8 Indispensable Qualities Every Leader Needs

Israel’s second king, King David, poses a question about character in Psalm 15.1, “God, what do you look for in those who draw close to You?” He them summarizes the answer in the first part of verse 2 with the words ‘blameless’ and ‘righteous.’ The NASB version uses the word ‘integrity’ for ‘blameless.’ These eight qualities rise out of this passage.

Hand and word isolated on white, concept picture

Psa. 15.1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?  2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart 3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,  4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,  5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.

The verses that follow verse 1 describe a blameless-integrous-righteous person.

Take a moment and ask yourself if these qualities would accurately describe your leadership character. If not, what needs to change in you?

  • I tell the truth. (v 2)
  • I avoid gossip. (v 3)
  • I protect the reputations of others. (v 3)
  • I hate what God hates. (v 4)
  • I show honor to the faithful. (v 4)
  • I keep my word. (v 4)
  • I’m fair with others. (v 5)
  • I refuse to be manipulated. (v 5)

Integrity means avoiding sin. I’ve always appreciated this definition of sin from Susanne Wesley, the mother of Charles and John Wesley. We leaders would do well to heed her wisdom as we lead.

Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.

What other character qualities would you add to this list?

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Have you Overlooked this Key to Communication?

Have you ever heard yourself speak on an audio recording and said, “Wow! I didn’t know I sounded like that?” If you have, you are not alone. It’s a brain thing. We actually can’t hear our voice and tone the way it actually sounds. [That must be why some people with really bad voices think they can sing and try out for American Idol.] This simple insight is an often overlooked communication key.

Boy and girl used the Internet communication

Just above your ear lies a part of the brain called the superior temporal sulcus (STS). In a baby up to four months old the STS attends to all sounds. Yet at seven months the STS triggers attention only from human voices. And when emotion accompanies that voice, it really gets activated. God created that part of our brain to help us understand language and read tone and meaning.

However, when we speak, the STS actually turns off. In other words, we don’t hear our voice the same way others hear our voice. That’s the reason we’re surprised at how we sound when we hear an audio recording of it. Some scientists believe this happens because instead of listening to our voice, we listen to our thoughts. And since the brain can’t pay focused attention to more than one thing at a time, it defaults to listening to our self-talk.

So how is this an overlooked key to communication?

Because tone matters greatly when we communicate. One of the world’s leaders in communication, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, believes that tone contributes 38% to spoken communication. 

So if tone matters that much, we must pay attention to it, especially if we are leaders.

How can we match our tone to our intended message? Consider these  ideas.

  • Ask someone who will tell you the truth how your tone comes across when you speak. Is it harsh, condemning, condescending, weak, insecure, positive, upbeat, etc.
  • Occasionally record yourself in a conversation and listen to the recording right afterwards. Ask yourself if your tone matched your intended message.
  • If a conflict around miscommunication arises with you and your spouse or someone you work with, ask the other person if your tone influenced their perception. If you see patterns in miscommunication, you may find that your tone is the culprit.
  • Sloooooow down when you speak. Sometimes we can appear pushy when we talk fast when we’re actually trying to economize time. Space and silence between sentences is OK sometimes.
  • Smile when you talk. Research has confirmed that smiling, even when forced, can reduce stress and make us feel happier. And happier people usually convey happier tones.

So the next time you’re in a conversation, try one or two of these ideas and see what happens. Your STS will be glad you did.

What has helped you improve your communication?

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See Thanks for the Feedback by Heen and Stone for a fuller explanation of the STS.

Is this the Holy Grail for Effective Leadership?

The term ‘holy grail’ is often used to describe something highly sought after or earnestly pursued. Whether you are a leader in a ministry environment or a business environment, great leaders are always looking for ways to lead better. But is there such thing as a ‘holy grail’ for effective leadership? Probably not. However, recently I learned a concept that although it may not qualify as THE ultimate key for effective leadership, it probably should be a competency leaders should develop. It’s called a growth mindset.

Chart depicting the leadership style of transformational leaders

Growth mindset versus fixed mindset…

I recently read Thanks for the Feedback by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone. I highly recommend the book. In one section they unpack a concept related to our personal identity: growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Simply put, leaders with fixed mindsets believe that their abilities and traits are fixed and finished. Leaders with a growth mindset believe that they are capable of constantly growing and changing.

Heen and Stone write about Professor Carol Dweck’s study at Stanford University on how children cope with failure. She used a puzzle experiment with kids. She had a group of kids engage with progressively harder and harder puzzles. Some kids gave up. And to her surprise, some kids actually became more engaged the more difficult the puzzles became.

After these experiments she talked with the kids. Kids who gave up felt that the harder puzzles made them look dumb. However, the kids who persisted believed that the harder puzzles made them get better at solving puzzles and said that their experience was actually fun.

Neither interest nor aptitude made a difference in their responses. For the kids who stopped, they assumed that their skill at solving puzzles was a fixed trait. The kids who persisted felt that their puzzle-solving ability was a flexible trait and they believed they could change and grow.

Dweck explained that the kids who refused to quit didn’t feel that they were failing even though they couldn’t solve every puzzle. They believed they were learning. For them, the puzzle was more like a coach and less like a referendum on their abilities or intelligence.

As I read this fascinating study, it struck me how important a growth mindset is for effective leadership. If we feel that our competencies and abilities are static, what we were born with, we won’t personally grow nor will our leadership grow. However, when we face difficult challenges and believe that God has given us the capacity to grow and develop, we’ll become more effective leaders.

So, how might we develop a growth mindset?

1. Be aware of the stories we tell ourselves.

The term metacognition means to think about what we are thinking about. The next time you face a difficult leadership challenge, pause and listen to your self-talk (practice metacognition). Do the stories you are telling yourself reflect a fixed or growth mindset? Do the same when you work with others. Listen to the stories you are telling yourself about them.

2. Recognize that an anxious feeling about a leadership challenge does not imply you lack faith or don’t have what it takes.

Our brains are wired to dislike uncertainty. When we face an uncertain leadership challenge, the fight-flight center of our brain releases hormones into our blood stream and neurotransmitters into our brain. This results in unpleasant emotions we feel, like anxiety. Remind yourself that leadership challenges are uncertain and to feel a bit anxious is normal. It has nothing to do with your ability to handle the challenge.

3. Include learning as a goal when faced with a leadership challenge. 

When we face a leadership challenge, we certainly want to solve the problem or overcome the challenge. However, the next time you face the challenge, include as one measure of success what you actually learn about yourself and the problem area. Learning may actually serve you better in the long term than solving the problem.

4. Don’t fear failure.

The possibility of failure should never keep us from facing new challenges in life or leadership. The prophet Isaiah addressed fear when he wrote these words.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  (Is 41.10)

So, a growth mindset may not be the ‘holy grail’ of effective leadership, but it can make a profound difference in how well you lead.

What do you think about a growth versus a fixed mindset? Where do you see yourself? 

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A Simple Way to Deal with Criticism

In the heat of the moment when someone criticizes us, it’s easy to react and make things worse. Too often when I’ve received a critical comment at church I’ve gotten defensive or said something in return that I wish I could take back. Has that every happened to you? When that happens, what can we do in the moment? Years ago I learned a simple acronym that can help us respond appropriately to criticism. Here it is.

Illustration depicting cut out letters arranged to form the word critic.

Respond to criticism with LEARN.

  • L listen: Simply hear the person out.
  • Eempathize: Acknowledge how they feel.
  • Aapologize: Even if you aren’t responsible for the problem, an apology for their experience may help ameliorate ill feelings.
  • Rrespond: Explain that you will attempt to address the issue if at all possible.
  • Nnotify:  Let those who can potentially fix the problem know about it.

The next time someone in your church brings you a complaint, LEARN from it instead of reacting to it.

What has helped you respond appropriately to criticism?

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The Causes and Cure for Leadership Burnout

Leadership is tough. Good leaders understand this and manage their lives and leadership demands to avoid burnout. Sometimes, however, even the best leaders get burned out. If you’re now facing it, examine the cause list below to see what factors may be contributing to it. Then, take one proactive step this week from the cures list to take better care of yourself.

Hand holding a match burning at both ends

4 Causes of Leadership Burnout:

1. Allostatic load.

This term describes the wear and tear on our body from chronic stress. Our bodies have limits. Yet, when we are under stress for long periods of time, our bodies suffer. Prolonged stress causes sustained high levels of the stress hormone cortisol which, along with an overabundance of other neurotransmitters and hormones, can cause heart problems, weight gain, impaired immunity, decreased memory due to brain cell atrophy, and diminished brain functioning. 

2. Power stress.

Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of Resonant Leadership, coined this phrase to describe a kind of stress unique to leaders. “Power stress is part of the experience that results from the exercise of influence and sense of responsibility felt in leadership positions.” McKee and Boyatzis explain that when the demands of leadership get so high and leaders fail to manage it, they risk becoming trapped in what they call the Sacrifice Syndrome. Sometimes we leaders feel so overly responsible for the success of our organizations or churches that we get caught in a vicious cycle of unhealthy sacrifice for others that leads to burnout.

3. Continuous partial attention. 

Linda Stone, author and consultant, developed this phrase to describe the mental trap we easily fall into when we constantly scan our surroundings to look for the best opportunities to spend our time on. It happens when we ‘skim,’ and pay attention, only partially. When this happens to a leader, he will fail to focus on the most important tasks at hand and get further behind on mission critical issues. Then, he must rush to get the important things done which contributes to chronic stress.

4. Multi-tasking. 

“Many leaders have convinced themselves that multitasking leads to greater productivity. However, researchers have shown that when we try to process two mental tasks at once, our mental capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old. And it can reduce our mental capacities as if we missed a night’s sleep or smoked pot (Rock, 2009, pp. 34– 36). Multitasking can also diminish long-term memory (Foerde et al., 2006). Even college students who multitasked with their laptops while in a class scored lower on tests than did students who didn’t multitask. And students who could see others multitasking also scored lower. So multitasking decreases others’ productivity as well as our own (Sana et al., 2013).” (from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership by Charles Stone).

In fact, research shows that multitasking can add up to a 40% loss of productivity in a day. This decrease in productivity is called task switch cost. 

So, what can we do to combat these factors that lead to burnout? Consider these steps.

4 Cures of Leadership Burnout:

1. Exercise.

For years research has shown that exercise benefits our body. But recent research has discovered that it benefits our brains as well. When we exercise it causes our brains to release a protein called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which has been called the Miracle-Gro for the brain. It encourages new neuronal growth and protects brain cells from stress. The better we take care of our brains, the better leaders we will be. 

2. Statio.

Statio describes a Christian monastic practice that we might call a mini-transition between events of the day. It’s a moment between moments when we pause from once task before going to the next. It allows us to break our hurry, obtain closure from the prior task, and prepare our hearts and minds for what comes next. Leaders who practice this can turn down their body’s fight-flight system (the sympathetic nervous system) and engage the rest and digest system (the parasympathetic system) which makes us calmer. Read this post by Daniel Schroeder to learn more about statio.

3. Sleep.

“When we don’t get enough sleep, we rob our brains of important neural functions because the brain is actually very active during sleep. Although the brain never really shuts down, it’s only truly at rest during non-REM sleep, which accounts for only 20 percent of our normal sleep cycle. During the other 80 percent, sleep helps the brain encode, strengthen, stabilize, and consolidate our memories from the day. Our brain replays what we have learned during the day (Medina, 2009, p. 164) to make our memories stick. Sleep also plays an important role in learning.” (from Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry by Charles Stone (Kindle Locations 1671-1675))

4. Get off the grid.

In our 24-7 connected world, our smart phones can actually keep us on high alert and in stress mode. I find that if I choose a 24-hour period (my Sabbath) when I don’t check email, I’m much more at peace. Getting off the grid helps disengage my mind and slow my internal pace. I’d also encourage you to turn off the automatic notifications function on your smart phone and on your computer.

What has helped you avoid burnout as a leader?

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