14-Point Check Up For Mistakes That Will Hurt Your Leadership

I just completed my annual physical.

Going through the process of a thorough check-up from head to toe is not much fun, but it’s a smart thing to do. My doctor is excellent and very thorough. He starts with my vital signs, does extensive bloodwork, and then checks for things that might indicate a health issue.

It’s a good idea to do the same thing as a leader. It’s best to focus on the positive things that will strengthen your leadership, but it’s also smart to check your habits against a list of things that could hurt you over the long-haul.

Leadership isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most rewarding endeavors imaginable. Leadership is more art than science, more fluid than structured, and more messy than clean. Therefore, any help we can get for a quick check-up is helpful.

That’s what I’ve written for you here. I could probably list 25 things, but these 14 are at the top and a good place to start. 

  • Which ones are you doing well?
  • Which ones need improvement?
  • How about the leader’s you coach?

You can take them through this as a developmental tool. Let them evaluate themselves, and then you ask questions that lead to offering insights and ideas to help them get better.

14-Point Leadership Check Up:

(These things will hurt your leadership if you do them repeatedly over time.)

1) Thinking small

Negative thoughts, feeling hand-cuffed or unempowered, and avoiding risk are all forms of small thinking.  There are so many competing agendas, voices that must be heard, and seemingly non-negotiable expectations that when mixed with limited resources and finite energy it’s easy to fall prey to small thinking.

I sometimes catch myself praying big but then leading small, that only happens when I think small. The same can be true for you. Pray big, think big, lead large.

  • In what area or circumstance are you most tempted to think small?

2) Jumping to conclusions

Fast is the new norm, and too fast can get you in trouble. There isalways another side to the story. Always. Take time to get the facts. Sometimes just (literally) counting to five before you say something, or press send can keep you out of hot water. In other situations, a few days may be required.

If someone pushes your buttons, don’t over-react. Instead, when you feel your amperage rising, intentionally power down a notch. It’s much easier to respond with wisdom when your foot is not in your mouth.

  • Do you consistently take the time to hear the other side of the story?
  • Can you resist speaking or reacting too quickly?
  • Do you find yourself interrupting others when they are talking?

3) Resisting change

You know that resisting change is a poor use of your time and energy both personally and professionally. If you don’t change, you can’t grow. And if you don’t innovate your ministries to keep up with the changes in culture, your ministry will get stuck.

  • What’s the last personal change you made and successfully adapted to?
  • What was your most recent change in how you operate a particular ministry?

4) Avoiding risk

It is possible to avoid risk, but you can’t lead and escape risk at the same time. It’s impossible to cast vision and make progress without taking some risks. It might be a big project or a tough conversation. You don’t need to take a foolish blind leap of faith, but you’ll never fully know the future; therefore, risk is required. Pray, trust God, plan, and lead!

  • Is there any risk you are avoiding?
  • What is the current risk you’re taking?

5) Starting but not finishing

I’ll let you in on a little secret, not finishing what you start frustrates the people you work with and lead. Being a self-starter and taking the initiative is good, but not if you don’t finish. If you do this often enough it can start to reflect on your character. 

If you have too many unfinished projects, it’s better to prioritize them and let your team know which ones you are going to kill so that you can finish the most important ones.

  • What important unfinished project do you need to finish?

6) Forgetting kindness

The longer I lead, the more I see the importance of consistency in kindness. Kindness in many ways represents the heart of God. Yes, leaders must be strong and decisive, but that doesn’t preclude treating people with a kind spirit. God delights in kindness (Jeremiah 9:24).

In another post dedicated to this topic, I wrote: “Kindness is an essential human quality that allows trust, connection, and genuine exchange to take place. Kindness brings peace and joy into pressure-filled situations. Kindness is not a new idea, but it’s often undeveloped as a leadership trait.”

  • Would people evaluate you as a kind leader?

7) Too busy not to pray

I know you want to pray, and if you have a strong prayer life, great!

If your prayer life is not what you’d like it to be, start by asking yourself, what is preventing you from praying? Do your best to push through the blockage. The best remedy is to start small. Take action by praying a brief prayer each day and build up from there.

Don’t get discouraged or heap guilt on yourself, take joy in a few minutes of prayer a day and let the amount of time build. God doesn’t keep a scoreboard on you; He just wants time with you.

  • Are you satisfied with your prayer life?
  • What simple change could you make so that prayer is more part of your life, rather than another thing on your to-do list?

8) Under-prioritizing the development of leaders

My last post was dedicated to this topic, and you can read it here.

Few things are more important than developing leaders in your church. In fact, next to the power of prayer and people being saved, I’m not sure anything is more important. Regardless of where you rank leadership development, I’m confident that you know it’s essential to realize the vision God has given you for your church.

  • Do you have a plan in action for developing new leaders?

9) Dreaming big, but executing small

This does not refer to “all talk no action,” that’s not a common leadership mistake. However, communicating big dreams without creating commensurate plans and strategies is common. That always results in poor or limited execution. You don’t need to dumb down your dreams, but make sure you build plans that can accommodate your dreams.

  • Do you have a good strategic plan in place?

10) Leading with a scarcity mindset

The best leaders are generous leaders.

They are not afraid of “running out” they figure out how to “make more.”

This idea does not imply a careless model of stewardship. It recognizes both the ability to be smart with what you have as well as the ability for you and God together to deliver more. The scope is not limited to money or the material world but includes greater breadth from the fruit of the spirit to a selfless nature. At its core, it’s about a giving spirit.

  • Do you see yourself as leaning more toward a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset?

11) Winging it instead of being thoroughly prepared

If we were in a room of church leaders and the speaker asked; “Who here has ever succumbed to ‘winging-it’ in a meeting or while giving a talk?” All hands would go up. It happens, but it’s an unwise thing to repeat and will catch up with you over time and hurt your leadership.

Preparation is one of those behind-the-scenes disciplines that is essential to great leadership. I honestly don’t know one great leader who has led well for decades, that does not consistently and diligently prepare for everything they do.

  • Would your colleagues see you as a leader who consistently prepares well?

12) Judgmental, resentful, or holding grudges

We know that judging, resentfulness, and grudges go against the core of the gospel, (grace and forgiveness), yet they still find their way into the hearts and lives even of some of the best leaders.

The most common paths are things like hurt, exhaustion, deep insecurity, jealousy, or a critical spirit. If you struggle here, this may require more than human resolve to change. Prayer and wisdom from a good counselor may be beneficial.

  • Under what circumstances are you most tempted to judge, resent or hold a grudge?
  • How do you best overcome that temptation?

13) No longer learning

Leaders are learners; they are life-long learners. The quickest way to irrelevance as a leader is to stop learning.  My friend and mentor John Maxwell has been leading now for about fifty years and to this day is a ferocious student. Every time we text or talk, John mentions something he’s learning, a book he’s reading or a new idea he’s thinking about.

  • Are you a student at heart?
  • What have you recently learned?

14) Operating without margin

This is one of the mistakes on the check-list that I need to work on. Saying yes is apparently a spiritual gift for me, and I need to say no more often, create margin, and focus better on my most productive priorities. How about you?

I admire the leaders I know that are laser-focused, even when they say no to me. I don’t like their no, but I understand it. Margin is needed to take care of your soul, rest and enjoy life. Margin is required to be at your best and do your best.

  • What area of your life most needs some margin?

So, how did you do?

Are there two or three you need to work on over the next few months? Don’t make your list longer than that. Just tackle between one to three at a time.

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