I've been involved in leadership for about 15 years now and I've got a love hate relationship with it. I used to be enamored by it because I'd go to conferences where leaders who had been deemed 'successful' would be paraded in front of the audience and would drop some recipe of why their leadership has worked and how if you'd just change to this approach, you'd see the breakthrough they'd experienced. Then they would go out to their merch table to sell their latest book. I wanted that limelight. I liked the allure of being a successful, innovative voice in the world of leadership.
But a few different attempts at implementing the "brand new, surefire, leadership innovation to change the entire organization" and finding that it rarely led to lasting culture change, I think I learned a few leadership lessons that won't get published in a NY Times Bestseller, by and large because they aren't sexy or instant, the two things that our culture demands. But I believe them to be true and hope that they will spur you on to stay the course.
1. Think Predictable. Not Spontaneous.
Often the charismatic, shoot-from-the-hip, innovative dynamo is the one who is championed as the successful leader. They overhauled everything, scrapped it all in one meeting and revitalized an organization or launched a new thing that just took off in spectacular ways. I see far more failure derived from impulse than I do victory. Successful leaders are the ones who embrace what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction". While many early adopters and pioneers will be drawn to the brand new thing with all the bells and whistles, the reality is that when the bells and whistles aren't new any more, many of these folks will lose interest. You can't keep creating a one-up culture that constantly puts pressure to upgrade from the impressive thing you did last time. That leads to exhaustion.
Instead, do the work. Hustle. Bust your butt to lay a credible foundation. Dig deep and make sure what you're doing can withstand adversity. Once you've laid a foundation, that is right, strong and true, then it is time to do the building. Day after day, brick after brick. It's work. It's not based on charisma, but on substance. And that is good because charisma runs out. Substance runs deep.
The more predictable patterns that I have put in place the more the people who are truly following my lead have dug in. Predictability breeds trust. If people know what they are going to get from a leader, they will go farther and deeper than the ones who are jumping on with the next, new and best thing. This doesn't mean "don't create new things". It means make new things that matter and are thoroughly thought through and laid out. I meet with those I lead with consistency. I ask the same types of questions. I hold them accountable for the same types of things. I love them and give them access in ways that are unconditional and consistent. They know what they are getting. And simultaneously they are seeing what they should give to those they lead.
2. Think Painful. Not Easy.
The one constant companion of a good leader is pain. Most folks have a weird type of A.D.D. when it comes to pain. They'll do everything they can to AVOID, DELAY, and DENY the circumstances and decisions that are difficult or may hurt feelings. Too often the primary wedge between where leaders are and where God wants them to be is the pain they are unwilling to endure. The hard conversation. The removal of that program or that person. The personal changes that have to be implemented. Leaders who are desperate to be loved by everyone will sacrifice purpose to keep people pleased. Leveraging leadership necessitates pain. And I'm convinced that leadership is a thousand deaths.
While we avoid conflict and pain, we embrace complacency and arm's length transparency, both of which stagnate and infect the organization. The short term pain for the long term gain seems like a no brainer in the abstract, yet time and time again, I avoid having the heart to heart, holding to account the actions and behaviors that have been clearly laid out as expectations, and removing the person or the program that is proving detrimental to the organization's health and momentum. What is the painful thing you've been putting off that is limiting your effectiveness as a leader/organization?
3. Think Relational Equity. Not Brand Equity.
I feel as though I speak for a growing number of folks who are growing increasingly weary and wary of brand hype. Polish the image. Update your style! I'd much rather have relational loyalty than brand loyalty. The problem with relational equity is that it requires transparency, time, trust, interaction, investment, love. Some have deemed these words as inefficient. But Jesus had it right. Give me 12 who will give it a go in the trenches of the battle over 12,000 who believe their own hype and I guarantee we will change at least a small corner of the world. Brand loyalty is all about trying to hype the thing so that you can find the market. Commitment to community (particularly community centered around mission) focuses on doing the right things long enough that the market finds you. Relationships change the world. Brands don't.