Our default is to lead by reaction. We see something we don’t like in people, and then we react to it. We criticize. We complain. We attack. We withdraw. We show our displeasure and hope people will change. That’s leadership by reaction. It’s all too common. We rarely stop and think and pray about situations. We just react to them. This does not do much good to us or to those we are leading.
Effective leadership requires something different. It requires thought and vision. It requires clarity on where we want to be and how we are going to get there. It requires communication of that vision and the path that people need to take. It requires connecting well with the people we want to lead.
But that’s not enough. Leaders also help people move forward on the path. How? The Apostle Paul lists four ways or four tools in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. He told the leaders in that church, “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14). I will deal with these in the reverse order. I see the Apostle Paul as telling us: remember it’s a process, give people steps, encourage people to take those steps, and have the hard conversations.
Remember It’s a Process
One thing about reactive leadership is that it is impatient. I don’t like what you’re doing, and it needs to stop right now! This is based on a dislike of what is observed and a desire for it to be different.
However, that’s not really how humans work. Change takes time. If we are going to help people move forward, we have to remember that it’s a process. This is true not only for others. It is true for ourselves. We don’t and didn’t change in a day. Change occurs over time. It is more complex than we often think. We have a set of assumptions that govern our behavior and are wired into our bodies. This can change, but it takes place over time.
It’s sometimes easier to see this truth when we are dealing with physical skills. For example, let’s say we want to lead someone to play the guitar. We can’t just get angry that they don’t play the guitar and expect them to play the guitar immediately. We need to teach them the principles. We need to show them steps they can take. Their fingers and hands have to be trained to be able to do things they are not used to doing. They have to learn to coordinate different hands doing different things at the same time. It’s a long process.
Moral character traits are also like that. Let’s say that someone has trouble finding joy in life. They tend to always see the negative and are always on the edge of depression. Can they become a person of joy? Yes, but not overnight. They have to train themselves to see the things that cause joy and to put the negative events in a different context. This requires a re-wiring of structures that have been put into place over a lifetime. It requires application of the basic principles to the variety of situations that person will encounter. It requires implementation of those changes repeatedly over time. It’s a long process.
If we are going to help ourselves and others, we must learn to be patient. We must recognize it is a long-term project. We need to remember that leadership is a process not a one-time act.
Give People Steps
The Apostle Paul says that the leaders in the church in Thessalonica are to strengthen the weak. So, the question is, how do you strengthen the weak? You have to give them steps.
For example, if someone has never lifted weights, you don’t start them out squatting 300 pounds. You may begin by helping them learn to do a squat without any weights. Once they have mastered that, you can start adding weight. That’s how you strengthen the weak.
That’s a good description of the leadership process. You see where people are and where they could and should be. You have to give them steps to help them get there. That’s the leader’s job.
Here’s a couple of examples. When I was serving as Pastor in South Dakota, our elders wanted the people to have a fellowship time over a meal. We believed that this was a great way to build community. That was our goal.
We had that fellowship meal on Wednesday night around 6:00 p.m. That worked for a few, but it did not work for many. Many were just getting home. Kids had practice. It was difficult to get people to come. We did this for years, and we got the same result every time.
After many years, we started thinking a little more deeply. We thought, what if we did this meal at a time when everybody was already together? What would that time be? It was Sunday morning. So, we decided to do our fellowship meal right after church on Sunday morning. You know what happened? Almost everybody came, including our visitors. It was a smashing success. We finally got everybody to come and fellowship. How? We gave them a step.
Here is another example I got from a friend. Most Christian parents would like to see kids reading their Bibles. The kids will often say that they want to read their Bibles. However, like in the case of adults, it often doesn’t happen. My friend noticed that one thing his kids would not forget in the morning was to check their phones for notifications. So, he said to them, before you check your phone, read just one verse of the Bible and say a prayer. This started making a difference. He gave them a step they could easily take that helped move them forward.
That’s the 2nd tool. Give people steps. If they can’t do all you would like them to do, think about something smaller they could do that would get them where you both want them to be. Help them find those steps.
The problem is that sometimes people have the steps and know the steps. They just can’t take them for some reason. Or they take wrong steps. That’s what we’ll consider in our next post, two more tools to help people move forward.
Do you have an example of giving people steps or a need for patience in the process? I’d love to hear your leadership stories in the comments below. You can also get the next post by subscribing to my blog by scrolling down (mobile) or on the side (laptop). Thanks you for taking the time to read this post. I hope that it will encourage you to lead where God has put you.