leaders can’t be for sale

Most of us know what it’s like to be desperate. Leaders have to make things happen in their organization. Sometime we are desperate for something to happen in our organizations – and sometimes we are willing to do nearly anything to make it happen! But leaders can never be so desperate that they are willing to compromise their better judgment. Never turn a blind eye to someone or something that can bring your organization down. You don’t need that person or their money or their prestige that much. You have too much to lose.

Don’t sell your leadership integrity to someone who could destroy you. Keep your standards high. You and your organization deserve it – and so does God.

an authenticity quiz

Under the influence of the current political fervor in America, I am exercising my gift of skepticism (regarding politics) and asking some questions of our leaders.

Answer the following questions from the perspective of a voter in the upcoming election:

Do I believe the promises this person is making?

Does she (or he) really have my best interest at heart or do they just want my support?

Does this person say one thing to me and something else to other people?

Does this person have a track record of telling the truth?

Do I trust this person?

Now if you are a leader, ask yourself the SAME questions, from the perspective of those whom you are leading. That is really the point of this blog post.

Leaders: Authenticity is not an option. Let’s be real!

Jesus said in Matthew 5:37, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (NIV)

cutting the grass and other leadership exercises

While some may disagree, I consider myself a relatively bright person. This afternoon, I had reason to second-guess my presupposition.

I haven’t cut grass in eight years. Until recently, we lived in a development that took care of outside maintenance – nice, but expensive.  With our recent move, I picked up the responsibility of mowing the lawn again.

Today was my first time with the new lawn and with the mower that was left behind for my use.  I added some gas, looked over the machine and cranked her up. Understand, our lawn is very hilly. It was hot, the grass was a little wet, and I was working pretty hard, especially on the uphill parts. About ¾ of the way finished, I happen to notice a level on the mower I hadn’t yet seen.  I pulled it and the mower started pulling itself! Awesome! But I felt kind of stupid. My last mower was self-propelled, but I made the assumption that this one was not, WITHOUT TAKING TIME TO LOOK.

Stop laughing.

Leadership lesson: before jumping into a project – take time to examine all of the details available:

What do you have to work with?

Is there a strategy or plan or method that will bring more success?

Is there an easier or smarter way to do this job?

What about efficiency…will you be getting the most out of your efforts?

Taking time to fully understand the details of what you are doing, what will be required and the best way to get the job down will make your responsibility and your life a lot more enjoyable. And you will be way more productive!

Once I kicked in the self-propelled feature on the mower, the job was a breeze. But the first hour and a half were not fun. I want to have fun working and leading.

Next week, I will cut the lawn in half the time with half the effort. Now if I could only find that self-propelled feature on some of the people I get to work with! (Just kidding!)

the new “no”

What do you think of this statement? “No response is the new ‘no’.” Here is what I mean: When you ask someone for something or request someone to get involved in a particular thing and you hear nothing back from them…you can assume that the answer is “no.” Apparently it is no longer necessary to actually say “no”. Saying nothing at all will suffice.

Our church staff experiences this frequently. My daughter, Jessica is a missionary and has to search for churches in which to raise support. From what she tells me, it is very common to receive no response at all from Pastors. Voicemails and emails remain unanswered most of the time.

I know I have been guilty of this. I get a message from a salesman or a band or an itinerate preacher who wants to be invited to come to our church. It is always uncomfortable to make that return call. I’d rather not, but I try. Putting myself on the other end of that call, I would rather hear a “no” than to be left hanging.

I just wanted to post this as an encouragement to leaders. People deserve to be treated with respect. It doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of a “no” response, but it sure beats being left hanging.  We realize it is difficult to do. But go ahead and respond – with a “no” (assuming your answer is not “yes”).  You will feel better and the person you are responding to will feel better.  And then they can move on to the next person they need to ask.

don’t forget the most important stuff

A few weeks ago, we were headed to a conference for the purpose of giving exposure to our missions work. When we arrived at the airport, we realized we had left all of our presentation materials back at home. I had to go back home to get them, and I ended up flying standby. Otherwise, we would have been without the most important stuff – the very reason for our trip.
Warren Bennis, leadership guru says, “I’ve never seen anyone derailed from top leadership because of a lack of business literacy or conceptual skills: it’s always because of lapses of judgment and questions about character. Always.
It seems to me that there is a sufficient amount of emphasis on skills development and strategy engagement among leaders. Bennis is right – know-how is not the problem when someone fails.  The problem almost always is, leaders lose their bearings.  They have a moral lapse. They fail and fall.
I see four key reasons why leaders are prone to omit issues of character and integrity:
·      Forgetting what brought success. Honesty and integrity are not very glamorous foundations, but must be maintained in order to prevent moral failure.
·      Corruption from outside sources. Unscrupulous characters will be attracted to success. Know who they are and avoid them!
·      Arrogance of success. Pride is the greatest enemy of leaders. Stay humble; stay on track.
·      Too busy to pay attention to details. Never become so preoccupied with leading that you forget to focus on small, important, moment-by-moment decisions.
Leaders (and followers) don’t forget the most important thing – your character.

learning to lead

An unbelievably large amount of material has been produced in the last few years on the topic of becoming a better leader. Some people are tired of the subject and others think they are excluded from the conversation because they don’t perceive themselves to be in a leadership position. Neither of these approaches are good because both of them will prevent us from accomplishing what really needs to get done in life. We cannot afford to get tired of studying leadership principles because they are ever-evolving. And yes, you are a leader! That simply means that someone is looking up to you, following you, watching you as an example.

So how do we learn leadership?

Most of us learn by reading. Good leaders are good readers. I think that if you are not perpetually working your way through some type of leadership material, you probably aren’t very serious about improving as a leader. Don’t know where to start? Try your public library. Walmart, amazon.com, and a thousand websites and blogs will provide a lifetime worth of decent material. Just start reading.

Leadership conferences are all the rage these days. I receive invitations to dozens of leadership conferences every month. Many of these meetings are great and offer world-class training. Others aren’t, in my opinion, worth the price of admission.  And I think the trap for some has become, being conference-active and leadership-weak. Eventually we have to stop running around the country listening to Chan and Hybels and Maxwell and we have to get to work. If you’ve been privileged to attend conferences, stay home for a while and use what you’ve learned.

Most people learn by experience. In every one of my leadership appointments, I wasn’t adequately prepared for the challenges that were ahead of me – I had to learn on the fly. There is nothing like trial and error to teach us what to do and what not to do.  This can be a painful experience for both the leader and the followers but it is a necessary element in individual and corporate growth. Don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end of the pool – just be sure you are in a culture that provides life preservers (systems and safety nets for a growing leader).

I learn most by watching a leader in action. Yesterday I was able to be in a lengthy meeting with a leader that I admire. We were wrestling with some tough issues, decisions that had to be made that required strength and courage and wisdom. A few times throughout the day, I watched his facial expressions and his body language.  I listened to the way he addressed his fellow leaders around the table. And I took note. We all observed how he worked his way through a difficult agenda. I think I left the meeting as a better leader.

I learn the most by watching a leader lead. I learn when I follow. Come to think of it, that is how the greatest leader of all time did His best leadership training. Jesus asked His disciples to follow Him. As they spent 3 plus years shadowing Jesus, the disciples learned how to lead, how to respond to critics, how to care for the hurting, how to make decisions. They learned how to live and how to die.

No matter what you are reading, regardless of the latest conference you’ve attended, no matter in what capacity you find yourself leading, my question is: from whom are you learning leadership? Who are you following, observing close enough to learn from? Watch them. If they are a good leader, get closer and emulate them. Lean in. If they are a bad leader, learn what not to do and keep on looking for a good leader to follow.

That’s how we learn to lead.

3 levels of encouragers

Acts 4:36-37 There was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles. (NLT)

Everyone needs to be encouraged. I believe that different experiences and responsibilities in life require different levels of encouragement.  Leaders and those involved in helping others certainly need an “attaboy” on occasion. I am writing from this perspective. The goal of this article is to encourage you to be an encourager to someone else, on any and all of these three levels.

The back patter.

This is your unofficial nice guy who takes time to say positive things and give compliments when warranted.  A “nice job” or “thank you” goes a long way to someone who is in the trenches. The back patters are important players in the leadership game. Never assume that people know how you feel. If they have done well, commend them. But please be sincere. Most of us can tell when people are blowing smoke or being disingenuous. Don’t cheapen the gift of encouragement by throwing compliments around.  Sincerely express your encouragement. It will go a long way. A pat on the back may be just what your leader needs today.

The load bearer.

The next level of encourager goes beyond words. He or she believes in you and the vision enough to actually get their hands dirty helping you.  When the weight is too heavy to bear, these second-level encouragers come alongside you and make your job easier. Never underestimate the value of a strong back. You notice when they show up – the atmosphere improves. You are glad they are involved. Load bearers may be not be long-term contributors but the time they spend pitching in makes a big difference.

I’m having a difficult time labeling the third level of encourager. The partner? No, too many cultural considerations. The sidekick? Too condescending. The colleague? Too academic. Just allow me to explain: This third level encourager is part of you. You couldn’t shake them if you wanted to. This person may be a spouse or a relative but for sure they are committed to you. Thick or thin, success or failure – they’re there. If you get into a fight, they’ve got your back. If your integrity is questioned – they defend you. They give you the benefit of the doubt. They know you are not perfect but they are committed to you anyway. And this relationship is a two-way street – you serve as a third-level encourager to them as well. I believe that this level of encourager only comes around a few times in one’s life.  They are not there to see what they can get from you. You can trust them to have your best interest at heart. A word of warning: you shouldn’t try to be this level of encourager for many people. It just won’t work, we are not built with the capacity to function like this for very many people. This level of encourager is a rare treasure. If and when it happens, value it.

I am grateful to have all three levels of encouragers in my life. To them I say, “Thank you!” I literally could not do what I do without you.  I hope I am involved in encouraging others on all three levels.

Be an encourager on all three levels. Someone you know could really use the pick up.

Let’s let Barnabas be our encourager. He was so good at it that they gave him the nickname. His place seemed to be as a genuine revitalizer for others. He made their world a better place. He picked them up and encouraged them to press on. I hope I can do that for you – on some level. And I am hoping for the same from you.