Epic Leader Fail!

Stop Doing the Work and Get the Work Done.

Many years ago, early in my leadership experience, I employed an admin named Janet*. Janet was a godly senior with the most remarkable spirit to help. She tried to do everything I asked, and her questions fell from her lips as water from Niagara falls. She was a saint. She just wasn’t very detail oriented, timely or efficient.

Whose fault was that? Mine.

It was a Wednesday, and being the terrific leader that I thought I was, I decided that rather than do the task myself, I would entrust it to Janet. At the same time, I knew that the task would take a couple of hours and that I would have to patiently wait for it. I also knew that the job would not be the quality that I expected or would have achieved myself. I waited…

By the next morning, Janet was still working on the project. Eight payable hours later and she was not yet finished. In my frustration, I took the project away from her and had it finished 25 minutes later to a much higher degree of quality. What a loser! Me, not her.

Here’s what I accomplished that day.

Project finished to a high degree of excellence (and in 1/18th of the time)!
One devastated admin that paid the price of a lower self-worth.
A missed opportunity to allow another to grow in skill and self-confidence.
One upset boss with a “See what I can do!” attitude that was displeasing to God. And…
A perpetual cycle of repeating that monthly task myself, 25 minutes of my time, every month, for eternity.
Epic. Leader. Fail… Lesson learned? Oh Yeah!

I would love to be able to take back those early years and decisions. However, in a way, I am grateful to look back upon them knowing that I have grown. One key element of a transformational leader is their ability to inspire and uplift, not tear down and destroy. The task-master can build an organization, but a leader can build community with a purpose.

About Inspiring Others…

You really do not need to look very hard to see the God-given gifts in other people. As their leader, a word from you—affirming their gift—will do more to motivate them to pursue it than perhaps any other worldly encouragement. Be observant, and when you see it, capitalize on it.

“Hey, Jonathan! I was watching you the other day, and I need to say… you have a unique ability for organization.”

Leave it at that. Let the compliment do the rest. Remember, it is about building up the individual, not manipulating them so that they will work for you. The first will bear fruit, the second is unethical.

If we are not first-and-foremost about building people, we will find ourselves far less the leaders than we otherwise would be.

Give them a model in your leadership that they can reproduce for others.

*name changed


I have been listening to a lecture series on Developmental Psychology by Dr. Ray Parker which outlines Maturity with the following six indicators. These may be useful to you in your next lecture, in counseling, or simply to help you understand your people better.

• 1 • Maturity bases action on a long-range basis. Immaturity seeks the immediate. We see this in sexual, narcotic, and personality addictions. The mature individual sees beyond the instant gratification to both the long range stability and the consequences should they immediately gratify.

• 2 • Maturity seeks things as they are, accepting the reality of the present. Immaturity seeks to escape reality rather than deal with the present. The mature understands that growth comes from trials. Those who seek to escape difficulty will never mature.

• 3 • Maturity faces the responsibility of actions and lives up to it. Immaturity seeks to blame others and shirk responsibility. This facing of responsibility has a two-fold effect: Maturing the individual and warning them of future similar actions.

• 4 • Maturity accepts the authority of others. Immaturity seeks unearned authority or to undermine or discount current authoritative persons. Everyone is under an authority and the recognition of the wisdom of others and their position “above us” leads to opportunities for growth and learning.

• 5 • Maturity has a proper knowledge and acceptance of self. Immaturity formulates inflated or unrealistic ideas of self. The mature can realistically determine, with some accuracy, their strengths and weaknesses. The immature will inflate their position, their abilities, or their accomplishments, tending to exaggerate. The immature may also run the opposite path as they see themselves as far less than what they are. Their perception of self is one of worthlessness, inability, and useless.

• 6 • Maturity has the ability to love even when that love is not returned. Immaturity will seek return. The mature loves others because of the love and satisfaction they have in themselves. The immature seeks identity through reciprocation. This reciprocation is foundational to the individual’s self-worth and when not received has a detrimental effect on the emotional and spiritual state of the individual.

Leaders Go First

In today’s unforgiving environment both seasoned leaders and those coming into new leadership roles need to hit the ground running, or at the very least, come up to speed quickly. This is simply a reality.

In previous eras of workplace ethics you could coast for a long time before your lack of leadership proficiency was noticed or harmed the organization. No so any longer. Today’s leader needs to be the forerunner of change. Allow me this personal example.

I am a SCUBA diver. I have been avidly diving since 1986 and I have a special love for the sport. I have yet to be on a dive boat where, once we are over the dive spot, I am not the first diver in the water and the last to come aboard. Why? Because I am passionate about diving. PASSIONATE! I love every moment of it. I suit up long before anyone, sitting on the deck amidst the stares of the others who are in the galley eating. I wait for my chance to take my giant stride off the deck and signal OK to the Divemaster with a tap to my head. On a recent dive at Anacapa island in California, I was in awe as I descended into a school of thousands of fish, I was right in the middle of them. Guess what? I was the only one on the boat that day that was so privileged. Why? I was the first in.

A Hard Reality…

As a “go first” leader, you must be competent. If you are not the first one in (and the last one out) on every new endeavor, you are losing your authority. I am not saying that you cannot delegate, but delegate the lesser things. The important ones are yours. Build the team, inspire them to act, and take the first step. Your passion for the new endeavor will be contagious and you will inspire those behind.

I marvel at the many “leaders” that I speak to on a daily basis, and when I look behind them (figuratively) there is no one there. In fact, I’ve been there myself. However, you know as well as I, you are not a leader if nobody’s following. Today’s leader must not only have the ability to lead followers, he must lead leaders.

If you want to lead leaders, here are some of the things you will need to consider important.

• Time management skills
• Delegation and ownership
• Personal presentation
• The ability to drive values and objectives
• Complex decision making and problem solving
• Effective communication and consensus building
• Performance management and evaluation
• Dealing effectively with difficult conversations
• Ability to make the tough call
• Learning to tap into an individual’s creativity in times of great challenge
• Team building
• Giving and receiving constructive feedback that promotes growth
• Developing others
• Taking ownership of results (accountability)
• Self awareness and self-management

That last one’s a killer…

Discover the Unknown

The Amazon Rainforest is perhaps the most remarkable place on planet earth. It constitutes 54% of the earth’s total rainforest. It covers 2.5 million square miles, nine countries and produces 20% of earth’s oxygen. There are untold riches in the amazon, most of which await discovery. Most North Americans do not realize that one-third of the bird species found on earth reside within her, or that half of all plant species—some ten million—have found the ability to thrive under her canopy. Furthermore, few realize that it produces over three thousand edible fruits of which only about two hundred of them are known to the western world. As for people groups, it has been estimated that there are approximately fifty undiscovered tribes within this lush, mysterious place. Every tributary, every trail leads to new discoveries and a wealth of new information. It is the most undiscovered resource on the planet and as leaders, we would do well to learn from her.

I was there a decade ago. I set up camp near a lodge fifty miles from Iquitos Peru, hired a personal guide, and explored for weeks. We trekked, canoed to remote locations, visited an Amazonian tribe, fished for Piranha using freshly sacrificed chickens, searched for and found the Pink Dolphins of the Amazon, swam in a virgin pool beneath a remote waterfall grotto in the middle the jungle and rescued a baby sloth after its mother fell from the canopy above, breaking branches during the fall, and landing very near to us with a thud, baby clutched close.

What an incredible experience. Exploration at its finest. Looking back at that journey I think about other unexplored territories and I think to ask myself and other leaders…

When was the last time you explored your people as you would the Amazon?

Whether you are aware of it or not, your greatest assets are those who work for you. As a leader, you need to explore their lives, their talent, and their history. I have worked for organizations where the leader does not delve deep into the background of direct reports, and they have missed the opportunity to tap into greatness. In every organization I have led, I have sought to learn the deeper things about my employees. You see, it is presumptuous and awkward for an employee to approach her supervisor and say; ”Here is something you need to know about me that can help this organization.” It is the responsibility of the leader to initiate such inquiry. Here is a simply way to begin. It is the method that I use.

1. Approach the same level colleagues of your direct report and ask them this question; “Tell me something about Jennifer that would interest me, something that would add real value to this organization, something she would not say of herself.”

Same level direct reports get to know each other well over time. In fact, if you are a leader that successfully builds teams, then they have already had the conversation about what talents they possess that the organization is not taking advantage of.

2. After hearing from the same level direct reports, take the individual aside and ask; “Jennifer, I want to give you permission to brag about yourself. I will not think it conceit nor will it change how I view you in any other way than positively. Tell me things about yourself that I did not know, but should. What is there in your gifting or past accomplishments that would blow me away and I could leverage to propel this organization forward. Brag about yourself.”

Leaders who provide a safe and confidential environment that mines the wealth of accomplishment from their employees will usually fine gold deep within the skillset of their direct reports.

Ask yourself…

What talents, what wisdom, what new insights lie deep within your people?

What treasures can you uncover to transform your organization in new ways?

You will never know the depths of your people without intentional, adventurous inquiry. Sit with them, begin to explore… The treasures that you will uncover will blow your mind and transform your leadership awareness as never before.

Tap into the wealth, start the discovery.


A few blog posts ago, I spoke about seeing the gifts in other people and encouraging them in that gift for the sake of their own fulfillment. Furthermore, I stated that if we compliment them for our own gain, that we are being unethical and our actions will not succeed. I would like to convey an experience I had with a church member many years ago when I was pastoring a church in the Los Angeles area.

It concerned a man named Mark.

Mark was a member of our church. Like many members, he had his problems, but none so great that the Lord could not use him. I had heard that Mark played the guitar and was quite skilled. While I had occasional thoughts like; “I wonder why Mark has never tried out for the worship team?” they were simply passing thoughts.

One day, I noticed Mark during the worship time. He was solidly committed to the Lord in those moments. I could just see it. So, after the service, I stopped him as he was exiting. “Hey Mark, hang out for a second, let me finish shaking hands. I want to speak with you.”

Now I know what was going through Mark’s mind, “What did I do now?” When I finished, he came to me, “Yes pastor!?” “Mark, I just wanted to tell you that I was watching you during worship today, and you were really ‘in the zone.’” He smiled; “Thank you.” …Confused stare. “That’s it, I just wanted to tell you that watching you blessed my heart.”

I know exactly what happened next. Mark probably walked away thinking, “I don’t know what pastor saw, but if he saw it, maybe I was really a blessing to him and others, maybe God could use me.”

It wasn’t three weeks later that I heard Mark was rehearsing with the worship team. It took a man of God to catch a glimpse into the spiritual, and be willing to convey what he saw. You need to seek those glimpses into the spiritual when you are with your people. God will reveal what he wants or needs you to see.

WARNING: My experience with Mark cannot be manufactured. You cannot manufacture things to praise others for. God will reveal who and what you are to encourage with your words. You need to be sensitive and watch. People need to hear genuine, spirit-led praise from their leaders.

About Words…

The people that God has entrusted you with, they look to you for Godly leadership. Here are a few things that I have found to be important:

1. People need to be asked.

2. Expectations need to be defined

3. Accomplishments need to be rewarded.

People, by their nature, desire to live up to their leader’s expectations of them. If no expectations exist, then there is nothing to motivate or challenge them to action.


Do you know what BOLO stands for? It stands for Be On The Lookout… Watch for the men and women like Mark. You will find them. Those who are deeply committed to the things that drive your organization but they have not yet found their Stream of Excellence within it.

Eeny, meeny, miny, YOU!?

Selecting Gift Appropriate Leaders

Imagine: You are home with your children. Your security is instantly shattered as you awaken to the breaking of a downstairs window. Instantly you mind screams “intruder.” You heart pounds, your mind races, as you think about your children two rooms away. You dial 911 as you listen to footsteps ascending the stairs. You have never felt such fear. You run to your children’s room, grab them, and hide in the closet. Moments later the rescue workers arrive. They are dressed in fireproof suits, air tanks strapped to their backs, hoses in hand. Although they are able to scare the attacker away, they were ill equipped to take him into custody. They had the wrong set of tools, the wrong training. Sure, they were able to knock the attacker down with the water from their hose, but it ruined your house and the attacker got away. You suppose that was a sufficient outcome… You grow concerned, but begin to laugh as you thank the firefighters for rescuing you and notice that your neighbor’s house is on fire and it’s the police department, guns drawn, that is desperately trying to extinguish the flames.

Choosing Leaders Wisely…

The above story illustrates the importance of our spiritual gifts and why we should find out what they are, use them, and enjoy them. Of equal importance, as leaders, we must be aware of the gifts and abilities of our direct reports. Being aware, and practicing our gifts bring an exciting level of contentment to our life. Indeed, it is the use of our gifts that allow God to work through us in powerful and extraordinary ways. The scriptural mandate to be a light in the darkness is not given to use devoid of the means to accomplish it. Father equips each and every believer with the necessary gifts to accomplish the tasks He has placed before them in life. The responsibility then is upon each Christian to identify, hone, practice, and experience the fullness of that gifting. As a leader of your organization, you will sometimes see the gifts that others possess long before they do. Capitalize on that insight.

It is crippling to many organizations that so few of their members have made an effort to identify their spiritual gifts. It is, perhaps, one of the main reasons why the church has lost its impact on society to the degree it has. It is also why so many of our organizations have reached a plateau or are in decline. Organizations grow in dysfunction because members are (with an honorable heart) volunteering to serve the organization in capacities that are not specific to their gifting. Members are responding to presented needs in the organization with the heart to serve, but they should seek to be preemptive not reactive.

In such a scenario, the need is filled by a warm body, not by a specifically gifted person. This usually exasperates the volunteer and the task is completed to a less-than-ideal degree. Mediocrity is killing us! We need to step back a moment. Step back and evaluate why the need was there in the first place. If we have the confidence that Father will supply our every need, we must ask: Why did the need have to be presented? What caused the deficiency?

I understand that what I am about to say will evoke criticism, and I agree that this “ideal” may never be fully realized, but at the same time we need to set our expectations for ourselves as high as possible that we may achieve our utmost for the organization. Here’s what I believe.

“The need was brought to the congregation because someone who had the gifting to meet that need had not yet realized their spiritual gifts or, worse still, refused to fulfill their God-given assignment in the organization.”

Consequently, another member of the congregation (someone less qualified) stepped up to fill the deficiency. It’s that simple. The church needs to return to effectiveness and clarity of purpose and such an endeavor begins with the individual pursuit and use of ones spiritual gifting.

If you lead your organization, administer a spiritual gifts test to all of your direct reports immediately. Then, assign, re-assign, or remove responsibilities accordingly. That grouch you have in charge of hospitality… really needs to go!