One’s leadership style reflects how they are wired, their gifts and passions along with their understanding of what leadership is and how it is exercised. Listed below are assumptions about leadership that many people, including me, embrace as essential for being a transformational leader everyday, everywhere. Begin making a list of which assumptions below resonate with your understanding of leadership.
Leadership begins when you believe you can make a difference. You have to believe in yourself.
You have to believe in you, but others have to believe in you, too. What does it take for others to believe in you? Short answer: Credibility. If people don’t believe in you, they won’t willingly follow you. It turns out that the believability of the leader determines whether people will willingly give more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity, and support. Only credible leaders earn commitment, and only commitment builds and regenerates great organizations and communities. Before anyone is going to willingly follow you—or any leader—he or she wants to know that you are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent. People must believe that you know where you are headed and have a vision for the future. As a leader you are expected to have a point of view about the future. You are expected to articulate exciting possibilities about how today’s work will result in tomorrow’s world. Your ability to take strong stands, to challenge the status quo, and to point people in new directions depends on just how credible you are (honest, inspiring, competent). If you are highly credible, people are much more likely to enlist in your campaign for the future. But if others don’t believe in you, then the message you are delivering about an uplifting and ennobling future rests on a weak and precarious foundation. People may actually applaud your vision of the future but be unwilling to follow you in that direction. They may agree that what you are saying needs to be done, but they just won’t have the faith and confidence that you are the one to lead them. If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message. If you are going to lead, you must have a relationship with others that is responsive to their expectations that you are someone they can believe in. If people are going to willingly follow you, it is because they believe you are credible. To be credible in action, you must do what you say you will do. That means that you must be so clear about your beliefs that you can put them in practice every day. The consistent living out of values is a behavioral way of demonstration honesty and trustworthiness. It proves that you believe in the path you have taken and are progressing forward with energy and determination.
People want to know what you stand for and believe in. They want to know what you value and why. And leaders need to know what others value if they are going to be able to forge alignments between personal values and organizational demands. You can only fully commit to organizations and other causes when there is a good fit between what you value and what the organization values. That means that to do your best as a leader you need to know who you are and what you care about. You need a set of values that guide your decisions and actions. To discover who you are and what you care about, you need to spend some time on the inner work of a leader—in reflection on finding your voice. And keep in mind that it’s not just your values that matter. What is true for you is true for others: they too must find a fit with who they are and what they value. Credible leaders listen, not just to their own aspirations, but also to the needs and desires of others. Leadership is a relationship, and relationships are built on mutual understanding.
The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competence of leaders. Leaders are custodians of the future. They are concerned about tomorrow’s world and those who will inherit it. They ask, “What’s new? What’s next? What’s going to happen after the current project is completed?” They think beyond what’s directly in front of them, peer into the distance, imagine what’s over the horizon, and move forward toward a new and compelling future. Your constituents expect you to know where you’re going and to have a sense of direction. You have to be forward-‐looking; it’s the quality that most differentiates leaders from individual contributors. Getting yourself and others focused on the exciting possibilities that the future holds is your special role on the team. Developing the capacity to envision the future requires you to spend more time in the future— meaning more time reflecting on the future, more time reading about the future, and more time talking to others about the future. It’s not an easy assignment, but it is an absolutely necessary one. It also requires you to reflect back on your past to discover the themes that really engage you and excite you. And it means thinking about the kind of legacy you want to leave and the contributions you want to make.
Truth Five. You Can’t Do It Alone
No leader ever got anything extraordinary done without the talent and support of others. Leadership is a team sport, and you need to encourage others in the cause. What strengthens and sustains the relationship between leader and constituent is that leaders are obsessed by what is best for others, not what is best for themselves. Leaders alone don’t make anything great. Leadership is a shared responsibility. You need others, and they need you. You’re all in this together. To build and sustain that sense of oneness, exemplary leaders are sensitive to the needs of others. They ask questions. They listen. They provide support. They develop skills. They ask for help. They align people in a common cause. They make people feel like anything is possible. They connect people to their need to be in charge of their own lives. They enable others to be even better than they already are.
If you can’t do it alone and have to rely on others, what’s needed to make that happen? Trust is the social glue that holds individuals and groups together. And the level of trust others have in you will determine the amount of influence you have. You have to earn your constituents’ trust before they’ll be willing to trust you. That means you have to give trust before you can get trust. Trust rules your personal credibility. Trust rules your ability to get things done. Trust rules your team’s cohesiveness. Trust rules your organization’s innovativeness and performance. Trust rules just about everything you do. How can you facilitate trust? Research has shown that the following behaviors contribute to whether or not others perceive you as trustworthy. Here are four actions to keep in mind:
- They behave predictably and consistently.
- They communicate clearly.
- They deliver on their promises.
- They are transparent and candid.
Getting people to work together begins with building mutual trust. Before asking for trust from others, you must demonstrate your own trust in them. That means taking the risk of disclosing what you stand for, value, want, hope for, and are willing and unwilling to do. You also have to be predictable and consistent in your actions: forthright, candid, and clear in your communication; and serious about your promises. And, as we’ve learned so many times, leaders are far better served when they’re forthcoming with information. There’s nothing more destructive to trust than deceit, and nothing more constructive than candor.
Exemplary leaders—the kind of leaders people want to follow—are always associated with changing the status quo. Great achievements don’t happen when you keep things the same. Change invariably involves challenge, and challenge tests you. It introduces you to yourself. It brings you face-‐to-‐face with your level of commitment, your grittiness, and your values. It reveals your mindset about change. The study of leadership is the study of how men and women guide people through uncertainty, hardship, disruption, transformation, transition, recovery, new beginnings, and other significant challenges. It’s also the study of how men and women, in times of constancy and complacency, actively seek to disturb the status quo, awaken new possibilities, and pursue opportunities. All significant and meaningful accomplishments involve adversity, difficulty, change, and challenge. No one ever got anything extraordinary done by keeping things the same. Risk, uncertainty, and hardships test us. Initiative and grit are imperatives in times of uncertainty. You have to embrace the challenge, control what you can, and take charge of change to be successful in these turbulent times. To deal with setbacks and to bounce back from mistakes, you need grit. You also need to find ways to learn from failure, knowing that’s one of the best teachers you can have.
Leaders have to keep their promises and become role models for the values and actions they espouse. You have to go first as a leader. You can’t ask others to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself. Moreover, you have to be willing to admit mistakes and be able to learn from them. We know that credibility is the foundation of leadership (Truth #2). What is credibility behaviorally? How do you know it when you see it? The most frequent answer we get in our research is: You have to Do What You Will Say You Will Do, or DWYSYWD for short. Seeing is believing, and our constituents have to see you living out the standards you’ve set and the values you profess. You need to go first in setting the example for others. That’s what it takes to get others to follow your lead. A big part of leading by example is keeping your promises. Your word is only as good as your actions. You have to realize that others look to you and your actions in order to determine for themselves how serious you are about what you say, as well as understand what it will mean for them to be “walking the talk.” Your statements and actions are visible reminders to others about what is or is not important. And when you make a mistake, admit it. Admitting your mistakes and shortcomings goes a long way toward building up people’s confidence in your integrity. It gives them one more important reason to put their trust in you.
You have to believe that you (and others) can learn to lead, and that you can become a better leader tomorrow than you are today. Leaders are constant improvement fanatics, and learning is the master skill of leadership. Learning, however, takes time and attention, practice and feedback, along with good coaching. It also takes a willingness on your part to ask for support. Leadership is not preordained. It is not a gene, and it is not a trait. There is no hard evidence to support the assertion that leadership is imprinted in the DNA of only some individuals and that the rest of us missed out and are doomed to be clueless. Leadership can be learned. It is an observable pattern of practices and behaviors, and a definable set of skills and abilities. Skills can be learned, and when we track the progress of people who participate in leadership development programs, we observe that they improve over time. They learn to be better leaders as long as they engage in activities that help them learn now. But here’s the rub. While leadership can be learned, not everyone learns it, and not all those who learn leadership master it. Why? Because to master leadership you have to have a strong desire to excel, you have to believe strongly that you can learn new skills and abilities, and you have to be willing to devote yourself to continuous learning, and deliberate practice. No matter how good you are, you can always get better. You can develop yourself as a leader, but it takes a continuous personal investment. It takes time, it takes deliberate practice, it requires setting improvement goals, staying open to feedback, working on your strengths and weaknesses, and having the support of others. Moreover, the very best leaders also believe that it’s possible for everyone to learn to lead. By assuming that leadership is learnable, you stay open to opportunities to turn the workplace into a practice field and every experience into a chance to grow. By believing in yourself and your capacity to learn to lead, you make sure you’re prepared to take advantage of the many opportunities that are open to you.
It could also be the first truth. Leaders are in love with their constituents, their customers and clients, and the mission that they are serving. Leaders make others feel important and are gracious in showing their appreciation. Love is the motivation that energizes leaders to give so much for others. You just won’t work hard enough to become great if you aren’t doing what you love. There’s no integrity and honor with heart. There’s no commitment and conviction without heart. There’s no hope and faith without heart. There’s no trust and support without heart. There’s no learning and risk taking without heart. Nothing important ever gets done without heart. Purely and simply, exemplary leaders excel at improving performance because they pay great attention to the human heart. Leaders put their hearts in their organizations and their organizations in their hearts. They love what they’re doing and they stay in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honor them by using their products and services. They show they care by paying attention to people, sharing success stories, and making people feel important and special. Exemplary leaders are positive and upbeat, generating the emotional energy that enables others to flourish.
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord.
Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven.
Step 6 in Coaching Change
Gaining Insights from the Past to Reimagine the Future
The final step in the process of coaching CHANGE is to evaluate, to review the processes you have followed and new efforts you have initiated in order to learn from them and to continue to plan for the congregation’s future. Evaluating ministry is not a new concept. The Bible is filled with a number of passages encouraging self-examination and reflection. In 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Paul gives the qualifications for deacons and elders. In
1 Corinthians 11:28, Paul encourages the people of Corinth to examine themselves before taking the Lord’s Supper. Examining ourselves and our ministries is also an essential component for growing in ministry excellence. When we fail to regularly evaluate ourselves and our ministries, we lose sight of what we do well, and not so well.
The Benefits of Ongoing Evaluation
Evaluating congregational ministry has the following benefits:
Evaluation and the resulting action ensures missional alignment. Evaluation practices help congregations and leaders identify the gap between where we are now and where we want to be as regards living into our mission, vision, and values. The evaluation process helps us define our current reality and allows us to make course corrections that lead to God’s preferred future.
Evaluation indicates what’s important. Many of us have heard the phrase, “What gets measured gets done.” In a similar vein, I’d like to suggest that “What gets evaluated gets transformed.” When we take time to evaluate, it communicates that we’re serious about making a difference. When I give money to an organization, I do so only after I’m confident that lives are being changed as a result of my giving. When I recently shared with a leadership team that what we measure indicates what we deem important, a music minister piped up, “So what does that mean if we don’t measure anything?” I let them draw their own conclusions.
Evaluation provides opportunities to celebrate what God is doing through people. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Evaluations enable us to say to people with integrity, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” acknowledging that they’ve been a source of blessing to others.
In addition to these benefits of and purpose for evaluation, another purpose is ministry assessment. People should know the answer to, “How am I doing?” It is not unusual for a person to spend a year or more in ministry, thinking that all is fine, only to discover that he or she is abruptly dismissed for not performing as expected. If a person is not measuring up, he or she deserves an early warning, which an ongoing evaluation system provides. Congregations that do not regularly evaluate their staff risk losing good employees, who will get tired of picking up another person’s slack, filling in for other people’s shortcomings, and dealing with their abusive behavior. Given the amount of dysfunction I see, I sense that some congregations have made a silent agreement among their leaders—“If you don’t point out my faults, I won’t point our yours.”
Volunteers are often terrified by the thought of being evaluated. When evaluating paid and volunteer leaders, I always provide them with when, how, and why they’ll be reviewed. I give them their job or ministry description. I also tell them that there will be no surprises at the time of the review, informing them that we’ll check in with each other on how things are going several times before we do a more formal evaluation.
Here are three cautionary notes about evaluation:
Keep in mind that in situations where you ask someone to evaluate you, you are giving that person a certain amount of authority over you—be careful whom you choose.
Too much evaluation can create an environment of constant criticism in the church.
If the evaluation process becomes burdensome, people will resent it and quit providing feedback.
Evaluating Important Decisions
All of us generally make our best decisions when we take time to gather information from a variety of sources and a variety of perspectives. In his book, Six Thinking Hats, Dr. Edward de Bono, a leading authority in the field of creative thinking, offers insights for leaders to help them broaden their perspective and make more informed decisions. Listed below is an overview of his “six hats” thinking process along with a few typical questions evaluators might ask. Each hat is a different color, representing a different evaluation task. Please note that a leadership team may decide to use all of the hats listed below or just a few of them based on the decisions being made.
The White Hat
The color white suggests paper. The white hat is used to direct attention to available or missing information. When we wear the white hat, we ask the following questions about our decision or new effort we’re evaluating:
What information do we have?
What information do we need?
What information is missing?
What questions should we be asking?
The Red Hat
Red suggests fire and warmth. The red hat has to do with feelings, intuition, and emotions. When the red hat is in use, we have the opportunity to describe our feelings and intuitions without any explanation at all. Our feelings exist, and the red hat gives us permission to vocalize those feelings. When we as leaders and evaluators wear the red hat, we ask questions such as these:
What energizes us about this proposal?
What’s our gut instinct about the plan?
What are our feelings about what we’ve discussed so far?
How do we sense others would respond to this idea?
The Black Hat
The black hat is probably the hat that is most often used in evaluation. Black reminds us of a judge’s robe and symbolizes caution. The black hat stops a plan that may be harmful from going forward by pointing out risks and why something may not work. Overuse of the black hat, however, can be just as dangerous, preventing congregations from taking calculated risks and trying new ways of doing ministry. A few sample black hat questions include the following:
What will this cost us in the way of time, money, and human resources?
What are the possible downsides to this proposal?
Who else has done this? How did it work for them?
Is this the best use of our resources?
The Green Hat
We associate the color green with vegetation, which suggests growth, energy, and life. The green hat is the energy hat. Under the green hat, leaders offer proposals and suggestions and discuss new ideas and alternatives. The green hat allows us to bring up possibilities and talk about modifications and variations for a suggested idea. Sample questions might include the following:
What do we like about this idea?
How might we build on what’s been proposed?
What other possibilities are we overlooking?
Who else should we talk to for more ideas?
The Blue Hat
The blue hat is for looking at the thinking process itself: What should we do next? What have we achieved so far? In an evaluation process, leaders use the blue hat at the beginning of a discussion in order to define what we are thinking about and to decide what we want to have achieved at the end of our thinking. The blue hat may be used to order the sequence of hats that we are going to be using and to summarize what we have achieved. Typical blue hat questions include the following:
What are the steps for moving forward if we decide to act?
Who is responsible for each step?
Who else needs to know about the decision we’re making?
How will we get the word out to people?
What criteria will be used to determine if we’re successful?
The Yellow Hat
Yellow suggests sunshine and optimism. Under the yellow hat we make a direct effort to identify the values and benefits in an idea or proposal. Sample questions include these:
What are good points about this proposal?
What are the benefits for moving forward?
Who would benefit from this program or ministry?
How would people experience these benefits?
Evaluating by Asking Questions
Questions can frame how people approach topics and can set the tone for further conversations. Questions can help us challenge the assumptions we hold and empower us to take action. Throughout the coaching CHANGE process different types of questions are asked of different individuals and groups from whom we’re seeking input or a response.
One basic tool I frequently use with congregations to help them explore the launch of a new program or ministry is asking who, what, where, why, when, and how questions. I often use this method to discern if a new ministry fits their overall vision and if the timing is right. I invite congregations to ask themselves:
Why are we considering this? (What is the purpose? How does it fulfill our mission?)
Where is this leading us? (Is it helping us live into our vision?)
Whom are we seeking to serve? (Whom are we planning to serve? What are their needs?)
What service or program are we providing? (Is this the best way to serve their needs?)
How will we launch this ministry? (What’s the process or plan for moving forward?)
When might we launch this? (Is this the right time? How long will it last? Can we pilot it?)
Questions frame how we approach topics and set the tone for further conversations. Questions can help us challenge the assumptions we hold and empower us to take action. Throughout the coaching CHANGE process different types of questions are asked of different individuals and groups from whom we’re seeking input or a response.
Leaders who are advancing change also need to raise questions that others fail to ask. This is an essential role for coaches. I was working with a faith formation director who was informed by her personnel committee that she needed to create a task force to oversee the implementation of faith formation principles and practices. She already had individuals in place doing much of the work that the new task force was charged with overseeing. She stated, “I’m not sure how I’d use this task force and I’m not looking forward to tying up another night every month meeting with them.” It was obvious that the question, Why do we need this task force?, was never fully discussed among personnel, the faith formation director, and the pastors. Two of the most important questions we need to ask regularly are, Why is this important? and, Is this worth doing? Listed below are some of the questions I frequently ask congregational leaders that a lead pastor or other key leader could ask a congregational leadership team.
Ten Questions to Ask Congregational Leaders
If you had to describe our congregation to your neighbors, what would you tell them?
How do you see our congregation living into its mission and vision?
Which of our congregation’s core values do we most exemplify? To which core value do we need to pay closer attention?
How have you seen lives change as a result of our ministry efforts?
When’s the last time you personally invited a friend to our congregation? What was the occasion?
In what ways do you help your children, grandchildren, or godchildren practice faith at home?
What are some of your dreams for this congregation?
What are some of your concerns for this congregation?
In what ways does this congregation help you practice faith at home?
What is our congregation known for in the community?
Ten Questions for Evaluating a Program or Ministry
(Responses would come from program or ministry volunteers.)
In what ways does this ministry help us fulfill our mission?
How have lives been changed as a result of this ministry?
What stories have we heard about how this program or ministry is affecting people?
Did this program or ministry serve the people it was intended for? If not, why not?
Is the ministry’s impact sufficient to justify the amount of time and energy we invest?
If we were to continue this ministry, what would we do differently in the future?
What would we quit doing?
As a leader, how passionate are you about this ministry? (1–10; 10 = very)
What do you see as the long-term impact of this ministry?
If this program or ministry continues, what role, if any, would you like to play?
Ten Questions to Ask Members
If you moved and had to find a new church home, what would you look for in a congregation?
If you had to leave this congregation, what do you think you’d miss most about it?
In what ways does this congregation help you practice faith at home?
What do you see as your next step for growing deeper in your faith?
Who were the people in your life that shaped your faith? What did they say
In what ways do you see yourself influencing the faith lives of friends and family members?
How can our congregation best support you in teaching your children how to practice faith at home?
What ministries of the congregation do you most appreciate? Of which ministries are you most proud?
Do you have any concerns for our congregation?
What some of your hopes for our congregation?
Are You Gathering the Right Information?
I remember sitting down with a youth director who couldn’t wait to show me how he tracked the most minute details of every youth event. He evaluated every event and took copious notes on what he’d do differently if he ever did the event again. When he asked what I thought of his plans, he was startled to hear me say, “You’re spending too much time tracking the things that don’t matter and not enough time tracking what really does matter.” I showed him my evaluation of a recent youth event I had coordinated. The congregation’s mission statement was “Helping people connect with God, connect with each other, and connect to the needs of the community.” The feedback we gathered showed how the event helped young people connect with God through Jesus Christ. It included stories about how we saw youth building deeper relationships with each other during the event. It included ideas for incorporating a service component into the event if it was ever held again. I told him that “if we only gather feedback on logistics rather than how the event changed lives, then we’ve failed to gather the essential data.”
Are You Willing to Have Others Point Out
Your Blind Spots?
I’ve found that one of the most helpful things you can do to aid in your self-evaluation efforts is to invite someone into your life who will give you honest feedback. This also assumes that you are open to hearing about all facets of your life and ministry and will not take offense if things are shared that you may be surprised by or disagree with. We all have blind spots, and it’s usually our friends and family members who are most aware of our greatest strengths and our greatest personal challenges.
I did this informally with a co-worker of mine at a congregation where I served part-time. We would meet at a local coffee shop once a month and we’d share our observations of each other’s work based on our responses to the following questions:
What seems to be working in your life and ministry?
What seems not to be working in your life and ministry?
What do you need to pay closer attention to in the future?
What do you need to quit doing, do less of, or have others do on your behalf?
What changes do you need to make to do more of what you do best?
I learned more about myself and my ministry effectiveness through these monthly gatherings than I ever did through a formal performance review process.
Will You Be Able to Find the Information
When You Need It?
I remember working with a pastor who hoarded every newspaper article, research document, and trivial statistic he came across in anticipation that he’d have just the right article or sermon illustration when he preached. The only problem was that his current filing system, consisting of stacks and overflowing piles everywhere, didn’t lend itself to having the information at his fingertips when he needed it. It also meant that people couldn’t visit with him in his office (there was no place to sit), nor was there any space on his desk to set up his laptop. He may have had great articles and ideas, but he could not access them when needed.
Similarly, in an evaluation process there’s really no reason to collect feedback if it’s not going to be used. If you’re going to spend the time gathering feedback, then spend a little more time figuring out where you’ll store what you gather. I keep a “Notes” sections on my iPad where I maintain this information and review it on a monthly basis. The gems of wisdom I’ve gleaned over the years continue to get woven into a multitude of projects and new proposals simply because I know where I can find them when they’re needed.
For more insights and ideas for ways to evaluate your ministry effectiveness, consider using the following forms found in the CHANGE Agent’s Toolkit:
Congregational Spectrum Exercise (Tool 27)
Annual Self-Assessment Review (Tool 28)
Quarterly Check-in (Tool 29)
Planning for Next Year (Tool 30)
Personal Development Plan (Tool 31)
Additional evaluation tools and resources may be found at www.surfacetosoul.org/leadershiptools.
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QUESTIONS TO PONDER
What prevents you from regularly evaluating your life and your ministry?
In what ways do you think your ministries would be different if you constantly evaluated them?
Whom would you trust asking for feedback on your ministry performance?
What information do you need to gather from members, leaders, or your community to do your best work?
What’s the next step for acting on feedback you’ve already received?
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