I’ve made a lot of mistakes in leadership. One of the primary purposes of this blog is to help others learn from my experience. So, I want to share some of the mistakes I’ve made. I hope at least one of them encourages other leaders.
These are 10 of the biggest:
Playing salesman more than seeking wisdom. I have had times I was so convinced I was right that I used my skills as a communicator to get people on my side. In hindsight, I should’ve taken more time seeking other people’s insight and wisdom, because I wasn’t right after all.
Listening only to the yea-sayers. The fact is critics sometimes have valid points to make. I prefer they find kinder and gentler ways to share them — and be brave enough to attach their name — but it’s a mistake to only listen to people who agree with you.
Ignoring my gut because the crowd was excited. We were going to launch a capital campaign. We knew we needed to do it at some point. Everyone was excited. Or so they seemed. The momentum was high. But something inside of me said wait. When I went back to the excited crowd, and ask them to pray again, it was unanimous. We were moving forward in emotion — not God’s direction. I learned this one the hard way. Other times I’ve not been that sensitive to my gut or the Spirit’s leading.
Failing to remove the wrong people soon enough. They say hire slow and fire fast. They weren’t necessarily in the church world — were they? Seriously, I’ve waited too long too many times. It only delays the pain.
Rushing too fast to fix things. Some things need time to gel. I have learned that sometimes things get solved on their own. Conflicts are resolved and relationships saved — even strengthened — because I didn’t get involved.
Avoiding a brewing conflict. At the same time, when I know trouble is stirring, and it isn’t going away without my input, yet I refuse to deal with it because it is awkward or uncomfortable, it always comes back to haunt me. Unresolved conflict never just “goes away”. And, when left to brew long enough it can cause irreversible damage to a team.
Talking someone away from their heart. For example, I’ve talked a few people into staying in jobs they didn’t like just because I liked them. It never works. It isn’t fair. It always ends worse than if I’d let them follow their hearts.
Not challenging because I didn’t understand something. I lead areas of ministry I’m not an expert in. Worship. Students. Small groups. Children. Preschool. Technology. Missions. Okay — pretty much everything. I’ve by practice surrounded myself with people smarter than me. But, I have learned it is a mistake to believe that because I’m not the expert I can’t challenge them in their field. I may have to study more, but as a leader, my job is to challenge us to excellence. Therefore, I can — and should — challenge all areas that impact the overall vision. Which is pretty much every area.
Assuming people understand. I don’t need many details. Well, let me be a little clearer. I don’t want or retain many details. But, everyone is not me. Some people thrive on details. They can’t function without them. And, neither personality is wrong. We need both types on our team. I’ve had to learn to communicate in different ways and let others assist me in communicating. And, I welcome questions.
Ignoring the real problems. I’ve been tempting to band-aid the problem because it was too messy to address the real problem. Real problems often involve people. It’s easier to add a rule than get someone upset. But problems never go away until the real problem is addressed.
I’ve been honest with some of my leadership mistakes. Some of them at least.
What are some of yours?
I was once asked to help a church process how to get younger people to attend. After we discussed some change recommendations a man pulled me aside and said, “Son, we don’t need no fancy ideas around here. We like being a small church.”
I soon learned he represented the feelings of the church as a whole. They thought they wanted to reach younger people, but the truth was — when faced with change — they were really satisfied with the church as it had been for many years.
There’s nothing wrong with being a small church. Let me say that again — There is nothing wrong with being a small church. In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. I’m not opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small church mentalities.
I think there is a difference.
As long as there are lost people nearby, I believe the church has much work to do. And, any organization, Christian or secular, that refuses to accept some changes will stop growing and eventually die.
The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It’s relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth.
In fact, I can come up with lots of ways I’ve seen that keep a church from growing.
Here are a 21 ways:
- Make the entry to serving in the church lengthy or complicated
- Develop followers not leaders
- Squelch any dream except the pastor’s own
- Refuse new people a voice at the table
- Make sure everyone knows who is in charge — and it’s not Jesus
- Cast your vision — but only once
- Only do “church” inside the building
- Demand that it be done the way it’s always been done
- Give up when change is resisted
- Make excuses when things go wrong
- Quit dreaming
- Resist any organized system, strategy or plans to grow the church
- Stop praying
- Insist you have all the answers before you “walk by faith”
- Never challenge people
- Treat new people as outsiders
- Always refer to the past as the good times
- Put more energy into structure than serving
- Allow gossip to fester
- The ministerial staff does everything
- Be stingy investing in the next generation
Whenever I do a post like this I get a common — and expected — question. Well, if these are ways not to grow a church, then what are some ways to grow a church? And, that is one of the main topics I write about in other posts. But, for simplicity sake, try doing the opposite of some of these I’ve listed and see how they help the church to grow.
What am I missing? What else will keep a church from growing?
Don’t be afraid to take a wrong turn — or go where the path isn’t clear — or act when you don’t have all the details figured out yet.
Some of the best discoveries are made that way.
People are always asking Cheryl and me how we discovered a great new place to visit. Or to eat.
Don’t you love Instagram and Facebook for those postings?
Often it was on a discovery trip.
One time we were in Maryland. I said to Cheryl, “Let’s just take this road and see where it goes.”
It actually went to a dead end. At the ocean. Stop. No way out except where we came from. We may have even been in another state at that point. I never knew for sure.
There was one restaurant at the end of the road. It looked like a dump. Our cell service was so weak we couldn’t Google the place, so we just went for it. It turned out to be one of those memorable meals — in a good way.
We didn’t know where we were going or what we would find when we got there, but details don’t matter as much when you’re on a discovery mission.
We’ve actually used the discovery method to find dozens of great places. On most every vacation or trip we set aside some time just to discover something new. It gives us adrenaline as a couple, keeps things interesting (we’ve discovered some not so great places too) and — whatever we find — it gives us lots of great memories together.
I use the discovery method in leadership too. We try lots of new things. Some work. Some don’t. But, the ones that do prove to be some of our greatest discoveries. We found them by exploring.
Details are great. I know some people feel they need them. (Cheryl is that way.)
But don’t let not knowing them keep you from the greatest discoveries.
Explore. It’s often how the best discoveries are made.
And, it keeps life interesting.
In life and leadership.
I was talking with a youth pastor recently. He is experiencing tremendous disappointment in his current position. He feels he is doing everything well, but his pastor never seemed pleased with his progress.
As we talked, it became clear to me that he and his pastor had different expectations of what makes a healthy youth ministry, but the youth pastor was uncertain what it would take to make the pastor happy. Unless the two of them get on the same page, this youth pastor is destined for many disappointing days ahead.
This is not a unique scenario.
In fact, if I’m not careful, this is one struggle I can have in leadership.
I have seen many leaders, including myself, who hold people accountable for a high level of success, but are never clear on what the success they are seeking even looks like. It’s actually hard to hold someone responsible for meeting an expectation you’ve never given them.
There are lots of problems created when we don’t give people clear expectations.
Here are 3 problems with having unspoken expectations:
Expectations are misunderstood – Many leaders assume everyone will come to the same conclusion they would, so they fail to give adequate direction. If left unspoken, however, the senior leader’s expectations are never met and team member’s remain confused and frustrated.
Expectations are never met – The team member will make up the expectations when not made clear. That’s okay when the leader delegates this task but when the leader has defined expectations, but they are never made clear, a team member has no choice but to move forward on their own.
Everyone is disappointed – One of the hardest times for a leader is watching his or her team or organization suffer through mediocre results. One of the most frustrating times for a team member is realizing they aren’t living up to potential or that they aren’t appreciated on the team. Both sides lose when expectations aren’t made clear.
If you want your team to achieve the expectations you have for them make sure the team knows clearly what’s expected of them. Don’t assume they read your mind. If you are not sure how to make sure they understand you, read THIS POST.
Have you worked for someone who didn’t give you clear expectations of what they expected? Tell me about it.
Leaders, how do you make sure your team understands what you expect? Share your secrets.
I spent most of my adult life outside vocational ministry. I’m amazed at the opportunities God has given me in ministry, but in many ways I am still a newcomer. I have just over a dozen years in this career. It’s challenging in some ways, because I see things differently from some who have only done ministry, but it also gives me a unique perspective from some pastors. I sat “in the pew” far longer than I’ve stood “behind the pulpit”.
One thing my experience has done for me, especially since I’ve become a pastor, is to help me realize how much I didn’t understand about being a pastor. Like the feeling that work is never done. Like feeling you are never really “off”. Like knowing people are going to be upset with every decision you make — and balancing whether to move forward or give into their frustration. Like the pressure of “Sunday’s coming”. (Pastors — know that one?) Like carrying the weight of everyone, but sometimes feeling you’ve got no where to share your own struggles. Stuff like that.
The “fun” stuff I didn’t know prior to being in ministry. Plus, in the business world, we handled problems so differently from how they are typically handled in ministry. A lot faster sometimes.
I also spend a lot of time investing in other pastors. It fuels me personally. I’ve learned some of their challenges. Some of their concerns. Some of their wishes.
Along the way, I’ve learned some great lessons of what it takes to build a healthy church — many I didn’t previously understand — even though I was very active in the church. Things look different looking at the church from this perspective.
So, if I were ever on the other side again — and I was back “in the pew” — I’d change a few things about myself.
Here are 10 things I’d do differently if I weren’t a pastor today:
I’d make church attendance a priority. I’d build my week around the services of the church, knowing how vital every person is to the body. I’d understand what an encouragement it is to the pastor when people give the same priority to church that they give to other places in their life.
I’d love my pastor. I mean really love my pastor. Knowing how many expectations are placed on the pastor, I’d be among the group that’s always ready to help, but, recognizing he’s only one imperfect person, not one to get my feelings hurt if the pastor didn’t do everything I hoped he would.
I’d be a generous giver. Understanding that there are really a small number who financially support the work of the church, I’d be a Kingdom investor.
I’d be an ambassador for the church. I’d use my influence in the community and where I worked to bring people to church and Christ. I’d look for people I didn’t know on Sunday mornings and try to help them acclimate to the church.
If I had a problem with the pastor, I’d talk to the pastor. Not his wife. (That’s always a bad move.) Not other church members. Certainly not the community.
I’d try to get less upset about things that impact only me — that are mostly matters of personal preference.
I would pray bold prayers for the church. Daily.
I would support the pastor and his family. I would understand he couldn’t be everywhere, and never make him feel guilty for not being where I hoped he would be.
I would smile when he preaches. I’d give visual witness that I was paying attention. I might even say “Amen” when appropriate. Oh yea..definite amens.
I would serve where needed. In fact, I’d volunteer without being asked.
Pastors, anything you’d add to my list?
I’ve often heard people say you can’t measure discipleship. I don’t know if that’s true.
It is true that you can’t necessarily put a number or percentage on discipleship growth, but you can tell — over time — if it has happened or is happening.
Here are 10 indications a church is making disciples:
Those who have been in the church the longest complain the least. – Do everything without complaining or arguing. Philippians 2:14
The leaders of the church are most likely to give up “their” seats, park further from the building, or do whatever is necessary to help the Body. – The greatest among you must be a servant. Matthew 23:11
The church celebrates most when those far from faith come to faith. In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! Luke 15:7
Members care that others needs are met more than their own. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:4
The church is willing to make sacrifices to attract the lost – And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Acts 15:19
There is joy even during suffering – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2
The teaching is a balance of truth and grace. Jesus came full of grace and truth. John 1:17
The financial needs of the church are funded, with people willingly sacrificing. No one begs for money. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart–not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
There are no petty disputes and grudges among the people of the church. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
The church takes care of each other well. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. Acts 4:34
Let’s keep this going. These are a few that come to my mind. There are others. Prayer. Forgiveness. I’d love to post again — maybe “21 Indications a Church is Making Disciples”. Add one of your own in the comments. (And, give your Bible reference.) I may choose yours for my next post.
Laziness is a sin.
Whoever is lazy regarding his work is also a brother to the master of destruction. Proverbs 18:9
It’s also annoying. And, ineffective in leadership.
The fact is, however, that 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.
See if any of them apply to your leadership.
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. That’s the lazy way of making decisions.
Not delegating. Again, I’m not saying the leader is lazy. But this part of their leadership is. 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 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 that 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 king (leader). (And, being “king” 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 that makes everyone happy.
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.
Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Proverbs 6:6
Many times a leader can be clueless about the real health of the organization they lead. If a leader refuses to solicit feedback, doesn’t listen to criticism or stops learning, they can begin to believe everything is under control — when in reality — things are falling apart around them.
I once watched as a church crumbled apart while the pastor thought everything was wonderful. He always had an excuse for declining numbers and never welcomed input from others. It got bad enough for the church to have to ask him to leave. It was messy. It could have been avoided, in my opinion.
And, sadly, that could be the stories of hundreds of churches and organizations.
The best leaders, however, avoid what I call the leadership vacuum.
I have heard the term leadership vacuum used to describe the need for more leaders, but I believe the biggest void may be within leaders themselves.
The leader in a leadership vacuum believes:
Everyone on the team understands me. And, I understand them.
Everyone on the team thinks like I think. We are in complete unity. I know this without asking anyone.
Everyone on the team likes me. And, they are glad I’m the leader.
My team is completely healthy. And, so am I. We don’t need to worry about that kind of thing.
I am this team. This team needs me. In fact, they couldn’t do it without me.
The organization is headed in the right direction in every area. We don’t need any changes.
Our systems and plans are flawless. Nothing can stop us now.
Granted, any or all of these may be true at a given time, but if we always assume they are is when we get into trouble as a leader. When the leader is clueless to the real problems and needs in the organization, he or she is living in the leadership vacuum. The best leaders are aware of the vacuum trap and guard against it in their leadership.
Leaders, have you ever lived in the leadership vacuum? Are you there now?
Have you followed a leader in the vacuum?