something bigger than today, and they can laugh, cry, and do life together as a family would. If people think it’s only about the money – or the numbers – or the progress – they will bore quickly and never really own or try to accomplish the vision. It will be a job – not a calling or a passion.

I’m not trying to be overly simplistic if your organization is struggling, because it’s much more complicated than this in practice, but look over the list again. Upon which of these attributes does your organization most need to improve?

Perhaps spending time on this area will bring you some progress.

What would you add to my list?

5 Reasons Leaders Tend to Micromanage

mean boss

Most of the time micromanaging is not a positive characteristic of leadership. I have written previously about times I do micromanage, but these are rare. 

In fact, I avoid it if possible – some on our team may say to a fault. There are times to manage closely, such as when you’re protecting a vision, but for the most part it disrupts progress more than it promotes.

As I work in the ministry world, however, it seems very common for micromanagement to be present. It could be a pastor who wants to control everything or a church governance that controls the pastor. And, by observation, I’ve learned there are common excuses for micromanagement.

Here are some reasons leaders resort to micromanaging:

Fear

It could be fear of a number of things. Fear it will be done wrong. Fear others will think the leader is not doing their job. Fear someone else may get credit instead of the leader. When a leader feels another person may receive recognition greater than the leader – he or she is more likely to try to navigate every outcome. 

Insecurity

I’ve noticed when a leader is feels he or she doesn’t have what it takes to lead the team or organization – or becomes overwhelmed – when things are going badly in the church or organization – a leader often begins to control the actions of people around them. They become more strong-arm managers than visionary leaders. 

Wrong team members

When the leader doesn’t feel he or she can trust the team members, he or she is likely to lead activities normally delegated. This can sometimes fall into the valid reason for micromanagement, but it shouldn’t last long without changes being made – either changing the team or helping the team improve. 

Bad vision

The problem may not be the people – or even the leader – but the leader is pushing people to accomplish something no one buys into or simply won’t work. Sometimes it’s time to move forward, but the leader is hanging onto a sinking ship – often refusing to admit it’s sinking. This is one I’ve seen many times in declining churches. Something needs changing, but the leader refuses to do the hard work and change. 

Power

Sadly, this is possibly the most common reason I have seen for micromanaging – and even more sadly is when I’ve seen it in the church. Some leaders relish in the idea of holding power and so, to keep the sense of control, they use their position’s authority to control rather than empower.

Leaders, are you guilty of micromanaging? Do any of these reasons apply to you?

The Absolute Greatest Killer of Motivation – And 3 Suggestions

hourglass

What’s the greatest killer of motivation?

We often think it is a lack of vision.

But, you can have the greatest vision ever and still see motivation dwindle and momentum die.

The fact is, we have an amazing ability to get bored with good things over time.

In fact, TIME is the greatest killer of momentum.

It doesn’t matter how much we love something, time can cause us to lose interest.

All of us can think of something we once loved, but now it’s old news. We have a the sad ability of tiring of wonderful things.

Buy a child a toy at Christmas and they love it – it’s the best Christmas ever – but a few weeks later; perhaps only a few hours – they probably aren’t as excited about it anymore. They are ready for some new toys.

Marketers know they have to keep changing things to keep us buying. We get bored easily. That’s why Apple’s stock is through the roof. They keep introducing new products because we get bored with the old ones.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll do it in our relationships too.

One of the biggest obstacles in many marriages is boredom. We quit dating – we quit courting – we quit surprising each other. Over time, we get bored in the relationship. Time kills the momentum the couple once had for each other. 

That feeling of boredom comes into the church also.

Greeting at the front door was great at first. We met lots of new people and genuinely felt we were making a difference. Now we know everyone and the job has become old. I’m bored.

Time killed my motivation.

Going to small group? Working with students? Playing in the band? Fun at first, but time has made me bored.

Perhaps you understand by now. Maybe you’re bored with this post. It was great when it started, but time has taken away your enthusiasm. Let me get to some help. It’s time.

If time is a killer of motivation, what’s the solution?

Keep retelling the vision.

Remind yourself and others of why you are doing what you are doing. If your mission is to reach people for Christ, then get excited about it again. Renew your passion for others – for lost, hurting people. Restore your first love. 

Keep practicing the vision.

Sometimes we get so busy with doing “stuff” we don’t really do what we were called to do. We are notorious at this in churches. Meetings to talk about doing missions take more of our time than doing missions. If you want to restore your motivation – do the things you’re motivated to do. If reaching broken, hurting people for Christ was the original passion God called you to do, then step away from the routines and busyness of life to start winning a few broken, hurting people for Christ again. Drop the mundane and follow the heart. Renew your personal passion by doing living the vision. 

Keep sharing the impact of the vision with others.

Most likely there are still some people motivated for the vision. Surround yourself with them. Share their stories. Let their enthusiasm rub off on you and others. Live out the vision with others who believe in it as much as you do. It will motivate you – or re-motivate you – as you share the vision with others again.

Have you seen time destroy motivation? What are you doing about it?

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

Chef fire fighter

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 love a good analogy to help me think through a topic. And, I think the phrase applies in leadership. And, I’m not sure getting out of the leadership kitchen when it gets too hot is 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 are you, 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.) Are you stuck and wondering what to do next?

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 fast growing churches, there have been many times I’ve not known what to do.

The heat in the kitchen was more than I could bear.

Thankfully, I’ve matured enough to admit it these days.

When you find yourself in over your head in leadership – use the analogy of the “heat in the leadership kitchen”.

I think you have 3 options:

Get out of the kitchen

There’s always that. Let’s be honest and admit 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 else discovers you’re out of your league or misfit. 

Learn from better cooks

Continuing with the kitchen analogy, perhaps the oven temperature is set too high. You may be 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. Chances are good an outside look can see things you don’t see. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) done alone. Find mentors willing to invest in you. This often begins with the humility to admit you need help and the willingness to ask for it. But, the best leaders occasionally need help and great leaders aren’t too proud to ask for it. I’ve also discovered seasoned leaders feel honored to ask. (And, as a Christian leader, remember God is on your side and He may be waiting for you to surrender before He jumps in to help.)

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 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?

12 Hard Things to Say – 5 Ways to Say Them as a Leader

men sitting on sofa at home and talking

In any relationship, there comes a time where it’s necessary to say things which are difficult to keep the relationship strong and make it better. This is also true in a healthy team environment. All leaders have things they need to say, which are hard sometimes.

For me personally, this often involves having a challenging conversation with a team member – someone I love being on the team, but know they need correction in an area, which is affecting the team. These are always discussions I’d rather not have, but I know are necessary for the continued health of the relationship, the team, and the individual.

Over the years, I have had many of these issues which required “tough love” to address them. I began my business leadership experience in retail management. At certain times of the year there could be 100’s of associates on the sales floor. It provided ample opportunity for problems I had to address with individuals.

But, those opportunities have continued throughout my career in leadership. And, dealing with problems has included me having to say things such as:

  • You’re too controlling as a leader.
  • You can be perceived as a real jerk to people.
  • Your laziness is dragging down the team.
  • You have body odor.
  • You’re making making too many mistakes and don’t seem to be learning from them.
  • You are non-responsive to your team members or others. It’s slowing down progress and it’s unfair to everyone else.
  • Your personal life is impacting your work. How can I help?
  • You don’t know how to take constructive criticism.
  • You are too critical of new ideas.
  • You are moving too fast.
  • You are moving too slow.
  • You are uncooperative.

I should note – most of these have not been said with my current team – thankfully.

Through my years in leadership, however, I have had to say each one of these statements to someone I was supposed to be leading. Those conversations, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, always prove to be good for the team and the team member.

In full disclosure, there have been times when someone needed to have similar “tough love” conversations with me and those discussions always made me better, as difficult as they were to receive at the time.

If you have to have one of those conversations, I have learned some principles to make them more palatable.

Here are 5 tips to have hard conversations:

Handle the conversation as quickly as possible – If the problem is clear in your mind (and usually everyone else’s mind), and you’ve witnessed the problem long enough to know it’s a pattern, don’t delay long in addressing the issue.

Be honest – This is not the time to shift blame, make excuses or dance around the issue. Be clear about the problem as you perceive it.

Be kind and helpful – You may read my post 5 Ways to Rebuke a Friend. Although this post deals more with a subordinate than simply with a friend, the previous post suggestions may be helpful here also. Your end goal should be to make the team member and the team better after the conversation. Don’t just blast a person. Use the “sandwich approach” when possible. Place the hard words in the midst of things which are good about the person and your commitment to them.

Have a two-way conversation – You should be willing to listen as much as you speak. You may not have all the facts exactly right – or you may have – but give the person a chance to respond to the criticism you are addressing. This also means you should have a two-way conversation, and not a multiple party conversation. You should address the issue with the person you have a problem with, not with others on the team behind his or her back. If you need someone in the room with you for perception issues or as a witness, make sure they are committed to privacy.

Move forward after the conversation – The person being corrected should leave with the assurance you are moving forward, and, provided improvements are made, do not plan to hold the issue against them. It will be important they see you responding likewise in the days ahead.

Know when enough is enough – You shouldn’t have to have these type conversations too frequently. Talk becomes cheap if there’s no backing to what’s agreed upon. If there seems to be no improvement over time, harder decisions or more intensive help may be needed. If you have done the other steps here, there is a time when tough love says “that’s enough – no more”. You are not doing your job as a leader if you continue to ignore the issues everyone else sees as critical to the health of a team.

One of the most difficult times for me as a leader is addressing issues like this with a team member I genuinely care about, but I know it’s one of my roles as a leader to address these most difficult issues.

What would you add to my examples of difficult conversations you have had with someone on your team?