5 Leadership Axioms That Will Make You Better

It’s no secret that I’ve slacked on the whole “blogging” thing. Whoops.

Looking over last year, I’m fairly certain I only wrote 7 or 8 blogs. Whoops.

Sometimes, in times where words just aren’t coming, it’s best to take a break. It’s wise to listen instead of trying to speak words that just aren’t there. And that’s honestly how I would describe 2016 for me.

But, today, I’ll be breaking the silence and writing on something that I’ve always loved reading about, but never enjoyed writing about. Something that I’ve lived and learned and applied, but never taught. If the stat, “You remember 90% of what you teach to others,” is true, then it would make sense that we should be eager to remember the things that we hold dear to our hearts, right? I spend so much time reading about and studying this idea, learning philosophies, and trying to do what I’ve learned, yet never shared with anyone what I’ve learned.

The idea is leadership. The simple truth that someone can step up and take ownership, and change the game for an organization. Leadership is something to which I’ve been called and something about which I’ve read and learned for the past at least 10 years. It’s vital to the way a group of people move forward, whether in a religious organization, business venture, or even just a small group.

I’m no John Maxwell, Dan Reiland, or anywhere close to an expert by any measure, but I’ve learned and implemented these ideas, and sometimes failed while trying them. Here are my top 5 leadership lessons that I would love to pass on to you. I’ll be explaining these in the context of the church world, simply because that’s where I learned them and learned how to implement them. They work in any setting, and can take you to the next step in your journey as a person, organization, or business.

1. Do, then Delegate, then Develop.

We all want to get the job done, don’t we? Part of putting on a weekly gathering involves a great amount of putting your nose to the grindstone and cranking out tasks that make each week possible. But, as your gathering grows and expands, welcoming more people into your midst and helping them get to the next step, there will inevitably be challenges and hurdles as you accommodate these new guests.

We understand organically that if we want something done, we sometimes just have to do it ourselves. We have to bypass, at times, involving other people to get certain tasks done; these can be things that only we can do, like preparing the weekly message or designing your programming schedule, or things that we’re available to do at any given time, like setting up chairs, running audio cables, or making the coffee for volunteers. That makes us, in that moment, doers. We operate on the ground level of leadership, trust, and planning, maybe not necessarily knowing any other way to get it done, who we can task with this undertaking, or how to plan differently. There’s nothing wrong with being a doer, but it isn’t the end of the process; it’s just the beginning.

Growing in leadership means getting people to follow you, and by empowering others to do tasks that can free you up to step up your game in other areas, you take the next step in the process: delegating. Delegators walk a very fine line between being lazy and not wanting to do something, and wanting to see others grow. As a delegator, you have a unique opportunity and deep responsibility to show people not only what to do and how to do it, but why it’s important that it gets done and how it can help others. Let them watch you do it first, then walk them through what you did. Next, let them do it while you watch. Then, finally let them do it on their own with no supervision.

At this point, you have a choice to make: you as a delegator can either let the person you’ve taught how to do the job just stop at being a doer, or you can become a developer and grow them into a better leader. A developer always looks at the people they’re mentoring in any capacity and chooses to look beyond the surface. They look into the heart and try to develop people into better leaders, and ultimately better people as a whole. They’re disciplers with a leadership focus. They walk the faith journey with people further than any other leader would dare to do. Being a developer means seeing the best in people, and wanting to bring it out, all while teaching them to do for other people what you’ve done for them.

2. Attitude affects everything.

How you think ultimately determines how you act. We tell our team members, our volunteers, and those under us constantly that our attitudes matter. We engrain into the DNA of our trainings that how we perceive affects how we carry out our tasks. And by all means, we’re completely right in doing so. If we go into an event, a meeting, or a training with a sour attitude, then we set the tone of how our presentation goes. We determine what our leaders think about what we’re doing. We show them before anything ever starts how the situation will go. And if our leaders, who are our extensions and the main connection between us and the people in our churches, have sour attitudes, it’s almost a guarantee that everyone in attendance will have terrible attitudes, and therefore I would go as far as to say that we’ve failed as leaders and that that event is a failure.

But, if we go into a situation with a positive attitude, then we set the tone of how our presentation goes in a different way. Our leaders will see that positive attitudes, and they’ll share the excitement we have. They’ll go into the event where our people see their smiling faces, enthusiasm, and charisma, and our people will be excited about what’s to come. They make our job easy of leading the event, and they’ll carry the vision we cast and the charge we give with joy and responsibility.

You see the difference between the two scenarios? It’s drastic. It’s the difference between success and failure, all because of your attitude.

Start each event, meeting, or training you hold by choosing to have a positive attitude, and you’ll see a change in the way your people will lead others.

3. True leadership begins with service.

Brent Crowe, VP of Student Leadership University, begins every conference the organization holds with this statement: “Leadership begins at the feet of Jesus.” As the organization seeks to train high schoolers how to be leaders as they grow, the one thing they ultimately focus on is not standing out in front, but meeting the needs of those in their care.

Leadership looks like a blast from the outside; you get to do the speaking, the vision casting, the planning, etc., and you ultimately determine what happens at the church/in your ministry. But, when you break down the ins and outs of leadership, getting into the details and peeking behind the curtain, that’s barely even 25% of the job. The real work, the real action, the real day-to-day is actually serving people. It’s a lot of one-on-one conversations about the mess going on, and a lot of emptying yourself to help people. It’s messy. It hurts. It’s unrelenting. And it’s extremely satisfying.

It’s exactly how Jesus modeled for us: He washed His disciples’ feet. He fed them. He took care of them in the tough times. He served His people. And that’s what a call to leadership is: a call to serve. If we aren’t willing to serve, then we ultimately aren’t willing to lead.

In this model, I’ve learned that serving your people always looks different for each person you’re leading. Serving one person may look like giving them opportunity to step up and fill a role, such as announcements or introducing the event as it kicks off, and serving another person may look like asking them to step down from a role that’s distracting them from their relationship with Jesus. No matter what it is, at the end of the day, serving your people always looks like empowering to do what they’ve been called to do and letting them do it. If you aren’t doing that, then you’re not leading. If you’re placing someone in an area where he or she isn’t gifted or called, you’re walking a path that will lead to his or her burn out.

Serve your people. Take care of them. Love them. Pray for them. Call them to better things than they could ever imagine for themselves. Empower them.

4. Own it.

As a leader, responsibility is the factor that determines how high or low you go in elevation. The more responsibility you can handle, the further you advance your leadership. As a result, if you can’t take responsibility for both the good and the bad things that happen under your watch, you can’t lead well. Whether we like it or not, the way a task, event, or other circumstance that we commission to take place goes ultimately falls back on us. It doesn’t matter if we’re the ones who are working directly with it or so distantly connected to it that it only is happening under the umbrella of the church, ministry, or organization that we lead; if our name is attached to it as the one in charge, then it falls back on us for how it goes.

It’s really easy to own up to something that goes well. It’s easy to take credit for the things that are a success and garner the praise of those involved or observing. We can practically do that in our sleep. We want to be associated with things that win. But what do you do when something you’ve commissioned fails? Maybe even fails miserably and makes negative progress for what you’re trying to do? Do you step up to the plate and own up to the failure, or pass the blame to someone else? Do you walk into the meeting that your pastor, president, or executive has called to discuss the outcome of what you’ve planned and shoulder the weight of the failure, or try and explain why your assistant, associate, or intern messed everything up?

I’ve seen time and again how leaders, who have so much potential and so much clout behind their names, would rather keep their records clean and undefeated by throwing a loss on someone else instead of learning from failures and trying again, protecting their people from the pain and shame of being wrongly accused and hurt by the weight of failure (which was never their burden to bear).

You can spin failure all sorts of ways. This person didn’t do this task the right way. That person didn’t call to reserve the event space in time. This group didn’t come through with their commitment to set up. And it might be true that all those people did these things, but the harsh reality is that it ultimately falls back on you. The person didn’t do his task the right way because you didn’t tell him how to do it the right way. The person didn’t reserve the event space in time because you didn’t tell her how long you needed it on the day you wanted it, so she couldn’t book the space. The group didn’t set up because you didn’t give them all the information they needed to to get in the building and set up the way you wanted them to.

Own what you commission. Don’t pass the buck.

5. Fail.

This one is scary. I kind of touched on it in #4, but it’s so important in my leadership development that I want to give special attention to it. Failure is necessary to growing as a leader.

That seems contradictory. How can you move forward in your growth when, traditionally, failure is synonymous with moving backward or not moving at all?

I would argue that it’s the only way to move forward, and the only way to grow as a leader.

Failure is the best leadership teacher. It gives you something to look back on as you take the next steps in commissioning the next task, showing you what you should do now that you didn’t do last time, or what you shouldn’t do that you did. It gives you a plumb line to create a checklist for everything else that you do moving forward. It gives you credibility when telling other leaders why they shouldn’t do certain things when planning big events, or why they should always do certain things in the planning process.

Failure is a lens into our own souls at times. When we fail, we not only see the things that went wrong with the event; we see into the reasons why it failed, and more times than not it ends up being a pride issue. We were too proud to ask for help. We were too proud to give anyone else a piece of ownership in the event. We were too proud to let other people share in the win.

Failure isn’t fun, but failure is necessary to move forward. Don’t be afraid of failure; embrace failure with fervency. Welcome it, but don’t let it be more than a momentary guest. Don’t aim to fail, but don’t fail to aim for the best.

Be a leader that above all else is marked by a willingness to grow and learn. I would love to help you grow in your leadership, whether by conversations, having you spend time with me here in Nashville, recommending resources, or being a sounding-board for your ideas. Drop me a line, and let’s grow together.

Taylor Swift Is Doing It, And You Should Be Too

Our culture is fueled and driven by music, movies, and television.

With the Oscars and Grammys being one week after the other, the news is abuzz with who will win Album or Record of the Year, or Best Picture or Actor or Actress.

We’re still a few days away from the Oscars, but the Grammys were at the beginning of the week, and the results were somewhere between predictable and shocking. Alabama Shakes shocked people for Rock Album of the Year, Chris Stapleton took Country Album of the Year, and our beloved Taylor Swift won Album of the Year. Honestly, Taylor was the most enjoyable individual to watch.

But, it wasn’t about the fact that Taylor won Album of the Year that made her that way. She was nominated for two other Grammys, and her reactions to all three are priceless. Check out this HuffPost video:

Isn’t she just amazing? I have a major celebrity crush on her.

Why is this video clip important though?

We as people have a hard time celebrating other people’s accomplishments, even when their winning means us losing. We’re naturally sore losers. We royally stink at taking second place.

Yes, even us Christians. We are the worst losers out there. We sit there and claim Philippians 4:13 (out of context, mind you) and get all whiny whenever the opposition comes out on top.

Warning: I’m about to burst your bubble and say something you might not like. But, don’t stop reading. Please. There’s much more coming after I say what I’m going to say.

If you’re quoting Philippians 4:13 in order to say that you can do everything successfully you put your hand to in God’s name, you’re wrong.

Just like you wouldn’t read a sentence of Harry Potter without reading the ones before and after it, it’s unwise to read scripture with that mindset.

When we read verses like Philippians 4:13, it seems like the message is pretty clear: you can conquer anything as long as you’re doing it through Christ’s strength. And if you just read that verse, then you’d be right.

But, that’s not how scripture is supposed to be read.

Let’s look quickly at the surrounding sentences. Here’s what it says, with verse 13 bolded:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The true heart of these three verses is the second half of verse 11: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

The Apostle Paul, a man who used to persecute Christians for a living and miraculously repented and began following Christ by planting the majority of the New Testament Church, is near the end of his life when he writes this, and as he recounts situations in his life, he realizes that through everything he’s experienced, he was only able to get through it by God’s grace and provision.

In Christ and Christ alone, we can be content with our situations, whether they’re good or bad. We can find satisfaction in Him despite the disappointments and letdowns. The entire purpose of these verses is no matter what we’re going through, if we have Christ, we have the ultimate source of joy, peace, and satisfaction.

Regardless of the religious affiliation or involvement of Taylor Swift, she sets a really good example for those of us who are professing Christians. Even though she lost to them, she still was overcome with joy when her friends won. When she won, she wasn’t selfish in her speech; she used it to motivate and encourage others.

THAT’s exactly what we should be doing.

When our friends do well, we should rejoice with them. Even when they beat us out for something we’ve been working hard to achieve, we should rejoice. Yes, it’s okay to be disappointed, but we shouldn’t let our disappointment sour the fact that our friend, someone we care about, did well and earned something.

When we do well, we shouldn’t be selfish. We should be excited, yes, but we should be quick to admit that we couldn’t have gotten to where are without the help of others, and show our appreciation for our friends by saying so much as, “Thank you for your help, I couldn’t have done this without you.”

In addition to showing appreciation, we should use our wins to encourage others that they can win too, regardless of the circumstances.

Above all else, we need to understand scripture better, and in context. When we take verses like Philippians 4:13 and distort their meaning to our own agendas, we end up losing the power behind the words. Instead of saying that we can accomplish anything we do in Christ’s name, Philippians 4:13 tells us that in every circumstance, whether in feast or famine, abundance or absence, we can make it through only by Jesus’ strength and work within our lives.

There are so many more verses like that, where the original meaning is lost due to our perversion and twisting to our agendas. Eric Bargerhuff wrote a book called The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God’s Word Is Misunderstood, where he tackles the true meaning behind verses like Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 7:1, and Matthew 18:20. I highly encourage you to read it and learn more about the verses that are so common to us all.

We may not be Taylor Swift. We may not even have the ability to sing, or even carry a tune in a bucket. But, we can live in her example of rejoicing in the accomplishments of others, and responding humbly when we accomplish something.

When we win, we win because of Christ. When we lose, we still have Jesus to get us through even the worst of losses.


What was your favorite moment of the award season this year? (Grammys, Oscars, and/or Golden Globes)

North and South

Every region in the country has different perceptions and realities of institutions and organizations. There’s kind of an unspoken understanding and stigma about certain aspects of the society. I’ve come to realize this even more as I re-settle into the life and times of Tidewater Virginia.

While Virginia is considered the “South” as it relates to the Mason-Dixon Line and Civil War tradition, it’s fairly clear that life in Georgia, the deep south, is much different than life in Virginia, the northernmost southern state. That’s where I’m framing my reference; I can’t really speak from experience of any other part of America, simply because I haven’t lived anywhere else. In Georgia, especially Coweta County, the concept of a four-lane-highway hasn’t been embraced like Hampton has for Mercury Boulevard and Newport News for (parts of) Jefferson Avenue (Atlanta is a different story; urban development has implemented a need for larger roads, so I don’t consider the city a part of my claim).

But, to be fair, in Virginia, especially in Hampton Roads and other college towns close by, one thing I’ve noticed is that downtown is NOT somewhere you want to be after dark. The only reason you’re ever in downtown Norfolk or Newport News is because you have no choice but to pass through it or quickly do what you have to do there. Yes, downtown Virginia Beach is a safe and nice place after dark, but I’ll readily pass on being around the tourism district of the area. The downtown areas of places (mostly college towns) in Georgia like Atlanta and Athens; in North Carolina like Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill; and in South Carolina like Columbia and Clemson are pretty much thought of as the spots where the nightlife is. All the restaurants and bars, venues, and retail stores are there, and that’s essentially where all the “fun” happens. Also, the ideas and perceptions/realities of Greek life are completely different here in comparison to further down south (my experience is specifically with the Greek life at University of Georgia when I was dating a sorority member, and also as a spectator of Greek life at University of West Georgia, Auburn University, Old Dominion University, and Christopher Newport University). It seems to me like there is a difference in goals for the organizations. Before I continue, yes, I do realize and understand that the philanthropies exist and are prominent within each fraternity or sorority, so this is a complete outsider’s perspective. What I’ve noticed is that, as a whole, the southern Greek life has more emphasis on the camaraderie and social aspect, while the more northern Greek life has more emphasis on the mission and outreach associated with the philanthropy of the chapter.

I could point out the obvious that the further south you go, the accents are thicker, the driving gets slower, and temperature gets hotter, but I think that’s fairly obvious in comparison to the rest.

I admit there may be some skewed perceptions listed above. I’d love to know about why they’re skewed. I’d also love to know what some other region-specific differences are. Tell me!