The best leaders don’t just know the art of communication or of influence. They know themselves. They know who they are, where they’re going, and why they’re going there. This is harder than it sounds. People don’t get excited about confronting buried pain in order to understand themselves. They get excited about increasing productivity and sales, about growing bigger churches, and leading their kids to state championships. None of that is wrong. Results are encouraging. Whether you’re leading a family, a company, or a soccer team, we focus a lot on results because they’re measurable. They give us a metric for success. But I’m convinced that at the heart of every leadership crisis, you won’t just find a lack of results. You’ll find a leader who doesn’t know themselves.
The Difference Between Management and Leadership
Have you ever been in such a rush to get somewhere that you took a wrong turn? The pressure begins mounting, the curse words begin flying, and all you can think is, “Bleepety-bleep, I have GOT to get where I’m going!” In that moment, your biggest problem isn’t time. It’s direction. If you don’t know where you’re going, the amount of time it takes to get there, really doesn’t matter. This is one of the fundamental mistakes people make in leadership. They focus primarily on “speed.” They want to get things done quickly, efficiently, and effectively. Speed is an important part of leadership, but it’s not the sum total. I like to think of leadership not in terms of “speed,” but in terms of “velocity.” Velocity is speed plus direction. It’s not just how quickly we’re getting somewhere. It’s where we’re going and why. Think about this in parenting. We could spend all day barking orders: Get your backpack. Get your shoes. Pick it up. Put it on. Stop fighting. Do your homework. Get out the door. Go, go, go. Life moves at breakneck speed, but where are we actually going? What’s the goal behind the sports and school and spiritual disciplines? If you can’t answer that question, you’re not really leading your kids so much as managing their schedules. You’re a life coordinator, not a leader. It’s the same in business, church, and every other realm. If you’re constantly pushing people in a hundred different directions, just to get results, without any real concern for who they’re becoming under your leadership, you’re not a leader. You’re a people-manager.
Finding Your Identity as a Leader
Before you have influence on the lives of others, you have to have direction for your own life. What are your core values? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Have you processed the triumphs and traumas in your own story? How might God use your passions, gifts, and past experiences to encourage others? What is your calling? If I had a dollar for every time someone suggested I branch out, I’d own a lake house in Winter Park. People ask me questions all the time, like, “Have you ever thought about traveling and speaking? Or leading conferences? Or starting a mentorship program for pastors?” The truth is, No, I don’t really think about those things. It’s not because they’re unworthy endeavors. It’s because I know who I am. I am a local church pastor. This is how God’s using my story to help others, and it’s what I want to do. I want to build the best church in Central Florida that God and I can possibly build. And for me – if I’m able to do that – at the end of my life, that’s how I’m going to define success.
The Heart of Leadership
At the end of the day, leadership is care. You have to care about the people you’re influencing in order to build trust. The best leaders don’t just inspire people, they develop and empower people. Then, when conflict arises (and it will arise), people will fill in the gaps of missing information with charity of interpretation. They’ll trust your leadership even when they don’t completely understand it. This is critical. You don’t have to do everything perfectly in a church, a family, or an organization. But you have to have trust. This is not to say there won’t be people who leave your company or reject your leadership. There will always be those people. A long time ago, when I was first going into ministry, a guy took me aside and gave me one of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve ever been given. He said, “Whenever people are telling you how awesome you are, it’s not completely true. And whenever people are telling you how horrible you are, it’s not completely true.” These are the two loneliest aspects of leadership – the starstruck praise and the scathing condemnation. Both make you feel set apart from everyone else. But neither should define you. Know who you are. Do the hard work of understanding yourself, whether that work is done privately with Jesus, with a therapist, spouse, or friend. Take time to understand how God’s wired you. Take inventory of areas where you need to grow. Commit to working through your baggage, and embrace your calling. There is only one “you” on the face of this planet, and God has given you influence over someone else. How will you use that influence for His glory? Take your next step toward Christ and community, right here. Read more from Pastor Mike: