6 Essential Skills for Senior and Executive Leaders

By Dan Reiland

I often meet young leaders who aspire to, in their words, “be in charge.” That’s a normal and healthy desire. I get it, I mean, who wouldn’t rather call the shots if that’s an option, right?!

Well, as you might imagine, there is a little more to the idea of being “in charge.” And my heart and hope is that’s how this post might be helpful.

There is an often-quoted and significant misconception about leadership, and it is that the higher you rise in the organization, the more you can do what you want.

The perception is that because you are the “senior leader” (or one of them) you, therefore, don’t report to anyone.

In fact, the opposite is true, the higher you rise in any organization, the more you give up your rights and the fewer options you have.

Further, the higher you rise in responsibility and authority, the more people you report to, not less. It may not be a formal reporting, but you answer to them nonetheless.

Whether in business or the church, there is a long list of people who senior leaders answer to from stakeholders to the board of directors.

The list includes the customers, key influencers, denominational officials, members and church attendees, partners, donors, and the list goes on. Again, they may not carry formal authority, but they have influence, and they matter.

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There may be few, or perhaps no one above the senior leader on the organization chart, but that does not reflect the realities of little freedom and much responsibility.

Senior leadership is a role that is best understood before you step into it, rather than later. It’s difficult to communicate some of those nuances, but what can be described with clarity are the unique skills and abilities that are a must.

Some of the six skills I’ve listed may seem like any leadership role would need them, but for the senior leader, these skills become non-negotiable.

The critical factor here is that because they are skills, they can be learned. And because they can be learned, you can improve in any or all that you lean into and practice.

6 essential skills:

1) Translate vision into strategy.

Translating vision into a workable strategy requires first the ability to select, trust, develop and work with a leadership team. I’ve never met a senior leader or executive that can do it all his or herself.

In fact, some senior leaders have a personality and wiring that makes them really good at what they do but also creates a few significant gaps that requires a team to make it all happen.

Strategy, (a plan to make the dream become a reality), is a non-negotiable skill for any senior leader.

2) Communicate faith and hope.

The ability or skill to communicate what you believe at a heart level is a must. Further, it needs to become something natural to you. I’ve watched John Maxwell and Kevin Myers do this for years. They just don’t tire of it.

These great leaders’ faith in a person’s ability to become their best self often exceeds that person’s faith in him or herself. Their ability to communicate the hope of a better future for the entire organization is so strong.

Faith and hope also include the idea of communicating calm in a storm and a positive outcome.

The key is that faith and hope must be sincere. As a senior leader, you can’t just read and quote the next big idea. You must have internalized it, own it, and believe it to the core.

3) Raise up and empower leaders.

In a large or very large church, this usually means hand-selecting the lead team. In a smaller church, it may mean selecting key volunteer leaders.

In either case, it always includes the ability to let go of key responsibilities with genuine empowerment for those leaders to do their job.

The senior leaders who struggle most are those who micro-manage and don’t trust their top leaders to do their job.

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4) Demonstrate self-leadership and cultivate spiritual vitality.

If you are or desire to be a senior leader in a local church, self-led spiritual growth toward maturity is a must.

This certainly does not suggest some kind of superiority or better than others notion. In fact, most of us who serve in a senior or executive role of some sort are quick to admit to our flaws and weaknesses.

The good news is that self-awareness and security help you/us get honest with God about who we are and how much we need Him.

Good leaders have good mentors, but self-leadership is required for discipline and consistency.

There is no one there to hold your hand and prompt you in your day to day responsibilities, and your first responsibility is to pursue God and spiritual maturity.

Those you lead depend on your authentic and growing walk with God.

5) Solve problems and make difficult decisions at intricate levels.

The large and more complex, (often organization-wide), problems to solve are multi-dimensional, grey rather than black or white, and do not present a clear or obvious answer.

In fact, they often present multiple options of which others you serve have very strong and differing opinions.

Senior leadership is more of an art than science that requires intuition and judgment calls.

Here’s a candid example, sometimes you must choose from two less than ideal choices.

Another way to see it is that no matter how good the decision, there’s a group who will not be happy. Being able to make difficult decisions is an essential skill for any senior leader.

If you prefer a more clear-cut and black and white world, senior leadership may not be for you.

This isn’t meant to be discouraging, it’s just part of the territory, and an effective senior leader can handle this in stride.

6) Take risks and lead change.

There is no escaping risk and change if you desire progress.

The risks you take are not always public or grand such as initiating a building project or raising millions of dollars.

It might be something private like a conversation that is confrontational nature, but the outcome is significant.

The process of change never ends. Next to momentum, change is something those in senior leadership continuously think about.

Change is disruptive but necessary. Comfort is the enemy of progress and a healthy organization.

This article was originally published at: danreiland.com

A 5 Step Process for Leaders to Handle Their Mistakes

By Dan Reiland

When you are out in front leading, missteps are part of the journey. If you aren’t making mistakes, you probably aren’t leading.

All leaders make mistakes, the key is to not make the same one twice. If a leader makes the same mistake twice, it’s an indication they are not learning.

I’ve sure made my fair share of mess-ups and I’m not free from them now. Hopefully, not as frequent these days, and the context is also important. That is, you are doing more things right than wrong. But again, if you are leading in uncharted waters you will make mistakes.

Leaders who try to cover up, justify or minimize their mistakes often struggle with deeper issues. It can be anything from pride, to insecurity, to not wanting the mistake to be revealed.

But other times we just take ourselves too seriously. And it’s highly beneficial to be in an environment that is forgiving of our goof-ups.

At 12Stone we give two fun awards each month at our All Staff meeting. One is called the Good Bird, and it’s given out for great servant leadership. The other is called the Dirty Bird, and it’s kind of our “Dumb and Dumber” award. The scary thing is that I think our staff loves getting that one more! We laugh and have a great time with it. The important thing is that we can laugh at the dumb things we do and the mistakes we make because it’s a safe and healthy environment.

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A 5-step process to handle your mistakes well:

1) Own it completely.

You may or may not be at fault for the mistake, but if you are the leader, you are responsible. Take full ownership.

On more than one occasion relating to problem by one of my team members, I’ve said to our senior pastor, “I’m responsible for this situation and I’m on it.”

If something is directly your fault, it’s all the more important to own it fully. Sometimes an apology is due, then move on.

Don’t try to dodge it, hide it, or back the truck up over someone else. Just own it and move forward.

2) Disclose it quickly.

When you make a mistake, speak up right away. This is courageous and clears the air. It enables everyone to move toward solutions and make progress rather than assign blame.

If something goes wrong, you should be the first one to say, “Hey, I made a mistake.” Not “Oops.” Don’t minimize it. It’s better to say, “That’s my mistake.” Our words as leaders make a difference.

It’s not necessary to make it a big deal. In fact, a poised and matter of fact statement is all that is needed.

Your boss, or your team will love you for it, and your candid and mature disclosure increases trust. They will have more respect for you because you saw it, owned it, and spoke up.

And it’s never a good idea to have your boss to find out from someone other than you.

3) Solve it correctly.

Left unsolved, mistakes get bigger not better.

Solutions help turn the corner from a problem to progress. A good solution changes the focus from the negative tone of a “mistake,” to one of forward motion and progress.

Dive in deep to fix the mistake. Cosmetic work that is just enough to cover the surface doesn’t really fix the problem. Solutions that last require more than touch up.

Understanding what went wrong and the difference between, for example, a system failure or human error is essential.

Follow up is required, repeatedly, until it’s fully rectified. This might be accomplished in a few days, or it could take weeks or months. It doesn’t matter, solve it correctly whatever it takes.

4) Learn from it thoroughly.

If you are like me or most leaders, we move pretty fast.

There’s a lot to do, so I have a tendency to move on a little too quickly. How about you?

Once a problem is solved, I’m on to the next thing. But that doesn’t mean I’ve actually learned something.

It’s important for me to take some time to think through what caused me to make the mistake.

For example, did I lack experience? Did I make the wrong decision, and if so why? Did I not think through the issues enough? Was I distracted? Was it more circumstantial? This process will be relevant and helpful to you as well.

From there, it’s wise to take a few minutes to acknowledge how you would do it better next time.

5) Get over it appropriately.

It’s important to get over your mistake and move on.

Don’t beat yourself up. If you have completed the first four steps, shake it off.

Match your level of response to the size of the mistake.

For example, let’s say you blew an appointment, you just missed one and you never do that. The whole process should take you about five minutes. Own the mistake, lead with an apology, set a new appointment, figure out what broke down in your system, and get over it.

Or, for example, you made a huge budgeting error, and now you’re in the hole for that much money. That’s a mistake of a different magnitude.

It’s is going to be complex before you even get started. It will take time to understand what actually happened. It may take months to solve the problem, etc.

But it still starts in the same place. Own it fully and disclose it completely, then dig in to the solution and learning.

There it is.

  1. Own it completely.
  2. Disclose it quickly.
  3. Solve it correctly.
  4. Learn from it thoroughly.
  5. Get over it appropriately.

Pass this on to your staff and friends who lead! 

This article was originally published at: danreiland.com

 

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

4. Discover Your Calling – Then Be Good at It

Every leader and church needs to discover who you are and what you’re called to do. Then, do that and be that!

Giving people something worth committing to isn’t a matter of competing with the big church down the street. It’s not about offering nicer facilities, bigger events or even better preaching. It’s about discovering what God has called you and your church to be great at, then being great at that.

Excellence isn’t limited to churches with big budgets.

There’s no excuse for second-rate. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.

5. Don’t Just Talk – Hang Out and Listen

No one wants a relationship in which one side does all the talking. We have TV and movies for that.

But even TV and movies are giving way to social media. One of the best parts about watching a show that has some social media buzz is chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook as it airs.

People want to engage with others, not just sit passively while someone else talks.

Sadly, the church does not have a reputation of being open to dialog – or to hard questions. And definitely not to criticism.

No, you don’t have to turn your sermon into a discussion group (although, some churches do that with great success), but there needs to be an easy and obvious way for people to engage, dialog, chat, hang out and feel like their life and their opinion matters.

And leaders, especially pastors of small churches, need to be engaged in those conversations. Listening, participating and learning, not just teaching.

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6. Keep Learning and Getting Better

I communicate, minister and lead much differently today than I when I started in pastoral ministry 35 years ago. In fact I do it differently than I did just ten years ago. And I expect to change at least as much in the next five years.

I now have over 30 years of ministry experience in addition to my formal ministry training. But that experience matters less today than it ever has. If I’m not constantly learning, listening and growing, I’ll fall behind very quickly.

But that shouldn’t intimidate us. Learning and growing is Discipleship 101. It’s central to being a follower of Jesus, let alone a church leader.

Jesus never made discipleship easy. He always inspired people to a bigger commitment by calling them to a greater challenge.

Too many leaders limit the expectations they have for their members to sitting in a pew and filling gaps in existing ministries. We think we can’t ask more of them because … well … they’re not even doing that!

But a lot of uncooperative church members and recently unchurched people aren’t as disinterested as we think. Like some of the rowdy kids in school, they’re not skipping class because we’re asking too much of them. They’re acting out because they’re not being challenged.

People are deciding that leaving church is better than being bored in church. I don’t blame them.

If we don’t challenge people through a genuine experience of worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, they’ll do one of four things: 1) go to a church that challenges them more, 2) go to a church that entertains them better, 3) show up physically, but disengage in every other way, or 4) stopping going to church entirely.

People want to go to a church where they’re challenged by something bigger than themselves and where their gifts are being used to further that cause.

If you ask small, you’ll get a small commitment. Ask large and your joy might be full.