5 Ways Leaders Can’t Be “Normal” Today

Leading outside the norm

Leadership is so much different today than when I first started leading almost 35 years ago. To lead today we must learn to think outside some things once considered normal in leadership.

And, hopefully “normal” is a play on words for most leaders now. 

When I was first in leadership as a retail manager, I could set the schedule for people, tell them what to do, hold them accountable for routine tasks with high expectations, and then evaluate them by whether or not they did the job. This was called a job – and, if you wanted a paycheck you worked for it.

It doesn’t work quiet like that anymore. It hasn’t for some time, and, to be honest, I tried to do more with leadership even then, but some of those still in leadership still haven’t caught on that “normal” leadership isn’t normal anymore. 

For example, in today’s leadership, the informal aspects of leadership are as important as the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to systems and structures – for a leader to be successful today – leaders must engage a team on personal levels. 

We must build team spirit. Energize. Motivate. Engage. Even sympathize. Those have always been important, but these days they may trump some of our policies and procedures.

In informal leadership environments, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. Again, they have always been important, but in today’s leadership it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

Adapt leadership to followers individual needs and expectations.

Cookie-cutter leadership doesn’t work as well among today’s workforce. Leaders must be wiling to individualize their leadership based on the current setting, culture and individualism of team members. It makes really getting to know the people you lead even more important. Leaders must ask lots of questions to understand personal values of others. It helps us lead according to a person’s individual strengths and abilities and helps them perform at their greatest effectiveness.

Raise up new leaders.

Those on the team with the propensity or desire to lead, must be given opportunity to help lead the organization. This is no longer an option. Not only is this good for the organization by creating future leaders, it is key to keeping the best people on the team. Those entering the field of leadership today – or desiring to – will want a seat at the table of decision. They want to make a difference. This can be a great things for our churches and organizations if we will welcome it. 

Balance kindness or friendship with authority.

John Maxwell’s axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has never been more true. People follow leaders they can trust. They follow leaders who believe in them and will invest in them. While leaders sometimes must make difficult and unpopular decisions, authoritarian or controlling leadership is not well received by today’s workforce. Following orders from the “boss” has been replaced with a desire for servant leaders.

Give others ownership in the vision.

People want and need to be stakeholders – knowing they are making a difference with their work. To do this means they must have ownership in the creation of vision. Allowing a team to help shape the agenda helps assure their heart buys into completing the mission. Letting people help write their job description gets people in places where they can bring their best contributions to a team.

Create what’s “next” for a community’s greater good.

Great leaders think beyond themselves – even beyond their own team or the vision, goals and objectives of the organization. Today’s leaders must understand they play one part in a more global sense. We are much more connected these days through social media and online instant connections. The world around us is watching – as are the people we have on our team. The way an organization treats it’s employees, supports the community and how it interacts with the people the organization encounters daily is important. We can’t sit back, make a profit or fulfill our individual goals (even as churches) and ignore the myriad of social needs all around us. If it’s not done well the world will know about it quickly.

Finding the right balance between a formal style of leadership – where everything is clearly spelled out for people to follow with a carefully created structure – and an informal style – where a team helps to shape the course of action – is critical to an organization’s success.

With my 35 plus years of leadership experience, I realize I’m from an “old school”, but I’m still learning – and re-learning.

I have learned this: Leaders today must continually strive to find the balance between formal and informal structures.

10 Problems with Doing the Best You Know How To Do

Years ago in a company we owned, there was a young man who worked for me who had tremendous potential. I believed in him so much I personally invested in him and paid special attention to him. I thought his future with our company was worth the extra time. Sadly, he never measured up to my expectations and we ended up having to part ways.

Every time I would meet with him to “encourage” him, he would say the same thing.

I’m doing the best I know how to do.

At the time, I really thought it was a fair answer. I have come to realize, however, that this response was actually his primary problem. He was doing the best he KNEW HOW to do.

But, here’s the reality I know:

The best you know how to do is never the best you can do!

It’s not. I wish it was, because it would make things much easier. But, there’s so much more. In fact, the line is really just an excuse. And excuses never get you where you say you want to go.

Here are 10 problems when you do the best you know how to do:

You leave out a critical thinking.

You quit learning new things.

You fail to be stretched.

You never develop personally.

You stop asking questions.

You resist change.

You dismiss new ideas.

You stop growing in your field of expertise.

You can’t as easily help others grow when you aren’t growing.

You stop walking by faith.

There is a huge difference in doing the best you know how to do and doing the best YOU CAN DO. The best you can do is to continue to get better. The times you are being stretched beyond what you know how to do may prove to be the best times of your personal development.

Never settle for the best you know how to do. It seldom will take you to the places you really want to go!

Here’s a challenge question: What are you currently doing to produce future personal growth? 

7 Suggestions to Motivate the Leaders on Your Team

Have you ever wondered how to motivate a leader?

If you have leaders on your team, no doubt you want the maximum potential out of them. You want their best contributions to your team. How do you motivate them to achieve their best – personally and for the team?

It may not be as difficult as we one may think. Most leader-types share some common traits. They may lead entirely different – they may have different causes and interests, but most leaders are motivated by similar influences.

Here are 7 suggestions to motivate a leader:

Give them a challenge to meet

If there’s a task that would be a huge accomplishment, you’ll likely grab a leader’s interest. Be careful telling a leader it “can’t be done”, unless you want to see some motivation accelerate. (I wrote about this principle in my life HERE.) Leaders love to strive for the impossible. Give them something which seems out of their reach and you are likely to get them on board.

Celebrate results

When a leaders celebrate a win, it fuels their desire for another. Leaders thrive on accomplishment. There may be lots of reasons behind this – and, frankly, some of them could even be pride, which is wrong. But, the point here is that something in the DNA of a leader which loves to win.

Share enthusiasm

Leaders are motivated by those who have a passion and drive to achieve. Make the vision exciting and compelling and you’ve likely got a leaders attention. This is another reason to repeat the vision often. A strong, compelling vision is fuel for a leader’s passion.

Involve some risk

Tell a leader something is “dangerous” – or others may not approve – and he or she may be motivated to attempt it. Leaders love a challenge. In fact, one way to tell the difference in a potential good leader and a good manager is the amount of risk he or she is willing to assume.

Embrace change

Leaders, by definition, are creators of movement. When things get stale, throw a little change in the mix, and a leader has a new incentive to lead. When a leader gets too comfortable they get bored. They’d often rather live with drama than staleness or routine.

Invite chaos

It sounds strange, but even a little controversy or conflict can fuel a leader. When the situation is overwhelming a leader goes to work. One difference in managers and leaders is that managers like (and need) to bring structure. They systematize things. Leaders love to fix things – improve them – make things better. It may even be messy along the way. (Which is also why every good leader needs a good manager.)

Have big dreams

Leaders are visionary. They want to accomplish something bigger than today. The bigger the dream, the bigger the motivation for the leader.

In my opinion, it is useless to have leaders on your team if you don’t lead them lead or use them to their full potential. And, if you want to get the most out of a leader – keep them motivated!

Are you a leader? Which of these motivate you most?

What would you add to my list?

7 Ways to Help a New Staff Member Succeed

I recently received the following message from a pastor friend:

“I have a new full-time associate pastor starting next week. What suggestions would you give for getting such a person off to a great start?”

What a great question! I’m so glad someone is actually asking it.

Through the years I have hired hundreds of people. I don’t do a lot of things right, but finding good people seems to be one of my strengths.

Getting a new person started in a good way is probably equal to finding the right people – especially if we hope to keep them. I can’t say I’m the best at this. I tend to be less hands-on than needed some times.

But, I have learned from some bad experiences too!

Here are 7 ways to help a new staff member succeed:

Lower initial expectations.

Lighten their initial work load. I like to tell new staff members not to attempt too much the first 90 days or so – perhaps even longer depending on the complexity of the job. Give them a chance to acclimate to the church, learn the people and some of the unwritten rules and culture. Also, most likely they also have home responsibilities to get settled and need to feel free to take care of those things also. 

Help the new team member’s family acclimate.

As much as it is important the staff member feel welcomed, it is equally important for the family. This includes spouse and children. Don’t overwhelm them with expectations either. Give them space, but make sure they have support if they need it. In my experience the transition can be harder on the family than the person joining your team. They get a fairly instant support group and know their purpose. This can be harder and take longer for the family to realize. The more you help the family the more you will be helping your new team member. 

Help them understand the current vision, direction and culture.

Where are you hoping to go as a church? What are the current and long-term dreams? What are people getting excited about these days? Where is there momentum? Where are you lacking motivation? What are the key weakness of the church? What are the key strengths? Answering as many questions like this as you can for the person. Information is powerful. They will learn much of it on their own, but the more you can share with them the faster they will feel a part of the team. 

Stay close.

You want to give them space to explore, but don’t ignore them either. Let them ask lots of questions. Give them plenty of access to you and others on the team. This should always be true of a healthy culture, but especially during the initial days. 

Help them understand what a win for their job looks like.

They will likely hit the ground excited about accomplishing something. Make sure they know, in your mind, how they will be considered successful. Don’t make them guess what you are looking for them to accomplish. 

Introduce them to key stakeholders.

Don’t make him or her find out on their own who the influencers are – good or bad. Every church has people who everyone listens to – and many have people everyone has a bit of fear of how they will react. While I’m not a fan of empowering these people or cowering to them, don’t let the new person step on a land mine either. Introduce them to people also who will be their biggest supporters. They will likely need these in the days ahead. 

Extend the honeymoon period.

New people will make mistakes. They want always know the “right” way to do things according to the culture of your team. (And, this can be a good thing. Let them bring something new to the culture.) You went out on a limb to bring this person in now give them ample time and grace to prove themselves. And, give them all the support they need to succeed.

Someone reading this has another great suggestion to help a new staff member succeed. You’ll make this post better by sharing it in the comments.

The Speed of Change is Relative

A huge reminder to leaders attempting change

This is a reminder to leaders who are attempting to lead change. If you miss this one principle you can greatly damage the effectiveness of change or even your reputation as a leader in the change.

It’s simple, but it is powerful. Huge.

Here it is:

The speed of change is always relative.

See, I told you – simple. No rocket science here, but you must understand this when leading people through a change process.

As the leader, or someone on our team, I may feel like we are moving at a snail’s pace. It’s taking forever. We are spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere fast.

At the same time, others may feel we are moving at rocket speed. Change is coming so quickly they cannot process it in their mind. They feel the world – or this change – is out of control.

Perception to the speed of change is relative to:

  • A person’s propensity or aversion to change.
  • The degree of comfort established in what we are currently doing.
  • Who or what initiated the change.
  • The perceived size of the change.
  • The degree of personal risk involved.
  • How the change is implemented.
  • My understanding of or buy-in to the “why” behind the change.
  • The level of personal sacrifice involved in the change.
  • The trust established in current leadership.

When you hear people talking about how fast or slow things are changing, remember their response is relative to their individual context.

Understanding this one principle will help the leader be more sensitive to the reaction of others. It will help him or her with casting vision effectively. It will protect the leader from the perception of “running over people” with change.

This one understanding will make you a better change leader.

Think of this principle – the speed of change is relative – in your present context.

How fast are things changing in your life right now? Do you wish they were changing faster or slower?

7 Characteristics of Effecitve Change Agent Leaders

If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. It’s part of the experience of every leader. The best leaders get accustomed to leading change.

Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change. I love to learn from these special leaders.

I’ve observed some common characteristics change agent leaders share.

Here are 7 characteristics of good change agents:

Flexible

It doesn’t have to be their design. They simply want progress towards the overall vision. These change agents are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. They navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.

Courageous

Change agent leaders are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. They know how to filter through what is valid criticism – worth hearing – and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. They unwaveringly push through the junk which clouds progress.

Relational

Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know ultimate change can’t happen without human capital and they are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.

Strategic

A change agent leader realizes there are steps to take and they carefully choose the timing of when to take them. They almost have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.

Creative

Good change agents are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. I need to be honest here and say I’d rather be strategic than creative. There are some who can always find a way to make their ideas work, but it comes at the expense of others. But, change often happens because someone chose to be creative. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. This takes creativity.

Intentional

Change agent leaders make change for a specific purpose. They never waste a change. They know that every change has the potential to make or break a team and they work diligently to bring the best results.

Thorough

A good change agent follows through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. They don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.

Think about your experience. Who are some of the best change agent leaders you have known?

7 Reasons Leaders Dump Delegation

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I see for stalled growth, low morale of teams, and not sustaining momentum has to do with leaders who refuse to delegate. They simply won’t. Either they don’t know how, they don’t see the value or they simply don’t want to delegate, but it hurts their team’s potential.

Here are 7 reasons some leaders aren’t delegating:

They might appear to be doing less.

Everyone knows they are the leader. What will people think if they are not the one doing everything?

(Pastors struggle with this one a lot.)

They fear losing authority.

And, this is a legitimate fear. Delegation, if it is done right, means they give up the right to control every outcome.

They still have to be available, even when delegating.

Delegation doesn’t mean a leader can dump and run. They have to be available to assist, advise and encourage. So, some leaders feel if they are going to be involved anyway – they might as well do it themselves.

Someone might not do things the way they would.

Let’s be honest. This is huge, isn’t it? And, those who have this as an excuse naturally assume their way is always best.

(And, that one leads to the next one.)

It might get done faster and better.

Okay, this one is certainly hard to admit. Faster is one thing, but better? What if someone else gets credit? What if they think someone is better than the leader? It might expose or grow a new leader – and, how threatening could that be?)

(I know. It’s a pride issue. And, yes, all of us leaders struggle with it at some level.)

Someone else might get credit.

Their credit! Credit they once got before they decided to delegate.

They simply don’t know the value in delegation.

Frankly, in my opinion, this is the bigger issue. They’ve never seen a healthy enough team where everyone has a role to play, everyone is a leader at some level, and everyone gets credit.

Any other reasons you can think of why leaders don’t delegate?

3 Critical Ways Every Leader Must Spend Time

Time is one of the greatest assets of any leader.

Learning to balance a leader’s time effectively is often a key in determining the level of success the leader attains. In my experience, every leader has three critical segments where they must invest their time on a regular basis.

It also seems to me leaders tend to do one of these especially well, so by default they spend most of their time on that one – often to the neglect of the other two.

All three are needed. All three.

Learning to balance a leader’s time in each of these three areas will greatly enhance the leader’s productivity, so the leader must discipline for the other two.

Here are the 3 critical ways every leader must spend their time:

Time reflecting on past experience

If a leader doesn’t evaluate where they have been and what has been done, he or she will soon be disappointed with where they are going. Leaders must spend ample time in personal, team member and organizational evaluations. This includes celebrating success. People need this too.

Evaluation should be done after each major events but also on a regular basis evaluating overall activity of the organization should be considered.

A leader can’t get frozen on this one though – always thinking of what has already happened. At some point it’s time to move forward.

Time focusing on current obligations

A leader must be disciplined to take care of the immediate needs of the organization. The busier a leader becomes, unless a leader is naturally wired for this one, the more he or she tends to naturally neglect routine tasks. Things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, for example, remain critical at every level of leadership. This may also include simply catching up with co-workers, even in social conversation.

I find personally if I don’t operate with some scheduled time for current obligations I will get dreadfully behind and end up not being effective for anyone.

Honestly, this one is a drag for me at times. I’m wired for what’s next. But, sometimes the routine stuff I do is huge for other people. And, necessary for me.

Time dreaming about the future

Leaders must spend time dreaming of the future. If a leaders doesn’t, no one else will either. This is critical to an organization’s success. I believe the larger an organization grows or the leader’s responsibilities expand the more time must be spent on this aspect of time management.

This comes natural for some leaders and not for others. Personally, I love this one. Again, if it’s not natural it must be scheduled. Planning a few hours a week to read, brainstorm, interact with other creative leaders can make a big difference. Several times a year it may be important to spend a day or more away from the office with the sole purpose of dreaming of what’s next.

The place in the organization and season of responsibility will determine which of these get the greatest attention at the time, but none of them can be neglected for very long periods of time. Again, a leader learning to balance these three components of time is a key aspect in determining the ultimate success of the leader.

Here are a few questions for personal evaluation:

  • Which of this are you more geared towards as a leader? (Please don’t say all come naturally.)
  • Which of these needs your greatest attention at this time in your leadership? (Be honest.)
  • How do you balance your time between these three areas? (Be helpful.)

7 Suggestions for Pastors When a Good Staff Member Leaves the Church

This post came to me after hanging out with one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with. I hated when we parted ways professionally.

Let’s be honest, pastors. When you have great staff people, the team is set and everything is going well, it’s hard when someone leaves. Even when they are leaving for a better opportunity – it often stinks.

Replacing quality people is one of the hardest things we do as pastors.

How should you handle a staff member who leaves for other opportunities?

Here a 7 suggestions for my pastor friends:

Think bigger picture. 

You’re a Kingdom builder. You are on a mission. You are called to part of a grander plan – God’s plan – more than you are to one local church. You and every staff member (volunteer and attendee) in your church are simply part of this plan.

Grieve. 

It’s okay. You likely invested a lot personally into the person. You are probably going to miss their friendship – and their work. Whoever replaces them will not be the same. (They may actually be a better fit for the season you are in now.) It will be different either way. Change is hard for the church – and it’s difficult for us too at times. Believers don’t grieve like the rest of the world (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but we do grieve. We grieve with hope always in mind, but grieving is a healthy way to deal with loss. 

Don’t take it personal. 

Most likely it is a reflection of what God was doing in the staff member’s life – and possibly in the life of the church. It may have nothing to do with you. If it is personal then it is a good time to evaluate where and who you are and why someone felt they needed to leave.

See the opportunity in something new. 

I used to have a boss who when someone would threaten to quit he would call them in and have them stick their hand in a bucket of water to see how much the difference one hand made in the level of the water. It didn’t make much. I know, because I once had to do it. I’m not saying it was the gentlest of approaches – and I have never used it personally, but it was certainly humbling. I never forgot it. The point he was making was everyone can be replaced. Everyone. And, sometimes new can even be better. Transitions are difficult, but afterward new can create opportunities for the church you never dreamed of – but God did.

Invest in people. 

Not positions. You have to see your role as a people-builder more than a position builder. It’s great to have the best student ministry in the history of the church. It’s better to have a student minister you believe in and invest in personally who is open, just as you should be, to being wherever God may lead. Rejoice in this with them. (As much as it hurts, this includes the worship pastor, the small groups or discipleship pastor, and the key volunteer leaders in the church.) 

Keep in touch. 

Stay in touch, as much as the other person will allow, in what God is doing in their life in this new season. Chances are you and your leadership were a part of this season also. Rejoice in what God allowed you to be a part of doing in someone else’s journey. 

Celebrate what God is doing new. 

Celebrate the work God is doing in the person’s life who left and what He is doing in the church afterward. Celebrate on the way out for one person and on the way in for another. The more you can celebrate the healthier the environment will be you are trying to lead.

These are just a few suggestions. I’ve been there – and, I’m sure I will be again. Saying goodbye can be difficult. It shouldn’t be devastating if we approach it correctly.

7 Unwritten Rules which Shape an Organization

In an organization the unwritten rules are just as, if not more, important than the written rules. I wrote about this idea HERE.

If you are considering making changes, implementing something new, adding staff, or any of dozen other decisions in your organization, you need to also consider the these “rules” of the organization.

Here are a 7 examples of unwritten rules:

The culture

How does it responds to change? How does it addresses problems? How does it plans for the future? How trusted is leadership? These are all unique to any organization.

The leader’s accessibility and temperament

Every senior leader is different. If you change the leader you change some of the unwritten rules. Is he or she considered approachable? Does he or she participate with the team normally? Would he or she know if there was a perceived problem in the organization? Do team members trust leadership? These answers shape responses to change.

The relationships of team members to each other

Is there a friendship or just a working relationship among team members? Is conflict acceptable and healthy? Do team members feel freedom to speak freely when in disagreement? Do people respect one another? Is there a silo culture or a common vision everyone is working to achieve? The healthiest organizations have people working together who genuinely like one another. If that isn’t there, change will be more difficult.

The sense of work satisfaction

Are there long-term team members? Are team members generally happy with the organization? Is there any unrest among team members? Are there unspoken concerns within the organization? Many times this has been formed over the years, sometimes even before a leader has been in the position, but it is valuable information for any leader.

The reaction to change

Is the “way it’s always been done” changeable? Has change usually been accepted or resisted? Who has to initiate change? What is the anticipated speed of change? Who needs to know about it? The success of change will be directly related to the answers to these questions and the way a leader responds to them.

The way information flows

How does communication really happen? What are the circles of influence? Who drives discussion? Who has influence with peers? What are the expectations regarding the “need to know”? Communication is key in any organization so, as leaders, we must understand the way it occurs.

The real power structure

Who really makes the decisions? Is it a board? A few key people? A consensus of the largest percentage of people? Power structures are rarely as purely formed as what is written on a piece of paper. Knowing this is critical to navigating change.

As a leader, it’s important that you not only concentrate your attention on what is easily measured, written in a policy manual, or even spoken as a value. Other considerations may be more important, even though they may have never been expressed formally. When change occurs or is to be implemented in an organization, paying attention to these unwritten rules is necessary for success.

By the way leaders, most likely you helped write (or are helping to write) these unwritten rules.

What are some of the unwritten rules of your organization?