5 Words of Encouragement for Church Planters

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, God, Innovation, Jesus, Leadership | No Comments

Having been a church planter twice, I understand the unique challenges facing planters. They are constantly struggling with leadership issues, finances and simply knowing what to do next. I’d love to offer a word of encouragement for church planters.

Recently I had a conversation with a church planter friend in Chicago. He’s in hard soil to plant anyway, but mentioned that the pandemic has been especially hard on church planters. As a result, many of his fellow planters are flaming out as a result of the pressure from lack of funds, finding a place to meet, and having less fellowship.

My heart resonated with him as we spoke. Most of what I know in leadership has come from experience and the wisdom of others. I was blessed to lead a church during the pandemic, but it was indeed challenging.

5 words of encouragement for church planters:

Surround yourself with a few encouragers.

First, make sure you have people who speak regularly into your life. People outside the work you’re doing. Some days they’ll keep you going.

This friend mentioned that prior to the pandemic there was a more focused effort by others to bring church planters together for fellowship and encouragement. That hasn’t returned. Perhaps some of us that serve in larger, established churches can come together to be this support for church planters.

Seek your affirmation among the people God sent you to minister to.

This is great advice someone gave me. The reality is you will many times feel under-appreciated. You may not feel you’re doing any good. Also, you will second-guess yourself and your calling. When this happens, get back into helping the hurting people — the work, whatever it is — God called you to. Be recharged.

Everything great usually starts with a very humble beginning.

You know this or you wouldn’t be a planter. But this is true either in your personal humility or the humble beginnings of your work. Take your pick.

We all want the grand and instant success. Yet, that’s seldom the reality. Those who launch big often had enormous stories of previously being humbled. “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah‬ ‭4‬:‭10

The more specific you are the more others can help.

Established churches have systems. Processes. Committees. Structure. You might even believe we have too many and that’s why you’re planting. We have budgets that have likely been approved long in advance. Private individuals like to give to specific causes and see immediate impact.

The more detailed you can be with what you need the easier it is to meet the need. Also, don’t be afraid to talk about money. Everyone knows you need it. Plus, don’t be surprised if help is more readily available in other ways – such as buying you a specific piece of equipment you need rather than simply writing an undesignated check.

Protect your soul — and your family.

Finally, you have to discipline to decompress. Paraphrasing Jesus: “Come to me all who are stretched, burnt-out, weary and heavy-burdened — I will give you refreshment for your soul.” Live this truth daily. Put it as a regular practice of your life. Unfortunately, no one is going to do this for you.

God bless you, planter, leader, friend.

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7 High Costs of Attempting to Eliminate Risk

By | Change, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Innovation, Leadership | 2 Comments

Every leader attempts to limit risk as much as possible when making decisions. We don’t want to jeopardize the organization – ultimately the people – we are trying to lead, so we attempt to have good systems and procedures, boundaries in place, adequate resources, and even contingency or emergency plans. But there are some high costs when we attempt to eliminate all organizational risk.

I’ve seen leaders confuse an attempt to limit risk with attempting to eliminate ALL risk. There is a big difference. I’m not sure we can ever fail-proof anything , so it’s a futile attempt at best to try to get rid of risk completely.

When we are more rule-centric or risk-adverse than we are willing to “take a chance” or “try something new”, our opportunity costs exceed our potential savings from attempting to eliminate all risks. Every successful organization embraces a certain amount of risk. And there are some high costs involved when a leader who is overly cautious.

Here are 7 high costs of attempting to eliminate risk:

Limited growth.

Personally and corporately, without a certain amount of risk there is no potential for growth. Growth happens in environments where the potential to fail is prevalent, accepted, and not scorned. People are not afraid to take chances.

Unfulfilled dreams.

Dreams are made of the seemingly impossible. The bigger the dream the greater the risk. Healthy teams and organizations have big, lofty dreams pulling them forward.

False reality.

Life is a constant risk. If a leader has as a goal an attempt to eliminate it they are essentially playing tricks with mirrors and fancy lights. They’ve created an unachievable expectation for people who follow.

Underutilized resources.

“Playing it safe” may make more sense on paper. It may even feel comfortable, but often when resources are stretched is when the greatest growth potential occurs. Ask the question – “What would we do if we were forced to change and there was no money available?” It’s amazing how creative people can become.

Wasted time.

The time you invest trying to eliminate risk could be used to leverage risk for a greater gain. All of us only have so much time, so leaders must be diligent stewards of it.

Expensive opportunity loss.

Whenever you choose not to do something because of the risk involved, there is always a loss associated. The organization will miss out somewhere on something by not moving forward soon enough. The greatest discoveries often involve people who are willing to assume the greatest risks.

Diminished momentum.

The fact is risk fuels momentum. There is something inside of most of us – especially the entrepreneurial leader types – who thrive on achieving those things which seem impossible. When the chance of failure is high so are the components which fuels momentum.

Leader, you can never fully eliminate risk and this is one of the hard parts of leading. The time you spend attempting to do so will take precious time from doing other things, which probably can reap higher reward. Risk is a reality to be managed not a problem to be avoided.

(This is true, of course, when leading in the church. Perhaps more so, because we are to always be faith-driven. Faith always, by definition, deals with a level of the unknown.)

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5 Bad Reasons to Plant a Church

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Innovation, Leadership | One Comment

There are some bad reasons to plant a church.

Please understand, I love church planting. When I moved back into church revitalization, part of the concern I had was I might not have a foot into church planting. That would be tough for me. After two successful plants and having worked with literally hundreds of planters, I think it’s in my blood. (Interestingly, my mom served on the core of a church plant before she married my dad.)

Thankfully, I still have lots of avenues to be a part of church planting from an established church. I’m still involved with Exponential. Our church plants churches. And planters still ask for my help on a regular basis.

But for years I’ve been concerned about one thing I see in the church planting movement.

I seem to find some planters – or want-to-be planters – who plant a church for some bad reasons. The fact is we need people called to ministry in the established church. We need them in church revitalization. Not everyone needs to be a church planter. 

And the bigger issue is without the right reasons, if we are not careful, a church plant could become just a part of a growing fad and no ultimate good will come from it. People will waste valuable time, energy and resources when they simply were never called to plant. That’s not good for the planter or the Kingdom.

So, we must be careful to plant for the right reason. And, equally importantly, to not plant for the wrong reasons.

Let me give some examples of bad reasons to plant a church. There are surely others.

Here are 5 bad reasons to plant a church:

You’re running from authority.

I’ve worked with some people who didn’t want to follow the rules. In fact, I am that person sometimes. While this may be a good mindset for an entrepreneurial type, and church planters certainly are, it is not a good reason to start a church. When this is the reason it is often out of pride and arrogance. God can never honor that.

You’ll have authority in a church plant – or at least you should. One of the quickest ways to burnout and flame out is to refuse it. If you’re smart you’ll give away authority and not be a power-broker. All of us need some authority and accountability in our lives.

You want to do things your way.

I understand. Really. Especially if you worked for a controlling leader or for someone who had no passion or vision. You have energy and momentum around a dream and need to explore it. I get it. Bravo! I applaud seeking after something which grabs your heart.

But be careful. Sometimes a desire birthed in good can quickly become something birthed in rebellion. And pride can quickly take over your heart. Plus, when this happens, many times you close yourself to ideas other than your own. You then become the controlling leader you resented. And you will limit the vision you are seeking to you. You limit what you control.

Make sure you’re not planting just so you can exclusively do things YOUR way.

You want to be close to momma.

Or momma-in-law. This one sometimes hits too close to home. And I get this one too. You love your family. There is free babysitting. Loving a family is a good thing.

But our callings are bigger than the comfort of home – or the cool city where we can find the best coffee shops. Sometimes God gives us huge latitude in location, but sometimes He does not.

Certainly we need planters all over the place. And home may be exactly where God wants you to plant. (I planted a church in my home town. Some questioned it, but I knew it was what I was called to do. The proof is in the results over 15 years later.) God may allow you to plant exactly where you “want” to plant. I hope He does.

Sometimes, however, God’s plan sends us where we don’t necessarily want to go. He often calls us to leave our comfort zone. Make sure in whatever you do the decision is always His – and not yours alone.

Your friends are doing it.

It’s popular to plant a church these days. As I said, I still attend church planting conferences. We need lots of new churches. Tons. And the church planting movement attracts a lot of people.

So, if you have friends in ministry, some of your friends may be desiring to plant a church. It seems to be the buzz these days.

It’s just never a good reason to plant a church because everyone else is doing it. It needs to be your calling – not anyone else’s.

You’ve got the cool factor.

I meet some really cool people planting churches. I needed to clarify this because I was almost 40 when I planted a church the first time and I had long passed the day I could wear skinny jeans.

Church plants – anything new – attracts cool. (It’s funny, when I attend church planting conferences there are lots of similar looks. Styles change but church planters keep up with the styles.)

But cool does not make a good church planter. I should be honest, it doesn’t hurt. Boring is boring.  But it isn’t a reason to plant a church. And the fact is we need cool people in the established church also. Church revitalization needs cool too – perhaps even more.

So why plant a church?

There is really only one reason to plant a church.

You are fully convinced God has called you to plant a church.

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7 Indicators You’re Not Leading Anymore

By | Change, Church, Church Revitalization, Innovation, Leadership, Team Leadership | 2 Comments

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. There are times, for a variety of reasons, when even the best leaders stop leading, but I think we have indicators when we are not leading intentionally.

Leading by definition is an active term. It means we are taking people somewhere.

Even the best leaders have periods when they aren’t necessarily leading anything. Obviously, those periods shouldn’t be long or progress and momentum eventually stalls, but leadership is an exhaustive process. It can be draining. Sometimes we need a break. And I encourage that.

For an obvious example, I try to shut down at the end of every day and most Saturdays. Plus, 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.

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

How do you evaluate if you are leading or simply maintaining? What are the indicators you’re not leading? One way is to look for the results of leading. What happens when you do lead? Then ask yourself 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.

This is a hard one, but 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?

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The Primary Reason People Resist Change

By | Change, Innovation, Leadership | No Comments

After years of leading change, I’ve discovered every change will face resistance. All change. And there is a primary reason people resist change. I believe it is the number one reason.

No one who has ever led change would disagree with my discovery. Regardless of the change someone will not agree with it – at least initially. It’s almost human nature at work. There is something in all of us, which initially resists change we didn’t initiate.

If there is one primary reason people resist change, would it be helpful to know?

Understanding this can help a leader navigate through change. Ignoring it makes the process of change miserable for everyone – and often keeps the change process from being effective.

What’s the most common reason change is resisted?

It’s an emotion people feel. An emotional response is the primary reason people resist change.

They may not even be able to describe what they are feeling, but the emotion is more powerful at the time than the excitement the change may bring.

It may not even be the emotions we naturally think. We may assume people feel anger, confusion, or fear. And while those are often true emotions of change, in my observation those aren’t the most common or at least initial emotions.

There is one emotion which comes first and impacts all the others. 

What is the most common emotion which causes resistance to change?

People resist change because of a sense of loss.

There you have it – and must understand it. People emotionally feel a sense of loss in the process of change.

Have you ever felt like you were losing or had lost something?

How did you react? Didn’t you try to hold on to whatever you were losing? Did your blood pressure rise a bit? Did you “feel” something?

That’s what people feel in the initial days of change. It’s not usually a good feeling emotion.

And translate that sense of loss into the organizational context. 

Here’s a list (not exhaustive) of what people feel they might be losing when you first introduce change:

  • Power
  • Comfort
  • Control
  • Information
  • Familiarity
  • Tradition
  • Stability

Add your own, but people resist change because those emotions are very real to them.

Rational or not, true or not, and it doesn’t even matter if people know the change is needed. As you know, emotions are not dictated by reality.

Things are changing. So, they feel they are losing something in the change and it causes them to resist the change.

Therefore, as a leader, if I understand what people are struggling with I’m better prepared to lead them through it. Some people are never going to get on board with the change, but many times people just need someone to at least acknowledge their sense of loss. It doesn’t eliminate the emotion, but genuine empathy allows me to keep leading.

The great news from my pastor/leader friends is you already know how to assist people deal with a sense of loss.

Consequently, when a leader discounts or ignores a person’s emotions the resistance becomes more intense, because the emotions become more intense. This is actually when some of those other emotions – like anger – are often added. The process of change is then stalled and sometimes even derailed.

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7 Things Which Weaken My Leadership

By | Church, Innovation, Leadership | One Comment

There are times I’m a better leader than other times. Over the years, I’ve observed that many times there are things that simply weaken my leadership. When I allow these things to get in the way I am less effective as a leader.

Sometimes this is my fault. Other times the cause is unavoidable.

If we can identify what interrupts the effectiveness of our leadership, we can become better leaders. One of my goals is to consistently find ways to guard against them.

7 things which weaken my leadership:

Needless Distractions

As leaders, we do our best work when we are pointing people toward worthy visions. Some would say this is precisely what leadership does. It’s easy to get distracted with things which, while they may be good things, don’t help move the organization towards the vision. In fact, they delay progress towards the vision.

I’ve also learned I need to be leading in my strengths. If I ever get weak in my courage to say no to some things, the quality of my yes will be far less valuable.

Personal Lack of Discipline

It matters not if there is a great vision if I don’t discipline myself to help the team reach it. This includes making sure we have good plans and goals. We need good objectives and results, with the proper systems and strategies to accomplish them.

Granted, I don’t have to do all of this – and I can’t but it is part of my role to see that this is happening.

Ceasing to Learn Something New

Leading others to grow requires leaders who are growing. When I stop creatively feeding my mind, I cease to have anything new to offer our team. And life (and our organizations/church) can become stale – quickly. Whether through books, podcasts, conferences or other leaders, I must find ways to continue learning and stretching myself.

Allowing Negative Influences to Rule

It’s hard to be the only positive in a room full of negatives. Sometimes as a leader, I’ve felt like more cheerleader than coach. It’s one reason I like to surround myself with people who have a good outlook on life. I don’t want all “yes” people, but if everything is always an immediate “no” – or “I don’t like it because it’s not how we’ve always done things” – it is draining. Eventually it is only going to bring down the strength of my leadership and ultimately the rest of the team.

Living in Fear

Risk is involved in every leadership decision. And I meant every. Leadership is taking people to an unknown. This always involves risk. Every time. And every risk involves a certain level of fear. This is completely natural.

Fear keeps leaders from moving forward when they allow the fear to dominate the decision more than the opportunity of the risk.

Personal Pride

Pride goes before the fall. Pride destroys. I would offer that absolute pride destroys absolutely. Okay, I embellished this popular saying to further a point.

Prideful leaders are always weakened by their pride. No one truly follows a prideful leader. They may obey, may even be infatuated for a season, but they don’t follow.

Complacency and Contentment with Status Quo

Leadership involves a sense of urgency. When we lose this we lose the inner drive to lead well. We become weakened by our own loss of personal momentum.

Resting on Past (or current) Success

All of us love to succeed. I think attempting to is a pretty good goal. We might even plan for it – what a novel idea. Sadly, though, sometimes a little success can usher in complacency. We can begin to think we’ve figured out a system to success.

Before long, we don’t think we have to be intentional anymore – maybe not even have to try as hard as we used to try. We can become weak quickly by our own delusions of grandeur.

Those are a few things which weaken my leadership. I try to guard against them.

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5 Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

By | Change, Christians, Culture, Encouragement, Innovation, Leadership, Life Plan | No Comments

Sometimes I call them challenges, because people resist the phrase resolutions, but I believe you can make resolutions and actually keep them.

Here’s the thing. I love a fresh start.

Perhaps it’s because grace is the doctrine I’ve needed so much, but there’s something about a clean slate, which motivates me towards achievement.

I’m like this with my desk at the office. I create stacks. Magazines to be read. Notes to be written. Lists to be completed. Bulletins from other churches. (I am always looking for better ideas.) Stacks, stacks, and more stacks. When the stacks are at capacity – I call it organized chaos.

Then one day I’ve had enough of the stacks and I go on a cleaning spree. I sort, file and trash until the top of my desk shows far more wood than paper. And I’m inspired to work again.

I love a fresh start.

I think this may be why I’m one of the people who appreciates New Year’s resolutions. It’s like a line on the calendar, which screams to me: FRESH START!

But, as much as I appreciate the value in them – beginning new things, stretching myself, making my life better – I’m like everyone else. I find it easier to make resolutions than to keep them.

How do we make resolutions we will actually keep?

Because resolutions – even the strongest ones – aren’t going to improve anything if you don’t follow through with them. In fact, they probably just make you more frustrated than before you made them. Who needs more frustration?

So, what can you do? Let me try to help. 

First, write them down. This is huge. I’ve heard people say you are twice as likely to keep a written resolution than one you simply state in your mind.

Second, try not to have too many. You will be overwhelmed and give up before you start.

And, then, here are some ways to make the type of resolutions which you can keep. This help me.

5 ways to make resolutions you can actually keep:

Reasonable

Another word might be attainable. The resolution must make sense for you to actually be able to do this year. Saying you want to read 50 books in a year – because you heard someone else does it – and, yet you didn’t read any this past year is probably going to be a stretch. You might be able to do it, but it likely isn’t a reasonable goal.

Don’t be afraid of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). The key is you’re trying to achieve something, which makes your life better. If you’re successful this year you can set a higher goal next year.

Measurable

To be successful in keeping a resolution you need some way to monitor success towards it – certainly a way to know when you’ve achieved it. If your resolution is simply to lose weight you won’t be as motivated as if you say you want to lose a pound a week. You can track that goal and see your progress.

Obviously it will still require discipline, but there is something about a measurable goal which – for most of us – drives us to meet it.

Sustainable

This one doesn’t apply for every resolution, but does in many. Ultimately I have found I’m more motivated to reach goals, which change my life for the better over a longer period of time. It’s great to meet those milestone, once in a lifetime type of achievements – such as running a marathon, or writing a book.

And we should have those type goals in our life – and maybe a milestone resolution is reasonable for you this year. The problem I have seen is if we get off track on reaching them it’s easy to simply give up – maybe even write it off as an unreasonable goal. We feel defeated and so we quit making any resolutions.

In making New Year’s resolutions, I find I’m more successful if it’s something which I possibly adopt as a new lifestyle. Some examples would be changing my eating habits, beginning to exercise more often, Bible-reading, journaling, etc – again reasonable and measurable – but something I will sustain beyond the New Year.

Accountable

This is key. Weight Watchers is a great example here of this principle. There is something about their system, which works, and part of it is the reporting portion – where you have to be accountable to others for your progress.

If you don’t build in a system of accountability – whether it’s with other people or some visible reminder of your resolution and progress – it’s easy to give up when the New Year euphoria begins to fade.

Reward-able

This may be the most important and the least practiced. One secret to actually achieving your resolution may be to find the “carrot”, which will continually motivate you to stretch for the finish line.

If losing weight is a goal it could be a new suit or dress when you reach a pre-determined number. Running a marathon is your goal? If this is a reasonable resolution for you this year it could be you run the marathon in some destination city you can’t wait to visit. If it’s reading your Bible through in a year – promise yourself a new Bible at the end of the year.

The reward should fit the degree of stretching and effort it took to accomplish the resolution. This often serves as a good incentive to helping you reach your goals – especially during the times you are tempting to quit trying.

I hope this will help. It does for me.

I have some daily disciplines in my life now, which started as New Year’s resolutions. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found resolutions can help me start the year with fresh goals, and the discipline towards achieving them helps me have more discipline in other areas of my life.

Here’s to a great New Year! God bless!

5 Ways Leadership Can’t Be “Normal” Anymore

By | Business, Church Planting, Innovation, Leadership | One Comment

If an organization wishes to be successful today, it must learn to think outside the once considered normal lines of leadership. Research after research has been done and book after book has been written on the subject of leadership being as much these days about the informal aspects of leadership as it is the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to a set of rules, policies and procedures, for a leader to be successful today, he or she must engage a team to help accomplish the vision of the organization. In an informal leadership environment, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. That may have always been important, but now it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

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7 Things 2020 Has NOT Changed About Leadership

By | Change, Church, Innovation, Leadership | One Comment

This has been a frustrating year in leadership. 2020 has been challenging for all of us. It has been especially challenging for leaders trying to navigate their organizations through it. That includes pastors and the church. Yet, as I reflect on some of the decisions I have personally had to make this year, I realize some things 2020 didn’t change about leadership.

Some things have always been a part of leadership.

7 things 2020 didn’t change about leadership:

Uncertainty. This isn’t the first time leaders have faced uncertain times. Sure, this year has caused us to make decisions we’ve never made before, but that is not a new leadership phenomenon. In fact, leadership by definition is leading into uncertain futures.

Necessity of risk. Honestly, I feel like some of us may have gotten too comfortable prior to COVID-19. It became easy to work our systems and programs, and even if growth had plateaued, budgets were being met and people were satisfied. But status quo will never realize new growth. Risk is always a part of the getting to the next level of progress.

Need for innovation. One of the funniest quotes I ever read is something Andy Andrews has written. “Think about this: we put men on the moon before we thought to put wheels on luggage.” Leadership by definition has always required that we be innovating as we discover what’s around the corner for our teams.

Diverse reactions to decisions made. Every decision ever made by a leader has made some people really happy and some people not. Again, that’s Leadership 101.

New opportunities for growth. Growth seldom comes without an intentional effort. It requires strategy planning, goal-setting, and diligent efforts on behalf of a team working together. 2020 has given us plenty of chances for that.

Greater success comes from collaboration. “With many advisors plans succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) The pandemic forced many of us leaders to reach out for help, form teams, and work together – things great leaders have always done.

Need for healthier rhythms. Whew. Are you as tired as I am at the end of 2020? If anything resonates with leaders today it is that they are challenged more than any other year in leadership. I am not sure this will ever completely disappear – or that it’s ever not been the case. One thing is certain, however, even when things return to whatever normal looks like in the future we will need healthy rhythms to keep leading well.

What else has NOT changed about leadership in 2020?

I am not pretending this hasn’t been an unusual year. It is (at least one of) the most difficult I’ve experienced in leadership. But one thing it has done is expose to us what we’ve always known. We need good leaders – and good leadership.

Nate and I have finished our fall semester at the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast. New episodes will begin in early 2021. Subscribe now so you don’t miss the next one.