5 Behaviors of Leaders that do it the Hard Way

All leaders have blind spots.

We can’t see what we can’t see.

That’s not an indictment; it’s a reality. It’s part of being human.

I depend on close insiders to advise me, coach me, and tell me the truth. Without that, I’m nearly guaranteed to do most things the hard way. I’ll make and repeat avoidable mistakes, miss opportunities, and possibly – unknowingly hurt relationships. When I make myself accountable to a team, not only am I better, the whole team is better.

When leaders do things the hard way, the church follows the same road. The church can end up slowed, stalled or stuck. Like you, I love the church and hate to see it struggle when there is a better way.

Leadership in the local church is never easy, but there are specific behaviors that are relatively easy to avoid that will make your leadership journey so much more productive and enjoyable.

These five behaviors may speak to you personally, or perhaps this will help you coach a staff member or a friend.

5 behaviors of leaders that do things the hard way:

1) Leaders that don’t listen.

They lose touch with vital information. When people don’t feel heard, they feel devalued. Soon there is a distance between the leader and his or her followers. In time that lack of connection will cost dearly.

Listening is a skill, so it can be learned. In today’s fast paced, high tech culture, personal communication is more important than ever. It’s tough to be a good listener when you are under pressure and out of time, but learning to listen is nonetheless an essential skill for every good leader.

Good listening begins with empathy. It’s important to feel what the person is saying, not just catch the facts. Make a connection and identify with what’s on their mind. Then follow the basics. Keep an open mind, and don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t interrupt or get defensive. Ask good questions for clarification and understanding. And thank people for sharing their thoughts with you.

2) Leaders that don’t trust.

Maybe you’ve been burned, or perhaps it’s difficult for you to let go. Or possibly you have a gift of discernment and believe you have reason not to trust. Leaders who struggle with trust have difficulty developing people, building teams, and growing the church.

Trust is not a skill; it’s more like a gift. It’s something you extend by your will – it’s a choice you make. Reasonable trust isn’t blind, and prudence is appropriate, but ultimately trust is something you extend until you have reason to retract it.

In order to empower people, you must trust them with responsibility. It’s essential to believe in them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Trust always involves risk, and leaders must risk in order to take new territory.

Trust may not come easily to you, but practice trusting God (Proverbs 3:4-6). Then focus on trusting the leaders closest to you, and in time extend your trust to others.

3) Leaders that don’t ask for help.

When I was a young leader, I didn’t like to ask for help. I thought I should have all the answers. As I reflect on those early years, that’s just comical; I barely knew what the questions were! Looking back, I can cut myself some slack, as I mentioned, I was young. But when I meet seasoned leaders who still don’t want to ask for help, I know they are doing things the hard way.

Here’s the good news. People want to help! Whether you are asking for advice, looking for ideas, or asking someone to serve on a ministry team, people feel valued when needed. When you genuinely care about people, and you are devoted to the mission, they are honored at the opportunity to be helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask.

If you are fearful of a no, remember that if you don’t ask, it’s a no for sure.

4) Leaders that won’t change.

Resistance to change may cross the line from doing things the hard way to choosing to fail even if that choice is unintentional.

Candidly, I don’t think leaders resist change so much as they don’t perceive any margin to implement change. If you are overloaded, overwhelmed and overworked change is the last thing you want to embrace. If your church is busy, change is exhausting.

Change is about transition, and successful transitions require margin. Change often requires thinning out your calendar, and even some ministries to make room for change. You need time to think, plan, and communicate.

As you consider the areas in your church that are in need of change, begin to simultaneously reflect on how to create room or margin so that change can be implemented. (What can you cut or postpone?)

5) Leaders that don’t rest and play.

I think leaders are getting better at this. We’ve learned the extreme cost of consistent overwork and no rest.

There are times when we all must press the pedal to the metal and keep going. But the normal rhythms of life and ministry require rest and time to play.

Do you have a hobby? What is fun for you? Would your friends say you laugh easily and often? How’s your day off working? Are you grumpy at home or does your family love to see you?

It can be difficult to shut your leadership engines off for awhile in order to rest and play, but I don’t need to convince you of the wisdom here. My hope is to encourage you to be consistent, and I promise:

Your approach to these five behaviors can make the difference between your church getting stuck or your church growing!

18 thoughts on “5 Behaviors of Leaders that do it the Hard Way”

  1. Dan, I take time to rest consistently but I don’t really have a hobby. I do however love to laugh and I love to make other people laugh. I get A LOT of energy from this. If this “counts” it’s the best deal ever because I can engage in my “hobby” almost any time I’m around another human doing almost anything (including work). And it’s free (unless I make the wrong joke at the wrong time; that’s usually pretty expensive). Do you think I’m rationalizing what I really need to “rest and play” and need to find a real hobby?

    1. Laughter is the BEST medicine! It goes a long way to your health, rest and play. I do think some kind of focused energy other than work is helpful. The key is not to make a hobby a chore or another thing on your to-do list. It’s kinda funny, but many of us type A’s turn a fun hobby into an obsession — another thing to win or lose. Don’t let that happen! Pick something that you enjoy and and that’s it. For me, it’s collecting and playing guitars. I’m a lousy player, but it doesn’t matter, it’s fun. Sometimes I get “crazy” trying to get good. Then its no longer fun. I once had a guitar get frustrated with my lack of ability, and said to me: “Dan, I hope you are a REALLY good preacher!! Ha! That memory helps me keep perspective on what a hobby is for. Fun! That’s it!

      1. Roy Mansfield

        I think the fact that guitars were talking to you might also have been a sign that you were taking things a bit to far…

  2. Dog Lessons for People
    (copied from my vets wall)

    Be Loyal & Faithful
    Be Quick to Forgive
    Run & Play DAILY!

    sometimes, we gotta think like a dog. 😉

  3. Great article Dan! Perfect timing for an upcoming season; I’m grateful for your transparency and humility!

  4. Michael Higley Sr.

    Thanks Dan, always great insight…I pass your teachings to my staff and talk with them about it. I see # 3 being one of the problems with many leaders I encounter…especially in the Volunteer Leadership area.

    1. Glad these articles are helpful Michael! Leaders not asking for help is surprisingly common… often saying to me “I don’t want to bother busy people” — I always talk about inviting them into a vision of something so big they (volunteer) couldn’t do it on their own!

  5. Richard Faulkner

    Thank you Dan! This is my first time here having just got your book in advance of the leadership intensive this coming weekend. I am really needing a recharge in this season as a pastor and leader and hope to gain inspiration from your writing and blogs as part of my personal studies.

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