Leadership Mistakes: Moving Too Slow

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I had a nickname in high school: Slow Motion. Care to guess where it came from? Well, it wasn’t my speed. It was my lack of it.

I’m a big guy. Back then, I was just a tall guy, but I’ve never been quick. As a result, my lack of speed constantly haunts me. Okay, that may be a little extreme. But you get the idea.

In leadership, however, one of the mistakes we are often tempted to make is moving too slow. This happens for two main reasons:

  1. Fear – We worry about dealing with the fallout from the change. If we upset the apple cart, how can we be certain the end result is worth the struggle in the middle? Often times this is the equivalent of saying “I don’t want to diet because I’d have to worry about being too skinny.” If the change needs to be made, don’t let fear of the outcome hold you back.
  2. Ease – It’s actually easy to not upset the apple cart. It’s easy to keep the status quo, even if the needed change would mean higher productivity in the end!

But, what are the benefits of not allowing fear and ease to cause us to move too slow? Simple: progress.

When we learn to fight against the urge to move too slow, then we start to see progress. We are able to develop more people. We are able to move more people forward. We are able to stand up to our fear and apprehension because we have experienced the other side.

Naturally, there’s a balance between moving too fast and moving too slow. So ask yourself two question: 1) which side do I lean towards? and 2) Does it seem to work to my benefit?

If your answer to the second question is no, then guess what? You need to start trying to move the other way. If you’re naturally a “wait and see” leader and find yourself constantly regretting your patience, then start moving toward action. The same is true if you’re an action oriented person who regularly leaves a trail of bodies in your wake.

There’s always room to grow, but the question always comes down to: are you willing to evaluate in order to grow?

Leadership Mistakes: Moving Too Fast

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The first football game I ever played was in 7th grade. We were a small school, so our junior high only had one team, and I played the majority of the game. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the game, but there is one thing I think I will likely never forget.

Our running back broke for a big run and was running down the sideline. He had already passed all the defenders and was home free to score a touchdown. Until something went wrong. As he was running, the ball popped up out of his arms.

To this day, I still have no idea how it happened. It was all so graceful–his run, his speed, the ball effortless popping up as my friend continued running. I’m sure there were some issues with how he was running or holding the ball, or both. But all I knew was he fumbled, and it was funny.

I am now just over six months into a new position in a new ministry, and there are some things I’m starting to realize about my own leadership. Today, the first one: moving too fast.

Timing is delicate. Waiting for the right time requires experience and intuition, neither of which come effortlessly. Even someone with intuition learns to trust it over time.

There has been one element of the ministry where I am where I feel like I was running down the sideline and the ball popped up. We were moving along, and I thought I could see the straight path to where we would end up, only to realize the progress may not be as fast as I had hoped.

But that’s okay, because that means we get to re-evaluate and re-calibrate. So often, the element that keeps us from moving at the speed we think we should move is exactly what needs attention in the moment. Address the need, move forward.

Find the balance between stalling and addressing the need, though. Occasionally, some people and elements will resist movement and, dare I say, need to be dragged along. But more often than not, taking a moment to address the feelings in the room and evaluate the direction provides a solid way to continue moving forward.

What situation do you find yourself facing today? Are you possibly moving too fast, in need of a moment to stop and pick up the ball before you move further along? Are you willing to do that? Leaders have to be mindful of the people they are leading and how to help them move forward.

The Practice Field

The Practice Field

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Football. I grew up in a time before turf fields were readily accessible to small high schools. That meant two things: 1) our main field was grass and had to be watered to be maintained; and 2) we had a practice field.

Now, our practice field was slightly more than dirt. We would utilize every spare patch of grass for tackling drills, just so we didn’t get unnecessarily scraped and cut on the dirt.

Now, schools have turf fields and I regularly see high school teams practicing their game field, which makes perfect sense.

But I realized something yesterday. There’s a disparity between practice and performance. Growing up, I think people expected we had spent time practicing during the week, but the crowd showed up for the performance.

If you do the math, we spent significantly more time on the run down practice field than we did on the lush game field. Why? Because our development in practice meant success in the game.

Let me say that again: Our development in practice meant success in the game.

The same is true of leadership. The amount of time I spend preparing myself to lead through reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, and seeking to learn from other leaders helps me develop as a leader. My development outside of leadership situations means success in leadership situations.

The same is true with student leaders. Throwing someone into a leadership situation is a tried and tested way to grow their leadership, but if we want their leadership to multiply, it happens away from the situation as we either prepare them beforehand, evaluate afterwards, or some combination of both. Put another way, their development in practice means success in the game.

How are you developing yourself? What are you doing to develop your leadership understanding? Have you built leadership development into your rhythm?

What about those of us who lead students? Are we preparing them for leadership? Are we helping them grow by being intentional away from the opportunities?

The Pendulum Swing

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I think there are two types of people in the world: those who have a plan before starting something, and those who build the plan as they go along.

Maybe it’s more of a pendulum arc, where the you are somewhere on the swing of the pendulum, but it’s possible to display a little bit of both.

When I was in my early 20s, I valued my ability to shoot from the hip. As I’ve gotten older, I value preparation and forethought, but I still land on the “let’s throw this up in the air and see where it lands” side of the arc.

Starting something new can be challenging. For me, someone who values a little chaos, it’s hard to anticipate the speed-bumps encountered by those we lead. That’s what happened this past week.

We are in the building phase of a student worship team at my church, and had our first practice on Sunday. My goal going in to practice was to try to discern, in the midst of the chaos, where we were as a group. I walked away encouraged and ready to move forward.

Then I got the text. One of the students was overwhelmed in the moment, created a not-based-on-reality scenario in their head, and was ready to step down.

At the core, it was my fault. I did not prepare them fully for what I was looking for in practice, once again letting key information get trapped in my head (click here to read a previous post about this). The result: frustration, fear, worry, and ultimately feelings of inadequacy.

Would this student have felt these things regardless? Possibly. But did I do everything I could have done to help them prepare? No.

So maybe my pendulum hasn’t reached where it needs to reach.

I truly believe there’s no perfect balance in this. I think we have things that make us strong. But, I do believe if we allow ourselves to completely neglect one side, we start to alienate a lot of people along the way, and our influence diminishes. Ultimately, if we only embrace our strength, then we only lead people who operate like us, thus diminishing our leadership capability.

What about you? Where do you land on the arc? Do you swing to the side of “everything needs a plan and a purpose”? Or do you swing to “step first, look second”? How has that benefited you in the past month? How has it hurt you? What change do you need to make this week?

Reframing Student Leadership

Reframing Student Leadership

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I saw a youth ministry related facebook post the other day asking how the collective hive mind selects student leaders. I think this is an extremely legitimate question, but one that needs a quick reframing.

Let me start by zooming out. The bottom line when it comes to leadership development is that I am not the only person interested in developing students into growing leaders. In fact, depending on their extracurricular activities, I may be one of multiple people interested in helping them expand their leadership influence.

As we zoom in, however, we start to see a few key differences. Of all the people in a student’s life who want them to grow as a leader, I may be one of a select few who are interested in teaching servant leadership, and more specifically, servant leadership as modeled and taught by Jesus.

So, when I look at a room of students and want to select a few student leaders, my approach is a little different. I have written about two key traits for student leaders previously (you can read that here), but one of my criteria is willingness to serve. If a student is unwilling to serve, then neither of us grow from the time we spend.

I watched this play out first hand. I used to think if I saw leadership potential in a student, they would benefit from me calling it out of them. But there was a flaw in my approach. I was calling something out of a student who wasn’t willing to serve, and as a result their commitment level was abnormally low, and even started to resent me for expecting them to show up.

Now I take a different approach. Most recently, I have students fill out an application and sit down for an interview before joining the leadership team. If a student is willing to put forth the effort of filling out an application and scheduling an interview, then we have an agreement there will be a time commitment to what they’re doing.

I cannot call something out of someone who is unwilling to grow.

Guilting a student into leadership misses the point.

Only allowing the popular kids to lead misses the point.

Establishing leadership as a higher rung misses the point.

On Thursday I will continue this thought, but for today let me ask you to join me in considering this: is your approach to developing leaders around you a healthy one? Are you willing to make the changes necessary? Are you willing to keep what needs to be kept?

Watching leaders grow their leadership influence is one of the most exciting parts of what I do. But that doesn’t mean everything is a win. I have had to adapt over the years. Maybe you need to do the same thing.

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