lightstock_65127_xsmall_user_2976985Leadership Lesson #5  Lead Up, but Lead Gently

I’ve been working on the Fruit of the Spirit with my kids, and admittedly one of the most challenging for me is Gentleness. It hits me as a gut check for the way in which I speak, and the words that I use to communicate a point. And like so many other indications of growing in Christ-likeness, it must be rooted in humility.  It’s taken me 30+ years to get some healthy clarity on this, but as I’ve grown in emotional intelligence and self-awareness I’ve accepted that I have to grow in this area, because my natural tendencies are too abrasive, revealing the prideful bent of my heart. Not only will that abrasiveness cost me dearly in relationships, but it can seriously weaken my effectiveness as a leader. Specifically, at times when God calls me to “lead up.”

Jon Maxwell explains a leader who leads up as one who is adding value, supporting the leader above them, and setting themselves apart. In roles of strategic communication leadership I’ve had opportunities to lead up. Like all aspects of leadership, this is a stewardship. Not only of the influence, but of the other person’s heart. When given the opportunity to lead up, we can strengthen the heart or damage the heart. If I was damaging too often I need to determine why. So, part of understanding my often abrasive nature was examining its root. Yes, it was pride, but that pride was manifesting itself through an intolerance for perceived incompetency – things that I was too quick to point out in a not so gentle way when the door opened. It took God humbling my heart in a pretty serious way, to reveal my own incompetencies and soften my rough edges. But that allowed me to have the context I needed to approach new opportunities to lead up, in a different way.

See, here’s the thing.  At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how strong you are as a leader – the top spot is always, always, difficult. People constantly want more of you, someone (often lots of someones) is always unhappy with you, and you are ultimately responsible for more than anyone else in the organization. The burden of leadership is heavy. In most cases, the leader above me already knows the mistakes they wish they could correct, the gaps that need to be filled, and their personal shortcomings. What they need from me is to come alongside and lighten the load with insight, care, and clarity shared in gentleness. Isn’t that what we would all want from a leader on our team?

When you’re like me however, adopting a spirit of gentleness is almost a complete 180 to your natural wiring. It’s a heavy process of learning and refining, and walking in the Spirit for wisdom. It’s a practice of laying down my pride, and seeking to truly minister to those I’m following. Growing in gentleness is teaching me how to speak truth, while affirming the heart, and building trust. And it’s totally worth it. Speaking and acting in gentleness has fostered better working relationships, healthier culture, and better focus on what really matters – the relationship, not being right. So next time, before you speak up to lead up, remember – gentleness.

Side note:  I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge that being married to one of the most gentle, but effective leaders I know, has helped tremendously. I’ve seen the way people gain influence with him when they are not only correct, but gentle. And I’ve seen him consistently lead up, (and as a result be given more and more influence) and even disarm difficult clients, by carefully and gently guiding them towards the correct course of action. Don’t get me wrong – he can be firm and direct, but he’s able to make and keep good relationships easily because of his approach. He’s way better at gentle leadership than me – grateful I get to learn from him!

lightstock_75205_xsmall_user_2976985Leadership Lesson #4 – Patiently Pursue Progress, Not Perfection

I’ve been wresting with a really frustrating tension – it seems like the more opportunities I have to exert influence and lead, the more aware I become of all the ways in which I still need to grow. Can you relate?

Whether it’s the more practical stuff like time and task management, team communication or meeting structure, or the more people focused matters of organizational culture, conflict resolution or leadership development, I often wish I was make more improvement, and making it faster.

More. Faster. Farther. Sooner. Stronger. Quicker.

Taking a step back to ask “why do I feel this way?” and “where is this pressure really coming from?” has revealed a couple of things:

1. This is the prevailing mantra of today’s American mindset. I feel the push for more/faster in just about every aspect of my life – parenting, home management, personal finances, food/nutrition and fitness, ministry, and leadership. I’ve learned enough about myself to know that it’s partially my wiring, but in a culture that is constantly offering up more information in more places about how we all can do more, faster and better, we’ve become a people whose pressure valve is nearly always up against the breaking point. It’s critical that for me to discern and guard against this cultural influence become a controlling influence.

 

2. I have unrealistic expectations. As easily as I can put unrealistic expectations on others, I can demand them of myself. So I have to reset my thinking to acknowledge that progress, not perfection is the goal. Perfection is unrealistic, both for myself and for any aspect of an organization. Excellence does not require perfection. Excellence requires the patient pursuit of progress that is well-defined, attainable and significantly contributes to the long-term growth of a leader or team. Too many times I believed that those around me and above me expected perfection – expected me to have all the answers. It was scary to say, “I don’t know” or “let’s work on this together” because I thought leaders were supposed to have it all figured out. What I’ve learned is that “I don’t know” breathes truth, life, space and margin into my leadership. It keeps me approachable to my colleagues and patient with myself which replicates across the organization, producing a healthier culture.

3. In the absence of long-range planning and vision, near-term life is frenetic and pressure filled.  There is no shortage of things we can work on. If you don’t know where you headed and how you’re getting there, it can easily feel like you have to work on everything all at once. This is as true for an individual as for a team. What I’ve needed most, and what I’m excited to embrace in a new season of life this fall, is the space and margin to craft out what my own personal vision is and a plan for getting there so that I can make better decisions about what I need to work on and when, and release myself from the pressure to be perfect in all areas all at once.

If you’re feeling the frustration of More. Faster. in your leadership, let me encourage you to think about how you can release yourself and those around you from unrealistic expectations to cultivate safe and humble environments that celebrate patiently pursuing progress towards excellence, not perfection.

We’ve all heard it – pick your battles. This classic axiom has been around forever, and for good reason. It serves us well in all of life, but it requires a wisdom and maturity that often comes as a result of learning from choosing the wrong battles at the wrong time. At least, that was the case for me.

Leadership Mistake #3 – Choosing my battles poorly. 

lightstock_76042_xsmall_user_2976985I’m a go-getter. Taking initiative, being enthusiastic about new ideas, and making stuff happen comes easy to me. I say that truly without pride because while it may sound great, there are some inherent weaknesses within the wiring of my personality. When you’re a go-getter your tendency is to go after everything, and usually to go after it right away. Other people like that because they know you’ll get stuff done. They want you on their team. And it feels good to be wanted, right?

But going after everything, especially all at once, comes at a cost. And too often, that cost has been people, relationships, and ultimately leadership effectiveness.

I’ve also been part of leadership in two ministry organizations during periods of significant change. This has given me the opportunity to learn, sometimes the hard way, how important it is to choose wisely what to fight for and when. I’ve reflected a lot on what I would do differently if I could go back. Sometimes the decisions were foolish and unintentionally harmful. Sometimes they were the result of pride and arrogance. In the end, I would fight fewer and different battles.

Here’s the thing – Change is inevitable, and so is conflict. If you’re in leadership, conflict will be a constant. Conflict between staff and constituents, among staff, between your ministry and the external culture, between competing causes, and on and on. The effective leader creates a culture in which members of the organization embrace a commitment to identify and fight for the collective win – together.

If you’re navigating change, and especially if you’re new in your role, it’s critical that you pick the right battle at the right time if you want to build unity, create buy in, and pick up traction on your initiatives. Choosing the wrong battle at the wrong time usually results in unnecessary collateral damage – often through friendly fire.

So how do you know what’s the right battle? This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but here are a couple of questions I’ve learned to ask myself because they’ve helped me slow down and make better choices:

1. Is this the best use of our organization’s resources right now, in light of our short and long-term goals? Sometimes it can seem like there is so much to “fix” that we have to jump in and try to address all the problems at all once. If there are financial or people pressures in the mix, it can feel all the more urgent. But, moving too quickly, or moving on the wrong issues, usually leads to burnout, greater conflict, and shallow gains if any. Keep your eyes on the big picture. Don’t live in the tyranny of the urgent. It’s tempting and distracting to fix that which seems to be right in front of you. Ask yourself – does this help us move the ball down the field, or are we just stopping to paint the sidelines?

 2. Will this idea or initiative create systemic change or just make us look better on the outside? Especially when resources are limited, you can’t afford surface fixes. It’s better to let the surface stuff continue for awhile, and patiently dive into discovering what lies at the heart of the matter. Most of the time, this will be a much longer process than the quick fix. But it’s if you want to win the war, you’ve got to be really strategic about your battles. When you pick the wrong ones, you often lose the strength to successfully win the ones that truly matter.

3. This one is harder to ask and wrestle through – do I really know the hearts and minds of the people involved and potentially impacted well enough, to determine if this is the right battle? If you don’t yet have an accurate, working, deep handle on the culture of your organization, you aren’t ready to initiate battles. Don’t go in blind. Seek counsel from various team members and vet the potential pros and cons, benefits and losses. And if you’re not certain, be willing to wait.

4. Do I have clarity and freedom that God wants me to move in this direction? As gospel-driven leaders, we have an incredible gift. Instead of living in our own sufficiency and wisdom, we can humbly seek the face of God for leading towards or away from a battle we are considering. As gospel-driven leaders, we recognize the stewardship of leadership. The resources we mange, the people we influence, the culture we impact, should humble us to a play of desperate reliance on Spirit led decisions. Because of the blood shed for me by my Savior, I have a relationship with the God that ordered an entire universe! My need of this Savior is so clear in those times when I neglect to seek my God in my leadership. He created me, he gave me this leadership to steward, and it’s all to be for His glory.

He promises to provide what we need. He is faithful to do what He says He will do. Ask Him to help you see the bigger picture, wait patiently for the right timing, and the faith to step out in courage when it’s time to engage.  

Leaders Listen, Collyde, LeadershipLast month I started a series about My Top 7 Leadership Mistakes. I covered the second mistake – speaking at the wrong time for the wrong reasons – in my last post and in this post I want to give a glimpse into what I’ve been learning as God has helped me correct this habitual mistake, so I can be more effective in leading and therefore honoring Him.

Leadership  Lesson #2

It sounds like communication 101, but my first realization was that I would have to do a much better job of active listening. Engaging all of my senses to observe and focus on the other person, the environment, and my own communication signals. Listening, and not interrupting, has sometimes meant that when it was my turn to speak, I couldn’t remember that “great point” that first came to mind. Frustrating, right? Yes, but as I’ve processed it’s really come down to two things:

1. I’m relearning this critical part of communicating, so I need to cut myself some slack and keep the real “win” in mind.

The more I intentionally choose the active listening approach, the better I’m getting at both storing key thoughts to recall and staying focused on the other person. In fact, sometimes, when it’s a planned conversation, I try to have a notebook handy to jot down a couple of key points if it’s appropriate to the situation. I’ve found that it’s both a help to me and communicates to the other person that I truly care enough about what they are saying to want to write it down. And if I don’t recall everything I’d wanted to say, it’s okay. The win isn’t about me. That’s the stuff of real leadership – the stuff I want to be about.

2. I don’t need to say everything that comes to my mind. Even when I think it’s “awesome” ! 🙂

Ever heard that phrase, “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” Yea, I’m pretty sure that’s the jist of what my parents were trying to tell me throughout my childhood! 🙂  The thing is that I tend to process really fast, and my pattern has been to let those thoughts come out of my mouth as quickly as they come into my brain. Active listening is forcing me to slow down. I have to discern not only what needs to be said in response, but how and when it should be said. This has been hard and imperfect and really, really good. Because  How many times have I thought, “oh, if only I could take it back!” Not because it was the wrong thing. But it was the wrong time. And, if I’d waited, I would’ve said something different, and the other person probably would’ve been more ready to hear it, leading to a healthier outcome for all.

In our fast paced culture, it’s so easy to frenetically race through relationships the same way we rush through our projects, to-do lists, meetings and errands. I’ve decided that if I’m going to be effective, this is an area in which I’ve got to operate counter culturally. I have more to learn, but I’m grateful for God’s grace in showing me how to slow down so I can be a leader marked by the maturity of listening, and speaking, well.

What about you? Are there leadership lessons you’ve learned? What encouragement would you offer to those of us trying to learn to listen well? Leave a comment – we love to hear from you!

ListenIt first showed up in my childhood as that rather annoying, juvenile habit of interrupting. I interrupted a lot. I talked a lot. In fact I liked to talk first, and talk over others, and just in general, be the one talking. Yup, I was one of “those” kids.

Here’s the thing. It wasn’t that I was a rude, ill-mannered child in general. On the contrary, I was often described as “mature for my age.” So, what was the deal? I’m just now beginning to figure that out.

In a powerful trifecta of circumstances, I turned 30, experienced a great deal of personal loss, and discovered for the first time, the full grace of the gospel. All of this happened a few years ago and it began a powerful journey of growing in self-awareness and embarking on serious personal development to be a healthier, more effective individual and person. Processing why you do the things you do is hard, hard work! But, it’s so fruitful! And on this particular issue it’s also been very sobering.

The hard truth is that interrupting is a sign of failing to listen well and respect the value of the other person. As I got older I interrupted a little less, but the heart issue was simply manifesting itself in a different way because I still listened poorly. I listened just enough to mentally latch on to a point that I could respond to. But I had tunnel vision – hearing only the issue or argument at hand – and losing sight of the person – in front of me.

Not only is interrupting immature, but as I considered the deeper root, and its impact on my effectiveness as a leader, it became clear that I had to take a more honest look at what this little “habit” truly was:

  1. It is an indication of my natural man’s selfish tendencies – except for the grace of Jesus, I am the center of my own universe and left to myself I would prefer to do that which suits me. This usually means being in control, holding the reigns power and not necessarily having to exert a lot of control over what I’d like to have for myself.
  2. It is a revelation of my prideful disposition – the humble leader walks in the conviction that listening well to others is a tangible demonstration of the respect that is owed to others simply because we are equally created, valued and loved by our Heavenly Father.
  3. It was a serious roadblock to my ability to win trust and lead well – no matter how right I may be, it simply doesn’t matter if I haven’t invested the time to listen so that I can truly hear people, know people, and then better respond to them so that we can trust one another. In fact, I’ve had multiple situations in which I found myself so certain that I was right and so certain I could express it most effectively. But in failing to listen I failed to understand how best to meet those I was trying to convince, and in the end we all lost.
  4. It is covered by the grace of God. It is not beyond redemption. It is not beyond forgiveness. It is met by the power of the Holy Spirit to produce the gentleness, humility and patience that will cultivate new desires for Him that are greater than my desires for self.

Sobering indeed. But there is no substitute for experiencing God’s renewing work in my life. I’m so thankful He is making me “new” in this area. It’s not been easy though. In my next post I’ll share what I’ve learned in the process of being renewed and some practical tips I’ve discovered that might help you if you’re striving to become a better listener.

What habits have you been working on changing to be a more effective leader? What are the habits leaders struggle with that are the hardest to talk about?

Quesion

There is a huge difference between the leadership style of Jesus and styles that we see displayed in today’s world. If you look at the top selling christian or leadership books, you can easily see this trend. The books generally have titles that are answers to life’s problems – like 7 steps to do something or 10 steps to solving an issue. Truth be told, these books are only quick fixes that rarely address the heart of the issue. If you read the Gospels, you will find the Leadership style of Jesus is uniquely different. Most of the time, he never gave answers but rather asked a question that went to the heart of the issue. For example, he asked the blind man in Mark 10, “What do you want Me to do for you?”, he asked the disciples in Matthew 16, “Who do you say I am?” and in Matthew 15 he asked, “How many loaves do you have?

Some of these questions seem to be really bad questions to ask. You’re asking a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”. Here is the thing about questions – it allows us to separate solutions that are humanly possible vs. solutions that would require faith and divine intervention. Questions reveal to us, our heart of unbelief. They sometimes reveal to us our sins that we need to repent of.

Can I ask you today? Take a moment to look at that circumstance that looks helpless to you and that relationship that seems impossible to mend, and ask yourself, what would Jesus ask you if He were standing next to you? Go ahead, take out a piece of paper and write down your thoughts….

A leadership thought: Great leaders don’t give answers, they ask questions.

A New Series!

True confession time. Learning to be a better leader has been hard. Humbling. And I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Sometimes my heart is a really rigid piece of clay in the Potter’s Hands. I’m learning to soften, to trust, and to let his strength and love fuel the courage to risk being cracked and broken in the process. Because it’s all worth it. My hope is built on nothing less.

It’s my desire that in sharing some of my mistakes, you’ll be encouraged to keep an open heart to whatever area God is working on in your life. None of this is brand new, earth shattering stuff. No revolutionary leadership lessons here. Just some truths and principles that I think I’m finally starting to get my hands around and, by God’s grace, do a better job with. The thing is, that if I wrote about each of them in just this post you’d think you just purchased an e-book. So, we’ll start with the first one, and see how it goes from there in successive posts, but I’m thinking this will end up to be a four part series.

collyde, leadership,Mistake Number One: Prioritizing projects and plans over people and relationships. I lean more towards a type A personality. I’m a first born and on the Meyers Briggs I usually land closer to an ENTJ by nature. So, my tendency is to fixate on lists, plans, strategy, structure, and productivity and tie a sense of achievement and value to the accomplishment of those things. Praise. the. Lord. (and I don’t say that as a cliche, I mean like were it not for Jesus and grace it would truly be impossible!) that He has opened my eyes to the pitfalls and pain of being way out of balance in this area. Cultivating relationships, intentionally pursuing people, not for what they can give you or get for you, but because they matter, has upended how I see my family, my friends, my workplace, and our entrance into a new church community. It’s still not easy for me. I have to purposefully and regularly assess the pulse of my connection with people or I’ll just stay lost in Wunderlist world. If I know my tendency is to live and breathe task efficiency, then I have a gospel-driven responsibility to let the Spirit lead me, and even push me, towards people because people matter to Jesus. I’ve started asking myself some tough questions when I find my heart resistant to conversations that may have nothing to do with the project I want to get done with a co-worker that day, but instead allow me to check in with them and their family. I’m asking myself questions like, “At the end of the day, if you’ve crossed every major goal off your list, and your task list is up to date, but that co-worker hasn’t felt one ounce of personal care and interest from you, then what have you really accomplished?” Let’s face it. Touting a list with a bunch of check marks isn’t what my friends, family, or co-workers are most interested in. And it’s not what Jesus is most interested in. It’s easy to work hard. It’s a calling to love hard. But if I’m to be a gospel driven leader, I must do hard things. Friends, release the list and pursue the people.

Part 2 Preview: Why I’ve learned that sometimes, I need to just shut. up. This is gonna be good!

Can you relate? Share your thoughts and ideas for re-adjusting priorities from projects to people. We can learn from one another!

collyde, rollercoaster ride, leadership, collyder

When Life is a Roller coaster Ride

I’m serving with an organization that is in the midst of navigating some major transition. We’re not just at a crossroads. In many ways, we are in re-start mode which means those of us in leadership are in entrepreneur mode. I’m one year in now, and the best way for me to describe this past year is, “It’s been a roller coaster ride.” At times I really thought I’d fall out of my seat, or even that the whole car would fall off the tracks. We’d hit peak points when the possibilities and potential seemed endless, only to be thrust back down into the valley of realities, often beyond our control. We’d climb back up again, maybe level off for a bit. Then, seeing another pinnacle moment, I would stand up and jump up and down with excitement. But wow – that makes for a rough ride back down. And inevitably, you do come down again when you’re an entrepreneur in re-start mode.

Ups and down, twists and turns, surprises, disappointments and encouragement. It’s been quite the ride and it’s not over yet. What have I learned after my first time around the track?

It’s going to be bumpy. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be exhilarating.

And  – I had better stay in my seat and and lean in to every curve, every peak and every valley. When I lean in I’m seated firmly, with the proper safety gear on to keep me steady and firm no matter the high or the low. It doesn’t mean I don’t experience the emotion and it doesn’t mean I don’t take the risk of climbing the peak, but I do it in a state of grounded steadiness because I never know what might be around the corner. Leaning in means accepting the ride. It means expecting the ups and downs and letting both drive me to lean in even closer.

I don’t know what year two will hold. I know what it could hold. I know what I hope it will hold. But in spite of my influence and leadership, it’s ultimately held entirely by my Savior, my Father, my God. My work, my ministry, my family, my health, my life. He holds it all. It’s all His. He is what I’m leaning into. I know He’ll never let me fall.

Maybe you feel like you’re barely holding on to the roller coaster of life. I don’t have super wise words or clichés to make it all feel better in an instant. I just encourage you to lean in to Him all the more, and accept the unexpected. It’s helped me tremendously. That, and listening to this Kari Jobe song about a milion times. 🙂

What’s helped you to stay on track in the midst of a roller coaster ride in life? I’d love to hear from you and exchange encouragement in this community of collyders.

Conflict-Resolution-1

Matt Monge is one my favorite marketing/organizational culture/leadership people. I love reading his posts at workplacemojo.com because he has rich insights, valuable resources, and practical tools. And, because he’s really genuine – there’s great stuff there. He recently wrote,

“We need ordinary folks who will step up and do the hard things…Do hard things like admitting mistakes, being vulnerable, forgiving past mistakes, and building trust.”

I thought “yes! . . . if only it was that easy.” If only we could flip the switch of our hearts and minds and “Just Do It” and be those kinds of leaders, everything would be great. But, I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say, “you know what? It is really hard to be that kind of leader. In fact, it’s hard to be that kind of person.”

Whether in the home, in the workplace, in ministry, or in my community, life is relationships involving people and that means conflict is inevitable.

As a gospel-driven leader, I am called to walk the road of relational conflict in a way that reflects the heart of our leader, our Shepherd Jesus. That means humbly admitting when I’ve been wrong and owning that mistake, it means valuing the person over the project and forgiving their mistakes, and it means persevering and intentionally cultivating trust. I don’t always want to do that, and I definitely don’t always do it well. But yes – I can do it. My human reluctance to be humble is transformed by the power of the gospel in me and I can do it.

The course of leading through change naturally brings a lot of relational conflict to the surface. It’s difficult – especially when the season of change is a long one. But, the voice of my Savior cuts through my frustration, aggravation, and apathy to say, “Remember what I did for you to bring peace and reconciliation to our relationship? Do I not pursue your heart daily? Do I not extend forgiveness and long-suffering to you over and over? Go, in the power of my gospel and do the same. I am with you.” And when I obey, there is such sweet peace. Not because the conflict is over – because some times it’s not. But peace in knowing that my ultimate peace is settled and I have, in fact, done the hard thing. So yes, I will go and do hard things. But as I strive to be a gospel-driven leader, I will do hard things for His glory, by His strength, in response to His love.

rebel

True Rebellion breeds True Innovation.  To truly innovate you have to deny the status quo and challenge the norm. Let me ask you – Are you a Rebel? Do you go with the flow or do you expect the unexpected? Do you stand out of the crowd or do you stand in with the crowd?

I am under the belief that to expect great things from God, you have to include one act of rebellion into your arsenal – Prayer. I have been challenged to consider Prayer due to some books that have crossed my path in the last 6 months – one of them being Pastor Mark Batterson’s “Circle Maker“. If we were true to ourselves, we would agree that most of us have a Prayer Life that barely exists or it resembles a chore or a boring act of tradition instilled in us. It does not reflect a divine relationship, an awe-struck moment when we come in direct contact with heaven.

When the world around us is screaming out for our attention to keep us ever so busy, prayer is one act of defiance that allows us to close our eyes and ears for a moment to commune with our Creator. Whether you are believing God for your dreams or praying for a healing or need His guidance as you are standing at a crossroads of a major decision, the journey to discovering His will in our lives begins on our Knees.

I want to challenge our hearts today. Be a Rebel. Re-discover Prayer. Truly Innovate.