Lead Alone…Never Lead Alone: What?

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Sometimes I seem to contradict myself.

I say one thing…then I say another.

Yet, both are true.

For example. I say: Sometimes a leader has to lead alone.

Another time I say: Leaders should never lead alone.

Both are true.

Let me explain.

Don’t fear times when you seem to lead alone. No one seems to understand. There will be days in the life of a leader where you feel like everyone is against you. That’s normal. Happens to the best of leaders. You’ll have to keep going. That’s leadership. There will be times you have to lead when no one else sees what you see. You can have a firm, even God-given conviction, but it may take time for others to join in on the vision. Every leader will at times have to lead through the darkness of doubt into a greater reality.

But you shouldn’t lead alone for long.. Even when you don’t feel like it, there are usually people who support you. More than that, you should surround yourself with people you have given the freedom to speak into the deepest places of your life. You should allow people to help build the vision, give others ownership, and be a people builder by giving others the chance to lead. There shouldn’t be very long periods where you aren’t stretched by a doss of reality or correction. You should never lead alone…for long.

Both principles are true.

I’ve come up with a better way to say it:

Be willing to lead alone, but never lead in isolation.

7 Things Leaders Must Do To Be Effective Today

female leader

What makes an effective leader these days?

I was asked that question recently and I had to think for a moment. The question was asked in a way that caused me to believe the questioner felt my answer would be different today than ten or twenty years ago. Would it? Is leading any different today than in years past?

Well, it’s a good question, and I’m not going to attempt to answer it in this post (how’s that for dodging a question?), but let me attempt to put some answers to the question I was actually asked.

What makes an effective leader these days?

Perhaps in thinking through that question we’ll find answers to the question this question raised in me.

Here are 7 things leaders must do to be effective “today”:

Think bigger – Leaders don’t have the luxury of “resting in the moment” for long. Celebrate yes. But, then the leader must begin thinking “What’s new?”, “What’s next?” or “What needs improving?” Things are changing fast and to keep up, you’ll have to always be thinking beyond today.

Include others – There once may have been a day where a solo leader could flourish, but those days are gone. People want a seat at the table of decision. Information can no longer be controlled. (Not that it ever should have been, but it was easier. We can Google most anything today.) Reclusive leaders aren’t trusted and therefore not followed far. In the process, they waste valuable talent and opportunities from people on their team.

Remain positive – Leading isn’t easy. To say it is would mean life is easy…and it isn’t. Leading involves navigating through ups and downs and the successful leader will be the one who can keep people anxiously and excitedly looking forward through each season. On dark days a leader must point people towards better days…towards hope.

Challenge status quo – Change has always been part of society, but today change is happening at warp speed. Leaders must be agents of discovery and agents of improvement. Effective leaders must continually encourage people beyond what they think they can do.

Insure strategic thinking – We rarely reach a destination by chance, and so effective leaders are strategy experts. They work with people to craft a path to reach a destination that may not always look exactly like what we thought it would, but gets us closer to achieving our vision. We must get better with less resources and that will require strategy.

Communicate effectively – In a day where information is at everyone’s fingertips, and the quantity of information is overwhelming for all of us, the most effective leaders will be skilled communicators. They will be able to filter us through the mass of information to the most important information in the context of achieving our vision.

Stand firm – The successful leader will be able to guide a group of people towards a well-defined, easy to understand, worthy vision…in spite of hardships, setbacks and disappointments. As fast as change is changing, there must be some things which are consistent, which can grab and keep people’s heart and energy long term. Otherwise, we will see no real progress. That means effective leaders can’t get distracted with things that in the end won’t even matter. (Of course, for me, my constant guiding vision is the Gospel.)

That’s my answer of what it takes to be effective in leadership today. How is that different from years past? Is it?

How would you answer the question?

When you’re trying to figure out your right structure

Questions and Answers signpost

I received the following email, with a few key points disguised for anonymity, and thought it could be a question others are asking. Do you ever wonder the right structure for your church? If so, this post is for you.

“Pastor Steve” wrote (not his real name):

Hi Ron,

We are a small town church about 100. I have one full time and one part-time staff besides me. I would like to reorganize for better efficiency. We have a deacon board leadership and would like to come up with different titles and job descriptions for the leadership. Right now we have assignments for building, music, finance, missions, education and chairman. Pretty standard, traditional titles.

I lead the board and, thankfully, they are open to change. I’ve pastored here for over a dozen years, so they trust me.

Any suggestions on structure, purpose and job descriptions?

Thanks,

Steve

My reply (Slightly expanded from the original):

Steve,

I applaud you for thinking about how to be more efficient as a church. Frankly, that almost seems unusual for pastors, churches and church leadership.

I’d probably start, however, by asking bigger questions. Not magical questions. Just bigger.

Start with questions like these:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What is our vision?
  • Who has God uniquely called and equipped us as a church to be to our community and world?
  • What are my unique passions as a pastor?
  • What do we want to be known for above everything else as a church?
  • What are three or four activities or programs we would do if we had to quit everything else?

Once you (And I’d invite others) have spent sufficient time brainstorming and summarizing some those questions, (feel free to add your own) then you can ask:

  • Considering our answers above, what are vital steps needed to accomplish each of these listed?
  • What’s an appropriate timeframe to expect to be doing these?
  • What are action steps, with timelines, for the future goals we have as a church?
  • How can I and/or the staff or leadership improve so we can lead these new initiatives?
  • What are things we are currently doing that simply aren’t needed anymore or don’t work?

And finally, ask yourself or as a group:

  • Who do we have on the team to accomplish this list?
  • Who is gifted best to serve where?
  • What can I do and what will others need to do?
  • What can other staff members do?
  • Are there key leaders in the church we’ve not tapped for leadership who could fill some of these roles?
  • Where are the biggest holes in people and leader resources we need to fill?

Keep in mind these are broad, general questions designed to get you and your team brainstorming. You’ll need to choose the questions best for you and adapt them accordingly.

After you’ve gone through the questions, which is not a quick process, you can then begin to organize the new structure around tasks and people. This type process gives you a more realistic and effective structure. Keep in mind, the more you keep the list of things you are trying to do to a minimum, the more you will increase your effectiveness.

To summarize:

I always try to start with the biggest vision and work backwards. We want to reach people. We want to disciple people. Etc. Always start with what you MUST complete and do well.

Then, I lead us to ask, how are we going to accomplish that? Finally, we need to know who the people on the team are to help us do that.

If you spend time working through that process you’ll be close to having your new structure. Also, you’ll need to review this process again over time as people and times change. Your broad answers of what you’re trying to answer will likely stay the same, but it is always good for review. Your more specific answers will change depending on who the people are in the church at the time and how things need to be done now.

Quick response, but hope that helps some.

Ron

3 Basic Needs of Every Organization or Church

Learn & Lead

Several years ago I read an article by Raymond P. Rood’s entitled “How Then Should Organizations Live”. (http://www.humantechnologies.com) Rood makes the point that every organization has three basic needs. This philosophy resonated with me and, based on my experience, I can see how it relates to the churches, businesses, and non-profits I have led.

Here are 3 things Rood says every organization needs to thrive:

Growth – Rood says “growth needs focus on productivity and expansion.” The growth of any organization is vibrant and fast-paced and requires lots of energy and attention. It’s a world of numbers and percentages of increases. Without growth, the organization will eventually die, but if an organization only grows and never matures, that growth will not sustain itself for long.

Maintenance – According to Rood, “maintenance needs focus on order and the reduction of problems.” The more an organization grows the more it needs a structure in place to manage the growth; that’s maintenance. Systems. Some people love the maintenance world. Maintenance is extremely necessary for the organization to remain healthy. Still, if all an organization does is maintenance it will become dull, boring, legalistic, and uninspiring. (Did I paint that well enough?) Some organizations, and even churches, die because they live in the maintenance world. They become one large bureaucracy of rules and regulations, designed with good intentions, to sustain the organization’s growth. That leads to the third basic need of organizations.

Development – Rood writes that “development needs focus on organizational quality.” The development needs of an organization are designed to take it to the “next level” of success. This is where an organization really matures, develops lasting principles and values, and prepares itself for years of growth and success. Without developing an organization it will eventually wither and die.

(A common mistake is to confuse development with growth. Growth is always growth. It is focused primarily on things getting bigger. We need that focus. Development is focused on things getting better, which may or may not lead to growth. It may be completely internal. As a development person, I always hope this leads to growth, but quality is my main objective. An example here would be developing or improving the internal accounting or paperwork systems…the maintenance function. It’s more difficult to tie these directly to growth sometimes, but they can always be tied to development.)

For an organization to thrive it must do all three well. Using this information, I have expanded my thinking around these areas.

I’ve discovered, for example…

  • Everyone in the organization tends to prefer one of these three, even though all of us need all three to be successful in our role.
  • For a position to be most successful, it should have a primary focus on one of these three, although, again, all of them are necessary, for every position.
  • If a person is mismatched in one of these they will more quickly burnout. A person with a preference for growth, for example, will burnout sooner when they are function in the maintenance function.
  • We have to discipline ourselves as leaders and team members to make sure all three of these are a part of our work and the organization.
  • I have heard some people say they love all of these…or really “confident” people say they are good at all of them. I question this. In my experience, they may enjoy elements of all of them, and may even be good at all of them to some degree, but there will be one preference in the bunch (and weaknesses they can’t see in one of them.) For years, I thought I would be good at maintenance need, because I like organizational efficiency. When I was put in that position exclusively, I bombed at it.
  • When shaping a team, we need to make sure people specializing in all three are represented, and allowed to lead in their area of strength.

With these understandings, I have frequently walked our staff through each of these in a retreat setting. We expand our thoughts on these three needs as they relate to the life of our church and each individual area in which we serve. The discussion always leads to ways we can improve in each of these areas. As a pastor/leader, knowing the importance of each of these, I want to make sure we are excelling in all of them. That’s a healthy church.

For disclosure, I’m a development guy. My lesser strength is in the maintenance area, but I have seen what happens when we are weak in this area. I love the growth area, being a starter and entrepreneurial, but in an established organization, I always drift towards development…which usually involves starting something new in the same organization. If that’s all I had to do, I’d be happy. To be an effective leader, however, I must discipline my time to focus on all three needs. I can specialize in one, but I must be committed to playing a part in each area.

Some questions to ask, considering these three basic needs:

  • Which of these are missing most in your organization or church?
  • Which of these do you prefer doing most? (If you say all, let me encourage you to reconsider your answer.)
  • Should you discipline yourself in the other areas so you can be a healthier organization?

Warning: Don’t Be the Senior Leader Unless…

Warning

Here’s a warning:

Don’t Agree to Be the Senior Leader Unless…

You are ready to lead alone at times…or at least feel like you are.

You aren’t striving for popularity, knowing that every decision you make is unpopular to someone.

You can make the hard decisions, even the ones involving people or conflict.

You will try to see all sides of an issue.

You are comfortable with change and thinking outside the box.

You are okay when others receiving credit; even for something you initiated.

You can delegate leadership…and truly empower others, believing things are better when other people help make decisions.

You don’t let criticism derail you for long, but stay committed to the task before you.

You can think beyond today and help others join you by casting an engaging vision.

You highly value people and their contributions.

And _________?

Senior leaders…share yours.

Do You Lead or Control People?

controlling leader

In my years leading in business and churches, I have known many people who claim to be leaders, but they are actually nothing more than controllers of people. There is a huge difference in leading and controlling.

In fact, the differences are almost exact opposites:

Here are some characteristics of environments that lead people:

  • Creativity is encouraged and mistakes are seen as part of the process
  • People are developed more than programs
  • Healthy relationships and teams are part of the DNA
  • Delegation thrives and people are empowered
  • Everyone has value on a team
  • People follow willingly, because they feel respected and valued
  • Leadership development is part of the DNA

Here are some characteristics of controlling people:

  • Personal growth is stifled
  • Creativity and independent thought is discouraged
  • Followers are kept as a distance from leaders
  • Leaders insist on their way and are never wrong
  • People are taken for granted
  • Positions and policies rule more than relationships
  • People are employees more than team members

Apparently, to some leaders, it appears easier to simply make people do what the leader wants them to do. By force. I’ve had bosses like that. Making people carry out your agenda simplifies things…it seems. But, that’s not really leadership.

Leadership is more of an art than that. Leading people effectively means helping people with different skills, talents and interests, even ideas and temperaments in a way that makes them feel valued and yet accomplishes the established vision and goals.

That’s not easy. That’s not even always fun. But, it certainly is truer of leadership. The fact is you can’t truly lead people and control people. The two don’t work well together.

Have you ever worked for a controller?

Be honest with yourself, are you leading people, or do you claim to be a leader, but you are really a controlling people?

Decision Remorse

Funny scared man

I was talking with a young leader. Recently he had made a pretty major decision. He prayed about it. Consulted wise counsel. Acted methodically. I walked with him through the process and was impressed with the way he handled things.

The decision was made. He communicated it to key leaders and the steps were in place to move forward.

Then reality sank in.

It was a big decision. It will alter things. People will be impacted by this decision.

His mind started to play tricks with him. He questioned himself.

What if I made the wrong decision?
What if there was a better decision.
What if I was wrong?

He began to panic.

I was glad we were still talking at this point in the process. I was able to tell him a principle I learned years ago in leadership.

Sometimes we suffer from decision remorse.

Just like buyers remorse…what happens when you buy something and then temporarily wish you hadn’t…leaders often suffer from decision remorse. With every major decision in life or leadership, decision remorse is a possibility.

It’s a temporary setback. A momentary lapse. A gut check reality that makes you question your decision. It’s natural to question yourself at this point. You’ve invested a lot of energy on a major decision and now you are faced with making it happen.

Trust the process. Trust your instinct. Trust the system of decision-making you used.

Don’t allow decision remorse to keep you from celebrating the joy of what’s to come.

That doesn’t mean you don’t evaluate. It doesn’t mean you won’t make bad decisions. But, if you strategically and methodically made the decision, now is the time to implement.

Have you ever struggled with decision remorse?

Questions for Brainstorming

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Brainstorming often leads a team to the answers you can’t seem to find any other way. The best brainstorming begins with great questions. For example, what if the team is trying to discern what went wrong on a project? Perhaps there has been some major fall out and the team has suffered damage, either financially, in reputation or in morale. The questions you ask could determine how well you recover.

Using that as our example, consider the questions in this post, some will apply and some won’t. Add some of your own, and see if they will lead you through a helpful brainstorming session. By the way, I talk almost weekly to churches in some crisis mode. This process may help with that scenario also.

Below are 4 words and sets of questions to lead your team in brainstorming. If I were leading you through this process, we would take time on each section, stopping to summarize our findings along the way. Depending on the size of the group, we may break into sub-groups to brainstorm, then come back together to summarize.

The words and questions are simply a strategy to get the group talking. Depending on what you are trying to discover, you would change the words and the questions.

Words and questions:

Reflect – What went wrong? How did it happen? What’s the damage? Who is impacted? How much did it cost us…in capital, momentum, morale and reputation? What are the long-term and the short-term ramifications?

Recalculate – How can we improve? How can we keep it from happening again? What’s the best way to recover? Who are the right players in our recovery? What are the immediate, mid-range and long-term decisions we need to make, as a result of this?

Recharge – Why are we doing what we do? Why are we needed? What’s our motivation to begin again? What are some of our examples of success? What can we do to spur new momentum?

(Don’t skip this set of questions. Regardless of the issue, this type thinking is needed every time. You’ll be tempted to ignore them, because you assume you know these, but you always need the energy this type dialogue produces. Depending on the issue, you can’t usually do this immediately as well, because the previous issues are usually clouding people’s minds.)

Reignite – How soon can we begin again? Do we need a relaunch or do a complete overhaul? What’s our strategy moving forward? Who does needs to do what? Who is our spokesperson? Who are the teams assigned to each task? When is our target date for celebration?

Asking the right questions may determine the success or failure in the days ahead.

What questions are you currently asking your team?

Are You in a Controlling Environment?

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How controlling is the environment in which you lead?

That’s a great question, isn’t it?

I’ve previously written about controlling leadership. I tried to help you discern controlling leaders in THIS POST. I shared some ways to confront a controlling leader in THIS POST. And I shared some results of controlling leadership HERE.

But, what about the organization itself? How do you know if it’s controlling?

How well would you say new ideas flourish? Or do they?

You would want to know, wouldn’t you?

But, how do you?

Want to test yourself or your organization?

Ask yourself:

Do ideas determine systems?

Or

Do systems control ideas?

Here is another set of questions with the same thought:

When someone has a new idea, do you adapt, tweak, and create systems to support them?

Or

Do you decide whether or not the idea can survive based on your current systems?

Think about it. In a controlling environment, an idea can flourish only if there are systems to support the idea. In a less controlling environment, they create systems around the ideas…systems to make the ideas work.

Which is most true of your organization?

This doesn’t mean there won’t be ideas that aren’t a fit for the purpose, culture or DNA of the organization.

But, don’t let systems stifle creativity.

Let vision control your ability to move forward…not systems.

How would you discern a controlling environment?

A Leader in Time of Crisis, Uncertainty or Change

After the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41)

How did Paul respond?

Read it for yourself:

After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2

That’s the role of a leader in times of crisis. In times of uncertainty. In times of change.

The people following you are looking for assurance that everything is going to be okay. They want to know there is a plan. They want to hear things are moving forward with confidence.

Help people process the pain of their circumstances.

Give them hope. Encourage. Challenge them to continue.

Lead.