The Way I Respond as a Leader of Leaders

I often get asked about the difference between leading leaders and leading followers. It’s a great question. The question ultimately points to a paradigm of leading people.

I certainly know I want to attract and retain leaders on our team. I don’t want a bunch of people waiting for me to make a decision or who fail to take initiative. I ultimately want people who will lead me. 

I also realize I am not a perfect leader. I have so much room to personally grow as a leader. One thing I have discovered, however, is the difference in how I lead if I want to lead leaders. And, the difference is huge.

I could choose to be a boss – and simply require people to perform for pay. To lead leaders requires a different skill set. It challenges the way I lead. 

As a leader of leaders…

I say, “I don’t know, I’ll have to find out” a lot. I can’t have all the answers. I need to be leading people – encouraging them to lead – more than I’m instructing people.

I often “didn’t know about that” – whatever “that” is – until after a decision has been made. And, if I’m leading well you won’t hear me say anything negative about what I don’t know, because I support my team’s ability to make decisions.

I encourage learning from someone besides me. After all, I don’t have all the answers. Some days, without my team, I don’t have any.

I let people make mistakes. And, I’m glad they let me make some too. It’s one of the best ways we learn from life and each other.

I try to steer discussion more than have solutions. And, I find meetings become more productive. Work becomes more efficient.

I believe in dreams other than my own. People have opinions and ideas. The best ones aren’t always mine.

I say “we” more than I say “me”. (Except in this post) A team is more powerful than an individual effort.

I strive to empower more than I control. Leadership stalls when we try to determine the outcome. It thrives when we learn and practice good delegation.

I’m not afraid of being challenged by those on our team. I’m not saying it “feels good” to be critiqued, but I know it’s a part of making us better.

I seldom script the way to achieve the vision. In fact, I never script it alone. I try to always include those who have to implement the plan into the creation of the plan. And, by experience, it seems to be a more effective way to do things.

Do you lead leaders? What would you add?

5 Ways to Take Back an Already Delegated Project

I’m a fan of delegation. In fact, I consider myself somewhat of a professional delegator, if there is such a thing. I certainly love to delegate. I think it makes the team stronger.

As a leader, have you ever given away a project and wished you could take it back?

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can be one of the more difficult and awkward parts of leadership.

Maybe it was the wrong fit for the person. Perhaps the person was overloaded with other responsibilities. You may have misjudged their potential, so you gave them the delegation. Now you wish you hadn’t.

What do you do?

How do you take back a delegated project without causing hurt feelings, injuring a valued team member, or causing disruption in the organization? Many times the person has assumed a certain sense of ownership and pride in the assignment, even if they haven’t done a good job with it. Taking the project away from them may feel like personal rejection.

What do you do? How do you do it?

Here are 5 ways to take back a delegated project:

Set up the right to remove on the front end

The process should really be clear from the beginning. The culture of a healthy organization has everyone operating as a team. It’s easier to do the right thing on a healthy team – even reassign an project. You may not be able to do it this time, but certainly work towards establishing that kind of environment for the future.

Make sure you delegate well

Effective delegation will eliminate much of the need to take back a project. You can read more about healthy delegation HERE and HERE, but basically, try to help. This can happen at any stage in the project, but ideally should come before and during the process of completing a delegated project. It could be the person doesn’t have all the answers or all the resources to complete what’s been assigned. They may be afraid to ask for help.

Do it quickly

As soon as you realize the person is not going to be able to complete the task, if you’ve tried working with them, but it hasn’t helped, address and re-assign as soon as possible. The longer you wait the harder it will be for everyone.

Do it graciously

If done correctly, it could be a relief for them, as well as the organization. You may be able to refocus the person’s attention on other things, but certainly you should try to encourage their overall potential in the process.

Help them learn

They may not have been able to do this particular project, but, if handled correctly, it could end up being beneficial for their personal development. Help them see what they did wrong, why the delegated task is being reassigned, and how they could do things differently in the future.

The bottom line is the organization must move forward. Sometimes this means tasks have to be reassigned. Good leaders are willing to make hard decisions, even if it means taking back a delegated project.

Have you ever had to take back a delegated project? How did you do it?

When I Allow Someone to Fail and When I Come to the Rescue

It's a delicate balance in leadership

I have often commented that part of my leadership is to create a culture where failure is considered a part of the learning process. It’s okay to fail. As a leader, while it may seem unproductive to some, many times I have watched someone on my team fail. I probably could have stepped in earlier, took control of the project or delegated to someone else more experienced, and saved a failure from happening. I let the failure happen.

Recently, I said something like this at a conference and was questioned afterward. It was a valid question, which went something like this:

I am in the middle of this now and it is tough. Many times I wonder if I should just step in. I am trying to exercise patience. Is there a time you save them from failing?

Great question and that’s a delicate balance. When do you step in and rescue someone and when do you allow the person to possibly fail?

Here is my bottom line response:

The balance for me is in how much the failure will injure them (or the team) versus how much it will teach them (or us).

At times I step in to rescue

Sometimes I can save someone from unneeded heartache. I’m likely to step in an try to help if it wouldn’t teach them as much as it would simply hurt. This includes for them and for the team.

There are failures we can learn without the need to repeat them. When I was in business, I had people give me fair warning about doing business with certain individuals. I was thankful to avoid the pain of those associations. There would be others I couldn’t see coming and would learn on my own and help others avoid the pain.

Also, in business, I learned the secret of making your banker your friend – not your enemy. Unfortunately I learned it the hard way. I have given that piece of advice to dozens of young business owners over the years. That’s a “failure” which impacts the business and everyone in the business.

If the failure is going to derail the progress of everyone on the team, or the recovery is going to be greater than the teaching experience, I’m likely to rescue them.

At times I allow them to fail.

I will admit, this is the harder one, but if I would be stunting the individual’s personal growth by stepping in to rescue them, I may let them fail. Failure is one of life’s greatest educators, so most people grow through trial and error.

If, for example, someone on my team wants to try something new. I may feel it isn’t the best decision, or it isn’t the way I would choose to do it, but I usually can’t guarantee it won’t be a success. Instead of going with my gut, I may let the team member follow his or her gut and take a chance. We may discover a home run and I would happily admit my hunch was wrong. And, either way, it didn’t hurt too much overall, but the individual team member learns something far more valuable which will help them and the team in the future.

Again, the bottom line for me is to discern the greater value –

Growth of a team member by allowing failure, which ultimately helps the overall team.

Or, protecting a team member from needless injury, which could ultimately injure the overall team.

I hope this is helpful in addressing the dilemma. Keep in mind, there are no clear cut lines on leadership issues like this. Every situation is unique. We keep learning and developing in these areas.

Wow, leadership is hard, isn’t it?

How do you decide when to allow someone fail and when to save them the agony?

Leading with Control Versus Leading with Influence

Let me be honest. I can be a controlling person. It’s part of my character. I know that. I test that way with StrengthsFinders. If no one is taking charge, I’ll take over the room. (And, not because I’m extroverted. I’m not.) If we both come to a four-way stop at the same time – as nice as I try to be and as much as I love others – I won’t stall long for you to decide if you’re going. It’s just how I’m wired. If the leader isn’t in the room, I’ll lead. 

I think my team, however – or at least I hope – would tell you I don’t perform as a controlling leader. Some may even wish I controlled more. It’s been a long process to discipline myself not to respond how I am naturally inclined to do.

Leaders, if you want to to have a healthy team environment, you must learn to control less and influence more. The differences are measured in the results of creating a healthy team.

I have learned thought that successful leaders understands the difference in leading with influence and leading with control.

Here’s what I mean by the results of controlling versus influence:

In an organization where control is dominant:

  • The leader’s ideas win over the team’s ideas – every time.
  • The team follows, but only out of necessity (for a paycheck) – not willingly.
  • Change happens through fear and intimidation – not motivation.
  • People are managed closely – rather than led.
  • Team members feel unappreciated and often under-utilized – rather than empowered.
  • The organization is limited to the skills and ability of the controlling leader – not the strength of a team.
  • Passion is weak – burnout is common.

But,

In an organization where influence is dominant:

  • The ultimate goal is what’s best for the organization, not an individual.
  • Team spirit develops as relationships and trust grow.
  • Willing followers, and other leaders, are attracted to the team. 
  • Leadership recruitment and development is a continued endeavor.
  • Change is promoted through desire and motivation, not obligation.
  • The organization has the expanded resources of a team of unique individuals.
  • People feel empowered and appreciated.

Leaders, take your pick – control or influence. You can’t have it both ways. One will always be more dominant. Granted, I could write a whole blog post (and, I have) on the messiness of leading by influence. There will often be confusion, lack of clarity, and misunderstandings. It comes when all the rules aren’t clearly defined. This, however, is a tension to be managed not a problem to be solved. (I think Andy Stanley said that first.) 

When it comes to creating organizational health – influence will always trump control. Every time. 

Have you ever been or worked for a controlling leader?

Have you been in an environment where influence is dominant?

Which did you prefer?

The More Important Question: The One Behind the Question

You’re familiar with the common scenario where someone half-jokingly asks for advise for a “friend”. Everyone knows the “friend” is actually the person asking the question.

Well, that scenario happens in leadership also. All the time.

I call it:

The question behind the question.

The question behind the question may be the more important question. 

Sometimes it’s just a simple question and nothing is hidden in it. But, sometimes, whether because of fear, insecurity or intimidation, people are hesitant to share what’s really on their mind. They ask questions or make statements which are really innuendos of a bigger issue.

Let me give you a simple example. Someone on your team asks, “Are we going to evaluate the Easter services?” That’s a fair question. And, you could simply say “yes” or a “no” and the question is answered. But, there’s likely a bigger question behind that question – or some statement, some input or feedback, maybe even a critique, which prompted the person to ask the original question. And, that’s what you really want or need to know. 

It’s may or may not be the fault of the leader which causes the “real” question not to be asked, but good leaders look beyond what’s being verbalized. They attempt to discern the motive and intent of the question or statement someone makes. They ask follow up questions to make sure they understand the concern or input being given.

When someone is asking the leader a question (or makes a statement to the leader), the leader needs to consider if the question is the real question or if a disguised bigger question exists. They need to ultimately get to the unspoken questions and statements.

In fact, the health of the organization may depend on uncovering what’s really not being communicated.

Next time someone asks you a question – or makes a statement – consider whether there is a question beyond the question.

It could make all the difference.

7 Markers of a Great Leader

There are some characteristics which set a great leader apart from mediocre leaders. Markers, if you will.

Great leaders are multidimensional. While continuing to improve, great leaders have achieved certain characteristics which help them achieve success.

If you see these qualities combined, you’ve probably found an amazing leader.

Here are 7 marks of a great leader:

Humility. Great leaders are willing to surrender “their” way when it’s not the best way. They realize and appreciate the strength of a team.

Intentionality. Great leaders continue to learn. They have mentors. They read. They continue their education through conferences or school. They know they can’t help others grow if they aren’t personally growing.

Compassion. Great leaders consider the needs of others ahead of their own. They care about people beyond what people can do for them personally.

Integrity. Great leaders never separate character from their definition of quality or success. They know there can be nothing of real value if those who are trying to follow can’t give their respect to the leader.

Passion. Great leaders have the ability to rally a team and articulate the path to victory. They can communicate to spur momentum and garner support.

Vision. Great leaders see things others can’t see or, for whatever reason failed to pursue. They take people where they need to go, but may be afraid to go on their own.

Strength. Great leaders have the discipline to follow through on commitments. They weather the storms of time. They are still standing firm when others are dropping out of the race.

I’m not claiming all great leaders excel in each of these areas. And, I am certainly not saying I have these markers, but I do believe there should be a certain level of accomplishment, a progression towards each of these in a leader’s life. At the very least, a desire to achieve these markers should be a goal of great leaders.

10 Ways to Add Value to People (and Organizations) as a Leader

If you are going to lead – wouldn’t you want to lead in a way which creates value in the lives of others and the organizations you lead? I think this would be true for all of us.

The older I get and the longer I lead the less I care about personal recognition and ther more important it is to me that what I’m doing as a leader really matters. Of course, I want to first and foremost honor Christ with my life, but I believe doing so means I would desire to add genuine value to others in my leadership.

How do we do that?

Here are 10 ways to add value as a leader:

Be open to challenge. Everyone has an opinion and they aren’t usually afraid to share it if given an opportunity. Granted, sometimes they do so in less than gracious ways – and that can sting a little. Actually, it can sting a lot. But, you demonstrate humility when you open yourself to correction. Humility is an attractive trait for leaders.

Quickly share credit. You didn’t get where you are without the help of others. Leaders do well to recognize this regularly.

Notice what is missing. The leader should consistently be in a development mindset for the organization. No one else will dream bigger dreams for the organization than you. This shouldn’t translate into never being satisfied or failing to celebrate current success, but leaders should consistently help people see future potential.

Generously offer praise. People appreciate being appreciated.

Remain accessible to people. You may not always be available – there is only so much time in a day, but you can be accessible to people, especially those closest to your leadership. It shows you value them.

Embrace change. I am not sure there is leadership without change. When the leader fails to allow things stall for the organization, but also for individuals within it.

Condemn slowly. There are plenty of critics in the world. Leaders do best when they are cheerleading more than fault-finding.

Diligently protect your character. The character of the leader impacts the character of the organization – which impacts everyone in the organization.

Serve others. Jesus said the greatest must be a servant. So it goes for leaders who add value to others.

Take risks. People will be willing to take risks only when leadership is out front, leading with faith, vision and courage.

Any you would add to my list?

Your Structure Can Impede Your Progress

It should do the opposite...

Whenever I post about how structure can get in the way of progress I hear from people who remind me we need structure to prevent organizational chaos.

And, I agree. I also learn people are usually opposed to micromanagement (and, many times this is in principle or theory more than practice), but when you push against structure the very structured people come out of their proverbial shell.

When I push against structure am I referring to micromanagement?

Well, yes and no. Micromanagement is an impediment to organizational health, and many times structure is micromanagement, but I when I mention structure I simply mean structure.

So what’s my push against structure?

I agree we need structure. Structure is good for organizational health, but we don’t need structure for structure sake. We need structure for progress sake.

And there is a huge difference.

If I use a spiritual example, I see it as similar to the concept of grace, freedom and the law. We don’t need laws if we are bound by grace. Grace is actually a higher standard than the law. But, we have to have an established order in our world for progress. It is a wicked world and we could never get anything done without some sense of structure.

In an organizational sense, if we all did the right thing we wouldn’t need structure. But structure allows for progress. When structure becomes a problem – when it gets in the way – and the kind of structure which causes me the most concern – is when well-meaning structure impedes progress.

Consider this example:

Imagine a rule which says everyone has to be in the church office from 8 to 5. (I would say this is a fairly common structure.) Now imagine I am someone who greatly respects authority. Perhaps I’m even a rule follower, therefore, I obey the structure and am dutifully at my desk from 8am to 5pm everyday.

The fact is, however, I work at my absolute best from 5am to 9am in the morning – out of the office. I have a room in my house set up for maximum efficiency. I can do what would normally take me most of a day in 4 hours in this setting.

Sticking to the structure in this case would limit my ability to be at my best. The organization (or in my case the church) suffers because of the structure. It impeded my progress.

At the other extreme, because I’m following the structure, I may not go to the emergency hospital visit at midnight. After all, office hours are over by then.

This type example is why I am far less strict on when I see people in the office. I would rather measure people’s contributions to the team based on their overall productivity and performance – are they meeting the goals and objectives for their position. (And, I think the individual should be the primary one to set their own goals and objectives.)

The bottom line is structure should enhance not impede progress.

Good structure should always help you accomplish what God plants in your heart to accomplish. It shouldn’t distract from it or get in the way. The best leaders are always looking to help their teams lead through the things which get in the way of progress or achieving the overall goals and objectives. This includes bad structure.

7 False Beliefs of the Leadership Vacuum

Many times a leader can be clueless about the real health of the organization they lead. If a leader refuses to solicit feedback, or doesn’t listen to criticism or stops learning, they can begin to believe everything is under control when in reality things are falling apart around them.

I once watched as a church crumbled apart while the pastor thought everything was wonderful. He always had an excuse for declining numbers and never welcomed input from others. It got bad enough for the church to have to ask him to leave. It was messy. It could have been avoided, in my opinion.

And, sadly, this could be the stories of hundreds of churches and organizations.

The best leaders, however, avoid what I call the leadership vacuum.

I have heard the term leadership vacuum used to describe the need for more leaders, but I believe the biggest void may be within leaders themselves.

The leader in a leadership vacuum believes:

Everyone on the team understands me. It can be equally as dangerous if the leader believes they understand everyone on the team. Healthy team dynamics require a constant discovery of others, asking questions, exploring who people are and where they are currently in their thought processes.

Everyone on the team thinks like I think. This would often be easier, wouldn’t it? The fact is, especially if it is a healthy team, everyone thinks differently. Remembering this and using it to the advantage of the team is a key to good leadership.

Everyone on the team likes me. And, if this is the case they probably also think everyone is glad they are the leader. Being the leader is not a guarantee of popularity. There is a level of respect which a position of leadership brings, but likability is based on the person – not the job title.

My team is completely healthy. We all like to think so, and we like to think we are healthy as leaders. The truth is health is often a relative term. Teams and leaders go through seasons of good and bad and a constant awareness of where we are at any given time is critical to maintain health long-term.

They couldn’t do it without me. And, pride goes before the fall also. Humility is not only an attractive character trait in leadership – it’s necessary for sustainability.

We don’t need any changes. Change is a part of life and a part of every organization. Where there is no change there will soon be decline – and gradual death. Good leaders are good change agents.

Nothing can stop us now. The very moment we think we’ve “made it” we are set up for failure.

When the leader is clueless to the real problems and needs in the organization, he or she is living in the leadership vacuum. The best leaders are aware of the vacuum trap and guard against it in their leadership.

Leaders, have you ever lived in the leadership vacuum? Are you there now?

Have you followed a leader in the vacuum?

7 “BE’s” of Effective Leadership and Management

What you do matters more than what you say.

One of the chief goals of this blog is to encourage better leadership, so I normally write about leadership issues.

In this post, I’m including the term management. I believe the two are different functions, but both are vital to a healthy organization. Whether you lead or manage a large or small organization – or a church – there are principles for being effective, which work with leadership or management,

These I call the “Be” principle. Who you say you are and what you actually do often are two different things in the eyes of people who report to you. Effective leaders and managers learn to manage their “BE”.

Here are 7:

Be aware

To be effective you have to know your team. People are individuals. They have unique expectations and they require different things from leadership. Some require more attention and some less. Use personality profiles or just get to know them over time, but learn the people you are supposed to be leading or managing.

Be open

It’s not enough for you to know them. Let them know you – as a person outside of the role as leader or manager. Integrity is earned by experience. Be transparent enough they can learn to trust you.

Be responsive

Responsiveness should be a high value to leaders and managers. People left in the dark – or wondering how you respond – will never be the best team players they can be. Information is powerful. Don’t leave people waiting too long for a response. They’ll make up their own if you do – and it’s usually not the conclusion you want them to reach.

Be approachable

You can’t be everything to everyone, and you may not always be available, but for the people you are called to lead or manage, you need to be approachable. They need to know if there is a problem – or a concern – you will be receptive to hearing from them. I realize the larger the organization the more difficult this becomes, but build systems – and even more so a culture – which allows you to hear from people at every level within the organization.

Be consistent

Over time, the team you lead or manage needs to know you are going to be dependable. The world is changing fast. It’s hard to know who to trust these days. We certainly need to be able to trust people we are supposed to follow. This doesn’t mean you never change. That would equally be wrong for your team, but it does mean your character and the way you respond to life (change, success and disappointment) should be fairly predictable by the people you lead or manage.

Be trustworthy

Follow through on what you say you will do. If you make a promise – keep it. If you can’t support something – say it. If you’re not going to do it – say no. And, say it on the front end, in clearly understood words, not in a passive way. Don’t say “we will consider it”, for example, if you know you never will. Let your word be your bond. Spend time building and protecting your character. Be the quality of person you would want to follow.

Be appreciative

Recognize you can’t do it alone. Be grateful. Be rewarding. Celebrate well. Love and care for others genuinely and display it by the way you treat them.

What would you add? Upon which of these do you most need to improve?