Improving Your Leadership

heart of a servant leaderAny leader who really cares about accomplishing great things will examine their methods to make sure they are still effective. There are particular behaviors which should be found in every leader. These behaviors help insure that a leader will continue progressing from good to great. As we discipline ourselves in the practice of self-examination we will be setting an example for those we lead. Eventually they will follow our example and begin progressing from good to great. However, leaders who do not apply or practice these behavior will set themselves on a downward spiral until they become nothing but a bad leader.

This morning I read “From Bad to Good” by Sam Rainer. Sam lists a few of the behaviors that help leaders keep moving forward and prevent their leadership skills from deteriorating.

Rainer writes:

Leadership literature is chock-full of ways in which an average leader can become great. We all believe we’re good. Greatness is just a book, a conference, or a degree away. Indeed, I believe run-of-the-mill leaders can become better with training. A desire to learn, self-awareness, and a solid work ethic go a long way.

Some leaders, however, are just bad. They don’t lead well. Poor decisions are normative.

I believe most pastors want to lead their congregations in a way honoring to God. I believe most pastors care about their flocks. And God uses different types of leaders in different contexts. A rural setting, for example, requires a different type of leader than an urban setting. One is not superior over the other simply because of contextual expertise. But not all leaders—or shepherds for that matter—are great. And some pastors are poor examples of leadership, even if they really do care.

Years of practice entrench bad habits.

At some point, enough imbedded weaknesses transform an otherwise mediocre leader into a bad leader. Sometimes bad leadership is caused by context or position. The church leader is a poor match for the church, ministry focus, or setting. What makes a good senior pastor does not make a good middle school pastor. What makes a good worship pastor does not make a good children’s pastor. While environment and position influence bad leadership, not every case of poor leadership can be blamed on a mismatch. Some leaders are just outliers on the wrong side of the bell curve.

There are two types of bad leaders: the inept and the unethical.

Prominent malicious leaders tend to make the news. Unfortunately, scandals and scoundrels abound. But another category of bad leaders involves those who do not intentionally lead people astray. They are not malicious, just incapable. I’ve written previously on what makes a pastor a bad boss. These leaders desire to make ethical decisions, but they are oblivious as to how their decisions affect others. They shoot from the hip and trigger collateral damage.

The focus of this post is improving the ineffective rather than redeeming the unethical. What are some ways in which bad leaders can become better? A recent study sheds light on behaviors helping a leader transition from bad to good.

  • They shared their knowledge. One of the main drivers of poor leadership is poor interpersonal skills. Many people get promoted because of their expertise in a specific area, but leadership is more than technical knowledge. Bad leaders are stingy with knowledge. Bad pastors can guard theological and methodological black boxes. Good leaders use their knowledge to develop others.
  • They raised the bar of expectations. Expecting little of your church or staff is usually a reflection of low personal expectations. Raise the bar of personal expectations and improvements are bound to occur in the people around you.
  • They shifted from a discouraging posture to an encouraging posture. Bad church leaders become better when they stop focusing on why something can’t be done and rather focus on how something can be done.
  • They worked at becoming proactive change agents instead of reactive change agents. If all you do is put out fires, then you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Little flare-ups always exist. Bad leaders reactively move from one to the next. Good leaders proactively discern the dangerous fires with the potential to affect everyone.
  • They began to encourage cooperation rather than competition. Bad leaders divide people, creating opposing camps. Bad pastors use theological nuances as a wedge. Bad church leaders pit style preferences of one group against another. Good church leaders are bridge builders, demonstrating how different people can cooperate rather than compete.

Bad church leaders fail in many areas, but average leaders have weaknesses in specific areas.

Good, bad, or ugly—we can all improve our leadership. And the best pastors recognize continual improvement is the only option for leadership. While only a work of God can redeem unethical pastors, I believe every incompetent pastor can become a good leader. Bad leaders are not locked into poor decisions. Greatness is a noble goal, but good is an achievable step.

Sam S. Rainer is the senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN, and president of Rainer Research. He blogs regularly at SamRainer.wordpress.com.

Leaders and the Sin of Omission

Here is a great post by Thom Rainer asking “Seven Questions to Help Leaders Avoid Committing Sins of Omission.”

Rainer writes:

I confess. I shouldn’t have this nagging fear, but I do. I am sometimes haunted by the possibility that I failed to make a critical decision as a leader, and I missed the opportunity to make a difference in this world.

It’s easy sometimes not to make a decision, to let the perceived status quo become our daily agenda. Instead of becoming a leader who is a change agent, we become managers who carry out routine tasks.

Frankly, I don’t want to live my life in the world of “what if?” I don’t want to look back on this brief time God has given us, and realize that I failed to act or to make key decisions. I don’t want to be guilty of one of the most damaging types of sins, the sins of omission.

So how can we leaders make certain we are not seeking the comfort of sameness and committing sins of omission? What checks can we have to remind us that we must ever be vigilant lest we fail as a leader who acts and takes risks? I suggest we constantly ask ourselves these seven questions.

  1. Do I take initiative or do I wait for an assignment to be given to me? Leaders who rarely want to make their own decisions or take actions on their own are not leaders at all. It is a comfortable place to be where you are not responsible for any of your own initiatives. But comfort is the place where most sins of omission take place.
  2. Am I constantly seeking ways to break out of the status quo? It is cliché to say that this world and culture is changing rapidly, but it is true. Those who attempt to hold onto to the way we’ve always done it will be left behind. The irony is that the status quo is no longer a reality, and those who attempt to hold it tightly are holding on to an illusion.
  3. Is my approach to leadership only incrementalism, or do I at least on occasion seek to lead major changes? Leading by incremental change is okay for most seasons, but there are times when leaders must take major risks. I love the oft-told story of Thomas J. Watson, Jr., and the introduction of the IBM 360. On April 7, 1964 IBM introduced the 360, the first large family of computers to use interchangeable software and peripheral equipment. It was a bold and courageous departure from the monolithic, one-size-fits-all mainframe. Fortune magazine dubbed it “IBM’s $5 billion gamble.” But the gamble paid off, and the world was changed by that decision.
  4. Am I willing to make a decision even if I don’t have all the facts? No one would suggest a leader make a major decision without good information. But many decisions must be made with some level of uncertainty and without all the desired facts. Ultra-conservative leaders who keep waiting for all the facts to come in usually have a good rear view of other leaders who have passed them by,
  5. Am I willing to accept criticism? You can play it safe and avoid criticism. In fact, you can join the legion of Monday-morning quarterbacks who take great delight in pointing out where risk-taking leaders failed. But those second-guessers have stopped leading when they make decisions to minimize the criticisms.
  6. Am I willing to fail? You can choose not to act, not to take initiative, and not to take risks. In doing so, you will not fail at a particular task because you have attempted nothing. But you will ultimately fail as a leader. Every true and seasoned leader can attest to some failure in his or her life. That is the price we pay when we lead and take risks.
  7. Do I really want to make a difference? If the answer is yes, there is a price to pay. I have briefly enumerated some of them. We can’t merely declare that we want to make a difference. We must be wiling to accept the pain that often comes with bold and courageous leadership. For the true leader, it is price worth paying.

We have such a brief time to make a difference in this life. If God has given you a place of leadership, consider that opportunity a sacred trust. Don’t live this life wondering “what if.” Don’t look back on key life points and realize you failed to act, that you committed sins of omission.

May the words God gave Joshua become His words for our lives today: “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, HCSB).

What are some of the common sins of omission you observe in some leaders? What are some other checks we can have to avoid committing these sins?

The True Measure of Greatness

Dear Jesus of Nazareth,

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel it our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and particularly Simon the Zealot have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale. Thaddaeus is definitely sensitive, but he wants to make everyone happy.

On of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

Greatness starts with a heart hopelessly in love with God. That is the true measure of greatness!

Source: “The Apostle” by Gene A. Getz, pg 3-4

Don’t Confuse Knowledge and Success with Maturity

Paul Tripp’s post, “Don’t Confuse Knowledge and Success with Maturity,” is a great testimony of how easy it is to measure our success based  on things other than obedience to God.

Tripp writes:

I didn’t just give way to the temptation to let pastoral ministry become my identity. I fell into two other temptations as well.

I let biblical literacy and theological knowledge define my maturity. This is related to the identity temptation but requires its own attention. It is quite easy in ministry to give into a subtle but significant redefinition of what spiritual maturity is and does. This definition has its roots in how we think about what sin is and does. Many pastors carry a false definition of maturity that results from the academic enculturation of seminary.

Since seminary tends to academize the faith, making it a world of ideas to be mastered, students easily buy into the belief that biblical maturity is about precision of theological knowledge and biblical literacy. But spiritual maturity is not something you do with your mind (although that is an important element). Maturity is about how you live your life. It is possible to be theologically astute and immature. It is possible to be biblically literate and in need of significant spiritual growth.

I was an honors graduate of a seminary. I won academic awards. I assumed I was mature and felt misunderstood and misjudged by anyone who failed to share my assessment. In fact, I saw those moments of confrontation as persecution that anyone faces when he gives himself to gospel ministry. At root I misunderstood sin and grace. Sin is not first an intellectual problem. (But it does affect my intellect, as it does all parts of my functioning.) Sin is first a moral problem. It is about my rebellion against God and my quest to have, for myself, the glory due to him. Sin is not first about the breaking of an abstract set of rules. Sin is first and foremost about breaking relationship with God. Because I have broken this relationship, it is then easy and natural for me to rebel against God’s rules.

So it’s not just my mind that needs to renewed by sound biblical teaching, but my heart needs to be reclaimed by the powerful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reclamation of my heart is both an event (justification) and a process (sanctification). Seminary, therefore, won’t solve my deepest problem—sin. It can contribute to the solution, but it may also blind me to my true condition by its tendency to redefine maturity. Biblical maturity is never just about what you know but always about how grace has employed what you have come to know to transform the way you live.

Think of Adam and Eve. They didn’t disobey God because they were intellectually ignorant of God’s commands. They knowingly stepped over God’s boundaries because they quested for God’s position. The spiritual war of Eden was fought on the turf of the heart’s desires. Consider David. He didn’t claim Bathsheba as his own and plot to get rid of her husband because he was ignorant of God’s prohibitions against adultery and murder. David acted because at some point he didn’t care what God wanted. He was going to have what his heart desired no matter what.

Or think what it means to be wise. There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is an accurate understanding of truth. Wisdom is understanding and living in light of how that truth applies to the situations and relationships of your daily life. Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to life transformation.

Even though I didn’t know it, I walked into pastoral ministry with an unbiblical view of biblical maturity. In ways that now scare me, I thought I had arrived. So when my wife, Luella, would lovingly and faithfully confront me, it was not just that I was being defensive. By definition I thought she was wrong. And I became convinced she was the one with the problem. I used my biblical and theological knowledge to defend myself. I was a mess, and I had no idea.

Success Is Not Necessarily an Endorsement

I confused ministry success with God’s endorsement of my living. Pastoral ministry was exciting in many ways. The church was growing numerically, and people seemed to be growing spiritually. More and more people seemed to be committed to be part of a vibrant spiritual community, and we saw people win battles of the heart by God’s grace. We founded a Christian school that was growing and expanding its reputation and influence. We were beginning to identify and disciple leaders.

It wasn’t all rosy; there were painful and burdensome moments, but I started out my days with a deep sense of privilege that God had called me to do this ministry. I was leading a community of faith, and God was blessing our efforts. But I held these blessings in the wrong way. Without knowing that I was doing it, I took God’s faithfulness to me, to his people, to the work of his kingdom, to his plan of redemption, and to his church as an endorsement of me. My perspective said, “I’m one of the good guys, and God is behind me all the way.” In fact, I would say to Luella (this is embarrassing but important to admit), “If I’m such a bad guy, why is God blessing everything I put my hands to?”

God did not act because he endorsed my manner of living, but because of his zeal for his own glory and his faithfulness to his promises of grace for his people. God has the authority and power to use whatever instruments he chooses in whatever way he chooses. Ministry success is always more a statement about God than about the people he uses for his purpose. I had it all wrong. It took credit that I did not deserve for what I could not do. I made it about me, so I didn’t see myself as headed for disaster and in deep need for the rescue of God’s grace. I was a man in need of rescuing grace. Through Luella’s faithfulness and the surgical questions of my brother, Tedd, God did exactly that.

What about you? How do you view yourself? What do you regularly say to you about you? Are you different from those to whom you minister? Do you see yourself as a minister of grace in need of the same grace? Have you become comfortable with discontinuities between the gospel you preach and the way that you live? Are there disharmonies between your public ministry persona and the details of your private life? Do you encourage a level of community in your church that you do not give yourself to? Do you fall into believing that no one has a more accurate view of you than you? Do you use knowledge or experience to keep confrontation at bay?

You don’t have to be afraid of what is in your heart. You don’t have to fear being known. Because nothing in you could ever be exposed that hasn’t already been covered by the precious blood of your Savior King, Jesus.

Programs Won’t Change a Life

This is a great article by Michael Warden on “Why Programs Don’t Produce Lasting Change.”

Warden writes:

“If I…do not have love, I gain nothing.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:3

The leadership culture of the Church in the West is enamored with programs. We love to package the things we’ve learned ~ be they strategies, techniques, processes, or curricula ~ and scale them to multiply our impact and to help more people.

The motive is noble. And if we were merely in the knowledge-sharing business, then creating a program or curriculum to increase our impact would make perfect sense.

But we’re not in the knowledge business. At least, not primarily.

We’re in the transformation business.
We’re in the business of changing lives.

In this business of transforming lives, things like strategies, techniques, processes, curricula ~ they all have their place. For anyone experiencing authentic life transformation, there are definitely skills that need to be learned, new ways of being and doing that better serve the new person they have now become.

But programs don’t change people. They don’t produce that transformation. They can’t. They can’t because they lack the one and only thing in the universe that can authentically transform a person into who they were meant to be.

Love.

Yes. Love.

See, here is the secret to inspiring deep, authentic, personal transformation in another human soul:

It does not come through giving them knowledge or skill sets or even training them in disciplined practices (though these things are all very good). It comes through love and the courage born of love.

Love is the transforming agent of the universe. Love is the “Deeper Magic” that C.S. Lewis pointed to in The Chronicles of Narnia, the magic that changes not merely behavior, but the core identity of a man or woman (Romans 5: 6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19). With enough love brought to bear, anything is possible.

But without love unleashed, without love applied, nothing really changes. Not really. Not in the deep places where our most honest thoughts lie.

The work of transformation, of changing lives, is life-on-life. Heart on heart. It always has been. There’s no getting around it. It’s slower than we’d like it to be. AND it’s the way God designed His Kingdom to advance.

So it all works out like this: A brilliant curriculum or a masterful strategy placed in the hands of a leader who does not know how to love will produce little change and may even do harm. But in the hands of a soul who is willing to love and loves well, even the [worst] curriculum can’t prevent true life change from spreading through them.

Many leaders I know (including me) have spent so much time developing programs and discussing strategies and so little time investing in hearts so they become great lovers of others…life, on life, on life.