10 Realities Every Young Leader Needs to Understand

There's some gold nuggets here.

I work with young leaders everyday. And, I have to say it’s one of my favorite parts of leading. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (The picture with this post is with them a few years ago – taken the day we moved to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a younger leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And, perhaps more surprising, they think their struggle is no longer mine – like somehow I’ve “outgrown” their struggles as a leader.

After experiencing this numerous times, I was prompted to write this post. These are simply some things you need to understand to be a leader long-term.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed.

You know the feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. These times are a part of life – and work. Something you’ll never completely outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do.

You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay, lots of things. Obviously, wisdom and experience has its benefits. But, regardless of your age – if you’re doing anything productive – you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain.

Whenever you’re making decisions – like the really big decisions of life – you’ll seldom be absolutely, without any reservations, fully convinced it is the absolute best decision. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith – based on the best information you know at the time (from your own experience and the collective wisdom of others) – then trusting God with what you don’t know. And, this is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience.

And this is huge to understand. Perhaps it’s a job you don’t particularly like. Maybe you put all your effort into a project and it doesn’t work – or its not as good as you thought it would be. You might try a new business and the business fails. It’s easy to get frustrated – even lose hope. But, the process will teach you something if you allow it to. And, the value of the learning experience may prove to be life-changing for you in years to come. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated.

There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. You may be doing great things – trophy-deserving things. It may appear at times like no one noticed or even cares. And, this may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are – overwhelmed like you are – and they simply didn’t take the time to let you know how much you are appreciated. Plus, the more you do something well, the more it becomes expected and the less recognition you receive for it. But, all this can leave you feeling under-appreciated if you dwell on it too long. Like all leaders who last, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of our work.

People are watching.

If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do. What you say. And, what you post on social media. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side – disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity. All this said, don’t shy away from people. This never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent. And, while you have people watching, lead them somewhere noble, somewhere better than their current reality. This is what great leaders do!

Learn the words of successful leadership early.

The words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win. Great teams are shaped by leaders who value the input of everyone on the team.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to be willing to stand alone.

This a hard reality in a world which tries to force sameness and is critical of anyone who doesn’t follow whatever is “in” at the time. But if you do anything of value – or believe anything strongly enough – sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But, don’t give up what you know to be right – especially those things you sense God is calling you to do – because it isn’t popular. Always be willing to admit when you are wrong. Be very humble – never arrogant or self-serving – but stand with courage when you know in your gut you’re right.

Great things start with humble beginnings.

“Do not despise these small beginnings…” (Zechariah 4:10) Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. This is still a viable option – and the reward feels greater when you build something the hard way. The greatest reward often comes when there has been plenty of sweat, tears, and times of waiting. And, never underestimate the power of a moment. One moment can easily change a life.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress.

It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life – when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence – which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself. To rest. To re-calibrate. To refocus. To rediscover the passion which once fueled you. Perhaps to re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for these things. You’ll seldom have a leader above you or a system in place which forces this upon you. And, it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul. Never neglect your soul.

These are obviously random, but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is there something abnormal about all of us. Enjoy the abnormal part of you also. God makes no mistakes.

7 Absolutely Certain Ways to Grow as a Leader

These will work every time!

Do you want to grow as a leader? Do you want to keep growing?

One reason I write this blog is I want to help others grow. At the same time, I have to keep growing as a leader. The people who look to me for leadership need me to continually strive to improve.

So, how do we keep growing?

Here are 7 ways I guarantee you will grow as a leader:

Desire growth

Sounds simple, but we tend to seek what we desire most. If you truly want to grow as a leader you will continually find ways to do so. You’ll read books, attend conferences, or get a mentor – simply because you want to grow. Check your heart. Do you really desire to grow as a leader – enough you’re willing to do something about it?

Accept correction

No one enjoys hearing they did something wrong, but many leaders view all correction as criticism rather than an opportunity to grow. Growing leaders realize correction helps them improve, so they can do better the next time. (Proverbs 12:1) Sometimes people aren’t the best at sharing truth in love, but even in some of those occasions there is something worth hearing. We only know what we know – and sometimes people have to point out what we can’t see about ourselves. Ask yourself. Can you receive correction, even when it stings a little to hear, and turn it into something to help you improve as a leader?

Listen to wiser voices

Experience is the best teachers. And, all of us are surrounded by people who have grown wise through their experiences. Growing leaders glean all they can from other people. They surround themselves with smarter people. They ask great questions. Would others consider you a wisdom seeker? Can you specifically name the voices you are learning from these days?

Invest in others

Growing leaders learn or reinforce leadership principles, while helping others learn them. Sometimes it is not until we talk through an issue with others we find clarity in the issue ourselves. When you invest in others it fuels you as a leader. (“Give and it will be given back to you”, Jesus said. We reap what we so.) Ask yourself – Am I helping to grow other leaders? Am I allowing others to learn from my experience? Could you name those people you are investing in currently?

Recognize weaknesses

And strengths. When you become more aware of what you do well and what you don’t, you are better prepared to grow as a leader. You can start investing more energy in your strengths and seek to minimize your weaknesses. You can find people who better compliment you as you build a team. Can you admit there are some things you simply aren’t good at doing? Are you confident enough to humbly recognize and maximize things you do really well?

Refuse mediocrity

Growing leaders push themselves beyond the limits of normalcy. Average is common – exceptional takes hard work. Are you seeking to go beyond what’s expected? Are you holding yourself to standards nothing short of your very best? (Isn’t this even Biblical? “Whatever you d0 – do as if unto the Lord”.)

Embrace failure

Falling down. Getting back up. Falling down. Getting back up again. Growing leaders have learned this is a part of maturing as a leader. In honest evaluation, would you say you have allowed failure to shape you as a leader, or hold you back from all you could be?

I am certainly not suggesting this is an exhaustive list. I am advocating growing as a leader requires intentionality on the part of the leader. It doesn’t automatically happen.

What are you doing to grow as a leader these days?

7 Signs of Healthy Empowerment

How to know you have an empowering culture

Empowering other people on the team to be leaders – it’s called delegation – is critical to a successful church or organization. Every leader talks about delegation, but few truly empower others to be leaders. It’s a frustration I hear frequently from staff members of churches.

Frankly, as one with a strength (StrengthFinders) of command, I can easily take over if no one else takes the lead. It takes discipline as a leader, but I want to create an environment of healthy empowerment. I want to lead a church which produces leaders – disciples who actually make disciples.

But, how do you know whether healthy empowerment is occurring?

I don’t know if we can follow a script, but perhaps there are some principles which need to be in place to know we are creating cultures conducive to empowerment.

Here are 7 signs I look for in healthy empowerment:

(This is written from the perspective of those being empowered – “you” being the one empowering.)

Confidence is conveyed

They know you believe they can do the job. They aren’t questioning your belief in or support of them. People are less likely to take risks if they feel you will always second-guess them.

Expectations are clearly communicated

They know what a win looks like in your eyes and what is required of them to complete the task. You’ve not left them guessing. You stay available to them through the process if questions arise.

Authority has been granted

They have the power to script the path to accomplishment. They don’t need to “check-in” for approval on every decision they make.

Permission to fail is assured

They know if it doesn’t work they will be encouraged to try again. You won’t hold it against them and you can learn together to improve the next time.

Resources are adequate

They have the training, tools and people to accomplish the task – including your support.

Their back is protected

They know their decisions will be backed by senior leadership – by you. If the complainers rise – which they will – you will be there to defend their efforts.

Recognition is shared

They know they won’t do all the work for you – or someone else – to get the credit. They will be adequately appreciated for their work.

Consider your process of delegation. Consider my list.

How are you doing?

2 Things All Good Leaders Do For Their Team

There are two things all good leaders do for their team. These are vital if you want to lead a healthy team.

First.

They help their team say yes.

Good leaders give their team the freedom to dream. They empower the team to take their ministry in new directions. They make sure they aren’t so distracted with mindless and burdensome tasks they can’t pursue the things which spark their interest. Good leaders help their team move swiftly when change is needed. They encourage the team to be proactive rather than reactive. 

And, when team members do things differently than the leader would, the leader looks to see if the vision is being attained, and, if it is, then submits to the leadership of the team member. 

Second.

They help their team say no.

The team can’t do everything. They are limited. Everyone is. And all of us can easily get distracted by seemingly good things and fail to do the best things. Good leaders give their team the authority to say no. 

And, when there is backlash for the decision, they defend them. Every time. 

(I hear the pushback. Some team members will take advantage of this. They will always say no. That’s true. And, in those cases, we handle the problem with the person. We don’t change the rules for everyone else.) 

Leader, does your team have freedom to say yes and no? What could you do to help them more?

7 Ways to Fuel Creative Thoughts When You’re Stuck

Or When Your Brain Can Only Think Routine

I’m an idea guy. No on has ever accused me of not having an original thought. Most of the time the opposite is more accurate. The teams I lead usually fight overload with the number of ideas I produce. I have to discipline myself to “unthink” and give teams I lead permission to tell me when something is a bad idea.

But, even idea people have lulls in their creative process. We grow stagnant. Get bored. Need help spurring thought.

So, how do idea people get new and original ideas? How do you spur creativity when you’re stuck in routines or can’t seem to come up with anything new? 

Here are 7 things which often work for me:

Take a walk

I stop what I’m doing and go for a brisk walk. Several times throughout the day I take a hike. In fact, since I began using FitBit I set myself a goal to walk at least 250 steps every hour during normal work hours and 10,000 steps per day. I usually have nearly twice that number and I have only missed the minimum number two days in three years. Here’s the deal – the best ideas rarely come to me when I’m sitting at my desk – which, I never do anyway because I use a standup desk. (The added benefit to walking throughout the day is I better know my staff when I’m roaming the halls of the church.)

Whiteboard

Diagraming or drawing my thoughts makes me think. I have one wall in my office covered  with idea paint. If thoughts get stale – I start to play with dry erase markers. Literally. If I start writing or drawing always it leads to more ideas – every time. I also have several doodling apps on my iPad and a couple of mind-mapping apps. Mind Vector and Simple Mind are two I can recommend. (You don’t need both – I just get bored enough I switch back and forth.) 

Exercise

This isn’t just taking a walk. It’s sweating. I workout hard. Whenever I’m in a lull, exercise triggers my brain. Sometimes a mid afternoon sweat will make the last half of the day my most productive in thought. And, it’s good for my health. 

Hang out with highly creative types

Iron sharpens iron. Creatives sharpen creativity. I like to occasionally hang out with random thinking, highly creative types. I’m random, yet structured, so I have to pace my time with the over-the-top creatives, but they always trigger new ideas.

Change environments

Going somewhere I’ve never been always fuels me. A new city. A new park. A new restaurant. A new coffee shop. A different library. Change the space and you expand the pace (of thought).

Take a shower

Seriously, don’t the best ideas hit you when you’re in the shower with no good way to record them? Or, is this only me? I’ve been working on a message – get stuck – go take a long shower and I come back loaded with new thoughts. Try it. Who says you can’t take more than one shower a day? 

Play a game

This may seem so juvenile, and if it does, I’m sorry – though not really. You picked the wrong blog today, perhaps, but it often works for me. Before I tackle a writing project I’ll often first play a game of solitaire or a crossword puzzle on my iPad. If I’m really stuck I have found value in reaching into my playful self. I actually have toys in my office. I often challenge our staff in a game of putt putt through obstacles I have created. Playing brings out the kid in me – and the creative juices. 

These are a few which help me when I need to be more creative.

What triggers your creative process? 

5 Easy Steps to Begin a Daily Quiet Time

The way you begin your day often determines the quality of the day. For this reason, throughout my adult Christian life, I’ve tried to spend some time focused on the God I love and trust. It truly does make a difference.

I often encounter people, however, who want to begin a daily quiet time, but they aren’t sure how. They’ve perhaps tried before, but it didn’t last.

It really isn’t as complicated as we often make it out to be. The main thing is simply to do something, but in case you are one of those still wanting to but not sure how, let me offer a few suggestions.

Here are 5 easy steps to begin a daily quiet time:

Find the right place

Pick a place where you’ll be everyday for your quiet time. Obviously, if you travel frequently this is more difficult, but the more routine you can make this the better. It should be as free of distractions as possible. This place will soon become very comfortable to you. I realize too, you may feel your life is too busy. I get it – I’ve lived in those seasons – and, still do many times. Don’t stress over perfection here, just strive for routine.

Schedule time

Pick a reasonable amount of time and put it on your schedule. If you use an electronic calendar like I do, you can set it to repeat the appointment everyday. Start with 15 minutes, maybe even 10. Five minutes in your “place” is better than nothing. The key at this point is consistency, so make sure you don’t burden yourself with something you will not do. By the way, it most likely will seem like a sacrifice at first, but keep the objective in mind. You need this. As you accomplish discipline, in a little time it will be easier to increase the time you spend.

Choose your goal

Ask first what you hope to achieve and base your format around it. For example, if developing intimacy with God in prayer is your goal, then you will probably choose to spend more time in prayer. You may also want to write down your prayers. If Bible knowledge is your goal, then you may want to choose to do a Bible study. And, if memorizing Scripture is one of your goals, you’re likely to be writing numerous index cards of various verses. You can change the goal over time and do combinations of each of these. It’s not what you do – but that you do it – which matters most.

Plan activities

Now that you have a goal, decide what you will specifically do in your time. Will you do a Bible study or simply read Scripture and pray? If your time is 15 minutes, for example, you could spend 6 minutes reading the Bible, 3 minutes talking to God, 2 minutes in silence, asking God to speak to you, and 4 minutes writing your thoughts at the time. If you choose the structure of a Bible study, you may need to allow more time, but again, the key is you decide before you start what you are going to do during this time. The idea is not to be mechanical or punch a clock here, but rather to provide structure, which will lead to productivity in your building your God relationship. Again, don’t worry as much about what activities you are doing at this point, just do something.

Discipline

This is the absolute most important part. Commit to doing something consistently for at least 30 days. Every day – without exception – do it – whether you “feel” like it or not. If you miss the exact time, make it up later in the day. Again, it will require sacrifice. Habits and lifestyles form this way and you’ll need this discipline, because as soon as you attempt this dozens of obstacles will stand in your way.

Now I realize “easy” is not the best choice of words for this post, but I did want you to read it. Developing this time into your daily schedule will not be easy. Nothing of value is ever easy. The main objective for any of us, including pastors, is disciplining ourselves to do something everyday. Over time, it becomes a habit that is easily repeated. Even better, it will soon become the best and most productive part of your day.

Help my readers out.

What tips do you have? When do you do your daily quiet time? What format are you using?

A Meeting No Leader Likes to Have, But Should Always Consider

A very successful business mentor of mine once gave me a vital tip about a necessary meeting all leaders should consider. Unfortunately, I have had to use his advice several times.

You don’t ever want to have this meeting. You certainly don’t want to have it very often.

But, having this meeting could avoid you having other even harder meetings than this one. And, it could turn out to be a blessing for everyone.

It’s called “The Meeting Before the Last Meeting”.

It’s a meeting you have when –

Someone who is not performing well on the team.

You’ve warned them numerous times.

They have exhausted their chances with you or with the team.

You’re at the point where you believe it would be better for them to leave the organization.

Before you release them (which is one of the hardest things a leader has to do)…

Have one more meeting.

The meeting before the last meeting.

It’s a meeting where you give grace, a final chance, and clear guidance as far as what needs to improve and by what date you expect to see results.

But, here’s the whole reason you’re having the meeting.

You make it very clear this is the meeting before the last meeting.

The meeting after this meeting will not be fun for anyone.

It will be the last meeting – the very last one. The working relationship would be terminated at this point.

According to my friend, the meeting before the last meeting usually produces one of two results rather quickly.

A tremendous turnaround. And, you’ve secured a valuable team member.

Or a confirmation the last meeting is the right decision. Then it’s time to move.

A couple things should be noted. First, you don’t always need the meeting before the last meeting. There are times it is very clear what needs to be done. The person isn’t a good fit, they have lost all energy for the mission, or they have gone so far they can’t recover in their current position. The meeting before the last meeting is for those people you believe have capability within the organization if they would pull themselves together and perform to their full potential.

Second, you have to have the fortitude to follow through if there isn’t improvement in performance. There is only one meeting before the last meeting. This is the hard part of leading.

No leader enjoys replacing good people. With the right person, and handled carefully, this can actually be a very affirming meeting which produces tremendous results.

A Life Principle My Daddy Taught Me

You May Need This One Today

My father was probably the most bottom line guy I know. One of his most quotable lines was “The main thing is don’t get excited.” If anyone was ever tempted to stress about an issue he would interject this often repeated line.

And, there have been many times I have needed to remember those words.

There’s another phrase he used often, however, which may be even more poignant for our day. Perhaps you need this one – for whatever you are facing – or fear you may face.

It is what it is.

And, you know, it really is what it is.

In other words, you can’t change it now. That’s a fact, Jack.

There is a Bible verse which always comes to mind. This may be one of my favorites.

If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

It is what it is.

When the clouds are full – it rains.

When the tree falls – there it is.

Admitting “it is what it is” allows you to quit complaining and actually begin to figure out how you will live with the reality you are facing.

You didn’t get the job promotion. It is what it is.
The business failed. It is what it is. 

Where do you need to admit it is what it is?

Perhaps your marriage is in trouble. Maybe you have a spending problem. You’ve let your weight get out of control. Perhaps you’ve been a lousy friend. It could be you are in over your head and don’t know what to do about it.

Insert yours here __________________. But, whatever it is…

It is what it is.

The first step in moving forward is often to admit the reality you’ve been denying or trying to ignore. Now that you’ve admitted what it is you can ask more important questions, such as – What are you going to do about it?

Because where you’re going is far more important than where you’ve been or even where you are currently.

7 Considerations of Whether You’re Ready to be a First Chair Leader

Previously I wrote a post on how to create environments which attract and retain first chair leaders in a second chair position. Read that post HERE.

The post was well received, but as expected, I received numerous questions after the post. The most common had to do with how to spot a first chair leader – or when a second chair leader should consider being a first chair.

A former intern of mine had a similar question. He’s a great young man, with a bright future ahead of him. I’m so proud to call him friend.

Here’s what he asked:

How long do you typically recommend a young first chair leader sit in the second chair? Obviously it depends on the individual and the leader, but in general there is always more to learn. What process would you go through to evaluate when the young leader seems ready to branch out? Thanks! Miss sitting in the chair under you!

Great question.

I told him I was working on a post. I decided to think through some of my own experiences and some of the observations I’ve made over the years. Frankly, some are based on frustrations I’ve experienced and certainly I’ve observed or even caused others to feel.

Let me make clear, as if you didn’t know, this is a subjective post. I couldn’t write a post which would fully answer the question for every person. I can only share some principles I think could help a leader discern if they’re ready or if they need to consider a first chair position. If you were sitting down with me to talk through this issue, I’d probably advise you to think through some of these.

Here are 7 considerations of when you may need to be a first chair leader:

You can’t seem to be satisfied with leadership you are trying to follow.

I learned years ago one way to discern the gift of teaching – I’m always thinking, “I could teach this better” — you may have the gift of teaching waiting to be expressed. The same is often true of potential first chair leaders. I’ve talked with some leaders serving under tremendous first chair leaders who were still continually frustrated. Sometimes it’s not the person they are leading, but an indicator they need to try leading on their own — at least for a season.

You are always pushing past the current limits set for you.

You keep hitting a lid. First chair leaders (and many second chair leaders) hate to be capped to a level of achievement. If this is continually happening to you – and frustrating you – it may be time for to move chairs.

You have a different vision than you are being allowed to live.

Let’s face it, any healthy organization has a defined vision — one of them – sometimes a few smaller ones which support the one. But, if you have a personal vision which doesn’t fit anywhere in the mix this doesn’t necessarily mean your vision is wrong – or their’s is. It may just mean you need to go pursue the vision you feel God has given you.

You are dreaming big dreams without an outlet to realize them.

Let me be honest, sometimes you have to start something if you want it to be “your” dream. Let me also be clear, I’m a leader, but also a pastor. So the pastor in me says to make sure it’s a God-given dream, but there are times God has something He wants you to do. Not that you will accomplish it on your own, but you may have to be the one to lead the effort. This is sometimes done from a second chair position, but frequently, if you keep feeling setbacks along the way, it may be you need to change chairs.

You are ready to handle first chair issues – including criticism.

This is a big one. I chose to mix it here among the others, because it’s a harder one to accept. This is one of those “you won’t fully understand until you experience it” kind of things in life. When you lead from a first chair position there is a unique weight on your shoulders which can’t be fully appreciated until you sit in the chair. And, no first chair leader doing anything of value is removed from criticism. Leadership involves change – leading people somewhere new. This isn’t always neat, tidy, or even fun. Some days are harder than others. Some days – in fact, some seasons – there appear to be more critics than supporters. And, by the way, this can happen when things are going great overall. Are you ready for this? It requires a gut check honest conversation with yourself, and perhaps with others you trust to speak into your life.

You are a self initiator.

Do you take the initiative to pursue something new or do you tend to wait until someone spurs you? First chair leaders often feel the need – even the calling – to move forward while everyone else is comfortable sitting still.

You influence others.

This is another place where self inspection is important. Do people seem to look to you for direction or insight? Ask yourself, are others following you naturally? In my experience, if people won’t follow you without the first chair position they probably aren’t going to follow you – short of force – if you move into the first chair.

This post is intended to help. Actually, I hope it helps the first chair leaders who see people in second chairs around them who may need a little encouragement – even to switch chairs – or to be patient where they are at the time. I hope it encourages some second chair leaders to self-evaluate, ask hard questions, spend some time with God and others and discern their next steps.

There is no guarantee you’re ever ready to be in a first chair position. Again, no post could do this for you, but your response to some of these considerations may help you decide if you fit some of the profile of many first chair leaders I know.

You may recall my former intern asked the question “when”. I closed my reply by telling him I don’t think there is a certain time, but there is a certain maturity for which I would look. And, I think we often know if we are ready, but sometimes need someone to affirm it in us. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to speak into your life.

You’ll never be fully prepared for a first chair position, any more than we are ever prepared for what’s “next” in our life. But, as has been eloquently said so many times before – Where God calls you – He equips you.

7 Ways to Attract First Chair Leaders to a Second Chair Position

I always advise young leaders, if they can, to sit under a seasoned leader for a while, learning all they can, before they venture out on their own.

I realize that’s not always the advice a young, ready-to-go leader type wants to hear – and I get it, since I was one of those younger leaders. And, we learn mostly by failure, so there is something to be said for jumping out on your own, getting both feet wet (to use another cliche metaphor), and starting something new.

Not long ago I was visiting with a group of leadership students from a nearby Christian college. I had just offered this advice.

These young leaders are ambitious. They are ready to make their mark on society. Most are studying for ministerial positions within the church.

Many of these young leaders will be church planters, and we need them to be. We need more church planters. Still, if I was advising one of my own children, I’d give the same advice. If possible, sit under a seasoned leader for a season.

Someone asked me a question.

How do you attract (and keep) “first chair” type leaders into a “second chair” position?

This group had been studying the concept of first chair and second chair leadership, so this prompted a good, obvious question.

(For some help with definition, if needed, the first chair leader usually has a title such as C.E.O., President, Senior Pastor. Second chair leaders have a title such as C.O.O., Vice President, Associate Pastor.)

How do you attract (and keep) “first chair” type leaders into a “second chair” position?

They followed that question with another equally good question.

They asked if I felt I could ever again be a second chair leader. At this point, they knew my history. I’ve been a first chair leader for well over 20 years.

My answer to the second question first. Yes. I could be a second chair leader.

My answer to the second question.

Here are 7 ways to attract (and keep) first chair leaders in a second chair position:

Remove the lids

The real reason most people resist the second chair is they don’t want to be limited in how much they can achieve. The best first chair leaders are willing to get out of the way and let people around them lead – even if the second chair person’s success gains more notoriety than the first chair.

Empower individual dreams

If a second chair person feels the freedom to dream big dreams – even individual dreams – they’ll be fueled to continue in the role. They may have to be empowered to work on dreams which are even outside the vision of their current organization. Of course, they still need to meet all the requirements of a good second chair leader, so there should be loyalty to the place where they are currently serving in the second chair.

Let the leader build a team

Second chair leaders, who are qualified to be first chair leaders, need to have the freedom to build their own teams. They should be able to recruit and lead their own people. (Again, I can offer this qualifier in every point, but this is with the understanding there is an overall vision which must be maintained, and ultimately the vision holder is the first chair leader. But, if the second chair leader is on board with the vision – give them room to build and lead their own team.)

Invite their input into larger decisions

This is huge. Second chair leaders who could be first chair leaders want to play a part in the overall strategy and implementation of the organization. They have ideas. They have energy to invest in them. They want to make a difference. If you want to keep them you have to give them a seat at the lead table.

Give them a voice

This goes with the last one, but not only should they have a seat at the table, but their input should matter. Their opinion must make a difference in the overall direction of the organization. The weight of their suggestions must be valuable in making final decisions. Hyper controlling leaders will have a very hard time with this one, but it’s critical to retaining the best “first chair minded” – second chair leaders.

Don’t Micromanage

This one probably goes without saying, but it needs to be said to many senior leaders I know. The best first chair leaders don’t micromanage anyone, but this is especially true if you want to attract the first chair leader types into the second chair. You certainly can and should have broad goals and objectives for them to achieve, and, again, they should be working for the same overall vision of the entire organization, but then, if you want to keep them, get out of their way and let them do their work.

Extend recognition

Don’t hog the glory. (Of course, the only real glory goes to God, but don’t be afraid to celebrate other people’s success – and, I would add even louder than your own.)

Let me be clear, as I tried to be with the leadership students, there are exceptional second chair leaders who never desire to be first chair leaders. They are awesome! I love having serving with them on a team. In fact, I’ll be transparent enough to say without some of them I am very ineffective as a first chair leader. You don’t want me in the first chair unless I have some good second chair people around me.

There are good first chair leaders serving in second chair positions. Keeping them is more difficult, because they are natural first chairs. There’s another blog post here on how I spot a first chair leader, but I have always had some on my team. They make me and the organization (or church) I lead even better.

Granted, some don’t even like this type discussion, especially in a ministerial context, because Jesus is in the first chair – ALWAYS – and, I totally agree with that – and to some, who don’t appreciate the concept, it my sound egotistical. I get that too. I’ve written about the church afraid of leadership previously. But, if you want to ignore the realities of organizational structures which exist in any place where two or more people are gathered, including the church, you can probably ignore this post.

If you want to attract and keep first chair leaders in a second chair position – I hope this post helps.