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?

7 Indicators Your Team Is Dysfunctional

Chances are, if you’ve served on very many teams, you’ve served on one which is dysfunctional. It appears to me we have many to choose from in the organizational world. There are no perfect teams. We are all dysfunctional at some level and during some seasons.

In case you’re wondering- my definition of a dysfunctional team – in simple terms – is one which cannot operate at peak efficiency and performance, because it is impacted by too many negative characteristics. There’s more going wrong than right more days than not.

In my experience, there are commonalities of dysfunction. If you have been on a dysfunctional team you’ve probably seen one or more of of the common traits.

See if any of these seem familiar.

7 indicators of a dysfunctional team:

Team members talk about each other more than to each other. The atmosphere is passive aggressive. Problems are never really addressed, because conflict is avoided. The real problems are continually ignored or excused.

Mediocrity is celebrated. Everything may even be labeled “amazing”. Nothing ever really develops or improves because no one has or inspires a vision bigger than what the team is currently experiencing.

It’s never “our” fault. It’s the completion or the culture or the times in which we live. No one takes responsibility. And, everyone passes blame. Will the real leader please stand up?

Communication usually brings more tension than progress. There may be lots of information, but it’s not packaged in a way which brings clarity. No one knows or recognizes a win.

The mention of change makes everyone nervous. Either change is rare or it’s been instituted wrong in the past. Any real progress has to be forced or controlled.

Only the leader gets recognition or can make decisions. Team members never feel valued or appreciated. No one feels empowered. The leader uses words like “I” or “my” more than “we” or “our”.

There are competing visions, goals or objectives. It’s every team member for his or herself. The strategy or future direction isn’t clear.

According to my observations have you served on a dysfunctional team?

Granted, every team goes through each of these during seasons. Again, there are no perfect teams. But, if there are at least two or three of these at work current I’d say it’s a good time to evaluate the team’s health and work to make things healthier.

How many of these can you currently see on your team?

One Thing You Must Do if You Want to Attract Leaders

One of the most frequent concerns I receive from young leaders about their organizations is they aren’t being given adequate responsibly or authority. Instead, they are handed a set of tasks to complete. They don’t feel they have a part in creating the big picture for the organization.

Since most of the young leaders I talk to are in ministry, this means it’s happening in the church too.

And, the other side of this dilemma is most the pastors I hear from are looking for leaders. They want someone to take the reigns of leadership and actually do something.

How do we solve the problem?

How do we find leaders for our churches and how do we allow younger team members to feel included? How do successful organizations (churches) attracts leaders?

Here’s my best advice:

Hand out visions more than you assign tasks.

In order for the organization to be successful, you’ll need to attract leaders. You know that, right? You need to know something about leaders and potential leaders.

Leaders want to work towards a vision, more than they want complete a set of tasks.

Leaders don’t get excited about checklists and assignments.

Leaders want to join a great vision, then help develop the tasks to accomplish it.

Leaders get excited about faith-stretching, bigger-than-life, jaw-dropping acts of courage.

That’s the kind of vision leaders – and those who claim to want to be leaders – want to believe in and follow. “To do” lists often get in the way of that kind of fun. Visions excite people. The details to complete them don’t.

So, if you want to create a successful organization and recruit leaders hand people a big vision with lots of room for them to choose on the implementation side.

Of course, they may indeed need to create checklists. I would even suggest they do if I were coaching them. They will need measurable action plans. They need to have a list of assignments in order to complete a project successfully. All those are necessary to accomplish a worthy vision. A vision is simply an idea until someone puts legs to it so it can walk.

But, start with the vision. Start with the big idea. Start with what you hope to accomplish some day. And, make sure you’re real clear about illustrating the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be seized.

And, then get out of the way and let people figure out how they will accomplish the vision.

This doesn’t mean your work is over, either. They’ll need your help along the way. They’ll still need your help to develop structure, discipline and follow through. But that’s way different than handing them a set of tasks in the beginning. And, it’s practicing good leadership and delegation skills.

I realize this is especially hard for some leaders who may want to control the desired outcome. (Leaders often like me – just being honest.) You’ll have to take a risk on the people you’ve recruited to lead and discipline yourself to let them work in their own way. You’ll get burned a few times, but overall, you’ll find more success when you:

Paint big visions – not specific tasks.

When you do this you’ll attract and develop more leaders and a more successful organization will be built and sustained.

7 Warnings for Aspiring Leaders

These I've learned the hard way

Almost on a weekly basis I hear from young pastors who want to grow as a leader. They feel the pressure placed upon them and knows others are looking to him to steer the church on a healthy course. Most of these leaders are humble, knowing ultimately Christ is the head of the church.

They also usually know three things:

1. There are expectations of their position by the people of the church. People are looking to them for leadership.

2. Decisions have to be made which are not clearly defined in Scripture. And, there are usually varied opinions already formed around the decision.

3. Seminary didn’t train them for all the decisions they need to make.

That’s often why they contact someone like me.

Sometimes it seems I’ve given the same advice many times – either reminding myself or to another pastor. The more times I share the same concept, the more it becomes a short, paradigm shaping idea, which summarizes the basic issue the leader is facing.

What isn’t always clear is how I’ve learned these concepts mostly by living these concepts. I’ve made more mistakes in leadership than I’ve had success.

And, that’s what this post is about. These are some warnings I’ve observed first hand in leadership positions I’ve held. I’m trying not to continue to live them and I’d love to help other leaders avoid them.

Here are 7 warnings for aspiring leaders:

What you “settle for” eventually becomes the culture. And, then it is much more difficult to change. In fact, you’re probably settling because you’re fighting against culture now. Leadership involves challenging people beyond their current confort level.

Mediocrity isn’t created. It’s accepted. Oh, how I’ve learned this one the hard way. People will be average if you allow them to be. It’s easier. In most jobs, they get paid the same. That’s not even to say it’s what they prefer. Most people prefer excellence, but it often takes leadership – or coaching – to pull out the best in people.

Your actions determine other people’s reactions. During stressful times the leader’s response dictates the level of stress on the team. When it’s time to celebrate, the team will seldom celebrate more than the leader. The leader sets the bar of expectations in how the team reacts to life as a team.

Don’t assume they agree because they haven’t said anything. I actually wrote about a whole chapter about this one in my book The Mythical Leader. But, silence doesn’t equate to agreement.

You’ll never get there just “thinking about it”. And, we do more of that as a team sometimes – it seems – than we do getting work done. Every good idea isn’t even something the team should do. But, if it is, there needs to be a plan. Who’s in charge? When are we doing it? And, how will we know when we are successful?

If you’re the leader, they are likely waiting on you to lead or release the right to lead. People seldom take initiative unless you lead – or unless you create the culture which gives them permission, freedom and encouragement to do so.

What the team values becomes apparent by your actions, more than your words. And, it doesn’t matter how well spoken you might be. People follow what the leader does.

What warnings would you share to aspiring leaders?

5 Things I Control as a Senior Leader

Having planted two churches anc two revitalization churches I am frequently asked about what things do I try to control and which did I release to others.

And, I love that question. I think its one all leaders need to ask themselves – frequently.

The leadership lid you will always create is in whatever area you choose to control.

I believe this strongly and it’s why I often discipline myself not to have an answer. I purposively choose to give things away to others on our team – things they can’t do better than me and things I simply shouldn’t be doing.

As much as I love delegation, however, there are some things I feel the need to control – maybe even continue to control.

Here are 5 things I control as a senior leader:

Vision – I believe senior leadership should make sure the vision of the organization is always in the minds of people, therefore I must continually reinforce it in what I say and do.

Staff culture – Senior leadership – always, but especially in the early days – plays a primary role in setting the culture. Things such as staff morale, approach to structure and the working atmosphere are greatly embedded and formed by the senior leader.

The organization’s pursuit of excellence – People will never push for more excellence than the level expected, led, and lived by senior leadership.

The moral value of the organization – The character and integrity of the organization will reflect senior leadership’s character and integrity. Period.

The velocity of change – Senior leadership sets the speed in which change and innovation is welcome in the organization.

As a leader, I realize the less I control, the more I can allow others to lead. The result is a healthier, happier organization that is more prone for growth. There are things, such as the above, which by default and for their importance, senior leadership should control. If control seems to harsh a word then choose another, but these should not be delegated too far beyond the ability to guide them.

7 Popular Myths about Leadership

This post – posted several years ago – prompted a book. A publishing friend, who had been encouraging me to write a book for years, read this post and thought there was enough here to expand into a book. That book – The Mythical Leader – released last week. I’d love for you to check it out HERE. Equally as valuable as reading it would be writing a review (positive even better) on Amazon about the book. (Thanks to my readers – I give you a shoutout in the acknowledgements!)

One thing I learned in obtaining a master’s in leadership is defining leadership is difficult.

John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”

I love a simple definition. Simple works. Its effective and communicates.

Still, I have observed leadership is often not easy to define as a few simple words. In fact, there are many myths when it comes to even what leadership means — certainly how its practiced. I encounter people who don’t have a clue what real leadership is and what it isn’t.

Let me share a few myths I’ve observed.

Here are some 7 of my favorite myths about leadership:

A position makes one a leader

Really? I don’t think so. Some believe simply have a big or fancy title makes them a leader. Not true. I’ve known many people with huge positions whom no one was truly following. They may give out orders and command a certain obedience, but no one is willingly following their lead. They may be a boss, but I wouldn’t call them a leader.

If I’m not hearing anyone complain, everyone must be happy

Yea, right? Have you ever heard of passive aggression? The fact is sometimes the leader is the last to know about a problem. Some people are intimidated by leadership. Other times, they don’t know how to approach the leader, so they complain to others, but not the leader. And, sometimes, the way I’m leading dictates who tells me what I really need to know.

I can lead everyone the same way

I have learned this one is so not true. It simply doesn’t work. Actually, people are different and require different leadership styles. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you want to be effective you will learn your people and alter your style to fit their personalities.

Leadership and management are the same thing

Great organizations need both, but they are not equal and they require different skills. Simply put — Leadership is more about empowerment and guiding people to a common vision — often into the unknown. Management is more about maintaining efficiency within a predetermined destination.

Being the leader makes you popular

Well, if only this myth were true — my file of criticism would be so much smaller — when in reality, in some seasons, it’s larger than my encouragement file. The truth is leaders can be very lonely people. (It’s why leaders must surround themselves with encouragers and comtinually seek renewal.) The only way to avoid criticism and be “liked” as a leader is to make no decisions, do nothing different, never challenge status quo — in other words — don’t lead.

Leaders must be extroverted charismatics

So not true. Thankfully. Some of the best leaders I know are very introverted and subdued. And, honestly, they are leading some of the biggest churches and organizations. Leadership IS about influence. If someone is trustworthy, dependable, has integrity and is going somewhere of value — others will follow.

Leaders accomplish by controlling others

Absolutely not. This is not leadership. It is dictatorship. Effective leaders encourage others to lead. They challenge people to be creative and take ownership and responsibility for accomplishing the vision. They learn to delegate through empowerment.

Thanks again for being a reader of this blog. And, for checking out my new book. God bless you!

Defining Healthy in Church Leadership Culture

I remember talking with a young hurting pastor just after he resigned from his church. For several years he had attempted to restore a dying church into a healthy church. The church brought him in with some definite goals they wanted him to achieve. They knew their very existence depended on change. He felt he had almost a mandate.

The church began to grow. Things were exciting – or so it seemed. But, with every change there was growing resistance. Eventually only a few people with power still supported him. Even those who once supported him refused to back him with changes they had previously agreed were needed.

He was continually reminded this was not “his church”. He felt it was best he leave rather than divide the church. (This church has a long history of short-term pastorates.)

In the course of the conversation he asked some sobering and honest questions.

He asked, “Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy even mean in church leadership?”

Great questions. And, after working with dozens of churches, I understand why he would ask them. Sadly, I hear from pastors continually asking similar questions. There are many unhealthy environments in churches.

But, yes! There is such a thing as a healthy church staff and leadership culture. There are some healthy church environments – whether a single pastor and all volunteers or multiple staff members. Large church or small there are healthy cultures. They may not jump in the air every day with enthusiasm, as the picture with this post indicates, but people do enjoy being a part of the team.

In the purest form, the case could be made the church is always “healthy”, because it represents Christ. We are promised nothing will ever destroy what Christ has established.

But, local churches are made of people. And, some of those people, even well-meaning as they may be sometimes, work together to form unhealthy environments. Others work together for the common good of honoring Christ and form healthy environments. I’ve seen and been a part of both.

I’m often asked questions such as this – on how we know when something is healthy. This is always subjective, but I have certainly learned you know when something is unhealthy. I don’t know if I can define healthy in a single definition, but I’ve given the issue some thought as it relates to the working environment.

A healthy church culture doesn’t mean…

  • There aren’t bad days.
  • There won’t ever be tension or stress.
  • That everyone always agrees.
  • There aren’t relationship struggles.
  • All problems are solved.
  • The pastor is always right.
  • Problems or issues are ignored.

Work is still work and people are still people. Being healthy doesn’t not mean there aren’t real struggles at times.

A healthy church culture does mean…

  • People can disagree and still be friends.
  • Tension is used to make relationships stronger.
  • Meetings are productive and purposeful – not burdensome and certainly not hurtful.
  • Rules add healthy boundaries – empowering creativity rather than stifling or controlling.
  • You work as a team to find solutions.
  • The pastor, staff (and their families) are never attacked publicly or continually stabbed in the back.
  • The rumor mill is never allowed to form the dominant opinion.

Those are just a few of my observations.

Have you been in an unhealthy church or organizational environment? Have you been in a healthy one? What would you add to either of my lists of observations?

An Elementary Approach to Facing Conflict

I’ve seen a lot of conflict in my life. From parents and couples in my office for counseling to employment situations where two people can’t get along. I’ve even seen a fight in the grocery store because someone thought someone else cut line. And, I’ve been to more than one church business meeting gone bad.

As an observer, I’ve learned a few things about facing conflict. Primarily, I’ve observed the way one person responds often determines the way the other person responds. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

When you are backed into a corner and facing potential conflict you have a choice. You can come out fighting or you can be smart, plan your response, and help turn the situation for good.

In fact, the secrets of facing the fire of conflict should be elementary.

Here are 3 elementary approaches to conflict:

Stop

Stop and think. What is the best approach? What do you really want to accomplish? Based on your time to reflect – how should you respond?

The opening moments are always critical in any conflict. You can quickly back someone or yourself into a corner. Cornered people move into a self-protection mode, fail to react rationally, and the sense of what’s best is lost.

It requires practice, but take adequate time to plan the best way to approach the other party. It may require you being silent when your prone to speak, but this one step often avoids much of the unnecessary and unproductive conflict. (As an example, Jesus took time to make a whip before driving the money changers out of the temple. John 2)

Drop

Drop the right to win. That’s hard, but if you want the conflict to be resolved you have to start with the attitude that you want the best resolution – even if you don’t get everything you want in the outcome.

When you come into a potential fiery situation with a have-to-win attitude you cloud your ability to work for the best results. Self-centeredness always gets in the way of healthy conflict. Be humble and agree you are going to do what is best, even if that means you don’t get your way.

This doesn’t mean you give in to the other party, but the goal in conflict should not be to win personally, but to reach the best solution for everyone.

Roll

Roll out the best approach. Use the appropriate strategy, skills and temperament to resolve the conflict. This means you hold your temper, watch your words, and value the other person’s viewpoint.

I realize it takes two or more people to make this happen, but when one party is willing to do the first two it makes accomplishing the best so much more likely.

Go into every potential conflict with a humble desire for the best solution to be accomplished.

Stop, drop and roll.

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.

4 Examples When Strategy Should Drive a Leader’s Decision

There are times the “gut call” comes in handy for a leader. Leaders often must make quick and decisive decisions. Past experience and instinct can help a leader make the call when an immediate decision is needed.

There are times, however, if a leader wants to be successful, when they must use strategy to make decisions. For defining purposes, A strategic decision doesn’t simply react based on how the leader feels – it brings other people into the decision and asks bigger questions, such as why, how, when, where, who and what. The consequences and ramifications of the decision are highly weighed before a leader makes the call.

Protecting the organization’s future and keeping the trust of people often demands strategic thinking, so all leaders must learn how to think strategically.

Strategic thinking comes naturally for me. I have tons of weaknesses, but thinking in a strategic sense is not one of them. If anything, I’m so strategic that it becomes a weakness.

When a leader isn’t necessarily wired to think strategically, it will need to come through discipline – simply learning how and practicing doing so. Thankfully, not all decisions a leader makes requires using strategy, but when it does the leader needs to practice stopping to ask bigger questions about how this decision will impact the future – again, using questions such as why, how, when, where, who and what.

To help you get started, let me share a few examples of times a leader needs to be strategic with their decision.

Here are four times the leader must think strategically:

The outcome is uncertain

I love risk, but the leader must weigh the risk with the future of the organization in mind. Ultimately the leader has responsibility for the overall success of the organization, so a leader has to make final calls as to whether or not a risk is worth the time, energy and resources, which will be invested in it. This requires strategic thinking. Absent of a direct “word from God” the leader needs to be strategic enough to thoroughly vet the decision and it’s potential future implications. IIt doesn’t mean you don’t take the risk or that you won’t lead into an unknown – that’s what leaders do, but taking time to think strategically can often help eliminate possible disasters.

The outcome impacts others

One flaw in leadership is when the leader thinks only about how he or she views the decision and not how the decision affects other people. The wise leader thinks strategically to determine the people aspect of a decision. This is especially where other people are brought into the strategy part of making the decision. If the outcome has an impact on other people, then other people need to be considered before the decision is made.

The issue is subject to resistance

Most change is subject to resistance, but if a decision is automatically going to involve a battle for acceptance, then a leader must strategically plan the way the decision is introduced and implemented. The more potential outcomes and reactions considered the greater chance of success the change can have.

The issue changes an agreed upon direction

When people get excited about a direction the organization is going and they invest their heart and energy into heading in that direction, they are naturally more resistant to a change in the direction. Good leaders think strategically how this change will be received and how it should be communicated so people transfer enthusiasm for the new direction.

Those are just a few examples. There are certainly many others. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a decision backfire against a leader who failed to think strategically. They did what they thought was best – they used their gut – but, there were too many variables at play and the decision came back to bite them – metaphorically speaking.

A good rule of thumb for leaders might be to simply discipline themselves to ask a simple question: Do I need to think more strategically before I make this decision? And, if the answer is yes, start asking more questions and involving more people. It will make you a better leader.