Leadership Disciplines

Over the years I have learned many things but one of the simplest is this: to become a better leader requires discipline. 

We will all end up somewhere, doing something, there is no doubt in that. Maybe for leaders there is a need to develop a different approach, one not relying on a default way of life but rather one through discipline and design.

I was not always great at this and I am still learning.  As I watch other leaders and wonder how they achieve what they do I discover this same simple truth: they have developed their leadership disciplines.

As a leader I have had to ask myself, am I happy with my leadership? Am I willing to do what it takes to improve? How can I grow myself as a leader, so that I can become a leader who has what it takes to grow others?

What are your specific leadership disciplines? I have a few and will unpack them in some upcoming posts.

Always Ready

Leaders lead.

One thing I have had to learn (in 25yrs of various leadership roles) is that when it comes to leadership, even when it’s a day off, that doesn’t disqualify you from your leadership position.

This is not an argument for being a workaholic and never having time off. Rest and relaxation are very important. It’s just my realisation that leaders can delegate as much as they like, can be away from their desk and not ‘actually’ be the one doing the work, yet they are still leading.

In fact, how things are when you are not there is often a bigger sign of your leadership ability than when you are.

Leaders are always ready. They are never ‘off’. It’s never alright to say ‘that’s not my job’.

I have come to rest comfortably that I am always leading, therefore I am always ready, for both the expected and the unexpected. That I cannot be ‘off duty’ and act ‘however’ because even the casual moments are moments that others may observe. Integrity is won and lost more in those ‘moments’ than in the ‘work’ times.

Always ready. If you don’t want that then my suggestion is simple…don’t be a leader.

Ugly Leadership Is Good

At the start of the year I was encouraged to think about my leadership journey which began when I was 19 years of age and I have shared a number of observations since then. For want of a better way to describe one thing I have learned in 25 years is the need to stand in front of my ‘leadership mirror’ and give myself an honest once-over, developing a better leadership self-awareness.  Sometimes it’s been an UGLY view.

A look in the leadership mirror of self-awareness can help you recognise things about yourself, the way you lead and the improvements that should be made…

Understanding two things: who you are and who you are not. This is a very important aspect of leadership. ‘This is me, get over it’, rarely works for leaders. It’s a bit ignorant really and not many people want to follow an ignorant leader. If you don’t know yourself well it doesn’t breed confidence in the team that you know them.

Too many times I have shown a complete lack of understanding. I have pushed too hard. I have ignored feelings and emotions. I have disrespected peoples circumstances and lives. I have used ’the way I am’ as a convenient get out clause. That is WRONG.

Gracious enough to realise two things: you are not as good as your best day or as bad as your worst. A smug leader is an extremely ugly leader. To be gracious is to be humble and is to recognise the role that the whole team plays in any success.

I like to do well. When I was younger my drive to win would made me ungracious, especially when people let me down. Age, experience and a willingness to adjust have seen that change during the past 25 years. My philosophy has and always will be ‘just do whatever needs to be done’ and I truly mean ‘whatever’.

Learning that leadership is about two things: what you do and more importantly why you do it. We may tick the box of doing but what are we learning about ourselves on the way?

I am very determined in my desire to learn, not just techniques and ideas but about myself. I choose to learn all the time. Great leaders are continuously checking themselves. They are observing not just what they do, but moreso the motives and thoughts behind why they are doing that particular thing that way.

I can be my own worst critic. Did I do enough? Have I planned adequately? Have I helped the team succeed? What could I have done differently? Over the years this has shifted from reasons of selfish ambition to the desire just to be the best me I can be.

You need two things: the divine grace of God and people. I am aware every day that when it comes to fulfilling the leadership role I am now in, it is not about me. I am not qualified for the position. I am unable to accomplish the role on my own.

As a Christian leader I need these two things – God at the centre of all I do. I need the divine grace of God and people, a great team to do life with every day. I am thankful that I have both. I work hard to keep them too.

From age 19 to age 44 I am discovering that a little UGLY leadership is actually a good thing. What have you learned about yourself on your leadership journey?

[Previous leadership posts are tagged 19]

Leadership is About Layers NOT Levels

Leadership is about layers not levels.

I think in my early days as a leader I thought leadership was about being important. It was about rising to the next level. A new fancy title. An important title. A title on a badge is always better or a lanyard, that’s extremely official. Come on, if we are honest, we’ve probably all thought like that.

Joking apart though, this was a serious discovery for me on my leadership journey. The title tricked me into thinking that’s who I really was. That getting to the ’next level’ was what it’s all about. It massaged my ego to be the leader of the youth group, especially when it was called JCs. It meant I had power, I could make decisions about what we would do, don’t mess with what’s going on here, I’m in charge.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never a bossy leader. I’m not really a flashy person but looking back on some pictures of me as a leader then, I definitely thought I was IT. Trying to be cool when I so wasn’t. There was a danger that the title was maybe inflating my own sense of importance, making me think more highly of myself than I probably should have done. I had reached the next level, don’t stand in my way, I’m coming through.

Honesty time…
We love a good title.
We love to know we have a position.
We love that our talent is getting us noticed.

Yet none of these things really made me a leader. They are important but in reality none of these things actually make you important. They might cause you to rise into a leadership position but ultimately may not be enough to keep you in leadership when you get kicked, pushed, prodded, challenged, confronted, hurt, picked on, accused and feel unloved as the leader.

The level you have attained to can only protect you for a while. It’s the layers on your leadership that will truly keep you safe, that will help you continue on your journey of leadership.

Layers are not flashy.
Layers are not cool.
Layers are often seen as unnecessary.
Layers are boring.

I remember climbing Helvellyn and being told that the best thing to wear was lots of layers and I’m glad I did. I carried my waterproof trousers all the way round but I had set off prepared for all eventualities. The sun beat down on us when we began the walk but at the top, the wind was blowing and it was much cooler. When the rain came I was thankful for that extra layer that was hidden in my bag.

Leadership layers are just the same. Not always needed but there. Not often seen unless called upon. Layers increase your influence as a leader, more than your title ever will, which increases your importance. You will find yourself being invited to the conversation no longer just because of what you do but who you have become.

The layer of discretion
The layer of integrity
The layer of attitude
The layer of trustworthiness
The layer of credibility
The layer of reliability
The layer of ownership

These are the areas that often are neglected in the pursuit of the next level or title but are actually the areas that any leader should be paying most attention to.

Hope you agree. What extra layers would you add to your leadership?

Lessons on Leadership Growth

Leaders need to grow.

If I was having a conversation today about leadership with my 19 year old self I would probably see someone with a bit of bravado, with some ‘assumed’ coolness (because I wasn’t that cool, I just thought I was), a person with a very laid-back approach to life, and a seeming disregard to having to talk to someone older who might actually know something that could help them as they start out in leadership.

You will need to grow.

5 simple words. That is what I would say to myself. I’m sure I got told that. Actually, I’m fairly certain that my leaders may well have just told me to ‘grow up’ but the sentiment would have been the same. Growth as a leader is essential.

Sometimes I have fought the need to grow. Other times I have embraced it. I have willingly and unwillingly listened to others who definitely knew better. I have banged my head on my leadership lid more times than I can remember. Each time I have had to decide – do I grow as leader, increase my capacity or do I just stay where I am and probably lose my leadership role eventually to the ones who decided to keep on growing.

Here’s what I am still learning about when it comes to growing as a leader….

Growth is best when it’s gradual. 
Don’t try and get there in a day. Becoming a better leader takes time. I have been in some form of leadership for 25 years and I am still developing, learning, changing and growing. You never reach perfection as a leader. Just keep on looking for that improvement.

I’m not big into exercise. I need to get better but I do know that if you don’t warm up or stretch out your muscles it can cause problems. Stretch is important to help you become stronger physically. The same is true in leadership. I have learned that to keep growing I have had to keep looking for opportunities where I will be challenged and stretched.

Growth must happen. 
Without growth we are stagnating. We are saying I don’t need to learn anymore, I have arrived. We never arrive. At 19 I didn’t need to grow. Now at 44, I realise I need to grow all the time.

If you don’t want to be a leader anymore, just stop growing yourself and see what happens.
Growth needs to be internal.
Talent is great, but character is greater. People may follow talent for a while but over the longer term, they follow the person. What makes the person who they are is what others follow. Leadership is about much more than the successful completion of a task.

It’s a fight sometimes but we all know where we need to grow. Be honest with yourself. Recognise strengths. Make them stronger and become an expert in them. Acknowledge weaknesses too. Don’t just ignore them. Develop the right ones that link to your internal leadership character, your integrity and your trustworthiness, rather than the talent aspect, although you may need to do that too.

Growth or the lack of it will become evident, eventually.
Others may recognise our growth or lack of it before we do. It only really becomes visible when we get tested in the area we needed to have grown in. The ‘next time’ will tell us the truth about how we are doing.

Like it or not, I have found that having people in my world who I am ‘happy’ to hear the truth from helps me. I’m not always ‘happy’ with what they might say but I am even less happy with being found out in my leadership by others who just love to tell me about my failings. That’s never a pleasant experience.

What would you add to the list about why growing as a leader is important?

Developing Your Leadership Character

As a 19 year old stepping into leadership I knew nothing about the importance of character and how that would influence my ability to lead others. After all, I was just 19. Nothing bothered me. It was all new to me, I was just trying to figure out how to do stuff.

Looking back, my behaviour at times could probably be described as ‘suspect’.
My people skills were fairly ‘non-existent’.
My attitude was pretty ‘carefree’.

Early days in leadership affords you some slack. Actually, I’m not sure how I got a way with some stuff. Maybe I didn’t, I just thought I did. I know that 25 years on I am different. I am not perfect, I still make mistakes but am hopeful that my character has developed along the way. I am certain if it hadn’t, then I would not be in a position of leadership today.

Character might not be the only thing I have had to pay attention to over the years but it’s definitely one of the most important. Good character builds trust and trust is the foundation of any leadership. Added to competence and consistency, these are three of the ingredients that make an individual a really strong leader.

I am thankful for the likes of Kevin & Tina Hudson who spoke into my life in those early days and others after that. Those conversations helped to shape me, challenge me, correct me and grow me into who I am today, which I hope is someone who is a better leader. Add God in to that and the part He has played in my life too, reading the Word, hearing a message or responding to a call to the Altar and I am more than I could have ever been from my own efforts.

Good character does not appear over night. It grows. It develops. It is nurtured. Here is what I have learned when it comes to the development of my own character…

  1. Always be teachable
  2. Learn from your mistakes
  3. Read
  4. Ask questions of the right people
  5. Be willing to have the tough conversations
  6. Admit when you are wrong
  7. Practice
  8. ‘It’s the way I am’ is not a reason for poor character
  9. Growing pains are not comfortable
  10. It’s worth the investment – you will be a better person and leader 

I think I will unpack some of these in future posts.

What would you add to the list?

My October Reading

The L Factor by Ian Jagelman. I heard him teach this and thought it was genius then. Reading it just reminded how important understanding this stuff really is. His basic premise ‘ministry builds people but leadership builds people’.

Worth a read for the 5 levels of leadership, the process of helping people progress along the leadership journey. It has certainly encouraged me to think more strategically. If the structure is right, then growth can occur because people are not only being released into ministry but they are also being developed as leaders too.

Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono. Didn’t know what to expect from this book. I had heard about it and was intrigued about this new approach to facilitating meetings. It seems so simple. Can it really make such a significant impact as described in the book?

The premise of parallel thinking as opposed to the more argumentative model that happens in meetings is easy to understand. The aim of focusing everyone on the same type of thinking means you don’t jump around, it’s not a battle ground, it’s less about who shouts the loudest. Plus everyone gets a chance to speak and offer thoughts. Creativity can increase. Problems can still be raised. Decisions can be reached faster, which means a better, more efficient use of time too. Looking forward to trying it out. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. Was keen to read this book after reading Primal and I wasn’t disappointed. The to be on a wild goose chase speaks of not really knowing where you are going and that is a great picture of living life being led by the spirit.

My life is not one of great adventure. I don’t feel that I have done any great feats yet. Reading the book certainly challenged me to become more determined to live life being on a wild goose chase. To allow God to take me where He needs to go. To let go of my plans and trust God more. To be willing to let go of an old identity in order to take on a new one. Makes me wonder where I might end up and what I’ll look like when I get there.

Building a Strategic Church by David Beer. I am naturally a thinker. I am more introvert, analytical and prone to planning. I don’t mind systems and processes. Due to this, I really enjoyed this book.

David Beer brings all his experience as a local church pastor in the UK to the table and shares a whole bunch of ideas that can help any leader to think more strategically. Loved the statement – ‘The church that doesn’t care who gets the credit, as long as people are ministered to in the name of Christ, is the strategic church and the church that God uses.’

The Empowered Church by Ian Jagelman. Leadership v Ministry is always an intriguing balancing act. Often the things that we enjoy doing as Pastors are more ministry based, the tougher stuff is more the leadership aspect. Both are important but one builds people, the other builds the church.

This made the whole issue of building the right kind of leadership team a higher priority. Ian Jagelman talks how the leadership team must be equally committed to a common task, goal and working approach. That each person must not be heard saying ‘this does not relate to me.’ If this is the case then you just have a working group, not a team. That’s a challenge when many are prioritising their own area of ministry but then that’s not the only thing you are looking for.

I would happily recommend all these books. Get your copies here.

Leaders Set The Pace

Your life has the opportunity to influence in so many ways. The problem is that many of these opportunities are either ignored or not even seen.

Reading Job 29, you see an individual who looked out, saw needs and met them. He was a one man servolution. It comes in response to his ‘friends’ and their determined effort to have him confess to guilty pleasures, some secret sin in his life, something that obviously wasn’t there. It would have been easy to confess to something bearing in mind the circumstances he found himself in, easy to think that they may have been right.

But Job stood strong.
Job was very self-aware. He knew where he had come from, what his life represented, that amongst his community he was a leader, someone that people looked to.

Leaders set the mood.
Leaders set the pace.
Leaders do this not only for themselves but for the community in which they live.
Job was a man of integrity.
He was also a man of influence too.

v25 ‘I was their leader, establishing the mood & setting the pace by which they lived. Where I led, they followed.’ [message]

Does your life stand up to the tests of integrity and influence?
Are the strong enough to hold you when others would push you to compromise?