Friday, January 30, 2015

Leading in the hard times

Leadership is not always what it is cracked up to be. Especially in the hard times when knotty issues must be confronted, staff situations resolved and perhaps the most painful of all, personal attacks endured. Leadership is not for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.

What separates those who lead well in hard times from those who don't? 

First, those who lead well in hard times do not tend to take the situations as personally as others. Not that it is easy or comfortable. It helps, however, to realize that we are often targets because people disagree with our decisions or don't fully understand situations we cannot be candid about. The price of leadership is that we will be misunderstood at times and that we will be a target because of decisions we must make. 

Second, leadership in hard times is easier when we keep our anxiety low. Anxiety is wasted energy. If we will take the time to gain perspective from others and from God we can usually respond with greater wisdom than when we respond on the fly - or out of anxiety and anger. That is a skill that can be learned even when it is not native to our skill set.

Third, leading in the hard times is easier when we take a long view rather than a short view. In the moment there may be uncertainty and pain and conflict. In the long term good decisions yield health and effectiveness. Thinking long term allows us to weather the short term discomfort. In fact, those who think short term often respond poorly to hard issues because they are not willing to live with short term pain for long term gain.

Fourth, leading in hard times is easier when we trust in God's sovereignty. Sure, not all things are solved this side of heaven. At the same time, God has a way of working things out when we respond in a measured and wise way rather than allowing our emotions to hijack our actions in unhealthy ways.

Leading in the hard times is actually one of the fundamental ways that leaders grow and mature: If we respond with wisdom rather than with emotion.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Disavowal of any relationship with Mike Stickler

Once again, I need to make it clear that I have no relationship with Mike Stickler or his conferences in spite of the fact that he continues to use my name and reputation to sell them. I asked Mike to take down my name and content but he continues to peddle both. I do not endorse Mike, his staff or his content. Before you sign up you might want to do a thorough Google search.

Stepping into a new role? Think about the following twelve recommendations

How a new leader steps into a leadership role sets the tone for their new role. It can be a pastor stepping into a new church or a new role or another leadership change. How that transition is negotiated is a critical issue. It takes wisdom and discernment to transition well. A friend who is making such a transition asked me recently what I learned when I stepped into my current role about a decade ago. This was my advice.

One. Only make critical changes in the first year. It is usually wise to take a year to understand what is going on, who the players are and why things are the way they are. In other words, don't act too fast. The caveat is that there may be a critical change that needs to happen in order to move forward. Be willing to make critical changes but also be willing to be patient with others.

Two: Listen to everyone but think grey. Listening and understanding current staff and stakeholders is very important. However, existing staff and leaders will inevitably lobby a new leader for their point of view. Don't commit yourself but think grey where you listen, evaluate but keep an open mind.

Three: Share your vision for the future on a regular basis and dialogue with staff, leadership and constituencies. The operative words are share and dialogue. This is a time to share one's heart and to listen to others. Ultimately as a new leader you need to have a vision for the future. At the same time you need buy in for that vision so it is through dialogue that you together come to clarity.

Four: Watch for the various agendas but don't get roped into them. All organizations have agendas within them. Some are good and some are problematic. As a new leader you want to understand those agendas but you also don't want to get roped into them. Understanding the territory is critical but thinking grey leaves your options open.

Five: Have some trusted people you can talk to. Perspective is critical and wise leaders have people around them to help clarify issues, ask questions and give counsel. Transitional times have many pitfalls and one wants to avoid them if possible. 

Six: Start looking for the people you need around you who can help you move the organization toward the future. New leaders usually need some new people around them who resonate with where they desire to go. The sooner you can get these key other leaders in place the better off you are. This is about developing a team around you who you trust, who are in alignment with you and who will work with you to synergistically get to where you need to go.

Seven: Evaluate how your predecessor did their job and how you want to do your job. Just because your predecessor did their job a certain way does not mean that you need to. That is important because they were not you and those you report to need to understand that you will be focusing on what you believe to be most important and it may well be different from the leader you follow.

Eight: Focus on the essential issues and not the many expectations that others will have for you. New leaders need to decide what is important and focus there. They also need to resist the pressure to do things as they were done or to meet the many expectations of those around them. This is where it is important to be self defining about what is important to you.

Nine: Evaluate all key staff under you for fit, competency and alignment. Even though it is wise not to make changes too quickly this is a time to evaluate key staff, get to know them and determine future fit. Had I gone with my gut coming into the organization I lead I would have made some wrong calls regarding staff (those who I thought who would not fit who did and those who I thought would fit and didn't). Taking the time to understand key staff will keep you from making assumptions that may be problematic.

Ten: Develop key relationships. All good leadership comes down to relationships because the best leadership is that of influence and influence is a matter of trust and relationship. Take the time before making significant changes to develop the needed relationships. It is the coinage you will need to make the changes.

Eleven: Always run process. Change is inevitable with new leadership but many new leaders hurt themselves badly when they don't do the above before those changes or run good process in making changes. Change without process significantly empties the bank of trust and that is a dangerous thing for a new leader who has not been in place long enough to fill the bank.

Twelve: Be reflective, prayerful and discerning about people, plans, agendas and timing. Usually time is on your side. Relax, watch, listen and talk with Jesus before acting.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Why unexpected disruptions in your ministry can be seen as a gift

Disruptions in our ministries are usually seen as negative things and sometimes that is exactly what they are, especially when they are caused by problematic behaviors. There is, however, another side to disruptions - positive or negative - to consider: They are often the catalyst for us to up our game and refocus our leadership. When things are going well it is easy to become complacent. When that complacency is disrupted by a surprise it is an opportunity to rethink, refocus, realign and reconsider.

I don't welcome disruptions but I have come to realize that every disruption is an opportunity to learn from, to rethink something, to refocus on something that I have probably not focused on for a while and even to rethink my paradigms. Think of these examples:

  • A key staff member leaves and it causes us to think carefully about the role they played, how we might configure differently or what we need in the future.
  • A staff member behaves inappropriately toward the opposite sex and we are forced to evaluate our training, clarify our expectations and open a dialogue with our staff.
  • A financial crisis occurs which prompts us to differentiate between critical ministries and ancillary ministries.
  • Something happens that causes us to turn to God for wisdom and solutions, increasing our dependence on Him.
  • Something brings conflict to the surface revealing a lack of alignment allowing us to clarify and align.
I could give many more examples but the point is that unexpected disruptions are often an opportunity in disguise - if we will see them as such and take advantage of them. They may be a nuisance but they can also be to our ultimate advantage.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The genius of the great creeds of the church

Why the church creeds? They came out of a need in the early church to clarify the essential doctrines of the faith, combat error and teach new believers the great and indisputable truths of true faith. In addition, they unify the church around what is truly central and core rather than allowing the many peripheral doctrines of the faith that are not as clear to divide us.

Not all points of doctrine in Scripture are equally clear. I remember one of my beloved seminary professors who when speaking on issues he believed but which were not clearly spelled out would get louder and louder. We knew that the thinner the ice, the louder he was. There are simply some things that we believe that are not all that clearly spelled out - which is why there are various interpretations. An example is the teaching and beliefs around the second coming of Christ. The creeds remind us that Jesus is going to return physically to judge the living and the dead. That is what we do know. Many of the other details are a bit fuzzy. 

I appreciate those who study doctrine to better understand the Scriptures, the nature of God, our own nature and all those topics that find there way into systematic theology. I don't appreciate when believers elevate their particular non essential elements of the faith to the place of dividing believers from one another. If all points of doctrine were equally clear we would not have differences but those differences should not divide believers who can subscribe to the great creeds of the faith - the grand outlines of what we know to be true - and which unify us.

It strikes me that in a world in which there are many more illiterate believers, that the creeds of the church ought to be taught more often or recited together as a congregation. I fear not only that we divide over non-essentials but that many don't understand the essentials. We can argue over the wrong things and we can be ignorant of the right things.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Holy Spirit in the leadership equation

The best leadership is a mix of personal health, spiritual depth, leadership skill and a great intangible that is hard to quantify but makes all the difference in the world: The Holy Spirit. If we want to know the mind of God and be open to His counsel it is the Holy Spirit's promptings we need to lead well.

We don't know what we don't know. God does. We don't know all the consequences of decisions we might make. God does. There are all kinds of issues we face as leaders that can help or hurt our leadership and the more attuned we are to the counsel, direction and promptings of the Spirit the better our leadership will be. That is why mere skill is not enough to lead well. The Psalmist said of David that he led with skillful hands and integrity of heart. Skill is necessary but hearts deeply connected to God will multiply the skill because He knows what we don't know.

This is why snap or quick decisions are often counterproductive. They don't give us the time to talk to God about our decisions and listen to whatever He might want to say to us. He may speak to us directly or He may speak to us through other Godly and wise individuals. Either way we are always dependent on the wisdom from "above." Our wisdom is finite. His wisdom is infinite. Taking the time to pray, consider and allow Him to speak into our decision is what wise leaders do.

I cannot list the number of times that a quick decision on my part would have been the wrong decision. We often pride ourselves as leaders as being able to make quick decisions. We should not because quick decisions are often not good decisions because they do not allow us to consult the Lord of the universe who cares about all of our lives. 

Think about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2. 

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.[c] 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”[d]
But we have the mind of Christ.