5 Questions that Reveal your Leadership Strengths

Kevin Cashman wrote a great book every leader should read, Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life. In it he challenges leaders to lead from character, the inside. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. In one chapter he lists several questions that can help reveal where our leadership strengths lie. I’ve adapted his questions into five below. I suggest reading these questions slowly and reflectively every day for the next 5 days.

Business concept image of a hand holding marker and write Leadership word isolated on white

5 Questions that Reveal a Leader’s Strengths

  1. What would your dearest friend say in a moment of deep admiration of you?
  2. When you feel energized and fully alive, what strengths and traits do you exercise?
  3. What circumstances bring out your strongest character traits?
  4. What experiences in your life have caused you to feel most completely yourself?
  5. If you witnessed your funeral, what do you hope people would say about your life?

When we discover, develop, and deploy our strengths and gifts, we maximize our Kingdom impact and experience the greatest joy.

One of my life verses reminds me to focus on building character as a leader.

But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands. (Is. 32.8, NIV)

What questions would you add to this list?

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5 Traits of a Flourishing Leader

Some people have a green thumb and others don’t. Those that do can grow plants and flowers that seem to flourish with life, color, and vibrancy. Leaders also fall into two categories. Those who flourish and those who don’t. What are common traits of flourishing leaders? I believe what happened in the early church gives us clues to traits of a flourishing leader.

leadership ball with words

In Acts 1 Jesus had completed his mission on earth to die on the cross for our sins and then rise from the dead. 40 days after He rose he promised the Holy Spirit to his followers (Acts 1.8) and then ascended to heaven to co-rule with with His Father (Acts 1.9). Those first few verses point to traits of a flourishing leader.

What flourishing leaders do.

They take their role seriously. Jesus gave the great commission in Acts 1.8 to reach those without Christ. Flourishing leaders leverage their gifts to the max to help the church fulfill the great commission.

They lead with a sense of urgency. After Jesus ascended, two angels appeared and reminded those who watched Him ascend that He would return in the same way he came (vs 11). A flourishing leader will lead and act with a sense of urgency knowing that his or her time on earth is limited and that Jesus could return at any moment.

They seek to live in the Spirit’s power. Jesus promised the church that he would send the Holy Spirit (vs 8). And, the book of Acts chronicles the work of Christ through the Spirit in the early church. A flourishing leaders knows that he can’t lead in his own power. Rather, he will seek to submit his will daily to the work of the Spirit.

They deliberately seek to discover God’s will for their leadership. One of the first decisions the early church made was to discern God’s will about Judas’ replacement. They knew that the church needed godly leaders to lead it. A flourishing leader won’t seek to ask God’s blessing after he makes a leadership move. Rather, he will seek to discern God’s will and seek His direction before moving forward. He will use these four pillars when he seeks God’s will: Scripture, prayer/peace, common sense/circumstances, and wise counsel.

They direct their heart’s affection toward Jesus. In verse 24 Luke writes this just before they replaced Judas, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.” The passion of their heart was focused on Jesus. Flourishing leaders will do the same. They will choose to set their affections not on success, a big church, or acclaim, but on pleasing Him.

Read Acts 1 today as a reminder of what God looks for in a flourishing leader.

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Shadow Beliefs in a Leader: Clues to Yours

Kevin Cashman wrote an outstanding book on leadership called Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life. In his book he writes about conscious beliefs and shadow beliefs. He defines a shadow belief as a belief we hold deep inside, outside of our conscious awareness. He provides insight about how to discover those beliefs.

Businessman superhero concept

He contends that these beliefs often hinder leaders from being their best. For example, one shadow belief might be that subtle voice inside that constantly says, “You must perform better than everybody else for people to like you.” For me, one shadow belief I discovered was this: “Everybody around me needs to be happy for me to be happy. Therefore, I must try to make everybody happy.” Years ago that belief stifled my joy and peace as I tried to lead our church.

Cashman says, however, that we must bring those shadow beliefs into the light so that we can become our best as leaders. He gives seven clues that can bring these shadow beliefs to light.

  1. If other people often give us feedback inconsistent with how we see ourselves, a shadow is present.
  2. When we feel stuck or blocked with a real loss as to what to do next, a shadow is holding us back.
  3. As strengths become counterproductive, some hidden dynamics need to surface.
  4. When are are not open to new information, new learning, or other people’s views, a shadow is limiting us.
  5. If we react to circumstances with emotional responses disproportionate to the situation, we are right over the target of a shadow belief.
  6. When we find ourselves forcefully reacting to the limitations of others in a critical, judgmental way, we are often projecting our shadow onto others.
  7. If we often experience pain, trauma, or discomfort in our body, a shadow belief may be attempting to rise to the surface to seek reconciliation.

As I’ve faced my shadow beliefs, I’ve experienced greater peace in my life and become a more productive leader.

How about you? Are any shadow beliefs dogging your leadership?

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How to Deal with Ministry Pain

We all carry baggage not only from our family of origin, but also from our previous ministry experiences. For some, that baggage may feel like a light daypack. For others, it may feel like a 100-pound duffle bag. How can we deal with this pain so that it doesn’t affect our families, ourselves, and our ministries? Consider these insights.

young desperate man suffering with hands on head in deep depression, pain , emotional disorder, grief and desperation concept isolated on black background with grunge studio lighting in black and white

First, recognize that these factors influence how heavy your baggage feels.

  • Your overall emotional health. If it’s not good, you’ll ‘spill over’ more easily when jostled by ministry demands and conflict.
  • Your personality type influence by your genetic makeup. Some people are more genetically pre-disposed toward anxiety and depression than others. Our genetic makeup accounts for about 1/3 of our ability to be happy and enjoy life.[1] The remaining 2/3’s, however, gives us lots of leverage to change, manage stress, and bounce back from difficulties. 
  • Your previous ministry setting.

Second, look to Jesus.

If dealing with your pain seems self serving, look to the words of Jesus Himself. In response to a Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 22.37-39, NIV) So Jesus’ own words remind us we should love ourselves and be kind to ourselves which encompasses processing our own hurts and pain. Research indicates that pastors who are kinder to themselves when they fail or don’t meet others’ expectations, are less prone to burnout.[2]

I learned this insight several years ago when I transitioned to a church in California from a church in Atlanta. After we moved I was surprised when I began to grieve. I recall one day as I assembled an outdoor tool shed how deep feelings of sadness swept over me. I wasn’t sad about my new role as teaching pastor. The new possibilities exited me. However, my emotions reminded me that I must deal with my feelings of loss from leaving the church that my wife and I had planted 14 years earlier.

Third, admit that some leftover baggage from your prior ministry may still be weighing you down.

These questions may help bring to the surface unresolved issues that could potentially derail your new start.

  1. With whom did you experience the greatest conflict or the greatest hurt?
  2. How did you deal with those conflicts? Passively, aggressively, biblically?
  3. When you think of that person(s) do you feel significant anger, rage, or bitterness rise to your awareness? Or are the emotions more like mild disappointment or sadness?
  4. Do you feel that any of those conflictual relationships lie unresolved and that resolution remains possible? Or do you feel that you did what you could to resolve the issues?
  5. How would you rate where you stand in relation to this person(s)/issue(s): distraught, hurting but managing, coping OK, or in good shape with occasional twinges of loss or pain?
  6. Is God prompting you to do anything to resolve this pain?

 Fourth, take specific steps to deal with the emotional baggage.

When I’ve faced ministry pain, I’ve sought professional help though psychologists and hired coaches who have helped me process my woundedness. An objective third party can help you see issues to which you may be blind. 

As you process your pain, God may want you to initiate an act of kindness toward the person(s) who may have hurt you in your prior ministry. God prompted me to do that after I heard a sermon from a pastor friend.

Years ago I heard a sermon that dealt with turning the other cheek toward your enemies and loving them despite the pain they may have caused you. Like a lightning bolt, I felt God impress me to send a restaurant gift card to two leaders who had hurt me in a prior church. I included a nice note with each card. After I took that simple obedient step, I felt God begin to close that painful chapter in my life, although sometimes I can still feel a tinge of emotion when I recall those experiences.

God has used my pain to teach me much. He can use your pain to teach you as well. However, we must never allow pain to fester in our souls. I encourage you to inventory your life and bring out into the open any stuffed or hidden pain and process it. If you don’t deal with it now, it will leak out, insidiously drain you, and quite possible derail you and your ministry.

What has helped you process your ministry pain?

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[1] “Can Happiness Be Genetic?,” Psychology Today, accessed November 20, 2015, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201302/can-happiness-be-genetic.

[2] Laura K. Barnard and John F. Curry, “The Relationship of Clergy Burnout to Self-Compassion and Other Personality Dimensions,” Pastoral Psychology 61, no. 2 (May 21, 2011): 149–63, doi:10.1007/s11089-011-0377-0.

What this Leader Learned about Life from 10 Kindergarteners

Several years ago I visited the pre-school that my church ran. It included a kindergarten class. The morning I peeked in I noticed that all 10 kids were sitting in a circle holding hands. Their teacher, Autumn, invited me in to join them in their morning prayer. Delighted to do so, I sat between two dainty girls, one with long curly blond hair, the other with glasses and a patch over one eye. As the children prayed, God reminded me about some important life lessons.

Kindergarten sign with icons

Autumn prayed first and then each child prayed around the circle, one after the other. Out of their tiny voices came these prayers.

Thank you Jesus.

I pray for my tadpoles.

Jesus, please help my fish. I have two fish and the fins of one fish are coming off and the other one has spots.

I pray for my grandmother who has cancer.

Jesus, I pray that my puppies will live and that my parents will let me keep one.

And then this one really touched my heart.

Jesus, my mom is off tomorrow. I really want to spend time with her. I know she is busy, but please let her spend time with me.

In five minutes after listening to 10 six-year-olds, God reminded me of these simple life lessons.

  • When we pray, God looks not at the eloquence of our words, but at the honesty of our hearts.
  • No subject is off limits when we pray.
  • Kids want time with their parents more than anything else.
  • I must never allow a busy schedule to trump such significant moments as holding the hands of six-year-olds while they pray.
  • I wish I had more of the simple faith of a child.

Today, look for opportunities for God to teach you about what’s truly significant, even from a child.

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