7 Unwritten Rules which Determine an Organizational DNA

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The unwritten organizational rules are just as, if not more, important than the written rules. I wrote about this idea HERE.

If you are considering making changes, implementing something new, adding staff, for example, you need to also consider these unwritten organizational rules.

7 examples of unwritten rules:

The culture

How does it responds to change? In what ways does it addresses problems? How does it plans for the future? Is leadership trusted? These are all unique to any organization.

The leader’s accessibility and temperament

Every senior leader is different. If you change the leader you change some of the unwritten rules. Is he or she considered approachable? Does he or she participate with the team normally? Would he or she know if there was a perceived problem in the organization? Do team members trust leadership?

These answers shape responses to change.

The relationships of team members to each other

Is there a friendship or just a working relationship among team members? Is conflict acceptable and healthy? Do team members feel freedom to speak freely when in disagreement? Is respect o given to everyone? Do silos exist or is there a common vision everyone is working to achieve?

The healthiest organizations have people working together who genuinely like one another. Therefore, if that isn’t there, change will be more difficult.

The sense of work satisfaction

Are there long-term team members? Are team members generally happy with the organization? Is there any unrest among team members? Are there unspoken concerns within the organization?

Many times this has been formed over the years, sometimes even before a leader has been in the position. So, this is valuable information for any leader.

The natural reaction to change

Is the “way it’s always been done” changeable? Has change usually been accepted or resisted? Who has to initiate change? What is the anticipated speed of change? Who needs to know about it?

The success of change will be directly related to the answers to these questions and the way a leader responds to them.

The way information flows

How does communication really happen? What are the circles of influence? Who drives discussion? Who has influence with peers? What are the expectations regarding the “need to know”?

Communication is key in any organization so, as leaders, we must understand the way it occurs.

The real power structure

Who really makes the decisions? Is it a board? A few key people? A consensus of the largest percentage of people? Power structures are rarely as purely formed as what is written on a piece of paper. Knowing this is critical to navigating change.

As a leader, it’s important to not solely concentrate on what is easily measured, written in a policy manual, or even spoken as a value. Other considerations may be more important, even though they may have never been expressed formally.

Consequently, when change is to be implemented, paying attention to unwritten rules is necessary for success.

By the way leaders, most likely you helped write (or are helping to write) these unwritten rules.

What are some of the unwritten rules of your organization?

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now, so you won’t miss the next one.

The Unwritten Rules – The Real of the Organization

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The unwritten rules are the real rules.

In any organization, what is maintained and repeated becomes a part of culture. The way people do things, decisions are made, and how people respond to change are a part of tradition.

This is the DNA of an organization.

Unwritten rules may never be recorded, voted on or “put in the minutes”, but they are known by a majority of people.

People will defend and protect them. They are considered law and people will fight to keep them from being changed or bended.

Understanding this will increase a leader’s effectiveness.


In an established church, I realized there were cultural understandings I needed to know. Therefore, I didn’t attempt to change some things the first couple of years. I knew these unwritten rules would possibly derail them.

How do you learn unwritten rules?

First, be aware they exist. So, look for them.

Second, ask questions of people who have been there longer than you. Learn people you can trust to ask questions. Discuss how things are usually done and unpack some of the decisions you are considering.

Third, discover them by experience, as you approach any kind of change. Pay attention to what goes against them.

This is also why you don’t build change in a vacuum. Collaborate with others and strategically introduce change.

Even a genius at creating new ideas must still understand this principle.

Learn the unwritten rules first.

This doesn’t mean you can’t go against unwritten rules. You certainly can. However, if you don’t know them you’ll waste a lot of energy. Consequently, you will wonder why your ideas never gained traction.

Nate and I launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t want to miss the next one.

A Leadership Pet Peeve – People Doing the Work

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I must admit I have a good number of pet peeves in leadership. If I had to name my top leadership pet peeve – it would have to be the one I share with you here. 

Like many of my leadership principles, this one starts with a personal story. 

Early in my career, I led a small sales division for a company. My boss told me who to place on my team, how to conduct sales meetings (even writing out my meeting agenda), and what each person’s assignment would be on the team. Understand, he lived in another state, so he wasn’t at the meetings. In fact, he didn’t know the people on my team.

I was held accountable for results in sales, yet he gave me a script for how to do my job. 

It only lasted a season (I eventually quit), but it was one of the most hated seasons of my career. In fairness, I was young and probably not trusted, but I felt so controlled. My team was frustrated. My team and I had ideas we couldn’t even incorporate. And, when I could, I secretly altered things and scripted my own way.

Even as a young leader, I thought he was practicing poor leadership. 

The pet peeve that developed from this experience:

If you aren’t doing the work, don’t script how the work is done.

As a leader, cast vision of what you want accomplished. 

  • Fuel creativity by giving people reasonable boundaries.
  • Share thoughts and ideas.
  • Monitor activity. 
  • Check-in to see how you can help. 
  • Set accountability for progress.

But let people doing the work:

  • Those working the plans 
  • Getting their hands dirty 
  • Being held responsible

Determine how the work gets completed.

That’s my number one leadership pet peeve. 

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.

7 Tensions Every Leader Faces – Everyday

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Being a leader isn’t easy. With every decision a leader makes someone is happy – and someone is not. One often misunderstood reason leadership is challenging is the tension every leader feels when making decisions. In fact, every leader faces some common tensions – everyday.

Leaning to balance the tensions of leadership may determine the level of success a leader can sustain. If a leader leans too far in either direction their leadership effectiveness suffers.

Let me share some examples of these everyday type leadership tensions.

7 tensions every leader faces:

Displaying confidence without being arrogant.

People want to follow a confident leader, but pride is a repulsive trait. I feel this tension especially when I’m leading on a new team or with new people on the team. But it is a continual tension regardless of how long I’ve been in a position.

Yes, I have experience. I’ve learned a few things. But it comes across as arrogant and is always resisted when I’m always the one with the answers. 

Making bold decisions while building collaboration.

I personally experience this one in most meetings we have as a team. I can almost always sense the room waiting for my opinion. Many times I realize we won’t move forward until I weigh in to the matter.

But good leadership involves collaboration. I’m not the only voice – and many times not the smartest voice in the process. If I have the only answer no one will participate, but if I never have any answers no one will want to follow my leadership. (Therefore, I have to discipline myself to be quiet sometimes – waiting for others to speak.) 

Showing strength while displaying compassion.

People want to follow leadership who generally care for them as individuals. Compassion for those who can’t help themselves is an attractive leadership quality. The best leaders I know have a concern for others.

But no one wants compassion that is translated as weakness. There are times a leader has to stand strong for they know is right thing – even when everyone can’t fully understand yet what they are doing or why.

Controlling energy towards a vision but allowing individuals to chart their path.

Good leaders create healthy structure which can be managed for effectiveness.

At the same time, the best discoveries often come when people are allowed the freedom to create, explore, and “break the rules”.

Celebrating victory while not resting on current success.

This one is hard for me. I’m ready and wired for “next”. I like to keep moving. Sitting still is one of my hardest disciplines.

However, I know there are those on our team who can’t adequately move forward until we’ve recognized our current success. They need to celebrate, reflect and even rest.

Continually balancing this tension is good for the team.

Learning from other leaders but being who you were uniquely wired to be.

I’m a huge proponent of wisdom-seeking. In fact, I think we should always have a mentor – usually more than one. So, I read, attend conferences and try to learn best practices and from the experiences of others.

But there’s a tension of attempting to duplicate another person’s success and being exactly who God has called me to be. God has not called me to preach like Andy Stanley. He’s called me to preach like me. God has not called me to lead like John Maxwell, but to lead like I lead.

This doesn’t mean I can’t learn from both of these – and can and have – but I cannot forget God has uniquely wired me – and He has uniquely wired you.

Spending time with people versus completing tasks.

This may personally be the most common tension for of the ones listed. Leadership is people. Without people – without getting to know them, earning their trust, investing in them and showing them we care – leadership will never be effective.

But I have work to do also. There are outside demands on my time. I have emails, phone calls, texts and visits with people who I’m not necessarily leading. I have paperwork to do. (I hate paperwork by the way!)

The real work of a leader is people and, yet, the work must be done.

Tensions every leader faces – everyday. Leader, do you feel it? At some level, don’t you feel it everyday?

I realize I’ve only exposed the problem, without a lot of solutions. And, honestly, your solution will be different from mine. But I think the answer isn’t necessarily an easy to define solution for each of these tensions.

It is recognizing they exist and continually seeking to live within them. (I learned that phrase from Andy Stanley – or something like it.)

And when one side of the tension is getting more attention than the other – fighting to get back to a better balance of tensions.

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.

4 Words of Advice for a New Leader

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Someone once messaged me on Twitter to ask, “What words of advice do you have for a new leader? I’m beginning my first pastoring role after years in student ministry.” In my opinion, the opening days of any job are some of the most important. As a result, part of my coaching ministry is to work with new leaders in the beginning days of a leadership position. 

With several transitions in my career, several in the last few years, I speak with more passion and authority on the subject. I Tweeted him back, “Learn the people first. Go slow with change. Think intentional in all you do. Pace yourself.”

That was plenty for Twitter. This is a blog post, however, so I assume I should expand on these. (We might expand even more some day on our podcast.) 

4 words of advice for the new leader:

Learn the people first, before making major changes.

Relational leadership is always most effective, but especially for a new leader.

The people need to learn to trust you. They need an opportunity to feel you are committed and connected to them. People want assurance you have the best interest for them and the organization they’ve loved and served longer than you have.

They need to experience you listening to them for their input. Value – and love people – first and foremost. It’s not only effective – it’s the right thing to do.

Go slow with change when it’s time.

The older the church or organization – or the longer they’ve needed change – the more important it will be you take time to implement change.

Know the key players, communicate, communicate, communicate, and help people understand why the change is needed.

All change is resisted. Let me say this again – ALL CHANGE IS RESISTED.

At some level, someone will not like every change you propose, but fast change is most powerfully rejected. Understand every change comes with an emotion. People are resisting for a number of reasons – anger, fear, uneasiness, uncomfortableness.

This doesn’t mean don’t change. Most likely they’ll expect and even want some change, and some of this change may need to come very fast, but listen and learn the things you can change immediately and things where you’ll need to move more slowly.

Get lots of input from others. Collaborate. A healthy change process takes time to do well.

Think intentionally in all you do.

The more you can strategically plan your moves, especially in the early days of a new leadership position, the more you can help steer them to a positive outcome.

In every area of your leadership, take time to think through the best way to handle the situation. Again, get input from key people. I love a good whiteboard strategy session. When you have to make changes or implement your vision, invite key, trusted people into the room and brainstorm the best way to approach it.

Plan your approach. Prioritize. Strategize. You’ll have plenty of surprises along the way, but if you’re intentional in the decisions you have control over, you’ll be better prepared to handle the unexpected.

Pace your leadership for long-term success.

This is so critical. You won’t often know the length of your tenure as leader, but you should script yourself to be there for the long haul. This means you shouldn’t try to accomplish everything in the beginning.

Spread some of your enthusiasm and energy over the first year or more. It will keep momentum going longer, keep you from burning out and the church or organization from wearing out, and introduce an expectation of change – which will make change easier to make in the future.

Also, think for the church or organization beyond even you – this is the honorable thing to do for any leader – don’t make it all about you.

How can things keep building, healthy, vibrant and growing for the years ahead? When you set worthy visions and goals which carry people forward, help them dream and give them hope, they will want to follow your leadership.

Finally, protect your soul. As the Scripture says, “Above all else guard your heart.” You will have lots of obstacles – all leaders do – you want to weather them to remain effective. And get help when needed. (Which for me is pretty much daily.)

I’m pulling for new leaders! Of course, my best advice – Go with God! He knows best. For another post on advice if give to young pastors – look at THIS POST

Have you ever been the new guy? What would you advise?

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.

7 Actions Which Can Limit A Leader’s Potential

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I have been in leadership roles for over three decades now. I’ve led large and small teams in business, government, church and nonprofits. Along the way, I’ve learned there are some actions which can limit a leader’s potential to lead well. 

My heart is for leaders. One of the primary purposes of this blog (and our podcast) is to share simple leadership principles I have learned; many the hard way. Often a simple idea is powerful when put into practice in your context.

And it’s easier for me to think logically in lists.

Do you want to be successful as a leader? Of course, anyone who leads has this as a goal. There are some actions which can limit your potential to lead well. 

7 actions which can limit a leader’s potential:

Trying to plan or control every detail. 

Ecclesiastes says you won’t plant if you watch the wind. Risk is always necessary for meaningful success. Is there something you feel certain you need to do – or there is a passion on your heart – but, for whatever reason, you’ve not taken the risk?

Leadership by definition involves guiding people into an unknown.

Lack of flexibility in leading.

Things change. People change. Times change.

Have a great worthy, God-honoring vision – make sure it’s grounded in truth and don’t steer from it, but realize the road to accomplish it may change many times along the way.

Changing the way things are done to be more successful is not a bad reflection on leadership. In fact, it’s a characteristic of good leadership.

What changes do you currently need to encourage?

Shunning or controlling some of the people on your team.

You can’t do it alone. No leader has all the good ideas. You need help.

One of the default actions of leaders is to isolate themselves and/or to control the actions of others. Many times this is out of fear, lack of trust, or sometimes even pride.

Leadership involves knowing people. It involves utilizing the knowledge, skills and talents of others – actually people better equipped to do some things than you are at times. And this should exclude no one on your team. Every person can bring value to the organization or they shouldn’t be there.

Who on your team is just waiting for you to get to know them, believe in them and let them go?

Holding on to a grudge or attempting to get even with those who hurt you. 

There’s no time for it. The wasted energy of an unforgiving spirit slows you down from meaningful achievement.

When people feel you are placing them in the proverbial corner because of something they did or didn’t do they become defensive, bitter, or checkout from trying again. Does this sound like a healthy plan for a team?

I’ve learned over the years that leaders should be willing to go first in extending grace if they want to have a healthy team atmosphere.

Worrying more than trusting by faith. 

Leadership is full of unknowns. There will rarely be a major decision where you are a hundred percent certain it’s the right decision.

When God appears silent, as to the next course of action, you have to go with your experience, your gut, and the wisdom of others. Faith goes without seeing. Take your pick between worry or faith, but you can’t pick both.

In my journey it seems many times God has given me freedom to move and it’s my own fear which keeps me from going forward. Peace often comes through obedience.

Being stingy with your time, money or influence. 

The more you try to control what you hold in your hand the stingier your heart becomes. Stingy hearts are burdened by unnecessary distractions.

(The one who loved money is never satisfied with his wealth. Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Why is this in a leadership post? Because leadership at it’s heart should be improving the lives of others – not just the leader’s life.

When the last chapter of your leadership is written, your real success will ultimately be measured by how you blessed others with how you led.

Having to do things “your way”. 

You got into the leadership position – most likely – because you knew how to do some things. People trusted you enough to follow you. 

This doesn’t mean you don’t need to depend on the input of others.

When you limit the input of others you rob the team of expanded imagination and you discourage potential leaders from rising.

Success flourishes in collaboration.

Are one of these keeping you from accomplishing all you could?

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.

7 Ways to Make Yourself Invaluable On A Team

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One of my first managers frequently reminded us no one is irreplaceable. He would use the illustration of placing your hands in a bucket and then pulling them out. The level of the water doesn’t change much when one or two hands is removed. While I’m not quite sure that was a healthy demonstration for building team morale, I think there ARE ways a person can make themselves invaluable on a team.

Here are 7 ways to make yourself invaluable to a team:

Be a chief encourager.

Great team members help people feel better about themselves and their contribution to the team. So, be a cheerleader – positive-minded – willing to do whatever it takes to help others, bring enthusiasm and show support for the team and its mission.

Support the vision and direction.

Be a verbal proponent of the overall objectives of the team and where things are going. Develop a reputation of being a team player. Have more good to say about the place than you have bad. Everything might not be wonderful – in fact many things may need changing – but if you can’t support the vision and direction you’ll have a hard time being seen as valuable by others. (And it might be time to consider other opportunities.) 

Respect others on the team.

Always be respectful in the way you treat and respond to everyone on the team – regardless of their position. Recognize everyone is not like you. People like different things and respond differently than you would respond. Value other people’s opinions and viewpoints.

Give more than is required of you.

This doesn’t mean you have to work more hours. It might. But it might mean you work smarter than everyone else. Plan your day better. Be better at setting goals and objectives. Hold yourself accountable.

Be an information hub.

Be well read and share what you learn. Not in an arrogant way, but information is king. Be a king of it. Understand trends and be current in your field with new ideas and innovations that might make the organization better.

Celebrate other people’s success.

Send notes or encouragement when someone does something well. Brag on other people. Tell others what you admire about them. (Without being creepy – of course.)

Be a good listener.

Everyone loves the person they can go to and know they will be genuinely listened to. A good person to bounce ideas off of or who lends a caring ear is invaluable to the team. (And be sure to keep every confidence afforded to you.)

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.

Copy THIS in Organizational Leadership

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In organizational leadership, I have learned the hard way. It is easy to try to be some other organization we admire or that appears to be successful. So, we attempt to copy what they did in our organization. Wrong. It seldom works. Therefore, I have learned that if you feel the need to copy anything, copy principles not practices. 

Having a systematic planning process, which keeps the organization moving forward – Copy that.

Productive meetings that don’t waste time but rather spur ideas and collaboration – Copy that.

Celebrating wins so that what you’ve done well gets repeated – Copy that.

Embracing healthy conflict so the team remains healthy – Copy that.

Utilizing short-term, mini-teams to tackle unique opportunities or challenges and break-down organizational silos – yea, Copy that. 

When you learn a good principle of leadership, feel free to copy that into your own organization. 

But at the same time, 

Staff meetings every Tuesday maybe, but maybe not. You need productive meetings, but Monday might be your best day. Or, you may not meet but every other week in your context. You may change the people in the room from who another organization would include. 

An annual volunteer banquet featuring an outside speaker? Perhaps, but maybe that’s not the best way for your organization to celebrate volunteerism and victories. Copy the principle of doing so, but find what fits better with your style.

Quarterly reviews? Well, it is a good practice to give continual feedback to people and let them know how they are doing. But maybe your organization prefers a less-rigid approach to this. Copy the principle of giving feedback, but adapt the practice to what works for you. 

Copy Principles, Not Practices. 

This is true in organizations and with individuals. You can be like someone in principle. You can copy their morals. You can be like them in character. But, individually, you should be who God designed you to be. Independent of how others were designed. You have a unique role to play in God’s plan.

So does your organization.

You can copy principles. In fact, why not? You may need to in order to be a healthier team.

Be careful, however, trying to copy practices. Your context will likely be different from where you copied it. What worked elsewhere may not work exactly the same in your context. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. 

Have you ever been guilty of copying a practice that didn’t work?

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.

Leader – Address the Elephant in the Room

By | Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | One Comment

Sometimes, as the leader, you must address the elephant in the room. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time leading well moving forward. 

The elephant is the issue/person/thing that is obvious to everyone, but no one has done anything about it yet. 

Everyone is thinking it, but no one is talking about it – at least out loud. 

Years ago, I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. He always saw the glass as half-empty and was negative about anything new.

It’s okay to have someone who asks questions to make things better. We actually should encourage these people, but this guy was a doomsayer in the room. He never saw any positive in anything – regardless of the conversation, so, for example, we would be brainstorming and he would kill the momentum. Just when everyone thought we had a good plan in place, he would poke more holes in it. He never had new ideas to improve things and simply didn’t like anyone else’s idea.

It wasn’t helpful and was, therefore, actually disruptive.

Yet, as annoying as it was, leadership allowed it to continue. Everyone talked about it outside of meetings. No one respected the idea killer. Our senior leader insisted even he had counseled with this person privately, yet it never seemed to improve.

This guy was the elephant in the room.

It led me to a conclusion I have selectively practiced in leadership:

Sometimes, as a leader, you have to address the “elephant in the room” – in the room.

  • Everyone knows it is there. (You can’t miss an elephant.)
  • It keeps being repeated. (You’ve handled it individually. Nothing has changed.)
  • It likely will keep getting worse if unaddressed. (At least that has been my experience.) 

At some point, the leader has to address the elephant. 

You can’t ignore an elephant in a room. Elephants take up a lot of valuable space.

With everyone in the room, leader, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room.

Yes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and, frankly, you don’t want to do it often. You should never address it until you have attempted to handle it privately, but it may be necessary to continue leading the team well.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume this type performance is tolerated.
  • The negative actions will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.
  • Respect for the leader – with this issue and others – will diminish.

Leader, when you know in your gut it’s time to address the elephant!

You must, because the best excuses won’t hide an elephant. Plus, elephants don’t often leave the room on their own.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team?

Nate and I have launched a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, so subscribe now. You don’t miss the next one.