7 Of My Biggest Frustrations as a Leader

frustration

Spmeone once asked me what my “biggest frustration” is as a leader. As I thought about it, I had to be honest – I have lots. That may point to another area of struggle for me personally – and a character flaw – I’m seldom satisfied with me or where we are as a team. In many ways, I am still learning the secret of being content, but I like continual improvement and think there is usually room to get better in all areas of our life. I think it is true in leadership too.

But, the question was my “biggest frustration”, so I opened an Evernote file, titled it “Biggest Frustrations” (since I knew I had more than one) and decided to record some of my actual frustrations over the next few weeks, as they actually occurred. Some of these are mine from observing people directly and some are from the stories my readers share with me each day. When I reached seven, based on my obvious past love of the number seven, I figured it was time to share my findings.

Here are 7 of my biggest frustrations as a leader:

Pettiness

It bothers me in leadership to argue about things which really, in the large scheme of things, just don’t matter. Arguing about things like personal preferences or different ways of acccomplishing the same agreed upon vision only takes time from getting actual work done. I can almost always find issues of bigger significance. 

Selfishness

I get frustrated when people have to have things “their way”. It destroys any hope of a healthy team when people are only thinking of their personal wishes. (Doesn’t sound very Biblical to me either.)

Rudeness

The way you talk to someone always determines the way they respond. To me, there is no place for disrespect in an organization or on a team or in any relationship, for that matter. This should be especially true in churches. And, it applies to how we respond to the world on social media also. Even when we don’t agree with one another, we can address one another in kindness. (Remember, kindness is a fruit of the spirit.)

Narrow-mindedness

When someone can’t think beyond the way it’s always been done, it limits the organization from achieving all it could achieve. There are issues – Biblical, foundational, value-driven issues – where narrow-mindedness is a positive. But, in the mode of operation of the way we get things done, or how we accomplish our God-given vision, I think change is not only good – it’s vital for continued growth.

Stubbornness

Equally frustrating is when people are unwilling to embrace change – simply because they are being stubborn. It wasn’t their idea, or it threatens their power, or they just don’t want to be uncomfortable – so they lock their arms and refuse to participate. When a person ignores what’s best for the good of everyone, and it’s not a Biblical issue, their stubbornness only hurts the organization (and frustrates the leader.)

Unforgiveness

When someone has been injured they have a choice. They can choose to hold a grudge or they can choose to forgive. Holding a grudge keeps the injury alive. Forgiving opens the door for healing. (Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.)

Recklessness

It is frustrating to observe people who seemingly have no regard for other people. They make decisions without the consideration of others. They say things without thinking how they hurt. They use their influence to disrupt an organization’s progress – rather than enhance it. They derail progress with a disregard for what’s best in favor of what’s personal to them. It’s frustrating.

There is my list. I feel better just sharing it with  you. I can now get on with my day towards more positive things. But, if I kept the Evernote file open, I might find some more, so I’ll close it for now. 

What are your biggest frustrations in leadership?

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?

Balancing the Big Deals Within an Organization – A Senior Leader Challenge

balance

I’ll never forget the first time I found out a staff member was disappointed because he didn’t think I supported his ministry. I had said no to a budget item for his ministry, because we needed to do something in another ministry. I felt horrible. I knew personally I valued his ministry – and him – but my actions had led him to believe otherwise.

I learned a couple of things from this experience. First, I needed to communicate the “why” behind my decisions better. Second, there are some things we do as senior leaders others on the team can’t understand – and we shouldn’t expect them to.

As a leader, I have to consistently remind myself one person’s big deal may not be another person’s big deal.

Those in finance naturally believe their ministry is critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to finances above everything else. It’s their big deal.

Those in small group ministry naturally believe their ministry is most critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to small group ministry above everything else. It’s their big deal.

Those in worship planning naturally believe their ministry is most critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to worship planning above everything else. It’s their big deal.

Those in children’s ministry naturally believe their ministry is most critical to the success of the church, which may lead them to think attention should be given to children’s ministry above everything else. It’s their big deal.

You get the point. 

Of course, the ultimate “big deal” is the vision of the organization. As a church, our big deal – our vision – is to “lead people to Jesus and nurture them in their faith“. While everyone on our team agrees with this vision, they are also rightfully passionate about – and actively involved in – their specific role in accomplishing the vision. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want them owning their individual ministry and doing everything they can to see it prosper. But, at times this specially focused passion for their role can cloud their ability to see the needs of other ministries.

Of course, all ministries have equal importance in accomplishing the vision – therefore, part of a leader’s job is balancing all the “big deals” towards one combined BIG DEAL – the shared vision. We can’t spend all our energy, time, and resources in one particular ministry, as important as it is to the success of the church.

Frankly, finding balance between these competing big deals has always been difficult for me, and at times one ministry does require greater attention than others. The key learning for me is I must continually recognize the individual contribution each ministry brings to our overall success, while always keeping the big picture in my mind of what we are trying to accomplish. I can’t allow one ministry to cloud my perspective of other ministries.

It’s a unique role of senior leaders others on the team may not always understand – or even appreciate. And, we shouldn’t expect them to.

Leaders, do you share this dilemma? How do you balance the big deals within your organization?

Faith Obeys, Without Knowing How – An Encouragement to Walk By Faith

Pastor

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say,’I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” Samuel did what the LORD said.1 Samuel 16:2-4a

God sent Samuel to annoint David king. He was removing Saul from power. It was a dangerous and scary assignment and it made no sense politically or practically. Speaking against the king could bring death, but not only that, Saul looked like a king. David was an unknown kid.

Samuel was naturally afraid. Wasn’t there some other way? Samuel surely must have thought.

God’s plan was made. He wouldn’t budge because of Samuel’s fear. God never leads by popular opinion, so Samuel obeyed.

That’s what faith does.

When Samuel obeyed God, EVEN THOUGH it didn’t make sense – in his mind – for him to do so, he was exhibiting his faith in God. Faith always moves without seeing or understanding. Faith is always prior to receiving the complete picture or having all the answers. Faith precedes victory.

Every time.

If we want to please God, we have to obey Him at the point it seems to make no sense to do so.

Years ago our family traveled to our nation’s capital on vacation. I have spent considerable time in the city, as a college intern and during my political and business days. It is one of my favorite places to visit. Our boys had never been. I told them this would not be an enjoyable trip – at least not for the first few days. At nine and twelve years of age, and not being musuem people, I knew they would be bored at first and I wanted to prepare them.

I was right.

I told them, however, if they would obey me they would be glad they had been by the time we finished the trip. When we left Washington, DC, both boys were sad to say goodbye to the city. They had fallen in love with it. The twelve year old even said he wanted to attend a college there. (He later changed his mind.)

This is the way it is sometimes in our Christian walk.

Obeying God, following Him, and carrying out His plan, especially when it contradicts our own, is not always the first thing we want to do. It won’t even seem to make sense at times.

It may seem impossible.
It will likely make us afraid.
It stretches us beyond our abilities.
It might be uncomfortable.
It requires more resources than appears available.

But, as we obey God, and He works His will through our obedience, God blesses us in ways we never expected, and we begin to experience what it means “all things work for good for those who love the Lord”. (Romans 8:28)

Samuel didn’t want to go find David, but he obeyed. And, guess what? God knew what He was doing.

Duh!

And, God knows what He is doing in your life too!

You need only to trust and obey!

In what area of your life are you most having to walk by faith these days? 

6 Tips for Happier, Healthier Relationships when the Relationship has been Injured

family prayer

Do you have any injured relationships in your life?

Broken hearts, hurt feelings, or grudges from the past are common among relationships. At some point we all have relationships, which have gone from bad to worst.

In fact, sometimes the people we have to be around, by default – blood relatives, in-laws, or co-workers – are people we wouldn’t choose to be around unless we had to be.

It’s true, isn’t it? And, the truth hurts sometimes, doesn’t it?

(Raise your hand if that’s your story.)

What should you do? How should you respond to the one who has hurt you the most – or who always seems to say the wrong thing – or who is, honestly, even mean at times? How do you respond to the most difficult relationships in your life?

You can’t control other people’s response – only yours, but how should you act in those injured relationships?

I want to encourage the Biblical approach.

Here are 6 tips for healthier, happier relationships:

Bite your tongue

When you are tempted to snap back – don’t. Sure, it will be difficult, even seemingly unfair at times, but see it as spiritual discipline training. (James 1:26) Memorize and learn to pray Psalm 141:3. (Look it up. It’s the first step towards learning it.)

Extend grace

Forgive. Let go of a grudge. Even though it may not be received well and nothing may change in the relationship, it will change you. (1 Peter 4:10, Colossians 3:13)

Put on another’s shoes

Anyone who hurts you has a story. Usually they were hurt too – by someone. Remember, hurt people hurt people. Think about where the other person is coming from before (or as) you encounter them. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Practice patience

Be honest, some relationships require more patience than you thought you had, don’t they? But, isn’t this what we are called to do as believers? It is a “fruit of the spirit”. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Exercise humility

When we humble ourselves, we may get taken advantage of at times, but God always rewards humility. Who knows? It may be the break through in the relationship. (James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6)

Pray for them

The last one is sometimes the most difficult, but oh how Biblical! Prayer releases the burden to the burden bearer the One whose yoke is easy the One who paid for your sins. Prayer can even change the dynamics of a relationship. Pray for the awkward, difficult, shattered and broken relationships in your life and the people who caused them. In the most tense moments this holiday season, slip away and pray. (Matthew 5:44)

Apply liberally, as needed.

You’ll have healthier, happier relationships. Trust me.

Do you have a difficult relationship facing you? What tips do you have?

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?

12 Great Leadership Questions Every Leader Should Be Asking

what is the answer

One of the best things a leader can do is ask the right questions. I love to say to our team, “I only know what I know.” The leader can often be the last to know where there is a problem or what others are thinking, so asking questions is critical to good leadership.

I love this quote from Jack Welch: “When you’re a contributor you try to have all the answers. When you’re a leader, your job is to have all the questions.”

Great leaders ask great questions.

Here are 12 great leadership questions every leader should be asking:

What can we learn from this? (This is a great evaluation question – especially after something goes wrong.)

Do you understand what I’m asking you to do? (This should be asked every time a project is assigned.)

How can I help you? (This should be asked periodically – and sincerely.)

What’s next? (Great leaders are always asking this question – inside and outside the organization.)

Where should we be placing our best energy? (I like to ask this question quarterly to help plan our goals and objectives for the upcoming season.)

What am I missing or forgetting? (This question can never be asked too often. It’s sometimes good to allow people to anonymously answer this one.)

How can we do it better next time? (Great evaluation question after events or special projects.)

What do you think? (Anytime someone asks my opinion. They often already know – they just want someone to give them assurance.)

What changes could we implement to make your work life better? (This question is needed when a team member begins to feel overwhelmed – but is always appreciated.)

What would you do differently if you had my position? (I like this as an annual question to reflect on the coming year – but it’s good anytime.)

Are you enjoying your work? (You’ll get some unique answers to this one, but it should be asked regularly.)

What would you like to ask me, but you haven’t had an opportunity? (I ask this one at staff meetings and retreats. Sometimes they won’t ask in the group, but email me later.)

Pick a few of those questions, try them on your team, and let me know your results.

What question would you add? (See, there’s another great question.)

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?