Friday, June 17, 2011

Becoming an authentic leader

Authentic leadership is more than potential. It’s even more than proven character in someone called by God to a leadership position. Authentic leadership is expressed in action, too. It’s one thing to talk leadership, and quite another to demonstrate it. Here are ten fundamentals you’ll need to master, let’s overview these together and see how you’re doing.

1. Leaders set an example.
If you want people to follow you, give them something worth following. As a leader, how you live your life is far more important than where your name appears on an organizational chart. How you treat your spouse, how you treat your children, how you honor God.

The highest compliment I was ever paid came when a man at church walked up to me after church one Sunday. He said, “I’ve been watching how you get along with your teenagers. Man, I want to take lessons from you. That’s what I want with my four-year old when he gets to be that age.” I about started crying. Here was a man who believed that my relationship with my family was worth following. How you follow your pastor sets an example, too. I would love for everyone who serves in my children’s ministry to treat me the way I treat my pastor. I set the example. When it comes, to leadership, the golden rule applies big time: you need to treat people in the way you want to be treated. How you treat your leaders and how you treat those who you lead—it all matters. You’re an example.

2. Leaders are problem solvers.
Leaders aren’t derailed by problems. They meet challenges with a spirit of faith in God’s ability to overcome those challenges. I know it’s popular to say that there’s no such things as “problems,” just “opportunities.” Well, I’m here to tell you: now and then Jim Wideman has problems. When there aren’t enough drivers for a field trip, that’s a problem. When there’s not enough budget to cover the growth you’re experiencing, that’s a problem. When a pipe breaks and floods the preschool room, that’s a problem. And if you’re the leader, people will expect you to sort out a solution. Maybe you’re a big enough organization that you’ve got someone whose job includes driver recruitment, or fundraising, or plumbing. Then by all means let them do their jobs. But it may be you with the mop and bucket down in Preschool land. Leaders aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. They see that problems get solved—period. They identify the problems and get them fixed. And while leaders don’t look for conflict, they realize it comes with the territory. Some of your most painful, time-consuming “opportunities” will have to do with people management.

3. Leaders show initiative.
Leaders don’t wait to be told what to do. They step out boldly and try things that line up with their mission and ministry goals. Leaders don’t shrink from challenges. They don’t hide in their offices hoping things get better when the bottom drops out of a program or a chance to improve presents itself. They’re proactive. I’m a big believer in the “Santa” approach making things happen around our church. I make a list as I walk around the church, then I check it twice. I may note that a particular teacher did a great job greeting children, or that another teacher needs help presenting a Bible lesson that connects with children. We work on what needs fixing during the week, then I wander around with the list again to guarantee that we made the necessary improvements. And as I walk, I’m working on another list. We’re always making improvements. I’ve always got a list. Remember: people don’t do what’s expected but what’s inspected. That means I’ve got to show initiative in fixing problems, strengthing weak spots, and celebrating strong performance. And you’ve got to do the same. 

4. Leaders manage their time well.
It blew me away when I realized that my time belonged to me. Suddenly, when people asked me if I had a minute to talk as I headed to a classroom, I said “no” if I didn’t really have time to focus on the person. I’d suggest a time we could talk later. If you can’t manage your time, you’re always stuck reacting to people and situations. You’ll never be effective. You’ll never be a strong leader. But with time management, you’ll amaze even yourself. Let me say right here that managing your time isn’t just about getting lots of stuff done. It’s about getting the right things done…and that means doing what God wants you to do. The best thing for you to do to improve your time management is to spend time with God in prayer. Ask him what you should be doing. Ask for his power in getting them done. Things happen when you pray that don’t happen any other way.

5. Leaders model how they want things done.
There’s a balance you need to strike in your ministry. If all you ever do is tell people how to do ministry and you never show them, ministry will never happen. But if you do all the ministry yourself and never allow others to work alongside you, what you know will never be passed along. Some leaders never find that balance between doing and telling. They either try to do it all themselves, or they tell workers how to do a puppet show, or lead a child to Christ, or run a bus route—but workers never see a demonstration of what the leaders want. There’s just talk.
You’ll know you’ve found the right balance when your workers can describe for you what you want because you’ve told them, and you’ve set expectations through a demonstration. What’s your plan for modeling what you want from others?

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