Here’s a leadership secret.
Almost anyone who has ever led anything significant has felt like they’re in over their head at one point or another.
You might be there right now.
One leader who responded to my new blog reader survey put it this way:
I’m basically…new to all of this and feeling completely over my head. Knowing I am called to be here and not knowing how any of this is going to work, [the] leadership issue for me is feeling so very very insecure on so many levels.
I get that. (By the way, you can take the survey anytime to let me know what leadership issues you’re wrestling with.)
I’ve felt like I’ve been in over my head many times:
I was in law before ministry. First year law school was overwhelming for a liberal arts major, but I found a way through.
I really never saw myself as a pastor, and had to figure out how to lead a church in real time when I got called into ministry.
I really had no idea how to write a book. I’ve now been able to publish two and have several more on the way.
So how do you lead when you’re in over your head?
Here are 5 guidelines:
1. Be humble. Humility is a leader’s best friend. It’s one thing to be in over your head but pretend you’ve got it all figured out. People can tell you don’t. The quickest way to alienate the people around you is to pretend you know what you’re doing when you don’t. People lose confidence in you quickly and begin to dismiss you as arrogant.
On the other hand, don’t repeatedly throw yourself under the bus either saying things like “I’m no good at this” or “I have no idea what I’m doing”. That’s not true humility. That’s a lack of confidence.
Instead, just be truthful and express a humble confidence in the long term outcome. Say things like “This is new to me, but I’m sure we can figure this out together.” Or “The learning curve is steep right now, and I’m grateful for a good team around me. We’ll get this done somehow.” Sometimes when you’re really shaky, the confidence you’re expressing is in God, not in yourself. I realize that’s good theology in every season, but sometimes the only confidence you will have is in God. That’s more than okay.
2. Get a great team of people around you who are smarter than you are. You really can’t do this alone. And the more alone you are, the more difficult it will be. Get some mentors to build into you. If no one’s offering (they rarely do), just ask.
Also build a local team around you. Recruit the next and brightest leaders you can find and mobilize them. Here are 5 tips on how to attract and lead leaders who are better than you.
3. Become an avid student. Get up early. Read everything you can. Take notes from everyone around you. Be in active learning mode. You need a steep growth curve in this stage. Make sure you spend time every day learning and growing. Don’t spend so many hours working in leadership that you can’t work on your leadership.
4. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Insecurities run deep in most of us. And often our fear is that when people realize how little we know they will reject us. But when you tell them you don’t know, two things happen. First, they’re relieved you told the truth and didn’t try to bluff your way through it. Second, they probably like you a little bit more because your admission you don’t know makes you more relatable, more human. Don’t rest at “I don’t know.” Tell them you’ll find out and report back. But at least admit it. Don’t bluff.
5. Trust God. Many of us experienced a specific calling into ministry. If so, you need to trust God to get you through it. In the absence of a clear calling (not everyone is clear on what they are supposed to do with their lives, even after praying extensively), if you are serving in the area of your gifting and passion, long term things almost always get better. Sometimes you just need to trust the Giver, not the gifts. Keep working. Be diligent. Don’t give up. Trust that the God who got you into this will get you through it.
Naturally, sometimes we’re in over our heads because we’re doing something we’re not gifted for, called to or equipped to handle. That’s a whole different subject.
But most of the time, we just need to persevere a little longer.
What have you learned about leading when you’re in over your head?