7 Tips When Attempting to “Lead Up”….Influencing Those Who Lead You

Handshake and teamwork

In ministry and business, I have typically surrounded myself with great young leaders who are 10, 15, even 25 years younger than me. I love the enthusiasm and creative minds of young leaders, and feel a certain calling to invest in the next generation of leaders. In my current church, however, I have equally surrounded myself with people my own age and older. It’s a more established, structured church and the experience has proven invaluable in an environment of change.

Regardless of the age or experience level of the staff I’m supposed to be leading, I try to remain open to my team leading me. They may be more in tune with the generation we are trying to lead. They may have more information about a certain subject. They may simply be better leaders in certain situations. As hard as I try to remain open to input, however, I’m certain there are times they wish they could lead me even more.

The question I often receive from readers of this blog is how to influence those who are supposed to be leading you, especially when many times you may feel as though they don’t welcome your input. That is often true even though you sometimes have better ideas than they may have about an issue.

How can you gain influence over the people in leadership positions when they don’t seem open to or even value your input? How do you “lead up”?

Here are 7 tips when trying to lead up:

Respect – Granted, you may know more than the person leading you about an issue, but chances are he or she has experience you do not have. They are in the position for some reason. Even it you don’t agree with them being The leader, there is something to be gained simply from sitting where they sit. Everyone likes to be respected for their experience and position. Keep in mind that some of your leader’s experiences may have been negative and may have prompted the style of leadership he or she provides now. Try to put yourself in your leader’s shoes. If you have any hope for the leader’s approval you will need to show that you respect the position of authority the person has in the organization. I’m not saying that’s always easy, but it is vital to gaining the trust of the leader. I’m not suggesting you falsely politic your way into the leader’s inner circle. I’m suggesting you humbly and genuinely respect the leader’s position.

Commitment – Be loyal. It’s such a rare occurrence in today’s work environment it is refreshing to a leader when we find it. Buy into the vision and the direction of the team and make your support known…in word and in action. It will impress those around you and the leader.

Work Smart – Do good work. Have a good work ethic. Produce more than expected. You don’t have to sacrifice your family on the altar of work, but you may have to get more disciplined in how you do work. Again, it is a rare commodity today that someone tries to do more than is required of them. When a leaders spots someone willing to go the extra mile, they gain approval and recognition.

Display Kindness– This is a general principle when working with others, but especially true in this situation. If you aren’t likable to the leader, he or she isn’t likely to respond likewise. Have you ever heard, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? That works when trying to gain the favor of a leader too. Even if the leader is unkind at times, attempt to win him or her over with kindness. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Acknowledge – Recognize the leader’s previous and current contribution to the organization, as well as his or her wisdom. Even if you genuinely respect a leader, he or she isn’t likely to know or appreciate that respect until you let them know. When a leader feels appreciated for their previous efforts, he or she is less likely to feel threatened and more likely to welcome input into future decisions.

Ask – Request the leader’s input and help…even if you don’t necessarily need it. It will show you value them. The best leaders gain insight from lots of different sources. Model this for the ones who are leading you. You may not see the relevance of their insight right now, but they may actually surprise you and add something from their experience that you haven’t thought of or been exposed to yet.

Partner – Find areas of common connection. Even if there is a significant age gap or different paradigms of life, there will be things you have in common. That’s part of all networking and team-building. I see many younger leaders who only want to hang out with younger leaders, and vice-versa for the older leaders. This will never bridge the generational gap and isn’t healthy for the organization. It certainly won’t help you lead up to be exclusive with whom you associate on the team.

I personally understand the frustration of being part of a team, but not feeling you have the freedom to share your opinions or the opportunity to help shape the future of the organization. I have been there. Real leaders never last long in that type environment. There are certainly leaders who will never be open to your input. I recommend discovering this early and not wasting much time battling that type insecure leader.

I have written about that type leader and organization in previous posts HERE, HERE and HERE. Some leaders are toxic and you’ll waste a lot of time trying to satisfy them or gain influence with them. The sooner you discover this the sooner you can work to find yourself in a healthier environment.

With most leaders, however, if approached in the right way, you can earn their respect enough that they welcome you a voice at the table. You may even help them be a better leader. I know my teams have always done that for me. Most leaders over time can begin to see you as more of a helper than a hindrance to their personal success and the health of the overall vision and team. Try these approaches and see if they help your situation.

Let us learn from your experience in leading up.

How have you learned to influence those who are leading you?

7 Traits of a Great Team Member

teamwork concept on blackboard

In the business world and in the church, I’ve learned that having a good team often makes the difference in how well we do at reaching our objectives.

I have been blessed with some great teams in the past. As a result, I frequently get asked if I have any openings on my team. I have a good team now. More than that, I’m asked how I continue to put together such great team. I’m not bragging, it’s simply that I’ve learned a few things about great teams. The longer a great team is together, the better it seems to work together.

I was reflecting recently on what makes a great team member. What is it that causes some teams to gel better than others? What are some of the joint characteristics we share?

Here are 7 traits I believe make a great team member:

Sense of humor – It’s critical that you be able to laugh…at life…at corny jokes…and sometimes at or with each other. I think teams should have fun together. It makes us a better team. We may even occasionally be found in the hallway playing a game. Life…and ministry…is stressful enough. Let’s laugh a little. Together.

Team spirit - We have no lone rangers on our staff. We rebuke struggling alone! We are part of a team and there are no turf wars on our staff and no one should be drowning in a project without some help.

Work ethic I’ve never been great at managing people. As a leader, I simply rely on people having the sense of responsibility and inner drive needed to complete the work. We set definite goals and objectives…measurable wherever possible, but I surround myself with other leaders who are passionate about Christ, our vision and other people and are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the vision.

Heathy personal life – In ministry, we deal with a lot of messiness in other people’s lives. It would make it very difficult to maintain the level of ministry required of us if we were not personally living healthy lives spiritually, emotionally and, as much as it depends on us, physically. That doesn’t mean we don’t have issues or problems of our own…of course we do…but we are striving to be healthy individually and together.

Transparency – Great team members share burdens with one another. (That’s another way they stay healthy.) Team members don’t live on an island to themselves. The more a team learns to trust each other the greater this process becomes. The team is open to challenge the system, the ministry, the leader, and each other in an attempt to make the organization better.

Loyalty - It is imperative in any organizational structure that a team member be dedicated to the vision, organization, senior leadership and the team. There doesn’t have to be unanimous agreement on every decision…that would be unhealthy…but there must be unanimity of purpose.

Servant’s heart – If one cannot approach their position from a point of serving others and Christ then he or she will not work well on a good team. It should be the model of the entire ministry, so certainly it must be represented by the team members first.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones that come to my mind first.

(For clarification, if needed, these are personality traits not spiritual qualifications. Those are Biblically scripted for us and would be covered in another post.)

Do you serve on a healthy team…or wish you did? What would you add to the list?

10 Tips on Writing a Good Letter…When a Letter is the Best Way to Communicate

letter_writing_small

I want to encourage you to write a letter today (if needed).

Writing a letter is sometimes the best way to communicate effectively.

When I was doing professional counseling with people who were experiencing difficulty in a relationship I often encouraged them to practice the art of letter writing. Most of the time I tried to help them improve their one-to-one communication skills, but some things are easier and better to express on paper than in person.

For example, a letter may be needed when a couple cannot communicate without arguing…or when one person refuses to listen to reason…or if you can’t even get an audience with the other person. I could be best when one person is so intimidating to talk to that you can’t get a word in verbally. Some people express their best thoughts only when they have time to think about them. And, some things seem to convey more importance and get closer attention if they are written rather than just spoken.

So, if you need to, write a letter. It’s not as impersonal as it may seem. It may actual be more personal.

A letter allows you to think through what you have to say and cuts down on reactionary arguments that come when trying to discuss something controversial. A letter will usually be read several and even many times; further enforcing the points you are trying to make. A letter is harder to dismiss than a verbal conversation.

Please note, I am NOT suggesting an email. This is letter writing. That requires a paper and pen, or at least a printer and paper. Email quickly becomes an exchange of ideas that can almost be as counter-productive as the verbal communication. It’s too easy to hit the “reply” or “forward” button quickly with emails. Who wants something this personal being placed on the Internet? This is often a near “final straw” kind of approach, so put the time into it that it requires.

I’m not advocating that you avoid personal conversations, but if the situation calls for it…

Here are 10 things to remember before writing your letter:

  • Spend as much time praying about it as you spend writing the letter.
  • Edit, then edit, and then edit again. (Again if needed.)
  • Write with an end goal to benefit the receiver and the overall situation in mind. (This should eliminate some things you probably shouldn’t say anyway.)
  • Just as you should do in verbal communication, don’t attack the person; address the issue. Leave personal jabs out of the letter. Try not to start a sentence with “you” or use the word “always”. It puts people on the defensive. (This is what editing is all about.)
  • Try to express your true heart…feelings…but not your anger emotion. Remember, you are attempting to say those things, which for whatever reason, you aren’t able to say effectively in person. Don’t lose your audience by “going off” on the person.
  • The goal is not to be a martyr; no one responds well to that approach. The goal is to be transparent and communicate effectively.
  • Make sure you dedicate as much or even more time focusing on the part you have played in developing a bad relationship or situation. If an apology is needed, give it clearly and completely in the letter.
  • Be clear about the points you are trying to convey. Read them back to yourself.This is one of the best benefits of letter writing. You have the opportunity to clearly think through your response; so don’t lose your chance here.
  • Before you send the letter, ask yourself: “How would I respond if someone sent this letter to me?”
  • If you aren’t certain about the quality of your letter, give these instructions and the letter to someone else (whom you trust) and ask them to read it. Let them tell you how they would respond if they received this letter.

Remember, this is not a miracle cure, so don’t expect immediate results. The person may not respond the way you would have them to and you may not even know they have read the letter. You can be assured they will!

Don’t be afraid to write this kind of letter if you sense it’s warranted. You don’t write this kind of letter often…because it does carry more weight…but if the situations merits it, this can be an effective way to communicate. Chances are if you live a normal life there will be a few situations that merit the true art of letter writing. Write well!

Have you seen where a letter helps a situation better than an face-to-face encounter?

7 Lies We Believe As Pastors

Lies concept.

My heart is for the pastor. Maybe it stems from the fact that I spent more years as a layperson…a deacon and Sunday school teacher…and now, as a pastor. I realize now how much I didn’t understand about the position. The role has a lot more expectations and pressures than I previously imagined. I always loved and supported the pastor, but looking back, I wish I had been an even better pastor’s friend.

One of the other realities, and it’s rather sobering to me, is how isolated many pastors feel from people in their congregation. Isolation almost always seems to lead to a misunderstanding of reality. In essence, and here’s the problem and purpose of this post, if we aren’t careful, we can begin to believe lies about ourselves or our ministries. (That even seems to have Biblical precedence…believing lies got us into trouble from the beginning.)

Here are 7 lies we often believe as pastors:

I’ve got this - The enemy loves it when we begin to think we have completely figured out life or ministry. He loves us to place total confidence in ourselves. Self-confidence, if unchecked, can lead to arrogance, a sense of superiority, and a lack of dependence on God.

That didn’t hurt - Sometimes we pretend what the person said or did to us, doesn’t hurt. We can even spiritualize it because we wear the “armor of God”. In reality, most pastors I know (this one included) have tender feelings at times…some days more than others. We are human. Maturity helps us process things faster, but we never outgrow a certain vulnerability when working with people.

I’m above that – If a pastor ever thinks “that’s too small for me to be concerned about” watch for the fireworks to begin. The devil will see some points he can put on the board. Equally dangerous, when we as pastors believe we are above temptation of any kind, we have the devil’s full attention.

I’m in control – It would be easy to dismiss this one with a strong spiritual response. Of course, Jesus is in control. Hopefully every Bible-believing pastor reading this “Amens” to that truth. But, how many times do we believe we have more authority than we really do…or should? Danger.

I’m growing this church – We must be careful not to take credit for what only God can do. I can’t imagine God would let this lie continue long without equally letting us “believe” (and experience) that we are responsible for declining this church.

If I don’t do this no one will – We stifle spiritual growth of others when we fail to let them use their spiritual gifts. Additionally, we deny the hand and foot their individual role within the body. And, sadly, we often burnout ourselves and our family.

I’ve got to protect my people – I once had a pastor say he couldn’t allow “his” people to believe God still speaks to people today, other than through His Word, because there are too many “strange voices” out there. There are and I believe the Bible is the main source of His communication, but God still speaks. If He doesn’t, let’s quit suggesting people pray about how much God wants them to give to the building fund. When we try to protect “our” people by keeping them from His provision, we make them our people and keep them from fully understanding they are really His children. Let us instead teach them how to know God more intimately and discern His direction. His sheep know His voice.

I’m sure there are many other lies we can fall prey to as pastors. Exposing them can help us from being distracted by them and allow us to call on His strength to overcome them. Trading prayers for pastors as I type this post.

What other lies have you seen pastors believe? 

20 Life-Changing Acts of Courage

courage

One single act of courage can change a life…often many lives.

No doubt, if you live a “normal” life there will be decisions you have to make that take courage. You will often have to walk by faith, be willing to risk everything, and trust God for the results, which often seem slow to arrive.

Sometimes doing the right thing is not the easiest thing to do. Most of the time, it takes courage to follow your heart, conviction, or God’s calling on your life.

But, when we act with courage into the places where God leads, it always brings greater rewards than we could imagine.

I reflected recently on some random examples that I have seen people make over the last few years…some of them from within my own family…that took courage, but the results were huge. At the time, some of them may or may not have seemed to be that “big of a deal”…and some of them were obvious risks, but in the process of completing them, the courage required can be equally huge.

20 Random Life-Changing Acts of Courage

  1. Leaving the job you hate (or love) so you can start the dream you’ve hidden.
  2. Taking the first step towards your God-given dream when everyone else is saying it can’t be done.
  3. Confronting the unspoken conflicts in a marriage.
  4. Offering forgiveness even when undeserved.
  5. Trusting God with money you don’t have.
  6. Beginning a Christian ministry in a predominately Muslim country.
  7. Letting go of the employee who is holding back the team, yet refuses to improve.
  8. Attempting again something you’ve failed at so many times.
  9. Planting a church…or trying to change an existing one.
  10. Ending the friendship that always drags you down.
  11. Trusting one more time the one who has hurt you so much.
  12. Moving the family for a new “opportunity” when the outcome is unclear.
  13. Speaking truth in love when it’s politically unpopular.
  14. Releasing the right to get even, even at the expense of your pride.
  15. Surrendering your will to God’s will.
  16. Putting other’s agenda ahead of your own.
  17. Standing up for someone everyone else is rejecting.
  18. Reaching out to a stranger, because you felt “led” to do so.
  19. Admit your struggle, sin, or failure to someone…even though you are afraid of the consequences.
  20. Ask for help even though you’re embarrassed to do so.

As I stated, those are random examples and your examples will be different from mine. Granted, some of these “appear” harder than others…requiring more courage. I never know when I write a post like this which chord I will strike and with whom. I have learned, however, that context makes life relative. Your act of courage can be “equal” to mine if God is calling you to an unknown reality. Moving forward into uncertainty requires a courage you don’t always have initially. Choosing whether or not to move forward and mustering the needed courage, is often what separates the ones who achieve great things from those who remain disappointed with their progress in life.

Here’s a voice of encouragement to you today…if you know you need to move forward…but you are afraid…I understand. I’m praying you’ll find the courage to trust God with the outcome and do what you know to do next.

What is something you have had to do that took a great deal of courage?

7 Ways I Deal With Fatigue as a Leader

happy jumping

I posted recently on what happens when I’m tired. It isn’t pretty. (See that post HERE.)  I hear someone say every day “I’m so tired”.  It’s epidemic it seems. There appears to be a lot of fatigue in our world these days. I know it’s true of those in ministry. Someone asked me how to deal with the issue, besides the simple answer of rest.

Here are 7 ways I have for dealing with fatigue:

Check-up – Make sure you are routinely getting medical check ups from your physician. Many health issues have fatigue as a symptom. Make sure something isn’t physically causing your fatigue.

Exercise  and Weight Control – For me, this is number one. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight helps me stay energized and feel better.  I wrote an extensive post about that HERE.

Watch what you eat – Junk food slows you down. Healthy foods build you up. I’m not an expert here, and don’t practice this as I should, but there are plenty who are equipped to help know what to eat.  What you eat does make a difference in how you feel and most of us know what foods slow us down Learn to fill your body with foods, which help you feel more alive.

Rest - It had to be on the list. Rest is the ultimate solution to coping with fatigue. The body signals that it has reached a point where rest is needed. Sometimes a short nap or extended night’s sleep is the needed response.  Sometimes NOT watching the last television show before you go to bed is a better option.

Mind-breaks – If your job requires you to think deeply, taking short mind breaks is often helpful. One reason I break to Twitter is to give me a quick break from the heaviness of thought. I also change projects throughout the day to keep my mind from wearing me out physically.  Sometimes I step outside and breathe the fresh air or, depending on the type of the fatigue, even go for an afternoon run.

Preparation – Having a plan for your day and week helps to cut down on unnecessary time wasters. You’ll work smarter and feel less exhausted when you begin prepared. Take time to organize yourself for efficiency. (Read a similar post HERE.)

Prioritize – You can’t do everything. Remind yourself that you’ll do better quality work if you aren’t trying to do it all. Try to complete the most important things on your list first, before your energy is drained for the day. Say no to things someone else can do.

Leading today (actually life today) requires a lot of energy. I meet so many people who don’t have the energy they need to get through the day. I realize there are seasons in life where this is unavoidable, but we should strive to keep ourselves healthy enough to be productive and enjoy life.

What advice do you have? What slows you down? What helps your fatigue?

Which of these do you most need to implement?

For a similar thought, read my tips for managing stress HERE.

7 Warning Signs a Leader is about to Crash

Stressed-man

I’ve been there. I’ve faced burnout and frustration in my work. Thankfully, I’ve never “bottomed out”, but I’ve felt near the bottom in my spirit. More than that, I’ve walked through these times with dozens of other leaders. 

I’ve learned there are some common indicators that a leader is heading towards burnout. The sooner we can recognize them, the sooner we know to reach out for help. 

Here are 7 indicators you’re heading for burnout:

Isolation – When the leader begins to avoid others, something is wrong. Leadership involves people. Not all leaders are overly communicative, but when the leader tries to avoid people who need the leader’s attention, something is wrong. Some leaders begin to question people around them. They struggle with mistrust or fear that others are talking about them, questioning them, or out to get them. 

Excuses – When the leader always has an answer why he or she was late, blame others for everything, or can’t see his or her own shortcomings, they are struggling with something. It may be burnout.  

Hidden sins – Many people hide in their sins, but burnout causes “secret”, deep sins. These are often new vices hidden from people who normally know you. The person who never drank before…is now drinking often. Someone who never struggled with pornorgraphy before suddenly can’t avoid it…and justifies it as a “release”. 

Apathy -When you don’t care anymore. And, you don’t really care that you don’t care anymore. 

Indecisiveness – Paralization…Refusal to make decisions. The person in this condition feels like every decision is a major one. And, there are seem to be so many…they make none. 

Short-tempered – Normally easy-going people often become shorter fused when under extreme pressure. 

Desperation – When every day seems to be a panic day…beware. The leader is in a danger zone. There will be seasons of this in all of our lives, but we can’t live there long. We need periods of calm in our leadership. If the leader always feels this way, something is wrong. 

Granted, all of these may be indicators of other problems, but, in my experience, they are good signs of a potential crash. 

Be careful. If a few of these are you, regardless of how you label it, now is the time to get help. Now.

(After several requests, I’ll share some ideas of where to get help in a future post, but depending on the severity, if you’re seriously about to give up, grab the closest person to you. Be vulnerable.)

Facing Fear at the Crossroads of Influence

Jenni Catron

This is a guest post from my friend Jenni Catron. Jenni serves as the Executive Director of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, where she leads the staff and oversees the ministry of five campuses. Jenni and I have had the privilege of brainstorming together. She has a great leadership mind. She loves a fabulous cup of tea, great books, learning the game of tennis and hanging out with her husband and border collie. Jenni’s passion is to lead well and to inspire, equip and encourage others to do the same. Recently Jenni announced on her blog a new adventure in ministry. Read about it HERE. Jenni blogs at www.jennicatron.com. Excerpts of this post are from her new book CLOUT:Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence

Facing Fear at the Crossroads of Influence

Alex had the makings of a star staff member. He was passionate about his job. He had inspired vision for where he wanted to lead people. He was eager to step in and provide leadership to a group that had been floundering for some time. As his leader, I was so excited for him and the possibilities of growth ahead. The first year was challenging, but he kept his chin up and pushed through difficult growing pains. But soon I began to notice signs of discouragement in his eyes. Something had changed, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I saw fear instead of excitement and optimism. Where I still saw obvious potential, he saw roadblocks.

Over the next six months the situation deteriorated. I couldn’t make sense of why things were spiraling south so quickly. Gradually as I kept engaging him in conversation, he shared that he was terrified of being a failure. He feared that he wasn’t capable of doing the job that he had been hired to do. His fear that others would see him as a failure caused him to try to cover it up rather than share that he was struggling. Because he wouldn’t confront the fear with truth, many of those he influenced eventually lost trust in him.
As leaders, we often confront our greatest fear at the crossroads of influence. We face our greatest fear at the threshold of our greatest opportunity to make an impact. Not to confront this fear would be to deny who we are created to be. We’d be sabotaging the very calling and purpose we are designed for.

Fear impacts our influence in several ways:

Fear Hides
We often try to hide from our fear by ignoring that it’s there. Rather than acknowledge it and replace it with truth, we allow ourselves to live with the darkness it creates. We don’t want to acknowledge we fear failure, so we cover it up with pride and the drive to perform.

Fear Isolates
In the isolation of our minds, fear can be tormenting. The truth found in 2 Timothy 1:7 is an important reminder: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (nkjv).
We fear not having enough, so we are scarce with praise and stingy with our resources, which continues to close us off from developing relationships with others.

We fear that others won’t love or accept us for who we are. Our imperfections feed our insecurity, so we remain distanced and walled off from others.

Fear Paralyzes
Fear can also paralyze us from moving forward. We fear chaos, so our constant need for control causes us to slow things down while we try to get a handle on it. Our need for control can become paralyzing and is extraordinarily dangerous to our leadership and influence. If we’re unable to get some sense of control, we may give up altogether.

God equips us with plans to use us. Yet I believe that many of us miss opportunities to cultivate our influence because we choose the wrong route at the crossroads of influence. We turn around and run back when faith requires a leap that we’re too afraid to take.
Economist and political adviser John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.”1

To influence others you have to help move them to new realities and possibilities. You can’t take them where you haven’t led yourself. You must be willing to confront your fears and lead others through theirs.

Fear finds us at the edge of the cliff: the moment when we must make a decision. When you find yourself there, do you give in to fear or step out in faith? Fear turns tail and runs. Faith takes the leap. Faith sees beyond the fear and recognizes that you were uniquely designed and created for this moment!

1. John Kenneth Galbraith quoted from his Age of Uncertainty (1977), in Bill Clinton: The Inside Story by Robert E. Levin (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1993), 246.