At times in my coaching of pastors and CEO’s of Christian organizations, my heart goes out to the person I’m coaching. People are attacking their leadership. That’s so common I consider it little more than “white noise.” But what breaks my heart is when pastors and other leaders believe the criticism.
Truth is, any and all of us can justly be criticized for our leadership. None of us is perfect. Truth is, often the one’s criticizing would make a mess of things if they were in leadership. Maybe they were and did! It’s also true that some people have more innate leadership skills than others. The fact there are natural-born leaders out there does not mean the rest of us are failures.
Over the years, I have seen people born with very little natural leadership ability still lead very effectively. What’s their secret? How do they do it? Simple. They study highly effective leaders and observe how they lead. And then they learn how to act like effective leaders act.
My wife was in sales for over 20 years. In her company many used a phrase over and over again that I hated then and still hate today. The mantra was, “Fake it until you make it.” I’m not talking about faking it here. I’m not talking about pretending you’re a great leader when you’re not. I am talking about becoming more and more effective as a leader, not by doing what comes naturally, but by engaging in the same behaviors that natural born leaders use without even thinking about them.
Here’s a list of things any and all can learn to develop. They are things highly effective leaders do. The more we develop our ability to act in these ways, the more effective our leadership will become. This is the pathway to becoming the most effective leaders you can be.
1. Live with Integrity
Many leaders sacrifice integrity for the sake of short-term gain. They don’t realize the gain is short term. They might even argue with you about it. But in time, they will be exposed and their leadership effectiveness will be compromised. Good leaders are the same people in private and public. Good leaders heed Jesus’ command, “Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no.” (Matthew 5:7)
2. Know what you know (And don’t know)
Pretending to know something you don’t is stupid and most people are too smart to do it very often, if at all. But when it comes to “knowing,” there’s something far more dangerous than pretending. It’s not knowing what you don’t know. Effective leaders know their area of expertise and stay within its boundaries. They also know what they don’t know. They ask questions of people who might know. They hire people around them who have the expertise they themselves lack. They are not in the least bit threatened when others know more than they. They have no need to be the smartest person in the room, ever!
3. Share your vision
Effective leaders have a vision, a mental picture of a preferred future. If they don’t, they drop everything until they do. Most frequently they gather others from their church or organization and pray and dream until God gives them a God-big dream. Sometimes they bring in a coach to help lead them in the envisioning process.
They not only have a vision, they share the vision. A compelling vision, frequently celebrated and reinforced, helps unite people, focus their efforts and define their success as they labor together for the Lord.
4. Be "all in!"
Commitment starts with the leader. If the leader is not “all in,” it’s not reasonable to expect anyone else to be. In my personal lexicon, “all in” is about passion. In my experience a church or ministry without passion is led by a passionless person. Effective leaders are passionate about Jesus, lost people coming to faith, their church, their ministry, the church’s vision, making a difference or advancing God’s Kingdom on earth.
5. Pay the price, no matter the cost
Good leaders take risks. Not stupid risks, but holy risks, ones they believe God can and will bless. When taking the risk leads to failure, the leader pays a price. They take the risks anyway. They make decision that sometimes cost them personally. If they believe something is right, they do it even when they know it will make people unhappy. You don’t have to be a born leader to choose taking risks and doing the right thing no matter the consequences.
6. Expect the best and success
Of the many hundreds of good leaders I have been privileged to know and work with over the years, I cannot think of one who was a pessimist. While not naïve and Pollyannaish in their outlook, they always expect the best and they believe they and those they lead will succeed in accomplishing all God intends for them to do. This positive mindset sustains them through the white water rapids times.
7. "Take care of the ponies"
Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in San Diego County, loves to ask, “In the days of the Pony Express, what was more important, the ponies or the mail.” His answer, “The ponies, of course.” If you don’t take care of the ponies, you can’t deliver the mail. It’s Larry’s memorable way of reminding us that effective leaders “take care” of those who work with them. Good leaders affirm, resource and honor those who “haul the freight” of ministry.
8. Rely on others and God
“One man shows” and “Lone Rangers” never make good leaders for obvious reasons. They don’t have and probably don’t want other leaders around them. Their idea of leadership is “everyone doing what I want done.” By contrast, outstanding leaders know the value of a team and work hard to become effective team builders. Even more important, they know that God-big dreams require God’s blessing and power. They frequently ask for God’s intervention and “partnership” in achieving the vision.
9. Give credit and take the blame
Don’t you hate it when you work hard to accomplish something and someone else steps in and takes credit for what you did? Of course you do. Doesn’t everybody? As my mid-western, Scandinavian friends would say, “Yassir, you betcha!” And don’t you hate it when you are blamed for a failure, even when you were responsible? Again, the answer for nearly everyone is, “Yes.” Leaders who give credit to others and quickly take the blame for their team’s failures are appreciated and enjoy the deep loyalty from their team members. People readily follow them and gladly go the extra mile for them whenever asked.
Leaders lead. They aren’t satisfied with the status quo. They don’t “go with the flow.” They don’t leave problems for someone else or for the next leader. They step out into the uncertain future. They invite and challenge people to go with them. In 1 Samuel 14 Jonathan is no longer willing to remain in the defensive encampment of his father Saul. He decides to take on the Philistines, quite literally “against all odds.” He says to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
Jonathan led, his armor-bearer followed and they killed 20 Philistines. Their heroics led Israel to rise up and rout the enemy. That’s leadership!
By Dr. William Hoyt