5 Traits of the Aware Leader

The longer I’m in leadership, the more I realize I don’t always fully know the real health of my team or organization at any given time – at least as much as others do.

Don’t misunderstand – I want to know, but often, because of my position, I’m shielded from some issues.

I’ve learned, right or wrong – agree or disagree – that some would rather complain behind a leader’s back than tell them how they really feel. Others assume the leader already knows the problem. Still others simply leave or remain quiet rather than complain – often in an attempt to avoid confrontation.

I’ve made the mistake of believing everything was great in an area of ministry or with a team member, when really it was mediocre at best, simply because I was not aware of the real problems in the organization.

It can be equally true a leader doesn’t know all the potential of an organization. Some of the best ideas remain untapped for some of the same reasons. People are afraid of their ideas being rejected, so they don’t share them. They assume the leader has already thought of it or they simply never take the time to share with them.

If a leader wants to be fully “aware”, there are disciplines they must have in place. For example, as a leader, do you want to easily recognize the need for change and the proper timing to introduce it? That comes partly by being a more aware leader.

Here are 5 traits of the aware leader:

Asks questions

Aware leaders are consistently asking people questions and making intentional efforts to uncover people’s true feelings about the organization and their leadership. (Read a post of questions I wrote called 12 Great Leadership Questions HERE.)

Remain open to constructive criticism

Aware leaders make themselves vulnerable to other people. They welcome input, even when it comes as correction. They realize that although criticism never feels good at the time, if processed properly, it can make them a better leader. (You may want to read THIS POST and THIS POST about how to and not to respond to criticism.)

Never assumes everyone agrees

Aware leaders realize that disagreement and even healthy conflict can make the organization better. They expect differences of opinions on issues and they are willing to wrestle through them to find the best solution to accomplish the vision of the organization, even if that opinion belongs to someone other than the leader.

Never quits learning

Aware leaders are sponges for information. They read books, blogs, or they might listen to podcasts. They keep up with the current trends in their industry through periodicals and newsletters. They never cease to discover new ideas or ways of doing things.

Remains a wisdom-seeker

Aware leaders surround themselves with people further down the road from where they are in life. They most likely will use terms like mentor, coach or consultant. They are consistently seeking the input of other leaders who can speak into their situation, make them a better leader or person, and ultimately help the organization.

Great leaders are aware leaders.

10 Warnings for Those Who Seek to be Senior Leaders

I have a few warnings for those who want to be a senior leader.

I should probably first say, should you choose to do so, I’ll be one of your cheerleaders. I’ve been in a senior leadership position most of my career. Some days – many days – I would rather someone else had the role. I know I would not be satisfied long-term. I think some are called to senior leadership – or at least wired for it. (And, if God has called you to it He will equip you for it.) I certainly love to encourage those who serve in this way. And, it is hopefully seen as a privilege and service.

But, I do have a few warnings, before or as you take the leap of faith into the realm of senior leadership.

Don’t Agree to Be the Senior Leader Unless…

You are ready to lead alone at times. And, with much of this platform I encourage people to build by consensus and include others in decision-making, but there will be times you’ll have to stand for the right thing. You may not be alone, but it will often feel like you are.

You aren’t striving for popularity. I like what someone said, “If you want to be popular go sell ice cream.” You must know every decision you make will be unpopular to someone. Every decision.

You can make the hard decisions. You have to be able to make the call when know one else will – even the ones involving people or conflict.

You will try to see all sides of an issue. Because there will be a multiple of opinions and viewpoints. You don’t have to agree with all of them and shouldn’t, but you do need to be able to consider the voice of others to lead them.

You are comfortable with change. In my opinion it would be difficult to l as at the senior level if you were one who resists change and thinking outside the box.

You are okay when others receive credit. You must be able to view your success as the success of others you lead – even when we get get credit for something you initiated.

You can delegate. You have to be able to give away authority and truly empower people – believing things are better when other people have power to make decisions without your micromanagement.

You don’t let criticism derail you for long. If criticism stops stinging you’ve stopped being human, but you must stay committed to the task before you – even when arrows come. (And, they will.)

You can think beyond today. Leadership is helping others get where they aren’t currently but want or need to be. You must be able to envision a brighter tomorrow and enlist others to join you by casting an engaging vision.

You highly love and value people and their contributions. If its. It an act of serving others, don’t enter senior leadership. It’s just not fair to people otherwise.

And _________?

Senior leaders, share yours.

One Simple, But HUGE Way to Better Empower a Team

Leader, let me share one of the best things you can do to better empower your team.

And, in full disclosure, I’m the worst at this, but it’s something I continually strive to do better.

You want to fully empower your team?

Here’s what you do:

Release them from responsibility.

Whenever you can.

Often as leaders we handle a lot of information. Sometimes we do that with our team. Sometimes we dispense a lot of new ideas. If we are growing and learning personally, the team is often where we process our thoughts.

If it’s not their responsibility — let them know it’s not.

It sounds simple – but it’s huge.

You see, the team is always wondering.

What is the leader thinking here – as it relates to me?

What do you want me to do with that new idea?

How do you want me to help?

What’s my role going to be in this?

Are you going to hold me accountable for this?

Do you expect something from me here?

As leaders, we often process and present a lot of ideas, but sometimes we are just “thinking.” Sometimes we aren’t assigning anything – we are just exploring.

The more we can release the people trying to follow us the more they can focus on things for which they are being held accountable. And, the more willing they will be to process new ideas with us.

Just tell them what you expect – or don’t expect. Say the words, “You are not responsible for this.” “I don’t expect anything from you on this.” “This is just for information.” And, mean it.

And, even better – create a healthy enough environment so people feel freedom to ask or challenge you when they don’t understand. Thanks

Sounds simple. It’s huge.

8 Killers of Motivation — and Ultimately Killers of Momentum

Leaders need to remain motivated so they can help motivate their team. Leaders also need to be keenly aware of how motivated their team is at any given time.

I have found over the years that regardless of how motivated I am if the people around me are unmotivated, we aren’t going to be very successful as a team.

Which is why it may be even more important a leader learns recognize when a team is decreasing in motivation.

But, here’s the greater reason.

Momentum is often a product of motivation.

When a team loses motivation, momentum is certain to suffer loss. It’s far easier to motivate a team — in my opinion — than it is to build momentum in an organization.

So, as leaders, we must learn what destroys motivation.

Here are 8 killers of motivation and – ultimately – momentum:

Routine – When people have to repeat the same activity over and over again, in time they lose interest in it. This is especially true in a day where rapid change is all around them. Change needs to be a built-in part of the organization to keep people motivated and momentum moving forward.

Fear – When people are afraid, they often quit. They stop taking risks. They fail to give their best effort. They stop trying. Fear keeps a team from moving forward. Leaders can remove fear by welcoming mistakes, by lessening control, and by celebrating each step.

Success – A huge win or a period of success can lead to complacency. When the team feels they’ve “arrived” they may no longer feel the pressure to keep learning. Leaders who recognize this killer may want to provide new opportunities, change people’s job responsibilities, and introduce greater challenges or risks.

Lack of direction – People need to know where they are going and what a win looks like — especially according to the leader. When people are left to wonder, they lose motivation, do nothing or make up their own answers. Leaders should continually pause to make sure the team understands what they are being asked to do.

Failure– Some people can’t get past a failure and some leaders can’t accept failure as a part of building success. Failure should be used to build momentum. As one strives to recover, lessons are learned and people are made stronger and wiser, but if not viewed and addressed correctly, it leads to momentum stall.

Apathy – When a team loses their passion for the vision, be prepared to experience a decline in motivation – and eventually momentum. Leaders must consistently be casting vision. In a way, leaders become a cheerleader for the cause, encouraging others to continue a high level of enthusiasm for the vision.

Burnout – When a team or team member has no opportunity to rest, they soon lose their ability to maintain motivation. Momentum decline follows shortly behind. Good leaders learn when to push to excel and when to push to relax. This may be different for various team members, but everyone needs to pause occasionally to re-energize.

Feeling under-valued – When someone feels his or her contribution to the organization isn’t viewed as important, they lose the motivation to continually produce. Leaders must learn to be encouraging and appreciative of the people they lead.

If you see any of these at work in your organization, address them now!

The problem with all of these is that we often don’t recognize them when they are killing motivation. We fail to see them until momentum has begun to suffer. Many times this will be too late to fully recover – at least for all team members.

10 Ways to Be a Good Follower

I have a strong desire to help improve the quality of leadership in churches and ministries, especially among the next generation of Christian leaders. My youngest son, Nate, who has already proven to be a great leader in the environments where he’s served, has consistently encouraged me over the years I need to develop good followers, along with developing good leaders.

He’s right.

We aren’t all called to be leaders, although I have a contention that we are all leaders in some environment in our life, even if it’s self leadership. The point is clear though, not all of us will lead at the same level. Equally true is it is difficult to be a good leader without good followers – maybe impossible.

I’ve listed qualities of good leaders in several posts. I suppose there is room for a companion post. So, I set out to make a new list.

Granted, these are important to me as a leader. You may have your own list. In fact, I’ll welcome you to share your thoughts on characteristics of a good follower in the comments.

Here are 10 ways to be a good follower:

Help me lead better

You see things I don’t see. You hear things I don’t hear. You have experiences I don’t have. Help me be a better leader in the areas where I may not have the access to information you do. I love when the children’s ministry, for example, alerts me of people who are hitting home runs in their area so I can personally thank them. I’ve made some great connections this way. I should be recognizing individual contributions anyway and this helps me do that more often. Help your leader do his or her job better. Good followers find ways to make the leader better.

Do what you commit to do

One of the most frustrating things for a leader is to assign a task, practice good delegation, and then watch the ball drop because the person didn’t follow through on what they said they would. It could be an issue of not having the right support, resources or know how, or it could be the person doesn’t know how to say “No”, but good followers find a way to get the task completed, whether by personally doing it or through further delegation. If you aren’t going to complete it, or if you find out along the way you may not, let me know in plenty of time to offer help or find someone who can.

Don’t commit if you won’t put your heart into it

If the leader strives to be a good leader, then he or she wants the task completed well. That won’t happen with half-hearted devotion. Good followers give their best effort towards completing the work assigned to them, knowing it reflects not only their efforts, but the efforts of the leader and the entire team. We need passion from those who follow leadership.

Pray for me

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, some days I have none. I sometimes wonder why God called me to be the leader. I rely on the prayers of others, especially from those I am attempting to lead.

Complete my shortcomings

The reason we are a team is because you have skills I don’t have. To be a good follower means you willingly come along side me to make the team better, bringing insights, talents and resources I can’t produce without you. Don’t get frustrated at something I may not understand or be gifted at doing — or you have to show me how to do — but realize this is one way God is using you on the team.

Respect me

There will be days when I’m not respectable, but I do hold the responsibility to lead, so encourage me when you can. Chances are I’ll continue to improve if I am led to believe I am doing good work. In public settings, even when you don’t necessarily agree with my decisions, honor me until you have a chance to challenge me privately.

Love the vision

Genuinely love the vision of the team. You’ll work hardest in those areas for which you have passion. Ask God to give you a burning desire to see the vision succeed, then become a contagious advocate of that vision. 

Be prepared

When bringing an issue to me for a decision, do your homework and have as much information as possible. Know the positives and negatives, how much it will cost, and who the major players are in the decision. Be ready to open to having your idea challenged in order to make it better. I also believe in consensus building and a team spirit and don’t want to make all the decisions, so it’s probably wise to have a solution or two in mind to suggest should you be asked.

Stay healthy

I admit, sometimes I run at too fast a pace. I believe a healthy organization is a growing organization, which requires a lot of energy. I also think we are doing Kingdom work, which is of utmost and urgent importance. You can’t be as effective on the team if you are unhealthy physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. You can’t always control these areas and life has a way of disrupting each of them, but as much as it depends on you, remain a healthy follower.

Leave when it’s time

I realize this is a hard word, but when you can no longer support the vision or my leadership, instead of causing disruption on the team, leave gracefully. If the problem is me, certainly work through the appropriate channels to address my leadership, but if the problem is simply differences of opinion, or something new God is doing in your heart, or you just don’t love it anymore and can’t get it back, don’t stay when you cease being helpful to the team. (Never simply stay for a paycheck.) God may even be using your frustration to stir something new in your heart.

What else would you add? What makes a good follower?

7 Lazy Leadership Practices

Whoever is lazy regarding his work is also a brother to the master of destruction. Proverbs 18:9

Laziness is a sin.

It’s also annoying. And, ineffective in leadership.

The fact is, however, many of us have some lazy tendencies when it comes to leadership. I do at times. This is as much an inward reflecting post as an outward teaching.

Please understand, I’m not calling a leader lazy who defaults to any of these leadership practices listed. The leader may be extremely hard working, but the practice itself – I’m contending – is lazy leadership.

Here are a 7 examples of lazy leadership practices.

Assuming the answer without asking hard questions.

Or, not asking enough questions. It’s easier just to move forward sometimes – and sometimes it’s even necessary to move quickly, but many times we just didn’t put enough energy into making the best decision. Often its because we don’t want to know or are afraid to know the real answer. It is the lazy way of making decisions.

Not delegating. 

Again, I’m not saying the leader is lazy. But this part of their leadership is lazy. It’s easier many times just to “do it myself” than to go through the process of delegating. Good delegating takes hard work. You can’t just “dump and run”. You have to help people know the vision, understand a win, and stay close enough in case they need you again. New leaders are developed, loyalty is gained, and teams are made more effective through delegation.

Giving up after the first try.

No one likes to fail. Sometimes it’s easier to scrap a dream and start over rather than fight through the messiness and even embarrassment of picking up the pieces of a broken dream. But if the dream was valid the first time, it probably still has some validity today.

Not investing in younger leaders.

There’s the whole generational gap – differences in values, communication styles, expectations, etc. It would be easier to surround ourselves with all like-minded people, but who wins with that approach – especially long-term?

Settling for mediocre performance.

It’s more difficult to push for excellence. Average results come with average efforts. It’s the hard work and the final efforts, which produce the best results. But, the experience of celebrating when you’ve done your best work is always worth the extra energy.

Not explaining why.

“Just do what I say” leadership saves a lot of the leader’s time. If I don’t have to explain what’s in my head – just tell people what to do – I get to do more of what I want to do. But, I’d have a bunch of pawns on my team and one disrespected, ineffective and unprotected boss (leader). (And, being “boss” is not a good leadership style by the way.) Continual vision casting is often the harder work, but necessary for the best results in leadership.

Avoiding conflict.

No one likes conflict. Not even those of us who don’t run from it. But, you can’t lead effectively without experiencing conflict. Every decision a leader makes is subject to agreement and disagreement. It’s why we need leadership. If there was only one direction who needs a leader? To achieve best – the very best – we have to lead people beyond a simple compromise, which makes everyone happy.

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Proverbs 6:6

If you’ve been practicing lazy leadership, the best response – as to any sin – is to repent, turn away, and do the hard work of leadership. You and your team will benefit greatly.

 

12 Ways to Make Yourself A Valuable Team Member

A young man came to me once seeking advice for starting a new position. He wanted to know how he could set himself apart and make himself a valuable team member.

I loved the question. It showed intentionality and purpose on his part. I think that has to be step one – asking good questions and seeking wise answers – and he was already doing it.

I was impressed enough I decided not to give him just a few suggestions, but to give him a dozen.

12 ways to make yourself valuable as a team member:

Be an encourager of others on the team. We all have bad days occasionally, so it’s nice to know someone on the team who always has a smile and finds joy in making others joyful.

Embrace change willingly. Change is coming – whether we like it or not. The one who remains positive when others are negative – even in the midst of change – is golden for creating a healthy team environment.

Speak words of affirmation to others. Recognize things other people do right. Consider the interests of other people ahead of your own personal recognition.

Laugh deep and smile often. It’s hard to frown back, even on the worst days, when someone flashes a genuine smile at you.

Value other people’s opinions. People want to be heard. They appreciate when they believe someone genuinely cares to hear what they have to say.

Remain steadfast to vision and values. Loyalty is a rare and attractive quality. Believe in the place where you work. If you can’t it might be time to consider somewhere else to invest your time and energy.

Be flexible with methods. “Let’s get it done” – whatever it takes – is a great way to set yourself apart from the norm of a team.

Genuinely love people. Love even those who are more difficult to love. (This quality alone will set you apart from most others.)

Give more than required. It’s been said to “under-promise and over-deliver”. Yea, something like that. Certainly do what’s expected with excellence – and, without complaining.

Think critically for improvement. Being cooperative doesn’t mean you are void of opinions. In a respectful way, offer helpful suggestions. Be humble and purposeful in adding value to the team.

Never gossip or talk bad about another team member. Everything you say will come back around to you. If you have a problem with someone talk to them personally, before you talk to anyone else. Here’s a standard – make sure you’d be okay if whatever is repeated from your mouth was hung in the break room bulletin board.

Have a servant’s heart. Jesus said, “the greatest among us must be a servant.” Never let any job or task be beneath you. Value other people and their roles on the team. Regardless of your “rank”, see your job as an opportunity to serve others.

What would you add to my list?

When Only the Senior Leader Fully Understands

I was once talking with a young pastor having to make some hard decisions in his church. He was praying, seeking wisdom from other pastors and leaders, and allowing input from the church. He felt confident he was making the right decisions for the life of the church at the time. None of the changes were clearly addressed in Scripture. He felt the majority of the people supported him, but still there was a certain group in the church who continually questioned and criticized him for any changes he initiated.

His comment which struck me was, “I feel like every time I take two steps forward we take another step backwards. Why can’t they understand we have to change or we will eventually die?”

His comment and the question which followed reminded me of one thing I’ve learned about leadership. And, I’ve been reminded of it by experience many times.

You can never fully understand all the decisions a leader makes unless you sit where the leader sits.

The leader can explain the why behind the decision – and, he or she should try. The leader can walk people slowly through the process of change – and, he or she should. The leader can listen to people’s objections and be patient with people who don’t understand – and, he or she should.

The leader should consider all aspects of the decision, how it impacts people (not just a few), every ministry, and how it helps accomplish the vision for the future of which he or she feels charged to lead. Leaders should never make decisions in a vacuum- they need to include other people in the decision-making process. The leader should be open to critique and be teachable.

But, there will be times when the leader simply has to make decisions based on the best and most current information available.

And, not everyone will understand.

This is true for pastors, business owners, parents, elected officials, and teachers. Anyone who leads people will experience times of being misunderstood. If you’re a leader, you’ll be second-guessed in some of the decisions you make.

A friend of mine uses the term “second chairitis“. It’s similar to “back seat driver”. Basically it means it’s natural to question the actions of a leader, when you aren’t carrying the full weight of leadership. The “outside looking in” view isn’t always the clearest view.

For the leader, I would encourage you as I did the pastor I reference above:

  • Make sure you are obedient to God and His word.
  • Make sure you are seeking wise counsel.
  • Make sure you are open to correction.
  • Make sure you are leading with integrity, in your public and personal life.
  • Make sure you allow people you trust to speak into your life.
  • Make sure you stay true to the vision.
  • Make sure you consider the interest of others, even more than your own.
  • Make sure you develop methods to measure progress.

Then make decisions – the best decisions you can, based on the information you have, realizing in advance not everyone will always understand. Hopefully, someday they’ll look back and realize you were making good decisions, even when they couldn’t understand. Sometimes you’ll look back and realize you made the wrong decisions. Admit those times. They are like gold for your future leadership decision making.

But, leaders aren’t called to be popular. They are called to lead.

7 Ways to Correct a Team Member in a Healthy Way

All of us make mistakes and occasionally need someone to help us become better at what we do. This should always be the end goal of correction.

Avoiding the corrective procedure keeps the organization from being all it can be. It keeps people from learning from their mistakes. Good leaders use correction to improve people and the organization.

It’s important, however, that we correct correctly. The way a leader handles correction of someone on the team is important if the desire is to keep quality people on the team – and a healthy team dynamic. 

Here are 7 aspects of healthy correction:

A pre-established relationship – Corrective actions should ultimately start here. It’s hard to correct people effectively if you don’t have a relationship with them. Using authority without an established relationship may work in a bureaucratic organization, but not in a team environment. Relationship building should begin before the need for correction.

Granted, there will be times when a leader has to correct someone he or she doesn’t know well. While this isn’t ideal, it should alter the way the conversation takes place and who is in the room at the time. I have, for example, invited someone else the person trusts on the team into the room with us.

Respect for the person – Never condemn the person. As soon as correction becomes more personal than practical, the one being corrected becomes defensive and the leader loses the value of the correction. Focus attention on the actions being corrected and not the person. Even if the correction involves a character issue, if you intend to retain the person, you will accomplish more if he or she knows they have your respect. If you can’t respect the person’s character you have a completely different issue – and probably need a different blog post.

Be clear about the offense – Make sure the action being correction is clear and the person knows what they did wrong.  Don’t wait until the problem is too large to restore the person to the team. Even though protecting the relationship is important, the person doesn’t need to leave still clueless there is a problem or what the actual problem is you think needs correcting.

Embrace a development opportunity – In addition to telling the person what he or she did wrong, help them learn from their mistakes. Spend time discussing how the person can improve in the area of performance being corrected. Get them additional help or training if needed.

Restore them to a place of trust – Make sure the person being corrected knows you still believe in their abilities and you have faith they can do the job for which they are responsible. Correction is never easy to accept, but the goal should be to improve things following the corrective period. People will lose heart for their work if they do not think their work is still valued. Trust may take some time and you will need to see improvement, but if you can never fully trust the person – again – you have harder decisions to make than correcting them. And, there’s another blog post needed.

Build health into the DNA – Correction can be a valuable time for the team member and organization if used appropriately. It should be a learning time for the leader and the person being corrected. Use this as a time to remind the team member of the culture, vision, goals and objectives of the organization, as necessary to improve the team member’s performance. The leader may need to consider how he or she (the leader) needs to improve to help the team member and the team improve.

Make hard decisions when needed – Some people simply aren’t a fit for the team. The problem could be them or the team. Making the call to replace a team member is hard, but sometimes necessary to continue the progress of the organization. The sooner this call is made the better it will be for everyone. (If it reaches this point, the leader should spend time evaluating what went wrong with the relationship – was it the person, the organization, or the leader?)

Many leaders avoid correction of any kind. Either they don’t like conflict or they simply don’t want to lose favor with the team member. But, correction can be valuable for the team and its members if used correctly.

(And, it really is a Biblical principe. See Hebrews 12:11)

7 High Costs of Leadership Every Leader Should Pay

Leadership should be expensive. If we desire to be leaders it should cost us something. Leadership is a stewardship. It’s the keeping of a valuable trust others place in you. Cheap leadership is never good leadership.

Here are 7 high costs of leadership:

Personal agenda

Good leaders give up their personal desires for the good of others, the team or the organization.

Control

What you control you limit. Good leaders give freedom and flexibility to others in how they accomplish the predetermined goals and objectives.

Popularity

Leading well is no guarantee a leader will be popular. In fact, there will be times where the opposite is more true. Leaders take people through change. Change is almost never initially popular. I wrote a whole chapter about this principle in my book The Mythical Leader.

Comfort

If you are leading well you don’t often get to lead “comfortably”. You get to wrestle with messiness and awkwardness and push through conflict and difficulty. It’s for a noble purpose, but it isn’t easy.

Fear

Good leadership goes into the unknown. That’s often scary. Even the best leaders are anxious at times about what is next.

Loneliness

I believe every leader should surround themselves with other leaders. We should be vulnerable enough to let others speak into our life. But, there will be days when a leader has to stand alone. Others won’t immediately understand. On those days the quality of strength in a leader is revealed. This one should never be intentional, but when you are leading change…when it involves risk and unknowns – this will often be for a season a significant cost.

Outcomes

We follow worthy visions. We create measurable goals and objectives. We discipline for the tasks ahead. We don’t, however, get to script the way people respond, how times change, or the future unfolds.

As leaders, we should consider whether we are willing to pay the price for good leadership. It’s not cheap!