4 Essential Behaviors that Enhance Leadership Success

I began serving as Lead Pastor in Canada four years ago at a great church West Park Church. I began to practice four essential behaviors that helped me get a good start and experience some early leadership success. I believe leaders would do well to practice these four behaviors to improve their leadership success.

  1. Communicate often and well.
    • A new pastor must gain the trust of those he leads. One way to build that trust comes through effective and regular communication. People want to know what’s going on. If they don’t, they will connect dots that don’t exist. Here’s what I did (and do) to maximize communication.
      • I send a short weekly staff report to our board appraising them of our staff’s weekly activities. We answer these three questions each week.
        1. What went well?
        2. What didn’t go well?
        3. What’s the most important 3 things I must do this week to move the mission forward?
      • I include a short paragraph each week in the bulletin called ‘Where’s Waldo (aka Charles)’ where I share the highlights of my workweek.
      • In the first few months I sent out regular more detailed summaries of ministry progress.
  2. Listen and learn.
    • In my first message when I arrived in Canada I communicated to the church that I had much to learn. I told them that during the first few months I would listen and learn by asking lots of questions. I held listening sessions with over 100 people asking them about the history and the strengths/weaknesses of the church. I asked many of those people these four questions.
      • Would you tell me about yourself?
      • What’s going well here (this parallels one of the above questions)?
      • What’s not going well?
      • If you were in my shoes, what would you focus on?
  3. Wisely manage change.
    • When a new leader or pastor arrives, he or she often falsely assumes that the organization/church expects dramatic and quick change. Sometimes circumstances warrant such change if something is ‘on fire.’ Often, however, a leader must build trust before the church will receive dramatic changes. That doesn’t mean that we don’t bring change, however. It’s important that a new leader secures some early wins which requires some change. That in itself fosters trust. But, whether or not you are a new leader, thoughtfully managed change will bring the greatest lasting change.
  4. Keep healthy margins.
    • I heard someone once say that at the end of each day, the average number of items left to do exceeds 30. This side of heaven we can always find more tasks to fill our time. In my first few months it was difficult to keep consistently healthy margins. When I arrived we were significantly short staffed so I had to take up some of the slack. I realized, though, that I couldn’t maintain the pace I was running. So, to keep myself and my family healthy, I practiced these ‘margin keepers.’
      1. I didn’t say yes to everybody that wanted to meet with me. I learned to politely say no.
      2. I asked the board to handle some of the tasks staff otherwise might have handled.
      3. I made my time more productive. I sometimes took an afternoon or two outside the office where I could minimize interruptions and maximize productivity.

What crucial behaviors have helped your leadership succeed?

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5 Essentials Necessary to Build Church and Team Unity

Unity is a powerful force in God’s Kingdom, in our lives, in our families, in a business, and in the local church when it includes five essentials, seen in the great leader Nehemiah.

Every leader wants his or her organization, team, or church to be unified. Without it teams lose, churches flounder, and businesses drift. However, when your group is unified it’s fun, refreshing, invigorating, motivating, and productive.

The great leader Nehemiah could not have completed his massive building project of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall without unity. Nehemiah 3 lists scores of projects and people involved in the project and gives insight into these 5 essentials necessary to build unity. I use the acronym UNITY to make it easy to remember them.

Understanding: clarity about its true meaning.

Unity does not imply uniformity, meaning everybody is the same or likes the same thing. Unity doesn’t mean that we embrace selfish, divisive, abstinent, or irresponsible people for the sake of unity. It is not peace at any price. Rather, unity implies that we all embrace the same purpose and that purpose overrides our personal preferences. Nehemiah’s purpose was to obey God’s prompting to rebuild the wall.

Nattitude: how true unity shows itself .

I needed an ‘N’ to make the acronym work, so I stuck it before attitude :). In chapter 3 we see several key attitudes necessary for lasting unity. Those attitudes include these.

  • A whatever it takes attitude instead of “it’s not my job.” Many came from outside Jerusalem to work on the wall even though its completion would not directly benefit them.
  • An extra mile attitude. Several people listed in the building project worked on more than one area.
  • Finally, passion, optimism, and zeal. One builder, Baruch, worked with great zeal.

Ronald Reagan was probably one of the best presidents the U.S. ever had and he was an eternal optimist. He often told this, his favorite joke.

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears.

‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist.

Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist.

‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’ (source: http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/page/got-to-be-a-pony-in-here-somewhere)

Unified teams need more people with “looking for ponies attitudes.”

Intentionality: alignment around a common mission

Their common mission was to rebuild the wall. By restoring the wall, it would point to God’s glory.

Team: together everyone accomplishes more

You’ll find a common phrase mentioned 14 times in this chapter, “next to him.” They worked as a team, shoulder to shoulder, with arms linked to complete this great project. The gaps in the walls were filled because each person and group filled in a gap.

This chapter lists 38 names and 42 building projects. Those who worked on the project included men and women, priests, city guards, temple servants, merchants, and people from the public sector.

Yieldedness: it’s not all about me

Many groups helped even though they would not directly benefit from it as greatly as others. Yet, they chose to leave their homes in the countryside and come to Jerusalem to help for the greater good. And, Nehemiah didn’t let “what’s in it for me” people play a significant role or dictate direction. A what’s in it for me person only cares about what he wants, his agenda, and his preferences.

Yieldedness is an attitude that conveys that I want what’s best for the group and the mission.

What other aspects of unity have helped you build it?

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8 Ways to Maximize Bible Impact upon your Life

Most believers want to grow spiritually. But often we stumble in our efforts to grow. Is there a key or a silver bullet that catalyzes our spiritual formation? Willow Creek’s Reveal survey of several thousand churches revealed not a silver bullet, but the number one catalyst that believers said contributed most to their growth: Bible reading and reflection. The great leader Nehemiah shows us 8 ways to engage with God’s Word for maximum inpact.

The wall had been built and Ezra gathered the people together and read God’s word to them. Chapter 8 shows us these 8 concepts.

  1. Congregation: engage God’s Word in community with others. (v1-the people were brought together as God’s Word was read and taught). Hebrews 10.24-25 admonishes us to regularly assemble together.
  2. Attention: what gets paid attention to gets remembered. (v. 3-they listened attentively). A fundamental principle of learning and memory says that we learn what we pay attention to. The more we learn and remember, the more the Holy Spirit has to work with to effect change in our hearts. What we pay attention to actually causes our brain to change. It’s called neuroplasticity.
  3. Appreciation: show respect for God’s Word. (v. 5-they stood as God’s Word was read showing respect for it). When we respect God’s Word we are respecting its author.
  4. Explanation: develop a learning mindset. (v 7-the Levites explained to the people what the Scriptures meant). We must be teachable for God’s Word to change us.
  5. Application: do what it says. (chapter 9 describes that the people made direct application to their lives by making a commitment to be holy and to give). Neuroscientists have discovered that what we apply directly to our experience sticks with us the longest.
    • James 1.22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
  6. Connection: Let God’s word stir your heart. (v 9-the people were convicted of their and their ancestors’ sins when God’s Word was read). When we read the Bible we must lay our hearts open for the Holy Spirit to bring appropriate conviction of our sins.
    • Heb. 4.12  For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
  7. Repetition: What gets repeated gets learned. (v 18-Ezra read God’s Word to them daily). Learning experts have discovered that cramming information at the last minute does not last. Only repeated exposure over time will last. If Sunday is a person’s only encounter with Scripture, they won’t experience the change that could happen were they to engage the Scriptures on a daily basis.
  8. Satisfaction: Enjoy God’s word. (v 10-Nehemiah encouraged the people to no longer weep but to revel in the truth that the joy of the Lord was their strength). Engaging and embracing God’s Word is not like eating your broccoli. Rather the Bible describes itself like tasty food.
    • Jer. 15.16 When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.

The Psalmist captured the essence of the how we should approach and engage God’s Word.

Psa. 119.162 I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure.

 What concepts about God’s Word has spurred your spiritual growth?

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Are you a Thinking Leader? Take this Quiz to Find Out

One of the greatest leaders who ever lived was the Old Testament character Nehemiah. God gave him a burden to rebuild the walls surrounding Jerusalem in around 400 B.C. Even though he faced incredible odds, criticism, discouragement within the people, the haves exploiting the have nots, hunger among the people, and threats of violence from his enemies, he prevailed. A deciding factor, apart from his faith in God, was his ability to think clearly in the midst of crisis and difficulty. I believe a deciding factor in a leader’s ability to lead is clear thinking as well. Nehemiah’s responses point to 6 statements every leader should consider about about how his or her thinking affects leadership.

From a brain standpoint, two parts of our brain often vie for attention and energy: our thinking part (the pre-frontal cortex, located right behind our forehead) and our emotional center (the limbic system, located deep in then brain). When our emotional centers control, clear thinking degrades. When our thinking centers control, we can dampen the emotional center’s power and lead more effectively. Here’s what we learn about Nehemiah’s thinking.

  • Before he left for Jerusalem, four months passed (Neh. 2.1). During that time he was thinking about the problem (Jerusalem was in shambles) and waiting for the right time to approach the king.
  • When he finally arrived, he waited three days before he surveyed the situation (Neh. 2.11). He was probably thinking about how to fine tune his immediate plan before he inspected the walls.
  • When his critics criticized him, he refused to get drawn into arguments with them. Rather, he immediately prayed and then kept moving forward with the task at hand, rebuilding the wall (Neh. 4.4)
  • When he discovered that some wealthy Jews were exploiting the poor Jews, he didn’t emotionally react although he was very angry. Rather, Nehemiah 5.7 said he, “pondered.”

Nehemiah had learned to submit the thinking part of his brain to God which helped him lead most effectively.

Answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to these statement in the THINKING LEADERS QUIZ.

  1. I often shoot from the hip without thinking, especially when I feel threatened by another’s actions or comments.
  2. I easily let my emotions control my response (internal or verbal) when someone criticizes me.
  3. Sometimes I can’t concentrate because I’m so angry about something that happened.
  4. I tend to be a fire-aim rather than a ready-aim-fire leader.
  5. I seldom pause long enough to think about what I am thinking about.
  6. I seldom carve out time simply to think.

How did you do? If you answered yes to two or more statements, you’re probably not thinking as effectively as you should. As a result, you may not be leading at your best.

So, how can we become better thinkers? Consider this post on how to handle reactivity and this one on how our hormones can sometimes hijack our leadership.

What has helped you lead more effectively from your thinking?

3 Lessons on Change from Nehemiah

If your church is not changing, it’s not growing. I heard someone once say, “Don’t be afraid of change. You might lose something good, but you’ll gain something better.” However, bringing change in a church is often difficult. One of the greatest leaders of all time, Nehemiah, effected change in the setting that surrounded the building of the wall around Jerusalem. He modeled for leaders three essentials necessary to bring change.

In Nehemiah 5, after Nehemiah faced opposition from without (criticism from his adversaries) and opposition from within (discouraged people), he faced a new crisis. Wealthy Jews were exploiting the poor by charging excessive interest rates. As a result, the poor faced hunger, crippling debt, and even slavery because some had to sell their children into slavery to pay off the debts.

In the midst of that crisis Nehemiah engaged three essentials that resulted in the guilty party changing. The rich repented of their abuse and paid back the money they had taken from the poor.

He engaged these three parts of himself to bring that change.

His heart: he engaged his passion.

In verse 6 he writes, When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.  In other words, this issue gripped his heart. It stirred his passion and emotions that motivated him to action.

His head: he carefully thought.

Rather than reacting to the situation and letting his emotion override good judgment, verse 7 says, I pondered them in my mind…. In other words, he paused long enough to get a clear picture of things before he acted. James reminds of this.

James 1.19   My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

His hands: he did something.

Finally, he took action by taking these four steps.

  1. Define reality by clearly defining the change you want to bring (the rich were exploiting the poor and that needed to stop).
  2. Bring the right people to the table (vss 7-12). He had to engage the right people to solve the problem. So, he confronted the guilty party and informed the rest of the people what he had discovered.
  3. Secure commitment (v 12). He held the guilty accountable by asking them to take an oath that they would give back what they had taken.
  4. Set a good example (vss 14-16). Nehemiah didn’t simply expect others to change. He, too, took responsibility by setting a good example. He sacrificed by refusing the king’s food allotment usually given to governors like himself. He committed to never exploiting the people as former leaders had. He committed to being a different kind of leader.

Nehemiah wisely managed change by using his heart, his head, and his hands to effect that change.

What has helped you create change in your church or ministry?

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