Category Archives: Leadership

Is a negative spin ever positive?

I lead a church planting team. God wants to transform our region of Mexico with the gospel, and I have a deep desire to see that happen. I, therefore, am trying to be a more and more effective leader.

Talking about things in negative terms is generally somewhat taboo in Christian circles (at least in theory). “We need to encourage; to focus on the positives,” we say.

Many of us probably realize, though, that mistakes can be far better teachers than getting it right. I am on a steep learning curve right now, and almost everything I’m learning is by mistakes. Can talking about mistakes, about negatives, about what not to do be an effective way to teach others, then? I think that, at least at times, it can be an effective means of communication. I applied this line of thought recently in my post entitled ‘What discipleship is not‘. But how often and/or to what extent should we use this technique (if at all)?

I got to thinking more about this because of a post on Copyblogger this past week talking about the power of negative examples as teachers. Here is an interesting excerpt:

Wendy Joung performed behavioral training research on firefighters in 2006, and the results are published in Applied Psychology. She and her colleagues found that firefighters trained with case studies that focused on others who had made poor decisions and suffered adverse consequences ultimately showed better judgment and better adaptive thinking than a control group provided with case studies that focused on positive results.

Bottom line – mistakes teach better than successes. You might already know this from your own life.

How much does this apply to my leadership of a church planting team? Can we be better church planters by talking and thinking about what not to do?

I would love to hear some feedback from my readers on this one, including from GFMers. Any thoughts?

The lessons I learned this summer

It would seem God has decided to use these few months as a refining time in my life. This has been neither something I was looking for nor something that has been particularly pleasant, but I am very grateful to Him for the results. In fact, at this point I’m beginning to embrace it. And the process is continuing.

Here is some of what God has shown me:

For a person who likes leadership and has viewed it as a strength of mine, it was disconcerting to realize my entire leadership style needed to change. In a sense, I can say I am beginning to learn true leadership for the first time. Leadership is influence, and one does not need a position of authority in order to positively influence others. What I knew how to do before was to manage. Managers, when in a position of authority, are able to use external controls to keep people doing what they should be doing. Take away the authority and controls, and a manager can no longer influence others effectively.

Leaders, on the other hand, influence others on a deeper level by inspiring them to do the right thing. This they are able to do sans external controls.

Example: I have been overseeing a handful of church planting apprentices who are learning Spanish. We use a good language learning program that is hard work but beneficial, and I really believe in it. I took on new apprentices who I did not know well at all, laid down all the rules about who they could talk to, where they could go, and what they had to do, and then cut them loose. They were frustrated by the level of control I exerted, and within months some of them were ready to give up and go home. I came to see that they had not bought into the system because I had tried to force them to do the right thing by giving them rules, rather than inspiring them with the way their sacrifices would pay off.

This was the first big thing God showed me, that I need to influence people through inspiration rather than rules. Interestingly, I have known all this in my head for some time. I have read leadership books, talked leadership theory, and listened to some of the best leadership speakers around. I could have given the right answers on any classroom test on leadership. I am living proof that you haven’t really learned something until you apply it to your life.

The next thing God showed me was the reason I want to control people. The reason I prefer control is that I often do not trust people, and the reason I do not trust them is I do not have adequate relationships with them. The reason I do not have adequate relationships, I realized, is I have not left time in my life for this. I have packed my schedule full of tasks, trying to make every little thing happen “for the ministry”, which left me very little people time. I suspect many of the things I have been running ragged trying to accomplish the last couple of years were things God never intended for me to be doing.

I am having to repent of controlling people, not trusting people, not having close relationships with people, and not making time for people. Each domino caused another to fall. This repentance is very much a process, because I am having to break very engrained patterns in my life. First and foremost, I want to have closer relationships with others. It’s all about people, after all. In the context of these relationships I will be a more effective leader. People are influenced by those they trust, but no one trusts someone they don’t know. I now see how trusting others and inspiring them is a much more loving and respectful way to treat them.

I am a few weeks into a process of trying to reorganize my life, get rid of unecessary tasks and demands on my time, and dedicate more of my best time to people. It’s not easy, and I’ve suffered setbacks. One disappointing realization is that I think some of the people closest to me will be among the last ones to feel the effects of my change. I am encouraged, though, by a few positive steps I’ve taken so far. If you were to take a moment to pray for me in all of this, I would sure appreciate it.

God is really good, though. This was a blind spot in my life, and He has been gracious enough and patient enough to show it to me and get me on the road to change.

Listening as leadership

I’ve learned the past couple of years that one of the most effective means of leadership is asking the right questions of people and then simply listening. It’s amazing how often people will identify their own problems and then figure out solutions if someone gets them thinking about their situation. On many occasions I can identify a problem someone is having. Rather than saying, “You need to change such-and-such”, though, I start asking questions and then listening. If the person can identify the problem on his/her own, they tend to take much more ownership of the solution. The conversation often goes something like this:

ME: How are things going?
THEM: Fine, except for this one thing.
ME: What’s that one thing all about?
THEM: It’s about such-and-such.
ME: And why is such-and-such that way?
THEM: Well, I guess because of that one factor.
ME: Okay…and could something be done to change or improve that one factor?
THEM: Well, yeah, probably.
ME: What would it take for you to change it?
THEM: It would probably take this.
ME: And would that fix the problem?
THEM: I guess so. Actually, I might need to do this over here, also.
ME: That sounds good. Are those two things something you could do?
THEM: Yes, I can do them.
ME: Okay, why don’t you do them, then? Next time we talk I’ll see if you’ve done those two things and how it’s working out.

And just like that, the problem is solved without me having to apply top-down pressure as a leader. It doesn’t always work; sometimes a leader has to be more directive, but when people can solve their own problems it empowers them to do more of the same for themselves and others.

Each summer I lead a team of summer interns for two months. I realized over a year ago that I was not getting enough time listening to them, because I was too busy with all the logistics of our program. So I started scheduling a couple of days in the summer to have a one-on-one meeting with each intern to ask them a few questions and then listen and let them speak their minds. I am finding this to be an incredibly effective tool for connecting with the interns, allowing them to know they are heard, and to troubleshoot any problems that might be cropping up. Yesterday I began my first round of meetings with our summer interns, and had good talks with a half dozen of them. Here are the questions I asked:

  • What are your goals for this summer?
  • What gifts or abilities has God given you and how can you use them here this summer?
  • When do you feel the most fulfilled?
  • When do you feel the most frustrated?
  • What is the best way to encourage you?
  • What do you need this summer in order to stay healthy spiritually, emotionally, and physically?
  • What do you think is the best kind of leadership or leader?
  • What do you think is the worst kind of leadership or leader?

Moral of the story: As a leader, remember that you don’t always have to be talking and directing. Often, the very best thing you can do is to listen.

My leadership philosophy and style

Through studying and being in leadership roles the past several years, I have developed some strong opinions about leadership. In a document I am putting together for our church planting team, I shared with them some of my basic philosophies. It was really the first time I have concisely articulated my core beliefs about leadership. Here is what I wrote for the team:

I strive to be a hands-on leader, because I am convinced that laissez-faire (or hands-off) leadership doesn’t work. “Hands-on” does not mean dominating or controlling, but it does mean involved. I want to know what’s going on with each member of the team, and I want to be involved in significant decisions. If I think something can be done a better way, I will open my mouth and make a suggestion.

I highly value accountability; I think it is one of the most important elements of team success. If we say we’ll do something, I’ll check to see that we’re doing it. If you are not fulfilling a commitment you have made, I will call you on it and expect you to improve.

Though a hands-on leader, I recognize that the different members of CPT have many gifts, abilities, and personality characteristics that I do not have. These are things that, when free to operate, make us a better team. To the extent it is benefitting the team, I try to give each person the space needed to work according to their gifts and personality. I am not a dictator. Where practical, I involve the team in decisions. Where necessary, I make “executive” decisions.

I think clear communication is another one of the most important elements of the success of a team. It is very difficult for team members to be successful if you don’t have a clear understanding of what’s expected of you. I see one of my chief responsibilities as communicating expectations. I don’t like leadership surprises, and I don’t think you do either.

I do not view myself as the sole guardian or keeper of the team. I speak in terms of “we”; it is OUR team. I am an equal member, no more, no less; I’m just a member with a unique role. My role is leadership, and I have been given the authority necessary to fulfill that role.

What do you think? Have you seen any of these philosophies work? Have you seen any not work? If you were articulating your beliefs, would you add or change anything? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!