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overlooked practices

12 Often Overlooked Practices Great Leaders Develop That Poor Leaders Don’t

Ever wonder what separates great leaders from poor leaders?

Ever wonder whether you’re developing the practices and qualities of great leadership?

I’ve met more than a few ineffective leaders who have great intentions, but just haven’t developed the skills and attitudes that separate great leaders from poor leaders.

So what separates great leaders from not-so-great leaders?

There are many things, but these 12 overlooked practices stand out to me as often-missed qualities and characteristics of the best leaders I know.

The good news is none of them are genetic. They mostly consist of attitudes and disciplines.

Change your attitude, gain some discipline, and you can become a far better leader too.

overlooked practices

12 Often Overlooked Practices of Great Leaders

For the sake of helping all of us lead better, here are 12 often overlooked practices great leaders develop.

Great leaders:

1. Make complex matters seem simple

This is much more difficult than you think. As Woody Guthrie is quoted as saying, “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”

Great leaders stick with a problem or idea long enough and engage it deeply enough to clear away the fog and reduce the concept to its simplest forms so anyone can understand it.

This doesn’t mean they dumb it down. Rather, it means they make the concept accessible. And because it becomes accessible, more people are helped, and more people follow.

For a sermon: If you can’t say it in a sentence, you shouldn’t say it. I realize that’s difficult, but here’s the process I’ve been using for years to reduce complex ideas into single sentence summaries.

And when it comes to something larger than a 30-60 minute talk (like a project or initiative), work on it long enough to develop a 30 second elevator pitch (here are some quick hints at how to develop one). Again, if you can’t say it in 30 seconds, you probably don’t understand the problem clearly enough to proceed.

And even if you don’t, no one else will understand it clearly enough to follow.

2. Fight for clarity

In leadership, confusion reigns until someone makes things clear. Clarity is what great leaders bring to the table.

I find one of the best ways to become clear on issues is to ask questions, pull away to think and pray about it, sometimes for days or weeks and then take the idea back to the team for more discussion. Usually, clarity emerges out of the process.

But clarity doesn’t happen automatically. You have to fight for it.

3. Refuse to make excuses

Ever notice that the best leaders rarely make excuses?

In fact, the leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses. And the leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress.

This is one of my pet leadership themes: You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

4. Think abundance

A scarcity mindset will kill your organization or church over the long haul.

Yes there are seasons for restraint. Yes, every organization needs a bean counter.

But if you think small you will stay small. If you think it’s not possible, it won’t be.

5. Regularly sift through key priorities

It would be amazing if you could set your priorities once at say, age 22, and just cruise through life without readjusting them.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Great leaders are continually assessing and reassessing how they spend their time, energy and resources.

I realize that every 3-6 months now, I have to rethink who I’m meeting with, how much time I’ll make available for certain activities, and rethinking our organization goals and progress.

6. Think won’t, not can’t

How you speak to yourself matters.

Rather than saying “I can’t” (even internally), great leaders instead say “I won’t”.

That small change moves them from realizing they could do something, but have chosen not to. While you may not always say that out loud in front of people (it’s rude), telling yourself you won’t reminds you that you had a choice and exercised it.

While that might seem like a small difference, it’s the difference between people who let life happen to them and people who make life happen.

7. Master self-discipline

Self-discipline is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Self-discipline is simply taking responsibility for your actions, health, attitudes, schedule, words, mistakes and decisions.

To not do so makes you…irresponsible.

8. Think we, not me

Truly great leaders die to themselves.

As Jim Collins has so surprisingly and famously demonstrated, the greatest leaders in the corporate world are…humble. They are determined, but they’re not selfish. Jesus would agree.

They believe in a cause greater than themselves and serve the organization or cause they’re a part of. They don’t expect it to serve them.

If you want to be great, die to yourself.

9. Decide to work for their employees

One day you’ll be such a great leader everyone will serve you, right?

Wrong.

The greatest bosses realize their employees don’t work for them, they work for their employees.

If you show up with a ‘how can I serve you?’ attitude, you be a far more effective leader.

10. Get started early

This one’s simple. Just set your alarm earlier.

For whatever reason, early risers do better in life. They’re happier, healthier and more productive.

Get a jump on your day, and you get a jump on leadership and life.

11. Arrive on time

Great leaders are rarely late. This is another simple leadership discipline that can get you far.

Show up on time. Show up prepared, and you will be ahead of most people.

12. Practice self-care

The best leaders take time off. They don’t work 24/7.

They realize they have limits and they respect them.

As I outlined here, almost every leader will either practice self-care, or will revert to self-medication.

Don’t believe it? Ever notice you eat worse when you’re under stress? That you swap out exercise when your schedule fills up in exchange for more caffeine?

If you answered yes, you’re self-medicating, and it takes down a huge slice of business leaders and church leaders.

What Do You Think?

There are many more characteristics, but these are 12 I think deserve more daylight than they usually get.

What would you add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

meetings

5 Signs Bad Governance Is Stifling Your Church’s Growth and Mission

You probably almost didn’t open this blog post, did you?

Governance?

Who cares about governance?

Well, if you care about church growth and accomplishing your mission, read on.

I’m convinced bad governance is a key contributing factor as to why many churches don’t grow.

And, conversely, I’m convinced that good governance is a key factor as to why some churches do grow.

In fact, there’s a good chance bad governance is frustrating you right now…and you might not even know it.

Bad governance…or maybe more charitably, unhelpful governanceis pretty much the norm in church world. Even if you have decent people on your board or boards, the system itself is sometimes the obstacle.

I’ve never heard a conference talk on how governance can help a church grow. I’ve never seen a webinar on it. Apart from this really good blog post and this great book, I haven’t seen much at all.

But if you spend 3 minutes going over these 5 issues, I think your church could end up poised for greater growth. Or at least you’ll have better insight into why things aren’t going the way you hoped they’d be going.

Bad governance is the silent killer of many great church missions.

meetings

Don’t Be So Emotional

Before we jump into the signs that bad governance is stifling your church’s growth, a few words.

I realize that many denominations pride themselves on governance as much as they do on theology. I get that.

So as you read through this you might be tempted to think I’m being unbiblical in my critiques or even insensitive to your denomination’s approach. As a former member of a denomination, (I lead a non-denominational church now), I can empathize.

Yet many forms of church governance are not so much biblical as they are historical, which means they should be open to change. Most governance systems were designed to work in an era when churches were smaller, when communities and cities themselves were smaller, and when we were not living in a post-Christian era.

This doesn’t mean all vestiges of historic church governance should be ousted. But I’ve seen many cases where church governances hurts the mission of the church more than it helps the mission of the church. What worked 200 years ago has stopped working today.

Churches that are willing reformulate governance (within the parameters of scripture of course) will do far better than those who don’t.

So as we go through these 5 signs related to bad church governance, try not to get defensive. Stay open. There’s too much at stake not to rethink everything in the church.

5 Signs Bad Church Governance is Stifling Your Church’s Growth and Mission

So how does governance hurt the mission rather than help it? Here are 5 signs your governance is working against your mission, not for it:

1. Your board or congregation loves to micromanage

Small churches are notorious for wanting approval on every decision, from the paint colour in the kids ministry rooms to every hire in the church, to every minute curriculum change.

That’s a recipe for disaster.

Why?

Once you reach a certain size, ministry becomes complex enough that two hours a month or even a monthly congregational meeting isn’t nearly enough time to meaningfully review the issues before the congregation.

Just think about it for a second.

A pastor or staff member will have spent 160 hours working on issues in a month…minimum. A board member might spend two. A congregational member might spend an hour..or, more likely, about 30 seconds, before passing judgment.

How can a board make a decision on every item in the allotted time? How on earth can a congregation?

Yet it’s not that hard to find board members and congregational members who have opinions on everything…no matter how ill-informed those opinions might be.

Boards and congregations that micromanage keep their churches small because of their need to control every decision.

Churches in which boards micromanage rarely grow beyond 200 attenders because the issues facing churches larger than that require boards to stop micromanaging (here are 7 other reasons churches never break the 200 attendance mark).

Micromanaging shrinks the size of the congregation back to the size in which everything can be ‘controlled’.

One more thing on micromanagement.

Great leaders never say “Please micromanage me.”  So if you want to repel great leaders, micromanage them.

2. Your congregation demands consensus

Somewhere along the way someone got the idea that everyone has to agree with every decision.

I think that someone is crazy.

Where on earth did the idea that we need consensus on every decision emerge?

If Moses had waited for consensus before leaving Egypt, the Israelites would still be in slavery.

Consensus kills courage. Churches that look for consensus will never find courage, and churches that find courage will rarely find consensus…at least initially.

When you drive for consensus, decisions get watered down to the point where all the risk is gone, and any boldness evaporates. You get churches that come out in favour of yard sales and Mother’s Day. And that’s about it.

Look, if you and your spouse can’t agree on where to go on vacation, how do you think you’ll get 200, or 2000, people to agree on anything significant as a church?

Almost nothing gets accomplished if everyone has a say.

So should you ever try for consensus? Well, yes, but likely at the board level. John Stickl has a fascinating approach to consensus style leadership in a mega-church context that he explains in Episode 29 of my leadership podcast.

3. Your board or congregation doesn’t trust the staff

This sounds so basic, but it’s so often missed.

For a church to grow and be healthy, there has to be a high level of trust between the staff and the board and congregation.

Naturally, that trust has to be earned by the pastors and staff.

But it’s amazing to me how many people in churches distrust their pastors and staff for no good reason. Churches that cultivate a default assumption of suspicion, not trust, will always pay a price.

The best leader I know on this subject is Andy Stanley, and if you haven’t listened to his 20 minute podcast on trust v. suspicion, you should.

Bottom line?

If you don’t trust the staff, fire the staff. If you trust them, let them lead.

4. Your staff hates the board

I realize hate is a strong word. But I’ve met enough church leaders who loathe their boards to know the problem goes both ways.

Sure. Look. I know you don’t have your ‘dream board’ yet.

You inherited a board when you stepped into leadership. We all did.

When I began in leadership, the three small churches had a total attendance of 45 people (adding all three together), but had 18 elders (I’m not making this up).

The average age of the eldership was about 70, and they had all presided over churches that had been stuck for decades. There were some great people on the board. And there were a few who were not ideally suited for leadership.

That could have been a recipe for disaster.

But why not see it as an opportunity instead?

You have to start cultivating a relationship with the people you have in leadership before you can work with the people you want in leadership.

If there are toxic board members, you can deal with that. And over time you can build a better board.

But if you hate your board after 3 years of leadership, it’s not your board’s fault, it’s yours.

You haven’t done the hard work of cultivating a relationship of trust or moving unhealthy board members off.

So get started. Be a great steward of who you have, not who you don’t have.

5. Your board focuses on complainers

If your church board meetings usually begin with “So and so isn’t happy about X”, you have a problem.

Sometimes boards feel it’s their responsibility to speak up for people who don’t have a voice.

That might be true for widows and orphans. It’s not true for the cranky church member who is opposed to everything.

As my friend Reggie Joiner says, great churches focus on who they’re trying to reach, not who they’re trying to keep.

Why do so many churches struggle with trying to please people?

That’s great question. Here are a few blog posts and a book I’ve written on the subject of handling opposition to your vision:

Leading Change Without Losing It: 5 Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition

3 Hard But Powerful Truths About Likablity and Leadership

Why You Need to Stop Thinking Your Church Is For Everyone

Boards (and congregations) that focus on who they’re trying to reach will be much healthier and do much better than congregations that focus on complainers.

What Do You See?

I realize this is tough medicine and may come as a shock to some leaders, but I do think bad governance in the silent killer in many churches.

What do you think? What are you seeing?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Punch someone

7 Ways To Respond When You Want to Punch Someone—And You’re a Christian

Feel like you want to punch someone? Or at least not deal with them anymore?

What do you do when the person in question goes to your church?

How do you handle that tension when you’re a…Christian?

It’s strange, but being a Christian doesn’t automatically make you good at resolving conflict. In fact, many Christians and many churches are terrible at it.

Unresolved—or poorly resolved—conflict sinks a lot of potential in the church. It also causes thousands of staff and volunteers to leave every year. And it makes millions of church goers simply miserable.

Fun isn’t it?

Chances are you already know exactly what I’m talking about. Even better. You know exactly who I’m talking about.

In the United States alone, 70% of the people who will go to work today will tell you they don’t like their jobs. I don’t think that’s just an American issue. It’s a people issue.

So many people I know get frustrated at work. And one of the top frustrations?

The people they work with.

Ditto for church world (no stat…I’ve just visited enough churches to feel comfortable saying that).

Sometimes the people we’re most frustrated with are the people we work with (staff and volunteers) and the people we worship with.

How do you fix that without becoming a jerk or letting the tension simmer unresolved?

Punch someone

Why Do Christians Struggle With Conflict So Much?

Before we jump to how to resolve conflict, let’s understand why we have it.

First, on this side of heaven conflict is inevitable. But that said, here’s why I think Christians often struggle with conflict:

In the name of grace, Christians sacrifice truth.

In the name of truth, Christians sacrifice grace.

We worry about hurting other people’s feelings, when really one of the best things we can do is offer honest feedback.

And in the end, we’re not sure how to support someone we genuinely disagree with, we swing the extremes: we avoid the situation or we blow it up.

None of that needs to be.

7 Healthy Ways to Resolve Tension and Conflict

I have learned (through trial and error), that these 7 strategies below can help me deal with conflict.

I hope they can help you.

They can work with coworkers, with a boss, with a volunteer, with a friend—with anyone you have a relationship with.

Here are 7 ways that I hope can help you resolve conflict with someone you work with:

1. Own your part of the problem

Conflict and even bad chemistry is almost never 100% one person’s fault.

One of the best expressions I’ve heard on how to figure out the extent to which you might be part of the problem is to ask a compelling question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me?

Jeff Henderson asked that question in a great series at North Point Church called Climate Change.

You can listen to the message for free here, and a scroll through the small group questions in and of itself is instructive. Own what you can.

So…what is it like to be on the other side of you? Ask some people.

2. Go direct

Issues in the church are often mishandled because we talk about someone rather than to someone.

Your co-worker at the water cooler isn’t the problem, so why talk to him about it?

Jesus was crystal clear on how to handle conflict, but very few Christians follow his practice.

In the name of being ‘nice’ (I can’t tell her that!), we become ineffective.

Talk to the person you have the problem with. Directly. Or else just be quiet about it.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt 

The person you’re upset with might not realize how they are coming across. It’s okay to say that out loud.

“Rachel, you might not realize this, but sometimes you emails can come across as demanding or even demeaning. I’m not sure you’re aware of that, but I just wanted to let you know how they leave me feeling sometimes.”

That gives the person an out, and frankly, many times, they probably had no idea they were coming across negatively.

Giving a person an out and the benefit of the doubt preserves their dignity.

4. Explain. Don’t blame

How to talk to the person you’re struggling with is where many people struggle.

And those conversations often go sideways because people begin with blame.

Don’t blame. Explain.

Instead of saying “You always” or “You never” (which might be how you feel like starting), begin by talking about how you experience them.

If you’re dealing with an ‘angry person’ for example, you might frame it this way “Jake, I just want you to know that when you get upset in a meeting, it makes me feel like the discussion is over and I can’t make a contribution.”

If you’re you’re dealing with gossip, try something like:  “Ryan, on Tuesday when you told me what happened to Greg on the weekend, I felt like that was something Greg should have told me directly.”

Do you hear the difference between explaining and blaming?

5. Be specific

Giving one or two specific incidents is much better making general accusations or commenting on personality traits. “The other day in the meeting” or “In your email on the the August numbers yesterday” is much more helpful then “You just always seem so frustrated.”

The more specific you are, the more you de-escalate conflict and move toward a hopeful ending.

6. Tell them you want things to get better

What the person you’re confronting needs is hope.

At this point, they probably feel defensive, ashamed and (hopefully) sorry.

Let them know the gifts they bring to the table and the good they do.

7. Pray for them

I know this sounds trite, but it’s not. Don’t pray about them. Pray for them.

It is almost impossible to stay angry with someone you pray for.

It can also give you empathy for them, and at least in your mind’s eye, it places you both firmly at the foot of the cross in need of forgiveness.

It will take any smirk of superiority out of your attitude, which goes a long way toward solving problems.

What Are You Learning?

Do these seven steps always result in a positive outcome? No.

But I believe they will resolve the majority of cases in front of you in a very healthy way. At least they have for me. (This approach, by the way, is also effective at home and in most relationships in life.)

I don’t get all 7 approaches right every time, but when I can practice them, I find that conflict almost always resolves better.

What would you add to the list? What’s worked for you?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

attitude

5 Significant Attitude Differences That Separate Growing and Declining Churches

So what’s the difference between a growing church and a declining church?

Well there are many, but one of the biggest differences I see is the attitude of the leaders.

The leaders of growing churches almost always share a common attitude.

So do the leaders of declining churches.

And the attitude has a huge influence over the results each church sees.

Attitude may or may not be everything, but it’s close.

 attitude

Here are 5 attitude differences I see again and again in growing churches and declining churches.

1. We Can v. We Can’t

Perhaps the biggest differences I see between growing churches and declining churches is the attitude around what’s possible.

Growing churches believe they can.

Declining churches believe they can’t.

They’re both right.

One of my all time favourite quotes is Henry Ford’s “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.”  He’s correct.

Growing churches make a way when there’s no way, which seems to be what God specializes in if you read the Bible.

When you sit around your leadership table, do you come up with 20 ways to make it happen, or 20 reasons why it won’t work? That tells you far more about your church than you probably want it to.

Growing churches believe they can. It’s that simple. And even if they’re wrong, at least they tried. The mission is important enough to take significant risk.

2. Them v. Us

Declining churches focus on themselves.

Growing churches focus on the people they’re trying to reach.

If your leadership table conversations are all about the needs and wants of your members, it’s a sign that your church is insider focused.

The mission of the church is to reach the world. Growing churches not only know that; they live it.

Besides, who likes to hang out with selfish people?

And ironically, selfish people almost always end up in a very surprising place: alone. Because a life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone. That’s also true for selfish churches.

If you’re becoming smaller and smaller, is it because you’re selfish?

3. Principles v. Preferences

Declining churches focus on their member’s preferences.

Todd didn’t like the music. 

Allison thinks we’re not deep enough. 

Bill wants to start a new program.

And so the leaders respond, trying to please everybody.

In reality, declining churches bend to the preferences of its members.

Growing churches don’t.

Instead, they focus on the principles (even strategies) that will help them reach new people.

Is your leadership team principle driven or preference driven? There’s a world of difference between the two.

4. Proactive v. Reactive

This is a close cousin of points 2 and 3 above, but the difference is deadly or life-giving depending on where you land.

Growing churches are proactive. They choose their agenda and immediately get on issues that can impact their future.

Declining churches are reactive, letting members determine the agenda and reacting to problems as they arise.

In fact, most declining churches are so busy reacting to problems other people raise that they never get around to charting a course for the future.

If you never get around to charting a course for the future, you will have no future.

Growing churches have a strong bias for setting their own agendas, not in the selfish sense, but in a way that determined leaders see what the mission requires and decide to deal with it.

The leaders in a growing church simply refuse to yield to the agenda of others that would take them off mission.

And as a result, they are far more effective.

5. Now v. Eventually

Growing churches act. And they act now.

Declining churches don’t.

Declining churches don’t actually say they won’t act, they’ll just say they’ll get to it ‘eventually’, or someday, or ‘when the time is right’—which means never.

By contrast, as I outlined here, great leaders and great teams banish the word ‘someday’ and other words from their vocabulary.

If you want to be effective, you act.

If you want to be ineffective, you don’t.

Talk without action has little value. And too many church leaders specialize in talk.

In addition, too many church teams meet for the sake of meeting.

If you can’t remember a the last time you made a major decision that changed the course of your church, your leaders are wasting their time.

If you talk about the same issues meeting after meeting with no resolution, you’re spinning your wheels.

Does that mean you have to act on everything? Well, yes and no.

If you’re not going to act, strike the item off the agenda and move on.

If you are going to act, act. Now.

Just make a decision and move on with it. Don’t get stuck in the no man’s land of believing the lie that talking about things solves things.

As my friend Casey Graham says, action produces traction. So act.

Want More?

If you’re passionate about the kind of leadership conversations your team is having, or you simply want to have better ones, I’m releasing a new book in a few months called Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

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The book is designed to facilitate team discussion around 7 of the most important issues facing churches today. And it has action steps for every team to take as a result of the conversation.

We released several hundred advance copies of the book last week at the Orange Conference (see above) and they’re all gone.

But the good news is the full book launch is coming this summer.

To get on the inside track of the full book release, just sign up here.

Then you won’t miss a thing.

What Do You See?

What are the attitude differences you’ve seen between growing and declining churches?

Scroll down the leave a comment!

 

Carey Orange 2014

Anticipating the Change You’re Not Expecting (Orange Conference 2015 Talk Notes)

This week I’m excited to be speaking at the Orange Conference in Atlanta Georgia.

As a way of serving those who attend my talks (and couldn’t be there but want to track with what’s happening) I’ll be posting the outline to each talk I give here on the blog.

Even if you don’t attend the conference, I hope you can glean a few insights from them that might help you lead better now.  And if you’re in the session, you won’t have to guess what that pesky blank you forgot to fill in was all about.

Here’s my talk outline for my Anticipating The Change You’re Not Expecting session, along with some additional posts and references if you want to go deeper.

Carey Orange 2014

Overview

Anticipating the change you’re not expecting.

Yes, we know that’s contradictory. But think back through the past few years: how many times did something blindside you when you should have seen it coming? The key to navigating personal and professional change lies in studying the people and organizations who’ve traveled further down your road.

Discover ways to learn from their lessons by doing your homework and looking ahead.

Introduction

1. At some point along the journey, most of us get blindsided.

 a. Leaders who see the future are in a better position to seize the future.

b. Knowing what’s coming is most of the battle.

4 Changes Most Leaders Aren’t Expecting

1. Growing Cynicism

a. Knowledge brings sorrow.

 b. You project past failures onto new situations.

c. You decide to stop trusting, hoping and believing.

d. The antidote to cynicism is curiosity.

2. Burnout

a. Most people don’t burnout overnight.

b. Passion fades.

c. Your heart grows hard.

d. Rest no longer refuels you.

e. You simply can’t function any more.

f. The antidote to self-medication is self-care.

3. Irrelevance

a. Irrelevance happens when the speed of change outside an organization is greater than the speed of change inside an organization. – Rick Warren

b. When you’re young, the current cultural dialogue is your native tongue.

c.  Culture never asks permissionto change. It just changes.

d. The older you get the harder this gets.

e.  Organizations that don’t change becomes museums to another era.

f. The antidote to irrelevance is change.

4. Ineffectiveness

a. Churches become ineffective when, over a long period of time, leaders begin to love the method more than they love the mission.

b. Leaders become ineffective when they fail to grow both their character and their competency.

c. Reinvention and renewal are the antidotes to ineffectiveness.

Two Questions to Help You See the Future So You Can Seize the Future

1. What am I not seeing that I should be seeing?

2. Who can help me see what I’m not seeing?

 Want More?

Here are some related posts that can help you dig deeper on this subject.

6 Reasons Leaders Grow Cynical (And How to Fight the Trend)

How Perry Noble Hit Rock Bottom While Pastoring One of America’s Largest Churches (Episode 2 of the CNLP)

9 Surefire Ways to Make Your Church Completely Ineffective

For further resources, access the free archive of thought-provoking, practical interviews with today’s top church leaders on The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast.

Leadership Hacks

5 Ultra Simple Leadership Hacks That Can Help Anyone

Sometimes leadership can seem so overwhelming.

In reality, though, leadership is simpler than it first appears.

In many ways, great leaders master some very basic things that other people miss. The advice in this post is so simple you might be thinking “well, my mother used to tell me to do that”.

Maybe that’s the point.

You can have a PhD in leadership and read everything there is on leadership and still not be effective.

And yet there are leaders who have little formal education but who lead powerfully and effectively every day.

Often, these leaders gain influence because they’ve mastered a few basic skills others miss.

Here are 5 of my absolute favourite basic leadership skills that are far too easy to overlook.

Own them, and you’ll become a much more effective leader. Leadership Hacks

1. Make someone else the hero

Few of us have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

The narcissists make it all about them.

Insecure people focus on themselves because they can’t bear to give anyone else air time.

And even people who lack confidence can end up being selfish because their lack of self-esteem means no one else gets attention.

How do you escape the trap of narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence?

Just make someone else the hero.

If you’re a preacher, like me, make sure you point to God, not to yourself when you speak. Worry more about whether people connect with God than whether they connect with you.

What else does this principle look like?

Well, if you’re a writer, make your reader the hero. The filter through which I try to run every post I write on this blog is what I call a “helpful” filter. I want the post to help you as a reader. I want you to win.

Think about it. You and I love leaders who point beyond themselves to someone else. Why not be that leader?

So when you struggle with narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence (and we all do…me too), step aside and make someone else the hero.

It works. Every time.

2. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it

If there’s one piece of advice I want my sons to remember, other than everything I taught them about Jesus, it’s this:

Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

It puts you ahead of about 99% of the planet.

Think back on your last week. Who frustrated you most? Probably the people who didn’t do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.

Now picture the people you lead. Who are you most likely to promote, reward or even want to hang out with? The people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.

Doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it is the basis of trust. It’s also the basis for confidence.

Hey…sometimes I’m still the guy who didn’t do what he said he was going to do when he said he was going to do it. But I try so hard not to be that guy.

So what do you do if you struggle in this area? Just stop promising and start delivering.

When your walk catches up to what your talk would have been, reintroduce your talk.

3. Focus on outcomes

Also in the ‘please stop driving me nuts’ category are people who focus on process, not outcomes.

I realize it’s axiomatic these days to say the journey is more important than the destination. But not always. Really. Come on. What fun is the journey if you end up nowhere with any meaning?

It’s frustrating when you ask someone if something is done and they tell you

Well I emailed him.

She never got back to me.

I’ve called 5 times.

I think they must have changed their address or something.

And they feel like the project is complete because they tried.

Trying isn’t the same as doing.

Often, I feel like saying “You didn’t hear the question. The questions is Is it done?

A few years ago, I started encouraging the leaders I work with to stop focusing on process, and start focusing on outcomes.

When you focus on outcomes, you eventually stop emailing someone who never returns emails and you text them instead, or call them, or go to their office, or release them and find someone who will help you get the project done.

If you focus on outcomes, you’ll also have a shot at mastering #2. If you don’t, you never will.

And getting things done actually makes the journey more enjoyable, at least in my view.

4. Look people in the eye

Sure, this is an “I don’t need a blog post to remind me of this”. (So is the next point, by the way.)

But do you ever notice how hard it is to actually look someone in the eye—to make them the sole focus on your attention?

I’m pretty sure I’m ADD and it’s so hard for me not to focus on shiny objects, moving parts or anything else in the room. Or my phone for that matter.

But the most effective leaders always look someone in the eye.

Sometimes I’m in a conversation with someone and I’ll create a voice in my head that just keeps repeating “Look them in the eye…look them in the eye.” It helps.

I’ll even position myself in a restaurant or coffee shop so I face a blank wall, not the door or a TV. Otherwise, I just instinctively look at whatever is moving.

Watch for it…the very best leaders look you in the eye and make you the sole focus of their attention.

Practice that this week.

5. Smile

Everyone has a default expression. It’s hard to know what yours is because you never see yourself as others see you.

I learned years ago that my default facial expression is…uptight. If I’m having a good time, I apparently forgot to tell my face.  I’m also a fast walker, so I tend to look uptight and annoyed.

How’s that for a guy who’s leading you?

People have given me very helpful advice like walk slowly across the room and smile. 

I know that’s so basic, but remember, you’re programming against your default here, so it’s not easy.

I have to remind myself to smile when I teach, to smile when I greet people and to smile in conversations.

It makes a huge difference.

Apparently Michael Hyatt has a similar issue and in this post outlined 5 positive impacts of smiling more as a leader.

So smile. :)

What Would You Add?

So that’s my short list of ultra simple leadership hacks. What are some you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

pray

Why “Just Pray About It” Won’t Solve Your Church Problems

Every once in a while I hear from a leader who says “We don’t any need more ideas/strategies/conferences…all we need to do is pray.”

Well actually, writing this blog, quite often I hear from people like that.

Maybe you have people like that at your church.

You even know the conversation.  Every time you suggest “Why don’t we try reformatting our services/changing our kids ministry/reaching out into the community” they shoot back with “what we really need to do is just pray” (or “what we really need to do is get back to the Bible…”) as though that settled the discussion.

It puts you in a horribly awkward position.

If you disagree, you sound like you’re coming out against prayer.

If you agree, you’ve just mothballed any productive strategy conversations.

I mean who really wants to come out against prayer?

Not me. Not you.

And so, not sure what to do, we shut down the leadership conversation and all the potential that comes with it.

Can it be that something that sounds so spiritual can actually stop some very spiritual work?

In the name of God, some leaders might end up opposing the work of God.

And it’s all done in the most holy-sounding way.

Who’s right? How should you respond?

 pray

We Need To Pray

So before you freak out, I haven’t become an atheist.

Far from it. It’s not an exaggeration to say I pray every day. I also read the scripture daily and love it deeply.

I also believe I need to pray more. I agree that the church needs more prayer.

Finally, I believe all authentic, effective ministry is rooted in prayer.

But saying “All we need to do is pray” really misses how God actually works.

If all we needed to do was pray, we could lock ourselves in a closet and never come out. But I’m not sure that’s how God has moved historically.

What begins in prayer should usually end in some kind of action.

 

And We Need To Do More Than Pray

While prayer is foundational, God almost always moves people to do something.

The walls of Jericho ultimately fell down because having heard from God, people obeyed God, marching around the city for a week, blasting trumpets and shouting.

Come to think of it, that kind of sounds like a strategy doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough, the scripture is filled with strategy if you look for it.

 

Strategy Is Not the Enemy

Sometimes church people behave like strategy is the enemy.

It’s not. It never has been.

Strategy is not the enemy.

Apathy is.

Overly simplistic thinking is.

But strategy isn’t. A great strategy is actually a companion to a great prayer life.

Strategy is inherently biblical. For example, God noticed that Moses had a bad leadership strategy that was ultimately going to wear out both him and the people. So God used Moses’ father-in-law (of all people) to give him a new strategy that required tremendous reorganization.

Jesus intentionally organized his community of disciples into concentric circles of 70, 12, 3 and then 1. His prayer resulted in action…thoughtful action.

Finally, the early church continually rethought its strategy as the church grew and the mission expanded (see Acts 6Acts 13 and Acts 15 as examples).

We’re Supposed To Love God With More Than Our Hearts

So what’s the point?

Strategy should be a good word in the church. And it should be a good word in your church.

That means you should have the tough conversations.

You should surface disagreements (even pray through them).

You shouldn’t skirt tough issues.

It also means you need to lead.

Leadership requires your heart but it doesn’t stop there. It requires  your soul, your strength AND your mind.

So use your mind. And your strength. And your soul.

So Next Time

So next time someone interrupts the conversation and says “What we really need to do is pray”…what should you do?

I think you might agree…and say “I agree. We should pray.”

But then add.

“And after we pray, let’s get working on the most important issues facing us. The mission is just too important to ignore them.”

Great prayer can and should lead to great action.

It’s time for the church to act. And to get the best strategy we can find to accomplish the mission God has given us.

Have you ever run into leaders who block action in a holy-sounding way?

What’s been effective as you’ve navigated this?

5 Important Ways Evangelism is Shifting In Our Post-Christian World

Almost every Christian leader I talk to has a passion for reaching people who don’t know Christ.

But as we’ve seen before, our culture is changing so rapidly before our eyes that many of the methods we’ve used to tell people about Christ become less effective with every passing month.

If you keep using methods that worked decades ago to talk to people outside the Christian faith about Jesus, you might see some fruit. But I’m quite certain you’ll lose the vast majority of people you’re trying to influence, and I’m positive you’ll lose the vast majority of people under age 35.

In the post-Christian, post-modern age in which we live, the methods of evangelism have to change in order to keep the mission alive.

By the way, if you’re wondering what the post-Christian mind looks like, this study from the Barna Group outlines 15 criteria that delineate the trend.

So what’s changing in evangelism? More than you might think.

While there are many things that are shifting in how we should approach evangelism in a post-Christian, post-modern world, these 5 stand out to me as shifts I’m seeing not just in the ministry I lead, but across many churches:

1. Embracing the question is as important as giving an answer

For me, evangelism used to be mostly about helping people find answers. In fact, I’ve been very anxious to get people to answers. I still am.

But, often, in the process of getting people to an answer, I would fail to really embrace or honour their question. Increasingly, that’s a massive mistake.

Almost no one likes going into a store and asking a question only to have a customer service person blow past your question or make you feel stupid. In fact, your most positive experiences have likely been those in which someone listens to your question, takes it seriously, appreciates it, and then tries to respond to it thoughtfully and helpfully.

Too often, Christian apologists rush past the question to get to an answer.

Church leaders who embrace people’s questions will be far more effective in the future than leaders who don’t.

Listen to the difference:

“So when I die, will be in reincarnated?”

Answer: Christians don’t believe in reincarnation. So no, not at all. You’ll be resurrected in Christ. 

or

Answer: That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. Actually, the Christian experience focuses on resurrection. Would you like to talk about that? 

Which answer would you rather hear?

 

2. Steering the conversation is better than pushing for a conclusion

One of my favourite environments at our church is Starting Point. It’s an eight week small group experience for people who are new to Christianity, new to faith or returning to church after an absence.

Our best Starting Point leaders are not the people with all the answers or the leaders who are always trying to ‘close the deal’.

If you have 12 people in a conversation, you’re likely to have 12 different world views, many of which might seem “Christian” but in truth aren’t.

Our best Starting Point leaders are people who can steer a conversation.

They don’t freak out at people’s questions, no matter how strange they might be.

They listen without judgment.

They affirm a person’s intentions.

Our best leaders listen, don’t judge, thank people for their input, and then gently steer the conversation back toward truth.

Listening, empathizing, and then steering the conversation back toward truth will often get you much further with post-moderns than slamming on the brakes and telling them they’re wrong.

3. Being open is more effective than being certain

Don’t get me wrong, Christians can be certain. Ultimately, Christians must be certain because our faith is certain. Our faith stands on a sure and certain ground.

But, when talking to post-moderns, coming across as certain is far less effective than coming across as open.

I mean, people will be able to tell that you have a depth of conviction if they spend more than a few minutes talking to you.

But leading with that conviction all the time can be counter-productive.

The person who is always certain thinks they’re being convincing when the opposite is often true. You’re less convincing because being perpetually certain makes you appear anti-intellectual, closed and a bit arrogant (see below).

If you’re open to people and their views, they’ll be more open to you. Even if underneath all that, you’re certain. Because you likely are.

4. Arrogance, smugness and superiority are dead

For too long, Christian apologetics has carried with a tone of arrogance, smugness and superiority.

If you want to repel anyone under 40, lead with that.

Arrogance is so ingrained in many Christian cultures that Christians don’t even see it or hear it anymore.

Humility is attractive. Humility is what makes Jesus so much more attractive to people than the Pharisees who lack it.

Arrogance is only ever attractive to the arrogant.

Arrogance also a sin. So repent. Get over your smugness and superiority.

Humbly love your God, love your community, and love the people who don’t know him. God does.

5. The timeline is longer

I’m so A-Type I’d love to conclude everything in about 35 seconds.

Increasingly, evangelism doesn’t work that way.

Ever notice that people who come to faith when pressured often leave it after a few years? And that, conversely, the people who come to faith on their own timeline tend to be flourishing years down the road?

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself, and he will. But he didn’t promise to do it in 3 minutes, or during a 90 minute service or even an eight week class.

You need people and leaders who will take the time to go on a journey with people.

It kind of took the disciples 3 years to figure out who Jesus was, didn’t it? Why do you think your church will be any different?

Don’t get me wrong, we can’t lose our sense of urgency in the mission. I feel that urgency every day. Sometimes I think I feel it more every day. But we need to give people space and we need to give the Holy Spirit space to do His work.

So give people time and space to come to faith. Apparently, God does this too.

How About Your Context?

I’m not saying high-pressure evangelism never works or that God has stopped using it entirely.

I’m just saying I’m seeing it becoming increasingly less effective and that another methodology that shares the same end appears to be even more effective.

What are you seeing about how evangelism is changing in your community?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

alignment

5 Ways An Aligned Team Is A Better Team (What I’ve Learned From North Point)

Ever wonder what would happen if you got everyone in your church or organization moving in the same direction?

For the last seven years, I’ve led a North Point Strategic Partner Church and have learned so much about the benefit of having an aligned church. One of the key benefits of a simple church model (which North Point and its partners practice) is alignment.

Alignment happens when you have a team of people – from the top leadership right through to the newest volunteer – pulling in the same direction not only around the same goals, but using the same strategy.

Seems simple, but it isn’t.

Everybody I talk to is in favour of aligning their organization (why have hundreds of people working at crossed purposes?), but few people seem to be able to pull it off.

Rarely have I seen an organization more intentional about alignment than North Point.

When people approach us as a partner church, few leaders ever ask us about alignment. But as they are leaving after some time with us, they inevitably remark on the level of ownership the staff and volunteers have.

I agree. Team and organizational alignment is a powerful thing when it happens.

That’s the power of alignment. To get very different people rallied around a common cause is a wonderful thing.

An aligned team, quite simply, is a better team.

alignment

Here are five benefits to working in an aligned organization:

1. Alignment creates a badly needed dividing line 

Being everything to everyone is pretty much the same as being nothing to everyone.

Few organizations struggle with this more than the church. Alignment forces you to be about a few defined things rather than about everything (aka nothing).

Once you choose the things you are going to do and align around it, the people who want you to be about everything will sometimes leave, but that’s okay.

Being aligned almost always means you will accomplish more.

2. Alignment forces out personal agendas 

I learned this early on from Andy Stanley.

When the organization’s agenda becomes clear and the main priority for everyone, it forces out competing personal agendas.

Everything from politics to selfish personal goals get squeezed out.

Why does alignment do this? Well, alignment forces out personal agendas, because leaders commit to something bigger than themselves.

3. Alignment does not mean full agreement; it means full focus 

Critics of alignment say that alignment means you snuff out independent thought and, in its extreme form, create a culture of yes people. I disagree.

Most high capacity leaders actually want to work in an environment that is going to produce results.

Alignment around key objectives does that.

Alignment does not mean full agreement; it means full focus.

4. Alignment removes all excuses

We’ve had several staff join us our team who used to be part of other, less aligned organizations.

Within a year, they had the same experience I did once we got our teams fully aligned: all your excuses for a lack of progress disappear.

You can’t blame anyone else because everyone actually supports you and your agenda—because there is only one agenda.

This allows you to realize your potential, but the excuses you used to use for lack of results are gone. And church leaders can be notorious excuse makers.

5. Alignment allows you to harness more creativity, not less

Counterintuitively, having a common mission and strategy means that your team can harness greater – not lesser – creativity.

Because you agree on direction and priorities, you spend significant time getting creative about implementing your vision.

You no longer waste hours debating what to do. Instead, you can spend hours getting better at what you’ve agreed you’ll do.

What About You?

If you are facing internal or external resistance to alignment, I want to encourage you to move past that resistance. You’ll be so glad you did.

That’s what I’m learning and enjoying about being part of an aligned organization. What are you discovering?

Reinvention: The 5 Different Leaders You Need to Become To Stay Effective

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.

The key to emotional intelligence is self-awareness.

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:

Perry Noble, on how depression and anxiety almost took him out of leadership.

Craig Jutila, on how his drivenness almost cost him his marriage and his family.

Justin and Trisha Davis, on how their personal issues almost killed their family and cost them their ministry.

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.