You’ve heard it said here more than a few times, you are the hardest person you will ever have to lead.
How do I know that? Because I’m the hardest person I have to lead.
It was 20 years ago this year that I moved my then-young family up to just north of Toronto to begin ministry. Although the form has changed as I moved from a denominational context to planting Connexus Church, there have been a core of leaders who have been with me from the very start.
The ministry has grown from 45 people in attendance and 100 people who would have called our original churches home in 1995, to 1000 in attendance and 2200 people who call our church home today.
The one thing that’s been constant in all of it is change.
And the one thing that’s been even more consistent is that I’ve had to change as a leader.
In many ways, our church has had 5 different pastors over the last two decades. They just all happened to be me.
Why? Because I had to keep reinventing myself and my leadership again and again to remain effective as a leader and as a Christ follower.
The same is true of you.
If you’re going to lead over the long haul, you need to reinvent yourself again and again.
If you don’t, you’ll simply stagnate as a leader and drift toward ineffectiveness. And something inside you will die too—like your soul.
So how exactly do you reinvent yourself? And what do you need to reinvent?
Here are some thoughts.
Stage 1: The Instinctive Leader
Most leaders start out operating from their instincts or defaults.
Your instincts will get you places. And they’ll work for you for a season.
After all, you’re new. And sometimes the combination of a fresh face and the passion you have when you’re young will get you a long way in leadership. At least at first.
My instinctive leadership style is aggressive, clear, focused and direct (I was a lawyer before I was a pastor…so forgive me). Those are strengths, and they helped a lot in the early days.
If you think about it, you’ll be able to recognize your default leadership instincts. Just look at how you naturally behave.
Following your instincts is almost always how every leader behaves within the first few years of leadership. It will get you started, but they certainly won’t take you all the way.
Reinvention 1: The Emotionally Intelligent Leader
Many of you were already chafing at my instinctive leadership style (aggressive, clear, focused and direct). And, honestly, it rubs some people the wrong way.
Your first reinvention as a leader has to happen when you realize your strengths have accompanying weaknesses.
The best leaders aren’t just intelligent, they’re emotionally intelligent.
As a result, wise leaders develop ‘learned behaviours’. Learned behaviours are simply behaviours you adopt to compensate for the edges of your strengths. For example, I’ve had to learn to listen, to be gracious, to be compassionate and to value the input of others.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit I had to learn those things, but it’s true.
There are behaviours you have to learn too. If you’re not sure what they are, just look for characteristics that are the opposite of your gift set or, better yet, ask people around you. They’ll tell you.
Reinvention 2: The Leader of Leaders
If you’re a bit gifted, it will easy to rely on your own charisma, gifts and skills to help grow the ministry. Don’t make that mistake.
Growing things all by yourself just doesn’t scale well, and it’s not sustainable. Eventually, things will implode and you’ll end up leading only the people you can personally impact directly.
If you’re going to lead well over the long haul, you have to learn to lead others well. And more than that, you have to attract highly capable people to leadership.
In fact, you have to learn to lead people who are better than you.
That’s big task, but it’s a necessary reinvention.
I outlined 5 ways to attract leaders who are better than you in this post. And I also outlined 6 reasons many leaders lose high capacity people in this post.
Reinvention 3: The Healthy Leader
Everybody has issues. And after a few years in leadership, yours will unmistakably surface.
Your personal demons and issues will infect your leadership, your marriage and your home life. There’s just no escape.
If you’re at that stage right now, there are three stories that might really be able to speak to you:
Your personal demons will either take you, or you will decide to take them. It’s up to you.
As I share in some of the interviews above, I’m so grateful God gave me the grace and insight to deal with my personal issues along the way.
Reinvention 4: The Life-Long Student
If you’re waiting for the day when you arrive as a leader, you’ll be waiting forever.
As a leader, you should never stop growing. Growing your character is more important than growing your skill set, and yet growing your skill set is also a must.
Many leaders would rather be teachers instead of students. That’s a critical mistake. The leaders who want to be teachers, not students, will never be teachers worth following.
The best teachers are the best students. So be a student.
Do whatever it takes to grow your skill set. Read books and blogs. Listen to podcasts. Go to conferences. Connect with leaders ahead of you. Learn whatever you can.
You’re never done. And if you really want to lead well, you’ll realize how amazing that realization actually is.
Reinvention 5: The Change Agent
In the first 5-10 years of your leadership, you will likely have introduced a lot of change. You moved out the old and brought in the new.
Which is where most leaders get stuck.
Many leaders have the courage to change what someone else introduced. Few have the courage to change what they introduced.
Effective leadership means changing what you introduced. It means looking the people you lead in the eye and saying “For a season, that was the best way to do things. The season’s changed, and we need a new approach.”
As I’ve shared before, leaders need to marry the mission, not the method.
In light of the massive cultural shift happening around us, leaders are going to have to get more and more comfortable with changing what they’ve already changed.
What Do You Think?
Those are 5 reinventions I see most effective leaders move through.
What are some reinventions you’ve had to go through personally? What have you seen in others?
Scroll down and leave a comment.