Determining How Fast or Slow To Make Decisions as a Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faster decisions:

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

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

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

Slower decisions:

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

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

Do you see the difference in the two?

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

The One Question I Ask When Receiving a Complaint

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

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

This question is powerful in determining how I will respond.

When I have complaints or criticism I ask a question:

Is the complaint individual or representative?

In other words:

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

The answer is critical to me before I respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Individual or representative? Knowing the difference is huge.

Are You a Better Leader or Manager?

Self-evaluation is good here

Are you more of a leader or a manager?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a better leader or a better manager?

Don’t try to be someone you are not.

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

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

How You’re Perceived as a Leader May Be More Important

Than how you lead

I have learned how your team sees you may be more important than who you are as a leader. The perception people have about you matters greatly

Obviously, character is most important. Integrity matters even more than perception.

You’ll often be misunderstood and you can’t please everyone. In fact, somedays, as a leader – it seems – you can’t please anyone.

So I’d rather know my character is genuine, be loved most by those who know me best, than to be perceived one way, yet actually be someone different in reality. I don’t care about a false perception.

The reality of the success of a leader, however, may depend more on how you are viewed by the people you lead than it does on what you do as a leader. I’ve learned, often the hard way, that the two are not always the same.

  • Do they see you more as an agent of empowerment or an agent of control?
  • Do they see you more as a champion for their ideas or a killer of their dreams?
  • Do they see you more as a proponent of change or a protector of tradition?
  • Do they see you as a friend of progress or the enemy of success?
  • Do they believe you will protect them when their back is turned?
  • Do they think you have their best interest ahead of your  own?
  • Do they genuinely believe your heart is fully committed to the team?

Much of your success as a leader will depend on the perception you create among the people you attempt to lead. They will follow closer when their perception of you is for them more than for you – or against them. Of course, perception is created by how you lead, but sometimes – just as vision does – perception leaks. And, people form perceptions regardless of whether or not you do anything. Perceptions may or may not be reality. I must be keenly aware of this principle, so by my words and deeds I can be even more intentional to build my perception in their mind.

Candidly. I’ve seen this go in seasons in my leadership. I’ve often had to reinforce my perception in their minds. It could be after a busy or stressful time, when their is tension on the team, or during times of change. They need to perceive I’m still the leader they want to follow.

If you’re still trying to get your mind around my thoughts, here is an example. We recently made some rather significant changes to our organizational structure. It will mean fewer people report directly to me. When we announced the changes I reiterated my open door policy and availability to our staff will continue. For people who work with me long they have learned this is how I lead. But, human nature kicks in for all of us. And, change evokes an emotional response – which helps shape people’s perceptions. I wlll need to take intentional actions in the weeks ahead to make sure the perception of my leadership is as strong as my actual leadership.

Have you ever known a leader who thought he or she was doing better than the team thought?

Don’t Address the HOW until you Address the WHAT

A principle of leadership

I’ve seen it many times.

You have an idea – it’s not a bad idea – it may even be a great idea. You just don’t know yet. As soon as you present the idea the team instantly starts to ask tons of question, begin implementing the plan, and gets bogged down in details.

And, then, after time of discussion – sometimes hours – the team decides its not a good idea after all.

Here’s my advice. I use this with the teams I lead.

Spend your energies at first on deciding whether it’s an idea worth pursuing.

The what.

The what is “what” you are going to do. The current dream you have moving forward. The overall objective. The big picture of what’s next.

Decide the what before you spend a lot of energy on the mechanics of the idea.

The how.

The how is how you are going to do the what. These are the details. The nitty gritty working plan. You may have to talk about some of the how to decide the what, but spend your first, best and most energy on the what.

For example, let’s say you have an idea to add a third church service to allow for more growth – or maybe you are thinking of going multi-site – or the idea could be to plant another church. Don’t spend too much time on the how, until you decide the what.

Ask hard questions such as: Is this an idea worth pursuing? Are we willing to give it a try? Has this been birthed in prayer? Do we believe this is something we are supposed to do?

Yes or no?  

Spending too much time on the how before you address the what:

  • Gets you bogged down in details you may never need.
  • Wastes energy which could be used elsewhere if you aren’t going to do the what.
  • Solves problems you don’t yet and may never have.
  • Creates division about change prematurely.
  • Builds momentum before it’s time. (And, it’s harder to build momentum a second time.

When you know you’re going to do the what – you have to, you’re called to, it’s what or bust – you’ll figure out the how. You’ll find a way to make it happen. You’ll have more passion, clarity and energy to address the how.

Try that next time an idea surfaces and is discussed by your team.

Note: This is assuming, of course, you already know your “why” as an organization. You know why you are doing whatever you are doing. This post addresses a more specific aspect of realizing the vision. If you don’t yet have the why – start there.

How Leaders Encourage Cooperation on a Team

Leader, do you want people to cooperate on the team you lead? Do you want people to get along, support one another, and join forces to achieve the vision?

Of course you do. All leaders want their teams to cooperate. It builds stronger teams when people aren’t on islands to themselves.

How do great leaders encourage cooperation?

I can help you with one quick tip. Let people collaborate. It’s that easy – and powerful. 

Collaboration leads to Cooperation

Cooperation rocks in organizational health!

Cooperation brings:

  • Collective buy-in
  • A sense of ownership and empowerment
  • Less petty arguments
  • Lower resistance to change
  • More passion towards the vision
  • Shared workload
  • Fewer cases of burnout

What leader doesn’t appreciate those things?

When you are leading a team, the more you collaborate with your team, and let them collaborate with others – during the planning process and before the final decisions are made – the more cooperation you’ll receive from your team during the implementation process. 

Let people participate in brainstorming. Give them a voice in the way things will be done. Allow them to ask questions and even offer pushback.

Of course, you can’t collaborate on every decision. One of the reasons you are leader is to make big picture, strategic decisions. You often have a vision others can’t immediately see until you lead them there. 

Whenever a decision, however, impacts other people, especially if it:

  • Impacts how they do their work.
  • Changes the basic nature of what they do.
  • Significantly impacts the future of the team or organization.

In those type situations, I suggest you allow collaboration, because it always brings better cooperation from the team. (By the way, in the church, this is true of paid staff or volunteers.)

In fact, the opposite can be equally true. A lack of collaboration naturally brings a lack of cooperation. People will resist the change. They will be less enthusiastic about the outcome. They will wait for instruction rather than take initiative on their own.

As leaders, we must learn to collaborate better –  so our teams can learn to cooperate better.

How have you seen this principle work or the opposite effect occur in a team’s health? Help us learn from your experience.

The Number One Principle for Attracting Leaders

This is true in church revitalization

One thing I learned very quickly in church revitalization, which I already knew from other experiences, is many times entrepreneurial type leaders disappear when things aren’t working well. People who like big visions don’t hang around when the church is holding on to status quo. If the church wants to argue about paint color real leaders will find another place to attend. They aren’t as interested in the maintenance mode of organizational life. Consequently, we had fewer small business owners, CEO-types, and civic or community leaders.

This is true in attracting new staff members also. The ones you often need to turn things around – innovative, creative, energetic, visionary, leaders – are hesitant to come to a plateaued or declining church.

One frequent question I receive from those trying to do church revitalization is how they can attract new leaders.

Great question.

I have a simple solution. This is the number one principle, in my opinion, for attracting leaders.

Give them a problem to solve.

Hand out visions more than you hand out tasks. Tell them where you want to go, but let them know you haven’t yet figured out how to get there.

If the answer is already found, you can hire a manager for the job – and you’ll likely want and need a good one. You’ll have other problems to solve and a good manager can free you up to lead.

But, to attract a leader…

Help them see a need – give them some freedom to find a solution – give them support, as needed, but get out of the way. Let them go.

Leaders seek opportunities to lead.

Challenge, opportunity, problems,something everyone says can’t be done — Those type environments fuel a leader’s energy. It’s what attracts a leader to your team.

Are you in an environment which attracts leaders? What do you think makes it so?

4 Ways Leaders Create Capacity

Capacity: the ability or power to do, experience, or understand something.

Great leaders know the more capacity the organization has the more potential it has to accomplish its mission. When the organization begins to exceed its capacity for too long things eventually stall. If you want to spur growth you have to increase capacity.

Therefore, one of the best ways a leader can impact an organization is to create capacity so the organization and its people can grow.

Here are 4 ways a leader can create capacity:

Paint a void

Allow others to see what could be accomplished. Leaders help people see potential – in themselves and the future – they may not otherwise see. This can be accomplished through vision casting and question asking. It may be helping people dream bigger dreams of what could be next in their own life or for the organization. It could be through training or development. Extra capacity energizes people to find new and adventuresome ways of achieving them.

Empower people

When you give people the tools, resources and power to accomplish the task and you’ve often created new capacity. Many times people feel they’ve done all they can with what they have. Provide them with new tools – maybe new ideas — assure them they can’t fail if they are doing their best. Continue to support them as needed. Then get out of their way.

Release ownership

Let go of your attempt to control an outcome so others can lead. Many people hold back waiting for the leader to take initiative or give his or her blessing. The more power and ownership you release the more others will embrace. The more initiative they will take of their own.

Lead people not tasks

If you are always the doer and never the enabler then you are not a leader. More than likely you are simply an obstacle to what the team could accomplish if you got out of the way. Many leaders don’t see this in themselves. Frequently ask yourself: Am I leading or am I in the way? And, if you’re brave enough — ask others to evaluate you – even anonymously.

When the leader creates capacity the organization and the people in the organization increase their capacity – and things can grow.

7 Ways to Keep a Leader on Your Team

One of the biggest challenges for any organization is to attract and retain leaders.

I previously posted reasons leaders tend to leave an organization. (Read that post HERE.) The goal then is to find ways to keep a leader energized to stay with the team – so I thought a companion post was appropriate.

I’m writing from the perspective of all organizations, but keeping leaders should certainly be a high priority in the church.

I never want to stop someone from pursuing a better opportunity, but I don’t want to send them away because I didn’t help them stay.

The reality is leaders get restless if they are forced to sit still for long. Good managers are comfortable maintaining progress, but a leader needs to be leading change. In fact, leaders even like a little chaos. Show a real leader a problem ready to be solved and they are energized.

Here are a few suggestions to encourage leaders to stay:

Give them a new challenge.

Let them tackle something you’ve never been able to accomplish. (Even tell them you’re not certain it can be done.) Leaders love to do what others said couldn’t be done. Or what no one has figured out yet how to do. Let the leader be a precursor to what’s next for the organization. Let them experiment somewhere you’ve wanted to go, but haven’t tried. They may discover the next big thing for the organization.

Allow them to explore a specific area of interest to them.

Leaders are attracted to environments where they can explore – especially in areas where they have a personal interest or where they want to develop. This may even be outside their direct job description. Give them permission to do something new.

Invest in them.

Mentor them personally. This is huge for younger leaders. They crave it, but don’t always know how to ask for it. This is not micromanaging. This is helping them learn valuable insight from your experience and exposing them to other good leaders.

Give them more creative time to dream.

This is a stretch for some structures, but it’s needed to retain leaders. It doesn’t mean people aren’t held accountable, but I prefer to do so with goals and objectives rather than with a time clock. You might keep someone from feeling stifled if you give them more margin in how they spend their time.

Don’t burden them with your fears.

I’ve seen this so many times when a senior leader gives other leaders in the organization more responsibility. It makes the leader nervous, so they revert to controlling and micromanagement. They don’t give them a chance to prove themselves. They try to tell them how to do things. Fear is what is discerned by others. And, it doesn’t communicate you trust them. It doesn’t mean you are absent from the process. It is hard to release responsibility to someone unproven, but you must stifle your fears and let them learn to lead. Stay close enough to jump in when requested or when it is absolutely required.

Allow him or her to help you lead/dream/plan for the organization.

Include them in discussions and brainstorming in which they normally would not be included. The more they feel included the more loyal they will be.

Reward them.

If they are doing well – let them know it. Praise them privately and publicly and compensate them fairly. What is celebrated gets repeated.

Keeping a leader on your team will be at challenge for you as a leader. You will have to stretch yourself to stretch them. But, it’s almost always worth it. As they grow, you grow, and the entire organization grows.

12 Hard Things a Leader May Need to Say – And 5 Ways to Say Them

In any relationship, there comes a time where it’s necessary to say things, which are difficult to say, but needed to keep the relationship strong. And, to hopefully make it better. This is also true in a healthy team environment. All leaders have things they need to say, which are hard sometimes.

For me personally, this often involves having a challenging conversation with a team member – someone I love being on the team, but know they need correction in an area, which is affecting the team. These are always discussions I’d rather not have, but I know are necessary for the continued health of the relationship, the team, and the individual.

Over the years, I have had many of these issues which required “tough love” to address them. I began my business leadership experience in retail management. At certain times of the year there could be 100’s of associates on the sales floor. It provided ample opportunity for problems I had to address with individuals.

But, those opportunities have continued throughout my career in leadership. And, dealing with problems has included me having to say things such as:

  • You’re too controlling as a leader.
  • You can be perceived as a real jerk to people.
  • Your laziness is dragging down the team.
  • You have body odor.
  • You’re making making too many mistakes and don’t seem to be learning from them.
  • You are non-responsive to your team members or others. It’s slowing down progress and it’s unfair to everyone else.
  • Your personal life is impacting your work. How can I help?
  • You don’t know how to take constructive criticism.
  • You are too critical of new ideas.
  • You are moving too fast.
  • You are moving too slow.
  • You are uncooperative.

I should note – most of these have not been said with my current team – thankfully.

Through my years in leadership, however, I have had to say each one of these statements to someone I was supposed to be leading. And, there are probably many others you as a leader have either had to say, think you need to say, or chose not to say and, looking back, now wish you had. Those conversations, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, always prove to be good for the team and the team member.

In full disclosure, there have been times when someone needed to have similar “tough love” conversations with me. They weren’t easy for me at the time, but those discussions always made me better as a person and leader.

If you have to have one of those conversations, I have learned some principles to make them more palatable.

Here are 5 suggestions to have hard conversations:

Handle the conversation as quickly as possible

If the problem is clear in your mind (and usually everyone else’s mind), and you’ve witnessed the problem long enough to know it’s a pattern, don’t delay long in addressing the issue. Now, timing is everything. You shouldn’t blast someone in public and you should look for the “best” time to talk with them privately. These aren’t usually the kind of things done by email or text. They are best done in person. But, the longer you wait the more awkward it will be and the person is left feeling more hurt because you did wait.

Be honest

This is not the time to shift blame, make excuses or dance around the issue. Be clear about the problem as you perceive it. Keep in mind there may be things you don’t understand, but be honest with what you think you do. Don’t leave the person wondering what the real problem is or what you are trying to say to them. 

Be kind and helpful

You may want to read my post 5 Ways to Rebuke a Friend. Although this post deals more with a subordinate than simply with a friend, the previous post suggestions may be helpful here also – especially if you are close to the person with whom you are having to say hard things. Your end goal should be to make the team member and the team better after the conversation. This also means you don’t simply correct a person. Use the “sandwich approach” when possible. Place the hard words in the midst of things which are good about the person and your continued commitment as a part of the team. And, if you’re past the point where you think you can move forward with them you probably have had or should have had other conversations about the problems you perceive prior to this one. 

Have a two-way conversation

You should be willing to listen as much as you speak. You may not have all the facts exactly right – or you may have – but give the person a chance to respond to the criticism you are addressing. This also means you should have a two-way conversation, and not a multiple-party conversation. (And, again, in person if at all possible. You can document it in writing if you need to, but these issues deserve a face-to-face conversation.) You should address the issue with the person you have a problem with, not with others on the team behind his or her back. If you need someone in the room with you for perception issues or as a witness, make sure they are committed to privacy.

Move forward after the conversation

The person being corrected should leave with the assurance you are moving forward, and, provided improvements are made, do not plan to hold the issue against them. It will be important they see you responding likewise in the days ahead by the way you interact with them. They shouldn’t continue to feel awkward around you – at least not by the way you respond to them. You can’t control their actions, but you can control yours. 

Know when enough is enough

You shouldn’t have to have these type conversations too frequently. Talk becomes cheap if there’s no backing to what’s agreed upon. If there seems to be no improvement over time, harder decisions or more intensive help may be needed. If you have done the other steps here, there is a time when tough love says “that’s enough – no more”. You are not doing your job as a leader if you continue to ignore the issues everyone else sees as critical to the health of a team.

One of the most difficult times for me is addressing issues like this with a team member I genuinely care about, but I know it’s one of my roles as a leader to address these most difficult issues. But, that’s what we do as leaders – hard things (with grace and truth).