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!

Here’s what you rarely hear leaders admit: We doubt ourselves, especially when we are betrayed or face hostile opposition. We doubt ourselves when things are not going well, results are lacking, and when we face new challenges that we have never faced before. There are times we don’t have the answers. It is in these times we need to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is to admit that we need help. It’s admitting we are an incomplete broken person and leader. But you don’t hear leaders talk that way. There’s a stupid “rule” out there that says leaders must present a facade of strength that is impervious to weakness. The rule says that leaders never admit failure.

A few years ago I hit one of those seasons when I began to doubt myself. I was facing strong opposition. Our growth, energy, passion and vision was flat. How would I respond? Shame? Fear? Quit? Fight? I did all of these to some extent. But what got me through that season was a better and harder choice. I chose to be vulnerable! The key to being able to move through the feeling stuck and doubt was a willingness to move past shame for the lack of “success” and be vulnerable to admit that I needed help. All leaders, at times, need help from a counselor, mentor, peer or other wise godly people.

During that time I read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. She says we all have the formula “I’m not ___ enough.” inside our heads. You fill in the blank. We are not smart enough, creative enough, energetic or passionate enough, young enough, old enough, etc. We live in fear and doubt that we don’t have or can’t do what others expect of us. All leaders at times ask: “Do I have what it takes?” We all have a fear that lurks under the surface that we’ll be found coming up short. And if you come up short as a leader, we might hear “Shame on you!” So we choose to hide our fear rather than be vulnerable, open, transparent and honest with ourselves and others.

There is a hidden cost to shame. We learn to try and numb the pain, fear and doubt that shame (I’m not enough) creates. We manage our life so it won’t be too disappointing. We try to control others, life and the risks. Our shame often not only keeps us from taking risks, but at the same time we kill the real life that God has in store for us. We don’t lead ourselves and our organization to take the adventures God wants us to take. We don’t live by faith, but by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We learn to manage our lives rather than really trust the living God who is able to do more than we can imagine or think.

I choose to be vulnerable as I share my struggles and weaknesses in conversations, meetings, messages, in my small group and whenever I need it or others need it. Leadership requires being vulnerable to engage and risk and be all in. It’s about doing what needs to be done at the moment for the good of those we serve. You cannot lead well without being vulnerable. We choose to enter into risk and uncertainty knowing that some of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be exposed and even used against us. And that is what courage is. For centuries soldiers have taught us this truth – courage is just going into battle… long before it is about winning the battle. What’s the “battle” you need to step into?

Maybe the best church leader of all time is the Apostle Paul. He wrote a very vulnerable letter we call 2 Corinthians. He was being attacked but he chooses to lean into vulnerability. He wrote; 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 – NIV). So, before the very people who are looking to exploit Paul’s weaknesses; he chooses to admit his weakness. Wow! When we are vulnerable we embrace our weakness to allow God to show up. So make the life changing decision to stop denying your weakness, hiding in shame and fearing vulnerability. Lean into God and walk by faith not sight. That’s how great leaders like Paul lead.

In observing really good leaders, one of the traits that is almost always present is great self-awareness. Here’s why self-awareness is important in leadership: We need to continually become aware of ourselves so that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt others and damage our ability to lead well. The fact is we all have blind spots and a blind spot can damage our influence and hurt those we are trying to lead.

Years ago my mentor told me he was going to go to counseling. I asked him what problem or challenge he was facing. He said he didn’t know. I was confused and kept pressing him what the “issue” was. He said he didn’t know of anything that was wrong. But it was what he didn’t know that he was concerned about. He went to counseling to discover his blind spots.

Good self-awareness allows us to have an accurate view of ourselves. Why is this important and valuable in leadership? As leaders we have influence in the lives of people – that’s what leadership is. Who we are affects how we lead. And all leaders are sinners. All leaders are flawed. All leaders are broken in some way. All leaders have strengths which should be maximized and weaknesses, that if unchecked, can trip them up and hurt those he or she is leading. Self-awareness is essential if we are going to be able to understand ourselves, which affects how well we interact and serve those we are leading. Leaders who are poor at self-awareness hurt people and don’t even know it. Without good self-awareness, we won’t be able to grow and lead better.

Here’s where we start: You have to want to be more self-aware. It doesn’t just happen. I want to be the best leader I can. I don’t want to hurt the people I lead. We have to really look for clues from others that might be telling us there is something not quite right. You have to choose to develop a self-awareness antenna. Frankly, few leaders get past this point. They don’t want to know their flaws, weaknesses, blind spots or the things hiding in the shadows.

We almost never become more aware on our own. We need others to give us feedback. But it isn’t enough to ask for feedback. We actually have to create a culture or an environment where others know we welcome feedback. Folks need to know we really do want to know ourselves better and that we will act on the feedback given to us. So when we ask for feedback, we can’t become defensive or in any way punish the person giving us feedback. Want to become aware of your blind spots or weaknesses? Ask! Others will see things long before you will. Over the years I’ve learned that I can even learn things in poorly delivered feedback. Even “bad” feedback likely has a kernel of truth in it.

Most of our blind spots are connected to our past. We bury stuff. We cover over the pain. We are good at the denial project. There is stuff that lurks in the shadow that we are not fully aware of. The “shadow” is most dangerous to our personhood and leadership. The past and things that are in the shadow has a way of living in the present, especially without good self-awareness. Past events and our conclusions about those past events become triggers in our present and we as well as those we lead are surprised by what shows up or erupts. We almost always need help, often professional help, to discover and unpack the stuff in the shadows.

There’s a another aspect to self-awareness. We all sin and there are things we are more likely to be tempted by. No one is exempt from powerful temptations. Good self-awareness notices when the conditions in or around us are forming where we might be more vulnerable to temptation. Things like tiredness, certain toxic personalities, or various kinds of stressors might make us more likely to give into temptation and sin. Self-awareness learns to recognize the danger zones so we can make more positive choices.

How do you start? Spend some honest time with God asking him to prepare your heart to be open to feedback. Then ask some trusted friends, other than your spouse, to give you feedback. Pick a specific area or let it be general. Start on surface level or go deeper. This is invaluable to living well and leading well. The more self-aware we become, the more God can shape and mold us to be more like Jesus and lead like Jesus.

Personal worth in many ways has become a worn out idea that mainly ends up being a part of middle school or high school conversations. And we seldom connect personal worth to effective leadership. But I’ve seen it over and over. I’ve heard the painfully true horror stories of leaders who frustrate almost everyone around them. Maybe you work for or have on your team someone who doesn’t perform well or surprises you with behaviors that just are not appropriate. Dig deep enough and I’ll bet you you’ve hit the issue of personal worth. Leaders with lots of charisma, knowledge, skill and experience can lead poorly and even hurt people and the organization if they don’t have a strong sense of personal worth.

Leaders who lack a healthy personal worth not only do bad things, they also diminish others, don’t listen, react in anger, or refuse to take responsibility for failures while being quick to take the credit for successes. Fact is, effective leaders must have a healthy personal worth.

All our lives we try to develop and even create our own personal worth. We do it by trial and error. We end up with a list of “rules” that fall into two categories. Larry Crabb (Effective Biblical Counseling –1977) rightfully observed that all worth is based on two main sets of things we believe about: what makes us secure and what makes us significant. I’m secure when…fill in the blank. I’m significant when…fill in the blank. Personal worth, or being “okay”, happens when we are both secure and significant. I strongly encourage you to take some time to reflect and honestly write out your list of each. I think you’ll be surprised at how long your list is. I was!

The problem is that most of our “rules” for security and significance are often attacked and easily violated, and seldom hold up over the long run. If I’m secure when people like me, well, you know where that is going. If I’m significant when people tell me of my accomplishments, I’ll always be waiting for the encouragement that may never come.

Let me cut to the point. No circumstance or person can provide me or you with consistent, guaranteed significance and security, hence personal worth (that was a huge statement to reflect on!). Only God can. Only God can give you personal worth. Only God can provide you with true security and true significance.

Look at Jesus. In Matthew 3:17 after he was baptized God said to Jesus – “You are loved. You are good.” (my paraphrase). The NIV says: “This is my Son, who I love; with him I am well pleased.” Did you notice that God gave Jesus the basis of his personal worth – he is loved (secure) and God is pleased with him (significance). It is God who gives us significance, security, and thus worth.

As a leader, it is essential that we develop our personal worth on the one source that is unshakeable. We WILL lead out of our personal worth, whether good or bad – guaranteed. If our personal worth is shaky, so will our reactions when it is hurt, damaged or diminished. But when our worth is based on God, we’ll not only weather the storms, but we’ll thrive as leaders.

I’ve prepared a 15 minute video on personal worth that is part of our Next Level leadership development training. Click here to watch if you’d like to go a bit deeper and feel free to share it.

One last thing. The Global Leadership Summit is coming August 9, 10. The cost is $109 through our partner 4Tucson. Click here for information. I’ve attended 13 years in a row and gained so much that has shaped my life and leadership. It’s the best leadership conference for the money!

 

What’s THE most important trait of a leader? Can we even find one key trait that all great leaders must possess? Here’s a common list that will show up in this discussion.

  • Courage and boldness!
  • The ability to motivate!
  • Empowering and developing other leaders!
  • Emotional intelligence or EQ (emotional quotient like empathy, self-awareness, transparency, self-control, connecting skills, etc.)!
  • Vision!
  • A great strategic mind!
  • The ability to communicate well!
  • Integrity!

All of these are essential qualities of a great leader. And we could add more like execution and collaboration. But I believe there is one trait that has greater influence in leadership than all others? I’ve been a student of leadership now for 40 years and I believe that humility is the one trait that is the most important of all.

This trait allows all the other important traits to exist, grow and flourish. It births essential traits like self-awareness, collaboration, vulnerability and transparency, servant leadership, the ability to be a continual learner, character integrity and so much more. All leaders have weaknesses and shortcomings. This trait allows leaders to admit they are not the perfect complete package. Humility allows leaders to surround themselves with people who can balance their deficiencies using their unique gifts and skills.

Leaders can be “successful” without humility. Leaders, in and out of pride, can grow a church or run a company that shows amazing results and can even gain the respect of others. But in the end, a lack of humility will keep them from a bigger potential that will never be realized. And worse, a lack of humility will keep a leader from giving away their very best, whatever that is, to build up others. Success wins the day. Humility leaves a legacy. Today comes and goes, but a legacy is what lasts.

What is humility? It is a choice! Humility is not natural, rather we choose to be humble. The core meaning in the word humility is to “lower oneself.” In humility, we lower ourselves for benefit of others. The decision to lower ourself is letting go and giving away what we possess to help and serve others. What might we have to give away? Power, influence, position, status, resources (time, money, knowledge, abilities), comfort, safety, recognition, or even our own advancement. Humility is lowering ourselves and letting go of what we have & possess for good of others.

This is so important that I’d like you to watch a 16 minute video I did on humility. It is part of our the Seven Non-Negotiable Traits of a Leader that is core to our Next Level Leadership development strategy at Pantano. The link is below and there is also a humility video guide on the Leading Edge website you can access before you watch. The guide has lots of practical ideas on how to grow your humility and a good list of books and resources to help you grow in this area.

HUMILITY

There are too few really humble leaders. Make yourself the best leader you can be. It starts and ends with humility. Humility is a choice. We can learn to be humble.

Here’s my first Leading Edge blog post! Thanks for subscribing! I thought I would start my blog with the 4 books I recommend to every church leader. We all learn to lead in different ways. Conferences are great. Mentoring is essential. Experience is invaluable. But reading is one of the key ways I learn and most leaders learn. I can’t encourage you enough to make the discipline of reading a priority.

The books I share below are books that I actually took our leadership team through and we used to develop our ministry. These books prompted hours of prayer and reflection on my part which led to leadership retreats, meetings, and eventually new ways of doing church. I especially recommend these books for anyone who has recently become a lead pastor or started a church or is ready to turn their church around. I believe these books, though some have a church focus, have many applications to non-profits and businesses as well.

#1 Church Unique – How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini. You can see by the title and subtitle how critical this book is. When I first became the Lead Pastor of Pantano I took my executive team through this book and we develop our “vision frame.” The vision frame is the clarity of your vision surrounded by a frame that covers your mission mandate, your values and motives, your key strategies and the mark or measurements of success. This has provided us a guide and blueprint for moving our church toward truly impacting our culture.

See the Church Unique Visual Summary pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

#2 The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. In 2012, God made it clear to me that the health of our staff and church was to be a priority. That same year The Advantage was published – thank God! Lencioni maintains that organizational health is dependent on a cohesive leadership team that has and communicates clarity. I took our executive team through the book and we developed our playbook from the 6 questions that create clarity.  

Click here and go to “Free Tools and Resources” for a summary of the principles or disciplines of The Advantage. See our Pantano Christian Church Playbook 2.0 pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

#3  Deep and Wide – Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley. This is a must read book if you want to reach unchurched people while serving those who already follow Jesus. This book provides inspiration as well as practical strategies to help people find God and a church community. I’ve had all my key leaders read and discuss this book!

#4 The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by McChesney, Covey and Huling. Our entire leadership now focuses on one big WIG (Wildly Important Goal) at a given moment. That’s the first discipline. But big important goals don’t just happen. Execution is actually rare in most organizations. The other three disciplines help you execute: acting on lead measures, developing a scorecard and then creating accountability. We practice this for every WIG and the results have been stellar. See the overview video here, the content overview here and the summary of The Four Disciplines of Execution pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

I would read the books in the order I listed them. But make the commitment to actually do the work each requires. And honestly, it will take you a long time, likely years, to actually do what these books suggest. But the results are so worth it.

And please share with us some of your “must read” books and why they are a must read!

I want to invite you to subscribe to my new blog – Leading Edge. I’ve called it this because being a leader is in fact living on the edge! Everyday, as leaders, we face new and sometimes uncharted challenges. For leaders to be effective we must continually be learners and that’s the heart of what Leading Edge is all about. I’ve committed myself to being a lifelong leadership learner and I want to share with you some of what I’m  discovering and using.

My blogs will be a combination of offering best leadership practices, conversations on the character of a leader and lots of encouragement for leaders of churches, schools, non-profits, social agencies and businesses. I want to help you lead well and stay on the leading edge. I’ve found I have a gift for being able to sort through the massive amount of resources and ideas for leaders and I want to help direct you to the topics and tools that will be the most helpful and useful.

Why another blog? There’s one reason. I believe with all my heart that God wants to bring his influence into our world. That influence is what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. Jesus asked us to pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And healthy, effective, wise leaders of character are essential for creating organizations and platforms that help people bring God’s influence into our world. I believe, more than ever, our churches, non-profits and businesses need the best leaders possible to make a positive difference both now and for eternity.

With just over 40 years of leading in various venues and cultures, I want to encourage you and help you lead better. And I want to learn from you so I can continue to grow and lead better! I’m looking forward to your feedback.

Subscribe to the Blog

I’ll post my blogs every 2nd and 4th Monday. I’ll try to keep the blogs to about a page with an occasional one being a bit longer! Click here to subscribe!  And of course you are free to unsubscribe at any time. In fact if you don’t find the blog helpful, take a moment to let me know why; to help me figure out how to be more helpful to others. Either way, I won’t be offended! And please forward this to others and encourage them to subscribe too!

The Leading Edge Website

This website will supplement what I include in my blog. I’ll post additional or supportive content on the website that you can reference. The resources will include things like book links, podcasts, extra notes, charts, pictures or any resource that will help you lead better.

I look forward being on the leading edge with you,