I recently spoke to college leaders at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and my assigned topic was “Leadership Lessons I Learned as a Young Leader.” I started pastoring full-time at age 20, so I had MUCH to learn then. Here are some of those lessons I at least began learning then — though some I’m still learning to this day):
1. I’m not nearly as important as I thought I was. Especially when you start leading at a young age, it’s easy to think you’re something. Life and ministry, though, have a way of teaching you otherwise. The world doesn’t wrap around us.
2. Leaders who lead alone aren’t usually wise. Sure, there are times when strong leaders must stand alone. On the other hand, those leaders who continually try to lead without seeking input from others often fail — but with no one else to blame other than themselves.
3. The best way to gauge leadership is to see what happens when a leader is no longer there. That’s particularly the case in Christian leadership, where leadership development is essentially discipleship at some level. If our departure leaves a gaping hole in our work, it’s likely we’ve built too much around ourselves.
4. It’s easy to lead first and pray second (or not pray at all). As much as I love and write about prayer, this is one of those lessons I continually need to hear again. To only ask God to bless what we’ve already done is backwards praying. It’s right to seek God’s guidance first.
5. Christian leadership is connected to Christian care and shepherding. We lead others best when they know how much we care about them. Building relationships today will thus assist us in leading in the future.
6. Leadership can be hard (and even lonely). Sometimes leaders must make hard calls about staffing. Good leadership requires investing in others, experiencing their victories and their defeats. Not everyone will follow well. It’s just hard.
7. The best way to learn leadership is to watch others. My best experiences in leadership have been at the feet of other stronger, more effective leaders. Reading a book or attending a conference on leadership is no comparison to having a meal with a leader.
8. Leaders can become workaholics. That’s especially so when we tie our self-esteem into the product we produce. From a Christian perspective, workaholism is sometimes nothing less than idolatry.
9. The minute you think you’ve “arrived,” you forfeit some of your leadership. Arrogance gets in the way of good leadership — and, others often recognize our arrogance before we do. Unchecked egos can build “kingdoms,” but they’re fleeting ones.
10. Some of the most important things you do as leaders are “behind the scenes.” I include prayer, fasting and Bible study here. We lead best out of our quiet time with the Lord.
11. Organizations need leaders, but they move on quickly when a leader leaves. They often must, actually, so the work goes on without delay. I even tell students that some organizations replace you before you ever get out the door!
What lessons have you learned?