One Hard Truth of Leadership

There is one truth about leadership every leader must understand, but is difficult to receive by some leaders.

The probability is good you won’t like this truth either.

Not everyone will agree with you – or even like you – if you are a leader.

That’s hard, isn’t it? All of us – at a certain level – like to be liked. We want people to agree with us. We prefer cheers to jeers. No one enjoys being the bad guy. (Unless you’re really the bad guy.)

The truth, however, is if you lead anything, someone will disagree with your decisions and you will divide people into different opinions. There will be supporters and detractors.

(Keep in mind, there has never been a president of the United States – or any country – with 100% approval ratings.)

Leading is hard, because it takes people into the unknown. Leadership challenges status quo. It stretches people and organizations. It brings change and change is always attached to an emotion.

Leaders must be prepared to lead towards the vision of the organization, even when it means losing approval ratings.

The only way to avoid this truth is to never lead.

Here is a strong word I would say to those who want to lead. And, I say this in sincere honesty and an attempt at humility. I don’t say it to dissuade you from leading, but simply to help you discern whether you should or not.

If you are someone who needs people to agree with you or who relishes popularity more than your desire to make hard decisions and do the right thing for the organization, then I suggest you choose something other than leadership in which to invest your energies. A friend of mine says you should sell ice cream if this is the case.

And, if God calls you to be leader. Lead strong – and lead well.

7 Suggestions When a Leader Offers Praise

One aspect of leadership is appreciating the people one leads. I must admit, this has to be a discipline for me, because I’m not naturally wired for this. I can be guilty of expecting too much from people. When someone does the extraordinary work it comes easier for me to praise them, but I don’t always feel the need to acknowledge the normal work people do – especially when they are being paid to do it.

I realize, however, that all of us, including me, enjoy hearing we did a good job. Some people are even fueled by it. So, offering praise is a necessary part of a leader’s responsibility. We should all do it whether we are wired to or not.

And, when we do, there are certain things which can help us.

Here are 7 suggestions when a leader offers praise:

Be specific

Tell the person what he or she did well in specific rather than general terms. Make sure they know what they did or are doing well. 

Be honest

Make it genuine. False praise or praise offered only for person gain is seldom appreciated.

Be intentional

Some of us have to discipline to praise. That’s okay. It’s worth it. Don’t assume someone else will do it or that the person receives enough praise. (I try to intentionally praise at least 2 or 3 people per week among staff and volunteers.)

Be timely

People shouldn’t wait long after a job done well to receive praise for it. 

Be creative

Find unique ways to offer praise. Send a handwritten note. Not many do it anymore.  Give an extra day off. Recognize them in front of others. And, of course, don’t forget the personal, face-to-face approach. 

Be unique

Don’t say the same thing everyone else is saying or the same thing to every person. Find the thing or aspect to praise that no one else has noted.

Be helpful

Offer praise which helps the person recognize strengths and encourages them in that area.

It does take intentionality to be an appreciative leader. Our staff would probably tell you I have much work to do. I would have to agree with them. But, I do recognize the value and keep striving to improve.

Monday’s Preparation Brings Friday’s Success

In one of my consulting opportunities I was asked to help someone think strategically. We were looking at this person’s ministry, trying to design a system, which would allow for continual growth and improvement. The ministry had grown rapidly and the leader barely felt she could keep up with her current demands.

She recognized the need to delegate, grow new leaders, and spread out responsibility and ownership, but she couldn’t seem to get past the current demands of details to develop a plan to do so.

Have you ever been there?

While attempting to create a system with her, I think we may have gotten to the root of her problem (and one I’ve had many times personally). She looked at me with complete sincerity and said, “I just don’t have time to prepare…”

Have you ever had that thought?

Do you see the problem with her statement? If you don’t we have a bigger problem on our hands.

Unfortunately, it’s a common misperception of all parts of life. We don’t feel we have time to do the required preparation to do the job right, so we continue in the mediocre success, while drowning in details. The reality, however, is that preparation time is often the most important part of the work.

As corny as it may sound – an inch of preparation is worth a mile of success.

It’s Monday.Take a few minutes to prepare.

It will make the rest of the week much easier and more effective. I start each week with some clear objectives. I want to know what I need to accomplish for the week. These are usually broad and I list them in the form of a checklist. (Sermon, write quarterly newsletter, prepare for staff meeting, prepare for finance meeting, etc.) Once I have this list I break them down by day. Some items, such as my sermon, may require time from multiple days. And, then I start each day with its own checklist.

It’s not complicated, but it is strategic. I find the more deliberate I am to pre-plan my day and week the more productive I feel at the end of the week.

You have time to prepare. I would say you don’t have time to waste not doing so.

Wanting to be Led vs. Wanting to be a Leader

Discerning the difference in leading others

I have studied some psychological theory on personality differences and types. I’m certified to administer Myers-Briggs, but have worked with most of the more popular assessments. I generally agree with the theory behind these type tools. We can categorize certain personalities and traits together to help us understand ourselves and each other better. I am an introvert, for example. That’s not really a question for me anymore, now that I understand the term. It helps me know how I relate to other people on a regular bases.

At the same time, I hold loosely to all these types – believing that ultimately every human is uniquely designed by their Creator. No assessment can ever fully capture who we are as individuals.

But, I think understanding differences – and the broad categoration of them – has often been helpful to me in leading people. As much as I want to individualize my leadership based on the people I’m attempting to lead, it does help to have some broad ways to understand people.

Which brings me to a very broad difference in leading people.

There is a huge difference the way you lead someone who wants to be led and how you lead someone who wants to be a leader.

Huge. It requires a different approach.

The person who wants to be led desires structure. They want to follow the rules. They need someone to tell them how to do what you want done. He or she needs more specifics and more details – and less ambiguities. They tend to stress more during times of uncertainty, but they tend to be more compliant and cause less conflict when the path ahead is clearly defined.

You need to know that and allow it to impact your leadership of them.

The person who wants to be a leader needs space to dream, freedom to explore, and permission to experiment. He or she desires less direction and more encouragement. They need to be given a target of what a win looks like and then left alone to script the way to success. They continually need new challenges. They get bored easily. These people may stir conflict on a team – intentionally or not – because they enjoy testing and pushing the boundaries.

And, you need to know that and allow it to impact your leadership of them.

Again, these are generalizations, but there is nothing wrong with either person. Most teams need both types of team members. I have also found some people have seasons in their life where they float between preferring one or the other. And, of course, with any of these categorations there are huge variances within each of them. Again, everyone is unique.

The key is to know your team and the people you lead. The more we know the people we lead the better they are able to follow.

4 Easy Steps To Healthy Delegation

Even a potential control freak leader like me knows healthy delegating actually improves the organization. 

Yet, I work with dozens of pastors and leaders every year who struggle to release authority and responsibility.

How do we let go of responsibility when we are wired so heavily towards not doing so? How do we delegate when the church holds us responsible for getting things done? How do we let go when doing so makes us sometimes feel so out of control?

I often say there are three underlying reasons a leader doesn’t delegate.

Pride. They don’t think someone else can – as well as them.
Selfishness. They don’t want someone else getting the credit.
Ignorance. They simply don’t know how.

I can’t help with the first two, other than point you to Scripture and hope it convicts you otherwise. But, I can help you with the third one. And, I’m not trying to over simply a complicated leadership issue. It’s certainly not “easy” to implement as the title indicates, but the understanding the process really is simple.

Here are 4 easy steps to healthy delegation:

Identify

It could be a specific one-time task or an ongoing assignment, but find something which would be better delegated – either because you aren’t as skilled as others, don’t have adequate time to commit to it, or have lost interest. You have to get gut honest here, but look for things know someone would be better suited to lead. They have more time or talent in this area. And, don’t get stuck on this one. Make sure you find something. There is always something when you look for it.

Match

Find the right person/s for the responsibility based on passion, experience, and follow through capabilities. This can be volunteer or paid, but pick people who will do what they say they will do and you trust. Otherwise you will constantly be looking over their shoulder and back to not delegating again. And, you may not know until you give someone a chance to try. And, please don’t say there is no one to trust in your church or organization. If that’s the case, I see a couple options – you can change organizations or change the leader – and, most of the time it is the leader. Part of leading is raising up others to lead. (I’m not trying to be harsh, but it’s true.)

Release

This is the “letting go” part. (This is the scary part for many leaders. You may simply have to walk by faith on this one. I suspect Moses did when he followed Jethro’s advice.) Few leaders really do this well. Leaders usually lean more toward control than release, in my experience. But, if you want to be a delegator, especially a healthy delegator, you have to learn to give up your right to control. It won’t likely be done the way you wanted it to be done. It may not be done at the pace you expected. You have to release authority to do the delegated work. Help cast a vision of what a win looks like, give them the tools they need, but, this is the part of delegation you need the most – getting out of the way.

Follow-Up

Healthy delegation isn’t a dumping of responsibilities. If you are the senior leader even when you delegate you have some responsibility, even though you have released authority. Set a reminder on your calendar to periodically follow up with the person. Remain close enough and Xavailable to them should they have questions or need help, but stay out of their way as they complete the assignment.

I realize it’s not easy for some to delegate responsibility. It comes with discipline and practice. One way to improve at this is to consider the overall purposes and goals of the organization, recognizing they can better be attained through delegation, and allow accomplishing them to be the leader’s principal responsibility – rather than simply completing tasks personally. 

The journey to complete a worthy vision, includes delegating. Letting go to achieve greater success should be a key motivation for leadership.

When I Say I and When I Say We

A Leader's Vocabulary

I was talking with someone about the early days of church planting before anyone was on our team. We had not yet officially formed a core group, the initial staff members had not yet committed. As I told my personal story, I kept using words such as “our” and “we”. Towards the middle of the conversation the person stopped me and asked, “Who’s ‘we’?”

The fact is I was talking about me most of the time, but I confused him with my verbiage by using inclusive words. I wasn’t trying to be confusing. It’s simply a habit I’ve formed. I have come to realize a team vocabulary is a large part of encouraging healthy teams. I love teams and team-building so much I’ve disciplined myself to always talk in a collective sense.

To be fully candid, I cringe when I hear leaders use the words “I”, “me, and “my” when referring to their team, their church or organization. To me it always sounds so controlling, prideful, and even arrogant. As an example, Bo Warren is our worship pastor. He’s one of the most talented people I have ever met. We joke about him being a celebrity, but he is really a very humble person. Most of our church doesn’t understand how talented he really is. When I refer to him, I don’t say “He’s my worship pastor”, because he’s not! He’s our worship pastor. I don’t want to portray to him or others that somehow I control him. I want the perception to be “we” together are part of a team effort. I would be limiting his potential if I referred to him in a possessive sense.

I understand it may seem to just be semantics, but to me it’s an important issue for leaders to think through, perhaps bigger than to whom some give credence. If we truly want to create a team environment, then we must develop team vocabularies.

There are a few times when I use the personal words, such as:

  • When offering a pointed direction – “I am asking you to do this for the team.”
  • When offering an opinion which may not be shared by others – “I think we should…”
  • When asking a question or stirring discussion – “I wonder if we could…”
  • When giving a specific, personal compliment – “I want to thank you for the incredible work you did.”

When I am speaking on behalf of the team or referring to team members, I try to use a collective term. My advice is to default to words like “we” and “our” whenever possible – even if people have to ask you who the “we” is to whom you are referring.

The more we talk like a team the more our environments will feel like a team.

(You may want to read my post on a leader’s vocabulary.)

Have you had a leader who abused team vocabulary as described?  

The Life of an Idea on a Healthy Team

Healthy teams allow every idea a chance to live. At initial thought, there are no bad ideas.

The healthiest teams don’t contain a built in idea killer. And, if there is one they aren’t allowed to remain so for long.

Ideas need a chance to breathe. They need to be stretched and prodded and examined. The best ideas sometimes come from what started as a seemingly really bad idea. Genius ideas are often killed before they have a chance to develop into their greatness.

That’s why healthy teams have freedom and regularly:

  • Brainstorm
  • Analyze
  • Test drive
  • Push back
  • Critique
  • Debate
  • Challenge
  • Collaborate 
  • Dialogue 
  • Listen
  • Discuss 

Every. Single. Idea. 

Healthy teams remain open-minded about an idea until it’s proven to be a bad idea.

It doesn’t have to be a long process. It could be a short process.

But, healthy teams give every idea a chance to live.

That is because healthy teams know there is value in the collection of ideas on a team.

Leader, next time your team gets together open the floor of discussion to ideas. Let everyone put ALL their ideas on the table, with no fear of embarrassment or retribution. Watch for collective brilliance to develop .

Have you ever worked with an idea killer? How did it impact the team?

4 Ways Leaders Create Capacity

Capacity: the ability or power to do, experience, or understand something.

Great leaders know the more capacity the organization has the more potential it has to accomplish its mission. When the organization begins to exceed its capacity for too long things eventually stall. If you want to spur growth you have to increase capacity.

Therefore, one of the best ways a leader can impact an organization is to create capacity so the organization and its people can grow.

Here are 4 ways a leader can create capacity:

Paint a void

Allow others to see what could be accomplished. Leaders help people see potential – in themselves and the future – they may not otherwise see. This can be accomplished through vision casting and question asking. It may be helping people dream bigger dreams of what could be next in their own life or for the organization. It could be through training or development. Extra capacity energizes people to find new and adventuresome ways of achieving them.

Empower people

When you give people the tools, resources and power to accomplish the task and you’ve often created new capacity. Many times people feel they’ve done all they can with what they have. Provide them with new tools – maybe new ideas — assure them they can’t fail if they are doing their best. Continue to support them as needed. Then get out of their way.

Release ownership

Let go of your attempt to control an outcome so others can lead. Many people hold back waiting for the leader to take initiative or give his or her blessing. The more power and ownership you release the more others will embrace. The more initiative they will take of their own.

Lead people not tasks

If you are always the doer and never the enabler then you are not a leader. More than likely you are simply an obstacle to what the team could accomplish if you got out of the way. Many leaders don’t see this in themselves. Frequently ask yourself: Am I leading or am I in the way? And, if you’re brave enough — ask others to evaluate you – even anonymously.

When the leader creates capacity the organization and the people in the organization increase their capacity – and things can grow.

4 Ways to Process The Emotions of Betrayal as a Leader

I was reading a Bible passage the other day and, as I read, I had the weirdest emotional response to the text. I realize Scripture is supposed to impact us this way – if we allow it to – but, suddenly I was feeling a stirring in my stomach. I became slightly nervous. It was a brief encounter, but I quickly realized I was being reminded of a few very painful experiences in my own leadership and life.

I was recalling the emotions of betrayal.

To understand the passage, it helps to be able to count to twelve. (Or at least eleven.)

Here’s the passage:

And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.Acts 1:13

Do you see what jumped out at me?

Count them. There are eleven names. Eleven. Not twelve.

One name is missing. One person was no longer in the group. And, I remembered why.

For three years there were twelve. They had been Jesus’ disciples. His closest companions. His trusted friends. Jesus had invested time, energy and life into them. Now there were eleven. One was missing.

The betrayer.

If you don’t know the story, another named Judas betrayed Jesus. For a hefty sum of money he handed Jesus to the authorities where He was arrested, beaten and crucified. Of course, it was used for a divine purpose, but the fact is one of the disciples betrayed the others and Jesus.

I don’t think I ever considered this before, but what were the emotions of betrayal for the remaining disciples? Did they miss their friend? In spite of his betrayal, he was a close companion on a mission. A team member. There must have been some attachment. Were there moments of bitterness, anger, or rage? Were they sad? Was there one in particular who got hurt most? He was closest to the betrayer, perhaps, (I don’t know. But, I do know people and team dynamics so it prompts me to ask the questions.)

As I reflected on their experience, I couldn’t help remembering some of my own times of betrayal. There have been a few significant, very painful times in leadership (and life) where I was severely disappointed by people I trusted most.

But, that was my experience reading the text that morning and this post is really about you.

Have you ever experienced the emotions of betrayal?

We don’t talk about it much in leadership or ministry, but maybe we should. Those emotions are real. They are heavy. And, they are common.

Have you been hurt by your own betrayer? You trusted him or her. You may have even called them friend. They let you down. Disappointed you. Betrayed you.

Anyone who has served in any leadership position has experienced betrayal at some level. It could have been the gossip started by a supposed friend or a pointed and calculated stab in the back. Either way it hurts.

Learning to deal with, process, and mature through betrayal may be one of the more important leadership issues, yet we seldom deal with the issue.

How do you handle betrayal?

Here are a few quick suggestions:

Grieve

Give yourself time to process. Be honest about the pain. Don’t pretend it didn’t matter. It does. You were injured by someone you trusted – maybe someone you love.

Forgive

As much as it hurts, refusing to forgive or holding a grudge will hurt you more than the betrayer. (And, if you are a believer you have no option. It’s a command of God.) Embrace and extend grace. Let it go! If there are realistic consequences you can let those occur, but in your heart let it go. Forgiveness is a choice not dependent on the other person’s response. It is the most freeing decision you can make. It may take time to do this, but the longer you delay the more you are still held captive by the betrayal.

Analyze

It is good at a time of betrayal to consider what went wrong. Was it an error in judgement? Do you need stricter guidelines for yourself or those you lead? Would it have happened regardless? You can’t script morality and shouldn’t attempt to, but you should use this as a chance for a healthy review of the parameters in which the betrayal occurred.

Continue

You can’t allow a betrayal to distract you from the vision you have been called to complete. But, equally important, don’t allow this time to build up walls where you never trust again or unnecessary structure which burdens the rest of the team. There will always be betrayers as long as there are people. Jesus had them. They show up unexpectedly at times. And, if you read on in Acts, they replaced the twelfth person again. They moved forward in spite of betrayal. Eventually you will have to take a risk on people again. It’s the only way to lead in a healthy way.

Betrayers will come. The way we deal with them often determines the future quality of our leadership.

7 Ways to Keep a Leader on Your Team

One of the biggest challenges for any organization is to attract and retain leaders.

I previously posted reasons leaders tend to leave an organization. (Read that post HERE.) The goal then is to find ways to keep a leader energized to stay with the team – so I thought a companion post was appropriate.

I’m writing from the perspective of all organizations, but keeping leaders should certainly be a high priority in the church.

I never want to stop someone from pursuing a better opportunity, but I don’t want to send them away because I didn’t help them stay.

The reality is leaders get restless if they are forced to sit still for long. Good managers are comfortable maintaining progress, but a leader needs to be leading change. In fact, leaders even like a little chaos. Show a real leader a problem ready to be solved and they are energized.

Here are a few suggestions to encourage leaders to stay:

Give them a new challenge.

Let them tackle something you’ve never been able to accomplish. (Even tell them you’re not certain it can be done.) Leaders love to do what others said couldn’t be done. Or what no one has figured out yet how to do. Let the leader be a precursor to what’s next for the organization. Let them experiment somewhere you’ve wanted to go, but haven’t tried. They may discover the next big thing for the organization.

Allow them to explore a specific area of interest to them.

Leaders are attracted to environments where they can explore – especially in areas where they have a personal interest or where they want to develop. This may even be outside their direct job description. Give them permission to do something new.

Invest in them.

Mentor them personally. This is huge for younger leaders. They crave it, but don’t always know how to ask for it. This is not micromanaging. This is helping them learn valuable insight from your experience and exposing them to other good leaders.

Give them more creative time to dream.

This is a stretch for some structures, but it’s needed to retain leaders. It doesn’t mean people aren’t held accountable, but I prefer to do so with goals and objectives rather than with a time clock. You might keep someone from feeling stifled if you give them more margin in how they spend their time.

Don’t burden them with your fears.

I’ve seen this so many times when a senior leader gives other leaders in the organization more responsibility. It makes the leader nervous, so they revert to controlling and micromanagement. They don’t give them a chance to prove themselves. They try to tell them how to do things. Fear is what is discerned by others. And, it doesn’t communicate you trust them. It doesn’t mean you are absent from the process. It is hard to release responsibility to someone unproven, but you must stifle your fears and let them learn to lead. Stay close enough to jump in when requested or when it is absolutely required.

Allow him or her to help you lead/dream/plan for the organization.

Include them in discussions and brainstorming in which they normally would not be included. The more they feel included the more loyal they will be.

Reward them.

If they are doing well – let them know it. Praise them privately and publicly and compensate them fairly. What is celebrated gets repeated.

Keeping a leader on your team will be at challenge for you as a leader. You will have to stretch yourself to stretch them. But, it’s almost always worth it. As they grow, you grow, and the entire organization grows.