In leadership, just like living, we simply land at the next lesson to learn, having learned and grown through the last lesson.
In Proverbs 27:23-27, the wise man’s counsel to his son is to know well the condition of his flocks and give attention to his herd remembering that riches and a crown are both temporary. He informs his son that the attention paid to the care of his flock will, benefit, support and provide for his household further on down the line. This verse led me to what I believe is an important leadership principle:
giving attention to the call and responsibilities of leadership begins with paying attention to who you are and how you are.
This brief offering explores some of the commonalities I’ve observed, in the living and leadership of the successful leaders I have met and trained over the past 20 years. This is not an exhaustive list nor is it the final word on leadership. These are merely my insights drawn from 20 years of experience, observation, success and failure.
1. Honest Self-Leadership
The first insight is honest self-leadership. Helping others find truth in themselves begins with an understanding of how to find that same truth in ourselves as leaders. Leadership does not mean knowing it all; it actually means knowing you will never totally know it all. Instead, leadership focuses on surrounding oneself with knowledgeable, competent and committed people who empower you to know more.
Not knowing only becomes a liability in leadership when we refuse to admit our areas of ignorance and subsequently plug the gap in our understanding.
The successful leaders I observed never feared not knowing. All of them were willing to learn from the people they lead, which in turn inspired confidence in their leadership.
There is also a level of vulnerability that comes with being honest about your limitations. We all must learn to recognize the gaps in our understanding and embrace those feelings of being overwhelmed. However, inside that vulnerability and fear is a deepened level of resilience waiting to be discovered and accessed if we are willing to grow via the process of self-honesty. To lead others well we must first begin with self-leadership.
Establish an Early Understanding
The second insight to is knowing early who and what you are responsible for, and how long and why you are responsible for it. This creates a focused clarity early in the process. Such clarity will also ensure directional continuity. It also re-centers your overall purpose and renews the energy that is lost when obstacles arise and the road to completion is prolonged. All the leaders I have met who led well and lived well established an early sense of what they were called and committed to do.
15 years ago, I led a new Church Plant in South London called Kennington Community Fellowship. The first thing we established was our ‘why’ for being in that local community. We defined this way: “we exist as a church to serve the community we find ourselves in.” I was in London just recently and visited KCF. I heard one of the leaders training a whole new generation of members and leaders 15 years later with these words, “I want you to know that we exist as a local church for the purpose of serving the community we find ourselves in.” In other words, when you establish your “why” your understanding early and remain consistent with a reminder you produce longevity and consistency within your organization.
But another important insight to remember is patience. People need time to grow, visions need time to develop, change needs time to happen, and culture needs time to emerge.
Being patient with time is of utmost importance and maintaining a consistent level of enthusiasm while waiting is both a gift and a necessity.
Encouraging continued participation and creating space for personal growth and self-development makes the passing of time meaningful. Being patient does not mean becoming complacent and nonchalant, though. Patience is not the absence of action. In other words, this insight means simply this: develop your team’s capacity for patience with the time it takes to achieve your goals, and people their goals. Leaders who lead well allow time, the time whatever your particular goal needs. Be patient.
A crucial insight for all leaders is to remember that people matter. I have met leaders who were not necessarily gregarious, but they understood the value and importance of people and focused on making sure that they were empowered and affirmed. Tasks, goals, KPIs, deadlines all have their defined importance, but they are secondary to the importance of the people you lead and who follow you. Know the people you lead, and treat them with respect and dignity.
When the people you lead know that they are valued and cared for, they will go further, dig deeper and sacrifice to a greater degree, than you expected of them.
Treat people well.
And finally, it’s important that every leader identify someone else to mentor and pour into. The ‘who’ in this insight is always connected to mentoring and legacy. The ‘who’ is also connected to the idea of continuity and therefore the who, is people. We live and lead successfully when we pour the best of ourselves into those coming after us. However,
impactful leadership always thinks beyond its time of influence and impact. It pays attention to the decisions culture creates and how those decisions shape the future.
Impactful leadership intentionally pours the best ideas, energy and enthusiasm into the immediate team, while simultaneously keeping a close eye on those coming behind their team ensuring that both function at a high level. Value the place where you lead by preparing it for those who will always and inevitably succeed you.
Stop stressing about the challenges and responsibilities that come with leadership. The truth is we never arrive at perfection in leadership anyway so relax and take that pressure off of yourself. In leadership, just like living, we simply land at the next lesson to learn, having learned and grown through the last lesson. So lead well, live well, and be well.