Five Essential Practices of Leaders

Leading well requires intentional practices.
Leading well requires intentional practices.

One of the best books I’ve read on leadership is [amazon text=“The Leadership Challenge”&asin=0470651725] by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The book, in its fifth edition and over twenty-five years old, outlines five vital practices for effective leadership. As I stumble my way into and through leadership, the five practices have helped my leadership development.

Practice One: Model the Way

Leaders set the climate of the organization. Leaders must clarify values by finding their voice and inspiring commitment to shared values giving people a reason to care. For leaders to be effective, they need to passionately model and pursue the vision of the organization. This practice can be phrased in different ways; walk the talk, buy what you sell, live what you preach, etc. Leaders can’t tell others to be vision focused if they are not. Your behavior, not your title, earns you respect.

Inspire a shared vision

Shared vision, more than anything, transforms organizational culture. Leaders cultivate shared values and vision by imagining future possibilities through reflecting on the past, attending to the present, and prospecting the future.

Shared vision creates ownership not only among leaders, but across the entire organization. The importance of ownership cannot be over stated because owners approach their work differently than non-owners. Owners care passionately having a “do what’s needed” attitude. If leaders do not inspire ownership, team members, whether employees or volunteers, develop a “do what’s asked” mentality limiting their full engagement and talents.

Inspire others by embracing your passion, aligning your dreams with the people’s, and animating the vision using stories and images. Such inspiration helps individuals give their best to the mission of the organization.

Challenge the Process

Leaders search for opportunities by seizing initiatives, exercising outsight (instead of simply looking “inside” leaders also look outside), and treating every job as an adventure. Experimentation and risk-taking move leaders and organizations out of their comfort zones closer to fulfilling their vision. Willingness to do what hasn’t been done before, start small, generate small wins, and learn from experience creates active learners who keep learning while moving forward.

Enable Others to Act

If a vision can be fulfilled without teams, the vision is simply too small. Teams are vital for any vision worth pursuing. Building strong teams, perhaps the the most difficult, but essential task of effective leadership, empowers organizations to realize seemingly impossible goals. While culture celebrates leaders who single handily transform organizations, those leaders usually have good and strong teams contributing to their success.

Teams are built by fostering collaboration around a common purpose in an environment of respect and trust. A climate of trust, created by sharing information and facilitating relationships, needs to be established if teams are going to be successful (See [amazon text=Five Dysfunctions of a Team&asin=0470651725,0787960756] by Patrick Lencioni).

High trust allows the enhancement of people’s sense of self-determination providing opportunities that get the best out of team members and releasing their full potential. Rather than focusing on the “right way” to solve problems, teams are given permission to find their own solutions, allowing for creativity and innovation. People are smart and will figure things out if given the chance. Accountability and expectations make sure teams stay on track and within any boundaries of the organization.

Encourage the Heart

I find this practice the hardest given my temperament, but many will find the practice easy. Leaders encouraging the heart through celebration and recognition. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation. Celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community. When hearts are encouraged, people not only respond with loyalty, but with their best work.


These five practices have transformed my view of leadership. I still struggle with a few of the practices, but I see how these practices enable organizations to effectively fulfill their mission. For more information about these practices, check out [amazon text=“The Leadership Challenge”&asin=0470651725].


What practices do you find the easiest? What ones are the most difficult? Can you think of practices that can be added to the list?

The One Word that will Change Your Life

Unimportant Words

domino-163523_960_720There was a Peanuts’ Cartoon where Charlie Brown was making a sign and Lucy, because the sign was wordy, kept marking out words one after another until all Charlie Brown had was a one word sign. Apparently, some words are unimportant. We can communicate without them.

However, some words are important, such as the word “not” in “Thou Shalt not…” Fun fact: In 1631, a bible was misprinted and the word “not” was left out of Exodus 20:14 making the verse read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Oops (For the full scoop, Wikipedia entry for The Wicked Bible). Some words are very important.

One Word To Rule them All

I don’t know if this is the most important word, but I’m finding it essential for my life. Spiritual formation, relationships, and even leadership are influenced by this one word and I am finding this one word transforms my life.

Are you ready?

The most important word I’ve found is “Intentional.”

Think about what difference the word “intentional” makes. Faith development and intentional faith development are different. Spiritual formation and intentional spiritual formation are different. The addition of “intentional” means we intend something to happen or to take place. Intentional means we enter into the task on purpose, rather than haphazardly. Adding intentionality to anything, kicks it up a notch…or many notches.

Intentionality alters leadership. One definition of leadership is having influence. When we exert influence, we lead. Everyone has some influence. If you are a parent, you have influence over your kids, spouses have influence over each other and customers have influence over businesses.

We are Always Influencing Others

Adrian van Kaam’s Formative Science says that we are always giving and receiving form. What does that mean? It means I have an affect on you and you have an affect on me. If I were to meet you and have a conversation, we would both be different. We might only be slightly different. Since we influenced each other, we leave our one conversation changed. In Transtherapy Counseling, van Kaam writes that the counselor influences the counselee, but the counselee also influences the counselor. Both individuals are different after the session.

Since leadership is influence and we influence each other, The question isn’t whether we are leaders, the question is, will we be intentional leaders? Will we use our influence to make a difference in the world and for God, or will we use our influence for our own agenda? Will we, with Godly intent and purpose, use our influence to pursue the mission of God? If so, we must become intentional leaders, learning, and becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

Following Through

While intentionality begins our journey, we still need to follow through, learning what it means to be an effective leader. I’ll point you to one book that can help you begin that journey, [amazon text=The Leadership Challenge&asin=0470651725] By Kouzes and Posner. It outlines five leadership traits and is a great start toward intentional leadership.

You may not believe you are a leader. You may feel ordinary and not “special” leadership material. You are a leader, you just don’t know it. You lead all the time, but don’t consider what you do leadership. You lead your family, influence your friends, and give new perspectives to others. You may even lead with grace, compassion, and understanding. You might not bark out orders or tell others what to do, but that isn’t leadership. You lead, but perhaps accidentally rather than intentionally. If you ever rise up and decide to be an intentional leader…watch out…the world just might be transformed.

I’m interested in your thoughts about leadership and what it means to lead in your context. Leave a comment!

Shared Leadership and the Church

Wheels of Progress

In over twenty years of pastoring, I have not known the church to be on the “cutting edge” of culture. There may be an argument about some mega-churches focusing on innovation, but for the majority of churches, the wheels of progress move quite slowly. The statements of “We’ve never done it that way before…” and a fear of upsetting people, tend to keep churches from moving too quickly or too far out of their comfort zones.

The propensity to move slowly causes some to look to the business world to get ideas, processes, and inspirations. For years I hated this. “The church isn’t a business,” I would argue, quite smugly I might add. I never considered that both businesses and churches are organizations made up of people. Viewing the church as an organization causes me to wonder; would methods businesses use to effectively mobilize people for a common purpose work in churches? As I continue to see the church, especially my beloved United Methodist Church, slowly decline under cultural tendencies, and how some businesses not only address cultural trends in a way that is effective but thrive, I am convinced that it is time to explore whether any of their methodologies can help churches move forward in God’s mission.

Deja Vu Once Again

Have you ever felt like this?

“Consider the challenges of the 21st century enterprise: things change too fast for one individual to know how to best respond; there are many explanations for any event, and multiple perspectives are needed to understand what that event means and decide what to do; a pipeline of future leaders is essential…”

I know I have! I resonate with that quote. Actually, I resonate with the whole article (more on the article below). I even wrote something similar in Experiences in Transformational Leadership. In my article, I bemoaned how quickly everything changes, making adaptation difficult. Maybe you have similar feelings. You are working longer, harder, and have to know more than ever before. Technological advances help us find information in an instant, but with Facebook, Twitter, Email, text messages, and other technological tools that we have to learn and use, life becomes overwhelming.

Sharing is Nice

The article goes on to say:

“No wonder organizations today are drawn to the benefit of leadership that is shared, rather than concentrated in a single, charismatic individual. Regardless of the exact organizational structure or what it’s called, the times seem to call for leaders who can be first among equals.”

I could say the same thing for the church! Yet, this article wasn’t in Christianity Today, or Relevant Magazine. No, this article came from Harvard Business Review. Amazing.

Learning to Share

In the 21st Century, we must learn to approach leadership differently. If you are interested in the concept of shared or decentralized leadership, check out the article. I like the little twist when they write, “…leaders who can be first among equals.” The concept “first among equals” puts a bit of a spin on decentralized leadership where everyone is equal. Kaiser argues, in “Winning on Purpose”, that effective teams have someone in the lead. Someone, as Kaiser maintains, must be held accountable and it isn’t possible to hold groups accountable. Having a leader, however, does not necessarily mean others are unimportant or don’t have influence. Sharing leadership is one way to maximize the gifts and graces of those in the church. As the article explains, “things change too fast for one individual to know how best to respond…”

The article also states:

“This is more than delegation. It has to do with a team sharing a sense of purpose and responsibility for the overall leadership of the company. Different people may spearhead different aspects of the team’s work, but everyone is in charge, always.”

Shared values, purpose, and alignment of values and purpose, are topics that I plan on exploring on this blog since they are vital to flourish in the 21st Century. A new day has dawned,…well…actually a new day dawned quite a few years ago. The time has come for church leaders to embrace new leadership styles and develop leaders who move the mission forward.

Will shared leadership work in the church? What do you think it would look like? Are business methods even appropriate for churches? Is leadership overvalued in our culture? Leave a comment below.

A Book that Changed My Life

A Book Really Changed Your Life?4548845462_c065b00a74_o

Some might say the title exhibits hyperbole. Perhaps, but I’m not completely convinced. I don’t name this post lightly. Let me share why I say a book changed my life.

Along with several other churches, my church was participating in a transformational process sponsored by our conference. One of the requirements, was a peer mentoring group, meeting for eighteen months, for the pastors. We were around month ten and the book assigned was [amazon text=The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Peter Lencioni&asin=0787960756]. As I read the book, something within me ‘clicked’ and my life, and leadership, have never been the same.

A Short Summary

I am not reviewing the book in this post, although, I highly recommend you get a copy. In summary, Lencioni maintains that the five dysfunctions are 1) absence of trust, 2) fear of conflict, 3) lack of commitment, 4) avoidance of accountability, and 5) inattention to results. The five dysfunctions leads to effective teams. In order for teams to be effective, each dysfunction must be addressed.

It would be nice to simply fix the fifth dysfunction “inattention to results”. The thought being, “If we fix our inattention to results, then we will be attentive to results and all will be well.” However, you can’t fix the fifth dysfunction unless you work through the dysfunction before it, “avoidance of accountability.” You can’t work through the fourth dysfunction, unless you work through the third, and so on, and so on.

Each dysfunction rest atop of the one before much like a pyramid with absence of trust at the bottom and inattention to results at the top. You need to move down the pyramid until you reach a level that isn’t a dysfunction for your team and then start from there. The tendency is to find the problem such as inattention to detail, and try to fix that dysfunction without addressing the dysfunctions that contribute to it.

Healthy Organization (A Church is an Organization…right?)

That very short summary doesn’t do the book justice at all. However, while Lencioni’s discussion on the dysfunctions was very helpful, I had a different epiphany. I realized if all the dysfunctions were addressed and dealt with, the team would be healthy. If all the teams were healthy, then the organization would be healthy.

I saw how this could apply to my congregation. In my desire to be the best pastor I could be and try to help the church be the best church it could be, I had completely neglected any idea of organizational health. How could the church I serve be what God desired, if the teams were dysfunctional? That question became a focus of prayer. I still wanted to be an effective pastor, but also saw my role as a leader of organizational health. I imaged that God wanted my church to be healthy, but to be honest, churches are not always healthy. If there were models and techniques that could help businesses to be healthy, perhaps these same models and techniques could help churches as well. After all, both churches and businesses have people in common.

Healthy Churches

I maintain that healthy churches are better equipped to fulfill the mission of God. Prayer, theology, and doctrine are all important components, but a church that has all those right, but is filled with dysfunctional teams and committees will be less effective and fruitful than a church operating from organizational health. Transformational Leadership helps pastors lead churches to healthy places for the glory of God.

Book Review: The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny

NOTE: I was sent a pre-release review copy of The Matheny Manifesto with no expectation of review. However, I was so impressed with the book, I knew I would write a review in hope that more people would be exposed to his philosophy and principles of coaching and life.

I was pleasantly surprised by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. I was sent a review copy, but the book is not of a genre I would usually read. However, since the publisher was kind enough to send me the book, I decided I would read it.

I assumed the book was a biography. While Matheny uses experience from his journey through baseball to illustrate how his coaching style has been formed and shaped, the book really isn’t a biography. The book outlines Matheny’s view on coaching, youth sports, parental involvement, and what it means to be successful in sports and life.

I have not followed baseball since around 1990 or so. Some of the names Matheny refers to were familiar, but many were not. Knowing more about the sport would have been helpful, but knowledge of current baseball players isn’t needed. So, do not think you need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this book.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who has kids or grand kids in sports, coaches who want to win with class, or anyone who is interested in how Matheny was able to incorporate his faith in his coaching. Matheny is spot on in his assessment of how we play sports, teach sports, and watch sports. We need more coaches and parents who embrace his “Manifesto” and the way he approaches coaching and sports.

The section concerning umpires had the greatest impact on me. I am not always quiet when I sit in the stands and if I believe the ref missed something, I will let him or her know. Matheny reminded me to look beyond the uniform and see the person who is not perfect and is probably doing the best they can. I appreciated his candor and his compassion.

I am so impressed with this book that I am planning on purchasing a copy as a gift for my son’s high school basketball coach. I experience first hand what Matheny is trying to combat. It is time to play the game with class and Mike Matheny is leading the way. I’m also going to recommend it to some of my friends who are St. Louis Cardinal fans.