If you could only tell your top leaders a few things, what would you tell them?
That’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s one I was asked recently as I spoke to the senior leadership team and staff at Next Level Church in Florida.
It was a good challenge to distill years of leadership experience, mistakes and insights into five key learnings.
Here’s what I came up with.
I’d love for you to add your suggestions and top learnings to the mix in the comments below.
1. Your Competency Will Take You Only as Far as Your Character Will Sustain You
As a young leader, I was 100 percent convinced that competency was the key to effectiveness in leadership.
I no longer believe that’s true.
Sure, competency is important. Incompetence doesn’t get you or your mission very far.
But competency isn’t the ceiling many leaders hit. Character is.
Why is that?
Well, all of us can name highly gifted pastors, politicians, athletes and other public figures who failed not because they weren’t competent, but because they weren’t up for the job morally. An addiction, an affair, embezzlement or honestly sometimes just being a jerk caused them to lose their job or lose their influence.
This is why I’ve come to believe your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you.
So what do you need to do to ensure you character doesn’t undermine your talent?
Work twice as hard on your character as you do on your competency.
I know that’s difficult to do, but do it.
Cultivate a daily habit of prayer and scripture reading. Go see a counselor before you need to. Have great people around you who have permission to tell you the truth. Do the soul work you need to do to animate your other work.
It doesn’t matter how talented or gifted you are if you disqualify yourself from leadership.
2. Abandon Balance and Embrace Passion
Almost everyone in leadership would advise you to lead a balanced life.
I’m not so sure.
What if that’s the wrong goal?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think everyone should work 80 hours a week.
But here’s my struggle.
I think we find many circles in our culture where balance has become a synonym for mediocrity. Don’t work too hard. Don’t be intentional about your time. Just be balanced.
Here’s what I’ve seen.
Most people who accomplish significant things aren’t balanced people. They’re passionate people.
They are passionate about:
In fact, they’re often even passionate about their nutrition and their rest.
They never see work as a job…they see it as a calling. As a quest. As a mission.
They can’t wait to get up in the morning and attack the day.
When they engage relationally, they’re fully present.
When they’re with their family, they’re with their family. They give everything they have to everything that’s important to them.
So do a variety of things (work, play, family), but allocate your energy so you can do everything you do, including rest and relaxation, with passion.
I love what John Wesley said:
“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
I never want to lose my passion. In fact, I’m praying that it intensifies as I grow older in everything I pursue.
Don’t let balance become a synonym for mediocrity. Balance is a retreat. Passion is an advance. So passionately pursue all you do.
If you’re intrigued by how to better manage your time, energy and priorities, I’m launching a new resource this fall called the High Impact Leader. It’s a 10-unit video course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favor.
If you want to get on the inside track of the launch of the High Impact Leader, sign up here.
3. Pursue Your Health
So many leaders struggle with staying healthy in leadership…spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and financially.
One way to look at leadership is to see it as a series of deposits and withdrawals.
All day long as a leader, people and the mission make a series of withdrawals from you: someone needs to meet with you, another person needs counselling, a third needs advice, a fourth wants to get that report done asap.
If you think of your life as a leader like a bank account, the problem eventually becomes the ratio of deposits to withdrawals. Over the long run, if you make more withdrawals than deposits, you go bankrupt.
That’s exactly what happens to far too many leaders.
The withdrawals that happen to you in life and leadership are inevitable. You can manage them well or poorly (which is something we’ll help you master in the High Impact Leader course).
Here’s the thing, though: The withdrawals never go away.
It’s your responsibility to make the deposits.
This means applying the spiritual disciplines, physical disciplines, financial disciplines and the discipline to get the help you need to resolve your emotional and personal issues.
Here’s a question I’ve learned to ask myself and I would love every top leader to ask themselves daily: Am I living today in a way that will help me thrive tomorrow? Spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and financially?
If not, why not?
Since I started asking that question, I’m far healthier. It’s a recipe that works. Start using it.
4. Understand That Attendance No Longer Drives Engagement, Engagement Drives Attendance
It’s interesting to me that we didn’t get to a strategy insight until the fourth insight. The top three pieces of advice are all heart and character issues, which is exactly as it should be.
But in the church, the strategy you apply also matters. So here we go.
As North American culture becomes more and more post-Christian, declining attendance has become a universal phenomenon (here are 10 reasons why that’s happening).
The current approach to church has largely been driven by getting people to attend. The idea is this: Get them in the door, and hopefully at some point they’ll engage in the mission.
But in an age where fewer and fewer people are motivated to attend church at all, that’s a bad strategy.
Instead, if you want to see your church grow, stop trying to attract people and start working on engaging people.
Why? Because engaged people attend.
The more engaged you are in the mission, the more likely you’ll want to be part of the church.
In the future church, only the engaged will attend. So do what you can to drive engagement.
Want more? Here are 7 ways to drive engagement.
5. Play Favorites
My guess is you spend 80 percent of your time trying to help your struggling leaders get better.
They’re producing maybe 20 percent of your results, but you’re devoting 80 percent of your time trying to motivate them, get them to show up on time and get them to do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.
What if that’s a colossal mistake?
What if you spent 80 percent of your time with the leaders who give you 80 percent of your organization’s results?
That’s what the best leaders do: They spend 80 percent of their time with the people who give them 80 percent of their results.
What do you do with the bottom 20 percent? Let them go or let them figure it out on their own. Or limit your involvement to 20 percent of your time.
Your best leaders get better with time and attention. Poor leaders never do.
So try it…spend 80 percent of your time on the people that produce 80 percent of your results.
I know…I know…you’re pushing back. I get that. You think this isn’t a Christian thing to do. I’m not sure sure you’re right.
You’re afraid that playing favorites isn’t biblical.
Just the opposite. Not playing favorites makes you unfaithful.
I know, I know….what?????
Moses tried to treat everyone the same, and it almost killed him and wore out the people he led (just read Exodus 18).
The solution? Moses had to learn not to treat everyone the same.
He appointed leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. The result was that the people’s needs were met and Moses got to lead for the rest of his life. His leadership (finally) scaled.
If you start to look for it as you read, you’ll see organizational principles throughout Scripture (how did Israel become a great nation after all?).
For example, even in the New Testament, Jesus and early Christian leaders didn’t treat everyone alike.
Jesus actually walked away from people who needed to be healed in order to get food and rest.
Jesus organized his disciples into circles according to potential impact…groups of 70, 12, 3 (Peter, James and John) and 1 (Peter) and intentionally spent the most time with those inner circles.
The early church reorganized and moved their key teachers and preachers away from daily tasks and appointed new leaders, which fueled new growth.
Loving everyone the same does not mean treating everyone the same way.
So if you want to be more biblically faithful, start treating different people differently.
What Do You Think?
Those are my top five. What are yours?
Scroll down and leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
And if you want more, I outlined seven critical issues every church needs to deal with in my latest book.