7 Thoughts for More Effective Prayer from a Stressed Out Leader Named Hezekiah

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Hezekiah ruled over Judah and was a good and faithful king.

Hezekiah often became the target of warring nations. The king of Assyria, which was a much more powerful nation, made plans to overthrow Hezekiah’s kingdom. Throughout the stressful time in leadership, Hezekiah consistently used the same battle plan.

He went before the Lord in prayer — and — he followed the Lord’s commands.

Hezekiah relied on prayer to rule his life. This king knew how to pray and he prayed in a way that got results.

At one point, the Assyrian king launched a huge smear campaign against Hezekiah with his own people. It scared Hezekiah’s people.

Hezekiah heard about the threat and went before the Lord. God assured Hezekiah everything would be okay, but the Assyrians wouldn’t let up their verbal assaults. They kept taunting the kingdom of Hezekiah, throwing threats towards Hezekiah. Finally, they sent a letter by messenger to Hezekiah, which basically said, “The Assyrians are tough and they are coming for you next.”

It was a credible, realistic threat. In a practical sense, Hezekiah had reason to be afraid.

What do you do when you are backed into a corner as a leader and you’re about to face something bigger than your ability to handle?

Well, Hezekiah received the letter with all the threats and began to pray.

We find this account in 2 Kings 19:14-19

What can we learn from listening in as Hezekiah prayed?

Here are 7 Thoughts for More Effective Prayer from a Stressed Out Leader Named Hezekiah:

Hezekiah got alone with God. There is corporate prayer like we do at church, and there is prayer where a few are gathered, but probably some of the most effective prayer time of your life will be the time you invest alone with God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was immediate. His prayer wasn’t an after thought. It was prior to making his plans. We are so geared to react as leaders that it’s hard for us to go first to God. He may be second or third or when we are backed into a corner and have no choice, but we need to develop a discipline and habit to make God the first place we turn in our lives. Like Hezekiah.

Hezekiah’s prayer was open and honest. Hezekiah was transparent before the Lord. I love the imagery here in this prayer story of Hezekiah. He took the letter, went to the house of the Lord, and spread it out before Him. I get this visual image of Hezekiah, and this letter — laying it there on the table, and saying, “Okay, God, what now? What do I do next? What’s my first move?”

Are you in a tough spot right now? You may just need to get you some note cards — write down all the things you are struggling with — lay them out on a table and say, “Okay God, here are my struggles. I can’t do anything about them. What now?”

Writing your prayer requests before God is a great idea for 2 reasons.

a. It helps you remember to pray for them.

b. It helps you to watch as God answers. We get more answers than we realize if we only ask.

Hezekiah’s prayer was honoring, humble and respectful of who God is. Hezekiah knew his place as king — and he knew God’s place in the Kingdom. Hezekiah was king of a nation and that is an important job, yet Hezekiah willingly humbled himself in prayer, because he knew his place before the King of kings.

Hezekiah’s prayer was bold. He said, “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD…” Hezekiah had the kind of relationship with God where it wasn’t a surprise when Hezekiah showed up to pray. They talked frequently; probably throughout the day. Because of that relationship, Hezekiah didn’t wonder if God would be there when he came before Him. He knew he could ask God to act on his behalf.

The more you grow in your relationship with God, the bolder your prayers can become, because the more your heart will begin to line up with God’s heart.

Hezekiah’s prayer was dependent. In verses 17-18 he prays, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.” Hezekiah knew he was out of his league facing the Assyrians. From the way I see that Hezekiah responded to life, however, I don’t think it mattered the size of the battle. Hezekiah was going to depend on God. Every time. In every situation.

Hezekiah’s prayer was certain. Because it was based on his personal faith and trust in God. In verse 19, Hezekiah prayed, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Hezekiah had a faith in God that allowed him to pray with confidence. You need to understand that faith is always based on the promises of God. Some things God has promised to do — and some He hasn’t. God has promised to always get glory for Himself and always work things for an ultimate good. He hasn’t promised to rid everyone of cancer or to heal every bad relationship. Or settle every leadership issue we face.

(That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for everything. We don’t know His will, but we can’t guarantee God to do that which He hasn’t promised to do.) Sometimes we get upset because God doesn’t do something we asked or wanted Him to do but the fact is He had never promised to do it.

Hezekiah knew God had promised to save His people. He knew God had placed him in the position of authority over them. He had confidence that God would do what He had promised to do. Hezekiah trusted God to be faithful to His word so he was willing to act in faith.

What situations are you dealing with today that you know you are helpless to do on your own and you desperately desire God’s answer?

Are you a stressed out leader?

Get alone with God, spread your problems out before Him honestly, humbly, and boldly; then, allow His will to be done, as you wait for His response.

7 Bad Decisions in a Declining or Plateauing Organization

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Recently I wrote a post about 7 tensions in fast growth situations. I have had the pleasure of leading (and am today) in churches and a business in fast growth mode. Thankfully. As exciting as those seasons are, they do produce some tension.

But, I have to be honest. Equally important, in the formation of me as a leader, is that I’ve had great experience in leading through difficult days also. Mostly in the business world — although I’ve entered a church in the midst of these days — I’ve led on the other side of the equation too. I’ve been in the decline. I’ve let when we were stagnant. It hurts. It isn’t fun.

I talk to churches every single day that are declining or plateaued. Apparently, according to some statistics, that represents about 75-80% of churches these days. And, I know there are many struggling businesses also. (I’ve been there.) So, a post addressing organization in this season is equally — if not more — needed.

And, much of what I’ve learned in this post I learned through suffering through my bad decisions. When we are in decline, or feel as if we are about to enter that season, we make some bad decisions — out of a natural reaction — during those days.

Here are 7 bad decisions in a declining or plateaued organization:

Rejecting the vision. You’ll start to question the reason you once existed. That’s normal. And, maybe it was an ill-conceived or short-sighted vision from the beginning. Something tells me, however, that’s not true and you’d be offended that I even made the suggestion. If that’s the case, maybe you just need to get more passionate again about that which you were once very passionate.

Playing the blame game. Declining hurts and our natural tendency is to blame someone for the pain. Who wants to own this — right? But that game never has a winner. And produces a whole lot of losers. Eventually, as leaders we’ve got to own the problems — their ours to deal with now — regardless of how they started or where the original fault rests.

Trying a 1,000 bad ideas. We scurry. We scramble. We anxiously move from one idea to another . And, it’s not that the ideas themselves are bad, it’s that we go into them with no real plan and we never really locking down on anything solid. We are just punching in the air looking for any blow that lands. We will try anything and everything — if we hear it was successful elsewhere let’s do it — but we never really implement any of them well. People get confused. Staff gets frustrated. Nothing moves forward.

Not taking any risks. The opposite is also true — sometimes at the same time, but in different areas of the church or organization. We lock down. Everything. We play it safe — afraid of losing what we still have. We stop investing in anything new. We go back to the same bad ideas we left years ago. We stand still hoping the earth will eventually stop shifting. It doesn’t. It just permits the earthquakes to keep trembling and eventually get bigger. People get bored. Tradition sings loudly as a tired, worn out system, but we are too afraid to change it causes further decline.

Failure to admit there is a problem. We make excuses. We pretend everything is awesome. We label everything amazing. Even when it’s not and we wish it were. Listen, if everyone knows there’s a problem own it. Don’t run from it. That never helps. Own it.

Not addressing the real problems. We get rid of the low hanging fruit, but we never tackle the real roots of the issue. Leading towards revitalization requires hard choices. Good leadership with full punches. There’s no time to waste.

Focusing only on the losses. Things are bad, aren’t they? You know it and so does everyone else. Some days it seems nothing could go right and you go home many days feeling defeated. (I’ve been there leader — it’s tough and I’m praying a general prayer for you as I type this.) But, that may be the loudest story but it’s not the only story. There are likely some wins occurring. And, not everyone is seeing things as bleak as you are — most likely. There are people who still believe in you and the vision and they just need a leader who will re-energize them, create a good, strong, healthy plan and lead them out of the mess. Start by celebrating something. Make it genuine. Don’t overkill. But look for some half full glasses. They’re hidden behind the cloudy ones. Maybe it’s simply the good vision and foundation upon which you were formed. Celebrate that. Maybe it’s that there are some people who have weathered lots of storms and stayed in the boat. That’s worth shouting victory about — isn’t it? Focus on a win! Now! Do it! Then let’s get the rest of this party started. This is not a time for belly-aching. This is a time to get busy again!

Have you been — or are you in — a declining situation?

Please take note of these. Good days can be just around the corner if you stay faithful, don’t act stupid, and hold on for the return. I’m pulling for you leader!

(And, for the one who says, “You didn’t use any Scripture or talk about prayer at all.” I say this — having been in a declining situation before, I’d say prayer is not absent. And, most pastors in a declining setting know the Scriptures as well as in a growing setting. This is a leadership post (and mostly a leadership blog). And, that’s what this post is addressing.)

7 Tensions You Can Expect in Fast Growth

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I’ve been blessed to be a part of several organizations experiencing exponential growth. Once in business and with a few churches, we had what was considered explosive growth.

As wonderful as growth is — and as much as we enjoy it as leaders — there are tensions associated with fast growth.

Here are 7 tensions you can expect in fast growth:

Miscommunication. There is too much activity to keep everyone informed about everything. That bothers those who are used to “being in the know”. The organization will need to improve in this area, but during fast growth, expect mishaps in communication.

Changing roles. Jobs will change. People will do things they never expected to do. There will be lots of “all hands on deck” opportunities. No one gets a reprieve from doing what needs to be done.

Power struggles. There will almost always be turf scuffles during fast growth. One potential reason is what used to be a small, controlled group of people making decisions now needs to broaden to include more people. That feel uncomfortable to some. Providing clarity of roles can help some, but continually reminding people of the vision seems to work best. Still, some simply may not like the new size of the organization — and may not last.

Burnout. There will never be enough leaders or people during times of fast growth. It’s fun for a while, but begins to wear on people after an extended period. New leaders must be recruited and developed.

Confusion. “I don’t know.” You can expect to hear that phrase a lot during times of fast growth. And, many times the person saying that will be the leader. And, that’s okay. It’s part of the process. Still, this is a matter to continually work to improve upon over time.

Complacency. When people don’t know what to do — they often do nothing. That’s where leadership is needed, but in seasons of fast growth there aren’t always enough leaders to cover all the bases. If you’re not careful, excellence suffers — and few care. During seasons of fast growth, leaders need to help streamline focus, give clear expectations and hold people accountable for agreed upon goals and objectives. (Don’t ignore all structures — especially in times of fast growth.)

Stretched structures. Current structures will almost never be sufficient to sustain fast growth. The organization will never be the same. New systems and structures will be needed. Leadership must focus on development as much as it does the growth and maintenance of the organization.

None of these are reasons to avoid fast growth, but awareness is the first step to addressing problems.

And, now you know.

Here’s to fast growth! The tension is worth it.

Here are 5 ways I Expand My Leadership Potential

growing team

I think the best leaders expand their influence and leadership potential by continuing to learn and grow in experience. It takes an intentional effort to improve as a leader. You can read books, follow blogs and Tweets, attend conferences, and hang out with other leaders. These are all good practices to improve as a leader.

In my experience, however, my leadership influence grows the fastest when it grows through the people I’m supposed to be leading. Let me explain.

Here are 5 ways I expand my leadership potential?

Invest in other people. It’s amazing, but when I invest in others, they invest in me. I have had several mentoring groups or relationships — where I am supposed to be the mentor, but I feel I learned as much as they did.

Allow someone you lead to lead. When I get out of the way of my team amazing things happen. Now, first, I surround myself with people smarter than me about their area of expertise, but they make my leadership better. I may even get credit for the overall success of the team — but I’m quick to admit — I couldn’t have done it without them.

Promote someone else’s agenda. I’ve learned people have better ideas than me. A lot better ideas. Actually, I’m an idea guy. I have lots of them. But, if the team is bigger than one — there’s always one more idea to consider. I’m a better leader — with more potential — when I open the idea generation task to more people than me.

Celebrate a team member’s success. When I hog the stage — or the recognition — I limit other people’s willingness to contribute to the success of our team. When I share the lime-light I expand my own capacity as a leader — and everyone wins.

Invite other people’s opinions. One of the most dangerous things I’ve seen a leader do is to build an atmosphere of elitism, where no one else is welcome at the table of decision-making. When a leader values a range of thoughts and opinions it makes people feel valued and expands the leadership base of the senior leader and the entire team.

The best leaders I know understand that when the people they lead are growing in their leadership, it spills over into their personal leadership potential.

As a team improves, so improves the leader.

When others who are following a leader grow in their leadership capacity and influence, the senior leader’s capacity and influence increases. It truly is one of the win/win scenarios of leadership.

Invest in others and watch your leadership potential expand.

5 Characteristics of an Antiquated Leader

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What’s important in leadership has changed from when I entered the field of leadership.

Have you noticed?

Leadership principles and practices have had to change because organizations and people have changed.

The fact is that many leaders who are in senior positions these days developed their leadership style in another generation. This has produced a plethora of what I call antiquated leaders.

Antiquated leaders create tension in many organizations, including many churches today.

Perhaps you’ve worked for (or even been — or even are) an antiquated leader.

Here are some characteristics:

Keeps people in a box. People won’t stick around in a box these days. They demand opportunities for growth. There was once a day when you could pay a decent wage and, through policies and rules, control an employee’s actions. That’s not true anymore.

Controls information. Information is king, and these days people have information available to them in the palm of their hands — literally. Today’s leaders must be free with transparent and current information — including what’s stirring in the leader’s mind and where the organization is going.

Enforces a waiting period on young leaders. Young leaders today want an opportunity to explore, take risks, and make an impact in the world — NOW — TODAY. Successful leaders learn to tap into this energy. Keeping young leaders at a distance won’t work anymore.

Assumes a paycheck is enough motivation. That may have been enough at some point, but today’s workforce demands to know they are doing good work. They want to know that what they are doing is making a difference and is valued on the team. The annual company picnic won’t cut it anymore.

Makes the work environment strictly business. The generation entering the new organizational world mixes business with pleasure. They want to enjoy their workplace environment. Today’s leaders must learn to celebrate along the way to success.

Now, take a minute and improve this post with your thoughts.

What would you add to my list?

The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

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There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand — most of these people are leaders now — they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader — but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn — and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team.

It’s a fine line — or a quadrant of the circle — as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership — when you’ve lived in the tension for too long — it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, that frustrates you  nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership — all senior leadership — good or bad leadership — because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be — if you were in the leading position — than what could be — if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for that jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college — it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

That’s why it’s a fine line — hence the tension.

7 Reasons People Are Not Leading Who Could Be

Funny scared man

We need leaders. When Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…” — I’m convinced — some of those workers should be leaders of other workers. Throughout the Scriptures God used men and women to lead others to accomplish great things — all to His glory.

But, I’m equally convinced, that just as their are not enough people working who should be working — some of the workers who should be leading are not leading.

Why?

Here are 7 reasons people are not leading who could be:

They weren’t ever willing to face their fears. Fear failure, fear of rejection, and the fear of the unknown are very real fears. But, fear is an emotion — not necessarily based on truth. Faith is a substance based on a certain — though unseen — reality.

They never had the self-confidence to allow people to follow. I know so many people who sit on the sidelines — even though people believe in them — but they just don’t believe in themselves.

They felt it was self-serving to step into the role of leadership. One of my new favorite sayings (I wrote about it recently) is “Don’t trip over your own humility by refusing to do the right thing.” Yes, leaders can be in the center of attention, and some people are too “humble” to step into that role, but in the meantime, we are missing your leadership.

They waited for someone else to do it. They had a call — or, at least, they knew what needed to be done, and they could have taken the initiative and made it work — but they never did — hoping, waiting for someone else to make the move.

They tried once — it didn’t work — and they gave up too soon. Failure is a part of leadership. Certainly its a part of maturing as a leader. If you give up after the first try you miss out on the best of leadership.

They couldn’t find their place — and didn’t make one. Find something to lead! The world is full of problems. Choose one you are passionate about and start leading. We need you!

They thought they didn’t know how to lead. I’ve been a student of leadership for over 20 years — in leadership positions for over 30 years — and you know my answer to that one? Who does know how to lead? Sure, there are skills to be acquired, leadership is an art to be shaped, but leadership is new every morning, because there world is ever changing. Leadership involves people. When we can completely figure them out — we can completely figure out leadership. Until then – Watch, listen, read, learn, ask questions. Leaders are all around you. You can learn some skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still learning how to lead.

Are any of these the reason you’re not currently leading — but you know you should be?

What are you going to do about it?

7 Common Ways to Lose the Support of Senior Leadership

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As a rule, I’m pretty hard on senior leadership. Having been in such a position for over 25 years I know the bad side of senior leadership. I’ve witnessed it and, in full candor, I’ve been it.

My goal is always to improve senior leadership for all of us. That’s a chief goal of this blog.

But, what about supporting senior leadership?

And, the support from senior leadership for those attempting to follow?

Those are equally important topics in leadership. Any good senior leader knows he or she is nothing without the people on their team. So, that requires confidence in the people trying to follow senior leadership.

What causes senior leadership to lose confidence in people they are trying to lead?

How do you lose the support of senior leadership?

Here are 7 common ways:

Give half-hearted devotion to the vision. Speaking for someone in senior leadership, who feels the weight of completing the vision before us, there’s little time to waste on people who don’t share the same vision. It’s one thing not to understand it, to have questions about it, or need development. Everyone has bad days and bad seasons, but, it’s a completely different story when the person has lost passion — or never had passion — for the vision. Especially when they demonstrate it by their work.

Work for a competing vision. It’s not that there couldn’t be another vision out there — but this is the one we’ve been called to complete. And, any team will crumble under competing visions. When a team member starts competing, it’s hard to maintain the support of senior leadership.

Always bring surprises. As a senior leader, there’s a surprise everyday. Something is always coming that we didn’t see coming. It’s part of the job — and honestly — it keeps most leader-types energized, even when the surprise presents a new challenge. But, because they are so frequent, a healthy team helps limit them. If someone on the team, for example, knows there is a storm brewing, and doesn’t share that with senior leadership in a timely manner, there is the potential for a bigger, more complicated challenge that might have been avoided with prior information. When that happens frequently, the senior leader may lose confidence in the team member.

Never learn from mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Good leaders actually expect them as a part of the development process. It’s easy to lose the confidence of senior leadership, however, when mistakes made never produce improvement — or when there is an attitude of indifference towards them.

Cease to follow through. Work has to be done. And, every great idea is just an idea until someone follows through with a plan of accomplishment. That’s what separates great teams from mediocre teams. When team members never complete the tasks assigned, they lose the confidence of senior leadership. (This one deserves a sidebar. If there are more tasks assigned than possible to complete, there could be a problem on the senior leaders side. This is another post, but sometimes you have to “lead up” to help senior leadership understand this, but make sure the problem is too many tasks and not a need to develop as a task master. Make sure you’re doing all you can to get better at time-management, for example.)

Cause your loyalty to be questioned. This one will raise eyebrows, but it’s true. Obviously, this requires a vision worth following, but loyalty towards senior leadership is necessary to complete the vision. I posted recently on some of my most repeated leadership nuggets. One of them, which I will expand upon in a future post, is “Don’t trip over your own humility”. Basically, I described that as don’t refuse to do the right thing because it seems self-serving. And, that’s certainly the case when you expect loyalty of followers. But, it’s necessary to carry a team forward in a healthy way.

Say one thing. Do another. There’s no place where letting our “yes be yes and our no be no” is more important than on a healthy team. And, every good leader knows this. People-pleasers don’t earn respect on a team once they are exposed. And, yes, this does start with senior leadership, but it must be carried through at every level of the team.

These are meant to be helpful. I work with a lot of ministry leaders who report to a senior pastor. I have never met one who didn’t want the support of the senior pastor, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with everything the pastor did. They want to be supported.When you’ve supposedly bought into the senior leadership, you want to be a team player, this is simply a gut honest look at some common ways to lose their support.

And, the same goes for senior leadership. We want people we can support, believe in, and want to work with on our team. And, every senior leader I know is trying to build such a team.

Granted, some are better at this than others. And, frankly, there are lots of senior leaders who aren’t worthy of much of the items on this list. They are difficult to follow, because they are difficult to trust. They may be incompetent, lack drive and be very controlling. Those are subjects of other posts — subjects I write about frequently. I realize if you’re in one of these situations there may be a natural push-back to a post like this. This post assumes that at some point you believed in the senior leadership.

(And, if not, that too is a subject of another post, but maybe this post serves as another reminder to you that it’s time for a change.)

Senior leaders, anything else you would add?