I’m writing, teaching, and thinking a lot more about leadership lately. In the last week, I’ve received three calls from people involving job changes due to poor leadership. Some are too ‘spiritual’ to talk about leadership principles, focusing instead on preaching, sacraments, the work of the Spirit, or whatever their tradition says they should look to instead. But throughout the Bible we see good leaders and bad ones and the impact of both. In this series, I hope to encourage you to be the kind of leader that, well, leads people to the things that matter most.
There’s a great saying that good leaders don’t see people as impediments—they seek to make people partners. But to implement this approach to leadership in daily life, we need to realize that partnering with people means sacrificing for them. Drawing from Brad Waggoner, author and executive vice president at LifeWay, here are five things leaders need to be ready to give up for the people they’re leading.
1. Leaders need to be willing to yield recognition.
How do I get so much done? Through the team with whom I serve.
If I don’t acknowledge my team, this idea develops that I have some remarkably high capacity. I do work hard, but my capacity does not just reflect my work. It reflects the work of wonderful people that I have brought around me, people who are doing good work to accomplish good things.
To be a good leader, I need to acknowledge my team’s work and share the credit with them. I need to recognize that they are a significant part of the things we accomplish.
2. Leaders need to be willing to yield comfort.
As a leader, you don’t get to be comfortable in everything you do. If you lead, you are going to make some people unhappy. I tell pastors that if they don’t have 10% of the church mad at them, they are probably not doing much. Of course, if 70% of your congregation is mad at you, you probably need to reconsider what you’re doing. But if everyone is comfortable, it’s time to assess whether you are really leading towards strategic change.
Leadership might take you out of your comfort zone. Some of us are only comfortable when everyone likes us, but leaders don’t always have everyone happy with them. There is always some resistance to leadership. Your question is how you are going to get through that discomfort.
In his book Leadership Pain, Sam Chand makes the argument that leaders grow by pursuing their vision through pain. At one point, he writes, “If you’re not hurting, you’re not leading. Your vision for the future has to be big enough to propel you to face the heartaches and struggles you’ll find along the way.”
3. Leaders need to be willing to yield convenience.
As the leader, you have to work harder. I don’t know many lazy people who are effective leaders. Assessing your organization, planning and communicating new directions, motivating your team—leadership takes initiative.
Author and former Overseas Missionary Fellowship director Oswald Sanders summed it up this way: “The young man of leadership caliber will work while others waste time, study while others snooze, pray while others daydream.”
Are you prepared for this kind of work?
4. Leaders need to be willing to yield liberties.
I get that you might like to share funny or smart-aleck comments. You might like to say outrageous things to start a conversation or poke fun at things. However, the more leadership you’re exercising, the less freedom you have for those comments.
I do not mean that you no longer have freedom of speech. Sure, you should be allowed to say what you want. But that is the behavior of a wandering ecstatic prophet. It’s not the behavior of a leader who is working to motivate and encourage and organize a team or congregation.
You have to learn how to temper your words if you’re going to be a leader.
5. Leaders need to be willing to yield reputation.
Movies, books, and television are full of leaders who take charge for their own glory or honor—Scar from Lion King, Frank Underwood from House of Cards, Macbeth. And those leaders are usually pretty horrible leaders.
As a leader, you have to be willing to give up making yourself look good so that you can serve your team. When things go well, you need to share the credit with your team. On the other hand, when something goes wrong, a leader needs to take responsibility for the failure.
Leadership is not about building up your reputation. It is about motivating and encouraging and organizing your team to reach new goals. That requires partnering with people, earning their trust, and looking out for their good. In the full biblical sense of the word, it requires loving people.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.