Think Like a Leader

Leaders think differently than non-leaders.

Leaders perceive life through a different lens. They process experiences differently and, by necessity, must “see around the corner” to anticipate the next and new.

To lead the way, you have to be out in front. That’s how you see opportunities, anticipate problems, and hear from God.

You don’t have to be out in front of everything within the church or organization you lead, but definitely regarding the most important priorities that will help the church remain spiritually vital, healthy and result in growth.


People who are out in front think differently than those who follow.

That does not indicate that leaders are better than followers, not at all, it does mean they’re required by the nature of their responsibilities to think in different patterns for very specific purposes.

Good leaders think daily and deeply.

Thinking like a leader, in its most foundational approach, looks like this:
(What a leader thinks about.)

  • Making Progress
  • Solving Problems
  • Helping People

My constant focus is about making progress, that is, growing a healthy organization by reaching people and developing people.

When you lead (make progress), you cause motion, and motion causes friction, and friction leads to problems that need to be solved.

The whole point is to help people.

It’s fascinating how easy it is to get caught in the machine, spend money, work hard, and not really make an impact in people’s lives. I have good friends who are part of churches who do the same thing, with the same people, over and over again. They are wonderful and Godly people, but not leading.

When I’m working, I’m thinking about how to make progress, solve problems, and thereby help people.  

This may be a helpful framework for you and the leaders you coach. Let’s break it down and see what that looks like in a little more detail.

1) Make Progress

In order to think about making progress, you need to start with vision and direction.

Where are you going, and how will you get there? It’s important to prayerfully think that through.

Making progress requires movement, and movement requires direction. It’s like taking a walk. You can’t take a walk unless you know where you are going. If you take a walk, but don’t know where you’re going, you will end up walking in circles.

Unfortunately, this is how some churches pursue progress. They are walking, they are busy, but they are not going anywhere.

If you head out for a five-mile walk (vision), I guarantee you have a plan (direction) in mind. You start at point A and end at point B. You choose a route, get prepared (put on your tennis shoes), and set aside a certain amount of time. You thought about it and made a plan!

Making a plan about how to walk from point A to point B is simple. Making a plan to lead your church from point A to point B is complex.

It’s complex because you don’t know what you might encounter along the way. You may encounter resistance, run short of financial resources, or experience conflict among leaders.

That requires solving a problem, a skill that will consume a large quantity of your thinking time.

2) Solve Problems

Effective leaders solve problems.

They don’t push them back up to their boss unless absolutely necessary, and even then, they always come with some ideas and solutions to present for consideration.

Leaders are not afraid of problems.

In fact, good leaders get very uneasy if life gets comfortable. If you are leading a church and there are no problems to solve, the only good news that I can tell you is that you are about to have a problem.

But that problem will be an unnecessary one that is related in some way to the church being stuck, not making progress.

Big problems related to a big vision and making progress requires serious, dedicated, and creative thinking. 

It may be a budget deficit, or a critical staffing issue, or a problem at the board level, whatever the case may be, good leaders, think in terms of solving problems. 

Problem-solving (related to making progress, not problems due to lack of leadership) usually consumes a significant amount of your time. There are three practices that will help you think effectively.

  • Schedule think time to solve problems.
  • Write as you think.
  • Test your thinking against wise counsel by seeking advise.

3) Help People

The point of spiritual leadership in a local church, the reason to burn all this think time, is to see lives changed for good according to God’s purpose.

Simply put, you and I want to help people, that’s what good leaders do. That’s God’s purpose and what motivates us.

This requires time in thoughtful prayer, asking God to grant favor and blessing to your work. When we meet with God for intimate conversation, we all acknowledge that as prayer.

In the same way, I believe that leaders also think with God.

That’s a unique element of prayer where you strive to get the mind of God, passionately seeking to know His thoughts about reaching people. 

He has given you a sound mind to think, but when it comes to life transformation, there are some big questions still to be answered.

For example, you can’t help everyone, so who does God want you to help?

There are many ways of reaching and helping people, and since no one church can do them all, which approach (ministries) does God want you to lead?

Loving people, helping people, and seeing lives changed is a lot about heart, but that also requires a great deal of focused thinking.

I hope you find this framework for thinking like a leader helpful.

20 thoughts on “Think Like a Leader”

  1. Julie Wohlers

    Thinking like a leader, in its most foundational approach, looks like this:l

    Making Progress
    Solving Problems
    Helping People

    Love this! Simple, precise and yet full of opportunities! 😊

    1. Cathi Williford

      Great article for business and churches…
      How well does this work to lead your children at teenage years and young adult.
      Please share your ideas.

      1. Cathi,

        I think the concept still connects, but of course it’s much more fluid in parenting, especially with teens. Yes, you want to “make progress” (see them grow and mature). That nearly always brings some conflict and challenges. But because your heart is to “be helpful” your efforts are hopefully accepted and appreciated. It just can’t be too mechanical. Every teen is different and needs space and time to mature and grow at their own rate.

    2. Thanks Julie.

      It is simple, but it is a straight-forward guide that everyone on the team understands.

    1. Good question Ken. Anticipating problems is part of solving problems. The best leaders can anticipate some problems before they are in full bloom, and by getting in front of it, solve it better and faster. However, it’s still problem solving. Then there are the many problems (opportunities) that are simply the result of progress, and cannot be foreseen. That’s where a big chunk of our time goes.

    2. Yes, anticipating problems is a more sophisticated nuance of solving them. Always best to see them before they hit! But not easy to do.

      Thanks Ken!

  2. This is a good thought provoking post. Does this lead to a process that you use to keep your “eyes” out front?

    1. Not a direct process, but the key is to focus on “progress” based on the vision. As a leader, you don’t have to be “out in front” on many things, in fact, just one or two at a time is enough. Much of ministry is sustaining the day to day, and caring for people. But to lead requires progress, and that requires “out in front” … so, the practical process question is, what is the next thing, and most important thing, that keeps you moving forward. Invest your time and energy there.

  3. Thanks Dan!
    I always look forward to reading your articles and sharing them with the leaders of Church Experience!!
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us!!
    Scott Davis

    1. Good question Larry.

      In the big picture, yes. Even if you deal with a product more than a service, people are still involved. You need to believe in the product and that it is helpful to people. And definitely yes if your business is primarily service oriented. There will always be a few financial differences. (Price tag vs. Donation) But strong business ethics apply to both.


  4. Love your stuff… maybe a little pushback from me to ‘flip the script.’

    Helping people (my 1st motivation)
    Solving problems (they always come)
    Making progress (moving the Church)

    1. Gary,

      I love your “flip” may try teaching it that way sometime.
      Either way, I think we land in the same place but I like how you see it.

      Thanks for your comments!

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