Keeping your leadership fresh

Lady holding fresh flowers

Used with permission.

Do you remember being the new person in your job, coming in with all those wonderful ideas about what needed to be done? When I came to CCCC, everybody kept asking me what my first 90-day plan was, and frankly, I didn’t have one. I knew very little about CCCC but I knew it helped churches and I knew God had called me to CCCC to serve the broader church. So in my first 90 days, I didn’t do anything but observe, listen and ask questions. And then I knew what needed to be done.

By the time I had been in my role for four years, I knew that CCCC was entering another phase in its development. The low-hanging fruit had been picked and it was time to reach for the fruit that would be much harder to get. Now that I was an insider, not an outsider, could I still generate fresh, creative vision and ideas for CCCC?

Growing with the organization

That’s the question that every leader faces, “Am I the one to lead this organization through the next phase of its life?” I remember a favourite pastor of mine telling me he was resigning from our church of 900 people because he didn’t feel he had what it would take for the next stage of growth. He later led another church to several thousands of members, so I guess he found a way that he could grow with his church.

And that’s the point of this post. As leaders, we must ensure that we never stop growing. It’s been often said that an organization that is not growing is actually declining. The same thing can be said about us as leaders. The world moves on with or without us. We will become stale-dated if we do not take steps to stay fresh. So how do you keep your leadership fresh?

Download personal reflection guide

Download personal reflection guide

How to stay fresh

I believe we need something outside of ourselves to stimulate creativity. It is only by getting out beyond what we already know, already think and have already experienced that we can see new opportunities for our ministries. So here are some of the things I do to stay fresh as a leader.

  • My promise to the board, staff and members of CCCC is that each and every day I will stay close to God and do what he tells me to do. I find leadership is a lot easier when I realize that I am first a follower. To follow Christ I must be consistent in practising personal spiritual disciplines. I find Christian meditation especially helpful as I reflect on God’s character and His mission. But corporate spiritual practices are necessary too. This includes faithful participation in the life of my local church and shared discernment with my board and staff. With a professor from Tyndale Seminary as the spiritual director, we held a mini-retreat for the CCCC staff to help everyone learn some spiritual practices that would help them discern God’s leading, so they could contribute better to group discernment.
  • I have to admit that I am wired as an academic type, so formal education is a big part of my professional development. The board has graciously provided some budget to allow me to take courses from time to time. With this support, I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in Christian Leadership and took the Nonprofit Strategic Management course at Harvard Business School. Both have helped me critically evaluate my leadership and the needs of the CCCC. Both exposed me to fresh ways of looking at things and provided new tools for taking action.
  • Several times I have done a little thought experiment, pretending to be my own replacement. If I were an outsider, committed to our mission but not necessarily to any specific program, what would I change? If I were designing a ministry today to do our mission, what would it do and how would it do it? Sometimes I’ve thought about how I would compete against CCCC by offering different services or higher value. The outcome of these thought experiments is a list of ideas that you can then put into action.
  • Read. Read a lot. Books, journals, blogs. Read widely, beyond your own specialty. See how things are done in other ministry sectors, in the for profit sector, in the Third World. Get different perspectives. Read people you know you don’t agree with. Read theologians who write about God’s mission, because that’s what you are working on and you need to go about it His way. Ask what others are reading. When I read a good book I always go over the bibliography very carefully, because there’s a treasure trove in there of books that will take you deeper into the topic. Over the years I’ve done things like going to a seminary just to look at the course syllabi in the library so I can see what books they are recommending for their classes. I’ve gone to a university library to search their database of full text articles, browse the stacks and flip through the journals. I’ve wandered through bookstores and found some really great books. And of course, there’s always Amazon and Chapters online. Here’s how I pick which of the many books on a topic I will actually read.
  • Talk with other leaders specifically about their learning experiences. The most interesting part of my job is meeting with CCCC members in their offices. I think I can safely say I’ve now visited at least 200 of our members. Each person I’ve met has had a story and each has helped me by sharing what they have learned. I also find out what they are reading and what they are thinking about these days. In turn, I share something of my experiences with them.
  • Talk to people about life in general. Every person you meet expands the range of opportunity you have. Back in the Nineties I gave a speech quite a bit that included the story of Banana Nose Wilson and Issur Danielovitch. Both were born of poor immigrant parents in Amsterdam NY in 1916 but their lives turned out very differently. Banana Nose never made friends and was in contact with very few people. When he was interviewed by Look magazine, he was a skid row bum. Issur, on the other hand, made hundreds of friends. Chances were good that some of them might provide him with opportunity. One of his friends from an acting class went to Hollywood, was discovered, and then brought her friend Issur to the attention of some Hollywood directors. The rest is history. Her name is Lauren Bacall and we know Issur today as Kirk Douglas. I only discovered I was eligible for a DMin program by talking with someone who knew that an admission rule had changed without fanfare and I was eligible immediately without waiting for another three years of work experience! That opportunity would have passed me by if I hadn’t been out and about meeting people. The 35 < 35 recognition program a few years ago came out of an encounter with Carson Pue in a hotel hallway. The program was his idea, but he invited CCCC to participate because I said we wanted to encourage young leaders. The more you talk, the more you find opportunities.
  • Talk with your staff. They are immersed in your ministry every bit as much as you are and they each have their own perspectives. I will often throw out ideas to seed discussion. But it doesn’t have to be me instigating the discussion. I hope that all of my staff feel free to contribute whatever they are thinking about.
  • Attend conferences. At our annual conference next week, we are running over 60 workshops and only 8 of them are being delivered by CCCC staff. This is an opportunity for us to hear what a wide variety of others have to say. I attend an annual meeting for leaders of Christian associations. Attending meetings like these are great ways to quickly get a wide variety of new ideas. I attend one major (non-CCCC) conference each year.
  • At least once a year, I take a little 3 or 4 day mini-retreat to think deeply about CCCC. Having a dedicated, concentrated time of reflection seems to lead to more aha’s and insights than I get from a few hours at a time here and there, valuable as those shorter times are.

What about you? What do you do to stay fresh? Please share!

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Thoughts on Keeping your leadership fresh

  1. Eric Stolte

    Great ideas, John. Another is to find a coach / mentor (I don’t think you mentioned that specifically, unless I missed it!). That’s been a big help for me. Look forward to seeing you shortly!

    Reply

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