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If You Can’t Mess Up, Don’t Bother Leading

Rocky Road

Having an ambition to lead is great, but it doesn’t produce actual leadership. Taking risks does. The best leader in the room isn’t the one with all the answers. The leader is the one who volunteers to go first and show the way. Every great leader I know has been scorched by the pain of making the hard, and sometimes wrong, decisions.

But the only way to change the world is to take the risks of leadership, such as the risk of

  • Casting a bold, impossible vision.
  • Writing the first check.
  • Releasing people before they’re quite ready to fly.
  • Opening up and getting nothing back.
  • Opening up and getting slammed.
  • Losing consensus.
  • Praying the bold, public prayer.
  • Choosing a conviction over compromise.
  • Confessing a wrong turn.
  • Wasting time on a failed endeavor.

Real success stories are never built out of an unbroken chain of successes. They’re pieced together with wins and losses, tough seasons, temporary setbacks, and half-dead dreams.

Successful leaders push through. They keep going. They trust one more time. They try one more time. They take the risk, embrace the pain, and celebrate recovery along the way.

Stop thinking of leadership as synonymous with continual victory. As long as you define leadership this way, you’ll do whatever it takes to not mess up. And if you can’t mess up, if you can’t bear to take the risk of messing up, don’t bother volunteering to go first.

Get Out Front! The World Needs You to Lead: 3 Big Challenges

Forces of Nature

Two thirds of the earth’s surface is water, yet there are places in the world where people will literally go to war over access to clean drinking water. In the same way, there have never been so many books, seminars, and blogs on leadership, yet the culture is still a giant vacuum desperately needing leaders to get out front.

I’ve become convinced that the world needs two things from the church and the church has the potential to offer them. The first is the gospel – the life-transforming, world-changing, culture-shaping good news that Jesus has done all that is necessary to redeem us from sin’s curse. The second is leadership, which provides the vehicle for carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth. Without the gospel, the church has no real reason to exist. And without leadership, the church’s existence is quite temporary.

That’s why I’m giving my life to two things: feeding the flock and leading leaders. Every week, I want to study and prepare to teach truth, speak into the culture, and share the depth of the riches of God’s Word with people. And every week, I want to spent time investing in those who lead – not just church leaders, but leaders in every realm of society – at home, at work, and in the community.

We lack leaders because potential leaders lack three things:

  • A conviction that I ought to lead.
  • The confidence that I can lead.
  • A growing knowledge of how to lead.

So I have three challenges for you to take up.

Challenge #1: See the Need

A lot of people, from Lee Roberson to John Maxwell, have gotten credit for originally saying one of the simplest and wisest things that has ever been said… “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

  • Families thrive under good leadership.
  • Communities are better places to live because of good leadership.
  • Causes are addressed and needs are met with good leadership.
  • Churches and companies grow under good leadership.

You don’t need a fresh revelation from God to feel called to lead. He has spoken plenty on the subject and His call to salvation is also a call to service. Do you see the need?

Challenge #2: Invest In Relationships

I love Maxwell’s basic definition of leadership, “Leadership is influence.” Nothing more. Nothing less.

The word “influence” comes from a compound of two Latin words meaning “in” and “flow.” Creek beds and canyons are formed because of a flow of water. Weather patterns stay regulated by the flow of ocean currents. And culture is shaped by leaders.

And how do leaders shape the culture around us? Through relationships. The evidence of leadership is change. And the evidence of good leadership is change for good. I love watching my wife lead, and she’s one of the best I know. And what I see that amazes me most is the change she affects in others. A lot of people are in better places because of her.

How are you making a dent? Who has changed for good because you’ve led them?

Challenge #3: Do the Work of Leading

Leadership can either be a lofty idea or it can be an in-the-trenches daily exercise in influencing. Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” That’s true of leadership too. Goals are great. Vision is essential. But the bulk of leading is doing the hard work, investing time and imparting wisdom into people.

So catch a vision. Make some friends. And get to work! The world needs you to get out front!

Photo by Koen Rayer.

Tim Stevens: Embracing the Pain of Growth

Fairness Is Overrated

A pastor asked me to talk to his staff and answer this question: “If our church is going to double in the next two years [from five hundred to a thousand], what will it take?” The same question might be asked from a business leader: “If we want to double sales in the next two years, what will it take?” This is what I shared:

  1. Some of you won’t have as much access to the senior leader. This has to be okay with you.
    Are you more committed to maintaining the tight-knit staff size and your proximity to the pastor or CEO? Or are you more committed to the organization growing?
  2. Some of you are doing okay as leaders in your organization today, but it’s possible that what you are currently doing won’t cut it when you have doubled in size. You need to be willing to step into another role.
    Are you more committed to keeping your position and title? Or are you more committed to the growth of your business or church?
  3. You will need to anticipate the strain and pressure that is coming before anyone actually feels it. As the leaders, you need to be looking ahead, seeing what is around the next corner.
    Are you comfortable? If so, you probably aren’t anticipating growth adequately.
  4. You will have to be as willing to stop stuff as you are to start stuff.
    What are you doing that takes time and energy and diverts your focus? What has God uniquely gifted your team to do where you should put more focus?
  5. You will have to drive up the level of excellence. When people walk up to a fair booth to buy food, they have one expectation of service and quality. At McDonald’s, it’s another level. And when they walk into Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, it’s yet another level. As you grow, so will the expectations of your guests.
    What are you doing right now that would not be considered excellent if you were an entity twice your current size?
  6. You have to spend money on infrastructures like computers, data-management software, and staff to develop and run systems.
    What systems do you have right now that aren’t broken yet but are showing signs of strain?

I liked the question this leader was asking. He was basically saying, “How do we prepare for growth?” Someone told me years ago, “If you want to grow, you always need to act like you are twice the size you currently are.” It was good advice.

The Dangers of Growth

But growth is a two-sided coin. Many times, when we are growing, we get lazy. When things are going really well in the organization, we can put it on cruise control. When that happens:

  • We don’t pay attention to mission drift that is happening in individuals or even entire departments.
  • We don’t heed warning signs that are all too obvious later when looking in the rearview mirror.
  • We don’t ask enough questions.
  • We rush spending and hiring decisions.
  • We delay necessary firing decisions.
  • We feel invincible. So we reject all criticism, even if we know there is a kernel of truth included.
  • We often neglect important relationships. Since velocity and intimacy are enemies, many times a fast-growing organization can result in broken relationships.
  • We stop being innovative. Why? Because we don’t need to innovate. Growth is happening without it.

In an article in Fast Company magazine, Dan Heath and Chip Heath put it this way: “When you’re getting rich, it’s pretty easy to soothe the ol’ gut. If you need a rationalization, your mind will provide one.”1

For a church, you may not be getting rich, but your numbers might be trending upward. Attendance is increasing year after year, offerings are going up, and momentum is on your side.

I’ve been there. For the first twenty years at Granger, we averaged 23 percent growth year after year. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now I can see clearly how I sometimes fell into these traps.

It is important to consider what you really believe about growth. Is your team committed to the pain that comes from getting your church or business to the next level?

Pointers for Pastors: Lead Better by Understanding Basic Psychology

PointersNot all change leads to growth, obviously, but growth never happens without change. So leadership is, in large part, motivating and organizing a group of people to change and grow. But… nobody likes change. Even people who say they like change don’t like it naturally. They’ve just developed a good attitude about embracing it.

As a Pastor, I used to take it quite personally when someone was afraid of the change I was urging for our church. While it doesn’t always solve all the issues, I finally came to understand that there is a psychology behind leadership that needs to be understood, even by shepherd-theologians leading a church. We must understand that people resist leadership for two big reasons: they’re afraid, and they’re hurt.

People are afraid when their sense of security is challenged, and security is a basic need of the human soul. We are naturally protective of the status quo, so we resist change that challenges us to move out of what is comfortable, safe, and familiar.

And people are hurt when their sense of significance is damaged. This happens when we feel ignored or invisible, or left out of the equation of a decision that affects our sense of security. We are supposed to have both of these needs met through our relationship with God as we seek our shelter in him and serve his people. But we naturally seek significance in superficial ways, which leads to trouble.

Why does all of this matter so much? Can’t we just push people by virtue of our position of authority? Shouldn’t people just get in line behind us and follow us in spite of their feelings? Maybe, but that’s not really leadership. Leadership is instigating and motivating people to move, then organizing them to move in the right direction with a clear picture of the destination. Charles Stone addressed this well in a piece on the six brain barriers to healthy church change.

If you want to lead better, understand what motivates people to resist you. When you bring comfort and encouragement to people who feel insecure or insignificant, you have a highly increased chance of leading them to do what you believe you’ve been called to do.

To lead better, understand how and why people think the way they do.

Here’s an audio clip in which I expand on this a bit…

Dump Your Doubt, Take the Risk, and Lead Forward

DiveNothing paralyzes good leadership like fear, and nothing fuels good leadership like taking risks in faith. Obviously, we must make decisions wisely, but when we know, it’s time to go. This is coming from a somewhat trigger-shy leader.

If you know what a DISC profile is, I’m a high “I” and a fairly low “D.” That simply means, I want everybody to be on board with a decision before I move forward as opposed to driving ahead on my own. So when I feel that people disapprove of my direction, I’m prone to want to plant my feet. Knowing this is half the battle, and dumping my fear and leading confidently anyway is the other half.

As leaders, we fight fear daily.

  • The fear of trying and failing.
  • The fear of criticism.
  • The fear of doing something dumb and getting everyone hurt.

Way back in 2000-ish, the church I was leading in Kentucky was averaging about 60 in weekly worship, so we set aside a Sunday as a big day and we set a goal of having 75. I announced it publicly. We prayed for it hard. When that Sunday finally arrived, we had a whopping 58 people present. (I later realized that while God indeed answers prayer, He also encourages us to have a plan for accomplishing our goals and to work hard at it.)

I stopped announcing big goals.

Fast-forward ten years and Angie and I are sitting in a worship service at Saddleback Church listening to Pastor Rick Warren teach part one of his message series, Decade of Destiny. Some of what Pastor Rick said that day re-shaped my thinking and has re-kindled a deep passion in me for dreaming and leading people. For example…

Your goals are only as big as your God. – Rick Warren

That’s not a theological statement about the size of God. It’s a statement about how we see and think about God. And the bigger He is in our eyes, the more we’re willing to trust Him to do.

We overestimate what we can do in a year but we underestimate what we can do in ten. – Rick Warren

That’s been true for me time and again.

But the real kicker was the part of the message where Rick asked us if we were currently doing and working on the one thing we wanted to be doing ten years from now. While I LOVED my spot on the Saddleback staff, I couldn’t honestly answer ‘yes’ because God was already stirring our hearts about church planting. So Saddleback wound up sending us with a blessing to start Grace Hills.

[bcoxlike]

Somewhere between there and here, Angie and I made some decisions about the rest of our lives. We were no longer going to settle for mediocrity, accept a mere facade of authenticity, and we would no longer lead in a way that was limited by our fear of the disapproval of others. That has been liberating, but it’s still a daily struggle.

And today, we have some BIG goals!

God loves faith, responds to faith, and always encourages us to act in faith rather than planting our feet and remaining frozen by fear.

My current challenge is charting a course for the future of Grace Hills Church, which involves getting better at what we do, possibly moving to a new location in the near future, raising up leaders, and making as many new disciples as possible.

Whatever your challenge is, decide that you won’t fail because of fear. You won’t look back and wish you’d given it a shot. Dump your doubt, take the risk, and lead forward.

So… what’s your challenge? What are you going to do next?

photo credit: juls10