6 Essential Skills For Senior and Executive Leaders

leadership skills
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I often meet young leaders who aspire to, in their words, “be in charge.” That’s a normal and healthy desire. I get it, I mean, who wouldn’t rather call the shots if that’s an option, right?!

Well, as you might imagine, there is a little more to the idea of being “in charge.” And my heart and hope is that’s how this post might be helpful.

There is an often-quoted and significant misconception about leadership, and it is that the higher you rise in the organization, the more you can do what you want.

The perception is that because you are the “senior leader” (or one of them) you, therefore, don’t report to anyone.

In fact, the opposite is true, the higher you rise in any organization, the more you give up your rights and the fewer options you have.

Further, the higher you rise in responsibility and authority, the more people you report to, not less. It may not be a formal reporting, but you answer to them nonetheless.

Whether in business or the church, there is a long list of people who senior leaders answer to from stakeholders to the board of directors.

The list includes the customers, key influencers, denominational officials, members and church attendees, partners, donors, and the list goes on. Again, they may not carry formal authority, but they have influence, and they matter.

There may be few, or perhaps no one, above the senior leader on the org chart, but that does not reflect the realities of little freedom and much responsibility.

Senior leadership is a role that is best understood before you step into it, rather than later. It’s difficult to communicate some of those nuances, but what can be described with clarity are the unique skills and abilities that are a must.

Some of the six skills I’ve listed may seem like any leadership role would need them, but for the senior leader, these skills become non-negotiable.

The critical factor here is that because they are skills, they can be learned. And because they can be learned, you can improve in any or all that you lean into and practice.

6 essential skills for senior/executive leaders:

1) Translate vision into strategy.

Translating vision into a workable strategy requires first the ability to select, trust, develop and work with a leadership team. I’ve never met a senior leader or executive that can do it all him or herself.

In fact, some senior leaders have a personality and wiring that makes them really good at what they do but also creates a few significant gaps that requires a team to make it all happen.

2) Communicate faith and hope.

The ability or skill to communicate what you believe at a heart level is a must. Further, it needs to become something natural to you. I’ve watched John Maxwell and Kevin Myers do this for years. They just don’t tire of it.

These great leaders’ faith in a person’s ability to become their best self often exceeds that person’s faith in him or herself. Their ability to communicate the hope of a better future for the entire organization is so strong.

Faith and hope also include the idea of communicating calm in a storm and a positive outcome.

The key is that faith and hope must be sincere. As a senior leader, you can’t just read and quote the next big idea. You must have internalized it, own it and believe it to the core.

3) Raise up and empower leaders.

In a large or very large church, this usually means hand-selecting the lead team. In a smaller church, it may mean hiring staff and selecting key volunteer leaders.

In either case, it always includes the ability to let go of key responsibilities with genuine empowerment for those leaders to do their job.

The senior leaders who struggle most are those who micro-manage and don’t trust their top leaders to do their job.

I talk about 5 Elements to Empower Your Leaders here.

4) Demonstrate self-leadership and cultivate spiritual vitality.

If you are or desire to be a senior leader in a local church, self-led spiritual growth toward maturity is a must.

This certainly does not suggest some kind of superiority or better than others notion. In fact, most of us who serve in a senior or exec role of some sort are quick to admit to our flaws and weaknesses.

The good news is that self-awareness and security help you/us get honest with God about who we are and how much we need Him.

There is no one there to hold your hand and prompt you in your day to day responsibilities, and your first responsibility is to pursue God and spiritual maturity.

Those you lead depend on your authentic and growing walk with God.

5) Solve problems and make difficult decisions at intricate levels.

The large and more complex (often organization-wide) problems to solve are multi-dimensional, grey rather than black or white, and do not present a clear or obvious answer.

In fact, they often present multiple options of which others you serve have very strong and differing opinions.

Sometimes senior leadership can seem more like a dance than a clear direction.

Here’s a candid example, sometimes you must choose from two less than ideal choices.

Another way to see it is that no matter how good the decision, there’s a group who will not be happy. Being able to make difficult decisions is an essential skill for any senior leader.

If you prefer a more clear-cut and black and white world, senior leadership may not be your cup of tea.

This isn’t meant to be discouraging, it’s just part of the territory, and an effective senior leader can handle this in stride.

6) Take risks and lead change.

There is no escaping risk and change if you desire progress.

The risks you take are not always public or grand such as initiating a building project or raising millions of dollars.

It might be something private like a conversation that is confrontational nature, but the outcome is significant.

The process of change never ends. Next to momentum, change is something those in senior leadership continuously think about.

Change is disruptive but necessary. Comfort is the enemy of progress and a healthy organization.

The key is to stay in front of the change curve, so you are driving. (This is not about over-doing authority, it’s about living up to responsibility.)

When you are behind the curve (behind needed change) someone else usually has the wheel, and then it becomes difficult to drive.


Which of the six do you need to improve in?

I trust this post is helpful to you!

The original article appeared here.

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Dan Reiland
Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.

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