Revealing the Illusion of Leadership

Revealing the Illusion of Leadership

How do you know if you’re leading well?

The question is tougher to answer than you think.

Sometimes you can look around and conclude that things are going quite well when in fact, they’re not.

Why is that?

One of the best definitions of leadership I’ve ever heard is John Maxwell’s, who says leadership is influence.

He’s right.

Effective leaders use that influence to rally people around a common mission, vision and strategy. They take people on a journey.

In the case of the church, the mission has been handed to us: it’s to reach the world with the love and the hope of Christ.

As beautiful as that may sound, it’s also difficult. Leadership, by definition, means you’re asking people to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do without your leadership. Think about that.

That’s exactly why it’s so hard. People don’t naturally do what leaders ask them to do. Otherwise, there would be no need for your leadership.

Leaders get people to sacrifice, to give, to contribute, to put themselves second and give their best to a cause bigger than themselves (in our case, the Gospel).

So how do you know if you’re leading well or spinning your wheels?

Here are five things that can make you feel like you’re leading well when you’re not.

1. Money

Money isn’t leadership.

I’ve heard non-leaders say the reason they’re not effective is because they have no money. Conversely, non-leaders can think they’re effective in leadership because they do have money in the bank.

Neither is true.

Many of the best leaders start without money. And they know what every great leader knows: Vision precedes resources.

I will follow a leader with passion, direction and drive on a shoe-string budget whose church is meeting in rented facilities over a visionless leader who presides over a dying organization flush with cash. Chances are, so would you.

Having money isn’t a sign you’re leading well. As Tony Morgan has perceptively noted, increased giving at a church is not a sign that a church is healthy. In fact, many churches with declining attendance have great giving despite losing their urgent sense of mission.

Money is a false indicator of success. Eventually, you need some. But it should never be what drives you.

Anytime cash is more important than cause, you’ve stopped leading.

2. Ideas

Sometimes people think they’re leaders because they have ideas.

Ideas help leaders, but in and of themselves ideas are not leadership.

Life is filled with people who say things like, “I had that idea eight years ago.” To which I always ask myself, “And what did you DO about it?”

Often the answer is nothing.

And that’s the problem. Thinking is not leading. Creativity is not leadership.

Generating incredible ideas is one thing. Acting on them is quite another.

A B+ strategy, well-executed, trumps an A+ idea every time.

3. Productivity

Look, I’m all for productivity. In fact, I created a course on it. (If you’re interested, you can join the waiting list to take The High Impact Leader course here.)

That said, it’s easy to fall into the trap of judging the success of your day by your level of productivity. It’s just too easy to say “I had a productive day” and convince yourself you were effective as a leader.

Productive with what?

Being incredibly efficient at nothing important isn’t success.

Instead, ask yourself whether you moved the mission forward. Ask whether you did anything significant. Ask whether people are better, whether the cause is clearer, whether the organization is ahead because of what you did.

If the answer is no, it doesn’t matter how productive you were, does it?

4. Lack of Opposition

Nobody likes opposition. I promise you I don’t.

So it would be very easy to assume, then, that when you get to a point in leadership where the criticism stops, that you’re effective.

True…you can grow your skill set in handling critics when you’re in leadership (here are five healthy ways to handle your critics), but if you’re leading well, the critics will never go away.

Like me, you probably live in the false hope that you can lead in a way that will lead to universal approval. You live with the faint hope that you can be clever enough, faithful enough and deft enough to avoid the critics.

And you’d be wrong.

There’s only one way to avoid criticism in your life: do nothing significant.

As soon as you do something significant—in other words, as soon as you begin to lead—you’ll draw critics.

Do anything significant, and the critics will come running.

So if you haven’t heard much criticism lately, get nervous. It might be a sign you’re not doing anything worthwhile.

5. Great Management

Great management is essential to any organization that wants to thrive long term.

This is true for everything from managing people to managing finances and procedures. Bringing at least some order out of chaos is the hallmark of any great organization.

But excellent management is not great leadership.

Managers manage what has already been built. Leaders create new things. Leaders live in tomorrow. Managers live in today. Live in today too long, and you’ll miss tomorrow.

As Les McKeown so capably points out (in one of my most downloaded leadership podcast episodes of all time), organizations that thrive over the long haul have both great systems and entrepreneurial zeal that push them forward.

If your focus is only on entrepreneurship, you won’t have the systems to survive. If it’s all systems, you’ll become a dying bureaucracy with no purpose.

Still, it’s easy to think a well-run organization is a sign of great leadership. It only is if you keep building into the future.

Otherwise, you simply have an efficient and pleasant ride into the grave-yard.