When Only the Senior Leader Fully Understands

I was once talking with a young pastor having to make some hard decisions in his church. He was praying, seeking wisdom from other pastors and leaders, and allowing input from the church. He felt confident he was making the right decisions for the life of the church at the time. None of the changes were clearly addressed in Scripture. He felt the majority of the people supported him, but still there was a certain group in the church who continually questioned and criticized him for any changes he initiated.

His comment which struck me was, “I feel like every time I take two steps forward we take another step backwards. Why can’t they understand we have to change or we will eventually die?”

His comment and the question which followed reminded me of one thing I’ve learned about leadership. And, I’ve been reminded of it by experience many times.

You can never fully understand all the decisions a leader makes unless you sit where the leader sits.

The leader can explain the why behind the decision – and, he or she should try. The leader can walk people slowly through the process of change – and, he or she should. The leader can listen to people’s objections and be patient with people who don’t understand – and, he or she should.

The leader should consider all aspects of the decision, how it impacts people (not just a few), every ministry, and how it helps accomplish the vision for the future of which he or she feels charged to lead. Leaders should never make decisions in a vacuum- they need to include other people in the decision-making process. The leader should be open to critique and be teachable.

But, there will be times when the leader simply has to make decisions based on the best and most current information available.

And, not everyone will understand.

This is true for pastors, business owners, parents, elected officials, and teachers. Anyone who leads people will experience times of being misunderstood. If you’re a leader, you’ll be second-guessed in some of the decisions you make.

A friend of mine uses the term “second chairitis“. It’s similar to “back seat driver”. Basically it means it’s natural to question the actions of a leader, when you aren’t carrying the full weight of leadership. The “outside looking in” view isn’t always the clearest view.

For the leader, I would encourage you as I did the pastor I reference above:

  • Make sure you are obedient to God and His word.
  • Make sure you are seeking wise counsel.
  • Make sure you are open to correction.
  • Make sure you are leading with integrity, in your public and personal life.
  • Make sure you allow people you trust to speak into your life.
  • Make sure you stay true to the vision.
  • Make sure you consider the interest of others, even more than your own.
  • Make sure you develop methods to measure progress.

Then make decisions – the best decisions you can, based on the information you have, realizing in advance not everyone will always understand. Hopefully, someday they’ll look back and realize you were making good decisions, even when they couldn’t understand. Sometimes you’ll look back and realize you made the wrong decisions. Admit those times. They are like gold for your future leadership decision making.

But, leaders aren’t called to be popular. They are called to lead.

7 Ways to Correct a Team Member in a Healthy Way

All of us make mistakes and occasionally need someone to help us become better at what we do. This should always be the end goal of correction.

Avoiding the corrective procedure keeps the organization from being all it can be. It keeps people from learning from their mistakes. Good leaders use correction to improve people and the organization.

It’s important, however, that we correct correctly. The way a leader handles correction of someone on the team is important if the desire is to keep quality people on the team – and a healthy team dynamic. 

Here are 7 aspects of healthy correction:

A pre-established relationship – Corrective actions should ultimately start here. It’s hard to correct people effectively if you don’t have a relationship with them. Using authority without an established relationship may work in a bureaucratic organization, but not in a team environment. Relationship building should begin before the need for correction.

Granted, there will be times when a leader has to correct someone he or she doesn’t know well. While this isn’t ideal, it should alter the way the conversation takes place and who is in the room at the time. I have, for example, invited someone else the person trusts on the team into the room with us.

Respect for the person – Never condemn the person. As soon as correction becomes more personal than practical, the one being corrected becomes defensive and the leader loses the value of the correction. Focus attention on the actions being corrected and not the person. Even if the correction involves a character issue, if you intend to retain the person, you will accomplish more if he or she knows they have your respect. If you can’t respect the person’s character you have a completely different issue – and probably need a different blog post.

Be clear about the offense – Make sure the action being correction is clear and the person knows what they did wrong.  Don’t wait until the problem is too large to restore the person to the team. Even though protecting the relationship is important, the person doesn’t need to leave still clueless there is a problem or what the actual problem is you think needs correcting.

Embrace a development opportunity – In addition to telling the person what he or she did wrong, help them learn from their mistakes. Spend time discussing how the person can improve in the area of performance being corrected. Get them additional help or training if needed.

Restore them to a place of trust – Make sure the person being corrected knows you still believe in their abilities and you have faith they can do the job for which they are responsible. Correction is never easy to accept, but the goal should be to improve things following the corrective period. People will lose heart for their work if they do not think their work is still valued. Trust may take some time and you will need to see improvement, but if you can never fully trust the person – again – you have harder decisions to make than correcting them. And, there’s another blog post needed.

Build health into the DNA – Correction can be a valuable time for the team member and organization if used appropriately. It should be a learning time for the leader and the person being corrected. Use this as a time to remind the team member of the culture, vision, goals and objectives of the organization, as necessary to improve the team member’s performance. The leader may need to consider how he or she (the leader) needs to improve to help the team member and the team improve.

Make hard decisions when needed – Some people simply aren’t a fit for the team. The problem could be them or the team. Making the call to replace a team member is hard, but sometimes necessary to continue the progress of the organization. The sooner this call is made the better it will be for everyone. (If it reaches this point, the leader should spend time evaluating what went wrong with the relationship – was it the person, the organization, or the leader?)

Many leaders avoid correction of any kind. Either they don’t like conflict or they simply don’t want to lose favor with the team member. But, correction can be valuable for the team and its members if used correctly.

(And, it really is a Biblical principe. See Hebrews 12:11)

7 High Costs of Leadership Every Leader Should Pay

Leadership should be expensive. If we desire to be leaders it should cost us something. Leadership is a stewardship. It’s the keeping of a valuable trust others place in you. Cheap leadership is never good leadership.

Here are 7 high costs of leadership:

Personal agenda

Good leaders give up their personal desires for the good of others, the team or the organization.

Control

What you control you limit. Good leaders give freedom and flexibility to others in how they accomplish the predetermined goals and objectives.

Popularity

Leading well is no guarantee a leader will be popular. In fact, there will be times where the opposite is more true. Leaders take people through change. Change is almost never initially popular. I wrote a whole chapter about this principle in my book The Mythical Leader.

Comfort

If you are leading well you don’t often get to lead “comfortably”. You get to wrestle with messiness and awkwardness and push through conflict and difficulty. It’s for a noble purpose, but it isn’t easy.

Fear

Good leadership goes into the unknown. That’s often scary. Even the best leaders are anxious at times about what is next.

Loneliness

I believe every leader should surround themselves with other leaders. We should be vulnerable enough to let others speak into our life. But, there will be days when a leader has to stand alone. Others won’t immediately understand. On those days the quality of strength in a leader is revealed. This one should never be intentional, but when you are leading change…when it involves risk and unknowns – this will often be for a season a significant cost.

Outcomes

We follow worthy visions. We create measurable goals and objectives. We discipline for the tasks ahead. We don’t, however, get to script the way people respond, how times change, or the future unfolds.

As leaders, we should consider whether we are willing to pay the price for good leadership. It’s not cheap!

7 Phrases to Ban When Trying to Discover New Ideas

The best ideas in an organizational setting often come by getting a group together and searching for new ideas or ways of doing things. My mindset is you can usually come up with better solutions if you put the right people in a room and let them throw lots of ideas on the table – even seemingly bad ideas (at least at first).

The reality is change spurs momentum, so if you want to create some excitement around you, get a variety of people in a room and let the ideas flow freely. If you are in a stuck or stale position – and want to see new growth – one recommendation I’d give is to organize a session of ideation.

But, you’ve got to be intentional to be successful. You need enough people. (If you don’t have a large church staff, invite some lay people. And, inviting outside people is often a good idea even with large staffs.) You need the right people – people who will voice their own opinions, but will also be positive-minded, cooperative and supportive of other people’s thoughts.

It’s usually good to begin with some open ended questions or problems to solve in order to spur discussion. You need plenty of time, because ideas often come slowly. You need a relaxed environment – people need the freedom to get up and walk around the room, for example.

And, then you need to establish some rules up front. This is the part we sometimes fail to do and where the process gets off track.

Specifically, there are certain phrases, which cannot be heard in an effective meeting intended solely to generate ideas. They should be off limits. In fact, you might even give everyone the freedom to challenge when they hear one of these.

There are probably others, but let me share some which come to my mind.

7 phrases to eliminate when generating ideas:

  • We’ve never done it that way.
  • We can’t afford it.
  • So and so is not going to like it.
  • Let’s get serious – so only throw out ideas that make sense.
  • We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.
  • The problem with that is…(before the idea has a chance to even breathe)
  • That’s ridiculous – always translated you’re ridiculous.

Additionally, long sighs, shrugged shoulders, or any animation which displays a sense of disgust or lack of initial support should also be discouraged.

There should be plenty of time to critique ideas before they are implemented, but when looking for new ideas you want EVERY idea on the table. There are no bad ideas at this point – capture all of them. In fact, the one, which may seem the worst idea of all, may be the trigger for someone else’s spark of genius.

This is a great time to encourage randomness. I’ve even led us to play games prior to starting such a meeting.

New ideas are usually out there – they just need to be brought to the table. That’s the main benefit of this type process.

What ideas can you add for productive idea generation?

7 Common Tensions During Fast Growth or Overwhelming Change

I have been part of several organizations experiencing either exponential growth or tremendous change. In business and with a few churches, we had times of explosive growth, but also times where the speed of change was overwhelming – some of that planned, but much of it unexpected.

Most of us love growth.

I have learned either times of fast growth or change both have common tensions associated with them.

Here are 7 common tensions you might experience:

Miscommunication. Growth or change brings so much activity it is often difficult to keep everyone informed about everything. This bothers those who are used to “being in the know”. The organization will need to improve in this area, but during the immediate season you can expect mishaps in communication. Systems will need to improve, but for today people must ask questions when they don’t know, avoid assumptions and often give others the benefit of the doubt when they don’t understand.

Changing roles. Job requirements will change. People will be asked do things they never expected to do – and may not feel comfortable or qualified to do them. There will be lots of “all hands on deck” opportunities. Silos will get in the way of progress. No one gets a reprieve from doing what needs to be done.

Power struggles. There will almost always be turf scuffles during fast growth or overwhelming change. One potential reason is what used to be a small, controlled group of people making decisions now needs to broaden to include more people. Positions and lines of authority may need to change.

This feels uncomfortable to some. Providing clarity of roles – as you know them – can help some, but continually reminding people of the vision seems to work best. Still, some people simply may not like the new size or shape of the organization — and may decide they are no longer a fit for the team long-term. This is one of the harder realities.

Burnout. There will never be enough leaders or people during times of fast growth or change. It may be fun for a while – or tremendously scary- but, it begins to wear on people after an extended period. New leaders must be recruited and developed. Old leaders must be continually encouraged and rejuvenated. It’s important to mix it celebrations along the way.

Confusion. “I don’t know.” You can expect to hear the phrase a lot during times of fast growth and change. And, many times the person saying it will be a leader. And, that’s okay. It’s part of the process. This is also a matter to continually work to improve upon over time, but you can’t eliminate completely- and, I’m not sure we should try. If everything has clarity we probably aren’t walking by faith and things will soon become stale again.

Complacency. When people don’t know what to do — or are uncertain the right path to take – they often default into doing nothing. This is where leadership is needed, but in seasons of fast growth and change there aren’t always enough leaders to cover all the bases. If you’re not careful, excellence suffers. It might not even be that people don’t care, even though they almost appear as if they don’t. It may simply be because they don’t know what to do.

During especially stressful seasons, leaders need to help streamline focus, give clear expectations and hold people accountable for agreed upon goals and objectives. Don’t ignore all existing structures — especially in times of fast growth or change. I’ve seen people, for example, stop using calendar programs or scheduling systems, simply because they don’t feel they have the time to keep up with them anymore. You may need better structures going forward, but some structure is needed to keep people moving forward.

Stretched structures. As stated previously, current structures will almost never be sufficient to sustain fast growth or change. The organization will never be the same. New systems and structures will be needed. Leadership must focus on development, as much as it does the growth and maintenance, of the organization. This may be some of the learning curves after this current season. This is why it is important to take notes along the way and continually be learning.

None of these are reasons to avoid fast growth – and often you cannot avoid overwhelming change, but awareness is the first step to addressing most problems.

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?

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?