What I’ve Learned As A Leader

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So with the last post, I’ve decided to start a blog series on what I’ve learned. The last post talked about what I’ve learned as a Sunday school teacher. Today’s post will talk about what I’ve learned as a leader. I believe that leaders are both born and developed. To be honest, growing up I never really saw myself as a leader or a person that likes to be in the front. I’ve always been the type that just wants to do whatever is needed to accomplish whatever the goal is. However, since college (and arguably a couple of years before that) I’ve operated in several leadership roles. From being a minister of music to leading a part of the after school I work for, I’ve had the privilege of serving in several leadership capacities. Today I want to share with you some of my insights from being in a leadership role the past 10-12 years.

  1. Leadership is tough. Being in leadership is not a piece of cake. Leadership requires you to make tough decisions and take responsibility when things do not go right. The best leaders take little credit for the work of their organization but take huge responsibility when things are not going well. A lot of people want to be in leadership because they like bossing people around (more on this later). Friends, I’ve learned that leadership is a responsibility that requires having a mature mindset. A part of being mature is having thick skin. People will criticize your decisions and every move you make as a leader. If you get overly offended by criticism, leadership is not for you. Because I’ve served in various leadership roles, I have a lot of empathy for those who are especially in high pressure cooker situations. Leading on a small level is tough enough, but think about those who have to do it in the national/international public eye. The bottom line is that leadership is not easy and I think the best leaders understand this wholeheartedly.
  2. Leadership isn’t about being the boss. As I said previously, I think a lot of people want to be the leader because they want to boss people around. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the best leadership empowers those you serve to do their best. Your main job as a leader is to guide whatever organization you are a part of to its highest potential. I must admit that this has been a hard lesson for me to apply and I still struggle with it every now and then. I can be bossy and demanding of what I think is best, but I’ve also seen how much better things are when I empower the people I serve instead of bossing them around. Now please understand that there are times in which the leader must make a decision, but the leader must be smart to know when he/she needs to just make a decision or when he/she needs to collaboratively decide with those they serve. The boss mentality causes unnecessary conflict and really reflects on the insecurity of the leader. Be the leader that is known more for your empowerment than dictatorial attitude.
  3. The best leaders surround themselves with a great staff. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a leader is not embracing the idea of having great people surrounding me as a leader. By this, I mean that you should have people on your staff who may be smarter than you in a particular area, particularly one of your weaknesses. Leaders who are insecure want the weakest people on their staff so that they look like the smartest person in the room. Another reason some leaders want the weakest people on their staff is that they see having great/super-smart people as a threat to their job. I am convinced that some of the greatest accomplishments in organizations take place when the leadership wants to hire the best people to get the job done. We see this with the Golden State Warriors of the NBA. Head Coach Steve Kerr in his first year on the job hired 2 phenomenal assistants who could be head coaches anywhere else (one took a head coaching job this season) and that team went on to win the NBA championship. Within another part of the organization, they hired Jerry West who is one of the best GMs in NBA history to be in a consulting role. What this shows is that they want the best people because they want a great product. It’s not about who gets the credit, it’s about accomplishing the goals. Great leaders realize that they do not know it all!
  4. Leadership requires extreme humility. We’ve kind of talked about this already, but great leaders are not about ego and thinking they are all that and a bag of chips. Leaders understand that to get to where they are requires others. As we talked about earlier, humble leaders do not see having the best on their staff as a threat to their job, but as a key to accomplishing great things. Let’s also be clear that being nice is not equated to humility. Humble leaders still must exhibit assertiveness to make the tough calls. People have tried to tell me over the years that I’m humble, but as I’ve done some serious soul searching, I realize that I’m not as humble as people have given me credit for. I share this with you all because I firmly believe that we have to be self-aware regarding our strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses we have we need to work on consistently. In this current season of my life, I truly believe God has humbled me in various ways. As a result, I’m more open to feedback, constructive advice and learning whatever I need to learn.
  5. Leadership requires consistency. Your influence as a leader fails when people do not see consistency in you. This is one of the biggest areas that I continue to struggle with. Consistency says that we will not see one version of you today and another version of you tomorrow. Consistency tells people that they’re not going to get a bunch of surprises from you. This helps because as a whole, people have an issue with trusting others. Trust is one of the most important attributes you can have as a leader because it gives you more credibility in what you’re doing. When I talk about consistency, I’m focusing not just on who you are but what you do in the context of your leadership. I read somewhere that defined consistency as believing in what you do. When you practice consistency, you send a message that you believe in yourself and the work you are doing. Do you believe in what you’re doing? Your consistency or lack thereof will tell the story.

 

I’ve probably learned way more than this, but I just want to share with you all the thoughts that popped up in my head. I see myself as having leadership potential, but as I go further in my career and life, I will approach leadership opportunities with a spirit of humility. I will also take the lessons I’ve learned over the years and apply them. One aspect of all of this is that I’ve been in leadership as a very young person. This doesn’t justify the mistakes I’ve made, but this thought keeps me encouraged and humbled to know that the best days of my leadership haven’t even started yet. Therefore, instead of being down about the mistakes I’ve made, I am determined to rise above them and move forward. I encourage all of you to embrace being a leader, but also know that it comes with a cost. Be the best leader you can be!

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What I’ve Learned As A Sunday School Teacher

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2016 marks the 6th year that I’ve had the privilege of serving as a Sunday school teacher for my home church. I first and foremost give glory to God for the ability to teach God’s Word while at the same time being a student myself. I’m also grateful for the Rev. Donna Vanhook blessing me with an opportunity to be an assistant teacher for our young adult Sunday school class. Until I had the opportunity, I did not know that I had the capability to lead God’s people in the study of His word. Currently I serve as a teacher of the youth and adult Sunday school classes still at my home church. There are several lessons I’ve learned as a result of teaching Sunday school that I would like to share with you all.

  1. Remain a student even in teaching the Word of God. One of the current problems that is discussed in the Christian faith is that many people who teach and preach do not see themselves as students of what they are teaching. A lot of times they focus on distributing the information without applying it to their own lives. Teaching people the Word of God is a privilege, but should be taught in a spirit of humility. It is hard to teach God’s Word with validity when our lives contradict what we teach. I have had moments where I thought about quitting my teaching assignment because my life wasn’t totally in sync with what I taught. It is still a struggle, but what helps is having that awareness of that reality. The Bible makes it clear that those who teach have even greater accountability (James 3:1). Therefore, before I teach anybody anything from the Bible, I must do an evaluation of myself to see what areas of my life need application of what I’m teaching. One last element of being a student in teaching is doing more facilitating than telling. In my opinion, teaching God’s Word should be a conversation between the teacher and the students about whatever the topic is. When everyone does their homework, learning can take place and this learning isn’t just limited to the students. When a teacher walks away from a lesson with the mindset of “wow, I didn’t think of it that way”, the teacher has done their job. As teachers we must remain teachable because regardless of our teaching status, nobody knows it all.
  2. Like any profession in life, preparation is the key. Let’s be honest for a moment: people know when you’re not prepared. When people have that sense that you’re not prepared, it takes away from the impact that could take place. Preparation says that we value what we’re doing and want to do it in a spirit of excellence. Excellence doesn’t equal perfection; it equals our best effort. While I have not perfected the discipline of preparation, preparation is such a fun part of what I do. Preparation is the proof to me that I’m doing what I’m passionate about. For those who are teachers of any sort, don’t you feel the joy that comes with discovering something that you can’t wait to share with your students? I remember one time specifically when I was studying something and the revelation from it was so on point that I literally ran a lap or two inside of my house. Preparation is crucial and says A LOT about how passionate you are about what you’re doing.
  3. Loving the students you teach supersedes the knowledge you share. As I said earlier, teaching God’s Word should be a conversation between teacher and student. This conversation should be based on what God has spoke to everyone through His word and not just one person. Therefore, loving our students should be a huge priority for us. I do not understand how one can preach to or teach people yet not have love for them. How do we show love to our students? We have to express care and compassion for them. Ask about how they are doing. Ask about how their family is doing. If they need assistance and we’re not able to give it to them, we should lead them to resources that can help. We also love people by treating them with respect. I believe people will buy into your teaching more when you show not only that you know the material, but show that you have genuine love and care for them. This is very vital for me in teaching the youth. I want the youth not to just see me as their Sunday school teacher, but as one willing to pray for and love them. I try as hard as I can to interact with the kids I teach outside of the Sunday school teaching time. With everyone you teach, you don’t know the struggles that your students face outside of the teaching time. Sometimes your teaching time may be one of the very few times that your students experience God’s love genuinely.

 

If you are a teacher of God’s Word or a teacher in general, I pray that these lessons that I’ve shared with benefit you in whatever way possible. Teaching is a rewarding experience that I’m thankful to do every chance I get. May I use the teaching gift for God’s glory and God’s glory alone, amen!

The Power of Authentic Community

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This quote you see here epitomizes the power of authentic community. What I am seeing in our society and in my personal experience is tragic. I see a mindset that would rather try to navigate life alone than be connected with other human beings. I also see a mindset that looks at humans as either a means to an end or as their worst enemy no matter what. I am convinced that one of the keys to our society being healthy is embracing the power of community. Life was never meant to be lived in isolation. As it has been said many times, we were created for relationships. As a Christian, I do not believe it was ever God’s intent for us to try to live life on our own. One of the purposes, I believe for the church is to be God’s demonstration of His love to one another on earth. Authentic community is one of the biggest arenas for us to share God’s love. So today I’d like to discuss with you all 3 things as it relates to the power of community.

  1. Authentic community reminds us that we all have struggles. I saw a video a year or so ago that demonstrated the idea that with every person there is a struggle or story associated with them. In the video you would see people from every facet of life with a story above their head. The story could be something such as “cancer patient” or “family member received bad news.” The bottom line of the video is that no matter who we are, we all have a life issue or something going on. No matter what our status is in life we all have struggles. This even includes the celebrities we see daily. Life is difficult for everyone. Some people may think that the people with the most money have the least amount of problems, but history shows that sometimes the people with the most money have the most problems. I believe authentic community keeps us humble to remind us that we are no better than anyone. Authentic community also teaches us to be patient with one another. Life is a battle for all of us and we’re all trying to survive to the best of our ability. Instead of us judging one another in the struggle, how about we offer our hand to help our neighbor through their struggles.
  2. Authentic community challenges us to be our brother’s/sister’s keeper. As I said in the first point, instead of us judging our neighbors in their struggle, we should offer help whenever possible. There will come a time in ALL of our lives in which we will go through a rough period of our life. During that time, the last thing we’re looking for us someone trying to criticize us unnecessarily. In those periods of time, we’re looking for a helping hand. One of the biggest disadvantages of social media especially for celebrities is that when someone makes a human mistake, a lot of times people put up comments in the story that do nothing but further the person in trouble. Why not in a spirit of correction acknowledge the issue and offer to pray for the person in trouble. We also see this on a personal level. It’s a shame to me that many people will die without experiencing the joy of someone giving them a lift up through assisting however possible. As one of our deacons who passed away a couple of years ago said, the only time you should look down on a person is when you’re trying to help them up. I believe that when we know our brother/sister is in trouble, authentic community challenges us to help them get to where they need to be.
  3. Authentic community is desperately needed like never before. There are so many people around us who are hurting and going through internal issues. What you may or may not realize is that you can tell who is hurting and who isn’t a lot of times by their attitude. I believe that when certain people have an attitude with you, it’s not necessarily about you but about them. I believe that an oasis of healing is out there and can be found within true community. I encourage all of us to evaluate the people we have in our lives in terms of whether we can see some type of hurt or discouragement in them. We live in a world where people are so skeptical and cynical of one another that trust is becoming an extinct word. Life is not getting any easier and therefore the battles we face are continuing to increase. Too many people are giving up on life because they do not have anybody they can share their struggles with. Too many things hang on the balance for us to dismiss the effectiveness that community can have.

 

I want to end this post by encouraging all of us not to give up on the beauty and joy of authentic community. The difference between someone giving up and pressing through can be as simple as another human being. What would the world be like if we could give our fellow neighbor an honest answer when asked how we are doing? What would it be like if everyone had someone they could be completely honest and transparent with? Let me stress that I am for being selective about who we share our business with; I’m just stressing that a part of true community is honesty and transparency. Let’s please get back to truly loving and caring for one another. Somebody’s life may depend on it!

1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl2_knlv_xw (video I mentioned earlier about everyone having a story or struggle behind who they are)

Book Review: Safe People by Cloud/Townsend

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In honor of being selected to be a part of a launch team for a book coming out by Dr. Henry Cloud, I decided to do a book review of one of my favorite books by him and Dr. John Townsend: “Safe People”. The premise of this book is that there are safe and unsafe people in the world. The safe people are the ones we need to have in our lives, while unsafe people are the ones we need to avoid. Some of the traits of unsafe people discussed include those who gossip, those who play the blame game vs taking responsibility and those who are defensive. Safe people are pretty much the opposite and are supportive, tell the truth, love others and authentically supports others. The authors make the case that when we choose the wrong people, it can lead to tragedies and traumatic events taking place in our life.

I first read this book several years ago and immediately it was a huge blessing to me. This book also confirmed to me that a lot of people who are unsafe have been hurt by life themselves. The quote “hurt people hurt people” is so prevalent. The opposite that “healed people heal people” is true as well. This book made me evaluate my relationships in terms of who I have in my life. The book also made me evaluate whether others would consider me a safe person or not. I firmly believe that if we had more safe people in our world, it would be a much better place to live. This book is definitely good for people who have been hurt by life needing a safe community for healing.

Whether you’ve been hurt or have done the hurting, this book can be a great source of information to evaluate the relationships in your life. Save a few dollars and invest in your spiritual and emotional health by learning what relationships you need in your life and the ones you need to get rid of. Your life will improve tremendously!

Book Review: The Resolution for Men

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I’m here with another book review. This book entitled “The Resolution for Men” is authored by Stephen Kendrick, Randy Alcorn and Alex Kendrick. If I’m not mistaken, they are the creators of “Fireproof” and “The Love Dare.” This book takes a look at the various aspect of manhood from a Christian perspective that one should be keen on. Topics discussed include responsibility, marriage, fatherhood, dealing with the past and so much more. This is definitely a good book to use for a men’s bible study or men’s group. The book makes the argument that there are many implications for being a man, particularly a Christian man. The book challenges men to step into the role that God has given them with confidence and focus. One of the biggest reasons for this challenge is because so much is in the balance based on how men live including their marriages, relationship with their children and so much more.

For me, this book was a tremendous blessing and challenge to read. As a young man approaching 30, my life has made a 180 turn in the last couple of years. Going from being a single man now to being married with a child is a huge shift. Part of the shift is realizing that now God has blessed me with stewardship of a family and marriage. This book challenged me in realizing the magnitude of being a stepfather and a husband. As I said earlier, I would definitely recommend this book if you’re leading a group of young men. Many of us have no idea about the magnitude of our role in this society. With so much going on, it is imperative that as men we operate in the role God has called us into. I am thankful for reading a book that has challenged me to action instead of sitting on the sideline.

I challenge all of you especially those who are men to invest in learning more about manhood through buying this book. It may feel overwhelming (like it did for me and still does at times), but you’ll be more equipped with the tools needed to be a man that makes a difference in society. I believe in you!

An Identity Crisis

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Outside of my regular responsibilities, I’ve spent the past few days watching NCAA basketball. One of the things I’ve observed is that every team wins in a different way. Some teams are heavy on 3 point shots while others are big on defense including steals and turnovers. The bottom line of all this is that the team is committed to a particular identity. While they are adaptable and flexible, they usually go with what has worked to get them to the point that they are today. I was further inspired on the issue of identity when I heard someone on a sports show briefly mention a player having an identity crisis. He basically said that one year the player wants to be friendly and nice, then the next year the player wants to be mean. What is the player saying? The player is saying that he’s not sure who he wants to be. He continues to experiment with different personalities instead of sticking to who he is.

All of this has me thinking about a very serious issue in our society. This issue isn’t on the same level as poverty, genocide, murder, etc, but can shape how people behave and think. The reality is that most people (especially based on my experience and observations) struggle with maintaining an identity of who they are. Too many people try to change the fundamental background of who they are to fit in with other people. There are some people who are so caught up in trying to have everybody like them that they will change their personality and identity like changing clothes. This boils down to an issue of needing people’s approval and affirmation. While I am believer in the idea that all of us need affirmation, this shouldn’t come at the cost of trying to change who we are just to get that affirmation. Real friendship is about helping you, the real you, to be better. The people in our lives should be encouraging us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. Be careful about hanging around people who are so stuck on you being who THEY want you to be that they don’t appreciate who you’re uniquely created and crafted to be.

A lot of our identity crisis boils down to us not being confident in who God created us to be. The Bible makes it clear in Psalm 139 that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Fearfully in this context means “honor, respect, reverence.” In other words, God carefully designed who we are. That is not something we should take lightly. Because of how careful God was in designing us, we should be committed to being the best version of the person God created us to be. There is only one of you and there will never be another version of who we are. To change who we are to fit in with people who probably don’t have our best interest at heart is a rejection of the Creator and His work.

What I didn’t share with you at the beginning is that in the games where the team stays true to their identity, most of the time that team wins. Therefore, I believe that if you stick with who God has called you to be, you will also be victorious. This world needs the best version of you, not a version based on the inconsistent affirmation of others. Remember that some of the same folk who affirm you because you change into what they want you to be can be the same ones ready to throw you away in a minute. Therefore, stick with God and those who genuinely want what’s best for you. Stop changing yourself to fit in with people and just embrace the person God has called you to be. You have so much to offer this world. Don’t go to the cemetery with it. Bring it out now!

Book Review: The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy

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One of the interesting pieces of this blog will be book reviews. The first book I’d like to review is one that really challenged my view of leadership. The book is written by Tony Dungy, who served as a head coach in the National Football League for over 10 years winning one Super Bowl in that run. I will do a separate blog post on Mr. Dungy at a later time, but he is one of my favorite persons to look up to.

The Mentor Leader book makes a 180 degree turn on what many people think leadership is all about. Many have been brought up to believe that leadership is about being the boss, a dictator and commander. This book makes the case that true leadership is about being a servant and mentor to those you lead. Most if not all of the principles Tony shares is based on his leadership philosophy that he used in being a head coach in the NFL. The book has 9 chapters focused on matters such as the mindset of the mentor leader and the measure of a mentor leader. The book is focused around the main idea that “your only job is to help your team be better.” Another huge issue that he brings up is the importance of making an impact. Some of the best leaders that have led left a mark on the person that will never be erased. That is the main principle of legacy. Overall, the book shows that leadership doesn’t have to be focused on controlling a group of people, but can be focused on making everyone a better person in every facet of life.

As an emerging leader, I love this book because it allows me to see leadership in a bigger picture. No longer do I have to lead with an iron fist (even though it’s necessary at times depending on the situation), but I can lead with a servant’s hand and heart. I hope that this book gets plenty of exposure in the years to come because it can totally change the dynamic of how we lead. There are absolutely too many people in leadership who don’t care about the people that they serve. That model has to change especially within the Christian church. Before reading this book, I never knew that the impact of leadership is so huge. So many of us want the title and prestige of leadership but don’t count the cost. Leaders are judged on a different standard and after reading this book it kind of feels justified.

I have no complaints about this book. I just want to encourage you to invest in your leadership (everyone is a leader in some capacity) by purchasing this book at your local bookstore or online retailer. Your life and leadership will never be the same!