7 Statements Every Leader Needs To Use Regularly 

One of the goals of a leader should be to encourage, strengthen and challenge a team to continually improve. Almost as a cheerleader rousing the crowd at a game, the leader uses his or her influence to bring out the best in others.

Much of this is done by the things we say as leaders. The vocabulary of a leader helps shape the culture and atmosphere of the team. The statements we make as leaders carry great weight with the people we are leading.

I even think we should intentionally include certain statements regularly in our language.

Here are 7 statements leaders should memorize and use often:

I believe in you.

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. That’s not helpful. But, hopefully as a leader you are surrounding yourself with people in whom you do believe. Tell them. Everyone needs to know this, but in my experience, this is even more important the newer the person is on the team.

You are an asset to this team.

Let them know they make a difference. One of the best ways to do this is by bragging on people when they do something well in front of the rest of the team. Even the most introverted person enjoys this kind of recognition.

I’ve got your back.

If you are an empowering leader – and you should be – then people are stepping out on their own, taking risks for the benefit of the organization. They need to know you support them – even when mistakes are made.

You did a great job.

If they did tell them. Never miss an opportunity to give post-project encouragement. Celebrating wins encourages the team and more wins.

I want to help you reach your personal goals.

This could even mean the person would no longer be on your team if they did, but it protects their loyalty while they are and this type environment welcomes the highest caliber of leaders. They are willing to work with you because they know you won’t attempt to hold them back from their own goals – in fact, you will encourage them.

I respect you for _______.

Be specific. What is it that impresses you about this team member? What do they uniquely add to the team? Tell them. The power of this one is exponential.

I trust you.

This one requires more than words. You’ll have to prove it with your actions. But, when a team member feels trusted by the leader they are more willing to take risks. They will have more loyalty to the leader — trusting the leader in return. They will be more likely to overlook the days you aren’t leading quite as well.

You may not be able to use these phrases every day. You shouldn’t overuse them. They need to be genuine, heartfelt and honest. These aren’t even intended to be used every week. But, as often as you can, slip a few of these into your memory bank and pull them out where appropriate. They will help you build a better team.

Any phrases you would add?

7 Seemingly Unproductive Actions Which Are Valuable in Leadership

Much of what a leader does can seem unproductive at times – and that is a good thing.

For someone wired for production and progress – a checklist type person – unproductive time may even seem like wasted time.

I’ll admit, even though this is in my leadership knowledge, I have to discipline myself to practice them sometimes.

Yet, every good leader I know specializes in intangible actions which don’t always produce visible, immediate results. In fact, some of these actions are often the most productive part of their work.

In order for teams to thrive, there are things which, while they may seem unproductive to some, the leader must spend time doing.

Let me share some examples from my own leadership.

Here are 7 intangible things I try to do each day:

Praying.

Did I need to share that one? And, yet I do. For my reminder and most leaders I know. Yes, even pastors need this reminder. We can get so busy making decisions, putting out fires and handling routines we fail to do the more important work – pray. What could be happening in our leadership if we spent more time praying for the work before we do the work? (That’s a sobering question.)

Disciplined thinking.

Leader, how much time do you spend just thinking? I’m not talking about daydreaming on mindless things. I’m talking about disciplined thinking about where you and your team are, where you are going, what’s working, and what’s not working. I need those times every single day. Often new ideas hit me in the shower or driving in my car, but many times new ideas are only shaped and realized when I set aside quantity time to brainstorm. Every leader at every level needs this time, but the higher a position is in the organization the more disciplined the leader must be to think.

Reading.

I don’t know why – even as I teach these principles – it has always made me feel uncomfortable when someone who works with me finds me reading a magazine or a book. I feel so unproductive. But I know the more responsibility a leader assumes the more important it is he or she be exposed to new ideas and thoughts. Leaders are readers. I don’t always get something I can immediately put into practice, but my mind is stretched and my thoughts are energized. Valuable. Gold in many cases. (I read the Bible everyday, but as a practice, I try to read one chapter a day from some book – other than the Bible.)

Investing.

Helping others succeed is what leaders do best. Sometimes leadership is as simple as believing in others more than they believe in themselves. I have to remember also, I’m into Kingdom-building, not only church building, so investing in other pastors – even those not on our team – is a part of what I have been called to do. And, it should be noted, investing is not just talking. Leaders, in my opinion, do too much of that at times. It’s also listening to others and learning from them. Whenever I meet to “invest” in some other leader I always grow personally as well.

Networking.

Some of the greatest doors of opportunity as a church have opened because of my personal networking. Honestly, this is one thing which has made Twitter valuable in leadership. It gives me quick connections with my peers. But, this is why community involvement is important to me. I build a vital network I can glean and learn from. A leader’s overall success is often directly related to the strength and size of their network.

Walking.

Several times daily, if I’m in the office, I walk through our building. I see people. They have a chance to ask me questions, interact with me, and even share a concern. It’s amazing how this action – which many times may not produce anything tangible immediately – seems to endure people to my leadership. Leaders need to be present. Visible. Even accessible to the point they can be. As an added value, the physical movement refuels my body and mind for continued productivity throughout the day.

Planning.

I saved this one for last and I almost said meeting, but meetings are very tangible actions. But, let’s be honest, meetings can also seem unproductive. I read the books and blogs about eliminating meetings – and I’m all about it when possible – but the fact is most teams have to meet occasionally and regularly to stay on pace together. The problem in my opinion isn’t the meeting as much as the meetings where nothing is accomplished. Planning may seem unproductive – even wasted – for those who are most wired for production. Many would rather do than plan to do. But, preparation, while it may seem unnecessary in the process, makes success more attainable. Some of the best leaders I know personally are military leaders. Ask them how much preparation and planning they want their teams to have before encountering the enemy. As an example of this one, rather than getting started answering emails or heading into meetings, I try to spend a few minutes every day, before the day begins, planning how I will approach the day. (This is where I build my checklist.) I leave feeling far more productive when I’ve attempted to plan my day. Interruptions will naturally come, but I’m more prepared for them when I start with a plan.

Depending on your wiring, some of these may seem unproductive. That’s especially true for me when I do take the walk or put down the book and dozens of unanswered emails staring me in the face, but successful leadership demands we spend time investing in the intangible things which make our teams better.

In which of these areas do you most need to improve as a leader?

5 “Secrets” Which Can Make You A Better Leader

When I became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility which stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, the a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

What in the world does a senior in high school have to add to the field of leadership?

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

(Recognizing a need is one key to being an effective leader – but I still had no clue how to accomplish this.)

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter as a new leader.

(Every new leader needs someone who believes in them, mentors them, and helps them get back up when they fall.)

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few “secrets”, which helped me as student body president. I carried them with me as I entered the business world and later as I led my own businesses. I used them in an elected office.

Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

(Good leaders learn good principles and build upon them, contextualizing them for each leadership position.)

The principles started with the investment of my principal in me.

Here are 5 secrets to make you a better leader:

Letting go of power

The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST as a test to see if you’re an empowering leader.)

Giving up control

You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned this secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Not always knowing the answer

If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. Equally true, if you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered. You’ll be dismissed as a respected leader and will essentially close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new – many times from the people they lead.

“Wasting time” is not always wasted

Great leaders have learned spending time which other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Great teams laugh together, share personal life with one another, and build relationships beyond the work environment. Spend time with people, in ways which may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bouncing attention

The more you deflect attention from yourself to others the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

Those are some of my secrets in leadership. Thanks Principal Huggins! And, life, thank you for continually showing me these are true.

What secrets have you learned which make one a better leader?

Sometimes the Leader Must Address the Elephant in the Room

As awkward as it might be...

Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. He always saw the glass as half empty and was negative about everything.

It’s okay to have someone who asks questions to make things better. We actually should encourage these people, but this guy was a doomsayer in the room. He never saw any positive in anything – regardless of the conversation. We would be brainstorming and he would kill the momentum. Just when everyone thought we had a good plan in place, he would poke more holes in it. He never had new ideas to improve things. He simply didn’t like anyone else’s idea. It wasn’t helpful. It was actually disruptive.

As anoying as it was, leadership allowed it to continue. Everyone talked about it outside of meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team. Our senior leader insisted he had counseled with this person privately, yet it never seemed to improve.

It led me to a conclusion I have selectively practiced in leadership:

Sometimes, as a leader, you have to address the “elephant in the room” – in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leader has to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant. Elephants take up a lot of valuable space in the room.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room.

Yes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often – and never until you have attempted to handle it privately, but it may be necessary to continue leading the team well.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume this type performance is tolerated.
  • The negative actions will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.
  • Respect for the leader – with this issue and others – will diminish.

Leader, when you know in your gut it’s time – address the elephant!

You must. The best excuses won’t hide an elephant. And, elephants don’t often leave the room on their own.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team?

A Critical Leadership Error and 4 Ways to Approach It

There is one critical error most leaders make at some point. I make it frequently. If you’re leading you probably do also.

We forget people are trying to follow.

We get so caught up in our own world we forget people we are trying to lead are trying to follow us. We “think” we know where we are going and we assume they do also – almost at times like they can read our minds.

Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car?

Some are good at this kind of leading and some aren’t. Some take quick turns without using a blinker. Some dodge in and out of traffic – forgetting the person behind can’t react as quickly. Some fail to tell you a general direction or give you an address in case you get separated. Some don’t have their phone handy where you can call them if you fall behind.

Do you understand the analogy? In a similar way it is with a team or organization when the leader forgets people are trying to follow.

The leader sets the pace for the organization. – almost every time, and some leaders get so passionate about what they are thinking and doing they forget others are trying to keep up with them.

Good leaders frequently evaluate to make sure the current pace doesn’t leave someone behind – unless it is intentional – which would be the subject of another post.

What can a leader do to keep from losing those who are trying to follow along the way?

Here are 4 suggestions:

Ask questions.

Granted, most people are not going to call out the leader. This is true regardless of how “open” the leader’s door might be. So, good leaders ask lots of open-ended questions. They are continually evaluating and exploring to discover what they wouldn’t know if they didn’t ask. They check in with people often to make sure they understand where they are going, have what they need and are able to continue the pace healthfully.

Be vulnerable.

While the leader ultimately sets the speed of the team, good leaders allow others on the team help set the pace. They share leadership across the team. It’s more difficult to argue against the pace when the team helped to set it. It takes humility, but good leaders allow the decision-making process of the organization to be spread throughout the team. They are open to correction – giving people permission to speak into their life and are not easily offended when someone challenges them – or even sometimes corrects them.

Be systematic.

One way to control pace and overall direction is to operate under well-planned and executed written goals and objectives. These are agreed upon in advance. Of course, things still change quickly – that’s part of life – and we must be flexible to adapt, but having even a short term written plan gives people a direction which keeps them making progress without chasing after every whim of a leader. (Creative leaders tend to have lots of whims.)

Keep looking in the mirror.

Back to the previous car illustration, if someone is trying to follow you should frequently look in the rear view mirror to see they are still behind you. In the organizational setting it is ultimately up to the leader to self-evaluate frequently. Clueless leaders push and pull people with no regards to the impact it is having on organizational health or the people trying to follow. (By the way, we are all clueless at times – we only know what we know.) Good leaders attempt to be self-aware. They know their tendencies to push too hard or their struggle with contentment – or they’re lack of clarity in details. Whatever it is that makes them difficult to follow at times they try to minimize the negative impact on their team. (This requires intentionality.)

Here’s a hard question every leader should consider:

Are you allowing those attempting to follow you a fair opportunity to follow?

10 Identifiers to Spot a High Character Leader

Do you want to know if a leader has high character? You simply have to observe them long enough. We demonstrate whom we really are by what we really do.

Leaders with character can easily be identified. I’m sure there are others, but let me share a few suggestions to spot good character in leaders.

Here are 10 identifiers which show a leader has high character:

The way they win. Leaders with character win without belittling others for losing. They don’t have to continually point out their record or kick the underdog when they celebrate. They are humble, recognizing they didn’t win without the help of other people. 

The way they lose. Character helps you keep your head up in defeat – knowing you did your best and will try harder next time. Leaders with high character build from failure. They know their hard times were a large part in producing the good times, to the point they are willing to help others who are on the losing side. 

The way they control. There are things to control – and usually those revolve around core values. High character leaders follow worthy visions, but they don’t try to mandate how other people participate in accomplishing the win. They value uniqueness in people on their team. 

The way they empower. High character leaders don’t “hog the show”. They don’t have to be in the limelight. You demonstrate the pride you have in your ability to let others share the glory.

The way they invest in others. A leader with character will want others to achieve the dream with them. They will plan for a future which is inclusive – thinks of others – and strives to help everyone benefit from the vision. They will personally invest in the betterment of people on their team. 

The way they listen. Listening may be one of the most important skills of a leader. It takes humility to be willing to hear from others. It takes wisdom to want to hear what others have to say.

The way they speak. The tone and attitude of the leader sets the atmosphere of the organization, but it also says a lot about the leader’s character. When a leader speaks arrogantly, or uses words like “I” or “me” more than “us” or “we”, it tells how the leader views others on their team.

The way they forgive. Grace is such an attractive and needed quality for a leader. To lead people well they need to know they can make a mistake and learn from it – without retribution.

The way they give. “Selfish leader” almost seems to be an oxymoron. Leaders with character are generous servants. They build and invest in others. They share the rewards of success. 

The way they love. If you can’t love people you really can’t lead people – not with integrity at least. Leaders with character put other’s interests even ahead of their own. They genuinely care for people – all people. 

What others would you add to my list?

7 Easy Ways to Encourage Innovation on Your Team

Most leaders want to lead an innovative organization.

If you are like me, you don’t necessarily have to be the first to do something new, but you don’t want to be years behind either. As conservative as we might be, as long as we remain true to our core values, we still want to be “cutting edge” to some degree. We certainly don’t want to be stuck in the last decade.

But, here’s the problem.

As leaders, we can’t force innovation. We can’t mandate innovative people. And, if our people haven’t been innovative in a while, then there may not be much innovation going on in our world.

Innovation, in its purest form, means change, and while change can be forced upon people, the best changes, the kind that make an organization excellent, come from the heart of a person. Great innovation comes from the gut. You cannot legislate those kinds of changes.

There are things leaders can do, however, to encourage team members to be more innovative. I don’t even believe they have to be difficult.

Here are a 7 easy ideas to encourage innovation:

Get away from the office as a team.

There is something about a change in surroundings which encourages a change in thought. Take a trip to another church – or if nothing else – go somewhere different in your own city. Creative thoughts are fueled better outside your normal routine and environment. It’s a large investment, but we annually take our staff to visit with another church staff in a nearby city – far enough where must spend the night. Ideas comes from every time we do this. We have also held brainstorming retreats at other churches in our area and local businesses. Again, the change of place often fuels a change of thought.

Have a brainstorming session with open-ended questions.

Questions can be gold for fueling ideas and creativity. Ask questions such as, “What are we doing well?” “Where could we improve?” “What should we stop doing?” You could bring someone in to guide this discussion if needed. Be sure to welcome diversity of thought. And, people know if they’re not welcome by the way you respond when they are shared. Create an environment where innovation and outside-the-box thinking is acceptable.

Reward new ideas.

If you recognize new thoughts and celebrate the success of innovation, people will want to be a part of it more. Make it a part of the DNA to elevate the value of innovation. Encourage thinking time. Don’t be afraid of “unproductive time” just to think. Teach the staff to discipline themselves to dream and plan. Make sure to build time to dream into your schedule as a leader. It helps if people know you do this – and if you actually share new ideas periodically – even often. Our team knows when I travel to expect me to return with some fresh perspective – even some wild ideas.

Have times together as a team that are simply fun.

Something magical happens when you get people who work together out of their work zone and into their fun zone. They often still talk work – it’s what they share in common – but they share work in a more innovative and productive way. And, really in a more honest way. Take a day and go bowling. A college near us has a ropes course we did together as a team. Simply having an intentional, but fun lunch together frequently can fuel new thoughts.

Remove obstacles to innovative thought.

There are always communication barriers between team members and senior leadership. Discovering and eliminating them could be an innovation waterfall. One way is to get in the room and have a real problem which needs to be solved – and not already have the answers. In fact, have few answers. Let the answers emerge. People love to solve a problem. Innovation will start to happen.

Invite new people to the table.

It could be people on the team or people in the community, but new people equals new ideas. We’ve often brought staff spouses to the table to fuel our thoughts. And, it could be through a book you read together as a team. Discuss the author’s perspectives together. Periodically meet with community leaders and ask them their impressions of the church. Glean ideas from them of what they are doing to promote innovation in their organizations.

Set innovation timeline goals.

If you want to eventually build a new website, for example, put a date on the calendar for when it MUST be completed. It’s amazing how creative we often become under a deadline.

What are some ideas you have to encourage innovation?

Leadership Development for Dummies

Here's all there is to it.

Sorry if the title is crude. No implication about anyone here. But leadership development may not be as difficult as we often make it out to be. So why not share the oversimplified version?  The dummy version. 

One of the number one questions I get about leadership is how to develop new leaders within an organization. The task can often seem overwhelming. Few organizations or churches I know are viewed as experts in the field. Ours certainly isn’t. 

Maybe it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Perhaps all of us can figure this out. 

Leadership development begins with an underlying understanding that the success of any organization depends greatly on the leader’s willingness to delegate responsibility to others in the organization. This attitude – especially among top leadership – is vitally important to developing new leaders. 

The more a leader tries to control, the less likely others will be to help him or her accomplish the vision. Of course, without people willing to follow a leader, there is no leadership development.

(For pastors who reject this idea, please read Exodus 18 or Acts 6 – or just follow Jesus through the Gospels.)

Here is my simple formula. I believe the best leadership development is accomplished by allowing others to gain experience by doing. Basically, this means we must find ways to allow others to lead.

In fact, delegation can be simplified into two words.

INVEST and RELEASE

Invest

Personally spend time with and mentor others so they understand the vision of the organization and have the resources, skills and authority to accomplish their assignment. Allow them to ask questions, to take risks, fail, and begin again. 

Release

Let people lead. Allow them to add their strengths, creativity and energy to accomplishing the vision. Give them real responsibility and authority. Don’t micromanage.

I realize this is a very simplified answer to a very complicated process, but perhaps simplifying leadership development is needed to ensure we tackle this necessary part of growing a healthy organization.

And, you can easily monitor whether leadership development is occurring in your church or organization with my simple model. Simply ask yourself – look around – is anyone being invested in on a regular basis. Then, more important, is anyone being released to lead? 

If you have any questions, or need a model to follow, simply pay more attention to Jesus. It’s exactly how He did His leadership development.

Are you holding other potential leaders back because you will not release them to lead?

Great Leaders Develop a Leadership Vocabulary

I’ll never forget in my first church when a very Christlike deacon pulled me aside and offer me some advice in leading a church. I had been a leader in the business world a long time, but this was new for me. He helped me in ways which are being realized even today in how I lead in the church.

The best leaders I know are always learning.

Recently, I sat in on a leadership meeting for another organization. I didn’t feel I had the relationship to do so, but I left sincerely hoping someone would speak into this leader’s life – and he would be willing to learn.

The problem?

This leader had a terrible leadership vocabulary.

Part of maturing as a leader is developing a language which will help the organization and it’s team members achieve greatest success.

Here are some examples of what great leaders learn to say:

“Yes” (to other people’s ideas) more than “No”

“Why not?” more than “I don’t think so”

“Our” more than “My”

“We” more than “I”

“Thank you” more than “You’re welcome”

“Let’s do it” more than “We’ve never done it that way before”

“I believe in you” more than “Prove yourself”

“Here’s something to think about” more than “I command you to”

“What do you think?” more than “Let me think about it”

“How can we?” more than “This is the way”

“I take full responsibility” more than “I’m not responsible”

“They work with me” more than “They work for me”

Great leaders understand the power of their words. The things they say develop the culture of the organization, team member’s perceptions of their individual roles, and the overall health and direction of the organization. Great leaders, therefore, choose their words carefully.

How is your leadership vocabulary? What would you add to my list?

The Speed of Change is Relative

A huge reminder to leaders attempting change

This is a reminder to leaders who are attempting to lead change. If you miss this one principle you can greatly damage the effectiveness of change or even your reputation as a leader in the change.

It’s simple, but it is powerful. Huge.

Here it is:

The speed of change is always relative.

See, I told you – simple. No rocket science here, but you must understand this when leading people through a change process.

As the leader, or someone on our team, I may feel like we are moving at a snail’s pace. It’s taking forever. We are spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere fast.

At the same time, others may feel we are moving at rocket speed. Change is coming so quickly they cannot process it in their mind. They feel the world – or this change – is out of control.

Perception to the speed of change is relative to:

  • A person’s propensity or aversion to change.
  • The degree of comfort established in what we are currently doing.
  • Who or what initiated the change.
  • The perceived size of the change.
  • The degree of personal risk involved.
  • How the change is implemented.
  • My understanding of or buy-in to the “why” behind the change.
  • The level of personal sacrifice involved in the change.
  • The trust established in current leadership.

When you hear people talking about how fast or slow things are changing, remember their response is relative to their individual context.

Understanding this one principle will help the leader be more sensitive to the reaction of others. It will help him or her with casting vision effectively. It will protect the leader from the perception of “running over people” with change.

This one understanding will make you a better change leader.

Think of this principle – the speed of change is relative – in your present context.

How fast are things changing in your life right now? Do you wish they were changing faster or slower?