A Major Communication Barrier On Every Team

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There has been a major communication barrier on every team I have led. It is huge, and yet often overlooked.

Most effective teams at some point will do a personality assessment of team members. I work a lot with Myers Briggs, but there are certainly other great ones. At one time have probably taken most of them, All of them can be helpful at some level.

But this major communication barrier, while it can be picked up some by a personality assessment, is still often overlooked (or misunderstood) on most teams.

And, of course, this barrier involves a difference in people. If you’ve lead teams at all you could probably predict that.

A major communication barrier on all teams:

  • Those who speak with and listen for details.
  • Those who speak with and listen for generalities.

You could call it “big-picture oriented” and “detail-oriented” – and a host of other terms. And, again, this concept is certainly picked up in personality types and assessments, but the nuance of this principal is huge. If you don’t understand that people speak and listen differently you will continually be miscommunicating.

This is true in all relationships. It’s true in my marriage. In fact, it is our biggest source of conflict if we allow it to be. I speak and listen more in generalities. My wife speaks and listens more for details.

For illustration purposes, when I lead a team I rarely tell them exactly how I want something done. I paint a big picture vision, have lofty ideas, and a general concept of what things might look like. Sometimes a person on our team who listens in details misunderstands my point. If they don’t understand this about me, (and I have to continually remind people of our differences) they may think I gave them a specific directive, while I was only sharing a very general concept.

(And if you are wired for more details you’re still waiting for a clearer definition of this principle. But that only further illustrates my point.)

Think about your team for a minute. There will be huge variations of this principle among them. No two people are just alike. But if you had to assess – who are the people who speak and listen for generalities? And who listen and speak for more details?

There might lie a major communication barrier on your team.

Closing note: I have worked with a lot of churches (and several businesses) through mergers, conflict, and team dynamics. If you’d like me to help your team know each other and collaborate better together – and ultimately be healthier – please let me know.

Perception is Reality for a Leader

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Perception is often reality for a leader. Over the years, I have learned how a team sees you as a leader is often more important than who you really are as a leader.

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, as a leader, I’d rather know my character is genuine. I want to be loved most by those who know me best. 

That matters most. 

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.

Perception is often reality for a leader. 

I’ve learned, often the hard way, that the two are not always the same. You can have the greatest integrity, know all the right leadership techniques, and have a track record of success, but the way people you are trying to lead perceive you will determine the quality of your leadership – almost more than anything else. 

  • Do  people perceive you as an agent of empowerment or an agent of control?
  • Are you perceived as more a champion for their ideas or a killer of their dreams?
  • Do they perceive you more as a proponent of change or a protector of tradition?
  • Are you perceived as a friend of progress or the enemy of success?
  • Do they believe you will protect them when their back is turned?
  • Are you perceived as having their best interest ahead of your  own?
  • Do they genuinely perceive that your heart is fully committed to the team – or are you seeking your next best opportunity?
  • Are you perceived as likely to get angry when mistakes are made – or be grace-giving?
  • Do people perceive you as approachable more than you are harsh? 

These are all perceptions. And perceptions are often reality for a leader. 

Much of your success as a leader will depend on the perception you create among the people you attempt to lead. People will follow closer when their perception of you is that you are for them more than against them.

Perception is ultimately created by how you lead, but sometimes – just as vision does – perception leaks. So, people form perceptions regardless of whether or not you do anything. Perceptions may or may not be reality, but as a leader, I must be keenly aware of this principle. 

Candidly. I’ve seen this go in seasons in my leadership. I’ve often had to reinforce the perception in people’s minds about my leadership. Often this is after a busy or stressful time, when their is tension on the team, or during times of change. The team needs to perceive I’m still the leader they want to follow.

Sometimes, I need to ask pointed questions – (I’ve even done anonymous surveys) – to gauge people’s current perceptions of my leadership. 

But I must be aware that my perception is often reality as a leader. 

If you’re still trying to get your mind around my thoughts, here is an example: 

Once we had make some rather significant changes to our organizational structure. It meant fewer people reported directly to me. When we announced the changes I reiterated my open door policy and availability to our staff would continue. People who work with me long 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 knew I needed to take intentional actions in the weeks following to make sure the perception of my leadership is as strong as my actual leadership.

Guard how people perceive you as a leader. 

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7 Markers of Great Leadership

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There are some markers of great leadership. When all of them are present, stellar leaders are set apart from mediocre leaders.

Great leaders are multidimensional. While continuing to improve, great leaders have achieved certain characteristics – markers if you will, which help them attract loyal followers, while continuing to achieve success.

When you see these markers combined, you’ve probably found an amazing leader.

7 markers of great leadership:

Humility. Great leaders are willing to surrender “their” way when it’s not the best way. They realize and appreciate the strength of a team. Also, great leaders are willing to let others on the team receive equal (or more) recognition for achievement.

Intentionality. Great leaders continue to learn. They have mentors. Great leaders read. They continue their education through conferences or school. Great leaders know they can’t help others grow if they aren’t growing personally.

Compassion. Great leaders consider the needs of others ahead of their own. They care about people beyond what the people do. And that compassion is sometimes tested when mistakes are made.

Integrity. Great leaders never separate character from their definition of success. They know there can be nothing of real value if those who are trying to follow can’t respect the leader.

Passion. Great leaders have the ability to rally a team and clearly articulate a potential path to victory. They spur momentum and garner support for the cause; even when the journey is risky and unknown.

Vision. Great leaders see things others can’t see or have failed to pursue. They take people where they need to go, but may be afraid to go on their own.

Strength. Great leaders have the discipline to follow through on commitments. They weather the storms of time; standing firm when others are dropping out of the race.

I’m not claiming all great leaders excel in each of these areas – all the time. I am certainly not saying I have these markers, but I do believe there should be a certain level of accomplishment, a progression towards each of these in a leader’s life. At the very least, a desire to achieve these should be a goal of great leaders.

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Effective Questions Promote Effective Brainstorming

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Brainstorming often leads a team to the answers you can’t seem to find any other way. And effective questions promote effective brainstorming. Ask the right questions and you’ll get the right responses.

The most effective brainstorming begins with great questions.

For example, what if the team is trying to discern what went wrong on a project?

Perhaps there has been some major fall out and the team has suffered damage, either financially, in reputation or in morale. The questions you ask could determine how well you recover. (By the way, I talk almost weekly to churches in some form crisis mode. This process may help with that scenario also.)

Using that as our example, consider the questions in this post. Some questions will apply to a similar circumstance with your team and some won’t. You’ll need to add some of your own. But see if the principle of asking effective questions can help lead you through an effective and helpful brainstorming session.

Below are 4 words and sets of questions to lead your team in brainstorming. This is simply for illustration purposes, but if I were leading you through this process, (and I’m happy to come help you do that) we would take time on each section, stopping to summarize our findings along the way. Depending on the size of the group, we may break into sub-groups to brainstorm, then come back together to summarize.

The words and questions aren’t “magic”. They are simply a strategy for getting some effective brainstorming questions in front of the group to draw out the conversation.

Again, depending on what you are trying to discover, you would change the words and the questions in each section.

Effective questions for effective brainstorming:

Reflect on the current circumstances.

  • What went wrong?
  • How did it happen?
  • What’s the damage?
  • Who is impacted?
  • How much did it cost us – in capital, momentum, morale and reputation?
  • What are the long-term and the short-term ramifications?

Recalculate based on our current scenario.

  • How can we improve?
  • How do we keep it from happening again?
  • What’s the best way to recover?
  • Who are the right players in our recovery?
  • What are the immediate, mid-range and long-term decisions we need to make, as a result of this?

Recharge ourselves from our loss.

  • Why are we doing what we do? (Our vision should drive us.)
  • What’s our motivation to begin again?
  • Why are we needed? (If we weren’t here, who would miss us – and why?)
  • What are some of our examples of success? (We can build from those.)
  • What can we do to spur new momentum?

(Don’t skip this set of questions. Regardless of the issue, this type thinking is needed every time. You’ll be tempted to ignore them, because you assume you know these, but you always need the energy this type dialogue produces. Depending on the issue, you can’t usually do this immediately as well, because the previous issues are usually clouding people’s minds.)

Reignite the team to move forward.

  • How soon can we begin again?
  • Do we need a relaunch or do a complete overhaul?
  • What’s our strategy moving forward?
  • Who is our spokesperson?
  • What are some short-term, “low hanging fruit” wins we can have?
  • Who needs to do what to get things going?
  • Where are we healthy enough to build upon?

Asking the right questions may determine the success or failure in the days ahead. But don’t miss asking effective questions for effective brainstorming. The time you spend preparing for a session like this is just as important as what happens during the session. 

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7 High Costs of Leadership Every Leader Should Pay

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

Leadership can be expensive. If we desire to be leaders it will likely cost us something – maybe even something we value greatly. There are high costs of leadership that every leader should be willing to pay. 

The reality is that leadership is a stewardship. It’s the keeping of a valuable trust others place in you. Therefore, cheap leadership is never good leadership.

What high costs are you paying for leadership? 

Let me give you a few examples.

7 high costs of leadership:

Personal agenda

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

Control

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

Popularity

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

Comfort

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

Fear

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

Loneliness

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

Outcomes

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

As leaders, we should consider whether we are willing to pay the price for the high costs of leadership. Good leadership is not cheap!

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You Must Do THIS if You Want to Attract Leaders

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

If you want to attract leaders to your team there is one thing you must do – above everything else. It’s a philosophy of leadership, but it is HUGE.

One of the most frequent concerns I receive from young leaders about their organizations is they aren’t being given adequate responsibly or authority. Instead, they are handed a set of tasks to complete. They don’t feel they have a part in creating the big picture for the organization.

Since most of the young leaders I talk to are in ministry, this means it’s happening in the church too.

The other side of this dilemma is most the pastors I hear from are looking for leaders. They want someone to take the reigns of leadership and actually do something.

How do we solve the problem?

Can we attract leaders for our churches? How do we allow younger team members to feel included? And how do other successful organizations (churches) attracts leaders?

If you want to attract leaders, here is one thing you must do:

Hand out visions more than you assign tasks.

In order for the organization to be successful, you’ll need to attract leaders. You know that, right? You need to know something about leaders and potential leaders.

  • Leaders want to work towards a vision – a big vision, more than they want complete a set of tasks.
  • They don’t get excited about checklists and assignments.
  • Leaders want to join an adventure, then help develop their own tasks to accomplish it.
  • Real leaders get excited about faith-stretching, bigger-than-life, jaw-dropping acts of courage.

An organization that “gets it” attracts leaders.

“To do” lists often get in the way of that kind of fun. Visions excite people. The details to complete them don’t.

So, if you want to create a successful organization and recruit leaders hand people a big vision with lots of room for them to choose on the implementation side.

Of course, they may indeed need to create checklists. I would even suggest they do if I were coaching them. They will need measurable action plans. They need to have a list of assignments in order to complete a project successfully. All those are necessary to accomplish a worthy vision. A vision is simply an idea until someone puts legs to it so it can walk.

But start with the vision. Start with the big idea. Help people see what you hope to accomplish some day. Make sure you’re real clear about illustrating the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be seized.

Then get out of the way and let people figure out how they will accomplish the vision.

This doesn’t mean your work is over though. People will need your help along the way. They’ll still need your help to develop structure, discipline and follow through. But that’s way different than handing them a set of tasks in the beginning. And it’s practicing good leadership and delegation skills.

I realize this is especially hard for some leaders who may want to control the desired outcome. (Leaders often like me – just being honest.) You’ll have to take a risk on the people you’ve recruited to lead and discipline yourself to let them work in their own way.

And you will get burned a few times, but overall, you’ll find more success and attract leaders when you: 

Paint big visions – rather than give out specific tasks.

When you do this you’ll attract leaders and a more successful organization will be built and sustained.

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When I Allow It to Fail or When I Step in to Rescue

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I try to create a leadership culture where failure is considered a part of the learning process. It’s okay to fail on our team. It  may seem unproductive to some, but many times I have watched someone on my team fail. I probably could have stepped in earlier to rescue by taking control of the project or delegated to someone else more experienced. We might have saved a failure from happening. Yet, I let the failure happen.

I was mentioning this at a conference breakout I led once. During the question and answer portion, someone asked a valid question. It went something like this:

I am in the middle of this now and it is tough. Many times I wonder if I should just step in. I am trying to exercise patience. Is there a time you save people from failing?

Great question and that’s a delicate balance.

When do you rescue someone and when do you allow them to possibly fail?

Here is my basic “high-level” response:

The balance for me in the decision to let fail or to rescue is in how much allowing them to fail will injure them (or the team) versus how much it will teach them (or the team).

At times I allow them to fail.

I will admit, this is the harder one, but if I would be stunting the individual’s personal growth by stepping in to rescue them, I may let them fail. Failure is one of life’s greatest educators, so most people grow through trial and error.

If, for example, someone on my team wants to try something new. I may feel it isn’t the best decision, or it isn’t the way I would choose to do it, but I usually can’t guarantee it won’t be a success. Instead of going with my gut, I may let the team member follow his or her gut and take a chance. We may discover a home run and I would happily admit my hunch was wrong. And, either way, it didn’t hurt too much overall, but the individual team member learns something far more valuable which will help them and the team in the future.

This is probably the most common example I’ve seen in risking whether to let them fail or step in for the rescue. Most of the time the outcome isn’t going to be earth-shattering for the individual or the team either way. But the learning could be huge for the individual and the team. It’s a risk I’m usually willing to take.

But the bottom line for me is to discern the greater value – to allow a fail or to launch a rescue. 

  • Growth of a team member by allowing failure, which ultimately helps the overall team.
  • Or, protecting a team member from needless injury, which could ultimately injure the overall team.

So, at times I do step in to rescue

Sometimes I can save someone from unneeded heartache. I’m likely to step in an try to help if it wouldn’t teach them as much as it would simply hurt. This includes for them and for the team.

There are failures we can learn without the need to repeat them.

Two Examples: When I was in business, I had people give me fair warning about doing business with certain individuals. I was thankful to avoid the pain of those associations. There would be others I couldn’t see coming and would learn on my own and help others avoid the pain.

Also, in business, I learned the secret of making your banker your friend and not your enemy. Unfortunately, I learned it the hard way and it cost me lots of money, but I have given that piece of advice to dozens of young business owners over the years. That’s a “failure” which impacts the business and everyone in the business.

If the failure is going to derail the progress of everyone on the team, or the recovery is going to be greater than the teaching experience, I’m likely to rescue them.

I realize this doesn’t answer the question directly. There are no clear cut lines on leadership issues like this. Every situation is unique. That’s why we keep learning and developing in these areas.

How do you decide when to allow someone fail and when to save them the agony?

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Ways I Lead as a Leader of Leaders

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I have been asked the difference in being a leader of leaders and leading followers. It’s one of my favorite questions. The question ultimately points to a paradigm of leading people by which I try to lead.

I know I want to attract and retain leaders on our team. I don’t want a bunch of people waiting for me to make a decision or who fail to take initiative. Ultimately, I want people who will lead me.

Even though I have a leadership blog, podcast and book, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I am not a perfect leader. I have so much room to grow as a leader. I have discovered, however, is the difference in how I lead if I want to lead leaders. And the difference is huge.

I could choose to be a boss and simply require people to perform for pay. To lead leaders requires a different skill set. It challenges the way I lead.

As a leader of leaders…

I say, “I don’t know” a lot. If I have all the answers, the team will have fewer of their own. I need to be leading people – encouraging them to lead – more than I’m instructing people.

I often have to admit “I didn’t know about that”. Whatever “that” is – until after a decision has been made, I simply didn’t know it was happening until it was. Granted, I don’t like surprises that may cause controversy in our church, but our team needs the freedom to “lead out” on things without my involvement if they are truly leaders. And if I’m leading well you won’t hear me say anything negative about what I don’t know, because I support my team’s ability to make decisions.

I encourage learning from someone besides me. After all, I don’t have all the answers. Some days, without my team, I don’t have any. They need to be learning from others so they can bring new ideas back to the team.

I allow people make mistakes. And I’m glad they let me make some too. It’s one of the best ways we learn from life and each other. This is created by culture. People know whether or not they can try new things by the way a leader responds when things don’t work as well as they team hoped they would.

I try to steer discussion more than have solutions. And I find meetings become more productive. Work becomes more efficient.

I believe in dreams other than my own. People have opinions and ideas. The best ones aren’t always mine.

I say “we” more than I say “me”. (Except in this post) A team is more powerful than an individual effort. A leader of leaders has a leadership vocabulary that’s inclusive of others. It’s not “my” team it’s “our” team.

I strive to empower more than I control. Leadership stalls when we try to determine the outcome. It thrives when we learn and practice good delegation.

I’m not afraid of being challenged by people on our team. I’m not saying it “feels good” to be critiqued, but I know it’s a part of making us better.

I seldom script the way to achieve the vision. In fact, I never script it alone. I try to always include those who have to implement the plan into the creation of the plan. And, by experience, it seems to be a more effective way to do things.

If you try to lead leaders, what would you add?

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7 Ways to Earn Trust as a Leader

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People follow people they trust. And there are ways to earn trust as a leader.

I’ve found trust develops over time and experience – as we witness trustworthy behavior. Honestly, as a leader, I’ve felt a delicate tension in maintaining trust. People look for a leader to be strong, independent and confident. Yet, we trust people who are approachable, inclusive and humble.

Jesus is the perfect model of this type of trusted leader.

How do we combine those traits to be trusted leaders?

Here are 7 ways to earn trust as a leader:

Display confidence, but never cockiness. People will trust a competent leader, but one who is arrogant will be dismissed quickly.

Follow through, which means you never over-commit. When a leader does what they say they will, people gain trust. When the leader always bails on responsibility – when they have a new idea every day, but nothing ever comes to reality – people begin to doubt everything the leader says.

Put trust in others, so you’ll have an opportunity for them to put trust in you. Trust is a mutually exclusive commodity. People won’t extend you trust they don’t feel they receive from you. This means you must not be controlling, micro-managing, or negative towards every new idea they bring to the table. It means you must empower, delegate, and give authority to people.

Extend grace but be firm in some non-negotiables. I have written previously about the non-negotiable things for me in leadership – things such as responsiveness and mutual-respect – and I share them often with our team. We should have some standards which are not open to discussion. Those should usually be issues of character, vision or values. But, we need to allow people the freedom make their own way, including the freedom to fail, make mistakes, and be assured we will forgive them if needed.

Try to be knowledgeable and aware by constantly learning but realize you don’t know everything and you’ll know far more with a team. People trust a teachable leader. They are leery of a leader who knows it all – or pretends they do. We must ask questions, allow others on our team to teach us at times, continually seek wisdom and develop individually, just as we expect those we are trying to lead to do.

Exhibit humility but have courage to do the hard things. A trusted leader is humble enough to share recognition, but diligent to do the things everyone expects of the leader – such as lead through the hard seasons, remain calm in crisis, and encourage others when they need hope.

Value people more than you value progress. This is especially difficult for driven leaders. We want success and this often is measured in numbers. But, people trust people they know genuinely care for them. We must see people as individuals, get to know them, and genuinely love the people we are trying to love – considering their interests even ahead of our own.

What other ways would you add to gain and keep trust as a leader?

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1 Critical Leadership Error and 4 Ways to Avoid It

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There is one critical leadership error most leaders make at some point. I make it frequently. If you’re leading you probably do also.

The critical leadership error:

We forget people are trying to follow.

We get so caught up in our own world we forget people we are trying to lead are trying to follow us. We “think” we know where we are going and we assume they do also – almost like they can read our minds.

Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car?

Some are good at this kind of leading and some aren’t. I have followed people who take quick turns without using a blinker. Some dodge in and out of traffic – forgetting the person behind can’t react as quickly. Others fail to tell you a general direction or give you an address in case you get separated. Some don’t have their phone handy where you can call them if you fall behind.

Do you understand the analogy?

In a similar way it is with a team or organization when the leader forgets people are trying to follow.

The leader sets the pace for the organization. As the leader goes, so goes the organization. And some leaders get so passionate about what they are thinking and doing they forget others are trying to keep up with them.

Good leaders frequently evaluate to make sure the current pace doesn’t leave someone behind – unless it is intentional – which would be the subject of another post.

What can a leader do to keep from losing those who are trying to follow along the way?

Here are 4 suggestions to avoid this critical leadership error:

Ask questions.

Granted, most people are not going to call out the leader. This is true regardless of how “open” the leader’s door might be. So, good leaders ask lots of open-ended questions. They are continually evaluating and exploring to discover what they wouldn’t know if they didn’t ask. They check in with people often to make sure they understand where they are going, have what they need and are able to continue the pace healthfully.

Be vulnerable.

While the leader ultimately sets the speed of the team, good leaders allow others on the team help set the pace. They share leadership across the team. It’s more difficult to argue against the pace when the team helped to set it. It takes humility, but good leaders allow the decision-making process of the organization to be spread throughout the team. They are open to correction – giving people permission to speak into their life and are not easily offended when someone challenges them – or even sometimes corrects them.

Be systematic.

One way to control pace and overall direction is to operate under well-planned and executed written goals and objectives. These are agreed upon in advance. Of course, things still change quickly – that’s part of life – and we must be flexible to adapt, but having even a short term written plan gives people a direction which keeps them making progress without chasing after every whim of a leader. (Creative leaders tend to have lots of whims.)

Keep looking in the mirror.

Back to the car illustration, if someone is trying to follow you frequently look in the rear view mirror to see they are still behind you. In the organizational setting it is ultimately up to the leader to self-evaluate frequently. Clueless leaders push and pull people with no regards to the impact it is having on organizational health or the people trying to follow.

(By the way, we are all clueless at times – we only know what we know.) Good leaders attempt to be self-aware. They know their tendencies to push too hard or their struggle with contentment – or they’re lack of clarity in details. Whatever it is that makes them difficult to follow at times they try to minimize the negative impact on their team. This requires intentionality.

Here’s a hard question every leader should consider:

Are you allowing those attempting to follow you a fair opportunity to follow?

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