So You Want to be a Leader
The ability to lead is a cultivated skill. Leading is natural with some, and it is developed by others. Individuals who aspire to lead and those already in leadership roles will have common ground. True leaders display some similarities and various commonalities.
For you, I will convey what I have learned and experienced in church leadership roles and in my past professional capacity as an elementary school teacher and as a district reading specialist. I like to plan, and I like to think through the best ways to communicate concepts to those I am leading. This blog represents my observances about the ins and outs of effective, positive leadership.
5 Rewards of Leading
- Vision and Big Picture Goals – One of the most exciting parts about leading is the leader gets to lead people toward their own vision of what is ahead and what is important for all of them to accomplish together. A leader’s primary goal may be outside the box of conventional wisdom or it may be internal within the normalized expectation. Leaders get to lead the charge, open the door, find the way, prepare for the journey, and mentor and develop, direct and redirect, the group. Soon they and their team will know what to expect and whether to continue on the quest. Having a support system who believes in them as a leader is a boost that will help them get started. The venture must have an object. The object must address a need. And the need fulfills a purpose.
- Accomplishments and Success – As a leader, you’re going to meet with limited success or maybe a lot of success. Success may come in the form of learning something new or living out a dream. Accomplishment is part of the step-by-step process that leads to the completion of an idea. Accomplishments may be big or little, and they keep the leader in the game, trudging on or sailing through, whatever. Once you are a leader, you will be leading others, so it pays to be clear on your objectives and your expectations. Personally, I think the highest form of accomplishment is when you have served others with something they can use to improve their lives. Build up. Be objective. Handle adversity in a dignified way. Be proactive in addressing problems and without belittling others. Mentor eager minds and take the time to put life and health into the people you work with. Later on you will see these same people making good decisions that relate back to your influence in their lives. This is one of the greatest joys of leading.
- Team Players and Followers – Excitement builds when your team comes together and you begin to mold them into a working unit. There’s buy-in and there’s equality in this scenario. Everyone has a part to play, but it is part of the whole. As a leader, you must treat all members with respect and fairness. This can be difficult, but you will find a way when you are working towards the same goal. This falls apart when team members are not valued well or equally. In leadership, be sure to acknowledge your support base and your followers. They deserve your appreciation and care. Put thought into what you do. Your team will love you for it.
- Networking and Mentoring – A leader cannot succeed without an ability to network with others and mentor their own team members. Once in awhile a leader will experience a rising star from one of their mentees. This person will surpass the leader and make their own trail and create their own following. For the leader, this can be bittersweet. A true leader will realize this is not about them; this is about changing the world one person at a time. Some of a leader’s dreams are deeply personal. They become public when the leader begins to influence others and build something sustainable. Leaders need others, and others need leaders. When these people find each other and something synergistic occurs, there is no stopping its progress.
- Achievement, Influence, and Satisfaction – You can look back at life and know its value by the lives you’ve touched. Leaders are given opportunities to make a difference in an individual life and many lives. One of the surprising sides to this is the way a humble leader can be well-loved and not realize they are loved. Most people are insecure in some fashion. A good leader will not cut corners and will not abuse their power of influence. Leading is a gateway to having a voice, which is a platform from where they will speak their truth. This provides amplification of their message and also influences others in a multiplicity of ways. The voice of a leader will influence in some way, either good, or bad, or in-between. Satisfaction comes during the process of refining the vision and bringing it to fruition. Dreams become realities. Realities impact. A life can be changed or the world can be changed. Both matter and are of consequence.
5 Costs to Leaders
- Time – As a leader, you’re going to work overtime and on your own dime. You will spend time with your team members, planning and talking, considering new ideas and effective ways to approach people, change, programs etc. You will be called to action, when you are tired, weary, upset, angry, sick, and distressed; but that’s part of leadership. Leading is about giving, and giving liberally of self (but not unwisely). You go where the need is and take the time it takes. That is a cost a leader must grapple with; is it worth it?
- Money – A leader is going to spend money out of their own pocket; it goes with the territory. You can spend quite a bit and no one knows but you, but you do it willingly because you believe in what you’re doing and its end result. You learn to be wise in your spending. You’re going to give gifts to people who deserve them. You’re going to buy materials for your meetings and the people in attendance. You’re going to buy food and pick up the tab, and do what needs to be done, and do it without complaining. You just do it. Appreciate your people. You see a need, and you fill it.
- Misunderstandings – Friends, co-workers, board members, outsiders, team members and others will take issue with you, disagree with your ideas, and find fault with your ways. Be thorough, be kind, be honest, be fair, be trustworthy. Seek to restate the issue and address the need. Validate people. There is a reason they are feeling the way they feel. Find out what this is. Be creative. Pay attention. Then go home and relax in a hot tub or eat a bowl of your favorite ice cream! Mine is mint chocolate chip. Hint, hint. . .
- Fall-out in relationships – You will lose a few rounds, and a few relationships. Whether friends or co-workers, people will disagree with you, attack you; they will resent your successes and hold this against you. Be the bigger person. Extend grace and do not retaliate. Be strong, and be dispassionate. State your case, add supporting details, and then leave it there. This is not the time to be emotional (if you can forbear). Lead with your thinking, not with your emotions. This is the hardest one for me, I’ve had some real doozies that ruined some of my vacations (hurt by accusations from people I trusted). Usually they correct themselves a year or two later; and I’ve wisened up. Leading is complicated. You win some, and you lose some. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes they’re right. And sometimes there is no “right.”
- Discouragement – When your vision falls short or the area you’ve been leading collapses or falls victim to a change in leadership and their new plans, you must muster up the courage to carry on and keep your dignity in place. I’ve had this happen a few times. It is human nature to start worrying, feel dejected and down, and before you know it, you’re slipping into discouragement and despair. When the finances, or business, or payments, fall short, you begin to hyperventilate and then the worrying becomes a full-time job. Don’t stay there. It will cost you your happiness and joy. Counter it with aids to healing. Call your trusted friends. Work it through by sorting thought from feeling. Ask yourself, what is true about this, and what is not true about this. Meditating is a real help when you’re discouraged. Prayer helps too. Good friends are like gold when you’re discouraged.
5 Challenges for Spiritual Leaders
- Spiritual authenticity and accountability – This has to be spot-on. Spiritual leaders must do it God’s way, not the world’s way. If you don’t get this one right you may as well hang it up. God’s work must be offered openly, kindly, truthfully, lovingly, and thoughtfully. Truth without love will undermine the effort. God needs authentic Christians who march to his tune, not carbon copy, repetitive editions.
- Moral values, appropriate conduct, and accountability – Place God’s values into your mind, heart, and soul. Be accountable to God, first. You might find an accountability partner you can trust with your stuff. ‘Love the Lord’ is the greatest advice I can give to anyone. Make sure your judgments and desires are in alignment with the guidelines of scripture. Appropriate boundaries facilitate this process.
- Financial astuteness and accountability – This is uber important. Don’t manipulate the finances or overspend. Be wise. Be forthcoming, transparent, and put people and measures in place to keep your group prudent financially. Establish specific fiscal processes that protect your group’s finances from being accessed and abused. Properly vett the treasurer of your organization. Being a nice guy is not good enough. Christian organizations can be naive and way too trusting. Limit the opportunity for misuse of funds.
- Relational sensitivity and accountability – Here it gets more complicated. Whether church members, family members, people in other related organizations, or people we meet on the street, some sort of relational dynamic is always at work. It pays to be cognizant of the relational dynamics within your organization. Relational problems should be addressed in a safe environment. This takes wisdom and skill. Leaders can be caught up in a relationship triangle and not even know it. Being over-powered or neglected is not much fun. As a leader, you must address these problems when they manifest themselves in your organization. “Best interest” is the model I use. The “best interest” of the group is when the individuals work together to come up with a solution to the problem. It works best when addressed equally by all those involved.
- Common sense and spiritual discernment – The ability to reason is a quality needed in every leader. A person must be able to figure out workable ways to accomplish the tasks before them. It pays dividends to be well-thought-out and fully aware of both pros and cons. For the Christian leader there must also be spiritual discernment. This means the leader must be able to figure out the will of God in the choices being considered. Pushing an agenda may have disastrous effects if God is not in it. How do we discern such things? Spiritual discernment is linked to the fervent prayer of a righteous person. I don’t believe it is a gut feeling. Common sense, however, is being sensible and conducting oneself in a reasonable manner. In church work, leaders should beware of the pitfalls (which come with the territory!) i.e. self-pride and pride in accomplishments/ buildings/ programs/ organizations etc., self-glory, manipulation of others, and anything that focuses on them more than on God.
Those are my lists. I’ve experienced all of them to some degree or other, in churches and in places of employment. Leaders like leading. I like leading. Leaders are servants. Servant-leaders serve those whom they are leading. Christ was the Shepherd leading his sheep. He took care of the sheep, protected the sheep, provided for the sheep, and loved his sheep. Christ is our example of a leader who knew what he was about, led in purity, with goodness, and because of love. So should we.
My Qualifications for Writing this Post
CHURCH LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCES
Women’s Ministry Director; Pageant Writer and Director; Choir Director, Centennial Celebration Event Planner; Active church leader 35 years; Awana Club Leader; Christian Education Director; Worship Team; Sunday School Teacher for adults and children.
PUBLIC SCHOOL LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCES
School Site Council; RtI School Coordinator; Supervisor of Instructional Aides; Student Study Team Member & Recorder; Bully Prevention Team Leader; G.A.T.E. Coordinator; D.I.B.L.E.S. Assessment Coordinator; Interventions Leader; District Leadership Team; Reading Specialist.