Lead Alone…Never Lead Alone: What?

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Sometimes I seem to contradict myself.

I say one thing…then I say another.

Yet, both are true.

For example. I say: Sometimes a leader has to lead alone.

Another time I say: Leaders should never lead alone.

Both are true.

Let me explain.

Don’t fear times when you seem to lead alone. No one seems to understand. There will be days in the life of a leader where you feel like everyone is against you. That’s normal. Happens to the best of leaders. You’ll have to keep going. That’s leadership. There will be times you have to lead when no one else sees what you see. You can have a firm, even God-given conviction, but it may take time for others to join in on the vision. Every leader will at times have to lead through the darkness of doubt into a greater reality.

But you shouldn’t lead alone for long.. Even when you don’t feel like it, there are usually people who support you. More than that, you should surround yourself with people you have given the freedom to speak into the deepest places of your life. You should allow people to help build the vision, give others ownership, and be a people builder by giving others the chance to lead. There shouldn’t be very long periods where you aren’t stretched by a doss of reality or correction. You should never lead alone…for long.

Both principles are true.

I’ve come up with a better way to say it:

Be willing to lead alone, but never lead in isolation.

Good Leaders Know the Difference in Popularity and Trust

Most popular stickers

In leadership, its important to know the difference in popularity and trust.

I’ve seen leaders… whether pastors, politicians or in business…try to take people places…even worthy places…and believe people would follow because they are popular as a leader. But, people didn’t follow…because the leader hadn’t developed enough trust. Misunderstanding this can dramatically damage a leader’s performance. (This is especially true for newer leaders.)

Many leaders assume they are trusted because they are popular, but that is many times not the case. The leader may be very popular, but that doesn’t always translate into trust.

Popularity has some importance in leadership. It is easier to follow a leader we like personally. But, popularity may be seasonal and temporary. Popularity can be altered by current successes or disappointments. Popularity can cause followers to cheer or jeer, because whether it is good or bad, popularity is mostly built on people’s emotions.

Trust is what is needed for the biggest moments in leadership. Major changes involve trust. Times of uncertainty need established trust in leadership. Long term success requires trust. And, trust must be earned. Trust develops with time and experience. Trust invokes a deeper level of loyalty and commitment that helps people weather the storms of life together. Trust develops roots in a relationship that grow far deeper than popularity ever could.

Leader, know the difference and don’t confuse the two. Popularity often disguises itself as trust when people appear to be agreeing with you. And it may fool you into thinking you can do anything…because you are…after all…popular. But, if you are not careful, you will cross a line of people’s level of trust and see a backlash towards your leadership.

It will make you a more effective leader when you can begin to discern when you are popular and when you are trusted.

Have you seen this mistake made in leadership?

5 Ways to Hear from People Different from You

Leadership Ahead

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is:

Forgetting that everyone doesn’t think like the leader.

People are different. They think differently. They have different desires. Thankfully, they have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are different from the leader.

If you want to lead people who are different from you…and you should…you’ll often have to lead differently from how you wish to be led. Frankly, I’d be comfortable leading by email, but how healthy would that environment be?

When you fail to remember this principle of leadership, that people are different, you frustrate those you are trying to lead. You get poor performance from the best leaders on your team and your team fails to live up to its potential.

Here are some thoughts to warrant against this:

(Please understand, I am using the word “I” a lot here. I don’t really like that term much, because I’m a leader in training too, but I want you to see how I being intentional in this area and provide a few practical examples.)

Intentionally surrounding yourself with diverse personalities. One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person, even outside or my work. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me that everyone isn’t introverted like me. On any church staff I lead, I know I want some different personalities to compliment mine. Building my comfort with this in my personal life helps me welcome it even more in my professional life. We will all share a common vision, but we should have some unique approaches to implementing it. Ask yourself, “Have I surrounded myself with people who think just like me?”

Asking questions. Lots of them. Personally, I ask lots of questions. I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. We do assessments as a team. I have quarterly meetings with direct reports. We have frequent all staff meetings. I periodically set up focus groups of people for input on various issues. I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible. I try to consistently surround myself with different voices so I receive diversity of thought. I place a personal value on hearing from people who I know respect me, but are not afraid to be honest with me.

Never assuming agreement by silence. I want to know, as best as I can, not only what people are saying, but what people are really thinking. To accomplish this, I periodically allow and welcome anonymous feedback. I realize, just because of position, and partly because of personalities, that some are not going to be totally transparent with me. I try to provide multiple ways for feedback. Even during meetings I welcome texting or emailing me (depending on the size and structure of the meeting) during the meeting. I’ve found that approach works better for some who may not provide their voice otherwise.

Welcoming input. This probably should have come first, but this is a personal attitude. I have to actually want to hear from people on my team. Even the kind of information that hurts to hear initially. I personally want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office, at any time, and challenging my decisions. (I keep candy in my office knowing it attracts them for frequent returns.) Granted, I want to receive respect, but I expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Structuring for expression of thought. Here I am referring to the DNA…the culture…for the entire team. And, it is very important. There has to be an environment with all leaders that encourages people to think for themselves. That kind of culture doesn’t happen without intentionality. As a leader, I try to surround myself with people sharper than me, but I want all of us to have the same attitude towards this principle of hearing from others. I believe in the power of “WE”. If we want to take advantage of the experience and talents in our church, we have to get out of the way, listen, and follow others lead when appropriate.

It’s not easy being a leader, but it is more manageable when you discipline yourself to allow others to help you lead.

How do you structure yourself to hear from people different from you? What are some ways you have seen this done by other leaders?

Warning: Don’t Be the Senior Leader Unless…

Warning

Here’s a warning:

Don’t Agree to Be the Senior Leader Unless…

You are ready to lead alone at times…or at least feel like you are.

You aren’t striving for popularity, knowing that every decision you make is unpopular to someone.

You can make the hard decisions, even the ones involving people or conflict.

You will try to see all sides of an issue.

You are comfortable with change and thinking outside the box.

You are okay when others receiving credit; even for something you initiated.

You can delegate leadership…and truly empower others, believing things are better when other people help make decisions.

You don’t let criticism derail you for long, but stay committed to the task before you.

You can think beyond today and help others join you by casting an engaging vision.

You highly value people and their contributions.

And _________?

Senior leaders…share yours.

7 Tips When the Team is Struggling to Succeed

teamwork concept on blackboard

I talk with team leaders every week where the team is struggling and trying to figure out how to succeed again. I understand. I’ve been the leader of teams in situations like that many times. Every team experiences times of decline. What you do next almost always determines how long it lasts and how well you recover.

First, I should say, that every situation is unique and requires individual attention. Don’t use a script for your team. Also, don’t be afraid to bring in outside help. It could be anyone from a paid consultant to trading a friend a favor who leads another team. Everyone can use a fresh perspective at times. It takes humble and wise leaders to welcome input from outsiders.

With those disclaimers in mind, I can offer a few thoughts to shape your current paradigm of thought.

What do you do when your team is struggling?

Here are 7 suggestions:

Admit it – Pretending there isn’t a problem will only make things worse and delay making things better. Most likely everyone on the team and in the organization knows there is a problem. Again, this is where the leader must be humble enough and wise enough to recognize and admit the problem. (I realize the next question is “What do I do when the leader isn’t this wise or humble?” That would be the focus of another post, but hopefully this post will help. Maybe email it to them. :) )

Recast vision – People need reminding why they are doing what they are doing. You should have a vision big enough to fuel people’s energy towards achieving it. If you don’t have one, spend time there first. If you already do…and most teams do…they may have forgotten it, but it exists somewhere…now is the time to tell it. Frequently. (For my pastor friends, you have a vision given to you…we know it…we just sometimes get distracted by other things. Tradition. Programs. Systems. Stuff.)

Evaluate – Now is also the time to ask hard questions? What is going wrong? Who is not working on the team? Where have we lost our way? Where are we stuck? How did we lose our way? What are we missing? This is a great place to bring in some outside perspective if needed. The less you try to protect personal agendas here the greater chance you’ll have of recovery.

Introduce change – You need to try something new. Perhaps several somethings new. Now is not the time to resist doing something different. Obviously, what you’ve been doing isn’t working. That’s the point of the post…remember. Explore again. Be intentional and make sure the changes line with the vision, but encourage movement. Movement often spurs momentum. Especially new movement.

Fuel potential – There are usually areas that are working and areas that are not. If no areas are working, you may be looking for different answers than this post can provide. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what is working when you are clouded by what isn’t working, but you must try. (Outside perspectives can sometimes work here too.) Often these are things the team is known for or things that are fairly new but are working. Wherever there is a spark of any kind, you must fuel it. This is the best place to bring spur more momentum quickly.

Celebrate small wins – When you have something to celebrate, make a big deal out of it. A really big deal. Put your party hat on now! Seriously, don’t go overboard over something that people will quickly dismiss as nothing, but if you are seeing any signs of hope, share it. People need the energy of something going well to keep pushing forward for even more success.

Encourage one another – Remember, the hard times as a team can actually help build your team for long-term success. Allow this to be a time you grow together as a team, figure out this together, and help the team to grow and succeed again. Pray for and with each other. Cheer each other on daily! You can do it!

Have you been a part of a turnaround team? What helped?

7 Ways to Help an Introvert 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 to engage someone completely different from me, but who also happens to be an introvert. We aren’t all alike…you know. :) 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. My best advice for leaders about engaging people into meetings would be 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.

But, I understand. 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.

So, here’s my attempt to answer some of the questions about engaging introverts in meetings. Keep in mind, 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, just to be clear, 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 be 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. You may 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.

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?

You might read THIS POST and THIS POST for more posts on introversion.

Do You Lead or Control People?

controlling leader

In my years leading in business and churches, I have known many people who claim to be leaders, but they are actually nothing more than controllers of people. There is a huge difference in leading and controlling.

In fact, the differences are almost exact opposites:

Here are some characteristics of environments that lead people:

  • Creativity is encouraged and mistakes are seen as part of the process
  • People are developed more than programs
  • Healthy relationships and teams are part of the DNA
  • Delegation thrives and people are empowered
  • Everyone has value on a team
  • People follow willingly, because they feel respected and valued
  • Leadership development is part of the DNA

Here are some characteristics of controlling people:

  • Personal growth is stifled
  • Creativity and independent thought is discouraged
  • Followers are kept as a distance from leaders
  • Leaders insist on their way and are never wrong
  • People are taken for granted
  • Positions and policies rule more than relationships
  • People are employees more than team members

Apparently, to some leaders, it appears easier to simply make people do what the leader wants them to do. By force. I’ve had bosses like that. Making people carry out your agenda simplifies things…it seems. But, that’s not really leadership.

Leadership is more of an art than that. Leading people effectively means helping people with different skills, talents and interests, even ideas and temperaments in a way that makes them feel valued and yet accomplishes the established vision and goals.

That’s not easy. That’s not even always fun. But, it certainly is truer of leadership. The fact is you can’t truly lead people and control people. The two don’t work well together.

Have you ever worked for a controller?

Be honest with yourself, are you leading people, or do you claim to be a leader, but you are really a controlling people?

Something I’ve Learned as a Senior Leader

Money Worries

I was talking with a young pastor recently who is having to make some hard decisions in his church. He’s praying, seeking wisdom from other pastors and leaders, allowing input from the church. He feels confident he is making the right decisions for the life of the church at this time. None of the changes are clearly addressed in Scripture. He feels. Majority of the people support him, but still, he’s got some who continually question the decisions he makes.

It reminds me of one thing I’ve learned about leadership.

Not everyone will understand all the decisions a leader makes unless they sat where the leader sits.

The leader can explain. And, he or she should try. The leader can walk with them through the decision. And, he or she should. The leader can listen to the objections. And, he or she should.

But, there will be times when the leader has to make decisions based on the information available. the leader must consider all aspects of the decision, how it impacts every person (not just a few), every ministry, and how it helps accomplish the vision for the future of which he or she feels charged to lead.

And, not everyone will understand.

That principle is equally true for…

Pastors

Business owners

Parents

Elected officials

Teachers

A friend of mine uses the term “second chairitis“. It’s similar to “back seat driver”. Basically it means it’s natural to question the actions of a leader, when you aren’t carrying the full weight of the team. The “outside looking in” view isn’t always the clearest view.

For the leader, I would encourage you as I did the pastor I reference above:

  • Make sure you are obedient to God and His word.
  • Make sure you are seeking wise counsel.
  • Make sure you are open to correction.
  • Make sure you are leading with integrity, in your public and personal life.
  • Make sure you allow people you trust to speak into your life.
  • Make sure you stay true to the vision.
  • Make sure you consider the interest of others, even more than your own.
  • Make sure you develop methods to measure progress.

Then make decisions…the best decisions you can, based on the information you have, realizing in advance that not everyone will always understand. Hopefully, someday they’ll look back and realize you were making good decisions, even when they couldn’t understand. Sometimes you’ll look back and realize you made the wrong decisions. Admit those times. They are like gold for your future leadership decision making.

But, leaders aren’t called to be popular. They are called to lead.

So lead!

Have you ever had to make decisions others couldn’t immediately understand?

Are You Ready to be a Leader?

Elegant leader

I had a young man ask me recently, “Do you think I’m ready to be a leader?”

I said:

Great question. Glad you’re asking.. But, honestly, I don’t know that I’m the one to answer.

It might help if I ask you some questions:

Are you ready to stand alone at times?

Are you ready to push through fear?

Are you ready to do the right thing even when it’s the unpopular thing?

Are you ready to be misunderstood sometimes…okay…many times?

Are you ready to sacrifice for your team?

Are you ready to see things others may not yet be able to see?

Are you ready to enter the unknown…first?

Are you ready to keep confidences?

Are you ready to delegate?

Are you ready to see all sides of an issue?

Are you ready to sometimes feel like the weight of a vision is on your shoulders?

Are you ready to face conflict?

Are you ready to have your integrity closely observed by your followers?

Are you ready to receive criticism?

Are you ready to defend your team?

How’d your answers go?

Are you ready to be a leader?

As a Leader of Leaders…

female leader

I often get asked, what’s the difference is between leading leaders and leading followers. Great question. It really is a paradigm of leading. It’s really in how you lead.

As a leader of leaders…

I say, “I don’t know, I’ll have to find out” a lot…

I often “didn’t know about that” until a decision is made, but you won’t hear me say that…because I support my team’s ability to make decisions…

I encourage learning from someone besides me…

I let people make mistakes…

I try to steer discussion more than have answers…

I believe in more dreams than my own…

I say “we” more than I say “me”…(except in this post)

I strive to empower more than I control…

I’m not afraid of being challenged by those on my team…

I seldom script the way to achieve the vision…

Do you lead leaders? What would you add?