My first preaching experience

It came and went rather quickly. The buildup, just like with anything big and important in our lives, was much longer and grander than the actual event (which could be a separate post itself). The nerves were there as I stepped on the stage for the first time in the role of preacher. But those soon faded away as I began rolling through my illustrations and points in an effort to communicate what it means to live worship as a lifestyle. I will follow up in another post with a summary of my message, but here I want to share a few things I learned and experienced during this process.

1. The process was more enjoyable than I thought it would have been. For about six years now, I’ve had the thought here and there that I would preach one day and I would immediately think about how terrifying that sounded. The task of coming up with a topic, pulling together points and illustrations, and then delivering it sounded daunting at the least. But I found a lot of similarities in the process with what I have discovered in writing (minus the public speaking part of course). I enjoyed the creative process of figuring out the best possible way to communicate an idea.
2. Time goes by really fast. I set out on this journey determined to stay around 20 minutes for total speaking time. I talked to my pastor, Bobby, about it a lot because I was convinced (still am for the most part) that, in the model of Ted Talks, public speaking is most effective under 20 minutes due to people’s attention spans. Bobby even talked about it in a recent post on his blog. I will gladly eat my words as my total speaking time was closer to 40 minutes! Haha I learned that 40 minutes goes by a whole lot quicker than you ever think it would. But that’s ok. It was a learning experience and I can apply this newly acquiered knowledge to the next time (if there is one).
3. Visuals are a presenter’s best friend. I asked my 14-year old afterward what he thought and he said he really liked how I used a lot of visuals because it helped him stay engaged. A picture speaks 1,000 words. We are a visual society and the more we can learn to use visuals, the more engaged listeners will be no matter how long we speak. The cool thing is that a visual can take a wide variety of forms. I used pictures and a video, but I think props or even a white board can be incredibly effective. Visuals also help to capture the attention of those who are visual learners, instead of just being geared toward auditory learners. It is so important to remember these crowd dynamics as we craft messages.
4. Be yourself. I was so concerned that I wouldn’t be able to connect with humor. I don’t consider myself a funny person and our church is used to lots of laugh because Bobby is very effective with humor. I finally got it through my thick skull that I needed to focus more on being myself rather than someone else. I did receive some laughs, but I know that’s not my strength. I sat through a presentation at a conference a few weeks ago where a not funny guy tried to use humor way too much and he ended up coming across as cheesy and annoying. I think “being yourself” is life advice, but it definitely applies to public speaking.
5. My church family and social circle are incredible! I have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I have received leading up to Sunday and even more so after the fact. It has come from my family, my church family, friends near and far, and coworkers. Now, those that know me best know that my insecurities manifest themselves in putting myself down in a joking way, as well as doubting my abilities and incessantly talking it all to death. I’m a bit of an overthinker. Ok…a LOT a bit of an overthinker. I think that’s why the outpouring of support I’ve received has meant so much.
6. At the end of the day, it’s all for the glory of the Lord. No matter how talented or untalented, prepared or unprepared I am, God did it all. He planted the ideas in my mind and heart and grew it into the message and delivery it became. My prayer truly was that I would be invisible and God’s glory was on display for all to see. If the opposite was true, then I don’t ever want to preach again.

Like I said, it was a great experience from start to finish. I really appreciate Bobby and my church family giving me the opportunity to speak and share my heart for worship. It challenged me and I believe refined me more. God always knows what He’s doing. 🙂

Effective Leadership: Have Fun

I can’t think of a better leadership quality to end with than have fun. It’s an often overlooked aspect of leading others because there is always so much to do. Our performance driven culture has somehow convinced us that the bottom line will suffer if we aren’t burning the candle at all ends. But teams that enjoy working together will accomplish much more than those that work work work all of the time.

I remember my first job out of college. I was a junior planner on an oil refinery job in Houston. The project had an aggressive schedule and the customer was always putting pressure on us to keep costs down. But that didn’t keep the management team from recognizing birthdays every month or keeping little toys sitting around the conference room tables to help jog creativity and foster collaboration. It’s amazing how much juggling a slinky from one hand to the next can get your mind flowing! There was also the project team I worked for in South Carolina that looked for any excuse to have a potluck luncheon. Mardi Gras. Christmas. Fourth of July. Retirement celebrations. It really didn’t matter. The camaraderie that we had as a team was undeniable.

I challenge you to think about how you can incorporate fun into your leadership style. Fun can’t be forced, but it can be intentional. And over time, it will become more and more spontaneous and frequent. The flip side of this is that a leader runs the risk of the “fun” running away with the show. It’s like chasing squirrels all the time. This will drastically decrease productivity. So be flexible but stay focused. With this combination, you will see incredible results!

When you think of effective leadership from now on, it’s my hope that you will begin to incorporate these various qualities into your style. Make them fertile soil from which your unique personality and talents can grow and blossom. Know your stuff. Care about those you lead. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Empower others to get the job done. Give respect. Lead with clarity and boldness. And don’t forget to have fun. These aren’t the “ten commandments of leadership”, but they are time tested by some truly great leaders.

Effective Leadership: Lead with clarity and boldness

I have asked my good friend and pastor, Bobby Williams, to join me today to talk about the importance of leading with clarity and boldness. Bobby is the pastor of Ridge Church in Oak Ridge, TN and is a husband and father of two. He is active in the leadership community both locally and regionally and regularly discussed leadership topics on his blog.

KB: When I brought up this blog series on effective leadership, the first quality that came to your mind was leading with clarity and boldness. Why is this quality so important to you?

BW: It’s important to me because I see that lack of clarity is the one thing that will sink a leader fastest. A leader has to be clear in two areas 1) Within themselves and 2) with others. I have learned the hard way that lack of clarity and boldness gets you nowhere fast. Boldness is a by-product of clarity.

KB: Clarity and boldness are two unique qualities. What’s the difference between the two and how do they relate in the realm of leadership?

BW: As stated above, I think boldness can be a by-product of clarity. Consider what it’s like walking through your house in the dark; in the dark you THINK you know where things are until you step on a LEGO your kids left out. So you step without clarity of where you’re going and walk gingerly. However in the light, you walk with boldness because it’s clear as to where you are going and how you’ll get there. I want the leaders that I follow to be clear about where they’re taking me and bold when it comes to taking each next step.

KB: French writer and philosopher Francois Gautier says this about clarity: “More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” As a leader, what’s the difference between these two quests? Is Gautier right? Is clarity more important than certainty?

BW: I think he is right. Certainty still leaves some doubt. Clarity means you have a clear picture of what is to be. Certainty doesn’t make me bold, but clarity can.

KB: Can you provide some examples of leaders that you have seen leading with clarity and boldness and what it is that sets them apart in this area?

BW: I automatically think of Andy Stanley. In fact he gave a talk once on leading with clarity. In it he says, “Complexity is the enemy of clarity, so keep it simple.” He says to keep clarity in his leadership, he constantly asks 3 questions; 1) What are you doing? 2) Why are we doing it? 3) Where do I fit? The answers to these can lead a leader to clarity. The only thing I would change here is to start with answering why before what.

KB: Can you elaborate on why you would start with answering why before what?

BW: Sure…I say why before what because why will keep you in the game. For example…Why we planted our church: so people far from God will awakened to life in Christ. What we do: Reflect the Gospel. Knowing WHY you do something is more important than knowing what you’re doing. Knowing the answer to WHY keeps me getting out of bed in the mornings.

KB: What advice do you have for other leaders in spurring them on to lead with clarity and boldness?

BW: I would go back to the questions that Andy asks and start there. Anyone can do that and to remember that when you find your clarity, you can be bold about your next steps.

A huge thanks to Bobby for helping out with this series on effective leadership. You can check out his blog or follow him on Twitter at @bobbywilliams.

Effective Leadership: Give Respect

Treat others the way you would like them to treat you. We all know this as the Golden Rule, a moral code that has stood the test of time and spans multiple cultures and religions. Confucius taught to “never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” Jesus instructed to “do to others what you would want them to do to you.” And in Homer’s Odyssey, one character states, “I will be as careful for you as I should be for myself in the same need.” And I, personally, have used it to teach or correct my kids numerous times. In one form or another, this guiding principle has impacted many.

But giving respect is more than a guiding principle when it comes to leadership. It’s an essential component. Yet I have seen far too many men and women through the years that have abused their position of authority by acting like they are above everyone else. There is nothing more ineffective than a leader who treats others as beneath them. Albert Einstein once said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” What a powerful perspective! What many leaders miss is that respect is not something that is given through position, but rather something that is earned. Many of the qualities I have discussed in this effective leadership series contribute to this earning of respect, but here I want to focus on the importance of giving respect in being respected as a leader.

Respect is a two-way street, if you want to get it, you’ve got to give it. –R.G. Risch

Practically, what does it look like to give respect? Here are a few ideas to consider as you evaluate your own leadership style and your effectiveness in giving respect.

Be mindful of how you present yourself to others. Laurence Sterne said that “respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.” How are your manners? Are you polite or demanding? What’s your tone of voice? What about your body language? You may have the best of intentions, but it doesn’t matter if you present yourself in a condescending manner. Since self-evaluation is difficult, ask those around you for an honest assessment. But check your ego at the door, because you may not like what you hear!
Be approachable. This bleeds a little bit into how you present yourself, but it also has a lot to do with your response to those you lead when they bring ideas or concerns to you. Do you shrug them off? Do you give them lip service? Or do you really care what they are saying? “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” (Brian Tracy) Ask yourself what kind of leader you would follow voluntarily.
Be humble. I have to remind myself all the time that this isn’t the “Kevin show”. In leading a project at work, I have to remember that there are a host of individuals that have loads of experience and great ideas that need to be heard. Even though I’ve been given the position of leader, I must continually earn that position with each interaction by seeking their thoughts and acknowledging that my ideas are not the only ones. It communicates to my team that they matter to me, and it makes us stronger as a unit too.

Last year, my brothers and I received an email from our dad’s former administrative assistant. She was writing to let us know how much he will be missed from that project and to communicate what an outstanding leader he is. One particular thing she included stuck out to me. She said that when dad would encounter someone, he would look them in the eye, greet them by name, and shake their hand. Doesn’t sound like a huge thing, right? But she described the impact that left on everyone, from top level management to middle and lower level staff, was tremendous. Because it communicated that dad respected whomever he crossed paths with. Einstein would be proud.

Effective Leadership: Empower

In the last post on effective leadership, I mentioned that one of the best ways to follow through is to delegate and trust others to get the job done. I would like to elaborate upon this more through the lens of empowering others. Effective leaders recognize the importance of trusting others with parts of accomplishing the vision. Not only can the vision be attained with greater speed, but the richness of the vision will be enhanced.

So what does it mean to empower others? Tara Kachaturoff explains it well in her article Great Leaders Empower Others. “Empower means to put energy into something or someone. When we empower someone, we infuse him or her with our strength, support and acknowledgement to carry things forward.” I really like the idea of, as a leader, infusing someone with strength, support and acknowledgement. It communicates to the rest of the group that I am commissioning this person to carry out the vision and expect everyone to be supportive. It is an extension of the leader’s influence beyond what one person is capable of doing on his or her own. Andrew Carnegie, the 19th century steel industry tycoon and philanthropist, said this of empowering others: “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.”

It’s also important to realize that empowering others is investing in their future. By allowing others to be a part of accomplishing the vision, we are encouraging them to step into their own greatness by using their talents and gifts. One of the primary responsibilities of any effective leader is to advocate their people’s growth and development.

One of the common points of resistance to empowering others is a fear of being replaced or made to look less valuable. However, as Barbara Colorose perfectly puts it, “the beauty of empowering others is that your own power is not diminished in the process.” It actually increases power and influence because you extend your reach through those you choose to commission. Additionally, delegating responsibility to others frees the leader up to take on new opportunities they couldn’t have before. It is advantageous of all leaders to recognize that “leaders accomplish great things through other people.” (Tara Kachaturoff)

When I was the worship pastor at a church in South Carolina, I caught the vision early in my tenure to replace myself. I had no plans to leave the church, but I saw the benefit of empowering and mentoring other leaders for the benefit of the church, those leaders, and myself. I was able to focus on the larger vision without having to be caught up in the week to week demands. The church benefited from a variety of leadership voices, making the times of worship richer. And my leadership team was able to grow as I walked alongside them and provided them opportunities to lead. Little did I know that five years into my service I would leave that church for a job in another city. I’m thankful that I caught the vision of replacing myself because the church never skipped a beat. While people missed me personally, they were left in very capable hands.

Bill Gates said that “as we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” It instills loyalty and a feeling of being cared for within those that follow. Once a leader gains this level of trust and influence, the impact of what they can accomplish will be powerful and far reaching.

Effective Leadership: Follow-through

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. –Warren Bennis

As we continue this series on leadership, I want to point out that leaders are not born; they are made. It’s a myth that certain personality types make better leaders. I would argue that your personality type simply shapes the type of leader you can be. It is also shaped by your experiences, your attitude, your faith, and the amount of work you are willing to put in. Plowing new paths requires a lot of hard work, which is exemplified in the quality we are covering today: follow-through.

I’m convinced that a leader’s effectiveness is directly linked to their ability to do what they say they are going to do. “When you get right down to the root of the meaning of the word ‘succeed’, you find that it simply means to follow-through.” (F.W. Nichol) Everyone wants to be successful, right? But there are so few that are actually good at following through. Why is this? From my experience, it’s because it requires hard work and we live in a society that is averse to working hard. We like our handouts and we like chasing our squirrels. We lack the physical, mental and emotional discipline required to stay focused on seeing vision become reality. Referring back to the opening quote, leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.

So how do we improve our follow-through capacity? From my experience, there are some proactive steps a leader can take to set himself up for success in terms of follow-through.

Be careful what you commit to. It is very easy to become overextended as a leader because there is always so much to do and so many that want your attention. Learn the liberating power of “NO”. If you need to permission to say no to something, I give it to you now. Remember that you are only as effective as your ability to follow-through on your commitments. If you take on too much, you are in danger of being a leader in title only.

Delegate and trust others to get the job done. If you’re like me, you would just assume do the task yourself because it will get done correctly the first time. But that is a horrible leadership strategy in the long run because you 1) overextend yourself and 2) fail to develop other leaders. A leader must view development of others as a top priority because, as you reproduce yourself, you extend your reach and effectiveness. Developing others is tough because it requires you to follow-through, which, as we’ve established already, is hard work. But it’s a higher level of follow-through because it doesn’t require actually doing the work, but rather overseeing it and keeping tabs with how it’s being performed. This is where the principles laid out in Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager become important. Short and to the point goal-setting, praisings and reprimands keep a leader engaged but entrust the worker to get the job done. (Click here for more on Blanchard’s book.)

One final point. A leader that doesn’t follow-through instills distrust in those that follow him, which leads to further ineffectiveness. If those that follow you don’t trust that you will do what you say you are going to do, then it doesn’t matter how smart, talented, or well-intentioned you are. Mary Kay Ash, founder of the highly successful Mary Kay cosmetic company, gives excellent parting wisdom. “Those who are blessed with the most talent don’t necessarily outperform everyone else. It’s the people with follow-through who excel.”

Effective Leadership: Know Your Stuff

What does a leader look like? What are the common characteristics that make people willing to follow someone else? Last time I introduced Tom, a division manager who was one of those rare individuals I have encountered that I would call a leader. Far too often, “leaders” are mere managers trying to navigate the day to day duties instead of plowing the path to new horizons for those that follow. There are lessons from Tom’s leadership that can be drawn from.

An important part of being able to plow the path for others is knowing your stuff. You cannot effectively lead somewhere you haven’t gone yourself. Tom exemplified this characteristic perfectly. As a division manager, he conducted regular progress and performance reviews for projects. He could always sniff out B.S. and each month would attack different angles of a project to keep the team members off balance. He was able to accomplish this because he had served time as an engineer, as a project manager, as one keeping tabs on the intricacies of a project. He knew what he was talking about and those of us following him were confident in his decisions. Rarely did I see someone contest a decision Tom made; not because he was a tyrant but because he was reasonable and experienced.

There is a big caution flag to wave here though. If you don’t know something, never fake it. We need more leaders that are authentic in our world today. In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey comments that “trust is equal parts character and competence…you can look at any leadership failure, and it’s always a failure of one or the other.” Faking that you know your stuff is a failure of both character and competence. As a leader, these two traits are the building blocks of your entire legacy because they breed trust, and trust is vital to others following you willing.

So if you find yourself in a leadership position, invest time and energy into constantly pushing yourself to hone your skills and to learn more. By doing this, you can increase the effectiveness of how you lead and others will place more and more trust in your leadership.