It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Kansas City two years. Ellie was just two when we arrived and Annie was just a baby. We’ve had a marvelous time and would not trade the last two years for anything. Over the next few days I will be posting a few brief reflections from our time here and what they have taught me as a leader, husband, and father. I’ll begin today with my role as a leader. 

Prioritize people over process: It is so easy for me to get this wrong. God has wired me to naturally prioritize results over relationships and process over people. That’s not to say I don’t value people-quite the opposite. But if I’m not careful, I can appear to care more about the finish line than the people helping get us there. Good leaders love their people. Good leaders work to encourage their people. Good leaders develop their people. Good leaders prioritize people.

Believe the best of your people: I once had a mentor say that he works to

“believe the best about someone until they make it impossible to do so”

This advice should apply to everyone, but especially to your team. Get in the habit of assuming the best when things go wrong. When that frustrating email lands in your inbox, assume you misunderstood it. When that staffer doesn’t complete a task for you, assume they were busy doing something else. Believe the best about your team.

Be patient: Nothing happens as fast as you would like it to. People quit, strategies change, vendors go out of business, etc… All of these disruptions are part of life and a failure to anticipate them can leave you and your team feeling like they are always behind the proverbial “eight ball”. A patient leader sets realistic timeframes and sticks to them.

Know your environment: Leadership never happens within a vacuum. By definition, leadership happens within a particular context with particular needs. The role of the leader is first to understand and assess that context so he or she can begin developing strategy, etc…Get to know your environment by asking questions, reading old business meeting minutes, and developing a general curiosity about the organization.

Manage expectations: One of the most import things a leader does is set and manage expectations. Work to ask questions early in the process, communicate deadlines and expectations, and follow up to make sure everyone is on the same page. This is one of those things that is so easy to do and will make a major impact on those around you.

Execution is king: Jeff Bridges famously said “execution is everything”. Execution may not be everything, but it certainly is where the men are separated from the boys. To be sure, ideas, vision, and strategy are equally important, but they remain abstract concepts until someone does the hard, dirty work of execution. Build a culture that rewards faithful execution on your team. You won’t be sorry.

Define your values and protect your culture: Develop key values and reward and reinforce them often. We’ve created a list of 11 characteristics/values like grit, grace, creativity, competence, etc… I discuss these values at most all staff meetings and try to give recent examples of how folks in the room are living those out. This goes a long way towards affirming your values and establishing a healthy culture.

Simon Sinek was right: In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek argues that great leaders inspire action by starting with why action needs to be taken in the first place. Learning to incorporate context (see above) and the “why” in daily conversations with staff anchors daily tasks in the vision and inspires deeper commitment and effort.

Over communicate: I’m convinced that it is impossible to over communicate within an organizational context. As for communicating your vision, develop a clear vision, mission, and strategy and communicate it until you are blue in the face. Talk about it in meetings. Integrate it into discussions and white boarding sessions. Teach your employees to answer questions based on your vision. Communicate it in different venues, in different ways, in meetings and in email. Constantly keep your message before your people. It’s the rudder of your ship.

Know your priorities, and then protect them: It is difficult to overestimate how important this is. Whether you are a team of two or 2000, every member should know what the organizational priorities are. As the leader, your job is to keep these priorities before your people and protect them from other distractions. Every organization is tempted to let the good eat the great, but the leaders job is to help keep that from happening. Know, communicate, and protect your priorities.

Keep calm and carry on: Leaders set the emotional tone within an organization and will respond as you respond. Learn to keep your cool, laugh at honest mistakes, and keep the team moving forward.

Learn to find your worth and identity in Christ alone: To base your identify, worth, and joy upon your “success” or perceived effectiveness as a leader is to guarantee personal instability. Christ frees us from this, enabling us to lead from approval, not for it.