Top ten ways to be a great leader
George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Donna and I learned this firsthand when living overseas as a young married couple. We had the privilege of working in Vienna for a decade. Two of our four children were born there. What a great city to start your working career! When Donna and I arrived, we were one of the first five families to start a dynamic new project based there. Within a couple of years, we were up to about thirty families. It was so exciting to be part of a vibrant, entrepreneurial ministry start-up. Our mission was to train church and ministry leaders behind the Iron Curtain in communist Eastern Europe. Since these leaders had no access to seminaries, we launched a secret “seminary on wheels” that took the training to them.
About three years into our project, we began to sense major growing pains. We invited a management consultant to come in and spend a day with our top leadership. That’s how we found ourselves around that conference table, filling out 3x5 cards and learning that no two of us thought the same thing. There was a lot of confusion about our purpose and direction. Like the strings of a guitar that lose their tuning, we had lost our harmony as a leadership group. Never assume that everyone is on the same page with you.
You know you’re in trouble when the top leadership team is confused about fundamental issues, such as the core purpose of the group’s existence and where it should be going. Our team did not spend enough time making sure we were all singing off the same page of the hymnal. Our leader was the founder, and many founders fall into the trap of assuming that the vision in their heads is crystal clear and oozes by osmosis into every new person who joins the team.
This communication problem was exacerbated by the other big problem on our team: hallway decision making. Our small team all worked in the same office, on the same floor, down the hall from one another. We decided everything in the hallways. When a problem came up, someone would lean their head out the door and ask, “Hey, what do we do about this?” Pretty soon, we were all out in the hall making policy and setting direction—and not bothering to write anything down.
What was going wrong here? These were natural growing pains. There was a lot of confusion about what we were going to do next. We had an oral culture, and we were
guilty of routine hallway decision making. This was fine when you were new and small and all working at the same location: “Hey, I’ve got this problem; let’s all gather in the hall and fix it.” The problem was that because nothing was written down, there was no process, and confusion began to reign as more people were added to the mix. People who were not there at the beginning did not have the history of what happened in those hallways. Others joined the team at remote locations and in other cities. They were left to guess and wonder about a lot of things. Because of our success, we outgrew our offices and no longer shared the same hallways!
How would your team do with this exercise? Would your 3x5 cards all look the same? A small team can get away with an oral culture for a while. This is true of small businesses, new church plants, and most start-ups. But as you grow and succeed, not everybody can fit in a hallway anymore. Whether you like it or not, when you grow bigger and when your team is decentralized, you have to formalize communication systems and decision making. You’ve got to get out of the hallway. Things must get organized, and decisions have to be put on paper.
the second “e” in leadership
Did you notice that the letter “E” appears twice in LEADERSHIP? When I was mapping out this book, looking for the right words to put with each of the letters, I decided the first “E” would be for EQ, and this second “E” would stand for a topic equally important to your leadership: effective communication.
In this chapter, I will share four things that will help launch you as a great communicator. First, why is communication so important for you as a leader? So many people feel that their leaders leave them in the dark. Good communication skills will solve that problem. Second, I will tell you why you have to set a high priority on communicating often with your team. Third, I will share with you the content of your communication as a leader—what I would call the building blocks of great communication. And fourth, I’m going to leave you with five action steps you can apply right away to communicate effectively with your people.
I mentioned before that I asked my podcast listeners for feedback as I was building this book. I wanted them to answer the question “What is one of the ten essential skills every new leader must master?” I’ve received some quality feedback regarding successful communication in leadership. Tim said, “Effective communication is essential in all relationships. Be able to set clear expectations (sending) and be a good listener (receiving).”’ Reverend Gibbs of Tallahassee, Florida, remarked, “I believe the single most important skill is communication.”’ So many other factors come to mind, but I think we probably can all agree that a leader’s ability to communicate with clarity and consistency is vital.
Your team cannot read your mind. That was the problem with our leader in Vienna. He assumed that what was in his mind was in ours. We never communicate as much as we should as leaders—or as much as we think we do. All the followers I talk to seem hungry to hear from us more often. The funny thing about communication is that we assume too much. We think our team has absorbed what we are thinking without us actually telling them.
Your team cannot read your mind. That was the problem with our leader in Vienna. He assumed that what was in his mind was in ours.
Hans Finzel Jaico Publishing House 2017, 220 pages, Paperback