7 False Beliefs of the Leadership Vacuum

vacuum

Many times a leader can be clueless about the real health of the organization they lead. If a leader refuses to solicit feedback, doesn’t listen to criticism or stops learning, they can begin to believe everything is under control — when in reality — things are falling apart around them.

I once watched as a church crumbled apart while the pastor thought everything was wonderful. He always had an excuse for declining numbers and never welcomed input from others. It got bad enough for the church to have to ask him to leave. It was messy. It could have been avoided, in my opinion.

And, sadly, that could be the stories of hundreds of churches and organizations.

The best leaders, however, avoid what I call the leadership vacuum.

I have heard the term leadership vacuum used to describe the need for more leaders, but I believe the biggest void may be within leaders themselves.

The leader in a leadership vacuum believes:

Everyone on the team understands me. And, I understand them.

Everyone on the team thinks like I think. We are in complete unity. I know this without asking anyone.

Everyone on the team likes me. And, they are glad I’m the leader.

My team is completely healthy. And, so am I. We don’t need to worry about that kind of thing.

I am this team. This team needs me. In fact, they couldn’t do it without me.

The organization is headed in the right direction in every area. We don’t need any changes.

Our systems and plans are flawless. Nothing can stop us now.

Granted, any or all of these may be true at a given time, but if we always assume they are is when we get into trouble as a leader. When the leader is clueless to the real problems and needs in the organization, he or she is living in the leadership vacuum. The best leaders are aware of the vacuum trap and guard against it in their leadership.

Leaders, have you ever lived in the leadership vacuum? Are you there now?

Have you followed a leader in the vacuum?

7 Things That Weaken Leadership

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There are times I’m a better leader than other times. Sometimes that my fault. Other times the cause is unavoidable. If we can begin to identify what interrupts strong leadership, we can become better leaders. I have personally experienced some things in my own life that weaken my leadership. I am consistently finding ways to guard against them.

Here are 7 things that weaken leadership:

Distractions – As leaders, we do our best work when we are pointing people toward worthy visions. Some would say that’s precisely what leadership does. It’s easy to get distracted with things that, while they may be good, they don’t help move the organization towards the vision. In fact, they delay progress towards the vision.  I’ve also learned that I need to be leading in my strengths and if I ever get weak in my courage to say no to some things, my yes will be far less valuable.

Lack of discipline – It matters not that there is a great vision if we don’t discipline ourselves to reach it. That includes having good plans  good goals. Good objectives. Good systems and strategies.

Ceased learning – Leading others to grow requires leaders who are growing. When I stop the creativity I feed my mind, I cease to have anything new to offer the team I’m trying to lead. Life becomes rather stale — quickly.

Negative influences – It’s hard to be the only positive in a room full of negatives. Sometimes as a leader I’ve felt like more cheerleader than coach. It’s one reason I surround myself with people who have a good outlook on life. I don’t want all “yes” people, but if everything is always an immediate “no” — or “I don’t like it but I have nothing better to offer” — that’s draining and it is only going to bring down me and the strength of the rest of the team.

Fear – Risk is involved in every leadership decision. Notice I said every. And I meant every. I didn’t say risk was involved in every decision a leader makes but every leadership decision. Leadership is taking people to an unknown. That involves risk. Every time. And every risk involves a certain level of fear. That’s natural. Fear keeps leaders from moving forward when they allow the fear to dominate the decision more than the opportunity of the risk.

Pride – Pride goes before the fall. Pride destroys. Absolute pride destroys absolutely. Okay I embellished that one, but you get the point. Prideful leaders are always weakened by that pride. No one truly follows a prideful leader. They may obey. They may even be infatuated for a season. But, they don’t follow.

Contentment – Leadership involves a sense of urgency. When we lose that we lose the inner drive to lead well. We become weakened by our own loss of personal momentum.

Success – All of us love to succeed. I think attempting to is a pretty good goal. We might even plan for it. :) Sadly, though, sometimes a little success can usher in complacency. We can begin to think we’ve figured out a system to success. Before long, we don’t think we have to be intentional anymore — maybe not even have to try as hard as we used to try. We can become weak quickly by our own delusions of grandeur.

Those are a few things that have weakened my leadership.

What would you add to my list?

A Word to the Introverted Pastor: Be Extroverted on Sunday

Man And Woman Shaking Hands

I have a strong word of encouragement to the introverted pastor.

Be extroverted on Sunday.

You can do it.

Every time I post about introversion I hear from pastors and church members who talk about how introversion negatively impacts the ministry of the church.

I get it. I really do. In fact, I am it. On a scale of 1 to 10 of introversion — if there were such a scale — I’m probably a 7 or 8. And, I can be a 9 some days. So, I understand.

But, the interaction we have with people is a key role we play in growing and leading the church. I’ve written in numerous posts that just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I don’t love people. There may be some pastors who don’t really love people — and I personally don’t see how they can be very successful if that’s the case — but introversion is a personality trait. It’s not an indicator of how deeply a person loves people.

I love people. Really. Especially people who are excited about what God is doing in their life. That motivates me. My introversion, however, if I’m not careful, can keep me from interacting even with people I love.

If you asked most people in the churches where I have served as pastor, other than those who know me really well, they are surprised I am an introvert based on my Sunday interactions with people. I’m very extroverted on Sundays. 

So how do I do it?

Here are a few thoughts.

You have to be intentional. You have to work at it. I’m not saying it will be easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? I realize that Sunday is coming. I plan my week around it. I have lots of introverted during my week. For example, I am very careful what I plan for Saturday night, because I know I need to be at my best for Sunday. It is rare for me to schedule a large social gathering on Saturday nights, for example. In fact, I’ve found that Cheryl and my Saturday date days are the perfect preparation for an extroverted Sunday. (Obviously that’s easier for us now as empty-nesters, but I was equally protective of my Saturday night when we had children at home.)

Your family will have to cooperate. This is the hardest one, because it obviously involves other people. The key for us is that my family knows me as I know them. They understand that Sunday takes so much out of me mentally and physically. They realize I need time to recover from a very extroverted Sunday. The ride to the restaurant for Sunday lunch is usually pretty quiet. Over the years, when the boys were home and now that it’s just Cheryl and me, my family has learned that if I have my introverted recovery time I’m more engaging with them the rest of the day. It is a way they partner with me in ministry. (I sense a need to clarify. My family understands my introversion — but I don’t think they ever feel slighted because of it. That takes intentionality too.)

Realize it’s for a purpose. When I taught a very large Sunday school class (over 100 people), every week I’d leave the room as I was praying at the close of my lesson. It seemed the humble thing to do, and I was sincere in that, but honestly, it was the “safest” approach for this introvert. When I came into ministry and was in my first church, I continued this practice. I would “escape” during my prayer to the back of the sanctuary. A dear older deacon pulled me aside one day. He gently, in a very helpful way, said, “Ron, if as you’re praying you’ll walk to the vestibule and be there to shake people’s hands as they leave, they’ll be more likely to return the next week.” I’ve been doing that ever since — and how right he was. One of the most frequent comments I receive from visitors is how they enjoyed meeting the pastor. I can’t imagine it any other way now. It fuels me and them. I remain thankful for the wisdom of that deacon.

Rely on Holy Spirit help. The pastor that inspired me most in my spiritual walk when I was a 20-something year old trying to figure out my life direction emailed me recently. He had read one of my introversion posts and wanted to echo the sentiments in it. He said he has always marveled at how many introverted pastors he has seen God call to lead in the church — even very large churches. He wrote, “I’ve been an introverted pastor of large churches for 39 years now. Before every service I’m saying the same thing, ‘God, I can’t do this—now what are you going to do about that?!’” His humble surrender to God’s hand has shaped some powerful ministries under his leadership. I loved being able to email back to one of my mentors that I’ve had a similar prayer every Sunday — for a few less years.

Just as Moses, Gideon, and others led through what they felt would handicap them in following God’s call, introverted pastor, you can do this. With God’s help, an understanding family, and some hard, purposeful, intentional work – if God has called you to it, He will equip you. Surrender to His strength and will.

And, the reward is worth it!

Stuck in the Middle – By Wayne Hastings

My friend Wayne Hastings is a pastor, author, speaker and business consultant. You can contact Wayne, and read his Blog, by visiting his website, waynehastings.com. He and his wife Pam live in Franklin, TN. His latest book “The Way Back From Loss” released this week. It’s a 60-day devotional focused on how, when we suffer loss of any kind. As a minister, we need this book. Here’s a sample of Wayne’s work.

Stuck in the Middle

“Christian living demands that we keep our feet on the ground; it also asks us to make a leap of faith. A Christian who stays put is no better than a statue.” —Eugene H. Peterson

Today’s Verse: “The Israelites grumbled and deplored their situation, accusing Moses and Aaron, to whom the whole congregation said, ‘Would that we had died in Egypt! Or that we had died in this wilderness! . . . Is it not better to return to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2–3 AMP)

Stealers Wheel recorded a hit song called Stuck in the Middle with You. It’s upbeat, but lines like “Trying to make some sense of it all, but I can see that it makes no sense at all” reveal that it’s an anthem to many lost hopes, ideas, goals, and beginnings.
We begin many things in life with fanfare and celebration. New things start happening. The “change” word is bandied about. Plans and dreams are set in place. It all looks so good.

Then, in the middle, something happens. We get stuck. Whether it’s because of our feelings, circumstances, or the voice of the Deceiver, we slow down. We find ourselves flailing in the quicksand of the middle. The emotional high is lost, we can’t see the end for trying, and the energy for it all just slowly disappears.

The Israelites suffered in the middle. Initially, the former slaves were heading to the Promised Land and everything looked great. Seas parted, food rained down from heaven, and God’s light led their way. But, for some reason, they got stuck in the middle. An eleven-day journey took forty years and the original “team” never made it.

If any group “had it all,” it was this group. If any group should have never felt loss, it was this group.
So what happened? And how do we free ourselves from being stuck?

The Israelites lacked vision. When the twelve came back from spying out the Promised Land (Numbers 13 and 14), the people chose to be negative. While Joshua and Caleb saw riches, the other ten saw disaster. They lost vision of all the good that could lie before them. Instead of seeing positive possibilities for the future, they wanted to return to the bondage of the past.

They had unbelief. It’s a progression. Lack of vision leads to doubt, which leads to more unbelief: “This is too hard!” “Why did we ever start this?”
“It doesn’t make sense.”

They were disobedient. God set a clear path before them and yet they strayed from it. They let their own pride, desire, and plans get in the way of a perfect plan engineered by God.

Letting the middle get in the way will stop any progress or growth. People think they are doing fine just by getting near to a new beginning. But then excellence gets reduced to acceptable and mediocrity is just a breath away.
We need to battle through the fatigue of the middle.

INSIGHT: When we are in the middle of loss, it’s tempting to quit and just stay stuck in the middle. When you feel that temptation, look up, not back. Look up, not at your circumstances, feelings, or regrets. Look up and let God renew your vision and belief, and prompt you to obey Him.

PRAYER: Ask God to lead and guide you out of the middle. Seek His direction and vision. Ask Him to increase your patience and your courage to move forward instead of looking back.

LIFE CHOICES:
• Study Numbers 13 and 14. Take note of the responses of three different groups of people: Joshua and Caleb, the other ten spies, and the people. Choose to follow the response that will help you out of the middle.
• Understand that in a season of loss, there will always be times when you feel stuck. Learn to recognize how it happens and choose to respond out of vision, faith, and obedience rather than your feelings, thoughts, or circumstances.
• Discover the courage to look at your situation. When you’re in the middle—discouraged and frustrated—ask yourself, “What do I want to be doing ten years from now? How do I want to have grown by that time?” Looking this far ahead can release you from today’s angst and remaining stuck in it.

Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1980 and 2000), 171

The Biggest Challenge for Me in Leading Church Revitalization

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When I left a very successful church plant (my second plant) to pastor a very established, more traditional church many of my friends in ministry told me I was crazy. It’s not that they didn’t think God could be in it — they just knew me well enough that it didn’t seem like something I would do. I’m a doer. I like progress. I like action. And change. I’m not afraid to push the boundaries.

Those qualities don’t always fit well in some established churches.

So, now my friends often ask me what the biggest struggle has been for me in leading church revitalization. And, it’s not what I would have expected it to be. We’ve actually had a great couple of years. There have been a few bumps along the way, but God has shown up every step of the way. (Imagine that!) I previously wrote about the balance of leading for me and leading for the organization . My greatest challenge is similar.

The biggest challenge for me in leading church revitalization has been…

Leading with purpose and intentionality without being arrogant or self-serving.

I want progress. Still. That hasn’t changed.

But, I don’t want it to be about me or what I think the church should look like.

I want the church to grow. There are lots of unchurched people where I live. (Where you live too I would assume.) And, I think we have an option for some of them.

But, I don’t think we are the only option. Nor should we try to be.

I want to see the church change — be healthy — grow again.

But, I don’t want the church to lose the heritage, history, or culture that has existed for over 100 years. (Long before I was alive.)

I want to spur momentum. I want to use the skills and experience God has given me to lead, cast visions, strategize and organize.

But, I don’t want my abilities to be what we are known for as a church.

I want to feel successful in my efforts. I want God to use me.

But, I don’t want to be the one to get the glory.

How do I do that?

Here are 7 ways I’m attempting to lead with purpose and intentionality without being arrogant or self-serving:

I’m attempting to guard my heart and stay close to Jesus.

I have a clear purpose and calling. I know what God has asked me to do and what the people have called me to do.

I allow others to speak into my life. (And, I’ve had to listen a few times during this process.)

I give others a part in the plan; trying to bring people along willingly, not because I bullied them into my way of doing things.

I am trying to be patient with those who aren’t with me yet, while realizing some never will be — and being okay with that.

I am trying not to allow the few negatives I receive (which have happened often) to overpower the larger audience of positives that the church is experiencing. And, thankfully, the great majority of people are happy with where we are going.

I am attempting to be strategic with change. Well positioned. Well planned. Well communicated.

How do you maintain the balance pushing for progress with humility?

7 Ways to Tell It’s Time for Change in the Organizational Structure

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

I’ve been a leader in an almost 200 year old company and a new business. I’ve led in a church plant and now in an over 100 years old established church. One thing I’ve learned is that there are many similarities in organizational structure — especially when it comes to the need for changing that structure.

Healthy organizations maintain an unchanging vision long-term by being willing to change their organizational structure as needed.

When it comes to organizational structure not everything needs changing. If the structure works. Keep it. It’s comfortable. People understand it. Progress is happening.

But progress is happening is key.

There are times to change. It’s important that leaders realize those times.

How do you know when organizational structural change is needed?

Here are 7 considerations to discern it is time:

When you continually encounter obstacles trying to move forward. If every decision you are trying to make hits roadblocks or dead ends, it may be time to build a new road.

When the steps to make the change is more exhausting than the value the change provides. Change should be exhilarating once you get to it. Change brings momentum. When the process to get there is so long or difficult that it wears you out and you’ve got no excitement left — it may be time for some structure change.

When you can no longer attract leaders. When people are controlled more than empowered you will attract doers but you won’t attract visionary leaders. Creative leadership will die, because genuine leaders rebel against controlling environments.

When you spend more time discussing than doing. Granted we need to meet about some things. We need to plan, strategize and organize. I suggest we have better meetings, but more than that we need action. Our visions are hungry for progress towards them. Meetings should create action. The best structures help you get busy doing not attending yet another meeting.

When the structure you have now isn’t sustainable long term. Structure based upon people, for example, rather than progress, will eventually need changing as people change. Ask yourself will this structure work 10 years from now? If not, the time to change is now.

When all creativity is structured out of the system. Sometimes the process can become so clearly defined that nothing new is needed. There is no room for different ideas or opinions. No one needs them anymore. Every question is answered. When people fall into routines, they get bored, and complacency becomes the norm. Development stops. Time for some structural change.

When there is no longer any confusion. If everything is so carefully scripted you may need some organizational structure change. Some of the best discoveries are found amidst chaos. I love what Andy Stanley says about “a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved”. Good organizations have some of those.

Those are some of my thoughts based on experience. What would you add to my list?

5 Times You May Need to Micromanage Your Team

Leader and big red arrow

I prefer to be a macro-manager. I like to lead leaders. That means I try to cast the vision for a team and get out of the way, releasing each team member to do his or her work in their own individual way.

There are times, however, where more micro-management may be needed by senior leadership. More coaching, encouraging or correction may be needed for a season.

Here are 5 times to consider some micromanagement:

When a team member is new to the organization. They need to learn your culture and way of doing things. They don’t know. This doesn’t mean you don’t allow them to invent, dream and discover, but they also need to know how decisions are made, the unwritten rules, and the internal workings of the environment. It will serve everyone well and they’ll last longer on the team if these are learned early in their tenure.

When a team or team leader has been severely crippled by injury or stress. I’ve had a few times where a member of our team just wasn’t mentally or emotionally capable of making the right decisions. It could be what they were dealing with in their personal life or with the stress of their work, but I had to step in and help them more than I normally would for a season to help them succeed.

When in a state of uncertainty, transition or change. I once had a strong leader quit abruptly from his position. His team was devastated. I quickly realized they had relied too much on his leadership and were now lost without him. It required more of my time initially until we could raise up new leadership and better empower everyone on the team.

When tackling a new objective, critical to the organization. This is especially true when, as the senior leader, I’m the architect of the idea. They need more of my time to make sure things are going the way I envisioned them to go. That doesn’t mean the outcome will look exactly like I planned, but in the initial start, the team can waste time and resources trying to figure me out without my input, rather than doing productive work.

When a team member is underperforming in relation to others. As a leader, I feel it is part of my role to help people perform at their highest level possible. Sometimes that requires coaching, sometimes instruction, and sometimes even discipline. Part of being a leader is recognizing potential in people and helping them realize that potential within the organization. For a season, to help someone get on track for success on our team, (or even to discover they aren’t a fit for our team) I have to manage closer than I normally prefer.

I obviously wrote this in the context of an organization and not specific to the church, but these principles equally apply in the church. The important thing is that the end goals and objectives need to be reached, so at certain critical times a leader must step in and ensure the vision is being accomplished.

Are there other times you revert to micromanagement?

How to be a better blogger. Write poorly — but do it often.

Blog word.

Do you want to be a better blogger?

I have some advice.

Just a warning, you won’t hear this advice everywhere. In fact, it runs contrary to most of the better blogging advice out there — perhaps even some I’ve probably offered people in the past.

But, I believe it’s true. Especially for the beginning blogger.

Do you want to be a better blogger?

Write poorly — but do it often.

Yes, that’s what I said.

I think one key to being a better blogger is to write more bad posts.

Okay, Ron, you’ve lost me.

Let me explain with an illustration.

People ask me all the time how I became a runner. I run an average of 5-6 miles a day. I ran a marathon a few years ago. I’ve run dozens of half marathons. I’m planning to run another full marathon this fall.

My discipline is not to run. I’d do it everyday.

But, I once hated running. Despised it. I had been a runner earlier in life, but thought I outgrew it as I got older. I even announced from behind a pulpit one day that I’d never run again — unless I was being chased by an angry deacon. :)

Then one day I decided to give it another try. I don’t know why. I just did.

Someone gave me advice — I’m not sure who now — but it was brilliant. They suggested I set a time limit for running and always finish that goal. It could be 20 or 30 minutes. If I couldn’t run that long at the time, the advice was to finish the time, running when I could and walking the rest.

I’d run for 3 minutes and walk for a while. Then I’d run 5 minutes — then walk some more. I kept this up but always tried to complete my allotted time. Eventually, over the weeks, I found myself filling the entire time running. And soon learning to love every minute.

That’s my running story. How I became a runner.

And now you’re wondering…

How does my running story fit into encouragement about blogging?

Well,

Write poorly — but do it often.

Just write blog posts.

Please don’t misunderstand. “Poorly” is probably a poor word choice. It exaggerates my point, but I’m not saying write junk. Give it your best effort. If you’re not any good at writing period, maybe blogging isn’t you’re thing. But if you have a few minimal skills, this might work to make you better over time. You just need to write — the best you can — more often.

Set a goal of how many you want to write per week and do it. Write to fill your goal. If your goal is 3 posts a week — write three posts a week. If it’s 7 — write 7. (That’s probably too many, but it’s your goal.)

Finish your goal. Every week.

You won’t always write the best posts. (You’ll walk more than you run sometimes.) You’ll need to improve. A few years from now you’ll look back at some of your older posts and see how much better they could have been. But, you’ll get better the more you write. Practice makes perfect (or near perfect) as they say.

The problem for many runners is they expect to run the 6 milers as soon as they got off the couch. It takes time. Discipline. Consistent effort. Sometimes walking more than you run. Getting better as you go.

It’s the same with blogging.