What You Need to Know About Great Leaders

leadershipblog.pngI read a lot of leadership books. I listen to a number of leadership podcasts a week. I send out a monthly leadership newsletter to our staff. So, I really appreciate and value the necessity of good leadership.
The problem is that the Bible talks about something so much more than “leadership.” The Bible talks about serving. For all of our culture’s focus on being a leader, the Bible seems to want to place the focus on serving and being a servant. And, this is a crucial distinction to make in our current culture and world.
To be a leader, you often talk about being in front, ahead and being an example, and – here is the main point – where people can see you. Because you want to show them the way, you want to inspire them and you hope to motivate them forward through your efforts.
But, true service has the same inspiring outcome, but through a different means. You are not out front getting recognition, but in the background doing what needs to be done. You aren’t trying to be an example, you are simply being faithful. The point isn’t for people to notice you, but for you to notice others.
It is very easy to fall into the leadership trap in our current culture. We think that what will save the church is leadership – that what we need is better and truer leaders. And, while I’m certainly not against leadership, I think we need to regain a focus on serving. It is so easy to assume that to be a leader means being a leader like we see in our culture, but, for Jesus, leadership doesn’t look like our culture, it looks like Him and serving.
Jesus says, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25-26, NLT) 
While I think being a leader matters immensely, what I know is this – that the best leaders were first, and primarily are, servants. And, the worst leaders are those who never serve, but command and direct.
So, I write all this, with books on leadership on my shelf, this article going out to you and a desire to lead well as a reminder: Leadership is never the main thing, service is. 
And, for all our culture’s preoccupation with leadership, I think it’s time to do something countercultural: Serve.

The Value of Hustle and Asking

coffee-1475384-639x852Here is something I’ve learned over the past few years: it matters to ask for mentoring.

I’m young, and in many ways I have so so much to learn. But I’ve learned the value of having mentors in my life informally. The first two mentors I’ve had were people who chose to invest in me before I thought I was worth investing in. One was my dad who mentored me over years, the second was a man named Shawn Good who actually asked if he could mentor me. He took the initiative and really showed me the value of having someone pour and invest into you. Both through his mentoring and through my dad’s, my leadership grew leaps and bounds.

But through a series of events both of those mentoring relationships stopped (my dad passed away, and Shawn moved across the country and I changed churches at the same time).

It was at that point that I realized something: I need mentors. I need people to invest in me, and not just for me but those around me. If I am going to give back something to this world, to the church I love, to the people I love, I need to be doing my best. And the truth is my best comes out when I’m listening and engaging with others wiser and more experienced than I am.

So I did something that felt unusual to me. I contacted one of the best pastors in our denomination and asked him to mentor and invest in me. I asked if I could have lunch and just learn from him. And he accepted and out of that relationship grew an opportunity I never could have guessed.

And I have been doing the same thing since: selectively reaching out to leaders I respect and asking for some coaching. 

And through this I’ve made some great relationships. I thought what’s the worst – they can say no. But not one has said no, they’ve all given back, helped me grow, and given things to think about and put into practice.

So I say all this for one simple reason: we all know others investing in us helps us tremendously. But here is where we struggle: we don’t ask. We hope that someone will recognize us, will choose to invest in us, will see the potential and take the initiative. And sometimes that happens like with Shawn and my Dad, but sometimes it doesn’t. What I’ve also learned from the mentoring end of things, I love investing in people who take the initiative to ask, to learn, to grow, and to practice.

So here is my challenge for you this week. If you want to grow in whatever area you live, work, and breathe – who are the people you really respect? Who are the people you might have a connection with? Who are the people that you would love to spend even sometime with to learn?

And now here’s the challenge: why not ask them? Why not take some initiative and add some hustle, some discernment over who to approach and genuinely ask. Get rid of arrogance, and humbly ask. What’s the worst?

Because here is what I know about good leaders – they want to invest in other leaders. And the leaders I look to invest in are the ones who are hungry to learn, seeking to change lives with some extra investment and wisdom, and not scared to try.

So all I’m saying today is that chances are there are people in your company, in your sector, in your world that you might have a semi-relationship with. Ask if you can take them out to lunch to learn. Who knows it might start something that turns out to be the best future you could imagine.

Abusive Authority, Good Leadership, and The Inner Life of Leaders

change-is-childsplay-5-1056964-1599x1066This quote by Derek Flood really speaks to me, and also challenges me.

Of all sins, the sin of abusive authority is particularly dangerous because it masquerades as righteousness, claiming to speak for God.

It challenges me because I am a leader, and because I lead I have a certain “authority”. Which means I can fall prey to a specific sin of leaders: abusing authority. And nothing will wreck a community faster or deeper than abusive authority.

We’ve all seen some leadership and authority go sideways. Where it goes bad, where they hurt someone (maybe you), where unquestioned obedience is the rule, where it’s just plain unhealthy.

But the answer to bad leadership, isn’t no leadership, but good leadership. 

And to have that we have to recognize the fact that if we are a leader our inner life is crucial. If we want to ensure that we never abuse our authority our inner journey must be a priority.

What I mean by this statement is this: that if as a leader your inner life is in turmoil, unclear, or unknown you cannot lead well. Those who end up abusing authority, who try to “speak for God”, who masquerade as righteous have an inner life that is a mess, unknown, or hidden.

The truth is that if you want to lead well it isn’t about knowing how to inspire people, move people, or set goals. If you want to lead well you need to know yourself and God well. That’s the central starting point of leadership. If you don’t know who you are, you will be tempted to find yourself in power, accolades, or success and fall to the sin of abusive authority. Abusive authority can be prevented, but not without deep inner work of prayer, identity formation, and understanding of who you are wired to be.

I write all of this for two reasons. First, if you are a leader, and want to avoid the sin of abusive authority spend time to know yourself and know God. The inner journey is more difficult than the outward journey of leading. And let me say this, it’s also less cool. It’s way “cooler” to be leading a massive group of people. It’s less glamorous to be sitting in prayer processing why that little comment someone said really cut you deeply. But the process and inner work is true leadership.

And secondly, I write this as a caution for everyone of us. All of us are following someone, all of us (even if we are leaders) are influenced by others and their leadership. But we should be cautious of whom we let influence us. If who we are following who doesn’t’ seem to know themselves or God, simply be cautious, be wise, and be prudent. Because if someone doesn’t know who they are called to be, they cannot help you become who you are called to be.

So my main point from all of this – is this: leaders know yourself well so you can lead well. Take time to do the hard inner work. Because good leaders move to being great leaders not by bigger crowds, but by deeper inner work.

You Have Something to Offer The World

A gift for youToday I want to talk about a connection between leadership, Jesus, and life.

James Kouzes, and Barry Posner write this in their book The Truth about Leadership.

Everything you will ever do as a leader is based on one audacious assumption. It’s the assumption that you matter. Before you can lead others, you  have to lead yourself and believe that you can have a positive impact on others.

And this is so true. If you want to be a leader, you need to start to learn and believe that you can be. You need to believe that not only do you matter, but that you have something to offer.

And this type of belief in yourself isn’t either arrogance, or shameless self-promotion. It’s not a belief that you’re amazing and everyone should listen to you. Instead, it’s a belief that you have something to offer, something positive to give. And I think Kouzes and Posner are right.

What is interesting to me is that their statement seems a little like Jesus’ statement, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Jesus’ point is that you can’t actually love your neighbour if you don’t love yourself. If you hate yourself, the hate will pour out all over and you wont’ be able to love your neighbour.

And here is the connection between both Jesus and the quote above: that to be able to lead, or love ~ you need to believe in yourself and that you have something to offer. You need to love yourself, and who you are to best love others. To lead others, you need to believe that you have something – big or small – to contribute to the world. This isn’t about listing all the reasons you are amazing, but instead thinking through:

  • What do I have to offer?
  • What has God gifted me with to gift to others?
  • What positive contribution can I give? What do I love about who I am, that I can share with others?

I think those are good questions to not only help us become better leaders, but better followers of God.

Creativity, Leadership, and Learning to Launch

1439539_30967932I want to begin by talking a little bit about creativity. Creativity is this weird thing. It’s something that we all have, but something most of us don’t capitalize on. And here is why: creativity always begins with unfinished, unpolished, and imperfect creations.

The truth is if you want to create, the first draft, step, or program will not be great. It will not be perfect, or flawless. Most likely it will be full of holes, and faults, and failures. And we hate that. We don’t like creating something that isn’t perfect, that isn’t a guaranteed success.

But here is the thing then: our fear is more controlling our destiny.

If you resist creating that book, that song, that new idea, that event, whatever it is – because it might not be perfect – you will never end up creating anything.

Tony Bronsink writes,

“Sometimes the first step of creating is the most awkward one. It’s an unfinished product, embarrassingly short of what we dreamed it would be, yet something more than we had before.”

And that is true and that is necessary. The first step in creating something is never perfect, but it is the first step that can lead to something life-giving and successful. If you wait to create that piece of art, that business, that new thing you want – until it’s perfect and guaranteed you’ll be waiting forever.

And here is the tie-in to leadership too. When we lead we love to lead to successes, and that should be the goal. But if the first step is often imperfect, embarrassingly short of what we dreamed, yet necessary, here’s the point: we should be okay with imperfection when we are striving forward. Imperfection shouldn’t stop us from taking the first step, and we shouldn’t just stop with a first step either, but we need to step out and try.

That’s my main point with this post. All of us have these things I think that we’d love to start. Maybe it’s a blog, a book, a neighborhood group, a Bible study, a new business, a piece of art, a new hobby – or whatever. But often what stops is isn’t a lack of ability or creativity – it’s a lack of courage in the face of fear that our first step won’t be perfect or a guaranteed success. Well here is the liberating truth: the first step is never perfect or a guaranteed success…so what’s stopping you from taking it?