We just hosted our tenth Global Leadership Summit at our church (my fourteenth attending). It was outstanding again. We spent a couple years developing what we call Next Level Leadership – a leadership development system to help leaders grow to the next level. I am constantly reading and looking for what’s new out there in our culture, business, technology and the church world. Why? Great leaders must be lifelong learners.

Here’s why. Everything changes. And everything is changing faster than ever. The maps we used in the past to navigate have changed. The tools (it is called technology) we use change faster than ever. Any leader who gets stuck in the past will hurt his or her organization. And what breaks my heart is that there are so many unhealthy and dying churches and businesses because leadership refuses to learn or try new ways. The message of the Bible never changes. But our methods of sharing that message must change.

Leaders lead by setting the example. Leaders must create a culture of learning and change. Will you allow your team, ministry or church be open to appropriate change or will you be stuck and find it difficult to reach lost people or the “new” client in our changing culture? We must be lifelong learners. We don’t throw out our knowledge and experience of the past, but we hold it lightly knowing that in fact there may be better ways that we have not yet learned or tried.  

I’m not an alarmist, but the alternative to being a fanatical learner-leader is a slow march to irrelevance. If you are not actively learning, then you are stuck and will move toward decline both for you personally and for the group you lead. You have moved from being a pioneer (an idea the Bible uses) to being a settler. You have a fixed mindset when a flexible one is needed. Your focus is on maintaining comfort, ease and safety. You resist change and keep things heading toward a slow but steady death – including your own. You are or will become protective, defensive, reactive and backward looking. Leadership must be forward looking. That’s what leaders do. And to be forward looking we have to assume we don’t have the future all figured out. We look forward to see the future. As Craig Groeschel said at the 2018 Global Leadership Summit – “Change or die!”

A learning leader in humility wants to be a leader that gets better and better. What does a learner look like? Here are some of the things that help me continue to grow as a lifelong learner:

  • Keep your curiosity and the joy of discovery alive. Keep asking good questions.
  • Stay humble and even admit to what you don’t know.
  • Keep pushing yourself in areas of discomfort. Take risks. It is in the unknown that we learn the best and it forces us to learn.
  • Read and listen lots! Listen to podcasts and read books that you know you won’t fully agree with and challenge your thinking. Commit to attending the Global Leadership Summit in August 8-9, 2019.
  • Hang around with people of different backgrounds who think, act and believe differently.
  • Ask for feedback on how you can do better or become better.
  • Get a mentor. Go to counseling. Join an online mentoring group. Take an annual or regular retreat to reflect, think and explore new ideas and practices.

My personal commitment is to keep learning and growing right up until I quit breathing. And in case you didn’t realize it, if you are an authentic disciple of Jesus, then you are a lifelong student and learner – that’s what “disciple” means. We are not done until we live like Jesus and lead like Jesus!

You’ve heard it said: “We are better together.” Do you buy that? Leadership is about helping others to excel in accomplishing what is needed for a larger cause. Therefore, leadership requires that we connect well with others. Too many leaders do not connect with people, they just direct people. Too many leaders have never learned good connecting or people skills.

A New Command
Let’s start with Jesus. Jesus said he was giving us a new commandment in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The context of this statement is vital. He just announced he would be leaving. He had been preparing his disciples to lead after he departs. They would face persecution as they launched the kingdom of God revolution. They would need each other. They needed to love each other well. While the commandment wasn’t totally new (see Leviticus 19:18), it came with a new standard – they were to love each other “as I have loved you.” If they would love each other as Jesus had loved them, they would have a super strong connection to lead well!

Connection
Leaders must excel in joining with people where love and belonging are experienced. I call this connection. Leading isn’t just about tasks, projects, results and programs. It isn’t just about setting vision and executing new ideas. It must include all of these. Real leadership is about connecting at the human level and leading from that place. Leadership requires a close proximity to those we lead. Jesus again is the supreme example. He didn’t claim Lordship from a distant heaven. He came and lived among us. He loved in a personal incarnational way. He mentored or discipled a group of leaders who changed the world. They loved him and died for him because he first loved them. Jesus connected!

Real leadership might at times have some “command and control” aspects to it, especially in a fire, firefight or crisis. But real leadership, effective leadership, is connected leadership. It is doing Jesus’ new commandment – loving others as Jesus loves us.

What is Connectivity?
Connectivity is a relational place where trust and respect allow two or more people to have an authentic, imperfect, relationship. Vulnerability creates the connection. Trust and respect keeps the connection going. Connectivity requires communication where each person is given grace rather than judgement, trust rather than suspicion. Each person is valued and thus they are heard, even if there are disagreements. In the end, people are built up, nurtured and encouraged by the connection.

How do we Connect?
Let me share the one skill that is critical for connection – listening that leads to empathy. Let me be blunt. There are very few leaders who really listen. It is tempting for leaders to think they have the answers because they are the experienced leader. But there will never be true connection apart from active listening. Just listening is making a connection.

Listening allows a leader to have empathy. In empathy, you feel with someone. You seek to understand what they are feeling and connect to them in that feeling in the present. Empathy is pictured in Stephen Covey’s principle: “Understand before being understood.” It is expressed in the idiom – “Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.”

I could add a few more to our list of connectivity behaviors and attitudes such as how to encourage, handling differences, offering grace rather judgement, vulnerability and more. But if you want to lead well and lead your church or organization to a better place, then you have to connect with people. Leadership is about leading people, not leading ministries, groups, projects, events, programs or tasks. Leading requires healthy connectivity within good boundaries. We are better together so connect with others and lead like Jesus!