7 Indicators That You’re Not Leading Anymore

Being in a leadership position is no guarantee we are leading. Holding the title of leader isn’t an indication one actually leads.

I have a whole chapter on this topic in my book The Mythical Leader.

Leading by definition is an active term. It means we are taking people somewhere. And, even the best leaders have periods – even if ever so briefly – even if intentional – when they aren’t necessarily leading anything. Obviously, those periods shouldn’t be too long or progress and momentum eventually stalls, but leadership is an exhaustive process. It can be draining. Sometimes we need a break.

For an obvious example, I try to shut down at the end of every day and most Saturdays. I’m not leading anything, yet I’m still a leader. And, I periodically stop leading for a more extended period. During those times, I’m intentionally not leading anything. There are other times, such as after we’ve accomplished a major project, where I may intentionally “rest” from leading to catch my breath and rely on our current systems and structures to maintain us.

But, again, those times should be intentional and they should be too extended. In my experience, leaders get frustrated when they aren’t leading for too long a period.

For me personally, I like to evaluate my leadership over seasons, rather than days. Typically, just for simplicity of calendar, I look at things on a quarterly basis and then on an annual basis. How/what am I going to lead this next quarter – next year? How/what did I lead last quarter – last year?

If the past review or the future planning is basically void of any intentional leadership – if all I’m doing is managing current programs and systems during that time frame – if we are in maintenance mode for too long – I know it’s time to intentionally lead something. That’s good for me personally and for the teams I lead.

How do you evaluate if you are leading or simply maintaining? One way is to look for the results of leading. What happens when you do lead? And, ask if those are occurring.

For example…

Here are 7 indicators you’re not leading anymore:

Nothing is being changed. Leadership is about something new. It’s taking people somewhere they haven’t been. That always involves change. If nothing is changing you can do without a leader.

You’re not asking questions. A leader only knows what he or she knows – and nothing more. And, many times, in my experience, the leader is the last to know. A great part of leadership is about discovery. And, you only get answers to questions you ask.

There are competing visions. Leaders point people to a vision. A VISION. Not many visions. One of the surest ways to derail progress is to have multiple visions. It divides energy and people. It confuses instead of bringing clarity. Competing visions arise and confusion elevates when we fail to lead.

No one is complaining. You can’t lead anything involving worthwhile change where everyone agrees. If no one is complaining someone is almost always settling for less than best.

People aren’t being stretched. Please understand – a leader should strive for clarity. They certainly shouldn’t aim for chaos. But, when things are changing and work becomes challenging there will always be times of confusion. Don’t equate calmness with good leadership. That’s when good leaders get even better at communicating, listening, vision casting, etc.

No paradigms are being challenged. Many times the best change is a change of mindset – a way we think. Leaders are constantly learning so they can challenge the thinking “inside the box”.

People being “happy” has become a goal. Everyone likes to be liked. Might we even say “popular”. In fact, some get into leadership for the notoriety. But, the end goal of leadership should be accomplishing a vision – not making sure everyone loves the leader. Progress hopefully makes most people happy, but when the goal begins with happiness, in my experience, no one is ever really made happy.

Leader, have you been sitting idle for too long? Is it time to lead something again?

7 Ways Great Team Members Perform On A Team

I love team dynamics and organizational structures. I have written many times about what makes a healthy team, my expectations of team members, and elements to build health into your team.

But, how does a great team member perform on a team? How do great team members act on the team – what makes them valuable?

Here are 7 ways great team members perform on a team:

They need little supervision 

He or she catches on quickly, learning the expectations of the team, has confidence in his or her ability, and knows the vision of the organization well enough to make routine decisions. They attempt to figure out problems and ask specific questions when something is unclear. This saves everyone’s time and speeds progress. A great team member follows through on what he or she committed to do with limited oversight. They don’t need a “boss”, because they are truly part of a team. “Let’s get it done together!”

They add to the overall team spirit 

A great team member knows there is work to do as a team and limits the drama that comes from working with people. They aren’t known for gossip, back-stabbing, or pouting when things aren’t going as they would have them. Everyone has bad seasons and a good team is their to assist during those times, but a great team member doesn’t allow their personal life doesn’t impact their professional life on a daily basis. They are known to improve team spirit rather than detract from it.

They remain flexible

The work of a team requires synergy from all members. Sometimes one team member carries unequal weight for a season. Great team members are flexible to pick up slack from others. They do what needs doing. They don’t participate or foster “turf wars”.

Not to take anything away from fair compensation, but the great team player does the work to see the results of a project done well. Their key motivation is achieving the agreed upon goal of the team. They love their work – even more the work of the team – and they are motivated to celebrate when the team succeeds.

They consider the interests of the entire team

Great team members are good listeners. They value others on the team. They are humble enough to look out for good of the entire team. They aren’t self-serving. He or she wants what is best for everyone, even if that means having to personally sacrifice for the win of the team.

They add intrinsic value to the team

Great team members add something to the team no one else brings. They know themselves and allow their strengths to shine through hard work and dedication to the vision, providing a unique value to the entire team.

They demonstrate loyalty in action

No one questions the loyalty of a great team member. They are “on board” with the vision, supportive of the leadership and direction of the organization, and committed unless something unforeseen takes them away from the team.

Of course, I forgot the one about bringing homemade snacks occasionally for the break room, but I’ll save that for another post.

It also bears mentioning it is difficult to be a great team member without a great team environment and a great team leader. I get that. I have, however, known some great team members who served on a dysfunctional team. And, I’ve seen one great team member help transform an unhealthy team.

I’m confident there are plenty more ways a great team member performs on a team. Feel free to add to my list. I’d love to hear from you.

In your experience, what does a great team member do on a team?

10 Commonalities of Healthy Teams

I am happy to serve on what I believe to be a healthy team. It’s amazing how many church leaders I know who say their team is not healthy. 

I have often been asked, however, why I claim our team is healthy. This is simply my opinion, but I can share some things I think healthy teams have in common.

Here are 10 commonalities of healthy teams:

  • A shared vision is embraced by everyone on the team.
  • Team member’s individual ideas are equally valued.
  • The organization readily embraces change.
  • Risk taking is encouraged.
  • Encouragement flows freely.
  • People enjoy their work and relationships are deeper than just the professional environment.
  • Mistakes are used to make the team stronger
  • The structure doesn’t limit growth, but provides healthy boundaries.
  • There is freedom to offer constructive criticism, even of top leadership, without fear of retribution.
  • Conflict is not discouraged, but handled in a healthy way.

There’s my list. Are we perfect in all of them – all the time? No. Do we see them consistently and value all of them? Thankfully, yes.

What would you add to the list?

Leaders Must Grow as the Organization Grows

In my experience, it’s easier to hide bad leadership in a place, which isn’t growing.

However, the larger an organization gets – the more growth that occurs – the more bad leadership becomes apparent.

As a leader for the last several decades, I’ve learned the times my leadership is stretched the most are the times we are growing – and changing – the fastest.

As an organization grows:

  • People ask harder questions and challenge the process.
  • More decisions have to be made.
  • There never seems to be enough time.
  • Better systems are needed.
  • The people required to do the work increases.
  • Leadership development becomes more important.
  • Effective delegation and management is necessary.
  • Resources are stretched.
  • Commucication is often messy.
  • Tensions are high.

I have even wondered if an organization can outgrow the capacity of a leader. (I certainly think it could outgrow me.)

Here’s the bottom line.

As the organization grows – as things get bigger – the leader must be equally growing.

This can be a sobering word for leaders. But, leadership is often a sobering reality. But, the leader must understand – continuing to grow an organization always requires a leader to continually grow.

Which leads me to close with an important question:

What is your personal leadership development plan?

Credibility Versus Communication

A Huge Understanding in Leadership.

In John Maxwell’s book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently”. Maxwell claims, “Connectors live what they communicate”.

The people who learn to connect with others best live the life they talk about when they communicate.

Then Maxwell writes something I think is powerful. I’ve seen this so many times in leadership.

“Credibility! Here’s how this works in any kind of relationship: The first six months – communication overrides credibility. After six months – credibility overrides communication.

Then he closes his thought by writing, “Credibility is currency for leaders and communicators. With it, they are solvent; without it, they are bankrupt.” 

Wow! I love it! It’s so true.

In the beginning of a relationship, you hang on what people say, but as the relationship matures it doesn’t matter as much what they say – it matters what they do.

This is a golden paradigm understanding for those of us who lead others. This principle should guide us as we begin new relationships and as we manage those we’ve had for years.

So many times we believe in the initial days of leading someone that our credibility should be enough. (This is the first myth in my book The Mythical Leader.) Other times, we mistakenly believe if those we are leading know us we can simply say it and they will follow, but now they are depending on our credibility. We have to walk the talk.

How does knowing this principle impact the way you lead?

7 Indicators Your Team Is Dysfunctional

Chances are, if you’ve served on very many teams, you’ve served on one which is dysfunctional. It appears to me we have many to choose from in the organizational world. There are no perfect teams. We are all dysfunctional at some level and during some seasons.

In case you’re wondering- my definition of a dysfunctional team – in simple terms – is one which cannot operate at peak efficiency and performance, because it is impacted by too many negative characteristics. There’s more going wrong than right more days than not.

In my experience, there are commonalities of dysfunction. If you have been on a dysfunctional team you’ve probably seen one or more of of the common traits.

See if any of these seem familiar.

7 indicators of a dysfunctional team:

Team members talk about each other more than to each other. The atmosphere is passive aggressive. Problems are never really addressed, because conflict is avoided. The real problems are continually ignored or excused.

Mediocrity is celebrated. Everything may even be labeled “amazing”. Nothing ever really develops or improves because no one has or inspires a vision bigger than what the team is currently experiencing.

It’s never “our” fault. It’s the completion or the culture or the times in which we live. No one takes responsibility. And, everyone passes blame. Will the real leader please stand up?

Communication usually brings more tension than progress. There may be lots of information, but it’s not packaged in a way which brings clarity. No one knows or recognizes a win.

The mention of change makes everyone nervous. Either change is rare or it’s been instituted wrong in the past. Any real progress has to be forced or controlled.

Only the leader gets recognition or can make decisions. Team members never feel valued or appreciated. No one feels empowered. The leader uses words like “I” or “my” more than “we” or “our”.

There are competing visions, goals or objectives. It’s every team member for his or herself. The strategy or future direction isn’t clear.

According to my observations have you served on a dysfunctional team?

Granted, every team goes through each of these during seasons. Again, there are no perfect teams. But, if there are at least two or three of these at work current I’d say it’s a good time to evaluate the team’s health and work to make things healthier.

How many of these can you currently see on your team?

One Thing You Must Do if You Want to Attract Leaders

One of the most frequent concerns I receive from young leaders about their organizations is they aren’t being given adequate responsibly or authority. Instead, they are handed a set of tasks to complete. They don’t feel they have a part in creating the big picture for the organization.

Since most of the young leaders I talk to are in ministry, this means it’s happening in the church too.

And, the other side of this dilemma is most the pastors I hear from are looking for leaders. They want someone to take the reigns of leadership and actually do something.

How do we solve the problem?

How do we find leaders for our churches and how do we allow younger team members to feel included? How do successful organizations (churches) attracts leaders?

Here’s my best advice:

Hand out visions more than you assign tasks.

In order for the organization to be successful, you’ll need to attract leaders. You know that, right? You need to know something about leaders and potential leaders.

Leaders want to work towards a vision, more than they want complete a set of tasks.

Leaders don’t get excited about checklists and assignments.

Leaders want to join a great vision, then help develop the tasks to accomplish it.

Leaders get excited about faith-stretching, bigger-than-life, jaw-dropping acts of courage.

That’s the kind of vision leaders – and those who claim to want to be leaders – want to believe in and follow. “To do” lists often get in the way of that kind of fun. Visions excite people. The details to complete them don’t.

So, if you want to create a successful organization and recruit leaders hand people a big vision with lots of room for them to choose on the implementation side.

Of course, they may indeed need to create checklists. I would even suggest they do if I were coaching them. They will need measurable action plans. They need to have a list of assignments in order to complete a project successfully. All those are necessary to accomplish a worthy vision. A vision is simply an idea until someone puts legs to it so it can walk.

But, start with the vision. Start with the big idea. Start with what you hope to accomplish some day. And, make sure you’re real clear about illustrating the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be seized.

And, then get out of the way and let people figure out how they will accomplish the vision.

This doesn’t mean your work is over, either. They’ll need your help along the way. They’ll still need your help to develop structure, discipline and follow through. But that’s way different than handing them a set of tasks in the beginning. And, it’s practicing good leadership and delegation skills.

I realize this is especially hard for some leaders who may want to control the desired outcome. (Leaders often like me – just being honest.) You’ll have to take a risk on the people you’ve recruited to lead and discipline yourself to let them work in their own way. You’ll get burned a few times, but overall, you’ll find more success when you:

Paint big visions – not specific tasks.

When you do this you’ll attract and develop more leaders and a more successful organization will be built and sustained.

7 Warnings for Aspiring Leaders

These I've learned the hard way

Almost on a weekly basis I hear from young pastors who want to grow as a leader. They feel the pressure placed upon them and knows others are looking to him to steer the church on a healthy course. Most of these leaders are humble, knowing ultimately Christ is the head of the church.

They also usually know three things:

1. There are expectations of their position by the people of the church. People are looking to them for leadership.

2. Decisions have to be made which are not clearly defined in Scripture. And, there are usually varied opinions already formed around the decision.

3. Seminary didn’t train them for all the decisions they need to make.

That’s often why they contact someone like me.

Sometimes it seems I’ve given the same advice many times – either reminding myself or to another pastor. The more times I share the same concept, the more it becomes a short, paradigm shaping idea, which summarizes the basic issue the leader is facing.

What isn’t always clear is how I’ve learned these concepts mostly by living these concepts. I’ve made more mistakes in leadership than I’ve had success.

And, that’s what this post is about. These are some warnings I’ve observed first hand in leadership positions I’ve held. I’m trying not to continue to live them and I’d love to help other leaders avoid them.

Here are 7 warnings for aspiring leaders:

What you “settle for” eventually becomes the culture. And, then it is much more difficult to change. In fact, you’re probably settling because you’re fighting against culture now. Leadership involves challenging people beyond their current confort level.

Mediocrity isn’t created. It’s accepted. Oh, how I’ve learned this one the hard way. People will be average if you allow them to be. It’s easier. In most jobs, they get paid the same. That’s not even to say it’s what they prefer. Most people prefer excellence, but it often takes leadership – or coaching – to pull out the best in people.

Your actions determine other people’s reactions. During stressful times the leader’s response dictates the level of stress on the team. When it’s time to celebrate, the team will seldom celebrate more than the leader. The leader sets the bar of expectations in how the team reacts to life as a team.

Don’t assume they agree because they haven’t said anything. I actually wrote about a whole chapter about this one in my book The Mythical Leader. But, silence doesn’t equate to agreement.

You’ll never get there just “thinking about it”. And, we do more of that as a team sometimes – it seems – than we do getting work done. Every good idea isn’t even something the team should do. But, if it is, there needs to be a plan. Who’s in charge? When are we doing it? And, how will we know when we are successful?

If you’re the leader, they are likely waiting on you to lead or release the right to lead. People seldom take initiative unless you lead – or unless you create the culture which gives them permission, freedom and encouragement to do so.

What the team values becomes apparent by your actions, more than your words. And, it doesn’t matter how well spoken you might be. People follow what the leader does.

What warnings would you share to aspiring leaders?

7 Popular Myths about Leadership

This post – posted several years ago – prompted a book. A publishing friend, who had been encouraging me to write a book for years, read this post and thought there was enough here to expand into a book. That book – The Mythical Leader – released last week. I’d love for you to check it out HERE. Equally as valuable as reading it would be writing a review (positive even better) on Amazon about the book. (Thanks to my readers – I give you a shoutout in the acknowledgements!)

One thing I learned in obtaining a master’s in leadership is defining leadership is difficult.

John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”

I love a simple definition. Simple works. Its effective and communicates.

Still, I have observed leadership is often not easy to define as a few simple words. In fact, there are many myths when it comes to even what leadership means — certainly how its practiced. I encounter people who don’t have a clue what real leadership is and what it isn’t.

Let me share a few myths I’ve observed.

Here are some 7 of my favorite myths about leadership:

A position makes one a leader

Really? I don’t think so. Some believe simply have a big or fancy title makes them a leader. Not true. I’ve known many people with huge positions whom no one was truly following. They may give out orders and command a certain obedience, but no one is willingly following their lead. They may be a boss, but I wouldn’t call them a leader.

If I’m not hearing anyone complain, everyone must be happy

Yea, right? Have you ever heard of passive aggression? The fact is sometimes the leader is the last to know about a problem. Some people are intimidated by leadership. Other times, they don’t know how to approach the leader, so they complain to others, but not the leader. And, sometimes, the way I’m leading dictates who tells me what I really need to know.

I can lead everyone the same way

I have learned this one is so not true. It simply doesn’t work. Actually, people are different and require different leadership styles. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you want to be effective you will learn your people and alter your style to fit their personalities.

Leadership and management are the same thing

Great organizations need both, but they are not equal and they require different skills. Simply put — Leadership is more about empowerment and guiding people to a common vision — often into the unknown. Management is more about maintaining efficiency within a predetermined destination.

Being the leader makes you popular

Well, if only this myth were true — my file of criticism would be so much smaller — when in reality, in some seasons, it’s larger than my encouragement file. The truth is leaders can be very lonely people. (It’s why leaders must surround themselves with encouragers and comtinually seek renewal.) The only way to avoid criticism and be “liked” as a leader is to make no decisions, do nothing different, never challenge status quo — in other words — don’t lead.

Leaders must be extroverted charismatics

So not true. Thankfully. Some of the best leaders I know are very introverted and subdued. And, honestly, they are leading some of the biggest churches and organizations. Leadership IS about influence. If someone is trustworthy, dependable, has integrity and is going somewhere of value — others will follow.

Leaders accomplish by controlling others

Absolutely not. This is not leadership. It is dictatorship. Effective leaders encourage others to lead. They challenge people to be creative and take ownership and responsibility for accomplishing the vision. They learn to delegate through empowerment.

Thanks again for being a reader of this blog. And, for checking out my new book. God bless you!

Defining Healthy in Church Leadership Culture

I remember talking with a young hurting pastor just after he resigned from his church. For several years he had attempted to restore a dying church into a healthy church. The church brought him in with some definite goals they wanted him to achieve. They knew their very existence depended on change. He felt he had almost a mandate.

The church began to grow. Things were exciting – or so it seemed. But, with every change there was growing resistance. Eventually only a few people with power still supported him. Even those who once supported him refused to back him with changes they had previously agreed were needed.

He was continually reminded this was not “his church”. He felt it was best he leave rather than divide the church. (This church has a long history of short-term pastorates.)

In the course of the conversation he asked some sobering and honest questions.

He asked, “Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy even mean in church leadership?”

Great questions. And, after working with dozens of churches, I understand why he would ask them. Sadly, I hear from pastors continually asking similar questions. There are many unhealthy environments in churches.

But, yes! There is such a thing as a healthy church staff and leadership culture. There are some healthy church environments – whether a single pastor and all volunteers or multiple staff members. Large church or small there are healthy cultures. They may not jump in the air every day with enthusiasm, as the picture with this post indicates, but people do enjoy being a part of the team.

In the purest form, the case could be made the church is always “healthy”, because it represents Christ. We are promised nothing will ever destroy what Christ has established.

But, local churches are made of people. And, some of those people, even well-meaning as they may be sometimes, work together to form unhealthy environments. Others work together for the common good of honoring Christ and form healthy environments. I’ve seen and been a part of both.

I’m often asked questions such as this – on how we know when something is healthy. This is always subjective, but I have certainly learned you know when something is unhealthy. I don’t know if I can define healthy in a single definition, but I’ve given the issue some thought as it relates to the working environment.

A healthy church culture doesn’t mean…

  • There aren’t bad days.
  • There won’t ever be tension or stress.
  • That everyone always agrees.
  • There aren’t relationship struggles.
  • All problems are solved.
  • The pastor is always right.
  • Problems or issues are ignored.

Work is still work and people are still people. Being healthy doesn’t not mean there aren’t real struggles at times.

A healthy church culture does mean…

  • People can disagree and still be friends.
  • Tension is used to make relationships stronger.
  • Meetings are productive and purposeful – not burdensome and certainly not hurtful.
  • Rules add healthy boundaries – empowering creativity rather than stifling or controlling.
  • You work as a team to find solutions.
  • The pastor, staff (and their families) are never attacked publicly or continually stabbed in the back.
  • The rumor mill is never allowed to form the dominant opinion.

Those are just a few of my observations.

Have you been in an unhealthy church or organizational environment? Have you been in a healthy one? What would you add to either of my lists of observations?