If I Only Had One Leadership Principle To Share

I once received an email:

Ron, a question for you.

If you had to pass one and only one leadership principle to others leaders, what would that one principle be and why that one?

That’s a hard question, because I can think of so many principles of what leadership is – maybe even seven or ten of them. I thought for a minute and came to a conclusion.

If I only had one principle of leadership to share it would be:

It’s not about you.

It’s not about the leader.

Why would I say that?

Because, leadership is about something bigger than you.

Leaders need to be continually conscious that we are called to advance a worthy cause for the benefit of others. Leadership is a stewardship of trust. It is a sacred privilege to have people willing to follow our lead. Without others – there is no leadership.

If ever we begin to believe leadership is about us, or our agenda, or our plan we will become controlling, prideful and eventually ineffective. And, I’m not sure we would even be leading anymore.

10 Dangerous Distractions for a Pastor

I encounter so many struggling pastors. And unfortunately, I know so many who used to be pastors, but no longer hold the position.

It may be through a blatant sin or a casual drifting from doing what they knew to be right, but it landed them in disaster. A pastor friend of mine says frequently, “We need healthy churches and we need healthy pastors.”

Amen. Agreed. We must stand guard.

What are we guarding against?

No single post would be perfect. Obviously sin, but I can’t address everything that gets in the way of a healthy pastor. I can only list some that are more common in my experience.

Here are 10 dangerous distractions for a pastor:

Neglecting your soul.One of my mentors reminds me, “Ron, don’t forget to feed your own soul.” It was subtle. Almost given as a sidebar to our discussion. But it was gold. One of the biggest dangers for a pastor is when we begin to operate out of stored up knowledge of and experience with God. We need fresh encounters with truth and His glory.

Sacrificing family. Families learn to resent the ministry when it always trumps the family. Ministry families get accustomed to interruptions. They are part of the job as they are part of many vocations. But the family will hopefully be there when no one else is around. Ministry locations change but the family does not – so we must not neglect them. I’ve sat with men who lost the respect of their family. I know countless pastors who’s adult children no longer want anything to do with the church. Apparently, from what I’ve been told, there’s not much greater hurts for someone who devoted their life to ministry.

Playing the numbers game. Whenever we put the emphasis on numbers we are always disappointed. They will never be high enough. God is in charge of the numbers. We are in charge of what He has put us in charge of, but it’s not the numbers. We must be careful to concentrate on making disciples and the numbers will take care of themselves.

Comparing ministries. There will always be a “bigger” ministry. Someone will always write a better tweet — or a better book – or a better blog post – preach a better sermon. When we begin to compare it distracts us from the ministry we’ve been God-appointed to lead.

Finding affirmation among the rebels. This is the one which gets me in trouble among the rebels when I point it out to pastors. But we must be careful not to get distracted by people who would complain regardless of the decision we make. Yes, it stings the way some people talk to a pastor. And, it’s certainly not always godly how some people express themselves in the church. But, what if Joshua had listened to the naysayers? What if Nehemiah had? What if Moses had given up every time the complainers were louder than the people who are willing to follow? Okay, he probably was willing to give up a couple of times but he held the course. If you are leading there will always be someone that is not happy with the decisions you made. People bent on pleasing others – more even than pleasing God – have a very hard time finding peace and joy in ministry.

Sacrificing truth for popularity. It’s easy to preach the easy stuff. Grace messages are pleasant to share and popular to receive. And, we need them. Where sin increases grace should increase all the more. But, we need truth. Even when it is unpopular. Making disciples becomes impossible when we sacrifice either one – truth or grace.

Stealing glory. My mama used to say “that boy got too big for his britches”. Sadly it can happen in ministry also. Many pastors struggle with ego problems. God is never honored when we make ourselves to be anything other than a God-glorifying position. This is true for everyone, but it should be written into our job description.

Poor boundaries. The enemy enjoys a door of opportunity. I know too many pastors who fell into a trap because they didn’t have healthy boundaries in place. This is especially true in dealing with the opposite sex.

Neglecting friendships. Most pastors struggle knowing who to trust, but because of this they have few people really get to know them. Therefore they often have no one who can speak into the dark places of their life. And, pastors have them too. So, they put on a good front, but inside they struggle alone. It’s dangerous.

Abusing power. The pastor holds a certain amount of power just based on position. It has been said, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” One of the more dangerous things I see churches doing these days is giving a pastor too much power, without enough built-in personal accountability. (That’s coming from a church planter’s heart – and one who is prone to lead strong.) BTW, I’m not for controlling the pastor or forced relational accountability – and I haven’t discovered the perfect system here – but there needs to be one which balances pastoral authority and personal accountability. I don’t know how to systematize that, but too much power can be a dangerous distraction. The ultimate goal would be for the pastor or ministry leader to build their own system of accountability into their life.

Those are some that I have seen. These distractions are displayed in a number of ways – and all of them are not fatal thankfully – but all of them are real. And all of them are dangerous.

7 Indicators That You’re Not Leading Anymore

Being in a leadership position is no guarantee we are leading. Holding the title of leader isn’t an indication one actually leads.

I have a whole chapter on this topic in my book The Mythical Leader.

Leading by definition is an active term. It means we are taking people somewhere. And, even the best leaders have periods – even if ever so briefly – even if intentional – when they aren’t necessarily leading anything. Obviously, those periods shouldn’t be too long or progress and momentum eventually stalls, but leadership is an exhaustive process. It can be draining. Sometimes we need a break.

For an obvious example, I try to shut down at the end of every day and most Saturdays. I’m not leading anything, yet I’m still a leader. And, I periodically stop leading for a more extended period. During those times, I’m intentionally not leading anything. There are other times, such as after we’ve accomplished a major project, where I may intentionally “rest” from leading to catch my breath and rely on our current systems and structures to maintain us.

But, again, those times should be intentional and they should be too extended. In my experience, leaders get frustrated when they aren’t leading for too long a period.

For me personally, I like to evaluate my leadership over seasons, rather than days. Typically, just for simplicity of calendar, I look at things on a quarterly basis and then on an annual basis. How/what am I going to lead this next quarter – next year? How/what did I lead last quarter – last year?

If the past review or the future planning is basically void of any intentional leadership – if all I’m doing is managing current programs and systems during that time frame – if we are in maintenance mode for too long – I know it’s time to intentionally lead something. That’s good for me personally and for the teams I lead.

How do you evaluate if you are leading or simply maintaining? One way is to look for the results of leading. What happens when you do lead? And, ask if those are occurring.

For example…

Here are 7 indicators you’re not leading anymore:

Nothing is being changed. Leadership is about something new. It’s taking people somewhere they haven’t been. That always involves change. If nothing is changing you can do without a leader.

You’re not asking questions. A leader only knows what he or she knows – and nothing more. And, many times, in my experience, the leader is the last to know. A great part of leadership is about discovery. And, you only get answers to questions you ask.

There are competing visions. Leaders point people to a vision. A VISION. Not many visions. One of the surest ways to derail progress is to have multiple visions. It divides energy and people. It confuses instead of bringing clarity. Competing visions arise and confusion elevates when we fail to lead.

No one is complaining. You can’t lead anything involving worthwhile change where everyone agrees. If no one is complaining someone is almost always settling for less than best.

People aren’t being stretched. Please understand – a leader should strive for clarity. They certainly shouldn’t aim for chaos. But, when things are changing and work becomes challenging there will always be times of confusion. Don’t equate calmness with good leadership. That’s when good leaders get even better at communicating, listening, vision casting, etc.

No paradigms are being challenged. Many times the best change is a change of mindset – a way we think. Leaders are constantly learning so they can challenge the thinking “inside the box”.

People being “happy” has become a goal. Everyone likes to be liked. Might we even say “popular”. In fact, some get into leadership for the notoriety. But, the end goal of leadership should be accomplishing a vision – not making sure everyone loves the leader. Progress hopefully makes most people happy, but when the goal begins with happiness, in my experience, no one is ever really made happy.

Leader, have you been sitting idle for too long? Is it time to lead something again?

7 Ways Great Team Members Perform On A Team

I love team dynamics and organizational structures. I have written many times about what makes a healthy team, my expectations of team members, and elements to build health into your team.

But, how does a great team member perform on a team? How do great team members act on the team – what makes them valuable?

Here are 7 ways great team members perform on a team:

They need little supervision 

He or she catches on quickly, learning the expectations of the team, has confidence in his or her ability, and knows the vision of the organization well enough to make routine decisions. They attempt to figure out problems and ask specific questions when something is unclear. This saves everyone’s time and speeds progress. A great team member follows through on what he or she committed to do with limited oversight. They don’t need a “boss”, because they are truly part of a team. “Let’s get it done together!”

They add to the overall team spirit 

A great team member knows there is work to do as a team and limits the drama that comes from working with people. They aren’t known for gossip, back-stabbing, or pouting when things aren’t going as they would have them. Everyone has bad seasons and a good team is their to assist during those times, but a great team member doesn’t allow their personal life doesn’t impact their professional life on a daily basis. They are known to improve team spirit rather than detract from it.

They remain flexible

The work of a team requires synergy from all members. Sometimes one team member carries unequal weight for a season. Great team members are flexible to pick up slack from others. They do what needs doing. They don’t participate or foster “turf wars”.

Not to take anything away from fair compensation, but the great team player does the work to see the results of a project done well. Their key motivation is achieving the agreed upon goal of the team. They love their work – even more the work of the team – and they are motivated to celebrate when the team succeeds.

They consider the interests of the entire team

Great team members are good listeners. They value others on the team. They are humble enough to look out for good of the entire team. They aren’t self-serving. He or she wants what is best for everyone, even if that means having to personally sacrifice for the win of the team.

They add intrinsic value to the team

Great team members add something to the team no one else brings. They know themselves and allow their strengths to shine through hard work and dedication to the vision, providing a unique value to the entire team.

They demonstrate loyalty in action

No one questions the loyalty of a great team member. They are “on board” with the vision, supportive of the leadership and direction of the organization, and committed unless something unforeseen takes them away from the team.

Of course, I forgot the one about bringing homemade snacks occasionally for the break room, but I’ll save that for another post.

It also bears mentioning it is difficult to be a great team member without a great team environment and a great team leader. I get that. I have, however, known some great team members who served on a dysfunctional team. And, I’ve seen one great team member help transform an unhealthy team.

I’m confident there are plenty more ways a great team member performs on a team. Feel free to add to my list. I’d love to hear from you.

In your experience, what does a great team member do on a team?

4 Risks of Attempting Risk-Free Change

As leaders, we all want to limit the risk in the hard decisions we make. Personally, whenever we are about to make a major change or launch some new initiative, I want our team to think through things which could go wrong. I want to know who is going to be upset with the change. We try to figure out some of the worse-case scenarios which could keep us from being successful. And, then we build into our plan some natural reactors to things we know could go wrong. A good portion of time is dedicated to risk management. I think it’s important.

But, I have seen some leaders who want to get to 100% risk elimination before they move forward with any change. And, if that’s your goal, I have a few thoughts to consider.

Here are 4 risks of attempting risk-free change

You’re risking how expensive it will be – It’s not cheap to eliminate every thing which could go wrong. You have to determine how much you’re putting into attempting to eliminate risk is being taken from actually implementing change – especially change which has direct impact on people. And, context matters here. Attempting to eliminate risk in equipment to perform surgery or in building airplanes is different than trying to eliminate risk in organizational planning.

You’re risking precious time while attempting to eliminate risk – Time is incredibly valuable in implementing change. If you do eliminate a genuine risk that may be time well spent. The time, however, spent researching all the scenarios and answering all questions may be time taken from actually making the change. And, again, if you’re change is attempting to make life better for the organization or others, the faster you get started the better.

You’re risking simply being impractical – Getting to zero risk may never actually happen regardless of how hard you try. Risk seems to find its way back into the equation, in my experience. I’ve seen pastors, for example, refuse to move forward with a project because they aren’t sure how groups of people might respond. But, you can ask and answer every question in people’s minds, but when change is actually implemented some people may still complain. All change invokes an emotion. And, sometimes people can’t discern the emotion until they experience the change.

You may risk being unrealistic– Life is a risk. Risk is all around us. If it involves people, time or circumstances, risk seems more probable than having no risk at all. I’m not encouraging any leader to ignore risk. That would he irresponsible. I’m just questioning whether or not it is even leadership if we could get to zero risk. Leadership by application involves risk.

As much as practical, address risk before it occurs. Study. Evaluate. Question. Critique. Make practical plans as much as possible. That certainly sounds like good stewardship. I try to do each of those.

My personal thought, however, is that when eliminating risk is a primary motivation you may risk losing opportunity. While trying to eliminate risk the world and the best ideas it has to offer may pass you by.

In fact, eliminating risk doesn’t mesh with my understanding of faith, nor does it mesh with the passion or adventure God seems to have given to the people He created. We seem to be by nature seekers of adventure, discovery – and risk. I’d much rather be an advocate of taking a risk than attempting to eliminate every risk out there.

Bonus question: What is the biggest risk you are currently attempting?

7 Observations of Leading Change

I Tweeted recently, “You can have change without leadership, but I’m not sure you can have leadership without change.”

Change is all around us. But, as leaders, we are called to be agents of change. We are charged with taking people to places they may not be able to go on their own – or at least no one has taken the steps to get started. But, you can’t take people someone new without change.

I keep learning about change leadership. And, the more I learn the more I seem to not know. I talk some about change in my book The Mythical Leader. Here I want to share a few random obvservations I’ve made about leading change.

7 observations on leading change:

Be a proponent of the new more than an opponent of the old. Everything which happened in the past was not bad. In fact, something happened which has allowed you to be where you are today. When you bash prior days and leadership you push people into a defensive mode and alienate people who might otherwise support you.

Keep the “why” as simple and easy to understand as possible. You will have to repeat it often – like continually – so, you want it to be sticky enough for people to quickly grasp. People aren’t as reluctant to the what the more clearly they understand the why.

Know the key stakeholders. The number one component of change is always people. People matter. (People who don’t understand this aren’t leaders as much as they are tyrants.) Most people are looking for someone to help them – lead them. And, because of that, there are always leaders in the room. They are not always the loudest voices, but they are the ones to whom people will listen. They may be adversaries or allies, but you simply have to know who they are if you want to lead change successfully.

Understand the real resistance. It’s not always the obvious. Sometimes it’s a very minor issue, which can be resolved easily. And, sometimes it’s simply change. Every change comes attached with emotions – a sense of loss. Knowing why people are resisting helps the leader walk people through change in a caring, less controlling way.

Timing is huge. It’s difficult to know the perfect time to make a change, but doing the right thing at the wrong time can end up being the wrong thing – no matter how much change is needed. The key is leaders must strategically plan out a timeline for change. When are key decisions going to be made? Who is told what and when? What are the steps which need to be taken before the change is made?

Identify critical wins and non-critical elements.You may not get everything you want. It’s a pretty controlling leader who thinks they must. There need to be some collaboration and cooperation. It’s a healthy part of leading people – and it’s a necessary part of leading change. Identify what must take place to be successful. Use a team to help you with this if possible. Then hold everything else with open hands.

Develop a healthy rhythm of change. Ultimately, you want the each new season of change to go easier than the last. This isn’t always possible, of course, simply because some change is more complex than others and seasons change for people, cultures and organizations. But, great leaders become students of change. They learn as they go. And, the way you handle change – things like the speed at which you change, the people you include in change, the rest and celebration in between change – helps develop the DNA of change in the organization. Change is never easy, but over time you become better at leading change and the organization becomes better at accepting change.

I’ve written many other posts on change. You can search this blog or see some of the related posts. (I am even slowly working on a book on leading change.) As I said though, I’ve mostly learned I have so much to learn. So, help me improve in change leadership. What have you observed along the way?

10 Commonalities of Healthy Teams

I am happy to serve on what I believe to be a healthy team. It’s amazing how many church leaders I know who say their team is not healthy. 

I have often been asked, however, why I claim our team is healthy. This is simply my opinion, but I can share some things I think healthy teams have in common.

Here are 10 commonalities of healthy teams:

  • A shared vision is embraced by everyone on the team.
  • Team member’s individual ideas are equally valued.
  • The organization readily embraces change.
  • Risk taking is encouraged.
  • Encouragement flows freely.
  • People enjoy their work and relationships are deeper than just the professional environment.
  • Mistakes are used to make the team stronger
  • The structure doesn’t limit growth, but provides healthy boundaries.
  • There is freedom to offer constructive criticism, even of top leadership, without fear of retribution.
  • Conflict is not discouraged, but handled in a healthy way.

There’s my list. Are we perfect in all of them – all the time? No. Do we see them consistently and value all of them? Thankfully, yes.

What would you add to the list?

5 Necessary Ingredients In Healthy Delegation

I have seen, and probably been accused of, dumping responsibilities on people inappropriately and calling it delegation. Also from experience, this form of delegation actually appears to do more harm than good for an organization. It leaves projects undone or completed mediocre at best. It kills employee morale and motivation and it keeps the mission of the organization from reaching its full potential.

In my book Mythical Leader, I share a few stories of delegation gone wrong when I was the leader. This post originates from learning I have experienced the hard way.

The bottom line of delegation is delegation involves more than ridding oneself of responsibility. You can’t “dump and run” and call it delegation.

Delegation is an international, methodical – an most important – part of leadership.

Here are 5 necessary ingredients in healthy delegation:

Expectations

The person receiving the assignment must know the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve. They need to know what a win looks like in your mind. People will want to know they did good work. The question “Why are we doing this?” and “What are we trying to accomplish?” should be answered clearly in their mind.

Knowledge

The delegator should be sure the proper training, coaching and education have been received. The delegator should remain available during the process so questions or uncertainties of details, which will naturally arise, can be answered.

Resources

Effective delegation means people have adequate resources and money to accomplish the task assigned. Nothing is more frustrating than being asked to complete a project without the tools with which to do it.

Accountability

Proper delegation involves follow up and evaluation of the delegated assignment. Did we achieve the objectives? What could we have done better? What did we learn from this process? This process isn’t meant to be threatening or make anyone fearful. Done well it is healthy for the delegator, the person receiving delegation, and the organization.

Appreciation

The delegation isn’t complete until the delegator recognizes the accomplishment of the one who completed the task. Failing to do so limits the leader’s ability to continue healthy delegation.

Delegation may be one of a leader’s most effective methods of success. Any leader I have known who is productive long-term has continued to grow and develop as a delegator.

Leaders Must Grow as the Organization Grows

In my experience, it’s easier to hide bad leadership in a place, which isn’t growing.

However, the larger an organization gets – the more growth that occurs – the more bad leadership becomes apparent.

As a leader for the last several decades, I’ve learned the times my leadership is stretched the most are the times we are growing – and changing – the fastest.

As an organization grows:

  • People ask harder questions and challenge the process.
  • More decisions have to be made.
  • There never seems to be enough time.
  • Better systems are needed.
  • The people required to do the work increases.
  • Leadership development becomes more important.
  • Effective delegation and management is necessary.
  • Resources are stretched.
  • Commucication is often messy.
  • Tensions are high.

I have even wondered if an organization can outgrow the capacity of a leader. (I certainly think it could outgrow me.)

Here’s the bottom line.

As the organization grows – as things get bigger – the leader must be equally growing.

This can be a sobering word for leaders. But, leadership is often a sobering reality. But, the leader must understand – continuing to grow an organization always requires a leader to continually grow.

Which leads me to close with an important question:

What is your personal leadership development plan?

Credibility Versus Communication

A Huge Understanding in Leadership.

In John Maxwell’s book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently”. Maxwell claims, “Connectors live what they communicate”.

The people who learn to connect with others best live the life they talk about when they communicate.

Then Maxwell writes something I think is powerful. I’ve seen this so many times in leadership.

“Credibility! Here’s how this works in any kind of relationship: The first six months – communication overrides credibility. After six months – credibility overrides communication.

Then he closes his thought by writing, “Credibility is currency for leaders and communicators. With it, they are solvent; without it, they are bankrupt.” 

Wow! I love it! It’s so true.

In the beginning of a relationship, you hang on what people say, but as the relationship matures it doesn’t matter as much what they say – it matters what they do.

This is a golden paradigm understanding for those of us who lead others. This principle should guide us as we begin new relationships and as we manage those we’ve had for years.

So many times we believe in the initial days of leading someone that our credibility should be enough. (This is the first myth in my book The Mythical Leader.) Other times, we mistakenly believe if those we are leading know us we can simply say it and they will follow, but now they are depending on our credibility. We have to walk the talk.

How does knowing this principle impact the way you lead?