How to become a better leader
My goal is to give you practical ideas that you can use to cultivate the discipline of leadership in your life.
My goal for this article is to give you ten or so practical ideas that you can use to cultivate the discipline of leadership in your life. Let me say briefly, this is not a biblical theology of leadership. For instance, much more could be said about the role of prayer in leadership. And the ten points that I give you are not necessarily linear…we’re going to kind of jump around a little bit. But at the end, we’ll have a small package of instruction that comes together nicely.
Also, you won’t find inspirational stories or quotes that pluck at the “leadership” strings that are in all of us. That’s what fantastic biographies are for and that’s what movies like Braveheart and Last of the Mohicans are for. They strike at something in us in such a unique way, that it stirs us to new heights of thinking and dreaming. We identify personally with those glorious leaders.
No! My aim is much more humble! I want to do something more like opening a Lego instruction booklet and look at it together. It’s practical. There are concrete steps that you can take. And at the end of it, you have a clear result. To put it another way, if what we talk about today doesn’t change the way we act today or tomorrow or Monday, then we’ve missed our objective.
Grit and Resolve
You’ll hardly hear someone talk about the discipline of leadership who doesn’t at some point talk about grit or determination or perseverance. It is no doubt the key active ingredient for any recipe to leadership success. Calvin Coolidge said:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination alone are omnipotent.
(I know, I said I wouldn’t use quotes.) But how do you cultivate resolve?
In my thinking, resolution or resolve can be boiled down to this. To be resolved, is to be a decision maker . . . again and again. To be resolute is to be a decision maker. You are making a decision over and over to achieve your objective. And as Christians, we should have the greatest resolve in anything that we do because we have the greatest objectives. Objectives like this: What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever? And how will people know that we are his disciples? If we have love for one another. (John 13:35). Having those core objectives should give us a great advantage in developing grit and determination. Huge ideas are at stake!
So, using biblical principles, you’ll need to make a decision filtration system. You’re going to have a lot of stuff come at you in your different roles. And if you’re going to lead well, you’ll need to be able to handle those decisions with consistency. You’ll need to be guided by informative objectives that you’ve already determined. Your decision filtration system needs to be able to filter visionary-level concepts, mission-level concepts and ground-level tasks. This is how you increase your grit and resolve. To decide over and over that you’re going to accomplish what you set out to do according to your decision filter. This is your compass when you’re lost. And it gives you direction when you need it, whether the task is large or small; visionary or ground level. It’s not a lofty concept. In fact, it’s very practical!
Let me give you an example of how I filter decisions at work:
When a quandary or a dilemma comes to me at work, or when we need to make a policy, I filter the decision in this way.
My first filter is that all things must be done for the glory of God.
My second filter is that all things must serve my co-workers.
My third filter is that all things must benefit and serve my customers.
And in that order. (Yes, we look to serve our co-workers even before our customers. In the end, that’s what serves our customers best.)
These shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. In other words, if something is permissible and potentially God-glorifying and it potentially serves my customers well, but to do it that way routinely does not serve my co-workers well, then my decision filter is indicating to me that I’m not leading well because I am failing at one of my objectives.
If I work at Trader Joe’s, this might look like talking and interacting too long with customers when I should be stocking shelves. It’s potentially God-glorifying to talk with customers. The customers like it when I talk with them. But I’m taking so long that I’m not completing my tasks and therefore I’m not serving my co-workers well. I’m losing sight of what it means to lead.
Remember, we’re a third party looking in on this situation, so it’s easy to see immediately what the error is here. However, when you are the individual who’s been stocking shelves for six hours, it’s easy to lose resolve and kickback to talk to some customers instead of doing the task at hand. A leader is guided and balanced based on good objectives that steer him in the right direction. Also, notice that the decision filtration system prevents someone from being too focused on their work so that they’re not short with customers–because that violates one of the filters of serving the customer well. To be short with a customer is no longer serving them well and therefore not meeting the requirements of a leader who should succeed at his position.
This is how we develop grit and perseverance. Have a decision construct for how you approach life’s decisions and stick to it. The Scriptures are pretty clear about what your over-arching objectives are as a believer. Believe in Christ. Trust in Him for your salvation. Repent of your sins. Do all things for the glory of God. Love one another. And go make disciples. So apply what you know about those objectives to your situations and roles and persevere in that decision making process. That’s how you develop that grit…that stick with-it-ness that sees a task through to the end. That’s how you properly set your visionary goals.
To clarify, that is a decision construct for that particular role in my life. When I go home, I’m not asking what is the best thing for my customers? In fact, to be thinking too much about work does not serve my customers in the end! And it clearly does not serve my family! So, for my role as a husband and father, I would tweak that a bit…it might sound something more like:
All things for the glory of God
All things for the love and service of my wife
All things for the love and service of my kids
So, understand your roles, create a decision filtration system, stick to it and develop that grit that is needed to lead…that resolve to decide over and over to stick to your guiding objectives.
The opportunity to lead is constantly before us.
This leads to the next point, leadership is an ambition that ought to be strived for in whatever you do. Are you a father? Are you an employee? Are you a garbage man? Are you a plumber? Are you a city worker or in government? Are you a manager? Then strive to lead! The opportunity to lead is all around us. We do not have to be William Wallace to lead. We do not have to be the president of an institution or the lead pastor at a church in order to lead. You have several roles that you play in your life. Identify those roles. And identify ways that you can lead in those roles. It is helpful to identify the roles that you need to fulfill and spell out your objectives for those roles. Literally, write them down. E.g., husband, church member, deacon, business owner, etc.
Leadership looks a lot like curiosity and problem solving
Leading in those roles does not always look like a promotion or a raise or the opportunity to preach from the pulpit more often. Catch the importance of that sentence. Leading does not always look like a promotion, or a raise or the opportunity to more often take the public spotlight. Often times, leadership looks like being curious about the world around you and the roles available to you. Problem solve what is before you. Being curious and excited and enthusiastic about what is around you. When I’m recruiting, I’m looking for curious problem solvers. Because those are the folks that will most likely develop into natural leaders. Are there some closet shelves that your wife wants you to build? Then do it well, to the glory of God and to the service of your wife. Learn more about carpentry. You might not be a professional at it. But under your watch, as a leader, it will be done well! Be relevant and on point, but be curious and problem solve. Look for ways to improve life around you. This is part of having dominion over creation in your God-given work.