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If you could have one leadership quality, that would remain constant throughout your everyday life and work, what would it be?

As you know, there are many qualities that are necessary for effective leadership. The list is long: trust, compassion, vulnerability, authenticity, integrity, stability, hope, accountability, just to name a few. But there is one leadership quality that lies at the heart of effective leadership. That one quality is self-reflection.

As a Jesus follower, reflection upon the scripture, everyday life, and current events is a given. Being a person of reflection is who we are. So, why do we find it so difficult and painful?

Begin with Your Purpose

As a leader you know that everything begins with your purpose. Why do you do what you do? Related to your purpose, you then decide what you are going to do to fulfill your purpose and then you plan on how you are going to make it all come about. When you don’t take time to reflect regularly upon who you are and why you do what you do, you continually run the risk of either “blowing in the wind” without direction or bumping into tensions and failures that could have been avoided.   

The Power of Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is a humbling, yet powerful skill that helps you improve who you are as a person as well as your effectiveness as a leader. It is a practice that assists you in taking an honest look at yourself: your strengths, your weaknesses, and areas for improvement. It allows you the time and space to decide how you want to live and work in the days, weeks, months, even years ahead. It is not easy to admit you could have done something better, but it is in your own self-reflection that you can decide how you will live and lead differently from this moment forward.

To say it another way, self-reflection is taking time to think, contemplate, examine and review yourself as part of increasing your self-awareness.

An Illustration

Permit me to use a personal illustration. This week I am celebrating my 67th birthday. Over the years, I have developed the practice of reflecting upon my life and work as my birthday approaches. I believe God has created me to make a difference in the places I live, work, and associate with people. This past week, during my time of reflection, I asked myself, “Am I giving myself in the ways God has created me to give?”

In reflection of the scriptures, the stories of Holy Week were fresh in my mind. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Simon Peter denying that he knew Jesus. Judas betraying Jesus and feeling guilty. Pilate washing his hands of responsibility. The soldiers and the crowd taunted Jesus and cried out for his death. Jesus hanging on a cross, crucified.  

Thinking about current events, I reflected upon the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The 53rd anniversary of his assassination was on Easter Sunday. I reflected on the life of George Floyd and upon the life of the police officer who is on trial for killing him. I reflected upon the multiple mass shooting events over the past two weeks, the acts of violence toward Asian Americans, the continued politicization of wearing masks in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and the children and teenagers being detained at the border.  

Pausing at a Question

More than once, I caught myself thinking, “Would I have treated Jesus the way the people treated Jesus in these stories? I caught myself being judgmental and blaming others for the current misjustice and treatment of people in our culture.   

So, I confess, I have basically kept my faith private. I have a lot of knowledge about Jesus and his radical message of love. I have an abundance of information about the current events in the world in which I live, but I express my faith in safe and sterile ways. To put it another way, I do a lot of talking but not a lot of walking regarding my faith as a Jesus follower. 

Another Look at the Cross

So, I took another look at Luke’s story of Jesus on the cross. In Luke 24:34, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He was praying for forgiveness for those who were violating him because they did not know what they were doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” They have killed the Lord of glory in ignorance.

Forgiven for Ignorance?

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our hope is “Father, forgive them…”

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.” That is intentional ignorance.

The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, their only words were insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. Could that work for us?

Father, Forgive Us…

When we are filled with prejudice and we target and kill innocent people because of cultural differences or the color of their skin… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we use our power, position, or privilege as harassment, to keep others in their place… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we know that women are paid less for the same work, not promoted with the same skills, overlooked for being different…” Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When children and adults, bystanders, are killed by gun violence in schools, in parks, in clubs, in churches… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When medications are not available or too expensive because our health care is inadequate…” Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When any one of us remains silent when we know we should speak up and step out… “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

Can we be forgiven for our ignorance? “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

The Love of God

These words were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers. 

I have made peace with the fact that I may not see the full result of any ministry I have been graced to participate in. But I understand that I honor God by offering myself in living this way.  I don’t want to deny it or work against it.  I don’t want to turn away from the work God has for me to do. 

So, I am, again, committing myself to hold back evil, in all the forms it presents itself. I am committing to repair systems and structures, especially the church that has helped make me who I am. And I commit to be a healing agent for people who are broken and suffering. I am committing myself to be about the business of peacemaking. I will constantly be about the work of disrupting the façade of peace so the authentic peace of Christ can take root and grow. 

Please pray with me and for me as I grow into this stage of my life and ministry. Pray that I am who God intends for me to be at this point and time in history. Pray that I will make the difference God has created me to make.

Now, what about you? 

Self-reflection is not spending hours contemplating your navel. It is focusing upon what and who you value and deciding on what you are going to do about it.  It is not some intellectual exercise.  It is about being self-aware and becoming more who God created you to be. 

Four Questions for Self-Reflection

Here are four questions to ask yourself and to reflect upon:

  1. Am I being true to myself? It is easy to lose sight of what you value and why you are doing what you are doing. Your identity can become quickly lost in the paperwork, meetings, preparation, care, etc. These are all good and necessary aspects of being a leader. This question helps realign yourself with what’s going on around you. 
  2. Am I allowing the things I can’t control to stress me out? It is tough not to worry about the things of which you are responsible. Environments, factors and conditions outside your control all affect the eventual outcome of what you are trying to do. Live in the grace given in the moment. There will be grace for what you face tomorrow. So, place your energy on what you can influence. In other words, don’t use up so much mental energy in focusing on what we can’t influence. 
  3. Do I make time for those closest to me? What you do is important. But so are the people closest to you. They are your inspiration and your constant reminders of what you value most. By making time for those closest to you, you keep yourself in touch with everything that truly matters. 
  4. Am I achieving the goals I have set for myself? When you don’t know where you are going you usually end up there. This is one of the biggest shortcomings of leadership, you get so caught up in activity, which might be good, but it is not taking you where you want to go. Stopping and changing direction is not a sign of failure.  On the contrary, it is a sign of courageous leadership, no matter how far you’ve travelled in the other direction.

Remember

Your leadership starts with you. So, what one thing will you do this week that will help you reflect upon your life and work. What one step will you take to become more the leader God has created you to be?

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, we talk about Accountability. If your eyes just rolled or your heart rate started to speed up, join us as we reframe accountability as a way to grow, succeed, and innovate in life, leadership and the local church. Check out Episode 172 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Every day you face situations, circumstances, and people you cannot control. As a leader, because you cannot control these things, it is important that you understand and learn to control yourself. Your leadership depends upon it. Even though a lot of your effectiveness is determined by factors you cannot control, you can still control how you respond to them. 

This is why self-awareness is so important to leadership. You can not only improve your life but become the leader you are created to be by practicing self-awareness in your everyday life and situations. 

Here are three practices that will help you become a more self-aware leader. 

1.Focus upon the positive when in a negative situation. 

This might seem simplistic, but it is more than positive thinking. When you are fully aware of the negative situation or circumstance in which you find yourself, you then have the opportunity to decide how you will respond or how you can change the way you want to react. 

Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need help with an anger problem. You recognize that you do not like reacting before thinking and you don’t like the feelings you have after an expression of anger. You say to your trusted friend, “I have a quick temper, and it’s damaging my relationships.” 

Your friend says to you, “Show me your quick temper. Demonstrate it to me?”

What would you say? “Well, I can’t right now. It happens suddenly.” Or “I can’t right now, I don’t have the people around me who make me angry.” 

The question is “What is the problem?” If anger, uncontrollable anger was part of your true nature, it would be present all the time. Something that comes and goes is not a part of who you were created to be. Your emotions are not you, but they can gain control over you if you do not stop and reflect upon them and if you don’t begin to understand why you react the way you do.

Instead of focusing upon the negative, your anger, focus upon the people around you. Remember they are God’s children, just as you are God’s child. Each person has their own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Just as God, through Christ, loves you with your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, God loves the people who irritate you or pull your chain, or you get the point. Reflect upon how God loves you and responds to you.

This little added sense of self-awareness will not magically create a smile. It won’t keep you from getting angry, but it does provide you with the opportunity to respond in a more healthy and Christlike way. You can decide that being angry is not going to control your response. Once you become conscious of your emotion, it no longer has control over you.

2. Recognize who you are and the effect you have on the people around you.

You cannot control 100% of your life, but you can control how you react to the stuff you can’t control. To better react or respond to external circumstances, you must know and understand your preferences, resources, and feelings. 

Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need some advice with several situations you are facing. Some of them are personal and some of them are professional, but all are situations in which you need and want some help. 

So, you approach your trusted friend asking for advice. Your friend listens patiently. But when your friend tries to ask questions or offer some direction, you interrupt to interject your own thoughts, beliefs, solutions, not allowing your friend to finish many sentences. 

After a while, your friend offers you a cup of tea. When pouring the tea, your friend continues pouring after the cup is full, causing it to overflow.

You say, “Stop pouring. The cup is full.”

Your friend stops pouring and says, “Today, you are too full of your own opinions. You want my help, but you have no room in your own cup to receive my advice or direction.”

Too often, we hold unconscious beliefs and opinions that make us rigid and closed-minded to learning and to expanding our awareness of the people around us. Self-awareness is knowing your preferences, resources, and feelings and being open to learn new ways of looking at the situations and circumstances in which you are living and working.

Understanding who you are and how you affect others allows you to react differently to the people around you. It is with such understanding that you can decide whether something angers or irritates you.  Please know this is not always easy, but it has a big benefit to self-awareness. 

3. Learn your emotional triggers.

When you know what triggers your reactions you are better equipped to deal with negative emotions. 

This might be the most important aspect of self-awareness.

Let’s think of it this way. What do you do when you are angry, disappointed, or not taken seriously? Do you bottle up your emotions, keep them to yourself, pushing them deep inside, until you can’t hold them any longer? It is like holding a beach ball underwater. You can push it down beneath the surface and you can hold it there. But, without a lot of effort and energy, it usually forcefully pops back up to the surface. It is the same with suppressed emotions. The emotions surface at the most unlikely times and in inappropriate ways.

Have you ever reflected upon a reaction that was not appropriate? At the time, you might not have been fully aware of what was going on with your emotions. But afterward, you thought you could have handled the situation differently. You could have known what triggered your reaction and refocused your response.

It might seem silly, but you have had your feelings hurt. You feel bad about it. You want to reach out and react. Instead, you hold on to your hurt feelings and turn the event into something bigger and nastier than it really was.

If you are not self-aware, you might lash out and explode.  Your reaction only amplifies the negativity.  Emotions, especially when expressed negatively, tend to increase in heated situations.

When you know what triggers your emotions, you can learn to control your emotions.  When you are self-aware, you are able to stop your reaction and begin to respond in more appropriate ways.

When you start to rationally question your own emotions, you are much better prepared to get rid of the negativity inside:

  • Are you truly angry at the other person?
  • Are you reacting to your own insecurities and fears?
  • Why do you need to say hurtful things? 
  • What’s in it for you? 

Self-awareness helps you to ask these questions in difficult times. This can be very challenging, but by simply being aware of your emotions and what triggers your reaction, you can improve the quality of your life and your ability to lead with courage.

Who You Are Is How You Lead

At this point, you might feel like you are in a therapy session.  One reason you might feel this way is because it is so important to you as a person and as a leader. 

This is what I want you to do this week. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect upon the situations and circumstances of the day. Reflect upon one or two of the following (no particular order): 

  • The meetings you attended,
  • The people with whom you had interaction,
  • What you have said and done throughout the day.
  • Celebrate what has gone well.
  • Give God thanks for what you have learned.
  • What could have been done differently?
  • If I had been aware of my feelings, would I have said anything differently?
  • Have I offended anyone?
  •  Who do I need to contact to express appreciation for helping me become more who I am created to be?
  •  Who do I need to contact to ask forgiveness for my lack of self-awareness?

This exercise is a powerful way to develop a healthy self-awareness. As you develop the practice, you will add your own questions to better assist you in the process. Becoming more aware of who you are and how you respond or react will help inform your path towards self-awareness and growth.

I already know it is not an easy process. Sometimes it can be painful. But you will develop the most important quality needed in leaders today. Your positive impact will live on far after you have completed your work at this time in history. 

Remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Curnell Graham. He turns self-awareness inside out and invites you to focus on God-awareness. Check out Episode 168 – Self-Awareness as God-Awareness. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

When making a list of the most important qualities of a leader, you might include vision, courage, integrity, focus, organizational skills, and the ability to communicate clearly. Each of these qualities, along with a dozen others, are needed by leaders and wanted by followers. But according to those who study leadership, the quality that should be at the top of the list isn’t any of these obvious characteristics. The most important ability a leader should have is self-awareness.

Self-awareness 

Self-awareness often gets overlooked because we see the consequences of it, but we don’t identify it as the cause of those consequences. For example, we all want leaders who are good listeners, who can see both sides of an argument, and who know when to delegate and when to take a more hands-on approach. The skill behind each of those capabilities is self-awareness.

Regardless of how much you know, how many workshops you have taken or seminars you have attended, the very heart and soul of your leadership grows out of your understanding of who you are and why you are a leader.

Who Are You?

Let’s think of this way.  What do you think about when you reflect upon the question, “Who am I?” Do you describe what you do? Do you identify yourself with your occupation or a position you hold? Do you identify yourself with the friends and family, or what you have accomplished?  

You might say, “I am the CEO of my own company and I live with my family in Upper Arlington.” Or “I am a student at The Ohio State University, and I am graduating with honors.” Or I might say, “I am a district superintendent in the United Methodist Church, and I oversee 120 churches in central Ohio.”  

Each of the statements are true, but none of the three statements identifies who you are or who I am. The reality is you are not what you do or produce. You are not the positions you hold, the degrees you have earned, or the money you have made. Yet, for most of us, we rarely take the time to reflect upon the real nature of our existence, of who we are, and how we are perceived by the people around us.

Self-awareness Begins with Who You Are

Self-awareness is about learning to understand why you feel what you feel and why you respond or react the way you do. Once you begin to understand yourself and your actions you then can change things about yourself. As you begin to understand yourself you have the opportunity to become the leader you were created to be. 

Having clarity about who you are and who you want to be is empowering. It gives you the confidence and courage needed to make the changes.

Describe Yourself

If you are still with me, try this little exercise. Think about describing yourself to another person without mentioning anything about the external things that are in your life. Don’t mention what you do, positions you hold, your friends, family, degrees, etc. Focus only on yourself. Reflect upon how you feel and how you respond or react to the people around you. Identify your strengths, what you do well, and what you don’t like doing at all.

This might not be an easy exercise, if self-reflection is not a part of your daily routine. You might get caught up in irrational thoughts and beliefs and begin to tell yourself that this exercise is foolish or a waste of time. You know, both might be true, but the story you are telling yourself affects the way you perceive yourself as well as affects your feelings and actions toward being a leader.   

If self-reflection is a part of your daily routine, you might begin to understand your thoughts and actions in a way that helps you better relate to and empathize with the people around you, especially the people entrusted to your care.

You Are a Child of God 

When you better understand yourself, you are able to experience yourself as a unique human being, a child of God. And in all humility, you can admit that you are good in who God created you to be. You become aware of what you are good at doing while accepting what you still must learn to become a whole and complete human being. This includes admitting when you don’t have the answers or taking the responsibility of your mistakes.

Too often, many of us operate on the belief that we must appear as though we know everything all the time. When you are not sure of who you are, you become intimidated when someone questions your ability or challenges your leadership. 

If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that really the opposite is true. Because whether you acknowledge your weaknesses or not, everyone still sees them. You highlight your weaknesses when you try to hide them. This is one of the pitfalls of poor leadership. In trying to hide your weaknesses you create the perception of a lack of integrity and lack of self-awareness.

Leader, Know Yourself

As a leader who is self-aware, you know yourself. You know who you are and from where you come.  You know your strengths and weaknesses. You know what you hold as valuable. You are aware of your personality traits, interests, talents, and skills. Becoming self-aware is a process that occurs through intentionally reflecting upon who you are and how you relate to others.

So, are you ready to make some time for self-reflection? 

First, think about the story you tell yourself about who you are. 

Use these questions: 

  • What events have been most impactful or defining in your life? Identify at least three. 
  • What emotions, values, strengths, mistakes do you observe. Are you able to name them and to own them?
  • What words do you use to describe your feelings and behavior?  
  • What have you learned about yourself that can make you a better leader? 

Self Reflection

Your reflections will be both positive and negative. The events you name might be the loss of a loved one, a job opportunity that challenged your capabilities and self-perception, or witnessing a key social or political event. Take your time to feel what you feel. Name it and own it. It is who you are or at least has helped shape who you are.

Second, ask a trusted friend, colleague, mentor, or coach to assist you in the following:

  • To listen to your reflection upon the insights and lessons you have learned.
  • To give you feedback to gauge the accuracy of the self-information you gather.

Use these questions to help with your conversation:

  • If you had to tell this person your story, what would you include? 
  • Ask this person how they perceive you? What emotions, values, strengths, or mistakes do they see in you? How do these match, or not match, with the ones you identified? 

This exercise can be a powerful way to discover what you have to offer as well as what might be hidden deep within. Becoming more aware of who you are and how you respond or react will help inform your path towards self-awareness and growth.

The Leader You Were Created to Be

Some people spend lots of money to go through this process. All I am attempting to do is to assist you to become the leader you were created to be. If you choose to enter a time of self-reflection, know that you are not alone. It will not be easy, and it might be painful, but you will develop the most important quality needed in leaders today. Your positive impact will live on far after you have completed your work at this time in history. Who you are is how you lead! 

Remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we highlight five aspects of self-awareness that are essential for courageous, Christ-centered leaders in daily life. Check out Episode 167 – 5 Aspects of Self-Awareness. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together

In a few days it will be a year since we entered the COVID pandemic mode of living. During that period of time, you have made significant shifts in just about every area of your life.  Whether it be working from home, home schooling your children, not gathering in public spaces, or leading through Zoom, YouTube, or other forms of social media, you have given yourself to be the leader God created you to be. 

It has not been easy. 

You have taken risks, been vulnerable, and courageous as you have faced each day and situation. I am grateful for your faithfulness.

Understanding Our Relationships

One of the shifts, which will turn out to be a good shift, is our understanding of relationships. Before the pandemic, we spent a lot of time and energy on being right or having the right beliefs, or living the right kind of lives. These aspects are important, but one good effect emerging from the pandemic is relationships are more important than being right. 

I know that sounds simple and naïve, but what have you missed the most over the past year? I might be projecting here but being in the presence of other human beings has risen to the top of the list for me. The pandemic has shown us, again, that Jesus did not come to teach us “right” theology but came to redeem our relationships with God and one another. He saved the world by teaching twelve partners how to be in a relationship with each other, how to get along together and to belong to one another. 

Surveys show that relationships are rated as the greatest source of happiness. In a study conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres, adults when asked to rate five aspects of their lives (relationships, health, personal fulfillment, financial status, and leisure activity), relationship to others and oneself was ranked as the number one ingredient in a quality life. 

Are you surprised?

Relationships in a Pandemic & Post-Pandemic Culture

Relationships are central to Christian theology because God is love and love is impossible outside of relationships. I know some of you will disagree, which is okay, but even the Holy Spirit was not a gift to individuals.  The Holy Spirit is a gift to the body of Christ. Let’s face it, whether you like it or not, we have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from one another. And when that dynamic is missing from our lives, we are not who God created us to be.

Think of it in relation to the church. When the church gathers, a relationship with God, in and through Jesus, is possible that is present in no other arena of life.  In other words, you can’t have a relationship with God outside of a relationship with people. But it’s not “Where the church is, there is Jesus.”  It is just the opposite, “Where Jesus is, there is the church.” If God is present and in touch with us when we are in community, whether on Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, or the sanctuary, what does that look like?  Maybe another way of asking the question is, “What do dynamic, growing relationships look like in a post-pandemic culture?”

Will You Be Right or Be in Relationship?

Leonard Sweet tells the story of Tom Wiles. While Tom was chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, he purchased a new pickup truck.  While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door.  The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck exterior. A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?” 

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.” 

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?” 

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me.  After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor.  Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship.  Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.” 

The Scripture on Relationships

Let’s look at the scriptures.  From the perspective of Matthew, the first followers of Jesus were to teach others to obey everything Jesus had taught them (Matthew 28:20) with the assurance that Jesus would be with them. The question is “What had they been taught?”  

From Matthew’s perspective, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God or how to live a holy or righteous life.  For Matthew, at the heart of holy or righteous living was relationship. The words “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” is what Matthew wants us to know about living in relationship with all the people around us. Being in relationship with God and with one another is what it means to be a Jesus follower.  Being in relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care is the foundation of effective leadership.

5 Practices of Relational Leaders

Let’s think of it this way. 

Effective leadership is rooted in:  

1. Healthy relationships

Whether with family, friends, strangers, or enemies, you have been taught to be proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because loving others is who we are as Jesus followers.

2. Self-respect

Having respect for yourself means loving your neighbor as you have been loved. It means being a person of your word.  It means that you are integrated into your living, that what you are living on the outside in your relationships grows from the convictions of your inner life.

3. Seeking first the kingdom of God

Keeping God’s design of loving your neighbor in all that you do. Regardless of the situation or circumstances, being self-aware and keeping all aspects of life in a healthy perspective, even your relationships.

4. Caring for others in such a way that you are caring for Jesus himself

You are growing to the point that caring for others becomes so natural that you don’t even know that you are caring for Jesus.  You lead with care, not to become good, but because you are good.

5. Being proactive in forgiveness

Relationships are so important; your leadership is about investing your life in the people around you to the point that broken relationships are restored and become productive.

Develop Relationships

The instruction is “to obey” the things you have been taught. In other words, it is easy to talk about effective leadership, but it is not easy to develop the relationships needed to be an effective and courageous leader. There are times that you are vulnerable and times you “bite your tongue.” There are times you speak out and there are times you stop and listen. There are times you step out in faith with those you are leading and there are times you step out in faith alone trusting the One who created and called you to leadership. In the end, you become who God created you to be as you practice your faith. 

Last week, you were asked to consider developing healthy, unique relationships with people entrusted to your care as well as the people God sends to you. You were asked to answer one of several questions regarding who was responsible for you becoming a Christian. You were asked to write out your answer and send it to me. 

Your Next Step

Here is what I want you to do this week: Think of one person with whom you have had difficulty loving, forgiving, or sustaining a healthy relationship. 

  • Give God thanks for that person in your life.
  • Confess your need for a relationship with God and for a healthy relationship with that person.
  • Place that person, and the situations and circumstances in which you interact with that person into God’s hands.
  •  Ask God to heal your woundedness and to use you as an instrument of peace and love. 

There is no need to send me your situation or your prayers, but I would like to know that you have actively begun to restore broken relationships that stand in the way of you being the leader God needs at the point in time. 

Praying Together

O God, thank you for the opportunity to live and work at this time in history. I confess that I do not know what to do. But I do know I need you and I need the people you have given me to love and to serve. I place my relationships, the church, and the people around me into your hands. I pray that you will use me as an instrument of your peace and love. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Next week we start our conversations on self-awareness. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together. 

Do you have a heart for leadership? To seriously answer the question, you could go in several directions. 

To say “yes,” you could be saying you have the courage to lead as in “I am not faint at heart.” You know your heart must be in it to be a courageous leader. 

You could be saying you have the compassion to lead as in “I will hold you in my heart.” You know that one of the characteristics followers want in a leader is compassion. They want leaders who will hold them dear to their hearts. 

You could be saying that you have the empathy to lead as in “I have a big heart or I’m all heart.” You know that empathy is a key characteristic of effective leaders. It is essential you have a heart of understanding.

You could be saying that you have everyone’s best interest at heart as in “I am leading in a way that it benefits everyone.” You know that courageous effective leadership is not based upon your opinions but upon what helps people grow in their own hearts and minds. 

There have been times I have said “yes” with great enthusiasm with “all my heart” but I have lacked the basic understanding of what my “yes” meant. I answered from my heart without taking into consideration the full responsibility.

Do You Have a Heart for Leadership?

Do you have a heart for leadership? I know you do. Your heart is in the right place. I have seen you at work over the past 11 months. As difficult as it has been, you have not lost heart.  So, without getting too cheesy, I want to thank you with my whole heart.  Truthfully, I am grateful. 

Two weeks ago, we discussed developing relationships as a fundamental competency of good leaders. Last week we discussed a process you can use, as a leader, to focus upon the faith development of the people entrusted to your care. This week let’s bring those two things together. 

Every Heart is Unique

I recently had a conversation with a cardiac sonographer, the technician who performs echocardiograms. The conversation took place while he was administering the procedure. I asked him if he administered echocardiograms all day every day.  He answered, “Yes. Five days a week.” Then he added, “I’ve been doing this over 43 years.”  

Thinking about myself being in ministry for almost 47 years, I asked him, “There must be something interesting and rewarding about your work if you have been doing it over 43 years?” 

He responded, “I love it. It is amazing.  Every heart is unique.” He went on to explain some of the functions and images he looked for in the procedure.

I confess that I don’t remember much of what he said after his statement, “Every heart is unique.” Truthfully, I had not given much thought to the functions of the human heart. But his statement captured my imagination, not about physical functions, but how awesome to think that every heart is unique. Could it be that if every heart is unique that every relationship is unique as well? 

Healthy Relationships 

I’m convinced that at the heart of effective and courageous leadership are healthy relationships. Unique, one of kind, relationships. Because relationships matter in all areas of life, then each relationship carries its own value. Whether you are a pastor, congregational leader, parent, teacher, coach, business or community leader, each relationship matters.   

So, during a pandemic, when you are not meeting in person, face-to-face, with the people entrusted to care, how do you develop those healthy, unique relationships that are essential to developing the depth of faith needed for people to become who God created them to be?   

Developing Relationships

The questions below are offered as one way to help with developing those relationships. There are two sets of questions.  The first set is designed to help develop and strengthen the relationships of the leaders in your congregation.  For too long, we have worked with the assumption that the people serving in leadership positions know each other.  I have learned that is a false assumption.

The second set is designed to help initiate conversation with people who are not Christian or who do not have a church in which to call home but are people with whom you are developing relationships. 

Both sets of questions are designed to be used with people in business meetings, social gatherings, or groups where relationships are key and important. (For me, that would be in every group in which I am involved). The questions are designed to assist with the following:

  • Understanding 
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Storytelling
  • Prayer

Ideas for Taking Action

You can be creative in using the questions.  Use one question for each meeting as a way of helping people get to know one another.  The questions could be used for the Story Telling time we discussed last week. 

Use the whole set of questions in a retreat setting as you assist in developing depth in personal relationships.  You might even want to think of your own questions to ask.  The point is the development of healthy relationships by understanding the uniqueness of each person involved in the process. 

For the sake of clarity and time, give each person 60 seconds to answer each question. So, if you put people into groups of three, give them three minutes to answer the question. 

You might want to consider giving an extra minute or two when you ask the question regarding praying for one another.  You know your time constraints. Keep in mind the people with whom you are working.

What is important is, you are focusing upon the growing relationships and faith development of the people involved.

Questions for Congregational Leaders

This set of questions are to help develop and strengthen the relationships of the leaders in your congregation.  

  1. Who was one person in your family who was influential in you becoming a Christian?
  2. Who was one person outside your family who was influential in you becoming a Christian?
  3. When was a time you made a commitment to Jesus?
  4. What are you doing today to grow as a follower of Jesus?
  5. What gifts do you use to serve others? Where do you serve?
  6. How may I (we) pray for you at this time in your life?

In asking these questions, you might discover that not everyone grew up in the church or came to faith in and through the church. You might also discover that one person’s understanding of making a commitment to Jesus is not like your commitment(s) or the commitments of others. I am sure you will learn that not everyone understands how they are serving others or that there are persons serving in compacities unknown to you. 

Many times, in our meetings and gatherings, we pray for the needs and concerns of others and the community, but we don’t pray for ourselves or one another.  The opportunity to pray for one another is usually a powerful experience for people.

Questions for People Not Connected to Christ or a Local Congregation

The following set of questions is designed to help initiate conversation with people who are not Christian or who do not have a church in which to call home. 

  1. Who was influential in shaping you to be the person you are today?
  2. Tell me about a time you made a commitment? Why was it important to you?
  3. What are you doing to continue to grow in your life? How is your life improving?
  4. What activities bring a sense of joy or peace to your life? 
  5. During what activities have you had moments when you thought, “How did I do that?”
  6. With what activities have you thought, “When can I do that again?”

Why These Questions?

Remember, the point to engaging in conversation with the above questions is to initially develop a relationship with individuals.  Each person is a child of God, loved by God, and sent to you by God to be loved. “Receive one another as God in Christ has received you…” In other words, each person is unique and is a person of value and worth.  

Do you have a heart for leadership? 

To answer “yes” is to develop healthy, unique relationships with people entrusted to your care as well as the people God sends to you to love as you have been loved.

This week, I encourage you to answer one of those questions for yourself. Which question will it be? Write out your answer and send it to me. I look forward to hearing the uniqueness of your heart.

I know your heart might not be in it, but sometimes your heart follows your decision to participate. Do you have a heart for leadership? Show me with heart in your healthy relationships.

One More Thing

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Last week we had a conversation with Amy Graham. We focused on nurturing the gifts God’s given you and others and what it can look like to be a relational leader. This week our conversation is with Joe Geary. Our conversation focuses upon the beautiful as well as the messy aspects of relationships. 

This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together. 

When was the last time you were excited about your next meeting? Or you had members of your board excited about anything? Most of us think of meetings as necessary to get to what we want to accomplish. So, they become necessary hoops through which we jump to make progress or to succeed.

Too often, our meetings become energy-draining and monotonous.

Recent research conducted by Harvard University found that when leaders focus on building relationships, they create conditions that lead to higher levels of commitment as well as increased accountability, hope, and satisfaction.

In building relationships, you know that people are your business. Even though you have finance meetings, programs to develop, and buildings to maintain, your focus is upon people. With that in mind, relational leaders make a shift from administering procedures to ministering to people.

Let Go of Business as Usual

Think of it this way. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus asks his listeners, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9).  The people entrusted to your care are asking for bread. They are looking to you for trust, compassion, stability, and hope. They are looking to you to provide opportunities to grow in their faith. Too often what they find are invitations to attend meetings. 

Long parliamentary-ordered business-as-usual meetings. 

As a relational leader, it might be time to make a shift.

Make a Shift

So, take a moment to think about it. In what area can you make a shift? Just as an example, let’s take business meetings. How could you shift the focus of most meetings from procedure to people?

Let’s do it together. When people are your focus, everything you do, as a leader, is to assist the people entrusted to your care to become who God created them to be. 

So, shift your thinking and your action.

Let’s continue with our example of business meetings. Meetings are important and necessary. But I have always thought of meetings as a means to an end and not an end in themselves. So, how do you use what you have, meetings, to develop relationships, and to assist people to thrive with the gifts, talents, and strengths they have?

Stone-like or Bread-like?

Let’s start with the current reality. Too many meetings are “stone-like” meetings. They do not take into consideration the needs or aspirations of the people attending. 

They are repetitious, incomplete, and opinion-oriented. There is a rush to judgment, with decisions being made with inadequate information, little reflection time, and no prayerful discernment. Too many meetings are cut and dried, with the real decisions having already been made. 

The people involved feel like they have little power to act or lead. At best, they feel used and powerless. At worse, they feel marginalized and useless. I am sure my assessment is a little harsh, but you get the point.

Have your goal in mind. Shift the culture of the meetings from “stonelike” to “bread-like.” Bread like meetings are focused upon images of God and the people of God in relationship with one another. Provide time to prayerfully discern God’s leading and call. Integrate inspiration with procedure so the meeting will feel more like “worship” than “meeting.”

Offer Bread 

How do you get to your goal? The following four practices will assist you in shifting from offering stones to providing bread in your meetings.  Build your agenda around these four areas. They are not in any particular order and they don’t require the same amount of time.  Sometimes one practice might be more appropriate than at other times.  What is important is, you are focusing on the faith development of the people involved.

1. Stories or Story Telling

As you get started in the meeting, ask the people attending to share with one or two people where they have experienced God over the past 24 hours, the past week, or since the last meeting. Take time to acknowledge each story and pray for the person sharing. This will help people become more aware and sensitive to God’s presence in everyday and ordinary situations and circumstances. This also gives people the opportunity to share openly and freely about their experiences of Jesus and of God.

2. Reflection or Bible Study

Before the meeting, designate someone to read scripture and to make a comment upon it. The stories from scripture, when interwoven with the lives and stories of the people, produce a spiritual center and a missional focus. This provides an opportunity to reflect and discuss scripture without having a formal bible study.  This also provides a safe place for people to share openly and freely their images of God and of God’s love.

3. Decisions or Prayerful discernment

Just as you take time to pray for one another and for the concerns of one another, take the time to prayerfully discern the decisions to be made. Use a spiritual eye rather than a rational or deductive process. This brings prayer to the center of the meeting.  This also creates the understanding that decisions made by the group, on behalf of the community, are important. Everyone is affected by the decision.

4. Future Planning or Visioning

This provides an opportunity to look ahead, to anticipate the fulfillment of trends as well as the intervention of God.  Given the reality that a board can make only a few good decisions in a year, ask the question, “What is the most important decision that we have to make this year?” Pick two or three major decisions and develop a process for consideration that includes good communication, lead time, and prayer. 

Stories, Reflection, Decisions, and Planning

It takes a little time and not everyone will like the shifts, but given time, people will begin to experience that the agenda of each meeting is grouped into stories, reflections, decisions, and planning.  As the leader, you have shifted energy-draining meetings into faith development experiences. You begin to offer bread to all who are asking for bread. 

So, what one thing will you do to begin to make the shift from “stonelike” to “bread-like” meetings? Will you have a conversation with several trusted leaders? Or maybe, you will pray and seek a plan for making the shift? Will you share this blog with friends to gain new insight and direction?

I’m sure some of you will take a step in becoming a better relational leader.  I am also sure that some of you will smile and say the district superintendent doesn’t know my people or my context. You will be right about your superintendent, but not about yourself as a relational leader. 

This week, what one thing will you do to make the shift in your life to become a relational leader? What one thing will you do to improve your relationships? 

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Last week we talked about the four spaces you need to nurture relationships. This week, our conversation with Amy Graham focuses on nurturing the gifts God’s given you and others and what it can look like to be a relational leader. 

This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

The challenges facing you, as a leader, today are many and varied. We are living in a complex and demanding time. Not only has the world changed at an alarming rate, but you have done all you were equipped to do to meet the challenges. Whether you are a pastor, congregational leader, parent, teacher, coach, business or community leader you are looking for a way to make a difference with the people entrusted to your care and direction.  

When we reach these moments in life, we tend to look for rules to live by or principles to adopt. But the way to make a difference at this point in time is not through more rules, but through relationships. The biggest challenge we face today is in living disconnected lives. We are detached from God, from one another, and from creation. We are losing the art of living with one another.

Develop Healthy Relationships

Now, you might not realize it, but you already possess what is needed to meet this challenge. You would not be in a position of caring for others if you did not already possess the capacity to build and sustain relationships. I learned early in my life, when things weren’t working properly, to go back to the basics. I’m sure relationships are important at all times, but in times like these, the fundamental competency of all good leaders is developing healthy relationships.

Recent research conducted by Harvard University found that when leaders focus on building relationships, they create conditions that lead to higher levels of commitment as well as increased accountability, hope, and satisfaction.

To meet the leadership challenges of today, it is time to get back to the basics. You already possess what is needed to help the people around you become more who God has created them to be. You are changing the world as you develop relationships with love and grace and assist others to do the same.

5 Reminders for Healthy Relationships

Relational Leaders make a shift from “administering” procedures to ministering to people. Here are five things to remember as you focus upon building and maintaining relationships.

1. Grow in your Self-awareness

Self-awareness is not only knowing your strengths and weaknesses but is also knowing the impact that your behavior has on others. For example, let’s say you enjoy hands-on involvement with people entrusted to your care. 

To be self-aware means you would also realize that your hands-on style might frustrate people who also enjoy such interaction and who have been given responsibility for certain areas of ministry. Your behavior creates the appearance that you don’t trust or appreciate them or value their work. By considering your actions, you can adjust how you relate to the people around you.

So, if you are going to be an effective leader, take a step back to consider the realities challenges of the people around you and focus upon their strengths and skills as you understand and improve your own. That is why self-awareness and understanding are essential in building healthy relationships.

2. Delegate important tasks and decision making

Delegating helps to build experience and confidence in others. It also forces you to give honest, consistent feedback and to motivate and affirm people for their work. With that in mind, it is important to know the strengths of the people with whom you are working.

Effective leadership is not about overcoming weaknesses but is building upon the strengths of the people with whom you are working. True delegation is centered in knowing what strengthens the whole. This is where building relationships is important. You discover what excites people and you give them responsibility where they can and will fully invest themselves. It is in and through your relationships that you connect people to what truly makes a difference in the world.

3. Grow in your interpersonal skills

Effective leaders are able to negotiate and handle problems without alienating others. This requires understanding others’ perspectives and needs. You are able to develop a rapport with all kinds of people.

Have you ever known a school principal who is equally comfortable with students, parents, teaching staff, and school board? If so, you have seen interpersonal skills at their best. Here is where healthy relationships help you grow and mature as a leader.  As you interact with each individual and group, you are sharpening your skills as a leader.

4. Be collaborative in style

Effective leaders use listening skills and communication to involve others, build consensus, and influence decisions. It is easy to focus upon what you want to accomplish or what matters most to you. It is easy to fall into “I can do this better myself.” This often leads to using people as a means to an end rather than helping them become who God created them to be.

This is where healthy relationships help you understand what people hope to accomplish and what makes them feel as if they are truly making a difference. This is where you help people connect with the mission and invest themselves in it. On the surface, being an autocratic leader seems to bring greater results. But over time, the leader who values relationships and is collaborative builds support and can accomplish more.

5. Receive and give feedback 

Effective feedback is one of the best ways leaders can improve their relationship skills. Feedback lets people know how they’re doing, reinforces goals, and encourages engagement. When giving feedback, remember to be clear is kind. Make sure to focus on a single message, be specific, and sensitive. Judge the behavior, not the person.

When receiving feedback, remember to risk vulnerability. An effective leader will not only receive the feedback but will engage the people around her/him to incorporate appropriate changes. Being good at relationships isn’t a personality trait. It does not depend upon whether you are an extrovert, outgoing and good at conversation. A good leader listens and is open to becoming who God has created him/her to be. Even introverts can do that.  

Interconnected Relationships

We are living in a divisive world. Whether it is differing political views, theological debates, or just the way people were raised, our world is divided like no other time in recent history. Your effectiveness is no longer dependent upon whether you are relevant, use technology, or meet in the sanctuary. Your effectiveness is in your ability to adapt, evolve, and function in today’s complex and interconnected environment. 

There is no doubt about it, our churches and communities need effective leaders.  Leaders who can develop, cultivate, nourish, and adapt the relationships needed to navigate the chaos and confusion of today and lead into a new future. It is time to get back to the basics.

Your Next Step

This week think of one or two persons entrusted to your care. People with whom you live, work, or play. What is one thing you can and will do to improve your relationship with them? Remember, your effectiveness is in your ability to relate to the people and culture around you.  What one thing will you do to improve your relationships?

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out the LeaderCast podcast. This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships.  This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.