I consistently talk to new leaders about the beginning days of a leadership position. In my opinion, the opening days of any job are some of the most important. Apparently others think so also. Recently someone messaged me on Twitter to ask, “What words of advice do you have for a newbie leader? I’m beginning my first pastoring role after years in student ministry.”
It has just been a few years ago I was a “newbie” myself. I speak with more passion, and perhaps even more authority on the subject, because I learned along the way. I Tweeted him back and said “Learn the people first – go slow to change – think intentional in all you do – pace yourself.”
And, that was enough for Twitter. This is my blog, however, so I assume I should explain a little further.
Here are 4 pieces of advice for the new leader:
Learn the people first, before making major changes.
Relational leadership is always most effective, but especially for a new leader. The people need to learn to trust you. They need an opportunity to feel you are committed and connected to them. They want assurance you have the best interest at heart for them and the church or organization they’ve loved and served longer than you have. They need to experience you listening to them for their input. Value – and love people – first and foremost. It’s not only effective – it’s the right thing to do.
Go slow with change when it’s time.
The older the church or organization – or the longer they’ve needed change – the more important it will be you take time to implement change. Know the key players, communicate, communicate, communicate, and help people understand why the change is needed. All change is resisted. Let me say this again – ALL CHANGE IS RESISTED. At some level, someone will not like every change you propose, but fast change is most powerfully rejected. Understand every change comes with an emotion. People are resisting for a number of reasons – anger, fear, uneasiness, uncomfortableness. This doesn’t mean don’t change. Most likely they’ll expect and even want some change, and some of this change may need to come very fast, but listen and learn the things you can change immediately and things where you’ll need to move more slowly. Get lots of input from others. Collaborate. A healthy change process takes time to do well.
Think intentionally in all you do.
The more you can strategically plan your moves, especially in the early days of a new leadership position, the more you can help steer them to a positive outcome. In every area of your leadership, take time to think through the best way to handle the situation. Again, get input from key people. I love a good whiteboard strategy session. When you have to make changes or implement your vision, invite key, trusted people into the room and brainstorm the best way to approach it. Plan your approach. Prioritize. Strategize. You’ll have plenty of surprises along the way, but if you’re intentional in the decisions you have control over, you’ll be better prepared to handle the unexpected.
Pace your leadership for long-term success.
This is so critical. You won’t often know the length of your tenure as leader, but you should script yourself to be there for the long haul. This means you shouldn’t try to accomplish everything in the beginning. Spread some of your enthusiasm and energy over the first year or more. It will keep momentum going longer, keep you from burning out and the church or organization from wearing out, and introduce an expectation of change – which will make change easier to make in the future. Also, think for the church or organization beyond even you – this is the honorable thing to do for any leader – don’t make it all about you. How can things keep building, healthy, vibrant and growing for the years ahead? When you set worthy visions and goals which carry people forward, help them dream and give them hope, they will want to follow your leadership. Finally, protect your soul. As the Scripture says, “Above all else guard your heart.” You will have lots of obstacles – all leaders do – you want to weather them to remain effective. And, get help when needed. (Which for me is pretty much daily.)
I’m pulling for you new leaders! Of course, my best advice – Go with God! He knows best. For another post on advice if give to young pastors – look at THIS POST.
Have you ever been the new guy? What would you advise?