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Never Forget: Leadership is Earned

I find far too many organizations today paralyzed by a single deadly disease:  Leaders who expect their people to follow orders without evidence or justification – as if being the leader somehow places you above defending decisions like everyone else. In companies, you hear executives say:  “Trust me…”  In churches, you hear pastors say: “I feel God told me…”  In non-profits, you hear leadership say:  “I’ve been doing this for a long time so…”  But no matter which excuse you hear, be very careful.  Those types of phrases aren’t said to build support and teamwork, they’re used to shut it down.

Great leaders can back up their decisions, and if they can’t, they tell you why.  I’m a great believer in experienced, discerning, intuition.  There are many times great decisions fly in the face of the evidence.  Sometimes you have to go with your gut.   I’m also a believer that occasionally God does reveal prophetic insight. But especially in those times, you have to explain your thinking, allow your team to evaluate it, and buy in – or not.

Raw honesty can make you a stronger leader.  In those cases, simply confessing,  “Hey guys – I have no idea why I feel this is right, so help me here” can be the smartest thing you can possibly do to build trust with your team.

But too often leaders simply dismiss their team and expect them to take orders obediently like robots.  But only the most insecure leaders pull the “Trust me,”  “God told me,” or “My experience says,” cards when they don’t really have the answers.  The minute you say anything like that, you’re telling your team: “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I can’t let people know it.  Plus, I don’t respect the team enough to ask for their advice.”

Being the boss doesn’t put you above justifying your decisions to your subordinates – and when you can’t justify it, don’t coat it in a thin veneer of expected trust, prophetic knowledge, or experience.

The privilege of leadership is earned. Be honest.  You’ll find far greater understanding and support.

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  1. Amen.

    Leaders who have to rely on position and power for compliance from their followers are one bad decision away from becoming toxic leaders …..

  2. Church is a volunteer organisation….Pastors like me need to remember this….it is driven by a vision of integrity….with no self seeking involved. Churches may initially flourish with a charismatic leader, but sustained growth takes integrity and shared vision.

  3. Phil, 

    Great Post! Having grown up in the church with my dad on staff and having been on staff at a church…all I can say is….GREAT POST!


    Great response as well. I have seen some churches get it right and remember that it's about God and it's about people….not the corporate culture.

    I recently read a book by Howard Behar who was the president of Starbucks at one point. The book was called "It's not all about the Coffee". In it he says "at starbucks we were never in the coffee business serving people…we were always in the people business serving coffee." If churches could wrap their head and vision around that one there would be a lot of changed lives and less corporate culture.

  4. Great post again, Phil.

    Perhaps the leaders you discussed would do well to study Skipper the Penguin in the 2005 movie Madagascar.   He takes charge, takes responsibility, makes things happen and when wrong or confounded, he admits it and insists his team help him get back on track as a leader.  Skipper the Penguin never gives up his responsibility to keep his team moving forward.  He is transparent, confident and real… uh hum, even though a cartoon character.


    My take on Christian leadership as witnessed in televangelism is that their escape from responsibility is doctrine driven.  Now, this website is not the place to discuss doctrine.  And it’s too bad, because Skipper Penguin has the right doctrine, and the wayward leaders Phil mentions don’t.

    To me it is clear that about seventy years ago the secular branches of technology, medicine, communications, travel, business, electronics, science, physics  and such really got going with a bunch of Skippers of Penguins who really advanced their fields of endeavor.  And their heirs continue in excellence and bless all mankind with secular advancements.  Look at the recent Mars landing!

    It is my hope that once the popular wrong doctrines of popular Christianity get fixed, new Christian Skippers of Penguins will have, oh maybe, seventy-five years of catching up to do.  Then they will bless their generation in their time, as King David did so long ago.

    But first these leaders have to realize there is a reason their rockets don't fly.  Then fix what is broke.  Then shoot for the stars.

  5. Teamwork and support is crucial especially if you are a leader. We definitely do not want "robots" who can only agree and not voice out their genuine concerns and opinions over issues. After a while, all you get is a group of disillusioned workers who find no true meaning/purpose in what they are contributing in the Church.

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