Posted in Servant Leadership, Teamwork

Three Traits of the Empowering Leader

“If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” Chances are, as a leader, you have either said this or thought this very loudly. You assigned a task to someone, and they missed the deadline. Perhaps they got it done on time, but the quality was mediocre and you ended up fixing the mistakes. It doesn’t take long before you decide the best way to get the results you want are to do it yourself and to micromanage others as they do their jobs.

Unfortunately in the organizational world of today, where team work and collaboration are valued, that approach usually doesn’t work well. Some leaders are able to successfully lead this way. However, by and large, empowering leaders enjoy greater success.

Empowering leaders relate to followers as fellow members in the cause, and focus on facilitating the accomplishments of goals. They possess three traits that empower others through shared leadership.

1. Empowering leaders are self-aware and secure. They understand how God has wired them, possessing a good picture of their personality, communication preferences, leadership strengths, and spiritual gifts. As a result, they are comfortable with who they are, but not satisfied to remain there. Personal and spiritual growth are important to them. Empowering leaders also believe God has given them their positions, and He will provide the necessary wisdom and strength. Therefore, they do not hold tightly to power, knowing it is a gift of influence that must be faithfully stewarded. They are not driven by insecurity or the need for the spotlight. They focus on what they do well, and share responsibilities with others in their areas of strengths. The empowering leader is “one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it” (Theodore Roosevelt).

2. Empowering leaders trust their followers. They move away from control and allow others to do what they do with excellence. They promote a culture of respect and acceptance, encouraging input from everyone. Cooperation and team ownership are emphasized in order to accomplish work. Empowering leaders believe that, when given the proper tools and resources, followers will do their best to succeed for the good of the team. In Luke Chapter 10, Jesus Christ demonstrated trust in seventy-two disciples when He “sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places He planned to visit” (vs. 1, NLT). This was a massive regional effort to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus provided His followers with important instructions and then released them. Even though these disciples were not as experienced and equipped as Jesus Himself, He entrusted the work to them and shared some of His authority. “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” (Luke 10:18)

3. Empowering leaders know their followers. They spend time understanding their followers’ unique personalities and strengths. By studying their followers, empowering leaders discover how to motivate them. They resist using generic motivational approaches. Rather effective motivation is applied personally and consistently.  Empowering leaders are able to match the right abilities and talents with the appropriate tasks. They provide the necessary instructions, resources, and communication for follower success. They equip followers in order to gain competence in their positions, providing opportunities for growth and satisfaction.

Look at the three traits listed above. On a 1 to 10 scale (1 being lowest, 10 being highest), rate yourself on each trait. Which one do you need to develop the most? What will you do to develop it?

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Exhausted or Empowered Leader? Part Three

The last two weeks, we have focused on healthy approaches to our leadership relationships. By making three simple adjustments, we can go from exhausted to empowered leadership.

The third concept that liberated me as a leader is “Caring” versus “Carrying.”

This is really another variation of taking proper responsibility. However, it provides a powerful picture. I believe the Lord showed it to me as an illustration while I was on a journey of healing, and I use it often with people who take ownership of others’ choices.

God has called us to care about others. He asks us to reach out in empathy, and serve with compassion. It is a good thing to minister with our hearts. Jesus’ ministry was marked by compassion. He had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He taught them. He had compassion on them and healed them. He had compassion on them and provided miraculous fish and bread. Our Lord cared deeply about people, and we follow His example. Caring is good. It is what we were made to do. However, we were not made to carry people. It is God’s job to carry, not ours. When we are carrying, it gets too heavy. We get weighed down by this person’s bad choice, that person’s failure, this person’s poor attitude, that person’s family crisis. We become frustrated, angry, bitter, resentful, and eventually cannot move.

Rosemarie Kowalski tells a story which Joanna Weaver adapted in her book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. It’s about a man who willingly receives an assignment from the Lord to pull three stones in a wagon up the hill. As his journey progresses, in an attempt to help others, he adds more and more to his wagon–other people’s rocks, pebbles, and stones–until the weight is too heavy to bear. He can go no further.

“Let others shoulder their own belongings,” God said gently. “I know you were trying to help, but when you are weighed down with all these cares, you cannot do what I have asked of you.”

The man jumped to his feet, suddenly realizing the freedom God was offering. “You mean I only have to take the three stones after all?” he asked.

“That is what I asked you to do.” God smiled. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light. I will never ask you to carry more than you can bear.”

We often carry others because we care. But Jesus hasn’t asked us to carry them. Thankfully we can go to Jesus. He will unsaddle us from the weight of carrying. Then we will be free to care again.

A simple adjustment in perspective makes such a powerful difference!

Do you struggle with carrying others?

If so, identify some people you are carrying.

In what ways will your relationships change when you care about them rather than carry them?

To recap the last three weeks:

  • A goal is solely under your control; a desire is not. Goals for self; desires for others.
  • You are responsible to others, not for others.
  • God has asked you to care about others, not carry them.

May our Lord Jesus Christ fill you with His wisdom and knowledge to approach your relationships in healthy ways. May you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and lead others from a sincere heart of love.

Joanna Weaver, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2002) 48-51.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Exhausted or Empowered Leader? Part Two


Last week we started a discussion on making some simple adjustments in our approach  to those we lead.

During my tenure at a medical pregnancy network, first as a volunteer and then as the director, I learned some valuable concepts that I apply to my life and leadership settings. By making a shift in my thinking, I am able to view my leadership influence in a new way. When I am actively engaged in this way of thinking, I am able to go from being an exhausted leader to an empowered leader.

The second concept that liberated me as a leader is understanding the difference between being “responsible to others” versus being “responsible for others.”

Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend have written several books about healthy boundaries. In a nutshell: We are responsible for our own choices. We are not responsible for other people’s choices. In terms of natural consequences, I know that   A + B = C. However, I may still think to myself, “If I had only been more convincing, Mary would not have done “A” and then she wouldn’t be in this mess. In reality though, Mary’s poor choice rests entirely on her. She is completely responsible for her decisions. Her decision may sadden or inconvenience me, but I don’t own responsibility for it.

We are only responsible for others when they are entirely dependent on us for survival. Very few people fall into that category. Newborn babies, severely disabled people, and elderly people unable to function need our attention for survival. If we fail to care for them, or provide others for the task, they will die. For everyone else, though, we are responsible to them.

Here are the important distinctions:

When I am responsible for others, I have unhealthy boundaries.
My job is to carry, protect, and rescue them. I personalize their feelings. I focus on ME, and am more concerned about finding solutions and right performance than listening. I expect them (although I may never say it out loud) to live up to my expectations and goals. As a result I feel anxious, even fearful, and exhausted. The weight of others’ choices is on me.

When I am responsible to others, I have healthy boundaries.
My job is to empathize and encourage, to speak the truth in love and challenge them to make good decisions. I focus on THEM. I am concerned about listening to them and really hearing them, showing unconditional love. I am a helper-guide or coach, trusting God and letting go of the outcome. As a result I feel relaxed, confident, and empowered.

I have a long history of believing I was responsible for others. I carried responsibility for others into my family and ministry relationships. When things were difficult, I lamented that I hadn’t prayed harder, taught the Bible better, or loved the people more. The reverse was also true. When my children achieved great things, it was an indication of my success. When people of our church experienced breakthroughs in their relationship with God, it showed off our ministry abilities. The pressure of being responsible for so many people was enormous, and I suffered under the weight of it. God, in His mercy, began to teach me about healthy boundaries. Ten years ago, while training at the pregnancy center, I learned the difference between “being responsible to others vs. being responsible for others.” The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the many ways I had taken the responsibility for the choices of others, whether good or bad. By understanding this simple idea of being responsible to others, I began to experience freedom.

Next week we will take a look at the concept: “Caring” versus “Carrying.”

Do you struggle with taking responsibility for others?

If so, identify some people you have taken responsibility for.

In what ways will your relationships change when you are responsible to them instead of responsible for them?

Ask the Lord for wisdom to relate with people in healthy ways.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Exhausted or Empowered Leader? Part One

As servant leaders, we care deeply about those we lead. In fact, the feature that sets servant leadership apart is the capacity to place the needs of followers first, even above the organization. As a result, we invest emotionally in these relationships. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, when our focus is misplaced, this capacity to care has a downside. We may find ourselves frustrated and burned out by those we lead.

During my tenure at a medical pregnancy network, first as a volunteer and then as the director, I learned some valuable concepts that I apply to my life and leadership settings. By making a shift in my thinking, I am able to view my leadership influence in a new way. When I am actively engaged in this way of thinking, I am able to avoid being an exhausted leader and lead as an empowered one.

The first concept that liberated me as a leader is understanding the difference between goals and desires.

According to Dr. Larry Crabb, “A goal is an objective that is under my control.” For example, suppose my goal is to lose ten pounds. My wonderful husband can make a delicious caramel cheesecake (my favorite dessert), and he can set it right in front of me with a fork and napkin. But does he control my choice? As tempting as his efforts may be, the answer is “No.” My goal to lose ten pounds is dependent on my own personal resolve and choices.

On the other hand, a desire is “an objective that I may legitimately and fervently want, but cannot reach through my efforts alone.” We can see this played out often in our families and churches. For example, among my own congregation there are people who struggle with addiction. They come to Christ and experience the forgiveness of sins, which is wonderful. But somehow many of them remain bound by addictive behavior. I may desperately want these dearly loved people to be free from the chains of addiction. I can fast and pray for them. I can provide Scriptural tools to help them transform their thinking patterns. I can even provide a safe, accepting environment for them to stay. Will that be enough? No. The decision to be sober is ultimately up to them.

God has called us into a partnership to reach out to the world with His love. However, it requires a positive response from others to become transformed disciples of Christ. That’s part of the mystery of free will–God giving all human beings the choice to accept Christ, to worship Him, to honor Him with their lives.

We will encounter a great deal of discouragement and burn out if we set unrealistic goals for the people we lead. We aren’t big enough to make people choose God’s will for their lives. God is big enough, but He never violates their choices. Set appropriate goals for yourself, ones that are completely within your control. Identify appropriate desires for others. Then direct your prayers accordingly. Goals for self; desires for others.

Next week we will take a look at the concept: “Responsible to others” versus “responsible for others.”

Do you struggle with setting inappropriate goals?

If so, identify some people for whom you have set unrealistic goals.

Reframe those goals in terms of desires. What effect will that have on your relationships?

Ask the Lord for wisdom in setting goals and desires.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

When Life Takes a Left Turn

The car was packed and ready to go. I had one more stop to make before heading out of town to a leadership retreat, a gathering I had eagerly anticipated for weeks.

The night before, my daughter had gotten a splinter in her arm. It was a random mishap. She was on her way to worship rehearsal. While maneuvering her wheelchair across the threshold of the church entrance, her arm merely brushed up against the door post. I was able to remove an inch of the splinter before it broke off under the surface of her skin. I scheduled an appointment with our doctor to remove the rest. Once that was taken care of, I would be on my way as planned.

That’s when my plan took a left turn. The doctor’s assistant tried hard to cover concern with an air of professionalism. After examining the depth of the splinter, she declared, “I’m not comfortable conducting this procedure. The splinter is embedded in her muscle and will need to be cut out. Your daughter needs to go to the hospital.”

Leadership is an extension of our lives. Every day there are numerous possibilities for our well thought out plans to take a left turn. One moment we are heading in a certain direction. The next we find ourselves in circumstances leading somewhere we hadn’t planned on going. Left turns require special attention; our responses to them sets the tone for what happens next.

As conflicting emotions whirled inside me, I was acutely aware of my response choices, and that my daughter, family, and medical staff would be influenced by my choice. How would I respond? What kind of influence would I exert?

I could assign blame. It was my daughter’s fault for being careless. Or the person responsible for building maintenance. Or the medical personnel for being incompetent.

I could wallow in self-pity. This happens every time I plan something. How unfair! I am just a helpless victim! Will I ever get to enjoy anything?

I could lash out in anger. If I’m not happy, nobody else is going to be happy! Somebody do something to fix this, and do it now!

Instead I chose to rejoice.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5, NIV).

In the midst of this left turn experience, God was near. His Spirit rose up within me, giving me courage, strength, and joy.

No matter what happens, I am not a victim. Through Jesus, I will always be victorious. While events may not unfold as I would like, my God is in control. He is never taken by surprise. I trust that He loves me dearly and is actively at work on my behalf and for His glory. What about you?

My daughter looked at me with anxious eyes, and said, “I’m really sorry, Mom. I know you were looking forward to going.” I returned her gaze and replied, “You are so much more important than this retreat. If Jesus wants me to go, I will get there. Let’s walk this out together with Him.”

As we headed to the hospital, we burst into laughter, struck by the absurdity of the situation. We expressed our trust in our loving Father to work His plan through this unexpected event.

The x-ray machine at the hospital could not detect the splinter. Finally the staff located it by ultrasound. After three attempts they removed the culprit–a piece of wood about the size of a toothpick. Six hours after embarking on what was supposed to be a simple task, I delivered my daughter home, her arm mended with super glue and Steri-strips, and her heart touched by God’s loving presence. I eventually left for the retreat, four and a half hours behind schedule, my heart overflowing with gratitude and peace.

The way we respond to the left turns in life is crucial. It sets the stage for how well we lead our families and followers. We bring who are–strengths, weaknesses, and all–to our leadership environments. As leaders we must always remember we follow God’s lead.

Are you following God’s lead? Are you walking with Him? You can trust Him to work out the details when life takes a left turn. Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously!


Leadership is serious business. Leaders are given weighty responsibility that others simply do not carry. There can be incredible pressure to perform, inspire, succeed, expand…I have learned many important lessons while on this leadership journey. Some came from the school of hard knocks; others from well-respected mentors. One of the most important lessons is: Don’t take yourself so seriously!

I heard these words often as a young woman trying to make a mark on this world. I would agonize over missed answers rather than rejoice in scoring an A on an exam. I would replay minor mistakes of a performance over and over again in my head. I stressed out about small details of projects that were less than perfect. I was ambitious, tightly strung, kind to others, but a brutal task master to myself. Thankfully I discovered God’s grace along the way. As I result, I experience much less internal stress and enjoy leading others.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously!” is a great maxim, but what does it really look like? For me, it includes the following statements I try to live by.

This is God’s deal. I heard this one regularly from a former boss and current friend, a risk-taking visionary who boldly invites others to join the mission. The idea is I am responsible to pray and plan, and then execute the plan to the best of my ability. However, there will always be variables outside of my control. But I believe that God is in control. I am called to do my part and release the outcome to God.

“No” does not mean failure. It is disappointing to face a closed door to a promising opportunity, or to hear that somebody else has been selected for a contract. Disappointing…but it doesn’t have to be devastating. It simply means this is not the right timing or that there is a better plan. The Lord sees every detail–past, present, and future. I trust Him, as He lovingly weaves them all together to achieve His purposes.

Keep a sense of humor. It’s okay to laugh at myself. No, really. I am an imperfect human being after all. Despite every determined, right motivated effort, I still make mistakes. And the older I get, the more silly mistakes I seem to make. There is freedom in humbly admitting I am wrong, instead of trying to maintain a polished image. There is even greater freedom in finding the humor, and then laughing about it. In every situation, the joy of the Lord is my strength.

The Westminster Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” My number one aim is to honor the Lord. When life and leadership are all about Him, I take Him seriously, and not myself.

Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

The Most Important Step of Effective Goal Setting

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I am all for making healthy and positive changes, but the statistics support my aversion. With a dismal 8 % success rate,1 I have personally committed to begin a new approach either before the year ends or well after the year has begun.

The biggest reason I avoid the New Year as a start date for change is this: New Year’s resolutions are seldom true resolutions based on the conviction and motivation necessary for success. They are typically good ideas based on what we think should happen. Rarely do they reflect a steadfast resolve to achieve something better, but rather are more like wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, January seems to be the prime time for leaders to set goals and engage in strategic planning. Regardless of the date on the calendar, it is crucial to consider your level of buy-in. Is this another good idea or passing fad, or are you deeply committed to doing what it takes to accomplish it over the long haul?

For the Christ-follower, the most important step of effective goal setting is to identify goals that are God-ideas instead of just good ideas. Make sure that your goals align with God’s direction. Books, seminars, and leadership blogs provide excellent tips and ideas. However, they may not necessarily work for you given your context and culture. They may not represent God’s mind for you and your organization during this particular season.

I realize there are volumes written about how to understand God’s will. Even with myriads of advice, it is still a topic that seems mysterious. After all, can we REALLY know His will? How can we distinguish God-ideas from good ideas? Admittedly, seeking God’s will is a faith venture, and I would never pretend to have the definitive answers. However, there are some simple steps that guide the process. I highly recommend keeping notes of your discoveries for easy reference.

  1. Ask the Lord for wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV).
  2. Pay attention to inspirational thoughts during prayer. Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Because we belong to Him, we can recognize His voice (John 10:1-16).
  3. Be open to guidance from the Word of God. God speaks through His Word. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105, NIV).
  4. Enlist input from respected, mature believers. Benefit from the wisdom and insight of others. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22, NIV).
  5. Pray for clear direction. Ask the Lord to open doors of opportunity and to close doors that are not potential areas of focus (Revelation 3:8).

Spend time pondering Proverbs 3:5-6, as you seek God-ideas for your plans and goals.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take (NLT).

When you trust in the Lord and seek His will, He will show you which path to take. He will reveal His goals to you, those God-ideas that are worth pursuing.


1. Dan Diamond, “Just 8 % of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It,” January 1, 2013,