Pastor’s Perspective

Leadership From the Inside Out

December 31, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

insideoutCashSmlI loved the title of Cashman’s book, Leadership From the Inside Out. That captures the basic truth that leadership is about more than just developing a set of skills; it is just as integrally connected to the kind of people we are. A basic leadership truism is that “we reproduce who we are.” We reproduce ourselves in both people and organizations that we lead. So, paying attention to who we are, and letting that flow into what we do, is a critical ingredient for success.

There were two particular insights I grabbed hold of here. The first is the importance of relationships for leadership success. Cashman said it this way:

Many of us have a difficult time breaking out of the self-limiting illusion that we are “the ones that make things happen.” All too often, successful, achievement-oriented people mistakenly believe they are the prime movers, the origin of accomplishments in their groups or organizations. Unfortunately, many driven leaders fail to comprehend how nothing is accomplished without engaging in relationships and appreciating the unique contribution of many, many people.

That is not to minimize the importance of what we personally bring to the table or of our efforts to make things happen. But every major achievement or success I can think of in my history has required the efforts of many other people, and none of them would have happened if it all depended just on me. To be effective as leaders, we must invest in relationships and in honoring those who work hard to make things happen. It appeals to our ego to be “the guy,” but if we don’t get past that, few things will happen the way they could.

The other thing that struck me was the importance of finding time to be quiet. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and have become convinced of the importance of being quiet for a leader to be effective. Cashman said it this way:

With no silence, there is no reflection. With no reflection, there is no vision. With no vision, there is no leadership. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, silence and reflection are actually performance pathways to more expanded vision and more effective, innovative leadership. As leaders, how often do we take the time to relax and to think?

Taking time to be quiet can feel unproductive. In our busy world, it seems like a luxury to take time away, not to work, but just to think (and by that I don’t mean the analytical thinking most of us do.) To take time to reflect, get in touch with the bigger picture or even just our own hearts seems counter-intuitive. But studies are now showing that regular times of non-agenda-driven quiet actually result in greater productivity, more creativity, and more peace, among other things. Rather than being a luxury, it seems like taking time for quiet is a necessity for any leader who wants to lead well.

So what do you think? Do you take time for quiet, or do you think you are too busy? Or was there something else that struck you?

Leading Congregational Change

December 24, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

LCongChangeSmlLeading Congregational Change was a challenging book for me. I tend to be in the “ready, fire, aim” camp—preferring to just get things started and adjust as we go—and the authors here outline a very deliberate approach to congregational change. While this approach is different from my natural style, I can see some of the advantages.

Clearly, if you want to bring deep, wide, long-lasting change rather than just get things moving, you need a deliberate process. I love the way the authors break that process down into clear steps.

The importance of the vision community really stuck out to me. Putting the right people on that team is imperative. They need to be leaders, drawn from a wide range of the church’s members. The challenge for any pastor will be to select the right people. There would be some pressure to pick popular people (who aren’t leaders), or pick people based on seniority rather than gifts or ability. Some candidates would have a difficult time thinking about the whole church rather than their own particular area or department. It seems to me that getting those people on the vision team could significantly hinder the process.

I also thought there was a lot of wisdom in having a small team take the process a long way before bringing it to the whole church. Too many cooks, too soon, spoils the broth. While the church membership clearly needs to be part of the process, the temptation is to bring them in too early, which dissipates the focus. There could easily be pressure that causes a pastor to move too fast in order to include people, when a better result would come from being more patient.

What insights would you add? What have you learned as you have led your church or organization through change?

The Soft Edge

December 9, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

SoftEdgeSmlIn The Soft Edge, Rich Karlgaard looks at how the “soft side” of business actually gives a huge competitive advantage to those who do it well. While mastering the hard side is important, advances in technology tend to level the playing field, and organizations that develop the soft side of things, such as trust, smarts, teamwork, taste, and storytelling, will come out ahead.

Generally, churches seem to be stronger on that side of the ledger, so it was interesting to think about how Karlgaard’s insights apply to a church. Applying them in a business context was easier, or at least more straightforward. But there were two particular things I took from this book:

The first relates to trust. In our day, the church is not a particularly trusted institution. Right or wrong, churches often have a trust deficit in their communities, which certainly hinders their potential impact. How does a church build trust? Avoiding ethical lapses, of course, but that should be a given.

Karlgaard identifies another way: “…demonstrate real concern. We tend to trust people we believe will care about our welfare. So demonstrate to others that you’ll do the right thing for them, even if it’s uncomfortable or it puts you at risk.” This should come naturally to any church, but too often it doesn’t. But I think it would make a significant difference if churches were known in their community as places that really care about people and go beyond what is normal to help people—especially people outside the church.

Seems pretty obvious, churches doing things that churches should be doing. That builds trust, opens doors, and increases impact. It works for businesses; how much more would that work for churches?

Of course, that raises the question, “Why is that so rare?” That’s more than I can dig into in this post, but it’s a question worth asking for every leader. Is my church or organization doing anything that will build trust in my community? If not—why not?

The second thing that struck me was the importance and power of story. A good story will link an idea with an emotion, which is a powerful way to move people to action. No amount of data or persuasive argument can do that the way a good story can, which leads me to think about both how I teach and how I cast vision. It’s immediately apparent to me that I can get a lot better at using stories. I do use them, but I can clearly do more.

Why don’t I? Well, finding the right story takes work—it takes time, energy, and thought, and sometimes it is just easier not to. However, I, like every teacher, want to see people grow and change as a result of what I do. Remembering that motivates me to put the work in to find stories that communicate. It’s not a new idea; it’s just one I need to put into practice more diligently.

So what about you? I’d love to hear what you are doing to build trust or what other takeaways you have from this summary. Let’s all learn from each other!

The Power of Starting Something Stupid

December 1, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

Power-Starting-Something_Stupid_SmlThe Power of Starting Something Stupid captures a profound idea—that new ideas often seem stupid at the beginning, which makes them so easy to dismiss! I wonder how many good ideas were never acted on because they seemed stupid? In thinking about this, I realized that dismissing an idea as stupid is a brilliant way to avoid stepping out and taking a risk. Of course, that also means it’s a brilliant way to not make any progress or accomplish important goals.
Of course, few of us say that. We are more likely to say that we don’t have the time, education, or money we need to move forward. And since almost all of us feel like we lack those, it’s a very acceptable excuse. But Norton shows why they aren’t really good excuses—they are always there, and many people have pressed through them to make amazing things happen.
It’s ironic to me how often I have heard myself or someone I know use those very excuses. At the same time, everything I have succeeded at has required me to get past those very limitations. I can’t think of a time where I had enough time, education, and money to do anything important. Every breakthrough or progress I’ve made came when I stepped out in spite of not having enough. In that sense, it was never a smart move. But it often worked out because the resources came over time. I learned how to manage time, I got an education as I moved forward, and found ways to get the needed money or found a way to move forward without it. All those reasonable excuses weren’t really valid.
I also liked Norton’s description of the “Deferred Life Plan” that many people are on—do what you have to do now (make money) so that you can do what you want to do later. Most people have bought into that idea to one degree or another—but really, what an unfulfilling way to live. Of course there are things that we have to do now, but I’m learning that often we don’t have to defer the things we want—we can pursue them now, and end up with a lifetime of great experiences. We just have to change our mind-set and embrace some risk.
How about you? Have you ever started something stupid only to find out it was a really good idea? What things have hindered you from taking that step?

How To Be Exceptional

November 18, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

HowToBeExceptionalSmlIn reading, I was really intrigued with the concept of a “fatal flaw.” While every leader has weaknesses, it is self-evident that some have a particular weakness that overshadows everything else they do. The authors put it this way:

“One way to measure if a weakness is fatal is to note whether it is the first trait people think about when a person’s name is mentioned.”

I know someone like this, and it is a sad situation. The man is a gifted leader, but he has seen a steady stream of people leaving his church for at least the last 5 years. Most of them share a common story: he is highly controlling and they don’t trust him. Ironically, despite the consistency of that report, he doesn’t see it. I believe he thinks he is demonstrating strong leadership and the problem is on their end.

I’m not sure if it is his controlling behavior that is the fatal flaw, or if it is his blindness to the problem. Either way, the flaw is having a significant impact on his ministry, and not in a good way.

It seems to me like we have to be determined to recognize our flaws and to deal with them. It takes real courage to pursue the truth about ourselves and to ask the people around us, or the people who have left, to tell us the truth: “Is there something about who I am or how I do things that is undercutting me? Is there a place where I am my own worst enemy?” It’s all too easy to dismiss their feedback—or not pursue it in the first place.

As I think about it, the first step for the man I mentioned, or anyone, is to identify the flaw. After that, acknowledging it, either publicly or to the people who are closest to us, is key. That step of humility will go a long way in gaining back the ground we have lost.

And then we have to work on it. I think that is the easier part—once we have admitted to ourselves and others that there is a problem, we can get ongoing feedback and grow to a better place. But if we don’t recognize or acknowledge the issue, we are stuck.

So here’s my question—have you ever dealt with a leader who has a fatal flaw? A problem that is significantly undercutting their ministry—one that has become identified with who they are? What was the flaw, and how was it dealt with (if it was)?

Amplified Leadership

November 1, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

amplifiedAll leaders I know want to amplify their impact. I think that desire is probably part of the DNA of leadership. Dan Reiland gives some great insight into how to do just that. There were a couple things he said that dovetailed with some of the things I’ve observed over the years.

The first one relates to hiring people you like. Reiland says, “It’s important that you like the people you are with forty to fifty hours a week. When I was younger, I hired for competence first. Now I hire for chemistry.”

I see it the same way. There are many competent people out there—many people who can get the job done. But if they aren’t people I enjoy spending time with, they aren’t the right ones for the job. Think about it—even if they are good at what they do, the workplace itself won’t be a positive place. It might not be horrible—it’s not that extreme—but there is a synergy that happens and a momentum that comes when people really enjoy working together. They end up performing at a higher level.

I think sometimes in the church we shy away from that. It can seem fleshly, selfish, or unfair to think about hiring people we like. We think we should make hiring decisions on a purely objective basis, as if our emotions and relationships don’t matter. But that is not reality. It’s also not wise. Of course, I’m not advocating for hiring people who are incompetent just because we like them; I’m saying we should go for both.

The second thing he said that I have become increasingly aware of is that it is so important for leaders to be faithful, reliable, and disciplined.

He says, “This may surprise you, but people would much rather follow someone who may not be amazingly talented but is reliable. It’s because they can trust them. A disciplined lifestyle is difficult to maintain. Everyone knows that. So when people see a leader who demonstrates discipline, they are inspired. They begin to believe they can live out a similar discipline.”

I think this is a true statement, but it is also a learned truth. People prefer to follow someone who is reliable after they have seen the damage done by someone who is charismatic but lacks character. We are often easily impressed by good upfront skills or attractive personalities, but, over time, we see what happens when character is lacking.

Many people I know live with the pain of following an unhealthy leader. Although they impress from a distance, they also can be manipulative, controlling, and have a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude. One taste of that and people switch to valuing faithfulness and reliability.

The lesson for me in that is to continually focus on developing my personal discipline and character. I want to have an impact on people; I also want to have an impact that lasts. Ultimately, I think charisma impresses people, but character impacts them. I want to have impact.

Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever

October 23, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

bethebestbadIn Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever, Karen Hough does a great job of poking holes in some of the traditional wisdom on public speaking and giving some good, practical advice that will help anyone do a better job of communicating.

I thought her comments on the importance of passion were great, such as “passion overrides technique.” I think it’s true that people would rather listen to someone who is passionate than someone who is slick. That seems self-evident, but it isn’t as easy as it might seem, especially if you are teaching on a regular basis, as most pastors do.

The reality for pastors is that we aren’t equally passionate about every topic. And that’s where the challenge comes in. If we only teach the topics we are passionate about, our people will get a very lopsided diet. So what does that mean for the topics that we are less passionate about, even if we know they are important?

The key, I believe, is that we need to develop passion for the topic. That can be done with any topic. It requires taking time with the topic before God, meditating on it, thinking about how it applies to ourselves and to our people, and asking God to give us his heart and his perspective on the topic. I’ve seen God respond to that over and over; I think he delights in giving us his heart for his truth. It means taking time, which we often think we don’t have. But if we know that passion trumps technique, it is worth taking the time to develop it.

I also thought it was a good reminder that our audiences want us to do well. I don’t think about that very often, but it’s true—nobody listening to a talk wants the presenter to do poorly. It’s encouraging to remember that those who are listening to us are for us, not against us.

The last thing I noted was the importance of stories and that they are much more powerful than explanations. I know that; it’s a staple truth of every book on preaching or public speaking that I have ever read. Yet I find in myself a strong tendency to do the opposite. I want to explain things; I want people to understand the topic or point, and stories don’t always do that.

Stories do two things—they move people to action and they make things memorable. And that is what you want if your goal in speaking is life change rather than just giving a “good” talk. Knowing that has already helped me to take another look at some of my upcoming topics with fresh eyes, and it has motivated me to start looking around for good stories to use. After all, life change is really the whole point.

What do you think?


October 8, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective

SupersurvivorsBoth as a pastor and as a human being, I recognize the unfortunate truth is that we will have to deal with trauma, either our own or that of others around us. That’s just the reality of the world we live in. Supersurvivors gives us some insight into how we can prepare for that personally or help those around us more effectively.

One of the things that struck me as I was reading was the importance of dealing with reality. Going through a trauma can completely undercut the possibility of pursuing the dreams one had; facing that honestly and asking the question “what now” can help a person get through that and move forward. I suspect, however, it’s much easier to say that to ourselves than to someone else. Saying it to someone else could easily feel cold-hearted. That is part of the challenge of coming alongside people.

The importance of forgiveness also struck me. I was intrigued with the idea that forgiveness means giving up the desire to change the past. I’ve never thought of it that way, but it makes sense to me. I’m going to think more about it, and think about how to use that to help people who are stuck in unforgiveness move forward.
What struck you? If you have gone through trauma, or walked others through it, is there anything you have observed that you would add to the list?

Dave Frederick