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What's the Difference Between Good and Great Leaders?

What's the Difference Between Good and Great Leaders?
  • Name
    Dan Reiland

Communication of the Sunday message is not one of my core responsibilities as Executive Pastor.

On occasion, I have enjoyed the privilege of preaching on Sunday and received very kind and encouraging comments that the message was great! Well, if I only deliver the message two or three times a year, it should be great! However, if I had to do that 30 or 40 times a year, it would be average at best. That’s the difference between good and great: consistency. We can all get up and hit a home run once. But very few can do it consistently, meaning literally every time they get up to the plate. Our Senior Pastor at 12Stone Church, Kevin Myers, can do it. He hits the ball out of the park every time. Andy Stanley does it, too. John Maxwell hits a grand slam every time. You can name others, too, who are so consistent it’s scary. This begs the obvious question: If I’m not like Kevin, Andy or John, how do I become a great leader? If I don’t have that crazy-big gifting and talent, is great leadership not part of my potential? Everyone has a shot at consistency, but you need to take the right approach.

Moving from Consistently Good to Consistently Great:

1) Know your lane.

I met Jim Collins about the time his book Good to Great came out. What a brilliant guy. About five of us huddled up with him and machine-gunned questions at him. Essentially, I asked the primary question of this post: “How do we as ‘mere mortals’ become great, level-five leaders like you talk about?” I will never forget his answer. Jim said,
“Dan, most of these ‘greats’ are far more ordinary than you might imagine. They just found their sweet spot early in life and have been doing it for a very long time.”
Boom! There it is. Consistency! If you get in the right lane, and do what you do for a very long time, you become great at it! Of course there is more to it, but that’s the breakthrough idea. That’s the difference-maker. I’m not saying you’ll teach like Kevin, Andy or John, but over time you’d be amazed at what God can do in you and through you if you stay at it. So let’s talk about what else is involved.

2) Don’t beat yourself up.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t become a great leader overnight. You will experience setbacks, dry spells and seasons when you wonder if you are in the right lane. Don’t quit. Consistency requires that you give yourself time to grow and permission to make mistakes. You have to push the envelope to become great at what you do, and when you do that, you won’t always hit the ball out of the park. In fact, you will swing and miss more than you like. I love it when John Maxwell tells stories of his younger days as a leader and communicator. It gives us all hope! And if you listen to his stories, he never beat himself up about his failures. He used them as stepping stones to become better. High standards are good, but don’t be too hard on yourself. If you bomb a sermon, get after it again next week. If you mess up an important meeting, figure out what you did wrong and lead better next week.

3) Focus, baby, focus.

If you are a young leader, you don’t get to focus as much as you want. Be patient; your time will come. Young leaders who listen to great leaders talk about finding their lane (productive strengths) and focusing exclusively there often get frustrated. These young leaders tell me their circumstances don’t allow for that. Of course they don’t. No one starts out focused only on what is meant to be their great contribution. If you are a young leader, part of your advantage is enthusiasm and energy. Lean into that. Do all the things you are asked to do, while you simultaneously discover what you are great at. Then slowly (and consistently) work on developing your sweet spot. In time, you’ll earn the right to jettison some of the things you aren’t so good at or passionate about, and can focus on what you are destined for. Every great leader you know has taken this same path and paid this price. If you are “not so young,” it’s time to focus. You likely know what you are really good at, so start taking the risk of letting go of things others can do, so you can focus on what only you can do. Raise up leaders and empower them to lead. Let go of things that don’t require you personally. If your church in general is too busy, slowly lean out your menu of ministries. Whatever your age, the end goal is focus. You were created on purpose, for a purpose. As you narrow in on that, increase your consistency at remaining within that focused area.

4) The secret sauce is mandatory.

I alluded to this under the point, “Don’t beat yourself up.” If you skin your knee, get up, quickly mend the wound and keep going. But there is more to the discipline of practice. The beautiful thing about leadership skills is that they can be learned. And if they can be learned, they can be practiced. And if you can practice, you can excel. That’s the secret sauce to consistency. If the discipline to practice is in you, there is nothing that prevents you from becoming great at what you do.