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?

An Example of Leading Under Pressure (Or not)

Woman expression frazzled

I had a great illustration of leading under pressure recently.

Or, to be more honest, the need to do so.

I met a friend at a local restaurant for breakfast. The place is normally busy and this seemed like a typical day, but the obvious leader (person in charge) was in stress mode. Apparently, several of her employees hadn’t shown up for work that day. Well, not, apparently, she made that quite clear as she complained rather loudly throughout our visit.

Suddenly the place was swamped, which is not an unusual happening for this restaurant, and the young girl running the cash register was overwhelmed. She had to ask for help a couple of times. She was probably sorry she did…both times. She was making mistakes, but she seemed to make more the more agitated her boss became. Her boss continually “barked” back half answers, displayed constant frustration, and grumbled excuses about the lack of manpower. She never apologized. She just complained. Several customers displayed their equal frustrations. My friend and I wondered how we could best help, but, honestly I was afraid of her. :) We stayed, tried to be nice and patient, but leaving almost seemed the more helpful option.

I know firsthand the pressure of leading under stress. I’ve been there many times where it seems everything is going wrong at the same time. Honestly, however, from an outside perspective, the employee on the cash register would have performed better, less mistakes would have been made, customers would have been less tense and the overall environment would have improved, had the boss simply led through the moment, rather than overreacted.

It reminded me of an important leadership principle.

The way a leader reacts under pressure, determines how a team reacts under pressure.

If the leader remains calm under pressure. Keeps smiling. Pushes forward the best he or she can.

The team will likely remain calm. Keep smiling and push forward the best he or she can.

If the leader panics…everyone panics.

The role of a leader in times of stress may be more important than when times are good.

Leading in good times is easy (easier). When the world is stretched…when we are under-staffed, under-funded, overwhelmed, that’s when we most need leadership.

Here is your chance to help other leaders. Do you have any tips for remaining calm under pressure?

4 Ways a Leader Becomes Controlling

Manager and  joypad

One of the most dangerous forms of leadership, and one of the most frustrating, in my opinion, is the controlling leader. I have worked closely with a controlling leader, so I guess I may me sensitive to the issue. I’ve written about this issue previously, including:

7 Suggestions for Confronting a Controlling Leader

3 Results of Controlling Leadership

3 Ways to Respond to a Controlling Leader

7 Warning Signs You May Be a Controlling Leader

And others.

Under a controlling leader’s watch, leadership development is virtually non-existent. Pride is rampant. Ideas are squashed. Momentum is curtailed. It never works well.

A friend of mine and I were discussing this issue recently. His boss is a controlling leader. It has led to burnout for my friend and caused him to start putting his resume out. He’s done. Can’t take it anymore. Knowing this young leader, I realize the business is going to suffer because the leader can’t let go of the reigns. As an outsider, it appears they will be losing a quality person if they lose my friend. At this point in the life of the business, it will be a devastating blow.

In the conversation, my friend asked an important question. “How does one become a controlling leader?”

Good question. I don’t know that I can answer for every controlling leader, (My aim has never been to speak for that group), but I have some theories.

Here are 4 suggestions:

Faith – Actually, the lack thereof. Typically, this leader doesn’t trust anyone except him or herself to do the job. They are afraid to release the vision to others. In terms of the church, our vision is shaped by Christ, and the ministry leader who struggles with their faith will always default to trying to make things happen on his or her own.

Failure – This leader has witnessed failure; either personally or in the lives of others. They are now leery of things going wrong and so they refuse to let anyone else take charge. Controlling appears to be the “safer” option.

Fanfare – These leaders thrive on attention they receive from the limelight. They want the power, prestige and privileges that come with leadership, so they shut down anyone else who may appear to be easing into a position of influence.

Fear – These controlling leaders always believe the sky is falling. They see the glass as “half empty” and don’t want to take too many risks or chances. When everything is under their control they feel a sense of security.

I don’t know that any of us can answer this question as it applies to every leader, but these are some theories I’d suggest.

Have you ever worked with a controlling leader? Anything you’d add to my list?

I believe in challenging leaders, so here goes. Leader, do you have controlling tendencies? (We all do to some extent.) Do any of these apply to you?

8 Ways to be “Odd Man Out” on a Team

Army Boots Stand Out in a Crowd

Have you ever heard the phrase “odd man out”? It means you didn’t fit. You don’t measure up for some reason. You were excluded. It hurts.

I’ve been that person numerous times. I get it because I’m pastor sometimes. People assume I can’t also be fun. So they don’t invite me to the party. I experienced it some in business circles. There are haves and have nots in many business circles. I was mostly in the have nots. I’ve even been excluded though for having too much. People assume because I’m not struggling like they are that I probably never have.

We’ve all been excluded at some point in life.

It’s one thing to be “odd man out” by no choice of your own, but it’s another to be that way by choice.

Some people choose to be ” odd man out”. Have you ever thought about that concept? I’ve led or worked with many teams and whether its a few people or many, there can easily be at least one who chooses to be “odd man out”. It may or may not be a conscious decision they’ve made, but they simply don’t fit well with the rest of the team and they got that way by their own decisions.

And it’s a problem. In fact, if unaddressed, it can be dangerous for organizational health. Trying to build consensus or form team spirit becomes more difficult. Morale is infected by the intentional “odd man out”. Spotting this as the problem early can avoid further issues down the road.

In this post, I’ll address some ways this occurs or symptoms of the issue. I will do it in a satirical fashion, but it should help spot the “odd man out” on your team. In a future post, I’ll share some thoughts on how to address it as a leader.

Here are 8 ways to be the “odd man out” on a team:

Be resistant to every change – Whenever a new idea is presented, always be the first to say it won’t work. You don’t have to have a reason. Just oppose it.

Always be negative…about everything – See the glass half-empty. Always. There’s nothing good about this…place…leader…idea…day…life.

Always have an excuse – It’s not your fault. It’s someone else’s fault. Of course it is.

Never have a solution – It’s your job to point out problems, not to help solve them. You don’t care to build…you’re here to tear down. And, you intend to do your job well.

Hold opinions until after the decision has been made – That way, no one can blame you. But, you can clearly see and say how things should have been done. Make sure you tell everyone.

Talk behind people’s back – Never go to the source. It stirs more drama if you talk about someone rather than to someone. Make sure you talk behind the leader’s back too. Negativity spreads even faster that way.

Refuse to participate in any team social activities – Who needs them, right? You’re here to work…I mean complain…why would you want to hang out with people when you have plenty of time to make life miserable for others during work hours.

Don’t buy into the vision – Actually, for best results, work against the vision. Maybe even have a vision of your own. And, you can keep it to yourself, too, as long as you work against the vision of the team.

Of course, these are written with sarcasm, but you get the idea. Have you ever worked with anyone like this? Did you spot the “odd man out” on the team? You may want to share with them 12 Ways to Make Yourself a Valuable Team Member. To be clear (and I edited this post to add this last statement), I’m not advocating always agreeing with a team. I’m often “odd man out” on my team, because I love big ideas, but hopefully I will do so in a spirit of cooperation, not a spirit of disruption.

What tips would you add for a person to be “odd man out”?

10 Traits to Identify Potential New Leaders

Full body isolated portrait of young business man

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to identify potential new leaders. If a church or organization is to grow, finding new leaders is critical. Equally vital is the quality of leaders being discovered. Good leaders learn to look for qualities in people that are conducive to good leadership. If you want to have a culture that reproduces leaders, read THIS POST first.

But, where do you find these people who can be future leaders? I find it helps to look for certain qualities, which all good leaders need or qualities that, consistently over time, seem to make good leaders.

Here are 10 attributes I consider valuable traits when looking for new leaders:

Concern/Love for others – You can’t lead people effectively if you don’t genuinely love people. I’ve seen people in positions who have great power, but they don’t appear to love others. These leaders often produce followers well, but they fall short of reproducing leaders.

Not a complainer – Candidly speaking, leadership encounters complainers regardless of what we do. I certainly don’t want to add complainers to my team of leaders. A positive attitude will get my attention every time.

Teachable and open to suggestions – A person who thinks they have all the answers will repel other leaders. People with no desire to keep learning rarely find their place on my team of leaders.

Excellence in following – This is a biggie for me. I try to follow people I lead, because there are times they know more than I do. Many times. Someone who isn’t willing to follow is seldom ready to lead.

Reliability – Leadership is about trust, and trust is developed over time and consistency by doing what you said you would do. I look for people with that quality.

Interest – The people with a burning passion for the church or organization often make great leaders. You can train someone to lead others, but you can’t easily train them to have interest.

Good character – Character counts. Not perfection. Not flawless. But, good character is necessary to be trusted on a team. Integrity. Honesty. A humble desire to always be improving as a person. That kind of character.

Potential – God always saw potential in others they themselves couldn’t see. I try to have eyes to see that in others.

Confidence – Leaders have to move forward when others are ready to retreat. That takes confidence. Not prideful, but a genuine willingness to lead through the hard times; to do what others aren’t willing to do.

People skills – This goes without saying, but you can’t lead people if you can’t communicate with people. You don’t have to be the life of the party (I’m a strong Introvert), but you do have to be able to engage people and make them feel a part of things.

Well, those are some traits I look for in potential leaders.

Do you have other traits you look for in recruiting leaders?

(This is an expanded version of an older post.)

Questions for Brainstorming

Businesspeople

Brainstorming often leads a team to the answers you can’t seem to find any other way. The best brainstorming begins with great questions. For example, what if the team is trying to discern what went wrong on a project? Perhaps there has been some major fall out and the team has suffered damage, either financially, in reputation or in morale. The questions you ask could determine how well you recover.

Using that as our example, consider the questions in this post, some will apply and some won’t. Add some of your own, and see if they will lead you through a helpful brainstorming session. By the way, I talk almost weekly to churches in some crisis mode. This process may help with that scenario also.

Below are 4 words and sets of questions to lead your team in brainstorming. If I were leading you through this process, we would take time on each section, stopping to summarize our findings along the way. Depending on the size of the group, we may break into sub-groups to brainstorm, then come back together to summarize.

The words and questions are simply a strategy to get the group talking. Depending on what you are trying to discover, you would change the words and the questions.

Words and questions:

Reflect – What went wrong? How did it happen? What’s the damage? Who is impacted? How much did it cost us…in capital, momentum, morale and reputation? What are the long-term and the short-term ramifications?

Recalculate – How can we improve? How can we keep it from happening again? What’s the best way to recover? Who are the right players in our recovery? What are the immediate, mid-range and long-term decisions we need to make, as a result of this?

Recharge – Why are we doing what we do? Why are we needed? What’s our motivation to begin again? What are some of our examples of success? What can we do to spur new momentum?

(Don’t skip this set of questions. Regardless of the issue, this type thinking is needed every time. You’ll be tempted to ignore them, because you assume you know these, but you always need the energy this type dialogue produces. Depending on the issue, you can’t usually do this immediately as well, because the previous issues are usually clouding people’s minds.)

Reignite – How soon can we begin again? Do we need a relaunch or do a complete overhaul? What’s our strategy moving forward? Who does needs to do what? Who is our spokesperson? Who are the teams assigned to each task? When is our target date for celebration?

Asking the right questions may determine the success or failure in the days ahead.

What questions are you currently asking your team?

7 Thoughts on Managing Conflict as a Leader

team conflict

As a leader, there are many times I feel like the mediator between opposing viewpoints. I’m steering towards a common, shared vision, but there are a myriad of opinions in how we accomplish the vision.

I’m not afraid of conflict on a team. In fact, I think it can be healthy for the team if handled correctly. It keeps tension from building unnecessarily, simply because emotions and opinions were hidden rather than addressed. It brings new ideas to the table and welcomes input from everyone. When conflict is ignored or stifled, it makes people feel devalued and controlled. I’ve written previously on managing conflict HERE and HERE.

When faced with conflict on my team, I realize the way I handle it will go a long way towards allowing the disagreement to work for the overall good. In fact, I must learn to better manage the conflicts rather than attempt to kill them.

Here are 7 thoughts for managing conflict on a team:

Interfere sparingly – I try not to take sides in conflict anymore than I have to, even when I have my own opinion. If the conflict isn’t a vision issue, and it seems to be resolving on it’s own, I’ve found it is best if I allow the process to take it’s course. When the leader gets involved in conflict it takes on a new life; often unnecessarily.

Listen carefully – I try to hear both sides of the conflict. Normally there are valid points on both sides. It’s important that I hear not only what is said, but also what is unspoken. That takes asking questions, getting to know the members of my team, and not assuming I know what people are thinking simply by what they say. Understanding the basis of conflict and the opposing viewpoints is critical to understanding the conflict.

Communicate – During times of conflict, it’s even more important that communication be clear and consistent. Many times, conflict is simply due to a lack of clarity or miscommunication. Information often makes conflict easier to resolve. As leader, part of my responsibility is making sure the team communicates effectively.

Discern the real issue – Conflict develops for a number of reasons; not all of them good. Beyond miscommunication, conflict also develops over power struggles, weak leadership, or simply personality differences. Discerning the nature of the conflict and if there is a root issue (often unspoken or undefined) helps me avoid trying to solve the perceived conflict, when the real issue is something completely different.

Monitor impact – As I said, conflict in and of itself is not bad, but part of my job is making sure conflict on a team doesn’t begin to harm rather than promote health of the team and it’s members. When individuals begin to attack each other personally, act in anger, form sides within the team, or distract from progress, it’s time for the leader to interfere.

Vision – Ultimately, my job as a leader is to maintain the integrity of the vision. Conflict can enhance or interfere with attaining the vision. My job is to continually direct the team’s attention back to our purpose.

Don’t be afraid of conflict on a team. Good leaders learn to manage it for the overall good of the team.

Leader, how do you manage conflict on your team?

What Does “Healthy” Mean in Church Leadership?

silhouette of friends jumping in sunset

I was talking with a young hurting pastor recently. He resigned after several years of trying to turn around a dying church into a healthy church. The church brought him in with definite goals. He felt he had a mandate. The church began to grow. Things were exciting…or so it seemed. But, with every change there was growing resistance. Eventually, only a few people with power still supported him. when they refused to back him with changes they had agreed were needed. He was continually reminded this was not “his church”. He felt it was best that he leave rather than divide the church. (This church has a long history of short-termed pastorates.)

In the course of the conversation he asked some sobering, and honest questions.

He asked, “Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy mean, anyway?”

Great questions. I understand. Sadly, I hear from pastors continually asking the same questions. There are many unhealthy environments in churches.

But, yes! There is such a thing as a healthy church. There are some healthy church staffs.

I don’t know if I know completely what “healthy” means, but I’ve given the issue some thought.

The reality is that the church is the Body of Christ. In the purest form, the church is always “healthy”, because it represents Christ. We are promised that nothing will ever destroy what Christ has established. But, local churches are made of people. And, some of those people, even well-meaning as they may be sometimes, work together to form unhealthy environments. Some work together…for the common good of honoring Christ…and form healthy environments.

So, with that in mind…

A healthy church culture…

  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days
  • Doesn’t mean you won’t have tension or stress.
  • Doesn’t mean everyone always agrees.
  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t relationship struggles.
  • Doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
  • Doesn’t mean the pastor is always right.
  • Doesn’t mean problems or issues are ignored.

A healthy church culture…

  • Does mean you can disagree and still be friends.
  • Does mean tension is used to build teamwork..when one is weak another is strong.
  • Does mean meetings are productive and purposeful…not ritualistic or boring, and certainly not hurtful.
  • Does mean rules add healthy boundaries, rather than stifling creativity or controlling actions.
  • Does mean you work as a team to find solutions.
  • Does mean the pastor (and his family) is never attacked publicly or continually stabbed in the back.
  • Does mean the rumor mill is never allowed to form the dominant opinion.

I’m praying for my new pastor friend that he finds a healthy church, in which to serve out his calling. They do exist.

Have you been in an unhealthy church or organizational environment?

Have you been in a healthy one?

What do you think it means to have a healthy?