Harvest House Publishers
It’s a tough time in which to be a leader. Leaders today face difficulties that can perplex the veteran and surprise the beginner. It’s as if, just when we learned the game, someone changed the rules. Expectations and demands have risen to an all-time high. For many, it is a “do more on less, or else” world. For others, what worked in the past just isn’t getting the job done anymore. Virtually all leaders are feeling busy, buried, and behind with a to-do list that’s much longer than their day.
Peter Drucker, a respected business guru who tracks societal shifts, wrote,
Every few hundred years in Western history, there occurs a sharp transformation... Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself—its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structure, its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. We are living through just such a transformation.
In the past, yesterday’s successes provided the wisdom for tomorrow’s leaders. What worked in the past was copied, printed, distributed, and applied in the present. Success trickled down as our managers, mentors, and elders passed on their methods and techniques to the next generation. As time went on, however, leaders came to realize the old approaches were not producing the same results. Things had quietly, almost mysteriously, changed. Leaders responded by working harder, longer, and even muttering a prayer or two as they did. They were busy, buried, and falling further behind. They worked harder than ever, with little to show for it. It worked before, but why not now? Reflect on a parable with me:
Once upon a time there was a great lake. It was deep and wide and a source of great joy for many who grew up on the shores of the lake and explored its waters in their canoes. The local residents enjoyed getting out of their canoes to float or swim in the cool waters. Occasionally a novice or non-swimmer would drown, but the local residents learned to make sure everyone at least knew how to swim to shore. Life was good on the lake.
One day the great dam that made the lake possible developed a leak. The leak slowly but surely drained the beautiful lake. Eventually the residents awoke one day to find not the lake, but a river. The river had always been there, but out of sight. It was the source of the water that had formed the lake.
The river carried the same volume of flow, the same cool water as it always had. Yet without the dam, it was very different. As the boaters took to the river, many were surprised at its power and strange currents. Even good canoers struggled to go where they wanted to go. The lake had been manageable, but the river was a different story. Good swimmers soon learned that floating with this current could be fatal. And those who jumped overboard to refresh themselves in the water did so with tragic consequences. After a season, most of the people who had once enjoyed the lake chose to stay on the safety of the shore. They avoided the dangerous water—yet in doing so, they also avoided the joys of the water.
Leaders today face a far greater challenge than their counterparts a few decades ago. Whether you are trying to lead a church or a corporation, it is a different world and a tougher time in which to be a leader. Every leader knows this, but few know what to do about it. It’s time for a new plan for rafting the river. Twenty-first-century leaders must bid farewell to the good old days on the lake and now must lead through the rapids.
The safety of the shore is not even an option for most; it is sink or swim. Yet Christian leaders need not despair at the sight of the river or the unknown challenges ahead. Like a great rafting river, it holds both great peril and great promise. It is, at the same time, both dangerous and delightful, offering both challenges and opportunities.
The leader’s trusted tool is no longer the map of the lake, for the lake is gone. For this new journey the leader needs a compass and a sextant, or in today’s world, a GPS device! A leader must know how to pinpoint his or her current location, and be skilled charting the next steps forward.
Without clear direction, many leaders merely waste their energy. Like a panicked swimmer gone overboard, they beat the water and quickly tire out with little or no real progress to show for their effort. They are indeed busier than ever, only to discover they have been going in circles. They merely repeat their past and call it progress. Dr. Howard Hendricks, a longtime friend and mentor, once said to me, “Some leaders have 20 years’ experience, and others have one year of experience repeated 20 times!”
The eight principles of How to Lead and Still Have a Life are designed to make sure that can never be said of you. But before we look at those principles, we must answer a couple of key questions: Why are we so busy, buried, and behind? And why do past formulas for success no longer work today?
Peter Drucker was right when he said we’re living through a time of transition. Our society now thinks by a different paradigm and accepts a radically different set of assumptions about themselves, their lives, morality, and especially spirituality. To ignore these changes and lead as if we were still in the first half of the twentieth century is a deadly mistake. It is indeed like trying to navigate the rapids in a rowboat made for the lake. These changes are so many they could fill a book.
The environment in which we lead has been radically altered. Do you see how the lake has become a river? Just a few decades ago, Judeo-Christian values and a Judeo-Christian worldview dominated the thinking of the American masses, no matter what their personal faith. Being a leader in such a world was a challenge, but not nearly as hazardous as it is today. For us to try to lead as if the world hasn’t changed would be like launching into the biggest rapids on the Colorado River in a canoe made of toothpicks!
The pace at which life is being lived today is brutal. It’s hard to keep up, and when we choose to run with the masses, we only end up killing ourselves. How fast is it? I read a story reported in Newsweek magazine about the city of Ridgewood, New Jersey. The town was featured because the people there decided to set aside one day for everyone to rest and just be together as families. No soccer, no baseball, no activities, no conferences, no school meetings, no homework. This day of rest ended up getting the town into a national magazine! Now, they didn’t set aside a day a week; they set aside just one day. Even one day can help in the struggle to restore balance to their busy lives. Too often we keep living at such a harried pace that our busyness ends up having a negative effect on everything we do as leaders. The same is true whether you are a leader in ministry or in the marketplace. Life is faster, and leaders dare not ignore that. This small town, however, discovered less can be more, and we need to make the same discovery.
Rapid changes are taking place in both the marketplace as well as in ministry. What worked yesterday used to have a lifespan of “X” number of years. Whatever that “X” factor was yesterday, it has become a lot shorter today. That’s just the reality of the world in which we live, and it puts more pressure on leaders to stay on top of their game.
This reality is faced by every inventor, every entrepreneur, every professional or pastor. Products and services must change or soon end up without buyers. Churches must adjust, or the pastor will soon speak to a graying audience with no younger generation for the future. Yet how are we to stay “on the edge” without falling “off the cliff”? We will explore this tension, and its solution, later on in our LESS IS MORE principles for managing change.
People have higher expectations than ever before—in both the business world and in churches. This includes everything: what they expect from the church nursery, what they desire from the worship services, how the youth ministry addresses the tumultuous world of their teens. Expectations are up for every church that wants to be in business, let alone really flourish.
And ministry and the marketplace are not as different as you might think. The bottom line for both is service to survive—to please or perish. I have customers, and so do you. And if my customers don’t like the product that they’re getting, there are many other places they can go for the same product. And they are very quick to find a new spiritual outlet to meet their needs.
Studies have been done recently, for example, on denominational loyalty. It used to be that when people moved to a new city, a Methodist would go to a Methodist church, a Presbyterian would go to a Presbyterian church, a Catholic would go to a Catholic church, and so on. Whatever your background, that’s where you went to church. It didn’t matter all that much if the church wasn’t all that good.
But that’s no longer true. These days, people shop for the church that best serves the needs of their family. And they will go to the one they feel fits them best regardless of the denominational affiliation. The same is true for businesses. People are loyal only for as long as all their needs are met. Expectations are higher, and that affects every one of us who tries to be an effective leader.
Moral decay not only affects church leaders, its impact is felt by leaders in every segment of society—especially the business world. We’re all dealing with employees and customers, partners and peers, who are coming out of a confused culture that is in a state of moral decline. The rules have been rewritten and the number one rule is then are no rules. Except, perhaps, this one: Don’t get caught! “Business ethics” has joined the list of oxymorons such as jumbo shrimp and almost perfect. The corporate scandals of the last decade have unveiled the lack of integrity and honesty previously reserved for political and religious scandals of a decade ago or so.
This decay affects every leader because at the heart of every church, business, or team is people. People are the stuff of which your organization is made. Like parts of a machine, low-quality components mean a low-quality machine. Maintenance goes up. Productivity goes down. It is a fact of life. So it is with the business of leading people. Yet this is your world, and these are your people. God has called you to serve and lead them.
Today, we lead in a world that’s confused and searching for answers. Brokenness and addictions are so commonplace that they feel like the norm. Every time a member of your church or company goes through a divorce, struggles with a child on drugs, has an affair, contracts a disease, becomes clinically depressed, or simply decides it is now okay to lie, you as a leader catch the fallout. LESS IS MORE leadership, as you will read in the next chapter, calls leaders to make sure they themselves are stable so they can lead and live well in this morally unstable world.
Most Christians today affirm a desire to follow the challenge of Jesus to be a “servant-leader.” Even the business community recognizes the benefit of servant-leadership. Jim Collins’s bestselling book on corporate leadership, Good to Great, acknowledges from a secular research perspective that having a humble spirit or a servant approach to leading in business actually helps you succeed. We’ll see why when we explore the power of humility later in this book.
While being a servant-leader is great, it also stretches us. It requires a dual focus by the leader and creates what I call the servant-leader tension. Now in a general sense the tension that’s felt in the ministry is different than the tension felt in the marketplace. But at the core, they’re both the same. Let me explain, first by sharing from my role as a pastor.
When Jesus picked His first followers, He was choosing the leadership team who would launch the church. These small groups of men and women were to lead the charge to plant the church not just locally, but globally. Global outreach and growth was, and remains today, a key component of the mission and mandate for the church. Yet their leadership style was to be different than that found in secular culture. How different? Listen to His leadership training presentation:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to be first [great] among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 20:25—26).
According to Jesus Christ, great leaders are servant-leaders. They love their people enough to get down and dirty with them. They don’t lead from the tower; they get down in the trenches. They serve and empower their people. They use their influence and resources to knock down barriers, remove obstacles, and enable those serving under them. That’s servant-leadership.
And then Jesus challenged His key leaders, saying, “Here’s your mission.” Listen to their corporate assignment:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:29).
Now can you imagine starting a global company or mission from scratch, with just a dozen or so potential “branch managers”? And these future leaders didn’t even have churches to lead. The church had yet to be born! The clear mandate was not maintenance, but mission—to grow and expand the kingdom of God.
So, on the one hand they were to be servants, yet on the other hand they were to take charge and grow the company, expand the organization, enlarge the operation. Jesus commissioned them to establish branch offices in every single nation of the world. Now, He didn’t tell them they could take the next 3000 years to establish His work globally. He didn’t give them any time frame. He just laid out the mission and said, “I want you to go for it.”
Do you see the tension created by those two commands from Jesus? The first command tells us to be a servant, to care for our people. This could easily require all of our time and energy. Even in the first church I pastored, which had about 50 or 60 members, there were enough personal needs in people’s lives that I could spend all of my time just caring for them, discipling them, equipping them, and helping them discover how to live life, have a good marriage, raise their kids, love, serve, and worship their God. Just serving people, being a servant, is always a full time job.
At the same time, I could have easily given all my time, energy, and attention to fulfilling Jesus’ second command—go out, reach more people, and grow the church. So in a real sense, Jesus has given every leader in the church two full-time jobs: 1) care for the flock, and 2) go after new people for God’s kingdom. How was I to balance these two jobs? How was I to be a servant who took care of his congregation but also at the same time be a leader who spurred growth, and still have a life at the end of the day?
That’s the essence of the challenge every leader faces if he leads people. Here’s a quote not from the Bible but from the “bible of business,” the Harvard Business Review. Their entire December 2001 issue was on the subject of leadership. In this issue, the Review compiled and reprinted many of their most-often requested articles on business leadership—the best of the best. One of the articles had this great insight about leadership and followers:
Followers want comfort, stability, and solutions from their leaders, but that’s babysitting. Real leaders ask hard questions and knock people out of their comfort zones and then manage the resulting distress.
Now, this is not a quote from the Bible, but from Harvard Business Review. It’s not written from a Christian perspective, but it does accurately express the tension every leader faces. Your followers—whoever they are, whether clients or customers, or employees within your organization—make three demands of the leader: comfort, stability, and solutions. That’s what people want from you as a leader. They want you to solve their problems, comfort them, and provide stability. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking to meet these three expectations. In fact, great servant-leaders work hard to provide all three. The leader who ignores these universal needs may soon discover he is out in front all alone, with no one behind him.
But if that’s all you do, as the Harvard Business Review article says, you’re babysitting and not leading. You may be a world-class servant, but a failure as a servant-leader because you have forgotten the mission side of leadership. As the article said, “Real leaders... knock people outside of their comfort zones and then manage the resulting distress.”
It’s when we try to be both servant- and growth-oriented that we find ourselves stretched. This dual focus requires the leader to balance the caring for the present with the pursuing of the future. Every leader has current customers, employees, and structures that need to be maintained and kept stable. But if all you do is care for the present, eventually you will die. To survive and grow, you must also have dreams for the future and go after new goals. And watch out, because if you focus on your visions at the expense of caring for your present people and circumstances, you’ll end up with chaos on the home front. Both sides of the equation must be kept in balance. LESS IS MORE leadership cannot remove this tension; it will always be there. Yet we will learn that a healthy balance can be achieved. You can maintain and pursue your mission and still have a life.
As a leader, it is healthy for you to admit, “I am a limited resource.” You have only a certain amount of time, energy, giftedness, resources, and money. You’ve got only so much to give, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. As Christians, we have an omni-everything God. He can do it all. Nothing is too difficult for Him. By contrast, we are not omni-anything. In fact, we are omni-nothing. Compared to God, we are nothing. Now, it’s true we have the power of God’s Spirit living within us, and we have almighty God as our partner in our lives, but still, we are a limited resource. And as a limited resource, we need to have a method that will bring direction out of the madness we face as leaders. We may have all kinds of opportunities before us, but because of our limitations, we simply can’t go after all of them. So how can we best spend the limited time, energy, and resources we have? How to Lead and Still Have a Life will show you that leaders, as limited resources, must learn to simplify, reduce, and in fact “do less” in order to “accomplish more.”
Leadership can at times be energizing, but it can also be draining. It involves giving yourself away, investing that “limited resource” in a cause, a mission, a business, a task. And when you give of yourself, you become drained. You go home at the end of the day and you do not feel as fresh as you felt when you left that morning. So not only are you a limited resource, but the demands of leadership can leave you exhausted.
When we look at the life of a typical pastor, it’s easy to see why leadership can be draining. If a pastor wants to be a good ministry leader, he needs time to pray, study, be an ambassador to the community, and prepare his messages. He’s got to be a loving shepherd of people. He’s got to counsel people with problems. He’s got to develop and maintain a model marriage if he’s going to be any kind of an example. He’s trying to raise a few healthy children for the same reason. He’s got to do administration; the administrative demands can’t be ignored. He’s got to be able to plan and stay within a budget—not only at church, but at home, too. He’s got to be a disciple-maker. He can’t just win people; he needs to build them up in the faith. He’s got to deal with the unexpected crises that are part of life in ministry. There’s always a crisis going on somewhere in the congregation. And then he’s got to be a worship planner. He’s got to make sure worship happens well. He’s got to have a vision and plan for the future. He’s got to be a missions leader because the church must be concerned about the world. He’s got to stay well-informed about the moral issues in our culture and lead his church in responding to today’s moral decay. And then, at times, he’s got to be the on-site “copy repairman” and find time to download the latest virus protection updates for the computer!
That’s life for a pastor in the average church. And by the way, the average church has about 125 people and only one pastor, so yes, he does change the toner in the copy machine. Some churches are larger and have other pastors or staff people to help shoulder the burdens, but that doesn’t mean life is any easier in a larger church. Remember, larger churches come with more people, more programs, more staff management, and more things to fix! The answer, as we will discover in our LESS IS MORE paradigm, is to simplify and focus so you can lead more and manage less.
When I began teaching these leadership principles to business leaders, a friend interrupted me and declared, “Well, Dale, that’s your world, but I’m not a pastor or ministry leader. I’m in the real world.” Perhaps you coach a team, lead a school, or run an office. Then let’s look at your life, the Christian man or woman trying to lead and still live well.
First, you’ve got your job. This alone—with your commute time— usually takes a good 40, 50, or even 60-plus hours of your week. Then on top of these demands, if you’re a Christian, you need to study God’s Word. You also need time to pray just to survive! You need time to communicate with God. If you’re married, you best not forget time with your spouse. And if you’re a parent, you need to be teaching your kids and be involved with their schools. You must also pray for your kids because you know that teaching them isn’t going to fix everything. And when they don’t obey you, you’ve got to take time to correct them and deal with their problems. Then there’s your personal care, such as taking time to exercise and stay healthy.
You also have to keep track of your home budget and stay within the numbers because money doesn’t grow on trees, and there’s never quite enough. You’ve got to fix broken stuff, because if you own anything, especially a home, stuff breaks. I’m never quite sure if I own the stuff, or if the stuff owns me! There’s always something that needs fixing, cleaning, or replacing. And home isn’t the only place where crises arise. Problems crop up in the workplace, too. That means extra hours, often without extra pay. Then there’s the mails—junk mail, email, and voicemail. They all demand some time and attention. The list is endless, isn’t it?
You’ve also got to make sure you set aside time to go to church and worship. That’s a priority. What’s more, as part of the body of Christ, you ought to serve or help out somewhere. And you’re also needed to help support missions and alleviate world hunger and confront moral issues in America. And for the sake of your spiritual growth, you want to be involved in a small-group Bible study.
And, as one businessperson cried out at one of my seminars, “And don’t forget to download your software patches!” Patches and viruses are now a part of everyday life. No wonder we describe ourselves as busy, buried, and behind!
Does that describe your life? If so, no wonder you’re tired as a leader. There’s too much going on. Yet you could easily add another dozen tasks to my list above. All these little responsibilities are real and cannot be ignored. They add up quickly and fill up our lives until we cannot do one more thing.
Many of us believe more is the answer. We convince ourselves as leaders that the day we can grow a little more, make a little more, hire one more person, then our life will become more sane. Not so. I have never known growth to take away my sense of being overly busy and behind. Growth will, in fact, bring a new and more demanding set of problems. In all my years as a leader in churches that range from 28 members to over 6000, we have always needed one more assistant pastor and a few more thousand dollars. In every business, every busy leader feels a need for more resources.
So what happens when you get a little more money or one more employee? With that new employee comes more what? Demands. Problems. Headaches. Management. You see, growth alone does not fix the leadership challenges you face—unless you know how to respond to those challenges in the midst of the growth.
Why does growth alone not automatically restore balance to the busy leader? Because growth produces more work. As my churches grew, every new member brought a new set of needs. Bigger budgets meant more money to be managed, spent, and tracked. Bigger congregations required more classes, more teachers, more ministry care.
What about the business leader? With every deal you close, there’s a new relationship to maintain, a certain amount of follow-up that has to be done. With every product you sell comes a new customer to service. With every new step that you take toward your dreams you end up with more to do, not less. Success and the growth that follows can actually make your situation worse unless you know how to manage it correctly.
Our LESS IS MORE principles will offer you an alternate response to this invisible ceiling of “stuff.” The answer is not more, but less. The leadership principles modeled by Jesus Christ and the early church always boost the power and potential of the leader while guarding his or her quality of life. Jesus valued both effective leadership and an abundant, joyful life. Every organization can grow without destroying the life of the leader.
The eight vital secrets of How to Lead and Still Have a Life will enable you to break through your “stuff,” refocus on your main things,” and return to healthy growth with a balanced life. That’s the goal of our next eight chapters. You can lead and still have a life!
So far we’ve looked at nine facts of life for the twenty-first-century leader. And with each one, we’ve barely scratched the surface. With so much bearing down on us, it’s no wonder we’re feeling overwhelmed. But with the tenth and final fact of life for leaders comes some good news!
My tenth fact of life for leaders allows us to end on a positive note:
There is hope. Now why do I believe there’s hope? Because I believe God desires for us to have healthy and growing ventures, whether in the ministry or the marketplace. Now, I’m not saying every business or church should expect dramatic growth all the time. Sometimes you’re in a community or in a setting or circumstance that doesn’t really allow for dramatic growth to take place. But I am saying God wants you and your organization to be healthy. Don’t you think that’s true?
The question is, how can we make that happen? That’s what the next eight chapters are all about. I believe there is an approach to leadership that can multiply your leadership potential and, at the same time, protect your quality of life. Most of us have tried the more approach. Maybe it’s time to try less... less of everyone else’s demands on your life and more of God’s grand design for leadership and life.
The eight principles we’ll explore are all built on ancient yet thoroughly modern principles of leadership. They’ve survived the test of time, and they really deliver when put into practice. Each principle, when applied, will boost your leadership to a higher level.
It’s also possible for us to define LESS IS MORE leadership in a sentence:
LESS IS MORE leadership combines a Christ-centered philosophy of life with a proactive, dynamic system for leadership providing ongoing, lifetime guidance for the pursuit of professional success and personal satisfaction.
Let’s break that down into parts:
Christ-centered philosophy of life—The LESS IS MORE approach is not me-centered but God-centered. It is built on the worldview that God exists, loves you deeply, and desires to be a part of your life and leadership. No matter what your job or ministry, ultimately, God is the One you serve.
Proactive—LESS IS MORE leadership is not reactive but proactive, helping leaders regain control of what they do. It allows the leader to truly lead instead of follow, to act instead of react, to drive and not be driven by the pressures and demands of others.
Dynamic—The LESS IS MORE approach is not static but adaptive, changing with the leader and the challenges he or she faces. It also empowers, boosting leadership potential, enabling him or her to break through personal and professional barriers.
System—LESS IS MORE is not just about ideas but implementation. All eight principles are accompanied by specific action steps that will guide you beyond theory into practice.
Lifetime guidance—LESS IS MORE leadership is not just a book of the month, but a philosophy for life. These eight universal truths are useful at every step of a leader’s journey, and can propel any leader to higher levels of life and leadership. The principles speak to novices and veterans alike because the pursuit of excellence never ends for a leader.
Professional success and personal satisfaction—LESS IS MORE is not just about growth but also health. The eight principles will free you to pursue new goals and fresh dreams in your career, business, or ministry without sacrificing yourself or your family on the altar of success. You’ll learn how to lead with vision and still have a life.
Therefore, How to Lead and Still Have a Life is more than just a book filled with great-sounding quotes and ideas. These truths are not static but dynamic; you can return to them again and again as you map your future. They will provide you with new ways to think and act when you encounter today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. These truths, put into action, do not merely educate. They empower! They enable you as a leader and your organization to break through the overload zone and will enable you to begin to really lead...and love it!