7 Actions Which Cripple Leaders

I’m constantly thinking how I can help people on our team improve as leaders. Of course, in order for that to happen it means I must constantly be improving as a leader. I realize our team’s potential to get better at leading others is limited to the extent I am willing to become a better leader.

I’ve learned along the way to being a better leader that there are some things which simply keep leaders from being effective. I used the word “cripple” in the title and I don’t think that is too strong a word. The things I’m going to list have all crippled me during seasons of my leadership. There are some actions or characteristics which can simply derail a leader’s potential for success if not identified and addressed.

Understanding these and disciplining ourselves to avoid them can make us better leaders.

Here are 7 actions which can cripple a leader:

Trying to personally handle too much.

Too many changes at one time. Too much on your plate. Refusing to delegate. You can only do so much and when you try to do more you almost always lose efficiency and effectiveness.

I realized this as our church plant was growing quickly. I was trying to meet with people, be active in the community, lead our staff and organizational structure and still preach effectively on Sunday. Something had to give. I started giving some things away and it was amazing how much better my messages became on Sunday – and how much more effective I was in my other responsibilities.

Refusing to rest.

Resting isn’t just a nice quote on a 10 commandments plaque. It’s a command for a reason. Our bodies and minds need time to rejuvenate and recover. Burnout is almost always a result of leaders who fail to say no or are never still.

I have had more than one hard learning curve in this area. Thankfully, I’ve matured and now I can say the more stressful the season the more I discipline myself to exercise and get away from the office. In the busier than normal season I don’t have to work harder, but smarter.

Allowing critics voices to dominate.

You will always have critics. And, you shouldn’t ignore learning from them – even when you don’t agree with them. As leaders, we must remain humble and teachable. But, this doesn’t mean we allow the dominant voice to be those who aren’t even supportive of leadership or where we are leading. In my experience, most of the time there are some people that are critics regardless of who is leader.

I’ll never forget the time this one lady continued to blast me about the “satanic” music our church sang. It wasn’t satanic at all. In fact, we were careful with our lyrics on every song we used in our worship services. The problem was it wasn’t her style. For a while I let this haunt me every Sunday. I was paranoid what others might be saying. But, then I realized there were lots of people who were better engaging in worship because of our style. Plus, there were plenty of other churches which might have more closely aligned with her preference. I couldn’t allow her preference to control what was leading a couple thousand other people in worship every week.

Ignoring the hard decisions.

Leadership isn’t needed if we simply manage status quo. Leadership takes people to unknown places. This requires change – and change can be uncomfortable. Let me correct that – change is always uncomfortable – to someone. In my experience, leadership is often crippled until someone is willing to make the hard decisions. As leaders we must not lead to be popular, but to do right things to achieve the worthy, pre-established visions of our organization.

This has been true so many times as we have had to change or stop programming in an established church. I’ve learned “we’ve always done it this way” is rarely true. When a church is over 100 years old there’s nearly nothing done the same way it was when the church started. They’ve simply done it that way long enough to be comfortable. But, part of our success has been the willingness to move forward – strategically and cautiously – with needed improvements towards our vision. This has included hard decisions involving programming, but even harder decisions regarding people. (And, the people decisions are always the hardest – but, sometimes the ones most needed.)

Controlling everything.

When the leader has to know everything happening in the organization or when they are paranoid because they don’t, we know there is crippled leadership somewhere – either with the leader or those being led. Most leaders don’t want to be surprised on major things, but when they have to be intimately involved in every decision and every detail it usually indicates they don’t trust their team. That’s crippling to any leader – and the team.

I’ve always been pretty good at delegating. It may have come when we bought a small manufacturing company and I was completely in over my head as a leader. I quickly realized if I was going to have any success I had to release control and trust other people – often people more qualified in areas than me. That learning experience has surely helped me as a pastor.

Impatience.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. And, neither are healthy organizations. Leaders must learn to have patience and perseverance, even when those on the team are growing weary. Many times we quit just before the turnaround.

I have sat with so many pastors – especially attempting revitalization – who were short-term at their churches – not because the work was finished, but because they were not patient with how long the process of change was taking. The best leadership happens over seasons and years – not over days and weeks.

Developing a sense of entitlement.

The leader who ever feels they’ve “arrived”, stops learning, or begins to take all the credit for success in the organization has become a very crippled leader. The team will no longer support the leader fully. They will trip on their own ego. It’s simply the quickest way to failure.

I could spend a whole blog post – and probably should – on how I have personally witnessed egos lead to moral, spiritual and professional failure. Chances are, however, you have witnessed this plenty of times also. Pride always goes before the fall.

Those are a few actions or attitudes which I have seen cripple good leadership. It’s always sad to me to see a good leader fail. My prayer is this could be a check for any leaders who may be struggling in any of these areas.

4 Easy Steps To Healthy Delegation

Even a potential control freak leader like me knows healthy delegating actually improves the organization. 

Yet, I work with dozens of pastors and leaders every year who struggle to release authority and responsibility.

How do we let go of responsibility when we are wired so heavily towards not doing so? How do we delegate when the church holds us responsible for getting things done? How do we let go when doing so makes us sometimes feel so out of control?

I often say there are three underlying reasons a leader doesn’t delegate.

Pride. They don’t think someone else can – as well as them.
Selfishness. They don’t want someone else getting the credit.
Ignorance. They simply don’t know how.

I can’t help with the first two, other than point you to Scripture and hope it convicts you otherwise. But, I can help you with the third one. And, I’m not trying to over simply a complicated leadership issue. It’s certainly not “easy” to implement as the title indicates, but the understanding the process really is simple.

Here are 4 easy steps to healthy delegation:

Identify

It could be a specific one-time task or an ongoing assignment, but find something which would be better delegated – either because you aren’t as skilled as others, don’t have adequate time to commit to it, or have lost interest. You have to get gut honest here, but look for things know someone would be better suited to lead. They have more time or talent in this area. And, don’t get stuck on this one. Make sure you find something. There is always something when you look for it.

Match

Find the right person/s for the responsibility based on passion, experience, and follow through capabilities. This can be volunteer or paid, but pick people who will do what they say they will do and you trust. Otherwise you will constantly be looking over their shoulder and back to not delegating again. And, you may not know until you give someone a chance to try. And, please don’t say there is no one to trust in your church or organization. If that’s the case, I see a couple options – you can change organizations or change the leader – and, most of the time it is the leader. Part of leading is raising up others to lead. (I’m not trying to be harsh, but it’s true.)

Release

This is the “letting go” part. (This is the scary part for many leaders. You may simply have to walk by faith on this one. I suspect Moses did when he followed Jethro’s advice.) Few leaders really do this well. Leaders usually lean more toward control than release, in my experience. But, if you want to be a delegator, especially a healthy delegator, you have to learn to give up your right to control. It won’t likely be done the way you wanted it to be done. It may not be done at the pace you expected. You have to release authority to do the delegated work. Help cast a vision of what a win looks like, give them the tools they need, but, this is the part of delegation you need the most – getting out of the way.

Follow-Up

Healthy delegation isn’t a dumping of responsibilities. If you are the senior leader even when you delegate you have some responsibility, even though you have released authority. Set a reminder on your calendar to periodically follow up with the person. Remain close enough and Xavailable to them should they have questions or need help, but stay out of their way as they complete the assignment.

I realize it’s not easy for some to delegate responsibility. It comes with discipline and practice. One way to improve at this is to consider the overall purposes and goals of the organization, recognizing they can better be attained through delegation, and allow accomplishing them to be the leader’s principal responsibility – rather than simply completing tasks personally. 

The journey to complete a worthy vision, includes delegating. Letting go to achieve greater success should be a key motivation for leadership.

When I Say I and When I Say We

A Leader's Vocabulary

I was talking with someone about the early days of church planting before anyone was on our team. We had not yet officially formed a core group, the initial staff members had not yet committed. As I told my personal story, I kept using words such as “our” and “we”. Towards the middle of the conversation the person stopped me and asked, “Who’s ‘we’?”

The fact is I was talking about me most of the time, but I confused him with my verbiage by using inclusive words. I wasn’t trying to be confusing. It’s simply a habit I’ve formed. I have come to realize a team vocabulary is a large part of encouraging healthy teams. I love teams and team-building so much I’ve disciplined myself to always talk in a collective sense.

To be fully candid, I cringe when I hear leaders use the words “I”, “me, and “my” when referring to their team, their church or organization. To me it always sounds so controlling, prideful, and even arrogant. As an example, Bo Warren is our worship pastor. He’s one of the most talented people I have ever met. We joke about him being a celebrity, but he is really a very humble person. Most of our church doesn’t understand how talented he really is. When I refer to him, I don’t say “He’s my worship pastor”, because he’s not! He’s our worship pastor. I don’t want to portray to him or others that somehow I control him. I want the perception to be “we” together are part of a team effort. I would be limiting his potential if I referred to him in a possessive sense.

I understand it may seem to just be semantics, but to me it’s an important issue for leaders to think through, perhaps bigger than to whom some give credence. If we truly want to create a team environment, then we must develop team vocabularies.

There are a few times when I use the personal words, such as:

  • When offering a pointed direction – “I am asking you to do this for the team.”
  • When offering an opinion which may not be shared by others – “I think we should…”
  • When asking a question or stirring discussion – “I wonder if we could…”
  • When giving a specific, personal compliment – “I want to thank you for the incredible work you did.”

When I am speaking on behalf of the team or referring to team members, I try to use a collective term. My advice is to default to words like “we” and “our” whenever possible – even if people have to ask you who the “we” is to whom you are referring.

The more we talk like a team the more our environments will feel like a team.

(You may want to read my post on a leader’s vocabulary.)

Have you had a leader who abused team vocabulary as described?  

One Sure Sign You’re On a Healthy Team

I’ve often said good leaders never assume silence means everyone is in agreement.

Especially during seasons of change the leader can’t assume everyone is on board because they aren’t hearing complaints. On one extreme people may feel there will be retribution for stating their opinion. The reality is leaders can be intimidating just by position – whether they intend to be or not. On the other extreme people may not say say what’s on their mind simply believing it would be something the leader already knows. But, all of us only know what we know. We don’t know anymore.

The leader doesn’t always hear what they need to hear, which is why good leaders ask good questions.

There is one caveat to this principle, however.

When a team is healthy – really healthy – so that the leader is approachable and team members know they are encouraged to participate in discussion. When there is no unresolved conflict or underlying drama. And, when people are on the team not just for a paycheck, but because they believe in the mission and love the team.

When the team is really healthy…

Silence can be interpreted as agreement.

That’s because:

  • The freedom to challenge is present
  • The fear of retribution is absent
  • The power of unity is prominent
  • The spirit of cooperation is elevated
  • The synergy of differences is celebrated
  • The collaboration of ideas has been utilized
  • The sharing of thoughts is welcomed

When you are on a really healthy team people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they don’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.

I’ll be candid, I’m not sure I have been there more than a few times in my leadership career. I’m not even sure we are there yet with our current team. We have new staff members and we are in a season of rapid change. But, in the months to come, I’ll be looking to measure progress in this way. I’ll be reminding our team of this principle and the ramifications of it.

A good personal evaluation for the leader is to ask yourself this question: What does silence on my team indicate?

If people aren’t pushing back against change what does that really mean?

And, for your sake, I hope it means you’re really serving with a healthy team.

The Fuzziness of a Healthy Team

Clarity is often king in organizational dynamics. Clear communication is vital for healthy teams. A huge part of my job as a leader is to help people understand our vision and where we are going next to try to realize it (as well as I know at the time).

While this is true there is a paradox when it comes to clarity and organizational health.

Some things are actually fuzzy on a healthy team. Indistinct. Muddled. Unclear.

As strange as that seems in an age of instant and constant information it’s actually healthy.

Let me give some examples.

Here are 3 areas of fuzziness on a healthy team:

The lines of authority are blurred

In some of the healthiest organizations I know, the organizational chart doesn’t matter as much in accomplishing the vision. It’s often fuzzy in regards to who is in charge. One person doesn’t have all the ideas answers. Everyone has an equally important role to play, and while everyone knows what is expected of them, who is “in charge” is determined by what is being attempted at the time. Leadership often depends on the task. People lead based on their passions and gifting, more than because of their position or title. And, titles and positions can change as needed to fit current challenges and opportunities.

There aren’t a lot of burdensome rules

Obviously an organization needs structure. Rules have to be in place. But, on healthy teams, rules are designed to enhance, not limit growth. Rules help keep people empowered not controlled – and likely there are fewer of them. Bureaucracy diminishes progress and frustrates the team. Granted, this fuzziness can produce a lot of gray areas, which can even be messy at times, but removing all the hard lines around people promotes their individual creativity and encourages innovation for the team.

Some things are subject to change quickly

Certain things like vision and values are concrete. They aren’t changeable. In a healthy environment, however, methods of accomplishing the vision are always held loosely. There is no sense of ownership or entitlement to a way of doing things. As needs change, the team can quickly adapt without a ton of push back and resistance. Admittedly, this can cause some uneasiness for those who favor structure. That’s where the fuzziness can get uncomfortable, but the team has an attitude of unity, so even people more resistant to change can embrace it.

I am certainly not promoting fuzziness. I would still aim for clarity – whenever possible. Even in times of uncertainty some things, such as the values which drive the team should be clear. But, just as life is often full of unknowns – even messy – so is life on a healthy team. Figuring out how to navigate through these times and keep the team moving forward together is a part of good leadership.

A Leadership Quandary: To Change or Not to Change

I love continual improvement. I am one of those who actually enjoys change. If things stay the same too long I get bored and begin looking for a new challenge. I even stir things for fun sometimes – just to keep life interesting around me. (This is not always a positive characteristic. Ask my wife.)

Personality aside, however, the truth is not everyjthing needs to be tweaked. Some things are probably working okay, achieving great success, and are best left alone for the time being. Change for the sake of change sake is not always good. When Momma said “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and the other cliché about “the grass is always greener”, she was speaking from some life experience.

There is a fine line between making things better and messing things up. One of the great challenges for the leader is carefully considering the balance intention between instigating change for the good of the organization or team and allowing progress to continue without interference.

Determining when to make change and when to leave things the same is one of the most delicate decisions of leadership, but I know one thing for sure:

It’s working” should also never be the primary reason to avoid change, either.

It could be a reason. But, it should not be the fallback reason or used as an excuse not to change.

There are some indicators change could be needed. A few might be:

  • When energy is starting to wane with the status quo
  • When potentially damaging variables are beginning to impact the organization
  • When change can result in greater efficiency or realization of the organization’s mission
  • When it is clear a change will be needed soon to remain competitive or relevant

Organizations and teams need change. (Churches are included here.)

Change keeps momentum going. At times change is needed simply to build a culture of change. And, you often discover something wonderful you would have never discovered without change.

I am always reminded leaders want to be in environments of change. Leaders are most comfortable when they can explore, take risks, and keep things stirring. There’s a reason marketers are always changing things – it’s not just leaders who want change – people tend to like change too, even when they don’t think they do. (Apple has made a fortune knowing this.)

Sometimes a little change, even a little drama, will motivate a team into action.

There is an example which illustrates a change principle of organizational dynamics.

You’ve seen it happen many times. Your ball team is behind in the game. The referee makes what you and the rest of your team’s fans believe is a bad call. It energizes the crowd and the team and helps spur your team on to victory.

If things are becoming dull or routine in your organization, as the leader you may need to stir up some change, even if it seems disruptive at the time. There are times to change just for the sake of creating more energy. This doesn’t mean you change your overall vision and your attempt should be to make a positive change, but if things are stagnating some change may be needed. It would almost be better to have a change that didn’t work than to allow things continue at a standstill.

So while change isn’t always necessary, “it’s working” shouldn’t keep you from considering change either.

Which makes the decision of when to change that much more difficult, doesn’t it? I almost need a default zone for when to make change and when to leave things alone.

One rule of thumb for me: If there hasn’t been any change recently – chances are good it’s time.

The Life of an Idea on a Healthy Team

Healthy teams allow every idea a chance to live. At initial thought, there are no bad ideas.

The healthiest teams don’t contain a built in idea killer. And, if there is one they aren’t allowed to remain so for long.

Ideas need a chance to breathe. They need to be stretched and prodded and examined. The best ideas sometimes come from what started as a seemingly really bad idea. Genius ideas are often killed before they have a chance to develop into their greatness.

That’s why healthy teams have freedom and regularly:

  • Brainstorm
  • Analyze
  • Test drive
  • Push back
  • Critique
  • Debate
  • Challenge
  • Collaborate 
  • Dialogue 
  • Listen
  • Discuss 

Every. Single. Idea. 

Healthy teams remain open-minded about an idea until it’s proven to be a bad idea.

It doesn’t have to be a long process. It could be a short process.

But, healthy teams give every idea a chance to live.

That is because healthy teams know there is value in the collection of ideas on a team.

Leader, next time your team gets together open the floor of discussion to ideas. Let everyone put ALL their ideas on the table, with no fear of embarrassment or retribution. Watch for collective brilliance to develop .

Have you ever worked with an idea killer? How did it impact the team?

Determining How Fast or Slow To Make Decisions as a Leader

As leaders, we constantly have to make decisions. Every day there are countless decisions made, which impact or teams and mission. Good leaders understand the ramifications of decision-making and learn to use this power wisely.

In my experience, usually there are two immediate considerations when I am presented with the the opportunity to make a decision – fast or slow. Is this something I can or need to decide quickly or is it something for which we should proceed cautiously? Some decisions can (and should) be arbitrary decisions – decisions made very quickly. Others need to be calculated decisions – decisions made much slower. Growing to understand which type of decision-making to use at a given time will help you make better decisions and ultimately be a better leader.

According to dictionary.com, Arbitrary is based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system

Calculated is done with full awareness of the likely consequences; carefully planned or intended

I know leaders who have made very quick, instant, arbitrary decisions only to grow to regret them. (This leader being one.)

I know others, again including this one, who took too long to make a calculated decision and the delay was costly.

Here are 7 examples of thoughts which go into each type decision-making process:

Faster decisions:

  • There is a serious and immediate threat or danger to people or the organization
  • The perceived impact has a limited lifespan or is easily reversible
  • The decision has a low cost or investment
  • When the decision-maker is the implementer (this is a huge one in delegation)
  • I have a sure “gut” about it, it’s a “no brainer”
  • The same decision has been made many times
  • We are doing an “experiment” attached to a set time

While this is not a checklist, using some of those type parameters, I weigh my options and try to make decisions as quickly as possible, knowing there will be another decision which needs to be made soon.

And, then, sometimes, even though we can be overwhelmed with the amount of decisions needed, sometimes we simply need to take our time.

Slower decisions:

  • No serious threat exists to people or the organization – you don’t have to do this.
  • There are longer-term implications – we will have to live with this a while
  • Higher cost and greater human investment
  • When other people will have to be the implementers – it impacts others more than the decision-maker
  • When my gut isn’t at peace and I have no clear conviction
  • The decision has been made very few times, if ever
  • I haven’t consulted with a collection of wise voices – and there is time to do so

These are not foolproof and this is not an exhaustive lists in making decisions. Often we can make excuses to delay responding when in reality we know we need to make a decision. Other times we move so fast we never consider the impact on other people – people who have to live with the consequences of our decision. The main idea here is all decisions can’t be made at the same pace. Sometimes we move fast, with a very arbritrary decision. Sometimes we need to be very calculated in our response. Next time you have to make a decision, consider which method you should use for the occasion.

Do you see the difference in the two?

I should note, if God has made the answer clear you don’t need this post. Simply obey.

The One Question I Ask When Receiving a Complaint

It would be difficult to be in leadership and not have people upset with a decision you made at some point. In fact, with every decision comes a variety of responses. Leadership guides people places they’ve never been before, so leading always involves change. Change of any kind stirs an emotion, which can be positive or negative. The more the change is uncomfortable the more negative the response may be.

So, receiving complaints or criticism is not a rarity in leadership. It comes with the position. But, there is a question I try to ask every time someone complains to me.

This question is powerful in determining how I will respond.

When I have complaints or criticism I ask a question:

Is the complaint individual or representative?

In other words:

  • Is it one person with a problem or are there multiple people with the same problem, but I’m only hearing from one?
  • Does this complaint represent one person’s opinion or is it representative of a larger number of people?
  • Is it a personal issue to or a public issue to multiples?

The answer is critical to me before I respond.

It doesn’t mean I don’t need to pay attention to the one complainer. Their point may be valuable. They may see something I can’t see. I need their input. And, I listen to them. (I think good listening and responsiveness is part of good leadership.)

But, I also know I can’t please everyone. Some individuals are simply going to disagree with the way I do something. And, some people simply don’t like any change. And, if it’s just one person’s complaint I can listen, we can talk, we can agree to agree or disagree, and we can move forward. I know where I stand with them. 

But, while I listen and respond even to individual criticism, when there is a growing tension among a larger group of people, I know the issue demands even more intentionality.
It may or may not alter my response. Leaders shouldn’t lead to be popular. They lead to do the right thing. We don’t lead alone, but after we’ve done all we can to include others and the decision has been made, we move forward.

But, when a larger group are upset about change it will likely alter the intensity of my response.

I’ve learned when a larger number have the same complaint or criticism, even if we certain about the change, the damage done to the perception of my leadership may disrupt all the other good we are trying to do.

In those cases where the criticism is widespread often its for a few reasons. People don’t understand, because they don’t fully understand why. People haven’t felt included along the way. Or, frankly, some people simply don’t like change and will rebel against it regardless. When I realize the complaint from an individual is representative, I can talk to more people to figure out the root of the problem. I can tell the vision (for the change) more often and tell it in more ways and in more places to help people understand the why behind the change. (Zig Ziglar told me years ago, “When people understand the why they aren’t as concerned with the what.”)

Finally, when I know there are more people involved I can monitor people’s perceptions closer. I’m no longer wondering how one person feels, but I know I have a larger group to track with through the change. (And, again, not to make them happy, but to help them through the process of change.)

Individual or representative? Knowing the difference is huge.

Are You a Better Leader or Manager?

Self-evaluation is good here

Are you more of a leader or a manager?

This may be one of the most important questions we have to answer as our careers take us to new roles.

Every organization needs both. There is no shame in either answer, but it’s important we know the difference. We need to figure out which one we do best and then try to arrange our career where we can realize our best potential.

There are lots of descriptions of each role. I’ve written about it numerous times. And, I understand some argue they are the same. But, I simply don’t believe it.

In the book “Reviewing Leadership”, the authors Banks and Ledbetter write, “Leadership and management are two distinct yet related systems of action. They are similar in that each involves influence as a way to move ideas forward, and both involve working with people. Both are also concerned with end results. Yet the overriding functions of leadership and management are distinct. Management is about coping with complexity – it is responsive. Leadership is about coping with change – it too is responsive, but mostly it is proactive. More chaos demands more management, and more change always demands more leadership. In general, the purpose of management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, while the primary function of leadershp is to produce change and movement.”

I think that’s a great summary of the differences between leadership and management for organizations and individuals to consider.

Too many times we ask good managers to be great leaders or good leaders to be great managers. The problem with being in the wrong fit is we tend to burn out more quickly when we are not able to live out our giftedness. In addition, we frustrate the people we are supposed to be leading or managing and ultimately we keep the organization from being the best it can be.

Do a self-evaluation of which you are more skilled at doing.

Are you a better leader or a better manager?

Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Through experience I’ve learned I identify with one of these roles more than the other. One description fires me up and the other drains me. (Can you guess which one fires me up?) One comes more naturally for me and the other I struggle to learn – and attempt to delegate when possible.

What about you? Are you in your proper fit? Do you see the difference?