Every day as a leader, you face obstacles. Sometimes, they seem impossible to scale.
I always tell my team, “Hey, we get paid to solve the problems no one else can solve.”
There’s a bit of truth in that, isn’t there? Welcome to leadership.
It’s easy to imagine that leadership should be easy, but it never is.
That’s why great leadership is such a rare thing: it essentially involves moving past obstacles after almost everyone else has given up.
In the same way the Wright Brothers pioneered flight after several previous botched attempts, no formal education and centuries of failure by previous generations, some people decide to see the opportunity when everyone else only sees the obstacle.
When other people only see obstacles, great leaders see opportunity.
So how do you do that?
The steps are simple to understand but take determination and commitment to accomplish.
Here are 7 insights that have helped me navigate everything from merging three small, dying churches into a rapidly growing church (I tell the story here), plant a church, launch a blog and podcast in a very crowded leadership space and much more.
They’re the principles I’ve seen at work across the board among leaders who keep making progress.
1. Fire the naysayers
The first thing you do is fire the naysayers.
Every organization—and especially the church—has naysayers.
You know what I mean. Naysayers are the
People who find the cloud in every silver lining.
Bean counters who never ever think you have the money to do what you’re called to do.
Voices that tell you a thousand reasons why it won’t work.
You don’t need them at your leadership table. Really, you don’t.
One of the reasons the church’s mission is so crippled is because our boards are filled with them.
Should you have a voice of caution? Sure…but there’s a world of difference between a voice of caution that wants to take the church forward and a voice of doom that that only makes the church stall out.
So…fire the naysayers. Why? Because you can’t build a positive future on negative people.
Move them off your board. Get them off your team. Moving forward, refuse to hire pessimists.
It might take you two to three years to transform your team as people retire and you gently move the negative people out of leadership, but do it.
Because your future depends on it.
To (once again) quote Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Remember the time Jesus couldn’t perform any miracles? It was because the people in a few cities didn’t have any faith.
Neither do the naysayers.
They can be negative somewhere else. They don’t need to take your church or organization down with them.
2. Focus on the possibilities, not the probabilities
Obviously, every idea has to hit the ground at some point, but too many ideas die the swamp of what many people think is ‘reality.’
Reality is something you create.
A decade ago, almost no one thought a phone could play music, truly navigate the web, and do so many other things desktop computing was doing (and a bunch of stuff no one had thought of). Now it’s a daily reality most of us don’t think twice about.
It’s so easy to focus on the obstacles that it will require deep determination by everyone (even the optimists) to stay focused on the possibilities, not the probablities.
Your job as a leader is to continually steer the team to what could happen, not to what might happen or what usually happens.
Leaders who focus on the possibilities, not the probabilities, always make more progress. Plus, they’re more fun to be around.
3. Be relentlessly positive
Negativity is natural in all of us.
Even in people who aren’t naysayers, gravity has a way of pulling us all down.
So stay relentlessly focused on the positive.
Instead of outlining 10 reasons it won’t work, brainstorm 10 ways it could work.
Everytime someone says can’t, refocus them on can.
When someone says no, redirect them toward yes.
You may have noticed that the first three points are all centered on attitude.
Of all the battles you fight, the greatest battles are in your mind.
Your attitude determines far more than you realize. Lose that game, and it’s over.
Leaders with positive attitudes tend to forge brighter futures.
4. Look outside your industry
For sure, you should look at other organizations within your field or industry. Churches should study other churches. Marketing companies should study other marketing companies. Law firms should study other law firms.
But some of the best learnings and breakthroughs happen when you study other industries.
If you’re thinking about your online presence as a church, study Amazon Prime or Netflix (here’a post outlining 5 things Netflix is showing church leaders about the future.)
If you’re looking for the next disruptive breakthrough in your field, study the rise of phenomenon like Uber (here’s a post on that).
Alternatively, read some history. I love reading biographies of past leaders who faced seemingly insurmountable odds and battled back. Or just read your Bible. The scriptures are full of leaders who had lost…until God ushered in a win.
Looking outside your context can expand your thinking enough to break the molds that have held your previous ideas.
And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.
5. Get younger leaders in the room
Look around your staff or board room table. Any idea what the average age is?
Now compare that to the average age in your community.
The median age in the United States is 37 years old. People aged 65 or older make up 14% of the population. People between age 20-39 make up 27% of the population.
The leadership in most churches skews far older than the general population.
Age isn’t necessarily wisdom.
Getting younger leaders in the room is a game changer. What they make lack in experience they make up in ideas and new ways of seeing a problem.
Increasingly, they were raised in a different world than anyone over 40.
With it, they bring fresh eyes, energy and an optimism unhindered by a lifetime of ‘realism.’
Ultimately, every matter of true leadership is a matter of faith.
Tackling an object no one has been able to scale demands trust. It requires courage. It calls out your faith.
Bold leadership will grow your faith because, suddenly, faith is all you have.
But that puts in you great company.
After all, God created everything out of nothing. He turned death into life. He specializes in seeing people transcend impossible circumstances.
I honestly believe when you are trying to create something out of nothing, do the impossible or navigate around an unmovable obstacle, you are exercising your faith at the deepest level, and God is delighted.
So where’s the real world in this sequence?
Well, it’s there. You just can’t rush it in too early.
If you’ve hung out in the realm of possibility for a long time, you’ve likely brought some fantastic ideas into play.
Will all of them work? Of course not.
Some will fail…but at least you tried.
Others will need adjusting to work well.
And some will need constant tweaking or re-imagining before they truly take off.
What separates dreamers from leaders? Simple: execution. Real leaders do something with their ideas. And that’s a great thing.
The real world does shave the edges off some ideas. It refines and reshapes. And sometimes, experiments fail. That’s why they were experiments.
You’ll get to the brutal realities of life soon enough. But if you hope long enough, imagine long enough, and dream long enough, you’ll ship more breakthrough ideas than you ever would have otherwise.
What Helps You?
What’s helped you turn obstacles into opportunities?
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