Train, Empower & Trust

“Wow, you’re such a great leader. This place runs so well with you steering the ship. When you were out a couple of weeks ago, it just wasn’t the same, you know?..Things just didn’t click the way they do when you’re here.”

As a leader, have you ever had anyone say something like this to you? Ever said it to someone who leads something that you’re a part of? Sounds good doesn’t it? A nice compliment…The reality is, it’s one of the last things you want to hear as a leader.

One of the signs of a good leader, is how the machine runs when they’re not there. Are there processes in place to ensure the product or service gets delivered? Are staff or volunteers trained and committed to ensure that that delivery takes place? If problems arise (and they will) is the team empowered to rectify them? Have you built a culture of trust…not just that you trust your team to handle things, (which you’ll have to if you truly want to lead) but that they trust you enough not to fear making a mistake?

Too many organizations rely on a select few individuals to ensure tasks get accomplished or decisions get made. Have you ever called a business to obtain a service or rectify a problem, only to be told; “Sally is out this week and she handles that. She returns on Monday. Call back then and she’ll be able to help you.”? This is a terrible response. Why is Sally the only one with the knowledge or authority to help? What if Sally gets hit by a bus…will the entire organization collapse?

Being a leader means exactly that; leading. When you’re the one making all the decisions, ensuring customer needs are met and solving all the problems, you’re not leading. Leading means putting wheels in motion that turn whether you’re there or not. It means training and empowering your team to take care of business without you; and then trusting them to do it. The best leaders lead themselves right out of a job…and on to another.

We can learn a lot form Jethro. No not the goofy guy on The Beverley Hillbillies. Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses. You know Moses, the guy who got over 2 million folks to follow him into a perilous situation to an unknown destination (now that takes some leadership!).  Now Jethro doesn’t get a whole lot of p.r. but he just may be the guy that kept the wheels on the tracks of Moses’ organization.

See one day, Jethro saw Moses sitting in front of this line of his followers that was wrapped around the block (or around the sand dune as the case may be). He told Moses, you are killing yourself and wearing these people out. Well Moses didn’t know what to do so Jethro (the quiet leader) told him. “Train up and empower some good men to handle most of the questions these folks have. You can deal with the really critical stuff, but otherwise, let them take it.” Now I’m paraphrasing here…To see the exact quote, you can go here. The point is, there’s no way Moses could effectively lead his people and run his operation, without a trained, committed and empowered team; and neither can you.

Harry Truman was right when he said: “The buck stops here”. Ultimately, it is the leader who is responsible. The fact is however, there’s a whole lot of loose change that can be handled by others, before the buck ever has to make it to the leader’s desk.

If you’re a leader, look around you. Are you scooping up all the loose change in an effort to keep things rolling, or do you have a team that can handle that change (and some of the bucks as well), so you can focus on vision, strategy and staff development? If you’re following a leader that holds all the decisions and implementation to themselves, offer to help. Let them know you’re willing to carry some of the load if they’ll show you how, and hand the wheel barrel over to you.

For more on leadership and leadership development, see these other blog posts:

A Little Help From My Friends

Lead Like An Aspen

Leaders Creating Leaders

A Little Help From My Friends

It has long been said that it’s lonely at the top. For many years (and to some degree, even today) that’s how leadership was viewed. There the leader stood, looking down upon his domain with critical decisions to make and carry out. The entire fate; the success or failure of the endeavor or organization rested on his or her shoulders. Not only was the leader to create the vision and strategy but carrying it out also, was all part of what a strong leader needed to be able to do.

This view of leadership results only in fatigue, burnout and ultimately a frustrated workforce and a failed mission. Leaders may rise to the top, but should never get there (and certainly can’t stay there) alone. Taking the hill (whatever that hill may be for you) is a noble undertaking. The question for you as a leader is, when you get to the top and look around what do you see? Depending on how you lead, it will be one of two things: A team surrounding you, fists in the air, celebrating the victory right along with you…or a hillside of dead bodies.

You see, you can get to the top on your own, stepping over the bodies on the way (bodies by the way, that you created); or you can bring the team with you; calling on them, asking for help, banding with them and yes, allowing them to lead as well, as you journey up the hill.

There are times when a key decision lands with you, and for that moment leadership can be a lonely, even agonizing business. But even then, if you’ve enlisted your team to partner with you on the journey that led to that point, they’ll share in your agony and support your decision, even if it brings news that’s hard to hear.

Leadership should not be a lonely business. Leaders should never walk alone. Don’t just teach someone or mentor someone, bring them with you as you lead. This practice is not about succession planning (though it can include that); it’s not about empowerment (though you should always be looking to do that); it’s not even just about leadership development (though that is a critical goal). While it’s in part about all those things, it’s also and just as importantly, about you not being isolated. It’s about you rebuking the old adage; “it’s lonely at the top”…because it doesn’t have to be and frankly, never should be.

If you find yourself in a lonely position as you lead, you will not be at your best. You won’t make your best decisions regarding strategies, customers, programs, what’s best for your team. You simply won’t be at your best. Andy Stanley said; “who and what we listen to will shape us as leaders”. If we’re only listening to ourselves, then we limit our mission to only what we can see or imagine. Think of all the lost ideas and wise council that’s never heard, because we chose to take the hill alone.

The Beatles had it right when the said; “I get by with a little help from my friends”. So ask yourself as you lead, who’s voice do you hear as you consider decisions? Is it yours alone or are there the voices of others who have been walking beside you. Is it you that’s getting that done or can you smile as you look around and say; “I got by with a little help from my friends”? Oh, and if it’s the later, make sure they know it.

Wise Guys

Growing up in northern New Jersey, I was all to familiar with the term, “wise guys”. These wise guys had last names that sounded more like Italian sports cars or exotic pasta dishes than actual names. In addition, since this post is about seeking wisdom, suffice it to say that these were not the guys you’d want to seek out for your wise council.

No the wisdom we want to seek out is that of wise men (and women) not wise guys. So who are these people? These are people that have been there. People that have walked the roads you’re about to walk and have the battle scars to prove it. They’re people that have been on the mountaintop but not without the valley experience.

There’s no question that on many fronts, you’ll need to have been around the block a few times, to really possess some wisdom on a given topic & perhaps have a little gray around the temples. We have to remember however that on some topics, having been around a while can be a disadvantage. There may be times that you’ll need to seek council from a bright and intuitive young 20 something. This is why you want 2 or 3 “wise guys” or gals as go to’s when your facing a challenge.

Certainly it’s true that regardless of age, these may be people that have achieved significant position in life. Some of our greatest leaders have acquired great wisdom along the way…But one thing I want to caution you on when seeking out wisdom; don’t let position or lack of it, exclusively dictate from whom you seek wise council. Some of the wisest people I’ve known didn’t have CEO, or president or senior operations director of the known world, next to their name. Often they’re humble men and women who’ve chosen to lead quietly, putting others first and taking on the role of a true servant leader.

The apostle Paul hits all of this directly at the outset of chapter 5 in 1st Timothy. He says: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters”. You see respect should be given to all, and wisdom can be obtained form the young and the old. That in itself is a great piece of wisdom.

Lastly, be sure not to create your “wisdom team” with people that think and act just like you. That might be comfortable but you’ll limit insight and creativity. You want people you can go to that have different experiences and can see things from a different vantage point than you can.

So ask good questions of wise people…and surround yourself with people who also ask good questions. Often times, their questions may increase your wisdom as much as their answers do.

For more on seeking wise council, watch my short video: Wise Guys

Relational Leadership

If you’re going to be an exceptional leader, you have to care about and for people; period! You have to know them…What’s important to them…What makes them tick. You have to care about their hopes and dreams as much as you care about your own; perhaps more…And this has to be genuine.

What are the things you should want most from those you lead? Tasks to be completed? Hard work? Goals to be reached? No…Those are good outcomes but those aren’t what you strive to cultivate. No, what you want most is trust, loyalty and for your team to truly care about what you care about…And that only comes by caring for them first, by investing in their lives first…By serving them first. Now, if you were thinking that the people you lead are there to serve you, it’s time for a total re-rack of your thinking. Servant leadership is where it’s at!

Now, there will always be people we’re going to gel with better than others…people who will be easy to serve as we lead. But, there’ll also be people that get on our nerves, that annoy us; but remember, everyone has a story and that story is often a significant part of why they are who they are. We need to do our best to know and understand that story.

In John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, he encourages us to find something likable about every person we meet. He reminds us that when we lead someone, we get the whole person.

Now there’ll be plenty of times, we wished we’d only gotten the parts we liked, or the parts we need to accomplish our goals; but that can’t be our reality if we’re going to lead. Like it or not, we get the whole person. So the sooner we begin to know and understand that whole person, and recognize that they’re not simply a means to our end, the sooner we’ll begin to gain what’s really important…Their trust, loyalty and commitment.

Andy Stanley said: When people are convinced you want something FOR them rather than something FROM them, they are less likely to be offended when you challenge them.” Let’s be sure our teams know that we are for them…Not just for their success as our team member, but for them; the whole person.

For more on relational leadership, watch my video teaching here:  Relational Leadership

A Time to Look Back…But Not Yet!

This past week, I traveled from my home in Colorado Springs, to New Jersey to visit my mom. Mom is 90 and lives in a nursing home. She enjoys living there and they take good care of her, but as of late we’ve really seen her memory slipping significantly. There’s been some deterioration over the past year or so, but the last few months have been much more noticeable. I felt God pressing me to make the trip to see her.

It was a great visit. We laughed, looked at photos, both old and new and mostly talked about old times. We talked of the home I grew up in with my parents and brother and sister, and how the three of us were so different. We reminisced about the lake cabin we spent many of our summers at; different aunts and uncles long gone; my dad, also long gone, the neighborhood barber (long gone as well) and how there’s no better pizza than NJ pizza. Thankfully that’s not gone and still awaits me each time I return!

The theme was a consistent one…We did what you typically do when talking with someone well along in years; you talk about the past…the distant past. You talk about the distant past because they often don’t remember the recent past. That recent past could include two years ago, two weeks ago or two minutes ago. Those are all the case with my mom. My older brother who still lives in NJ, gave me the idea of steering the conversation toward things of the distant past. His insight paid off.

Talking about the past with folks like mom is not a bad thing. It brings them joy and comfort. It’s familiar and allows them to participate in a meaningful way. They have something to bring to the table, so to speak. It also draws their attention from their inability to engage about the recent past.
When this later reality manifests itself, it can be a sad and uncomfortable moment; but with some discernment and wisdom, you can move the conversation back to something familiar (something from long ago), and watch them reengage and feel value again.

As I spent these hours with her, it was difficult not to occasionally consider my own mortality. While I don’t dwell on or worry about such things, it comes to mind none the less. I trust and believe that God has many more good years for me on this earth, (and more importantly, an eternal life beyond this one). I also believe in another reality…Those good years here will come and go in the blink of an eye. That’s not meant to be negative, fatalistic or cynical, it just is. It isn’t a question, it’s a reality.

It does however, raise the bar on a different question…perhaps the only question that matters: What will I do with that time? If we know that we’re given one lifetime on planet earth, and we know it will come and go before we turn around, (at least those of us over a certain age know that) we have to ask ourselves what it is we are we going to do with that life?

I see three choices. We can crawl into a hole and ring our hands as we watch the clock tick and the calendar turn. This may seem to slow things down a bit, but results in a lonely and miserable existence followed by a funeral service with six people in attendance and no one having anything to say. I’ve been to one of those.

Our next choice would be to take all we can from life. Dive into life with all we have, scooping up everything we can for ourselves. We can dance, laugh and indulge ourselves through the days we have left, attempting to fill every need we have with every shiny thing we see, smell, hear and touch; only to find that each indulgence leads to another empty space, which leads to another indulgence, which leads to another empty space…(and likely hurts others along the way). Ultimately we come to our end with all the indulgences left behind, and we depart this life with only the empty spaces. Our funeral is officiated by a paid pastor or official who has to do some research in order to have something to say…and the good stuff that’s said is mostly made up.

Of course, there’s a third choice and the only one that makes any sense at all. That choice is to indulge yourself in the joy of others. To invest all you have in the betterment of those around you.
Philippians 2:3 says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves”. When we indulge ourselves in filling another’s need, providing encouragement or creating joy, we fill the space (theirs and ours) with something that lasts. We can impact a life; perhaps for a day, a week, a year or even a lifetime…and beyond. Occasionally, we’re given that amazing gift of being able to impact someone’s eternity. I’ve been blessed to have that experience and it fills a space that a new car, new clothes, another sports channel, more drugs or more sex could never fill.

I’ve filled my spaces with many things over my lifetime, and I can tell you unequivocally, that second to my relationship with God, nothing fills those spaces more fully and permanently, than positively impacting the lives of the brothers, sisters and lost souls that have been put in my path.

My encouragement to you is to check your watch, look at the calendar; and then toss them aside and get to work. Yes, your watch will keep ticking, and the calendar turning but staring at them or worrying about how fast they’re moving, beyond this moment won’t change that. Yes, there may well come a day, when you spend more time talking about the distant past, than you do about tomorrow and that’s OK…it is the way of things. But until that is absolutely necessary (not just comfortable, but necessary), get to work looking into each day to see who’s life you can positively impact for the Kingdom…and watch your spaces (and theirs) get filled to overflowing.

Lead Like an Aspen

Aspens have an amazing leadership development program. I’ll explain, but first a little background…Aspens are unique trees with their white bark and contrasting black scarring. Most notably they’re known for their explosive golden foliage for three to four weeks in autumn. If I were to ask you to count how many individual aspen trees you see in this picture, you’d likely come up with a number in the 20’s or 30’s…But the fact is, you’d be wrong. Not because your eyesight is off, or because there’s some optical illusion in the photo but because of how aspens reproduce.

Aspens have long lateral root systems, from which shoots emerge that grow into full blown trees. These new trees are all part of one root structure which in aggregate, is called a clone. Aspen clones can cover less than an acre, up to 100 acres! Imagine that this next photo, containing hundreds of aspens, could be one clone (one inter-connected root system) that originated from one aspen tree!
Here’s another cool thing about aspens. Though individual trees rarely age past 150 years, the clone (root system) can live on for 5,000 years or longer! Even after wildfires ravage a forest of aspens, the clone lives on producing new shoots. This is why aspen groves are often found in areas prone to wildfires. Where other tree types cannot recover from the devastation, the aspen’s clone (start thinking leadership development program) provides for it to live on. The aspen has and will continue to have a long and robust legacy.

So why am I telling you all this and what has it got to do with leadership?

First (and I’ve talked about this before) as leaders we must duplicate ourselves. (2 Timothy 2:2). While there’s a “leader” among these aspens, you and I can’t tell which one that is. It’s duplicated itself so well, that almost any of them could be the leader.

Next; the reality is that each of these aspens are in fact, leaders in their own right. They were once just shoots from the root system and now are each integral to that system, producing shoots of there own (there’s 2 Timothy 2:2 again!).

Lastly, the system that the original leader (and now subsequent leaders) has developed is so strong, that many of these “leaders” could be taken out (think; burned down, die of old age or get hit by an ice cream truck), but the clone (replace that with business, family, organization, ministry) will go on. Why? Because the roots are strong and the leadership development program is relentless!

So, if you’re a leader, look around at the people you lead. Do you see a stand of other aspens (leaders) or at least shoots (developing leaders) within your sphere of influence? Are they being nourished by a root system that you’ve watered and fed?

So my encouragement to you is to lead like an aspen and in doing so, you’ll leave a legacy that lasts long after old age, wild fires and rogue ice cream trucks have done their damage.




Leaders Creating Leaders

Those of us who have been around leadership for any length of time know, that our goal is not to lead so as to create more followers, but to lead in way that creates more leaders.

Leadership that relies heavily on you to generate the ideas, create the vision and oversee it’s implementation is a limited and narrowly focused leadership. More importantly, it is a leadership (and thus an organization), that cannot be maintained for the long haul.

Asking ourselves what type of leader we are, should take us back to the question I asked in segment #1 of my video teaching series; “The Timothy Leadership Sessions”. That question is: “Why do I want to lead?” For a full vetting of that question, watch the video, but in summary the only right answer involves the desire to positively impact the lives of others…And while that includes being a part of providing someone’s basic needs of food, shelter, being cared for and being known, it goes much further than that.

Among the most important goals of leading others should be unlocking their potential, teaching them what you know, and then empowering them to do the same. This is what I touch on in the final leadership segment of those sessions which is entitled: “Next Level Leadership”.

In 2nd Timothy 2:2, Paul says this better than I ever could: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. You see, Timothy “heard” Paul say these things. This means Timothy was along for the ride, literally…he was present as Paul led.

The lesson here is that as leaders, we should not walk alone. In other words, don’t just teach or tell someone the way to go, show them by bringing them along as you lead.

We can learn a lot from geese…Yes, geese. Most of us know that geese fly in a “V” formation. The leader flies at the point of the “V” for a period of time, then drops back while another goose takes his place as the leader. This is done primarily, to share in the additional energy needed in order to lead. The lead goose bares more of the wind resistance and ultimately needs others to shoulder that burden.

When we bring others with us as we lead, and ultimately allow them to carry some of that leadership, we encourage and empower their leadership, and conserve our energy to be able to continue to lead for the long haul.

Don’t like the goose analogy? Well how about this…For three years Jesus taught, showed and literally lived with His disciples to prepare them for what would become their leadership journey of a lifetime. Since there was no better leader, there could be no better model; so how about you and I follow it as we partner with others, in their leadership journey of a lifetime.