Effective Leaders Must First Learn to Follow Well

There are times to lead, but there are also times to Follow. Know when you need to follow someone else.

There are times to lead, but there are also times to Follow. Know when you need to follow someone else.

photo by mctheriot

To become a great leader you must first learn to follow well.  Even if the person that God has placed in leadership above you is a poor leader, you must honor them.  In every situation you go through it can be used to soften your heart and draw you closer to God or it can be used to harden your heart.  Each situation is a new test and many times it’s harder than the one before.

When you are led by someone else, and take the time to learn from them, you become a much wiser person and leader. All too many leaders today think that they have arrived and do not need to continue learning, but as I talked about in my video series in January, one of the greatest leadership assassins is plateauing.  (You can check out that series here:


To avoid this, make it a point to always learn, to always take advice, and to always be open to suggestions. As you grow in your leadership people are less likely to offer negative feedback to your unsolicated.  You need to be asking for it if you want to grow.  one of the things that set Ganges Khan apart as a leader was that he was one of the first to demand positive and negative updates from those under his command.  Though it seems to go without question that you can be a better leader with honest feedback in a field of battle we often do not ask for it in our organizations.

Also be sure to make observations of others as they lead.  What works well?  What encourages people to do their best?  What causes people to see the image of God within them?

We have all been in situations where we have had to serve under bad leaders.  While those times are difficult to be sure, God often uses those times to strengthen our character.  Think of David with Saul.  Hopefully your boss or leader that you have to follow hasn’t tried to murder you or sent an army after you to take your life.  Through that situation David grew in character as he learned more deeply to trust the Lord with his life.

David wasn’t a perfect leader to be sure.  In fact, he did not even finish strong.  Most leaders do not.  How can you follow today to help you lead well and finish strong tomorrow.

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The Importance of Short Term Goals

Using short term goals you can reach even the most lofty goal

Using short term goals you can reach even the most lofty goal

Photo by Kevin Steele

You may be great at putting together a lofty vision that encompasses your long term goals, but what are you doing to reach them? Do you have steps and short term goals to help you reach your final objective?

Long term goals are great, but as long as you don’t have a step by step plan for getting there, you probably won’t get there. Setting several short term goals that lead you to accomplishing your final objective is the best way to stay focused and on track.

In a great book I was reading called Axiom by Bill Hybels the author said that he uses a six by six rule for planning and accomplishing short term goals. He puts together a list of short term tasks and goals that he needs to do and then narrows it down to just six key tasks to do that will also work towards his long term vision. He then gives himself just 6 weeks to do each of the six short term goals. Once the six weeks are up, it’s time to put together a new list of short term goals.

This method of organizing and then giving yourself a specific amount of time to accomplish your short term goals is a fantastic way to boost your effectiveness. You will also feel much better about your long term vision because you are taking manageable steps towards reaching that vision.

Is it time for you to stop being frustrated with long term goals, and focus on six specific short term goals for six weeks? Get something done now, and write down what your short term goals are. If need be, you don’t have to make it six goals in six weeks, you can tailor it to fit what you are doing. The important thing is to start doing something now to ensure you reach your long term vision in the future.

Refusing to Lead

What are your thoughts on refusing to lead? Peter Rollins make some good points in his video. I think the heart of wisdom and learning to hear the voice of God helps us to know when we should counsel, push back, comfort, sit in silence etc when talking to others.

After I created this post I just got an email from our director with the following from Dave Browning along the same subject.

A pastor was telling me about a new group that was forming in his Worship Center. The group was going to be led by Chris (not his real name), who is a former pot-smoker. Some of those coming to the group are going to be people from his old pot circle. The pastor said to me, “There’s a part of me that wants to be at these group meetings.” He was concerned that he these young adults might slip into their old behaviors if he wasn’t present. I told him that I understood his concern but that he should not give into the temptation to baby sit.

Carefully consider the implications to your long-term ministry if you “need to be there” to keep bad things from happening:

First, if you need to be there, you are not displaying a very high level of trust in God’s spirit. Before Jesus left earth he told us that he would send his spirit “to be with us forever” and “to guide us into all truth.” We need to take God up on his promise. There needs to only be one Holy Spirit. You are not it.

Second, if you need to be there, you are not displaying a very high level of trust in your people. You are saying, “I can’t trust you to be outside my sight.” Do you want them to lead from inner integrity, or outward compulsion?

Third, if you need to be there, after awhile your volunteer leader will realize that he doesn’t need to be there. This is the same challenge foreign missionaries face. When the chips are down, the natives all look at the “white face” in the room. As a pastor your authority and influence will eclipse that of the volunteer. Get out of his way so he can execute his ministry.

Fourth, if you need to be there, you are limiting the scope of your ministry to the places where and times when you can be there. Do you really want to do that? I didn’t think so. Most churches in America or less than 75 people, and one of the reasons is that is the number of people that a person can pastor directly. Greater effectiveness is found when a pastor spends more time working on the ministry than in the ministry.

This does not mean that this pastor should not spend time with Chris, mentoring him and supporting him in his ministry. In fact, I would say that there is not a more important meeting on that pastor’s calendar. Equipping Chris to do the work of the ministry is precisely what God has called that pastor to do. Just be careful to not cross the line into co-dependency. As a father in the faith you have to let your children go. You have to trust God to keep them from falling.

When you think about it, what was really impressive about the serial-planting ministries of the Apostle Paul or John Wesley is not how may places they went, but how many places they left.

Dave Browning

Hire the best possible consultant for you

If you have ever worked with a good consultant you know they are great at asking the right questions.  A great consultant will help lead you to your own “Aha” moments instead of just telling you what they think is best for you in a certain situation.  Though my natural strengths are leading and directing (command in the Strengths Finder lingo) I have found that when I can lead someone to there own aha’s through questioning they are much more likely to:

1.  Get it

2.  Follow through on whatever they need to

3.  Enjoy the process of whatever it is they decided they needed to do much better.

There are some people that just want to be told what to do and have a frame work laid out for them.  Even the greatest mavericks have times when they want someone to tell them what to do. Most of the time and with most people we like coming up with our solutions.

Just this past weekend I was talking to someone and I told him. “If you were on the outside of your situation looking in don’t you think you’d be handling this way different than you are because it’s your own life.” For him that was an AHA moment. He realized if he was coaching himself he would be giving counsel to go in a totally different direction with his life than he was actually taking. It allowed him to see how foolish his current path was.

From time to time, I’ll do this with my own life. I get away from my office and I sit down and think, “What advice would I give Buddy if I was in his situation right now?” What I come up with is usually markedly better than what I have been thinking especially if it is something that I have gotten in a rut with.

Next time you need a consultant try paying $4 at the local Starbucks or nothing at a local park before you go off and pay someone else to tell you the things that you already know. You just might be the best possible consultant for your situation. If that doesn’t work, you can always hire me to ask you the tough questions and give you sound advice. ;-)

Definition of Leadership

I was at a men’s bible study last week and heard a definition of leadership that was shared there.

See a perceived need, develop a biblical plan to meet it and empower everyone involved by your personal love and commitment.

They are still working on refining it, but Bob Butz the guy who shared the definition with me, said that the over riding principle the under girds it all is an intrinsic desire to see everyone around them succeed.

As I spent a little time in his office, I noticed that he was truly concerned with the people that he came into contact with.  His accountant called to say that he had accidentally double paid 5 people.  He handled the issue with grace and then asked the accountant about one of the employee’s health and another’s marriage and promised his prayers.

While I didn’t witness any perceived needs being met in my short time there I did witness an intrinsic desire for the good of everyone around them even as they thought about how to best help employees that weren’t really pulling their weight.

It’s always fun to see people that are truly trying to lead as they think Jesus would.  As we allow our hearts and minds to be transformed by the Word and the Spirit of God we will live, love and lead like Jesus.