The Art of War and Modern Leadership

By Glenn Reynolds

Before he played his first game in the NBA, a then eighteen-year old LeBron James signed a $90 million shoe contract with Nike, making him an instant icon.  Since then, money has never been a problem.  Turning professional without spending a day in college, James’ initial contract with the home state Cleveland Cavaliers paid him over $14 million each year.

So, money wasn’t the issue.

James was also adored by his home state fans.  Growing up in Ohio and signing with the Cavaliers, James owned the city with his mural painted on buildings downtown.

So, popularity wasn’t the issue.

James won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award twice, as well as the 2004 Rookie of the Year Award, the All Star Game MVP Award twice, the scoring championship once.  Along the way, he played on the NBA All-Star team every year.

So, personal achievement wasn’t the issue.

What was the issue?

Why did James leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, accepting less money from the Heat and scorning fans who adored him for the past six years?  His answer was simple:

This fall I am taking my talents to South Beach and play with the Miami Heat. The major factor was the best opportunity for me to win, to win now and for the future also. Winning is the most important thing for me. I feel like this is going to be the best opportunity.

Despite the money, the popularity, and the individual achievements, James still feels something missing.  He wants to be a winner.  He wants to be a champion.

Over 2,000 years ago, a Chinese general wanted to be a winner, too.  Not on the basketball court, but on the battlefield.  Sun-Tzu not only achieved success on the battlefield, but his philosophies and writing shaped his nation and have continued to impact us today.  His book The Art of War continues to be used today by businesses and military strategists around the world.  The book is one of the ten best selling books on military strategy on amazon.com.

LeBron wants to be a champion.  Sun Tzu wanted to be a champion.  And, as leaders all of us want to be champions.  All of us want our organizations to win.  All of us share the same goal of desiring success for our organization, our business, our church, our families.  We all want to be winners.  No one wants to play on the losing team.

So, how do we as leaders create a climate where winning is not only possible, but probable in our organization?  Sun Tzu gives us a few answers in his writings on victory.  Let me read to you what he has to say, “

There are five essentials for victory:

Know when to fight, and when not to fight.

Understand how to deploy large and small numbers.

Have officers and men who share a single will.

Be ready for the unexpected.

Have a capable general unhampered by his sovereign.

This afternoon, I want to dissect these five essentials for victory and apply them to your leadership in your business, your ministry, or your organization.

The first essential is right timing.

Master Sun says you have to know when to fight and when not to fight.  Or as the great American philosopher Kenny Rogers said, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.  You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table.  There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealings done.”

It’s the issue of timing.  When do you move and when do you stand.  When do you attack and when do you retreat.  When do you launch out and when do you pull back.

Leadership is all about knowing what to do next.  In fact, Bobb Biehl created one of my favorite definitions of leadership.  He said, “Leaders know what to do next, why it’s important and how to bring the necessary resources to bear.” 

A leader knows what the next step is, knows why that’s the right next thing to do, and how to make it happen.  It’s the right decision at the right time.

Julius Caesar halted his army at the Rubicon River.  By our standards is more of a creek than a river.  But, Caesar was stopped by the river.  Why?  He knew that crossing the river in northern Italy meant crossing into another man’s territory and that meant civil war for the Roman Empire.  So, he stood there and thought long and hard before he crossed.  Finally, he gave the signal and he crossed the Rubicon.  It’s a phrase we still use today—to cross the Rubicon means to make the decision to move forward without an option of turning back.

It’s timing and it’s an essential for victory as a leader no matter whether your organization is a church, a non-profit or a business.

Think with me for a moment.

The Wrong Decision at the Wrong Time = Disaster

Think New Coke.  It was the wrong decision at the wrong time.  There was never a time that that decision was going to be the right decision.  The company had built its brand on nostalgia.  People may have preferred the newer sugary taste of Pepsi better, but Coke was more than a soft drink…it was part the American way of life.  The commercials for new Coke were booed on the jumbo screen at the Astrodome, a class action law suit was filed against the company, and within three months the Coca Cola Classic was back on the market.  In fact, Peter Jennings of ABC News interrupted regular programming to make the announcement.

The Wrong Decision at the Right Time = Detour

Let’s go back to Biehl’s definition of leadership—it’ knowing what to do next.  It’s not only knowing what to do next, it’s knowing when to do it.  So, let’s say you pick the right time, but the wrong decision.  What’s the result?  It’s a detour.  Maybe you it was the right time for you to take the exit, but when you took it you went north when you should have gone south—that’s a detour.  You’ve got to get back to your original spot and start all over again—but with fewer resources.  There’s less gas in the car, less trust in your leadership account, and less patience and enthusiasm from your team.

The Right Decision at the Wrong Time = Delay

The right decision at the wrong time causes resistance from the team and the customer base.  In life as a church leader, there have been many times when I have been impatient.  I have known what we needed to do and wanted to do it now.  But, it wasn’t the right time.  Maybe it’s the right thing to dissolve a ministry or a department and start something completely new. But, that right decision at the wrong time will meet with incredible resistance.

The Right Decision at the Right Time = Success

 When leaders do the right things at the right time, success in almost inevitable.  People, principles, and processes converge to make an incredible impact.  And, the results not only touch the leader, but the entire organization.

On his eightieth birthday William Churchill addressed Parliament and said, “I have never accepted what many people have kindly said—namely that I inspired the nation.  Their will was resolute and remorseless, and as it proved, unconquerable.  It fell to me to express it.  It was the nation and the race dwelling around the globe that had the lion’s heart.  I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”

It wasn’t luck, it was timing.  He knew it was his time.  He said, “There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born.  That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission—a mission for which he is uniquely qualified.  In that moment, he finds greatness.  It is his finest hour.”

The finest hour for your leadership is when you make the right decisions at the right time.  You’ve got to know what time it is as a leader.  The Bible talks about the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12.32.  It says they “understood the timed and knew what Israel should do.”

How do you know what time it is?

1.     Think Earlier

2.     Think Longer

3.     Think Broader

The first essential for victory—right timing.

The second essential for victory is a high performance team.

Master Sun says, “Understand how to deploy large numbers and small.”

The general is only as good as his army.  The leader is only as good as his staff.  And, that leader has to know how to use that team—whether it’s a 4,000 member congregation or a three member think tank.  The leader has to understand how to inspire, motivate and deploy the team for victory.

One is too small of a number for greatness—you’ve got to learn how to deploy the people around you to accomplish the task in front of you.

Jim Collins put it like this, “It’s not enough to have the right people on the bus, you’ve got to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

Growing up in Kentucky, I loved basketball as a kid and played on organized teams and in my drive way until it was too dark to see the ball any longer.  Later, I coached YMCA basketball and invariably one of the biggest issues we faced as coaches was helping the players understand their role on the team.

Without fail, the short guys want to go and mix it up in the paint and the tall guys all think they can dribble like Carmelo Anthony.  You get a big guy that grabs the rebound the first thing he’s supposed to do is make the outlet pass to a guard to get the transition started.  But, more often than I want to remember the big guy would just take off dribbling down the court.  Before he got to half court, he either lost control or had the ball stolen from him.

 We all have a tendency to want to be what we are not.  It’s up to the leader to deploy the team into the right spots—to know their gifts and talents and put them in a place that maximizes their gifts and minimizes their weaknesses.

The Bible says in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which he has prepared in advance for us to do.”

Every person is shaped with gifts and talents that prepare them to make an impact.  If you can get the right people into the right place—their talent can blossom.  As the leader, you’ve got to make the call—who do you put where to maximize their benefit to the organization.

Right timing.  High performance teams.

The third essential for victory is a united vision.

Master Sun says, “Have officers and men who share a single will.”

A recent reality show on CBS—Undercover Boss—demonstrated the gap between senior leaders and employees of various companies across the United States.  In Emmy-nominated show, a senior executive of a company works for a week incognito as an entry-level employee to find out how the company really works.  What is amazing is how wide the gap is between what the boss thinks is going on in the company and what is actually happening in the field.

For an organization to achieve victory…that gap must be eliminated.  As Master Sun puts it—officers and men must share a single will.  A common vision, mission, and values have to permeate through the company.

So, the first thing a leader has to do is develop the vision and pound it into the group?  Right?  Wrong.

Here’s the truth…people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.  People don’t at first follow worthy causes.  They follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes.  You are the message in your organization.  Every message received by the people you lead is filtered through the messenger who delivers it.  So, before people buy into the vision, they have to buy into you.  Once they buy into you, they’ll give your vision a chance.

It’s not either/or.  It’s both/and.

They’ve got to buy into you and to the vision.

When followers don’t like the leader or the vision, they’ll get another leader.

When followers don’t like the leader but like the vision, they’ll get another leader.

When followers like the leader, but not the vision, they’ll change the vision.

But, when they like both, they’ll get behind both.

As a leader, people will follow you more if they like you.  A Lunch and Lead talk coming up will be the Likability Factor.  Once they like you, you’ve got to embody the vision—through what you do, but also what you say.

Tree of Life….that phrase has been empowered because I attempt to live there.

Then you set the stage for the team to be united in the vision.  Amos 3.3 says, ‘Do two walk together unless they agree?”

Right Timing.  High Performance Team.  United Vision.

The fourth essential for victory is exhaustive preparation.

Master Sun says that we should be ready for the unexpected.  Often the unexpected comes because we don’t prepare.  One of my favorite quotes from Pastor Tommy Barnett, lead pastor of Phoenix First Assembly is “Make no provision for failure.”

You are surprised because you took the time to prepare.  You don’t make excuses.  You work hard and you prepare.  You don’t make excuses.

Michael Jordan video

Proverbs 21.5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to prosperity.”

Diligence.  Don’t leave anything to chance.  Outprepare.  Outthink.  Outwork your competition.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story of Success, he describes what sets apart people who are successful. The good news is that according to his research, you don't necessarily need any special talent or skill. The not so good news is that it can take you putting in 10,000 hours of work to reach success. In his book, he describes that becoming successful is a mixture of opportunity and how much you take advantage of that opportunity. This opportunity knocks as a result of an individual's circumstance, environment, social status, even culture and religion.

The 10,000 rule was derived from a study by Anders Ericsson, who researched successful violinists at the Berlin Academy of Music. In Ericsson's study, he asked the students how much time they spent practicing and found that in every case that the violinists that performed better spent more time practicing.

"The curious thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals" - musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn't have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

This magic number of 10,000 hours of practice showed up across the board in various studies:

"In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... "

This book gives a detail account of the stories behind the success of many celebrities like Bill Gates, Bill Joy, and The Beatles. Their success turned out to be a mixture of many circumstances such as when they were born, the opportunities placed before them, and of course putting in 10,000 hours of more into their passions. Outliers also has various studies that show how your culture, how much money you have, and your date of birth can either be advantageous or disadvantageous for you.

Even though there were other factors that accounted for the success of most of the people in the study, I found that the 10,000 hour rule was still very encouraging and motivating. If you end up put 10,000 hours into something you enjoy, then definitely have a win-win situation. Putting in 10,000 hours over 10 years may see like a like a long time, but the important lesson to take away from this is that, most people don't set out to put in this kind of time. What happens first is that a passion for a skill is realized. Before you know it, you end up working at it simply because you love it and you want to find out all there is to know about it. For example, when Bill Gates became interested in computers, it was no way for him to even dream about the kind of success his passion for computers would bring him.

Finding your passion is the most important aspect of the 10,000 hour rule, after all time flies when you are having fun. Once you have a passion for your work, then it doesn't seem like work at all. If you have a passion for a skill or interest then I would say that you are already half way there. Your next step is to start your 10,000 hour journey toward success.

Continuing on this thought – in golf, to hit a consistent shot it takes practice, but more than that it takes great muscle memory and there is only on way to create muscle memory – repetition.  It takes 10,000 movements to create muscle memory – 10,000 swings, 10,000 of the correct swing to be able to hit the same shot over and over.  That’s why pro’s know when the shots are bad before they see them – they didn’t feel right.  The feel came from preparation.

The final essential for victory is empowered leaders.

Master Sun says, “Have a capable general unhampered by his sovereign.”

There are two important ideas here.  First, the senior leader has to empower the team to succeed.  Second, the senior leader has to make sure capable people are on the team.  It does not good to empower an idiot.  It does even less good to stifle a genius.

Machiavelli said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

If power corrupts then powerlessness corrupts even more.

When we don’t empower the team to act, to make decisions, to respond to situations, they will corrupt the system by finding ways to short-circuit the flow chart and get done what needs to be done.  Then we have two systems—the written system and the way things really get done around here. 

Abraham Lincoln is widely recognized as one of America’s three greatest presidents, if not the greatest.  One of his secrets was the ability to empower leaders.  To do that, he had to be secure enough to share credit and brave enough to share the responsibility.

For example in June of 1863 Lincoln put the command of the Army of the Potomac in the hands of General George G. Meade.  Lincoln hoped that he would do a better job than preceding generals Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker.  Within hours of Meade’s appointment, Lincoln sent a courier to him.  The president’s message, in part, said, “

Considering the circumstances, no one ever received a more important command; and I cannot doubt that you will fully justify the confidence which the Government has reposed in you.  You will not be hampered by any minute instructions from these headquarters.  Your army is free to act as you may deem proper as the circumstances arise…All forces within the sphere of your operations will be held subject to your orders.”

Meade’s first challenge appeared at Gettysburg.  He held the ground, but didn’t pursue.  He missed the timing part of the lesson.  But in the end, he was not to make full use of the power Lincoln offered.  It took Ulysses S. Grant to turn the war around.  Meade stopped Lee when it counted—but Grant pursued the victory because he took full advantage of the empowerment Lincoln offered.

Jesus in Matthew 28.18 empowered his followers—All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go!”

Five essentials for victory in your organization or business:

Right Timing

High Performance Teams

United Vision

Exhaustive Preparation

Empowered Leaders



Dealing with Difficult People

By Glenn S. Reynolds

In a recent cd from the Willow Creek Association, I listened to an interview with Dr. Henry Cloud who has written some incredible books that have shaped my life—Boundaries, Nine Things You Simply Must Do, and several more.  In this leadership interview, he described the three types of people mentioned in Proverbs 9—the wise, the foolish, and the evil.

Dr. Cloud’s premise is that the people you lead can basically divide humanity into three classes:     

  • People who are wise
  • People who are foolish, and 
  • People who are evil. 

Allow me to qualify those categories:  nobody falls entirely into one of these categories. Even the wisest person is foolish about some things in life, for example. But in general, as you deal with people in specific areas, around specific issues, it can be very helpful to determine whether they’re acting in a wise, or a foolish, or an evil manner. 

So, how can you tell? Let’s start with the wise. How do you know if someone is wise? It’s probably not what you think. The wise person is not necessarily the smartest person in the room. They aren’t necessarily the oldest, or the most distinguished, or the one with the most academic degrees. That’s not what the Bible means by “wise.” 

Let me give you some hints, from the Book of Proverbs: 

    • Proverbs 9.9:  “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” 

    • Proverbs 19.20: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” 

    • Proverbs 18.15“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” 

Do you sense a theme here? The wise person is the one who seeks out instruction, who craves feedback, who sits forward in their chair to listen to everything you have to tell them. When there’s light, the wise person runs to that light, because they want to soak up all the light they can. 

And the wise person doesn’t just take in information; they let it change their behavior. They adapt to what they learn, they use it in the way they interact with the world. 

In other words, wise people genuinely listen. Instruction doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other; it lodges in their brains, and in their hearts. And it changes the way they act. 

It’s a wonderful experience to mentor a wise person, to supervise them in their work. Because you can see them growing, right before your eyes, as they take in new information and apply it in their work or in their lives. If you’ve got a wise person as an employee, do everything you can to keep them. And invest your time in them; instruct them, teach them, correct them; give them more and more responsibility, because they’ll thrive on every new challenge, and grow from it. 

So how do you deal with wise people?

  • Teach
  • Talk
  • Instruct
  • Correct

But then there is the foolish person. How do you know if you’re dealing with a fool? 

Again, you won’t be able to tell right off. A lot of fools are actually quite smart; many of them seem to have everything together. 

Some of them are actually very successful, in certain areas of their lives. 

So how do you identify a fool? 

Again, here’s some guidance from Proverbs: 

    • Proverbs 18:2: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions.” 

    • Proverbs 12:15: “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” 

    • Proverbs 23:9: “Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.” 

    Get the picture? When a fool encounters light, they run from the light. 

They’re not interested in feedback; they don’t want more instruction, because they’ve already got everything figured out. 

You can tell you’re dealing with a fool, because they’ll keep on bumping up against the same problem — whatever it may be — again and again. You can advise them on how to handle it, you can show them a better way, but it won’t affect them in the least. They’ll just continue dealing with that problem in the same ineffective way they always have. 

Have you ever had to deal with a fool, at work, or in your personal life? They’re not bad people. They’re not trying to drive you crazy. But they’ve exhausting to deal with. 

You see, fools are very happy to talk about their problems.  They’ll go on and on for hours about all the difficulties they’re facing. But the problem is always outside of them; it’s never something they’re willing to take responsibility for. 

And if you try to point that out to them, then you become part of the problem. Fools always blame the messenger. If you call them out on some aspect of their problem, then obviously you don’t understand, you don’t care, you don’t see it from their point of view — you’re just like everybody else. 

Here’s another way to put it: unlike a wise person, a fool doesn’t adapt to reality; the fool expects reality to adapt to them. Their well-being is always someone else’s responsibility; they never take responsibility for themselves. 

Fools come in all shapes and sizes. But there’s one thing that all fools have in common. 

They don’t listen. 

You can talk until you’re blue in the face, and it makes not the slightest impression on them. As Proverbs 10.8 puts it: “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.” Wisdom rolls right off a fool; it never sinks in.

Years ago, John Maxwell did a lesson about Seven Habits of Highly Defective People, playing off of Covey’s book about Seven Habits of Effective People.  Foolish people often exhibit these seven habits.

  • Foolish people are often not good time managers.
  • Foolish people often possess a losing attitude.
  • Foolish people often have no plan for growth.
  • Foolish people often live purposelessly.
  • Foolish people often resist change.
  • Foolish people don’t build good relationships.
  • Foolish people are unwilling to pay the price to succeed. 

Do you have a fool in your life? Can you recognize a pattern where you’ve been trying to help someone, but the helping isn’t helping? If so, what can you do? How can you handle the fools in your life? 

Well, according to Dr. Henry Cloud, fools respond to only two things: limits, and consequences. Limits and consequences. 

You see, fools are incapable of setting limits for themselves — that’s why they’re fools. They want the freedom to act any way they choose, and they expect you and the rest of the world to deal with it.  So, in dealing with a fool, you have to set limits for them. You have to be very specific about your expectations. If you’re supervising a fool at work, you have to put it in writing, you have to lay out everything you expect, in every aspect of their job. And if the other person doesn’t abide by the limits you set, if they don’t live up to your clearly stated expectations, then there have to be consequences. 

Like a dog with an invisible fence, there’s got to be some kind of a jolt when they ignore the limits you’ve set. If there aren’t any consequences, then there aren’t any real limits, as far as a fool is concerned. 

Let’s say you’ve got a friend, and every time you get together, the friend complains about the same problem. It’s always something they have no control over, because it’s always somebody else’s fault, right? 

But every time you talk, you hear the same issue, over and over again, like a broken record. What do you do? 

The answer is limits and consequences. The next time your friend starts in with their familiar refrain, you say: “I know you have this problem; you tell me about it every time we get together. But I have to tell you: I have a problem now. 

“My problem is that you’re not listening to what I say. You ask me for advice, but you never act on it; you just keep doing and saying the same things over and over again. My helping isn’t helping; in fact, it’s damaging our relationship. It’s getting so I don’t want to be with you, because it’s always the same. You aren’t getting anywhere, and you’re wearing me out. 

“So here’s the deal. We’re not going to talk about your problem any more; it’s off the table. If you bring it up, I’ll insist that you change the subject. Because talking about it isn’t helping, and it’s ruining our friendship.” 

Now maybe that seems harsh to you. But it’s really the only hope for that foolish friend of yours. Because as long as they just keep talking, they’ll stay in that foolish state. The only way a fool can ever become wise is when they stop talking and start to listen. 

In the end, that’s up to them — some people will never listen. All you can do is to set limits — with consequences — and hope that, eventually, if they can’t talk any more, they may start to listen. 

And if they don’t? Well, Proverbs is pretty clear about that.  Proverbs 26.4 says,  “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” If you keep on talking and talking to a fool, then you become part of the problem; you become a fool yourself. So stop talking, because they’re not listening! 

Of course, if you stop listening to a fool, and you start insisting on limits and consequences, that may bring consequences of its own. The fools in your life won’t appreciate the limits and the consequences you set; that’s what makes them fools in the first place. But in the long run, it will be better for everyone. 

Now, alongside wise people and fools, there’s a third type of person you may encounter in life: the evil person. The difference between foolish people and evil people is that fools aren’t out to hurt you; they aren’t even aware of the collateral damage that their foolishness is causing. But evil people are out to hurt you; they take delight in bringing other people down. 

Now I’m not saying evil people are born evil; in many cases they’ve been hurt by someone else in their lives, and they’re just trying to pass the toxicity off onto somebody else. There are lots of reasons people fall into evil behavior. But the key thing is this: the evil person truly is trying to hurt you, and they love it when you fail. 

And the only way to deal with evil people is to go into protection mode. Forget about working with them; forget about changing them. Get as far away from evil people as you can. And if you can’t, then you move on to lawyers, and orders of protection, and police, and alarm systems — whatever protection you can get. 

Listen to what Proverbs says, in chapter 4, beginning at verse 14: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall.” 

In other words, don’t mess with evil people; certainly don’t get caught up in the idea that you have to be nice to everyone, no matter who they are. If there’s a truly evil person in your life, don’t try to fix them or appease them; just concentrate on getting protection from them, any way you can. Stop being nice; don’t return their phone calls; just make sure you’re safe. 

So, what’s the bottom line on wise and foolish and evil people? 

When it comes to truly evil people, stay are far away from them as you can. And as for the rest, remember Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” 

Don’t waste your breath trying to talk to fools who aren’t listening. Spend your time with wise people, and strive to become wise yourself. Find people who can instruct you and give your good feedback; soak up everything you can. As Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” 

And pass on wisdom to people who are willing to listen to you — give them the kind of teaching and instruction that they crave. Because in today’s world of foolishness and evil, we all need all the wisdom we can get! 

Three types of people—wise, foolish, and evil.

Let me switch gears just a little bit.  Leading an organization is 95% about people and 5% about organization.  If you’re going to be a good leader, you have to understand people—wise people, foolish people and evil people.  You’ve got to have a knowledge of people, a love for people, and a desire to help people.

Ten Things You Need to Know About People

  • People are insecure, give them confidence.
  • People like to feel appreciated, sincerely compliment them.
  • People look for a brighter tomorrow, show them hope.
  • People need to be understood, listen to them.
  • People lack direction, navigate for them.
  • People are selfish, speak to their needs first.
  • People get discouraged, encourage them.
  • People want to succeed, help them win.
  • People desire meaningful relationships, provide community.
  • People want to go somewhere, lead them.

What to Do When Your Team Says It Cannot Be Done 

By Glenn Reynolds

“So, what do you guys think?”

Every leader has heard the chirping crickets after that question. Finally, the silence breaks with a barrage of reasons why you cannot do the new idea, plan, or initiative. Whether it is with volunteers or paid staff, transformational leaders regularly encounter opposition to their change agenda. Suddenly, the leader faces opposition that says that his church cannot do his idea. What does he or she do with that? 


First, what a leader cannot do. The thing
you do not want to do is blow ahead like
nothing ever happened, like no one ever made an objection or surfaced a doubt. Sometimes the leader can be so confident of the idea that he does this without even realizing it. Objections mean we need to slow down to really listen to what is going on around us as we present the new idea or vision for change. Developing the skill of situational awareness allows the leader to reduce unintentional and intentional instances of steamrolling over the team.

The opposite is also true. The leader cannot simply cave in when objections or doubts surface. He cannot just give up because someone raised an issue or noticed a deficiency in the plan.

So, what is a leader to do when the team says it cannot be done?


Critical to understanding the objections raised are the assumptions the leader makes about the team. First, you need to humbly assume you can learn something new if you listen, instead of thinking the team just does not get what you are saying. Second, you need to assume the team member is trying to make sure the ministry stays on track, rather than assuming he is trying to undermine your authority or make you look bad. If you cannot make those two assumptions, seriously evaluate who should stay on the team.

As you seek to understand where the opposition is coming from, several questions can help you zero in on the issues behind the issue. Why do they think the way they do? Could they be right? What is the root of their response — emotional or logical? Is there history behind their response?

In trying to understand the opposition to the idea, you have a choice in the power style you employ. You can embrace assertive power, where you go on an all-in sales drive to get your idea across. Or, you can employ receptive power. Receptive power is not an oxymoron; instead, it is the power you wield by genuinely listening and hearing the concerns and doubts from the people on your team. 


As you attempt to surface doubts and get to the issues behind the issues, flipping the script is a helpful technique to employ as you talk with people. After listening to the other person’s objections, ask, “What would you do to solve the problem?” Do not ask this in a snarky or condescending tone, but in a way that genuinely desires input. This question drives home the point that doing nothing is not an option, but reinforces the idea that we have to work together to find a solution.

One of the greatest issues facing pastors is the challenge of integrating multiple generations into the same church. A long-term member of a church I led was telling me how the old timers were feeling pushed aside in a youth movement. He based much of his anecdotal stories on the narrative older members had constructed, rather than the facts. Instead of arguing about each of the incidents he described, I simply flipped the script and asked, “How would you go about getting the older members to be willing to make sacrifices to reach a new generation? After all, if there is nobody to pass the baton to, we have wasted our efforts.” He did not have an answer. But, I invited him to work together with me to find the solution. He said he would. Flipping the script transfers responsibility to the doubter to engage not just in substantive questions, but answers as well. 


As you genuinely understand where the doubt comes from, you might determine there is something to their argument. In that case, it is important to adjust your plan. This will take more time and effort than you want to expend, but in the end the results are often worth it. Leaders tend to be impatient, wanting everything changed yesterday. But sometimes, slower is faster. Sometimes slowing down to get the plan right before you roll it out to the entire congregation or organization might take longer in the short term, but in the long view it will save time. Imagine the time you might waste scraping the entire plan or ministry and start over because you refused to slow down and make adjustments along the way.


After you have listened and incorporated the valid objections, it is time to act. Surely, one danger is pushing the doubts down and moving full throttle with the idea. But another — possibly more acute danger — is not acting at all. All of us have fallen prey to the paralysis of indecision. You cannot debate whether or not to start a new ministry, revise a budget, or hire a new staff member. In Christian circles, we buy time by suggesting we need to keep praying about it. At some point, though, you must make a decision. There comes a time to commit to a course of action and move forward with conviction. 


The Bible says the sons of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do. Once you have scanned the environment and understood the source of doubts and made the necessary adjustments, it is time to trust your instincts as a God-ordained leader and make the call you need to make. And, do it without fear, but with the expectation that good things are going to happen.

If you have done right by your team — listened to them and incorporated their valid objections, prayed and sought God’s guidance — then you can move forward with confidence in your decision. If you have gone about making the decision in the right way, the possibility of a right outcome dramatically increases.

Nordstrom’s department store is a good example of doing the right thing and expecting good things to happen. They have a no-questions return policy on all merchandise. No questions asked — ever. They have lost money with that policy in the short term, but in the long term they have reaped even more rewards because of customer loyalty. Doing right by their customers has built a reputation of customer service that exceeds other department stores.

When you do right by listening to the objections and surfacing the doubts of your team and volunteers, you will build a reputation for having an open mind and an open heart. That, in turn, will open their hand to join with you in the organizational transformation you seek. 


Pastors love people. And, we want everyone to go with us to the vision that God has put in our hearts. But simply put, not everyone is up for the trip.

David Grissom, chairman of Mayfair Capital, said, “You owe it to the organization to always listen to those people and to their point of view, because guess what? They may be right. So you cannot be dismissive of that. But what I have found is that there tends to be a pattern. The naysayers tend to be the naysayers, and pretty soon you say to yourself as you are coming up with a new initiative, ‘I know Ted’s not going to like this.’ You can debate it and have an open and clear discussion; but, at the end of the day, a decision has to be made. And when you finally make a decision, you say to the naysayers, ‘The train is getting ready to leave the station and I really hope you are on it.’ Now, what’s left unsaid is, if they are not on it, they might be happier somewhere else.”

There are times when the leader has to be willing to lose a team member or a congregational member to move in the new direction, but if you walk through the first steps, you will not take this last step nearly as often.  


What Every Person Wants

By Glenn S. Reynolds

What does every person want? Better living conditions? Civil rights? Somebody to love? A clean environment? A new car? Lower taxes and less government? A vacation? More? An endless supply of chocolate? 

Most people want all of those, but what does every person in the world want? Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, thinks he has the answer. According to Welch, every person in the world wants voice and dignity. Not only do they want it, but they deserve it.

In his book Winning, Welch defines voice as “the ability to speak their minds and have their voice heard, regardless of their nationality, gender, age, or culture.”

By dignity, he means, “people inherently and instinctively want to be respected for their work and effort and individuality.”

When I first read Welch’s statement, my gut reaction was, “Well, duh. It doesn’t take a corporate giant to understand that people want others to hear them and recognize their work.”

Then I thought about my team of 25 or so employees and the nearly 1,000 volunteers who make this ministry work. I began to wonder how much voice and dignity I give them as their leader. 

  • How many times have I legislated change from the top down? 
  • How many times have I ignored the bottom of the ladder because I knew what was best for the organization?
  • How many times have I discounted someone’s opinion because she was too young?
  • How many times have I overlooked the efforts of other people because their job involved processes or tasks I do not find appealing? 

That led me to ask myself, How can I do better at giving people a voice and dignity? Are there changes I need to make so people have voice and dignity?


Too often reviews are one-way conversations where the supervisor points out what is going well and what the employee needs to improve in his area of responsibility. Creating a dialogue by working with the employee to set goals for himself during the next review period creates a two-way conversation more about where the employee is headed and not just where he has been.


Joseph Ellis, a best-selling historian who focuses his interest on the American Revolution, asserts in his book, American Creation, that George Washington became a leader because he listened well. His calm demeanor and his ability to hold his tongue, while opening his mind to the opinions of others, earned him the respect and confidence of others. The old saying reminds us that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we talk.

As a leader, my tendency can be to try to get people to understand what I am saying, where I am going, and how I want it done. In the rush to get this information across, I can be guilty of talking first and listening later — if at all. To give people voice and dignity, I need to slow down the communication process, close my mouth, and open my ears. In the end, slower can be faster. If I hear them earlier, I can save a great deal of headache later.


Leaders have three primary tasks: evaluate, coach, and build self- confidence in their employees and volunteers. Through team meetings, one-on-one interactions, and team-development settings, I try to focus my agenda on evaluating, coaching, and building the confidence of my employees and volunteers.

Evaluating means making sure you have the right people on the team — and the right people in the right spots on the team. It means supporting, rewarding, and advancing people who are making a contribution to the team, and confronting and training those who are not. Evaluation is too important to be done once or twice a year in a formal setting. It must happen through every interaction with employees.

Coaching is about guiding, critiquing, and helping people perform their role to the best of their ability. It’s about helping people know how to look at their performance and critique it themselves — to ask the right questions and determine possible courses of action. One way to coach is to never let your team ask you essay questions. Essay questions are open-ended questions where you supply the essay answer. Make them ask you multiple-choice questions where they must offer you choices. Then, help coach them to the right answer. 

Building self-confidence is about pouring out encouragement, care, and recognition. It is about energizing people and giving them the courage to stretch forward, take risks, and fulfill their dreams. Self-confidence is the fuel of winning teams. Self-confidence comes from making good decisions, choosing right options, and developing winning ideas. 


Feedback loops enable you to uncover doubt within your organization. Every organization — especially those engaged in significant change — has some level of doubt. Good leaders want to know the level of doubt in the organization so they can address it and keep the team moving forward toward the change goal. But often leaders do not want to hear about people’s doubts.

Take the political town hall meeting as an example. When a president or presidential candidate engages in a town hall meeting, the handlers make sure all of the attendees are on his side. They do not want any oddball or aggressive questions. They want softballs lobbed so their candidate can knock them out of the park. Leaders who engage in that type of feedback loop are trapped in a cul-de-sac of their own thinking.

Pastors can develop real feedback loops as they conduct congregational surveys, Internet surveys of first-time guests, 360-degree evaluations where employees evaluate the organization and their supervisor, as well as creating an atmosphere where we enable people to speak freely in appropriate settings.

Another way to create feedback loops is to formally and informally meet with key leaders and ask for their opinion. Ask them to help you improve the process. Let them know you cannot implement every idea, but let them know you value what they have to say. You may know more about where you want to go, but they know more about where you are right now as an organization. 


As a leader, I am obsessed by mission, aims, and strategy — process does not interest me as much. That is not my strength. But, I have several employees who deal with process. If I do not ask questions about areas of ministry that do not interest me as much as strategy or creativity, then the message I send is that your ministry role is not valuable to me. But, if I ask questions about how the process works, about how the employee or volunteer accomplishes his task, I give that task dignity, and I give the employee or volunteer voice.


One of the best ways you can start a meeting is by celebrating the wins. Let team members share a victory in their area of ministry since the last time you met. This builds confidence in them and in the vision. It also gives them voice and your response gives them dignity.

As a pastoral leader, I try to celebrate wins every Sunday by bringing up what has worked right in the previous week — whether it was an outreach project that had great results or a person who made a difference in someone’s life. 


Employees and volunteers need to be sure you have their best interest at heart — even when they are not in the room. They need to know you want what is best for them and not just what is best for the organization. That only happens as you build trust with employees or volunteers over time.


You are not going to make the right call every time. You are not going to respond correctly to every issue. You will make mistakes. When you admit you are wrong and apologize to employees whom you have wounded or wronged, you give them dignity.

I am not perfect when it comes to giving people voice and dignity, but I want to do better. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a starting point for me. It can be a good launching pad for you, too, as you seek to give those who follow you a voice and dignity. 




Removing the “I” From Team:
How To Tear Down Silos That Separate Your Team

Every football team is composed of three different units: the offense, the defense, and special teams. To win a championship, these units must work well separately and together.

I watched a game where a special teams member did not fight for extra yardage on a punt return. Instead, he ran out of bounds to avoid being hit. A few plays later, the quarterback was shellacked trying to eke out a few more yards on third down to get into field goal range. The commentator mentioned how often this scenario happens: A special teams player does not value how difficult it is for the offense to move the ball even a few yards under certain game conditions. In no uncertain terms, the commentator (a former offensive lineman) explained how the special teams unit put the win in jeopardy with that one play. 

A football team may have three separate units, but it must function as one team to win championships. Going a step further, we can expand the team from the players on the field to include the coaches who call the plays and the front office that negotiates salaries, makes draft picks, hires and fires coaches, and builds the roster.

How many times have we watched a team implode to the point where the players call a “players’ only” meeting, managers are not talking to general managers, and quarterbacks refuse to comment on the coaches’ play calling?

Once a silo mentality is in place, a team tends to compartmentalize into its own subgroups, further hindering the ability of the team to win. Instead of fighting for the team, the offense bickers with the defense, the front office fights the coaching staff, and the parts of the team look out for themselves instead of the team as a whole. 

This does not just happen to sports teams — it happens in the academic and business world as well. The faculty can be at odds with the administration; the advancement team is working against the maintenance team; marketing is pushing the supply chain to the end of their limits; and, management is distrustful of the people on the line. This type of mentality creates silos.

Farmers use silos to store grain. The silo, usually above ground and cylindrical in shape, keeps the grain in and the elements out. The military stores missiles in underground silos. The principle is the same. The missile stays in and everything else stays out.

In the church, people can easily create silos. Men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth ministry, and children’s ministry can function in their own silos. There can be an incredible amount of activity and even accomplishment in the silo, but there is no coordination between these ministries. The same can be true of the board and staff — each can operate in its own silo, not respecting or understanding the work of the other.

Silos can even exist in the worship service. How many times has a pastor needed to referee between the audio team who wants to get the house balanced just right and the singers who constantly need more voice in the monitor. This one is fraught with trouble because audio volunteers tend to be engineers and musicians tend toward the creative side — making communication even more difficult. 

The result of silos is an “us against them” mentality on your team. The team winds up fighting each other for space in the worship folder, time with the lead pastor, and money in the budget. As leader, how do you tear down silos and get your team to work together?


A common vision is a single focus that the entire leadership team shares. When a silo mentality pervades the team, leaders need to develop an overarching and common vision that brings everyone on the leadership team together around a common purpose.

Many resources are available to help the leader and team develop a common vision for the future of the church. Two of the bests are: Masterplanning, by Bobb Biehl, and Advanced Strategic Planning, by Aubrey Malphurs. The key is for the entire leadership team to have input and buy into the process of developing the common vision for the organization.

Vision answers the why questions: Why is it important for ushers and greeters to be well trained? Why does the media team need to better connect with the worship team? Why do the pastoral staff and the deacon board need to understand their roles and purposes? The answer: We are all working toward a common vision, rather than a vision of each department working independently toward its own goals and vision. 


The vision determines the direction for the team to travel, but clear objectives describe the way forward toward that destination. Clear objectives, or goals, give the team the context of action. These are the building blocks that clarify how to move forward toward the vision.

These objectives need to be both qualitative and shared by the team. For example, at Bethel, part of our vision is to reshape the future by passing the baton of faith to a new generation. To do that, we established several clear objectives that the entire team understands. These objectives must be measurable.

Some of these goals included renovating our children’s center, launching a new Wednesday night children’s program, and recruiting 25 percent more workers for children’s ministry.

If the vision answers the “why” questions, then the objectives answer the “what” questions. What are we going to do to move forward? What are our next steps as a team? 


When a silo mentality is in place, the members of the team usually lack respect for the roles and responsibilities of other team members. Because of this, team members make decisions that create conflict among the team. One church I worked with lacked a respect for the roles of different departments. As a result, the adult ministries department scheduled events and lengthened services with no regard to the consequences to the children’s ministry.

Insist that your team develop and review event-planning guides together. Create opportunities for team members to share experiences at retreats and other out-of-office events. Develop cross-departmental teams allowing the team to cultivate respect for each other’s role. It answers the questions of who we are and what we need from each other.


As the team leader, you must demand constant communication among team members. While all of us bemoan the endless meetings that produce little result, meetings, memorandums, event planning guides, and digital applications like Dropbox, Basecamp, or Huddle can help your team in their ongoing communication with each other. 


If you can give language to something, then you can steward it. Even beginning to describe the silos in your ministry allows you to begin talking about the issues using a common language. The language of the vision enables the team to mentor and monitor each other. For example, one of the things we talk about at Bethel is reaching people under 40 while keeping people over 60. That common language helps us make decisions as we plan our services and ministries.

Too often each department has a language of its own. To bring the team together, the leader needs to teach the team a common language.


Here is an example of a move we made within our organization to remove a silo and symbolize unity. The offices of Bethel College were located on the same property as Bethel Temple, but in a different building from the main church offices. That separation symbolized a silo that had infiltrated our organization. To combat the silo, we moved the offices of the college into the main church office building. That move symbolized the idea that we are all part of one organization.

It takes time and energy, but when the leader enables the team to tear down silos and begin working together for a common vision, the church moves from an incredible amount of disparate activity to a common thrust forward in mission and purpose. 


Let My People Go: Releasing Your Team to Lead, Not Just Follow

By Glenn S. Reynolds

In an effort to release your team to lead and realign your role as the senior leader, you must take five steps. 

The realization I could be the problem dawned on me slowly. After all, I taught lessons about leading differently at every level of the organization. At conferences and seminars I told pastors about the need to reinvent themselves to lead effectively in new seasons. I read and reread the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Armed with that knowledge, I realized I could be the roadblock on the path to my church reaching its God-given vision.

As I analyzed the responsibilities vested solely in me (for example, approving every expenditure over $200), the committees in which I participated (from service production teams to world missions leadership teams), and the lack of decision-making ability outside of my office, I began to understand I was hoarding too much of the organization’s potential in my hands.

I was dangerously close to becoming what I taught against.

Over time, it became obvious I was leading the church from behind, relying on my past experience. Instead, I needed to lead the church into the future, from the level we sought to reach — rather than from the one we had already attained. Because of this, I felt like I was constantly pushing everybody forward, rather than each of us pulling together. And that was tiring.

So in cooperation with my leadership team, we devised a plan for me to let go and for them to step up. Looking back, this had to happen at all levels of my ministry. As a church planter, I typed the worship folder, scheduled the ushers, and helped set up and tear down every Sunday. Somewhere along the way I learned to let go so other people could step up. I needed to learn the lesson all over again.

In an effort to release your team to lead and realign your role as the senior leader, you must take five steps. 


You must raise up other leaders, not just attract followers. It is not easy, but the pattern is the same at every level — identify, recruit, train, deploy, and coach other leaders. To identify them, you must know them and connect with them. To recruit them, connecting their gifts to the church’s vision is essential.

Training is an ongoing and purposeful process where you help them develop not only skills, but also an understanding of the principles behind the tasks. To deploy them, you release them to do what they do best — with your authority. Coaching them implies that deployment comes with accountability and continued support. In other words, you delegate responsibility and authority. You do not simply dump them off to do a job you no longer want to do.

I had an incredible team of senior leaders waiting for me to deploy and coach them. Mistakenly, I managed them instead of leading them. As the church grew and experienced the pains of growth, I vested more and more authority to the one person I trusted most — me. In effect, I neutered a powerful team that I should have released, rather than leashed.

Your situation may be more like the early days of my church plant in Des Moines, Iowa, where the leaders were volunteers, instead of paid staff. The principle remains constant, though. To keep growing your organization, you must raise up leaders.


Once you raise up leaders, both paid an volunteer, you have to divest responsibility and authority. If you continue to micromanage their work, one of you is not necessary to the process. Instead, you must get to the point where you are comfortable releasing leadership to your fellow leaders.

Before you let go, make sure you can check these three boxes.

First, your fellow leaders must share your heart. In other words, they must know what’s inside you. Help them understand the why of what you are trying to accomplish in the organization. This only happens over time as you explain the motivation for the vision that is in your heart for the organization. It happens as you connect as friends and not just colleagues. You must let them in before you let them go.

Second, your fellow leaders must know what’s in your head. They not only need to know how you feel about something, they need to understand how you think about something.

The Walt Disney Company lost its moorings after its founder and guiding visionary died in the late 1960s. At risk of a hostile takeover by corporate raiders, the board fired Disney’s son-in-law, and Michael Eisner became the CEO nearly 20 years after Walt’s death.

Disney was devoid of imagination, losing money, and facing being chopped up and sold as parts to the highest bidder. When Eisner arrived, he found the most frequently asked question was, “What would Walt do?”

Asking what Walt would do seems like a good idea on the surface. But when you dig deeper, you find the company rejected Walt’s innovative thinking process, choosing instead to face the problems and opportunities of the 1980s with a company frozen in 1966.

It is important to never let your staff or volunteer leaders ask essay questions: What would you do about this problem? Instead, they must ask multiple-choice questions, describing the problem and offering solutions. As the leader, you help them learn how to think through solutions, rather than just giving them an answer. In this way, they not only learn what you think, they learn how you think, which is much more valuable and necessary as you release your authority to them.

Third, your fellow leaders must be your hands. I wondered why both a direct report and I were sitting in on the first interview of a potential new hire. Why were we on the same committee? I was paying both of us when we only needed one of us for that task or team. I had to review and decide what and where I needed to be and when and where my fellow leaders needed to be my hands.

I limited my involvement to staff chapel, senior leader’s meeting, staff meeting, and the creative planning team. Limiting my involvement freed my fellow leaders to lead, rather than just sit beside me in a meeting.

Pastors in smaller churches sometimes feel overwhelmed with all their ministry responsibility. Train and release volunteers to oversee ministry so you do not need to attend every committee meeting.


Letting go of certain duties to your fellow leaders allows you the freedom to complete the primary roles of the senior leader — focusing on vision, developing strategy to complete the vision, communicating the vision, and raising up and coaching new leaders. Letting go of some work never frees you from work; it only allows you to move over to the appropriate priorities for the senior leader. This was why the apostles selected deacons — not to free them from work, but to free them to work on what was their task alone (prayer and ministry of the Word).


Even with fellow leaders, Zig Ziglar’s rule still applies — you do not get what you expect; you get what you inspect. There must be an accountability system for you and your fellow leaders. Still, be careful not to devolve back into a managerial system.

Our direct reports meeting (the meeting with me and those who report directly to me) devolved into a management meeting. To move forward and make better use of their time, we devised a written system of communicating weekly goals, while reserving the face-to-face meeting for big decisions and strategic thinking. They added a meeting without me to discuss issues they did not need to bring to my attention.


Finally, look around for someone at the next level to mentor you. Mentors have never come to me. I have always had to seek them out. One mistake I made as I continued my leadership journey was to stop seeking mentors. I had plenty of colleagues, but I stopped seeking people at the next level. It was a mistake that contributed to the problem these five steps were designed to solve.

Pastors in smaller churches, especially rural churches, may feel isolated. It is important for them to seek out a mentor who can help them process ministry issues and grow to the next level.

As you keep growing as a leader and as a church, you will need to keep reinventing how you lead. To do that, you will need to connect with people in front of you, not just beside you.

Slowly, I realized I might be part of the problem, but quickly with these five steps and the help of my team I am back on a journey to becoming part of the solution for taking our church to a new level. You can, too. 


Don’t Shirk the Dirty Work

By Glenn S. Reynolds

How do you implement tough decisions in humane ways? Consider these four questions and seven keys to doing the dirty work of leadership cleanly. 

When I was small, my mother prided herself on keeping my clothes and me clean. One day she left me with my aunt who decided it was time for me to get dirty — very dirty. She let me play outside — not in dirt, but in a pile of coal. When my mother picked me up, I was covered in coal dust.

Sometimes, as leaders, we want to shirk the dirty work of leadership. Every leader must do things that upset and hurt people — even in the church. As the leader, it is your job to discipline employees, terminate employment relationships, initiate organizational change, confront issues holding the organization back, and deny budget requests. Call it dirty work, heavy lifting, or making a tough call with an employee; leaders must do the hard things. 

A leader who refuses to complete the dirty work of leadership can be guilty of emotional embezzlement.

Most leaders never consider financial embezzlement — stealing dollars from the organization. But, many leaders consistently commit emotional embezzlement — stealing the future of the organization by not doing the dirty work of leadership. We do not want to pay the penalty of upsetting people, so we refuse to do the required heavy lifting.

The best leaders do not delay or duck the difficult; instead, they confront problems directly and quickly. The most challenging question is often what to confront and what to leave alone. Years ago I heard a chapel speaker at Central Bible College assert that the hardest task of ministry is knowing the difference between what to confront and what to leave alone. After 20 years of pastoral ministry, I believe he was right. So, before you make decisions your team is not going to like, what questions do you need to ask? 


Reprimands, dismissals, changes in direction, and other moves are often the most effective choice when dealing with difficult staff situations. But before you pull the trigger, make sure it is absolutely necessary. The effective leader asks, “Why am I doing this? Am I doing it because it is right or because I have not thought of another solution?” If there is a way to achieve the same result without having to throw a boulder in the water and deal with the waves, can you do it? Or, is it necessary to make the tough call and deal with the staff consequences?


Unfortunately, sometimes leaders who have every justification to make difficult decisions simply do not have the power to do it the right way. They may lack the support of key board members. There may not be the organizational energy to complete the needed transformation. They may not have the change in their pockets to see the decision through to the end. As Jesus reminded us, it is good to find out if we have all it takes to finish the task before we start building the tower (Luke 14:28–30). 


Whether by design or by default, every organization has a culture. Culture consists of the unspoken rules of how we relate to one another in the organization. Church culture can be an interesting and confusing place to work. For example, most churches want the pastor and worship leader to present excellent worship services, but may recoil at the idea that people must audition for the choir. After all, does not God see our hearts and just ask us to make a joyful noise.

Before you plot your course, look at the culture. Is it on your side or is it going to work against you? You may need to work on the culture before you can work on the problem.


If you are going to cut and run when the heat turns up, then you are not ready to do the dirty work of leadership. If you duck out at the first sign of a struggle, you may need to find a different kind of work. But, if you are ready to outlast the critic, follow the course God has laid out, to stay until the dirty work is done, then it is time to make the tough calls involving your team.

If you can answer in the affirmative, then you are ready to do the dirty work of leadership. 


How do you implement tough decisions in humane ways? After all, you are the shepherd to those on your team, not just the boss.

Get key leaders on board

Who are the major influencers in your organization? Who are the stakeholders? Before you get your hands dirty, it is important to make sure these influencers are behind you, but not that far behind you.

Implement wisely

Leaders think sooner, deeper, and longer than others in the organization. When you need to make tough staff or leadership decisions, think about who these decisions will affect, who will oppose them, who will be for it, what are the unintended consequences, and a host of other questions. In addition, you need to create an implementation plan to answer those questions before people ask them. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate

When you are doing something the team or volunteers might find upsetting, communicate early and often the necessity of the choice you have made. Key volunteers, other staff members, and board members all need to know why, not just what. It is often not the first meeting that matters. It is the second and third meeting — after they have talked to their spouses or friends about the issues, after they have had time to think about it. The effective leader does everything possible to communicate to everyone who will be affected by the decision — not just in a way that spins the positive results, but also in a way that details some of the negative issues that might arise.

Care about people

Sure you must do the heavy lifting; but as you do, remember: never humiliate, belittle, or bad-mouth staff or volunteers on the other side of the issue. If you set a tone that does not honor and respect others — even in conflict — then others will follow your lead in creating a culture of backbiting and name-calling. Then, you will have a real staff infection on your hands. Finally, remember the skunk theory of conflict. If you get in a fight with a skunk, nobody can tell who the skunk is.

Keep your mouth shut

The temptation to share confidential information to buttress your position lurks around every corner as you do the dirty work of leadership. But divulging sensitive or confidential information can harm employees, volunteers, your organization, and the trust others have in you as a leader. 

Break the cycle of revenge

When you meet opposition to your choices, the tendency will be to shut out that staff member in the future, paint that volunteer in an unflattering light, or worse. If you take up the urge for revenge, you have made yourself the issue, instead of the solution. When you make it personal, you lose the moral high ground and abdicate your spiritual authority.

The best leaders learn the fine art of emotional separation — how to divide the event from the person. As you make the tough decisions of leadership, keep forgiveness close by your side. It not only breaks your own vicious cycle of revenge, but it helps staff members and volunteers you may have hurt to let go of their anger. 

Do not delay

Delay can cause more problems. Hope is not a strategy. Just hoping things change never makes the problem go away. The effective leader refuses to delay painful decisions and actions. You need to decide nobody else is going to do your dirty work for you. You cannot hire a consultant to do it or blame it on the board; you must do the hard work of leadership. That is why you are the leader.

So, where do you need to get your hands dirty? What decision are you putting off? What program needs to be started or stopped? What key volunteer needs to be confronted? What staff member needs to be let

go? Before you do the dirty work of leadership, make sure you are ready. Then, if you follow the seven commandments, maybe you will not get too dirty. My mother will be proud. 



Building Trust With Your Team

By Glenn S. Reynolds

Trust is the currency of leadership. If leadership is a relationship between those who lead and those who follow, then trust cements the relationship. When trust collapses, the relationship crumbles. When trust is strong, change, growth, and mission fulfillment stand on that foundation. 

On August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, bringing attention to the relationship between increased truck weights and bridge stress. The result of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation cited several reasons for the bridge’s collapse, including the extra weight of heavy construction equipment combined with the weight of rush hour traffic. The bridge simply could not stand up under the weight it was carrying. 

Engineers design bridges to withstand a certain amount of stress from the weight of cars and trucks that cross it. Any weight that increases the stress above what it was designed to support could possibly cause the bridge to collapse. 

Leadership works in much the same way. Leaders build bridges from the present to the future, from where the organization currently is to where the vision demands it goes. To bridge the gap between the present and the future, leaders can only move forward based on the amount of trust they possess with team members and followers. 

A limit exists to the amount of trust followers and team members extend to their leader. Just like every bridge has a limit, every leader has a limit imposed by the leader’s relationship with the team.

When leaders make changes with their teams that exceed the weight limit of trust they have established, the relationship often collapses. So how do leaders build trust with their teams? How do they ensure there is enough trust to carry the weight the change demands? 

How to Gain Trust

Equifax, Transunion, and Experian are credit bureaus that keep track of who is paying whom and who is not. They tally the record and give every consumer in America a credit score. But they are not the only ones who track credit trustworthiness. Every team member watches and asks questions to see if the leader deserves a good credit score — if the leader deserves to be trusted.

Team members will ask three questions to determine whether or not they can trust you. With the right answers, you can build trust with your team.

What Is His Agenda?

I open every staff meeting by asking if everyone has an agenda. One day someone quipped, “Yeah, but does everybody have the same agenda?”

This incisive comment reveals the fact everybody has an agenda, and leaders should not leave team members in the dark about their agenda. Team members want to know what the leader’s agenda is for the organization, for each team member, and for the team. Is the leader using the team or ministry to attain personal goals, or are the leader and team working together to achieve the organization’s mission? Is the leader using their position as a stepping-stone to another job and substituting short-term results for long-term benefits? What is the leader’s agenda? What is the leader trying to accomplish? What is the vision? And, who benefits from it?

Obviously, a leader’s agenda needs to involve fulfilling the mission of the organization while empowering team members to fulfill their potential under God. The effective leader reveals that agenda through every decision that is made, through the respect shown to team members, through the way each team member’s role is clarified, and how the leader confronts the real issues between reality and vision. To make the team trust you, you cannot play tricks or try to hide the agenda. The redemptive leader makes sure everyone knows the agenda, their role in it, and how it benefits the organization and the community it serves.

If the team senses the agenda is personal, self-centered, or off base, trust begins to erode and the ability to lead collapses. So, make the mission plain.

Is There Alignment?

Team members look for alignment of action and agenda on two levels: personal and organizational. Followers want to know if the leader’s walk matches their talk. They also want to know if there is alignment between the leader’s stated vision and values and the reality on the ground in the organization.

First, they look at the leader. Does the leader practice what is preached? Is the leader good at issuing dictates that apply to everyone else in the organization, but exempt the leader? Does the leader demand a strong work ethic and embody it? Does the leader practice the same accountability to which other team members are held? Does the leader talk about transparency and authenticity, but keep essential elements from the team? Is there personal alignment between the leader and the vision and values of the organization? If there is, trust grows. If there is not, trust crumbles.

I heard about a leader of a large ministry who repeatedly told the staff he had an open door policy, but only a few staff members had a cardkey to the executive suite where he worked. His stated agenda and actions did not match. This undercut the trust the team members placed in his leadership. The gap between agenda and action resulted in a gap between leader and team. The gap came as an unintentional consequence of security concerns, but intentional or not, it was still there. To make sure the gap was closed, the leader reversed policy and gave everyone access to the executive suite in an attempt to match agenda to action.

In your leadership, are there intentional or unintentional gaps between your agenda and your actions? If you cannot spot them, ask two or three of your closest and most supportive leaders to help you keep an eye out for them.

Second, team members look for alignment in regard to the leader and the organizational aims. Team members often look at vision and values exercises as a needless waste of time concocted by an academic in some ivory tower. Why? Because they have been through this before and nothing happened.

In a way this is like the parent who continually tells their child that discipline is coming if behavior does not change — but discipline never comes. The parent’s lack of action deafens the child’s ears to the parent’s words. In the same way, the leader deafens the team’s ears when talk and walk do not match.

I consulted with a church that stated one of its primary aims was to reach the next generation for Christ, but its children’s facility was in horrible shape, while the rest of the campus had undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation. The organizational gap between stated agenda and realized action diminished trust the team members gave the leader.

The primary location for the gap to develop is in the budget. It is easy for the leader to state the agenda is to reach people, create a vibrant youth ministry, or any number of great goals; but, if the budget of time and financial resources does not match up with the agenda, the team will be left wondering if the leader is telling the truth.

Is the Leader Capable?

Every time I board an airplane I look in the cockpit. I do not know what I am looking for. I could not tell an altimeter from an emergency brake. I guess I am checking to make sure it looks like the pilot and copilot know what they are doing. Do they look awake? Do they inspire confidence? Are they capable of getting the plane in the air and then back on the ground?

Similarly, your team wants to know if you have what it takes to get them where they want to go. In the same way, they want to know if you are capable of getting the organization from point A to point B.

Is the leader capable? To answer the question, team members often look over their shoulders to see if the leader has a record of success. This is why it is important in a new assignment to get some small wins under your belt to build trust.

It is not just the big three credit bureaus deciding if you can be trusted — it is every team member and every follower of Christ. When you do your best to answer these three questions, you will increase your trust with your team.