Ten Leadership Lessons

You might not consider yourself a leader but chances are at some point in your life you will be asked to lead others. No matter if the context is work, school, sports or your family, a valuable question to ask yourself is, “what does it look like to lead well?”

Thankfully, I’ve had many gifted and loving people pour into my life over the years. They have shown me what leadership looks like by their words and actions.

As I reflect on what they have taught me, here are ten important lessons I’ve learned about leadership through the influence of others.

  1. Love the People you lead

 Leadership is not primarily about tasks. It is about people.

Opening up your heart to the people you are responsible to lead can be scary. It takes time and emotional energy. It also hurts more when people move on. On the flip side, there is more joy, connectedness and contentment than if you keep your heart closed off.

  1. Keep your priorities straight

 The pursuit of success can blind us to what is truly important in life. I talk to a lot of guys in their 50’s and 60’s who wish they would have spent more time with their wife and kids instead of running after the next promotion.

I can either look at my marriage and family as a hindrance or my primary place to lead well. When I get the order right, I find myself thriving in both places. When I don’t, well…it’s not where I want to live.

  1. It’s not about you

If you are leading people to yourself and how great you are, you are leading them to the wrong place. People need to be engaged in a mission greater than themselves. That mission is not you.

 Also…don’t take yourself too seriously.

  1. More is caught than taught

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for formal training in leadership. Practical instruction is always important. However, what really sticks with people isn’t what you taught them on an intellectual level, it’s how you treated them and how you interacted with the world around you.

  1. Leaders are Learners

The phrase, “Leaders are readers” is also popular. I’ve always got a couple of books I am working through (usually very slowly!) but learning includes more than books. Listening to podcasts, radio, reading blogs and watching movies can all be excellent ways to learn. Even better…take time to listen to people. You might be surprised at what you discover.

  1. Keep the main thing, the main thing

It is extremely easy to get distracted from my primary focus. There are a lot of “good” things that I can do. I need to constantly remember the vision before me and filter my decisions through that.

  1. If you want to lead, follow

Someone wise once told me, “The best leaders have learned to be the best followers”. That’s a great way to evaluate the leadership potential of others as well as a great statement to reflect on.

Once someone lets “leader” become an identity rather than a role, it almost always creates issues.

  1. Don’t ask people to do things you aren’t willing to do

Pretty straightforward but surprisingly not that common.

That doesn’t mean that leaders should ALWAYS be doing what everyone else is doing. There are certainly times that leadership requires a different focus. Still, true leaders aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and get dirty.

  1. As goes the leader, so goes the movement

Every organization, business, church etc. will take on the personality and values of the leader.

When I was working for Wegmans, I noticed that every store had a different “vibe” even though they each carried the same products and had the same systems in place. I eventually came to realize that this personality was based more on the store manager than anything else.

If you want what you are leading to be healthy, YOU must pursue health in your own life.

  1. Stay Thankful

No one appreciates being around people who are ungrateful. We all know this instinctively. Yet because leading requires thinking about a better future thankfulness can slowly evaporate like a puddle on a hot summer day.

Taking time to write a “thank you” note, an email of gratitude or simply saying “Thank you, so much!” face to face can do a lot to keep thankfulness alive and well in your heart.

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Those are some of my favorites. There are definitely a lot more!

How about you? What do you think of that list? Is there anything you would add/subtract? I’d love to hear what you think!

What was I thinking?! The quest for acceptance.

Do you want to be accepted by the people around you? Do you have a desire to be loved and valued? Congratulations! You are a human being. Or a very intelligent dog who has learned how to read. In that case, double congratulations!

I’ve heard it said, the only people who don’t care what other people think about them are sociopaths. That may seem bold but I think there is truth in that statement. Whether we admit it or not, most of us will do a lot to fit in.

Take for example, fashion trends. You can’t tell me the first reaction of most guys in the 60’s when they saw bell-bottom jeans was, “Wow! Now there’s the kind of jeans I’ve been dreaming of wearing my entire life!” Did men in the 70’s put on those polyester suits and say, “I am so comfortable! Why didn’t someone come up with this material sooner?”

I lived through the 80’s and 90’s. There was one summer when the cool trend was wearing boxers as shorts. Does that seem a little odd to me now? Ummm, yeah! How about all the flannel I owned in the 90’s? Was I preparing to be a lumberjack?

Fashion is just one of the ways that we try to fit in and gain acceptance of others. It can take on a myriad of other forms like the music we listen to, our academic excellence, work performance, the size of our house, how well our kids behave…the list goes on and on.

So how should we respond? Do we try to reach a state of enlightenment where we don’t care about acceptance anymore? I don’t think that is a healthy way to live either.

Although the image of the lone cowboy on a western prairie is an American icon, my guess is you wouldn’t want to talk to that guy after he hasn’t had interaction with anyone else for a year. His horse has probably convinced him of some pretty crazy stuff.

It feels vulnerable to admit that I care what other people think of me. It’s true. I want to be accepted and loved for who I am. Despite how awkward that is to say, I don’t think that desire is a negative thing. It becomes an issue when that yearning takes control of my life.

Acceptance from other people is like a can of Pringles. Each chip tastes really good but it doesn’t leave you satisfied. “Just one more” you say to yourself. Before you know it, all the chips are gone but the craving hasn’t left.

True validation can only come from a place beyond ourselves. We were created to experience community with other people AND God.

That’s one of the reasons I love the message of Christianity. Our acceptance isn’t based off what we do, it’s based off what Jesus has done.

When I let that truth sink in deeply in my soul, it brings a contentment I can’t get anywhere else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Helping Doesn’t Help

“Wow! You are really a helper!” A counselor recently uttered those words to me. Inwardly, I thought “Why, thank you! It’s nice of you to notice.”

While the statement wasn’t spoken in a derogatory way, it also didn’t have the ring of a huge compliment. After a moment or two of reflection, I began to connect how having an awareness of the feelings of others can be an unbelievable blessing and an unwanted curse.

In my last post, I shared what I am learning about reaching out to the hurting people who are all around me. This seems odd to say, but there is actually a dark side to that type of compassion.

Helping others can be twisted and motivated by selfishness. Sounds kind of crazy right?!

Let me explain. Caring for people who are hurting can carry a sense of satisfaction for me. The look of appreciation in the eyes of someone who is truly grateful is rewarding. For the lack of a better term, it can be a “high”. It can be validating and give me a sense of respect that I desperately crave. My mixed motivations can be pretty ugly.

On top of that, there is another problem… helping is not always helpful.

When I try to help others who don’t want my assistance, I am robbing them of their individuality and freedom to choose. I could also be short circuiting growth opportunities in their life.

Some of the best moments of growth can occur when we are experiencing resistance or discomfort. Even as I type that sentence, I wish it wasn’t true! Going through difficulty in life is like hitting the gym. It’s painful but it can jumpstart your development.

When I rush to help people who aren’t ready, it’s like I’m at the gym watching someone bench press. Without even asking, I run over to their rescue. I repeatedly help them lift the weight without them even asking for a spot. That type of help is demoralizing and dehumanizing. Even if it does feel nice at the time, it doesn’t result in any change.

Another red flag for me is when I choose to serve others out of “an empty tank”. As any flight attendant will tell you, it’s important to “secure your own mask before assisting others”. I believe there are times when I can supernaturally help others even when I am emotionally, physically or spiritually drained but when this is a regular pattern of life, the results can be disastrous (believe me, I know from experience!). Simply put, I can’t give what I don’t have.

If you are a “helper” like me, you are probably tempted to believe that your assistance is essential for the world to continue to spin on its axis. The reality is I’m not the savior of the world and neither are you. My job is simply to follow the One who is.

When I am living in that reality, my helping can really help.