When I was active duty, we would get sent emails entitled “Lesson Learned.” They would tell us about how people did their job poorly and the often catastrophic results. Every time there was a failure in leadership oversight. I wonder how often that is the issue in the church as well.
I have been reading a book on leadership called Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. If you are looking for ways to improve your leadership skills, I highly recommend it. While not a “Christian” book, it is one that I believe can be beneficial to everyone in leadership. From reading their book, I started thinking about my time in the Navy, and the best leaders I worked for and came up with 3 characteristics they all had in common.
1) The best leaders took care of their people
When I made E-6, which is a supervisory rank in the submarine fleet, my supervisor at the time congratulated me. My sleeve insignia went from 2 chevrons (for you lifelong civilians, think stripes, but upside down with an angle to them) to 3, and he used that as a teaching moment. He pointed at my sleeve and said, “those first 2 were for you, that third one is for your guys.” That always stuck with me, because I realized that with the added privilege came more responsibility to use my new-found rank to take care of the guys who worked for me.
As a Pastor I realize that I need to use the platform God has given me to shepherd those that God has sent to me. It is not only my responsibility to lead and hold our staff accountable, but to teach and train them. I have to take care of my people. That of course varies depending on the person, circumstance and context.
2) The best leaders lead from the front
I worked for a guy on the boat who was the first to roll up his sleeves and get dirty. He would work alongside all of us, no matter how bad the job. I remember we had maintenance on multiple occasions that was job-limiting that had to be done. On both occasions that I can think of, he was the first to sacrifice sleep to make sure the job got done. Sleep in the military is a scarce commodity, and no one likes to give up since we cannot ever get it back. That was a powerful lesson to learn since his attitude was that if he made the most money and was the highest ranking he should be the first to get the bad deal.
I have seen too many church leaders not step up in tangible ways. We should never be above sweeping the floor, doing some painting, picking up trash or any other job. We are servant leaders, not leaders to be served. People are so much quicker to step up when they know they have a pastor who will do the same. Look at Jesus, he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). That should mean to us that we are never above doing anything.
3) The best leaders take the blame, and give away the credit
I don’t have a real-life story about this, but it is something I have seen Belichick do on multiple occasions. After a rare Patriots loss, he always blames the coaching and after a win says that players win games. He notoriously holds players accountable, but understands as the guy in charge, whatever happens is ultimately his responsibility.
As leaders we should see this too. When one of your staff members does something well, give them credit. Tell them good job and encourage them. If there is a failure, hold them accountable and understand that as the leader we hold some responsibility in their failure too. Were they trained properly? Were they held accountable for mistakes they made prior? Even as the leader when we succeed, we must understand that we did not do so in a vacuum and that our people and those we lead aided in it as well.
Think about your experiences, both good and bad. What do you wish those who led you did different? What did they do well that you would like to emulate? How can we best leverage our call to lead to point people to Christ and glorify Him?