Why Leadership Entails Failing

I think if we want to learn to be leaders, and leadership can be learnt, we have to learn to live with messiness. And I don’t mean just messiness around us, but messiness within us.

Here’s what I mean by that: learning necessitates failing, mistakes, and messiness. 

You can’t become competent at something without trying, and without failing. That’s part of developing competence and ability. You try something, you make mistakes, you grow, you learn and you try again.

And that same principle is true with leadership. We won’t be able to grow as a leader if we are worried about failing, or making a mess. Instead, we should be growing in leadership as the art of learning from our mistakes and our messes.

All leaders fail and flounder. Which means to become a leader we have to learn to be okay with failing.

That almost sounds backwards in the leadership world. In the leadership world the talk is about success, moving forward, and casting vision. And those are all true and good things. The difficulty is that no one can do that perfectly on their first try. It’s something we grow in, and learn through our mistakes.

So all I’m saying is this: if you want to be a leader, you’re going to have to learn to be okay with making mistakes, and decide you are going to learn from your mistakes.

And that also means that if you are going to be raising other leaders around you, you’ll have to be okay with their mistakes too. In all honesty, I think leadership comes down to learning from mistakes, and allowing people to make mistakes.

So my challenge to each of you is this: go out and try to be a leader. Don’t let the worry about making mistakes stop you from trying, because that’s actually a deep part of leadership.

The Leadership Test: Are you leading, or helping others to lead?

The real test of leadership isn’t what you can do, but what you empower and enable others to do.

What I mean by this is simple. Real leaders raise leaders, enable others, and empower others. But we have this idea in our cultural mind that leaders blaze a trail, get stuff done, and move things forward by the sheer force of their will. And maybe that’s true sometimes.

But I think the true leader isn’t’ the one who focuses on what they can get done, but what they can help others to get done.

And it’s a shift in thinking but it needs to happen.

The best leaders are the ones who help others to lead well. 

So it’s not just about focusing on what you can do, but what can you help others to do?

Pretending in Leadership

926343_45454100Dan Rockwell, tweeted this a few days ago:

Pretending we know more than we know is one reason we don’t know more.

And that is absolutely true. Pretending we know more than we know isn’t one reason we don’t know more – it’s the reason.

To say, “I don’t know” is one of the least accepted things in our culture. Especially in business, leadership, and in theology today. To say “I don’t know” is tantamount to saying, “I’m not a real leader, an expert, or capable”.

But this pressure to pretend and posture in our culture is killing our leadership and influence.

Another way you could to put it is this: arrogance is killing our leadership and growth.

Or as the Bible puts it, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom”.   Proverbs 11:2.

The point is that if we want to grow, if we want to learn, if we want to lead well’’, pretending has got to go. Arrogance has got to go. We need to learn to grow humility, to learn from those around us, and to be okay with saying “I don’t know”. And as we do this not only will we become better leaders, but better people.

I cannot lead people where I am not trying to go…

1443938_20970553Here is a leadership principle that I live by. I’m sure I read it somewhere, by someone brilliant. But it’s a simple principle that I think matters. Here it is: I cannot lead people where I’m not trying to go.

I really think that this is true. You cannot lead people where you are not trying to go. And the reason I love this principle is for a few reasons.

  • Know Thyself. This principle means you need to know yourself and know where you are going. This principle focuses me in on self-awareness which matters so much in leadership. If you don’t know where you are headed, no one will be able to follow. So this focuses on knowing yourself, and your direction.
  • I don’t need to be there, I just need to be trying to get there. And this is so freeing. I don’t need to have “arrived” to have it “all-together” to be an “expert”. I need to be someone on the journey. So this principle is freeing and true in that it focuses me on progress, on direction, and intentionality.
  • Going Together. The last reason I love this principle is that inherent in it is this idea about journeying together. Leadership isn’t so much directing, and telling people what to do – but journeying with people. And that’s what this principle gets. Leadership isn’t about solo directing, but communal journeying.

And this principle really comes down to three questions I often ask myself, tied to those three reasons. First, where am I trying to go? Second, what’s the next step to take towards that goal? Third, who is journeying with me?

This helps me to stay focused and moving forward. Not perfect by any means, but progressing. Because I can’t lead people where I’m not trying to go.

What do you think of this principle?

The Leadership Principle of “I Don’t Know”

??????????John Cotton Dana once said, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”

I would agree with that, and also say, “Who dares to lead must never cease to learn”. Because the truth is that leading, and teaching require learning at their core. Leadership is nothing you are “born with”, it’s something you are taught. Knowledge is something you gain as you learn. So both teaching and leading flow out of a posture of learning.

  • The person who refuses to learn, refuses to grow.
  • The person who refuses to learn, refuses to improve.
  • The person who refuses to learn, stops moving forward and will soon move backward.

I think that’s all pretty straightforward, but here is the leadership or learning principle that flows from this that is hard. To be a good leader and a good teacher requires learning. This also means it requires saying, “I don’t know”. And this is what is hard for teachers and leaders.

They are used to being looked up to as the person with answers, with direction, with knowledge and skill. It is hard when you are in that position to say “I don’t know”. But being able to say, “I don’t know” is the fundamental posture of a learner. It is required to learn, to admit you need to learn. So here is the paradox or difficulty: to be a good leader means being a learner, which means admitting you don’t know things.

And this is hard, because we have somehow built up the expectation that our leaders and teachers would “know everything”. That if they were to admit that they don’t know we see them as an example of weakness rather than strength. But saying “I don’t know” isn’t a weakness; it’s a requirement to be a good leader and teacher. It requires self-awareness to know what you know, and know what you don’t. It requires courage to admit the limits of who you are. It requires humility to continue to look to others as well for direction, support, and growth.

The point is that if we want to be good leaders and teachers, it means being a great learner. And that means we need to get good at saying, “I don’t know”.

The Leadership Trap

??????????I love learning about leadership. I have a book reading problem (just ask my wife) and many of the books are on leadership.

I want to be a better leader. I want to grow in my leadership so that the lives around me are better. This is a good goal. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. In fact, I hope everyone would seek to be a better leader.

But there is one subtle trap that reading books about leadership, attending leadership conferences, or classes (which I’m in right now) can create. And it’s this: we can trust the technique rather than God.

Now if you’re not a Christian feel free to skip the rest of this, because this is definitively a Christian problem. And here it is. When we read about a leadership technique, skill, or ability we start to implicitly believe that if we follow that technique good things will happen. What can subtly happen is that we start trusting more in leadership experts to deliver the right techniques to bring success, rather than trusting in the faithfulness of God.

The writers in a new book, The New Parish, put it this way, “Technique wants your trust, even at the expense of your trust in God”. And this is true. Whenever we believe that following a technique, method, or practice will bring us success more than following Jesus – we’ve created an idol. And in today’s day and age (especially in the pastor world) there is no bigger idol than leadership. That if we bow to the feet of leadership gurus our churches, lives, and careers will become more successful.

Now take this all with a grain of salt, as I am currently reading 3 leadership books, and enrolled in a leadership class online. So I’m not against leadership. What I am against is anything replacing or capturing my attention more than God, and for many of us it can be the practice or technique of leadership.

All I’m saying is this: leadership techniques matter, but listening to God matters most. And getting that order right is often the difference between learning about leadership, and demonstrating it.

Learning to Eat Frogs

1059950_13941892I don’t know where I heard this analogy but I often think of it. And by often I mean all the time. I actually have a list called “Frogs to Eat” on the top of my monthly goals. And that heading will make sense in a moment.

But here is the idea. Leadership is like eating frogs.

There are things each of us has to do to be an effective leader that we might not want to do. And this changes for each person in each role. The point is that leadership entails doing things that we might rather not do. For example we might need to make a tough phone call, to do that admin we’ve been procrastinating on, to take that leap whatever. We all have things we need to do that we don’t want to do, that’s eating frogs.

Frogs are the weekly tasks that for whatever reason seem annoying, distasteful, or unwanted – but are needed to be done. And that’s key.

So here is how it works: Each week you have a certain number of frogs you need to eat to move forward. If you don’t the next week, the number of frogs you have to eat just multiply, and the frogs grow bigger as well. Time never makes a hard decision easier. Each time you delay doing that thing you need to do, the number and size of the frogs grow.

So leadership is learning to eat the frogs before they grow and multiply too much. That’s the idea.

Each month then I line up and think through what are the frogs I need to eat. Things I’d rather not do, but that are crucial to do; things I’d rather delay than decide on. Then I try to eat those frogs. It’s not the fun part of leadership, but it a crucial part of it.

So here is my question for you today: what frog do you need to eat?

The Relationship Between the Gospel and Trust



It’s a pretty big thing. In fact, if you think about it, all relationships are built on it. It’s something that takes years to build, and moments to lose. It’s something that is the difference from a relationship being healthy, to horrible. It is something we often take for granted, but is the grounding for almost everything.


I’m writing a little bit about trust because I think this is one thing we as Christians need to develop most. We need to develop trust. Let’s just be honest: the culture around us doesn’t trust us as the church. Stats show it. Anecdotal evidence shows it. And I think this is something we know deep down. But here is the beautiful thing: it’s something that can be changed. We can rebuild trust in our families, friendships, and communities. And if I can be so strong – this is something we need to do. We need to invest in rebuilding trust and connections with our culture and our communities.

I was talking with someone about why today “gospel presentations” often don’t seem to work. My answer was a lack of trust and relationship. Formal presentations without the basis of trust and relationship simply don’t carry much impact. It’s not that the gospel doesn’t have weight and impact on its own. The point is that the gospel is inherently relational. So when we share the gospel without relationships, it loses impact because its lost something important: trust.

So all of this is simply to say one thing. Trust matters. It matters if we want to follow Jesus fully. It matters if we want to leave an impact on our communities. It matters if we want to be faithful to the gospel and to Jesus. It matters more than we think.

But that’s the difficulty with trust, it’s so easy to take it for granted. But if we want to see lives changed, it can’t be something we take for granted, it’s something we need to cultivate.

Being a Leader ~ Finding a New Grip for Shaky Hands

248245_9652I was reading through some of Hebrews today, and I came across this verse that spoke to me so clearly. I felt like God was reminding me of what my calling is as a leader. I think in many ways this is the essence of leadership. It’s found in Hebrews 12:12-13:

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame will not stumble and fall but will become strong”.

The reason that this spoke to me is that so often as a leader, I do have tired hands and shaky legs. Sometimes uncertainty grabs me. Sometimes disbelief haunts me. Sometimes I wonder if I am strong enough to follow the call that God has placed on my life. I don’t often question the call, I question whether I’m able to pursue it.

But that’s why I love these verses. These verses don’t pretend that leadership is easy. These verses don’t pretend that we don’t struggle, worry, doubt, or have tired hands or shaky legs. These verses know that in purusing God and his calling, there will be moments of difficult, doubt, and decision. And the decision that this verse calls for us to have is to take a new grip, to stand firm even on shaky legs.

This verse reminds me that God is with me, like he is with you, so take a new grip. Don’t give up. Stand up on those shaky legs, get up again, move forward again, trust again, and don’t give up. And that as we refuse to give up, as we take a new grip (even though our hands are tired) as we stand firm (even though our legs are weak) and move forward we will help others find strength and follow God.

I guess what this verse really reminds me of is this: being a leader doesn’t mean your hands don’t get tired. Being a leader means you don’t give up, and you find a new grip with tired hands. Being a leader means sometimes God needs to remind you, that regardless of whether your hands are tired and legs are shaky, there is a calling still to pursue. And it’s worth pursuing.

So take a new grip today, a new stance today, and let others find strength as you follow.

Finding God’s Purpose for Our Church

Plattsville_Missionary_ChurchThere is an old Chinese proverb that says:

If your vision is for a year, plant wheat.

If your vision is for ten years, plant trees.

If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.

I think it’s really true and quite deep. A vision that lasts a lifetime must be centred on people. That’s what we really ended up exploring on Sunday. How Jesus Christ changes people. How he changes lives, and how he invites us into doing the same thing.

On Sunday we talked about Jesus’ mission and vision for life found in Luke 4. Here he states and shares what he is here to do. He is absolutely clear he is here to free people, to provide healing, to provide restoration, and to set things right again. In short, he is here to change all of life, in the here and now. Jesus is about changing lives in the present. And he is still about doing that today. And he actually invites us into changing lives with him. Becoming like Jesus means participating with Jesus in what he is doing.

So on Sunday we discovered our foundation for the next series. Our deep desire and goal is this: to be changed by Jesus, and join Jesus in changing lives.

Our goal is to first have our lives absolutely transformed by Jesus Christ. You can’t share something you don’t have. So we first need to experience life, transformation, and change before we can ever begin to share that with others. Our deep desire is that anyone who joins with us will not remain the same. That through Jesus Christ being active in our church each person would experience lasting life change. They would find restoration, healing, hope, and new life.

But if that transformation just remains with us it will turn stagnant and bitter. As a church we are also equally called to share life with others. We are called to change lives with Jesus. That “with” is important because it recognizes that God is already active in our friends, family, and communities. We aren’t bringing Jesus with us into relationships. We are discovering where Jesus is already active in relationships and starting there. Through our commitment to serve, to bless, to give, we believe we will see change. We see change happen only when we are living life like Jesus Christ ~ with a posture of grace, openness, willingness to enter someone else’s world, and most of all humility.

That is our deep deep hope. I could care less about us being the biggest or best church in the area.  I care a lot about being the church to the area. We are not content to run nice services if those services don’’ send us out into the community seeing life change in our friends, family and neighbors.

So this is what we want to be doing, and in all honesty, it’s what we’ve been trying to do for a while. Now we simply want to become more intentional, because as I said in my last post: you don’t drift into making a difference. Making a difference starts with making a decision and that’s what we did on Sunday. Making a decision to be changed by Jesus, and to partner with him to change others.

So that’s our decision about where we are going. But maybe for you today it’d be worth making a decision of your own. Why not take a moment and ask him how today you can join in what he is doing. And then why not do this each and everyday. Because my guess is if we do that we will not only be changed by Jesus, but changing others with Jesus.

Sermon Notes

Big Idea: Being changed by Jesus, and changing lives with Jesus

Take Aways…

+       Where is your life headed?

+       If you don’t plan where you are going, you’ll end up going nowhere

+       Churches and Christians in general have a vague idea of what we are called to do.

+       That people who do great things, set out to do great things

+       You don’t drift into making a difference

+       Vague direction leads to a lack of action

+       New life isn’t coming it’s here because Jesus is here

+       If it’s not Good News for everyone, it’s not Good News for anyone

+       Jesus is here to change all of life

+       The Christian life isn’t a self-interested one

+       Being changed by Jesus, and changing lives with Jesus 

Adult / Group Discussion Questions

What direction is your life headed? If you were to answer the question, “Jesus is leading me (where)…” what would you say?  What has Jesus already changed in you? What freedom, restoration, and hope has he given in you? What do you think he wants to change in you? How might he do this, or what is he asking you to do?

How is your life having an impact and changing others? Are there those in your workplace, family, or neighborhood God is calling to leave an impact? Do you have any ideas how you might do that?

Are there people you can journey with over the next few weeks? How can you make that happen?

Who should you invite to church, or to journey with you discovering how Jesus wants to change us, and change lives through us?

Discussion Questions for Young Families            Talk with your kids about what Jesus is about: us being changed by Jesus, and changing lives with Jesus. Ask your kids how Jesus has changed them. Really listen to their answers. Ask them how they might help change the lives of their friends. And then help them do it. 

Challenge for this Week Commit to the Journey, Journey with Others, Invite Others on the Journey