Four Seasons of Leadership

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After years of leading, I have learned there are four seasons of leadership. There could be more, but I’ve been able to clearly identify these four.

Misunderstanding this can lead to frustration. You may think you are doing something wrong. Yet you’re only in a different season.

Four seasons:

Some plant – Many leaders sow seeds. They are used to start something new. As a church planter in two churches, we planted a lot of seeds. I love knowing both of those churches are still thriving today. God allowed me to be there in the beginning, but others are leading them now.

Some water – Other leaders are used to create systems that allow progress to continue. They build healthy teams, create good structure and help things continue to grow.

Some pull weeds – Still other leaders identify problems and provide solutions to address them. They make the hard changes, restructure and clear the path to progress. This was my primary role in church revitalization and in my current role.

Some harvest – Finally, other leaders get to see the fruition of the harvest. There is a skill to capitalizing on the foundation of planning and working others have invested. These leaders know how to celebrate well and continually fuel new momentum.

Granted we do some of these within every season. And we must spend considerable and concentrated energies in the middle two seasons if we hope to sustain a healthy, long-term harvest.

It’s great when you get to do all of these in one position of leadership. It hasn’t always happened for me. Also, in my experience, we only get to enjoy one or maybe a couple at any particular time. Sometimes they run concurrently, back-to-back to each other, but it seems rare – and difficult – to lead all four of these seasons at one time.

Don’t be afraid of your season. All our necessary.

5 Quandaries of Leading Creative People

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I love having creative people on teams I lead, but, honestly, they can make leading much messier. Leading creatives can be difficult.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the top Google definition of a creative: relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Creative minds are always wandering. They get bored easily. They are never completely satisfied with their work – and often with the work of others. It makes leading a team meeting harder.

And, before you creatives get too defensive, just so you know…

I’m a creative.

Not an artsy creative. I don’t paint, do music, etc. But I’m a dreamer. I have a vivid imagination. I’ve never met a day I didn’t have a new idea. My mind wanders quickly — randomly — often.

The main reason I love creatives being on the team is they bring new ideas. They stretch others, add energy and challenge mediocrity.

One huge paradigm for me, however, was realizing the quandaries of being a creative. I think this is the word I’m trying to illustrate. A quandary — “a state of perplexity” — confusion.

It is in some of these quandaries which might makes us creatives more difficult to lead.

Consider what I mean – and see if this is familiar with you – or the creatives you lead.

Here are 5 quandaries of the creative:

We don’t like boundaries, rules or policies (and we may test them or rebel against them)  but we need them in order to be effective.

The fact is we need deadlines. We don’t like deadlines, or being held to them, but deadlines are usually the only way to keep us on task, so we actually crave someone to give them to us. Creatives need to know what a win looks like. We need structure. I’m not suggesting you give us needless rules – we need healthy rules which empower more than limit or control – but we produce our best for organizations and teams under some restrictions.

Sometimes our minds wander in so many directions, with no clarity, that we can’t even catch a single thought, and nothing makes sense other times the idea is laser-focused, and we can’t write, paint, draw, or sketch it fast enough.

Which is why even within the deadlines we need freedom to decide how and when we do our work. Creative flow doesn’t always happen in cooperation with standard office hours.

We have lots of ideas – they are endless. Ideas come fast; really fast, too fast sometimes.

As fast as they arrive they’re gone if we don’t record them quickly, but sometimes we can’t get them out of our head and onto the canvas, or put them into a format which helps you understand what we are even thinking.

Which is why having us on teams can be beneficial, especially when there is more than one creative on the team. We like to process our ideas – often out loud – with others. And, even when we don’t feel like it – we probably really should. It helps eliminate confusion later. Brainstorming can be loads of fun and beneficial with a room full of creatives. (We will need more structured people to help make sense of things.)

Nothing we observe is ever wasted, every new thing we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, can lead to another idea but it also means our mind is never still, and if we are forced still long enough, we become very bored.

Long meetings lose us. Long emails never get read. Details make our heads explode. Leading creatives really does necessitate creative methods of leading.

We are tremendously flexible in our imagination – in the things we can dream about or create, but we can often be dogmatic in protecting our original ideas, and inflexible when it comes to changing them.

It’s true. I admit it. We actually like change, but can resist on changing our “masterpiece”. Don’t be afraid though to challenge us to improve. It is often just the push we need to get to our best work.

Do you see how we could be more difficult to lead?

Within each quandary is a decision I have to make as a leader — knowing when to place boxes around them and when to give them free reign, etc.

But it often begins with an understanding – of the quandary – and ultimately of the people we are attempting to lead.

5 Reasons a Pastor May Not Be Leading Well

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 4 Comments

I remember talking with a concerned man about his church. He was concerned the church was wasting a lot of resources and accomplishing little towards its vision to make disciples. They have a large building and staff. There is a rich history of Kingdom-building, but the building sits empty most days of the week. There is a steady decline in baptisms and Sunday attendance. The church lacks momentum and he was concerned in 20 years the church would be gone.

He blamed it all on the leadership of the pastor.

I can confirm his concern. Some statistics tell us almost 90% of churches are in decline or plateaued. I have been told it takes 30 years for a declining church to die.

I don’t know, however, if it’s completely fair to always blame the pastor.

In my experience, the number one issue churches appear to face is leadership — specifically pastoral leadership. In fact, many would say if the pastor isn’t leading well, the church will likely suffer at some level.

But when a pastor isn’t leading the church well, I believe there’s usually an answer as to why. I’ve listed some of the ones I’ve observed.

5 reasons the pastor may not be leading well:

Ignorance

I don’t mean this one to be cruel, but we only know what we know. Most pastors don’t learn everything needed to lead a church in seminary. So much of pastoring becomes on-the-job training. Because much of a pastor’s job involves people, the realm of possibilities a pastor might encounter are as wide as the differences are in people.

The solution for this is training, mentoring, and growing by experience. The church should be supportive of opportunities for the pastor to develop. Plus, the pastor needs to be humble enough to admit the need for further training.

Innocence

Many times the pastor simply doesn’t see what you see. I learned as a pastor I was often the last to know of a problem within my church. If there’s an issue in preschool ministry, for example, if someone doesn’t tell me about it, I was less likely to know about it.

I always suggest pastors develop the discipline of asking questions. And staff/church cultures should be created in a way where people have channels and the encouragement to share needed information. (Without complaining or arguing, because that’s the Biblical way.)

Burnout

In a survey of pastors who read my blog a few years ago, 77% said they were presently or had been in a burnout situation. Burnout is when you aren’t healthy enough to function at full capacity. When a pastor is facing burnout, leadership will suffer.

Pastors need to learn how to recognize the signs of burnout and address them early, before they significantly impact their leadership. The church needs to be mindful of the demands placed on the pastor and consider the pastor’s family. One of the best things a church can do is give the pastor significant enough downtime to recover from the demands of ministry.

Structure

I hear from pastors frequently who feel they are handcuffed to tired, worn out, traditions that keep them from accomplishing their God-given vision for the church. A pastor is restricted when there are too many unnecessary rules, the committee system is cumbersome and inefficient, or when the demands of the church on the pastor are unrealistic. Many times the restraints placed against a pastor prevent effective leadership.

If the pastor is expected to lead, then latitude and freedom to lead needs to be afforded without constant fear of retribution.

Arrogance

Some pastors assume more control than has been afforded to them. Others refuse to allow anyone in the church to really lead. In either case, people naturally resist leadership, stir controversy, and resist change.

Every pastor needs people around them who have authority to speak into their life. And every pastor needs to guard their heart against foolish pride.

What are some other reasons pastors don’t lead well?

One Sign You’re Doing Good Work as a Leader

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

Do you want to know one sign you’re actually doing well as a leader?

It’s not fool proof, but it’s pretty telling – in my experience.

You’ll know you’re doing good work when…

People oppose you!

And I think we have Biblical principles to illustrate this.

“But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door of effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

Here is the reality – few people worry about the people doing nothing.

Have you noticed the more you do for good the more opposition you receive? 

7 Actions I Recommend When A Church is Declining

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What should you do when a church is in decline? I get asked that question a lot.

It should be noted there are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. There are different reasons which cause decline. And ultimately, God is in control of all of this.

I would be considered arrogant and even hurtful to pretend to have all the answers for a church I do not know.

There are a few suggestions, which come from working with churches in decline.

Here are 7 suggestions:

Evaluate

What is going wrong? Why are less people attending and new people are not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic, a people problem, or a Biblical issue? Don’t be afraid to admit if your church is just plain boring.

If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 10 years – I may already have your answer. But ask questions. Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary.

Ask visitors. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. Evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers. You can’t address problems until you know them.

Own it

The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. At this step, cause or blame is not as important. They were important in the first step, because they may alter your response, but now the problems are yours. They are not going away without intentionality. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult – or unpopular – to address.

Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something which didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith.

Address major, obvious issues

This is hard. Perhaps the hardest one. If the church has “forgotten your first love” – repent. When the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past – forgive. Sometimes walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure. In these times you may need to step out boldly into a new area of ministry.

If the church is in disunity it must come together first. When the church loves the traditions of men more than the commands of God it must turn from sin. And, if the problems involve people, you can’t be a people pleaser. (I told you this is hard.)

Find alignment

Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find and focus attention on it.

In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Church leaders must be working together to build enthusiasm, momentum and unity.

Regroup

At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season. (It is Biblical to think ahead. Consider Luke 14:28)

I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again.

Put some measurable goals in place to make progress – things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy and build momentum as people have something to look forward to doing.

Reignite

Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts. When special events are the church’s wheelhouse then do them. It may mean not doing things that aren’t working or things that tend to drain energy and resources. Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again – the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry.

You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.

Celebrate

There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything. If everything is wonderful – or amazing – then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But, when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.

Those are seven suggestions. I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again – if the church yearns for health again – be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue.

The harvest is ready – the workers are few – we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

What suggestions do you have for a church in decline?

5 Actions Before I Preach

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As a pastor, I was often asked what my routine was as I prepared to preach on Sunday mornings. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus, but I realize I have a responsibility as a shepherd to do all I can to be prepared.

Ideally, I always tried to be completely finished with my sermon Friday, so I could take Saturday off. Sometimes I would spend an hour or so on Saturday doing one final edit. I tried to limit my activities and get a good night’s rest Saturday night. I spent Sunday mornings doing one final edit of the message.

I had some Sunday morning routines, which best helped me prepare.

5 ways I prepared to preach on Sunday mornings:

Read something in the Bible other than the passage I’m preaching on 

I wanted to feed myself before I try to teach others. Often I am reading through the Bible and I continued this on Sunday mornings.

Pray 

I spent longer on Sunday mornings than other mornings in prayer. It prepared my heart. I prayed for those who will be in attendance and those who may still be debating attending. I prayed for God’s presence to be with us. I prayed for other leaders in the church. I sought a sense of oneness with God’s heart to mine.

Exercise 

I didn’t get to do this every Sunday, but when I did I was more mentally alert and physically prepared than when I didn’t.

Worship 

Ideally, I loved to put the Sunday morning line up of worship music in a playlist and allow the music to lead me in worship. Either way, I tried to find a time to worship on Sunday mornings. When I’ve made much of God before I get to church, I find I’m better able to make much of Him.

Pray 

Just before I preach I have a fairly standard prayer. It goes something like this, “God, I can’t do this. You know I’m not worthy to speak on Your behalf. You know and I know that it’s only by Your grace I can be here this morning. If You don’t show up, today will be meaningless.”

That’s how I prepared on Sundays. What’s your process, pastor?

12 Principles of Leadership Inspired by Jesus

By | Church, Church Revitalization, Leadership | 2 Comments

There are many leaders I admire who have influenced my own leadership. I admire the teachings on leadership by guys like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Patrick Lencioni.

There are leaders from my personal life such as a former pastor, a former boss, a high school principal and leaders in my own community who have influenced me as I have watched their leadership.

I also love to learn from a great athletic coach. There have been teams I have chosen to support because of the coach that leads them.

The principles, however, which I admire most are found in the leadership style of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership is still impacting culture today.

Here are 12 leadership principles of Jesus:

He invested in people others would have dismissed.

When I consider the disciples I see a group of men who were not the “religious” elite, yet Jesus used them to start His church.

Jesus released responsibility and ownership in a ministry.

I recall how Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. There was little micro-management it appears.

He had a leadership succession plan. 

Jesus consistently reminded the disciples He wouldn’t always be with them. Of course, He was still the “leader”, but He left others to take the ministry forward.

Jesus practiced servant leadership better than anyone.

Imagine this – the King of kings was willing to wash the feet of His followers.

He was laser focused on His vision.

Regardless of the persecutions or distractions, Jesus kept on the mission God had called Him to complete.

Jesus handled distractions with grace.

When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched His garment, Jesus stopped to heal her, even though headed to a definite purpose.

He was into self-development.

We find Jesus constantly slipping away to spend time with God.

Jesus was into leadership development and replacement.

The disciples were very purposefully prepared to take over the ministry. Jesus pushed people beyond what they felt they were capable of doing.

He held followers to high expectations.

Jesus was not afraid to make huge requests of people. “Follow Me” meant the disciples had to drop their agenda to do so. He told the disciples they must be willing to lose everything to follow Him.

Jesus cared more about people than about rules and regulations.

I see Him willingly jeopardizing Himself by breaking the “rules” to help someone in need.

He celebrated success in ministry.

People that were faithful to Him and His cause were rewarded generously.

Jesus finished well.

Do we have any questions whether His ministry was effective?

Any other reasons you admire the leadership of Jesus?

One Danger In Vision-Casting

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Vision casting can be dangerous for the health of a team.

Sometimes vision-casting can destroy an otherwise healthy team.

I know that goes against what all the great leadership books and experts say, but it’s true. I have been guilty of this one – many times.

The most prolific vision-casters can ruin a good team.

Let me explain.

Casting a vision is one part of success in an organization. It is an important part. I have been known to cast a vision of things to come. My favorite way this happens is to go away for a few days, think, pray, and jot down notes. Then I come back to our team and draw out my thoughts on a whiteboard.

Oh, that’s so much fun! (My team knows when I go out of town it can be dangerous.)

So, yes, casting a vision is an important part of leaders. And, for clarity sake, I’m not talking about the one over-arching vision which drives the organization. I’m talking about the current thoughts in a leader’s mind of where the organization needs to go next week, next month or next year.

There’s more to leading a team than casting vision.

Completing the vision is another, equally important part.

And that’s the danger part of casting vision sometimes. The danger is when the team doesn’t understand the vision, there are no plans created of how to complete it or competing visions are still on the table from the last time I went out of town.

That spells danger for a healthy team!

It won’t matter how well the vision was cast. In fact, in this scenario, it can even do more harm than good if the leader is a really good vision-caster.

Here’s the thing, visions can often appear bigger than life. They can be lofty and stretching for the organization. They can be exciting and inspiring. That’s all good.

But people left without the “how” to complete it may feel discouraged. When people never seem to be able to keep up or complete their assigned tasks they can feel defeated. And if this is repeated over time, they may even feel like failures in their work.

They may even give up and the the vision dies.

Vision-casters, by nature, thrive on casting, so they are continually throwing out the next big idea. It’s fun, exciting, motivating – visionary.

But good leaders continually work to ensure people not only catch the vision, but also understand the how and have the resources to accomplish the vision.

It takes both.

As I’ve self-admitted, I can struggle here as a leader. Part of recognizing this is building discipline into my leadership.

Good leaders:

  • Ask questions to make sure everyone understands the vision
  • Ensure there are plans, strategies, and systems in place
  • Break the vision down into measurable steps or goals
  • Stay with the process during implementation phase
  • Allow the team to push back when there are too many competing visions on the table
  • Set the pace of the team so that there are seasons of pushing hard for what’s new and seasons of implementing
  • Make sure there are built-in seasons of rest for the leader and the team

Have you been on the bad side of vision casting?

7 Ways a Leader Can Invite Constructive Feedback

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 8 Comments

I remember an especially hard year as a leader. It was so bad several members of our staff had told me where I was letting them down. So much for having an “open door policy”. The next year I closed the door. 🙂

Not really, but this was a year where staff members said to me, “I have a problem with you.” They may not have used those exact words, but the point was clear – I can be an idiot at times. There were significant areas where I needed to improve. Thankfully, I haven’t had many of those years, but I’m glad now I had the ones I have, because they have taught me a lot about my leadership.

There is room for improvement with any leader and maturing leaders welcome instruction from the people they are trying to lead.

Most of the time when I’ve been corrected by someone I’m supposed to lead, I deserved it. Plus, anytime someone on a team is brave enough to rebuke their leader, you can be assured he or she is either:

  • Desperate and willing to do anything.
  • Ignorant or doesn’t care.
  • Feels welcome to do so.

In my opinion, good leaders try to create environments to live within the third option. I hope this was the case in my situation.

I should also say, especially on behalf of my fellow senior leaders, that criticism comes easily to leaders. We don’t have to ask for it. Do anything at all in leadership and someone will have a problem with it – and they won’t always be kind in how they voice their complaint. I like to say “you can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit”. Leading is hard and I am not suggesting we make it harder.

But I’m not talking about the negative type of criticism. I am referring to constructive feedback from people I care about and who respect me. We all need that at times.

Here are 7 ways to welcome correction from the people we lead:

An open door.

My work environment is somewhat different now, because we have a very remote working environment. As pastor of a large staff, it was even more important to keep the door to my office open. But it was more than than simply the door. As a leader, I try to make my schedule available to the people I lead. And, if I’m in the office, my door is “open” and I want people to know they can walk in anytime. In addition, I try to help teams I lead know that I consider responsiveness to be of highest value to me. If they contact me, I will attempt to answer in a timely manner.

Include others in decision making.

If a decision affects more people than me, then I want more people helping to make the decision. This is true even if it’s a natural decision for me to make. The more I include people in the decision-making, the more likely they are to want to follow the decisions made. In fact, I seldom make decisions alone.

Ask for it.

Consistently, throughout the year, I ask people to tell me what they think. I ask lots of questions. I solicit opinions on almost every major decision I make. It’s a risky move, because many will, but it’s invaluable insight. And, the more you ask, the more freedom people feel in sharing.

Admit mistakes.

It’s important that I recognize when decisions made are my fault. People feel more comfortable approaching a leader who doesn’t feel they are always right.

Take personal responsibility.

In addition to admitting fault, I must own my share of projects and responsibility. The team needs to know that I’m on their side and in their corner. When they are criticized I own the criticism with them. I have their back. (By the way, this is only learned by experience.)

Model it.

It’s one thing to say I welcome correction, but when correction comes, I must model receiving it well. If I overreact when correction comes, I’ll limit the times I receive it. If I chooser retribution, I’ve shut further feedback off before it comes.

Trade it.

The best way to get a team to offer healthy correction of the leader is to create a relationship with the team where there is mutual constructive feedback. The goal is not for the leader to receive all the correction. The goal is for correction to be applied where correction is needed.

I should also say all these are still not enough. Constructive criticism from people who care about you and want your best, especially from people you lead, only develops over time as trust is developed. They have to trust you and you have to trust them.

Receiving correction – or constructive feedback – is difficult for anyone, perhaps seemingly unnatural for most leaders. I believe, however, when a leader is open to healthy correction from his or her team, the team will be more willing to follow the leader wherever he or she goes.

Leader, are you open to correction? Is your leader open to correction?

7 Default Zones Every Leader Should Implement NOW!

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 16 Comments

There are a lot of gray issues in leadership. So many times I simply don’t know what to do. I try to lead by consensus building, but even with the strongest teams there will always be decisions about which we just aren’t certain what is the best decision.

This is why I like to have some default zones in leadership. When I can’t make a decision – I know where to default.

Having a default action when things on both sides appear equal or you are uncertain about a decision may help you make better decisions. These aren’t foolproof, as many things in leadership are not, but having a general idea which way you would “default” in common situations, which occur frequently in leadership, may prove to be helpful.

Based on the team you lead, where you lead, and your past experiences as a leader, your defaults may be different from mine.

If you consistently have to make the same type decisions as a leader, think through which way over time has proven to be best. This becomes your default zone.

Here are 7 of my leadership default zones:

In matters of hiring – default to no over yes.

If in doubt over whether the person is a good fit, I default to no. It is not worth taking a chance when adding to the team. When I haven’t followed this one it has usually turned out to be a mistake.

If you think you shouldn’t say it – Choose not to say it.

I don’t follow my own advice here often enough, but I’ve learned if my gut is telling me to “keep a tight rein on my tongue”, it’s likely to be a Biblical conviction. The more I discipline myself in this area the more respect I garner as a leader – or the less respect I lose.

If it’s between empower or control – choose empower.

Except in cases such as vision or a moral issue, letting go of control and empowering others almost always works out better than expected. Even if the person isn’t successful, I have seen the learning curve for them and the team is huge and often some of the best discoveries for the team are made when I get out of the way. The area I control always limit us in this area.

Choosing my preference or the team’s preference – go with the team.

There are times I have to make the hard decision to stand alone, but I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. If I am clearly outnumbered, I tend to lean on the wisdom of the team. You won’t keep respect as a leader if you continually stand opposite your team and keep being proved wrong. And if you believe in your team – prove it.

To do something in person or by email – Choose in person

By far, email is my most frequent communication tool. It has to be, just because of the sheer number of communications I have in a given week. But when I can, especially with our staff, I choose the personal touch. Get up from the desk and walk down the hall when it is an available option. Email and text are misunderstood far too many times. And we need personal connections to build strong teams.

If you have to assume or ask – ASK for clarification.

If you aren’t sure you understand what someone is thinking – if it doesn’t appear they understand you – rather than assume – ask. I’m continually asking my team something such as, “When you said _____, can you help me understand what you meant by that?” Misunderstanding leads to strained relationships and unhealthy teams. The best leaders I know ask the best questions. And they ask lots of them.

Commit or don’t commit – Choose don’t commit.

Leaders usually have more opportunities than time can allow. I’ve learned – the hard way – no one will protect my calendar as well as me. I’ve also learned when I over commit – I become less effective, I burnout easily, and, over time, eventually I’m useless. I disappoint less people when I don’t commit on the front end.

These may not be the ones you need – you may have your own, but learning your leadership default zones may make you a better leader.

Do you have any you would add?