7 Everyday Tensions Every Leader Faces

By | Leadership | One Comment

Being a leader isn’t easy. With every decision a leader makes someone is happy – and someone is not. One often misunderstood reason leadership is challenging is the tension every leader feels when making decisions.

And every leader experiences some of this tension – every single day.

In fact, learning to balance the tensions of leadership may determine the level of success a leader can sustain. If a leader leans too far one direction – their leadership effectiveness suffers.

Let me share some examples of these everyday type leadership tensions.

Here are 7 everyday tensions of every leader:

Displaying confidence without being arrogant.

People want to follow a confident leader, but pride is a repulsive trait. I feel this tension especially when I’m leading on a new team or with new people on the team. With several decades of being a senior leader, I’ve learned a few things. I need them to understand there are reasons for them to follow my leadership, but I shouldn’t unpack my resume for them immediately either.

Making bold decisions while building collaboration.

This one I experience most every meeting we have as a team. I can almost always sense the room waiting for my opinion. Many times I realize we won’t move forward until I weigh in to the matter. But good leadership involves collaboration. I’m not the only voice – and many times not the smartest voice in the process. If I have the only answer no one will participate, but if I never have any answers no one will want to follow my leadership.

Showing strength while displaying compassion.

People want to follow leadership who generally care for them as individuals. Compassion for those who can’t help themselves is an attractive leadership quality. The best leaders I know have a concern for others. But no one wants compassion to be translated as weakness. There are times a leader has to stand strong for they know is right thing – even when everyone can’t fully understand yet what they are doing or why.

Controlling energy towards a vision but allowing individuals to chart their path.

Good leaders create healthy structure which can be managed for effectiveness, but, at the same time, the best discoveries often come when people are allowed the freedom to create, explore, and “break the rules”.

Celebrating victory while not resting on current success.

Another way to say this one would be: Honoring history while pushing towards the future. This one is hard for me. I’m ready and wired for “next” and like to keep moving. Sitting still is one of my hardest disciplines. I know, however, there are those on our team who can’t adequately move forward until we’ve recognized our current success. They need to celebrate. They need to reflect. And, continually balancing this tension is good for the team.

Learning from other leaders but being who you were uniquely wired to be.

I’m a huge proponent of wisdom-seeking. I think we should always have a mentor. And usually more than one. Plus, I try to always be reading, attending conferences, and learning from the experiences of others. But there’s a tension of attempting to duplicate another person’s success and being exactly who God has called me to be. God has not called me to preach like Andy Stanley. He’s called me to preach like me. He also has not called me to lead like John Maxwell – but to lead like I would lead. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn from both of these, because I have, but I cannot forget God has uniquely wired me. By the way, He has uniquely wired you also.

Spending time with people versus completing tasks. 

This may personally be the most common tension for of the ones listed. Leadership always involves people. Without people – without getting to know them, earning their trust, investing in them and showing them we care – leadership will never be effective. But I have work to do also with people I’m not necessarily leading. Also, I have paperwork to do. The real work of a leader is people – and yet the “other” work must get done.

Tension. I realize I’ve only exposed the problem, without a lot of solutions. And, honestly, your solution will be different from mine. But I think the answer isn’t necessarily an easy to define solution for each of these tensions. It is recognizing they exist and continually seeking to live within them. And, when one side of the tension is getting more attention than the other, fighting to get back to a better balance of tensions.

Do you have another to add?

7 Dangerous Mindsets for a Leader

By | Leadership | No Comments

I’ve seen it so many times. Most likely you have also. It is tragic.

A leader can be doing everything else right and yet one flawed mindset overshadows and jeopardizes all the good leadership principles he or she knows.

One constantly repeated action. One trait. One habit. One mindset.

Sadly, many times it’s not even that the person isn’t a good leader – it’s the one mindset that gets them off track. So, I believe leaders should constantly be working on the bad mindsets which will keep them from being as successful as they can be.

(In full disclosure, I’ve been guilty of some of these – sometimes for a season – sometimes until someone helped me discover I had a poor leadership mindset.)

Here are 7 of the dangerous leadership mindsets I’ve observed:

Allowing small details to overwhelm a view of the big picture.

There will always be details, which have to be handled, but the smaller a leader is forced to think, the less he or she can focus on the larger vision ahead. I can get bogged down in minutia which wastes my energy and drains me. Sometimes it’s a systems problem that requires too much of my time and sometimes its a failure to delegate.

Interestingly, I have personally found, when I’m free from the responsibility of handling as many details, I’m more likely to notice the smaller things which greatly need my attention.

Constantly seeing the glass as half-empty.

A negative leader will almost never be successful long-term, simply because people will not care to follow. Some people have this mindset all the time (and I don’t personally think leadership is their thing), but this mindset can also last for a season – especially when there are numerous setbacks around us either in our personal life or where we lead. It could also occur in times of fast change, when the complainers seem to outnumber those offering compliments.

If we aren’t careful – we can let negative mindsets carry over into every other area of our life – and start to view our world this way. It’s very difficult to follow a negative-minded leader.

Not enjoying the journey.

Never taking time to celebrate will eventually derail good leadership. High achieving leaders can often fall into this trap. I get there at times and have to be reminded – either through personal discipline or when others speak into my life. I’m always seeing the next big opportunity ahead and striving for constant improvement. Also, I can fail to recognize current success while continually searching for future potential. The problem is a constant forward push isn’t sustainable long-term. It burns people out, makes them feel under appreciated, and leads to a very low team morale.

All leaders need to discipline themselves towards plateaus where they can rest, catch their breath and celebrate the victory already achieved.

Expecting more from others than you’re personally willing to give.

One leader I worked for had high expectations for everyone, not only in quality of work, but also in how many hours they should be working. The problem was this leader didn’t appear to have high expectations for himself. He would work just enough to bark out a few orders, but then he was gone. And, because he was mostly an absentee leader, even if he was working when he wasn’t around (and I personally knew he was often working out of the office), no one believed he was.

People following a leader with this mindset mostly stay for a paycheck.

Assuming all the credit.

This is especially true if the leader’s mindset thinks he or she deserves it. There is no success on a team without the efforts of others. When a leader takes all the accolades or rewards for himself, the team becomes employees of a boss rather than followers of a leader. Work becomes a job, not a career. It could be simply in the language of the leader. If “I” did it – if it was all because of “me” – “they” may soon, even if in only in their motivation – let “me” do it on my own.

Shared success is paramount for a leader’s long-term success.

Never shutting down.

You can’t do it all. Don’t think you can. You may think you can always be on – do everything – be everywhere – but you can’t. Superman couldn’t. Jesus didn’t. Don’t try. (Someone reading this still thinks they can – okay – you’ve been warned.) For me, this usually comes when I don’t discipline myself to say no, worry too much what people think – especially the ones who expect me to be everywhere or think I should know everything which happens in our church.

Thankfully, I’ve matured enough I won’t let the season go long without an intentional shut-down. (For me, this usually involves me getting out of town. As a potential workaholic, there’s always something to do as long as I’m here.)

Isolating yourself from others.

The mindset which thinks a leader can’t let others too close to them is one of the most dangerous I’ve observed. Leadership can be a lonely job. But it shouldn’t be the job of a loner. We need people, accountability and community.

All leaders need those who can speak into the dark places of our hearts and lives. When we become islands to ourselves we are an invitation for the enemy’s attacks.

Those are a few dangerous leadership mindsets I’ve observed. Any you would care to add?

5 Qualities in Joseph’s Heart Every Leader Should Seek

By | Church, Encouragement, Leadership | 6 Comments

In this post I’d love to consider the heart of a leader.

Someone asked me recently what I primarily look for in the hiring of a staff position. I said, without reservation, first and foremost, I look for the heart. I want a heart which honors Christ more than self, one which desires to grow and learn, and one which is willing to sacrifice personal privilege for benevolent purpose of others.

The heart of a leader is more important than any other characteristic.

Consider, for example, the life of a Bible character by the name of Joseph. Joseph’s story runs from Genesis 37-50. It’s an amazing story of God’s sovereignty and grace. Joseph is a standard bearer for character in the Old Testament. Some say he’s in many ways an Old Testament example of Christ – not sinless, as Christ was, but certainly a God-fearing man.

I submit his heart we see in Joseph is representative of the kind of heart all leaders should seek to have.

Here are 5 qualities to seek in the heart of a leader:

Imagination

Joseph was a dreamer. It caused him some problems, but he was able to see what others couldn’t see. He saw the big picture. Of course, this came from God, but I believe God has equipped all of us with the ability to dream. It may not be prophetic in nature, but we can seek and find the big picture if we are looking for it.

Integrity

When tempted by Potiphar’s wife and when an opportunity for revenge against his brothers presented itself, Joseph resisted temptation. The leader’s heart must continually seek what is right and good. People are watching and even the perception of evil can ruin a good leader. The heart of a leader must be above reproach.

Investment in Others

Joseph helped the men in prison, he helped the Pharaoh and he even helped his brothers who had hurt him most. Joseph obviously believed the principle that helping others helps yourself. The heart of a leader must be willing to sacrifice his or her own agenda for the agenda of others.

Intentionality

Joseph was diligent during the famine, during the days of prison, even when he had the opportunity to get even with his brothers, but didn’t. Joseph was confident God had a plan for his life, so he refused to be distracted by things of lesser value.

Innovation

Joseph devised an ingenious plan to save the nations from desolation. Using godly wisdom, Joseph conserved the resources he had to accommodate the days of plenty and the days of few.

The ultimate hope of this post is you (and I) would reflect on your own leadership – consider your own heart as a leader.

What could you learn from the heart of Joseph?

Where Many New Ideas Come From

By | Change, Innovation, Leadership | 6 Comments

In my experience, many of the new ideas for our organization…and for my life…have come while I was doing something else.

Usually when we are working on planning a service it’s when the best ideas for a service develop…

Often when I’m working on a blog post, I get several new ideas for a blog post…

Look at most great inventions and they were discovered while doing something…many times while doing something totally unrelated to what was discovered…

That’s because…

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You Feel Led to Plant a Church. What Do You Do Now?

By | Church, Church Planting, Leadership | 11 Comments

About once a week, or sometimes more frequently, I get an email from someone who says they feel led to plant a church. They almost always have the same questions.

What do I do now? What’s my first step?

After answering dozens of times, I decided to put my thoughts in a post.

Step one: Run as fast as you can!

Just kidding. Although that does give you a testimony like Jonah. And just kidding again.

Here are 5 immediate steps I would recommend:

Check your heart

Are you sure planting is what you are being called to do or is it a desire because everyone else is doing it? We need lots of church planters, but we also need people willing to help established churches thrive.

Make sure you know what you’re getting into is actually what God’s drawing you into.

Check your spouse’s heart

Church planting is not a sole venture. No ministry is for that matter. If you are married, you will need to be on the same page with your spouse.

Trying to do this without complete buy in from both parties will destroy one or the other – the church plant or the marriage.

Determine where you feel called to plant

Much of your future steps will depend on this one. I think God gives tremendous latitude in this. We need churches in lots of places – small towns and big towns. But this will be one of the most difficult decisions you make if you don’t know.

I once thought I wanted to plant in New York City. But when I spent time talking to God about this, I sensed Him pointing me in another direction.

Find others interested

If you tell me you can’t find anyone – and I hear it often – I’d question how successful you are going to be. As in 1 Kings 19, in my experience, God is always “reserving” (1 Kings 19:18) people who He plans to use in the vision He is shaping in you.

To build a body you need those who are part of the body to start.

Find experienced help

It can be a denomination, another church, or an experienced pastor or mentor, but don’t do church planting alone. Let me say that a little clearer. DON’T DO IT ALONE.

Too much has been learned about church planting to miss out on someone else’s experience.

7 Guaranteed Ways to Grow as a Leader

By | Church, Leadership | 4 Comments

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 guaranteed ways to 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.

So, 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. Of course, we only know what we know, so sometimes people have to point out what we can’t see about ourselves.

For this one, ask yourself a question. 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.

Consider this question. 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.)

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 recognize your 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.

For example, 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, but exceptional takes hard work.

Here are a couple questions to consider. 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

We develop by falling down and getting back up and then falling down and 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 Ways a Leader Avoids Criticism

By | Leadership | 14 Comments

The title is a little misleading. The only way I know of to avoid criticism as a leader –

Is to not be a leader.

Many in leadership positions default to what I call “The Safe Zone” to attempt avoiding criticism. (But it’s not really that safe.)

Here are 7 ways they attempt to avoid criticism:

  • Make excuses for their shortcomings
  • Dodge bullets by hiding behind others
  • Pass blame and never own a mistake
  • Stop taking risks
  • Stifle their dreams and the dreams of others
  • Limit their leadership exposure to other people
  • Control information and don’t allow anyone else to make decisions

Some leaders have figured out how to avoid criticism.

But seriously,

Are they really even leading?

(And make no mistake, for this too they will eventually invite criticism. We might as well give people a legitimate reason.)

7 Ways a Leader Can Invite Constructive Feedback

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | 8 Comments

I remember an especially hard year as a leader. It was so bad several members of our staff had told me where I was letting them down. So much for having an “open door policy”. The next year I closed the door. 🙂

Not really, but this was a year where staff members said to me, “I have a problem with you.” They may not have used those exact words, but the point was clear – I can be an idiot at times. There were significant areas where I needed to improve. Thankfully, I haven’t had many of those years, but I’m glad now I had the ones I have, because they have taught me a lot about my leadership.

There is room for improvement with any leader and maturing leaders welcome instruction from the people they are trying to lead.

Most of the time when I’ve been corrected by someone I’m supposed to lead, I deserved it. Plus, anytime someone on a team is brave enough to rebuke their leader, you can be assured he or she is either:

  • Desperate and willing to do anything.
  • Ignorant or doesn’t care.
  • Feels welcome to do so.

In my opinion, good leaders try to create environments to live within the third option. I hope this was the case in my situation.

I should also say, especially on behalf of my fellow senior leaders, that criticism comes easily to leaders. We don’t have to ask for it. Do anything at all in leadership and someone will have a problem with it – and they won’t always be kind in how they voice their complaint. I like to say “you can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit”. Leading is hard and I am not suggesting we make it harder.

But I’m not talking about the negative type of criticism. I am referring to constructive feedback from people I care about and who respect me. We all need that at times.

Here are 7 ways to welcome correction from the people we lead:

An open door.

My work environment is somewhat different now, because we have a very remote working environment. As pastor of a large staff, it was even more important to keep the door to my office open. But it was more than than simply the door. As a leader, I try to make my schedule available to the people I lead. And, if I’m in the office, my door is “open” and I want people to know they can walk in anytime. In addition, I try to help teams I lead know that I consider responsiveness to be of highest value to me. If they contact me, I will attempt to answer in a timely manner.

Include others in decision making.

If a decision affects more people than me, then I want more people helping to make the decision. This is true even if it’s a natural decision for me to make. The more I include people in the decision-making, the more likely they are to want to follow the decisions made. In fact, I seldom make decisions alone.

Ask for it.

Consistently, throughout the year, I ask people to tell me what they think. I ask lots of questions. I solicit opinions on almost every major decision I make. It’s a risky move, because many will, but it’s invaluable insight. And, the more you ask, the more freedom people feel in sharing.

Admit mistakes.

It’s important that I recognize when decisions made are my fault. People feel more comfortable approaching a leader who doesn’t feel they are always right.

Take personal responsibility.

In addition to admitting fault, I must own my share of projects and responsibility. The team needs to know that I’m on their side and in their corner. When they are criticized I own the criticism with them. I have their back. (By the way, this is only learned by experience.)

Model it.

It’s one thing to say I welcome correction, but when correction comes, I must model receiving it well. If I overreact when correction comes, I’ll limit the times I receive it. If I chooser retribution, I’ve shut further feedback off before it comes.

Trade it.

The best way to get a team to offer healthy correction of the leader is to create a relationship with the team where there is mutual constructive feedback. The goal is not for the leader to receive all the correction. The goal is for correction to be applied where correction is needed.

I should also say all these are still not enough. Constructive criticism from people who care about you and want your best, especially from people you lead, only develops over time as trust is developed. They have to trust you and you have to trust them.

Receiving correction – or constructive feedback – is difficult for anyone, perhaps seemingly unnatural for most leaders. I believe, however, when a leader is open to healthy correction from his or her team, the team will be more willing to follow the leader wherever he or she goes.

Leader, are you open to correction? Is your leader open to correction?