Maybe it’s just me, but few things frustrate me more than knowing what could be against what is; yet not making progress.

But I’m guessing that’s not just me – it’s probably every leader reading this post. Most leaders I know have some version of a preferred future in mind with a desire to lead people there over time. In some ways that’s why we are leaders! Leadership is about influence, and in most cases, influence towards something specific. A vision. A destination… A preferred future.

And again, for me, the more untapped the potential, the more frustrated I get when the progress is slow or nonexistent.

Here’s my current example: As a pastor in a large church, one of our greatest untapped potentials is in generosity. In conservative estimations, if every family who attends our church systematically gave ONLY 5% of their household income to the church (that’s half of what we would consider a tithe), our annual revenue stream would increase 400%. And that’s VERY conservative. It could increase 6, 7 or maybe 10 times! In my case, that is millions of dollars – with a capital “M.” And we would not need to spend more money inside our church – we would be in a position to do unprecedented good outside our church! 

That is frustrating!

If this post was spiritual leadership, I would write about how giving is a spiritual issue more than a financial issue and how giving opens up our financial life to God. That’s true, but that’s a different post. For now, I want to share what I’m learning about leading people toward a preferred future.

1. Have a clear vision.

A vision is a picture of what could be fueled by a passion for what should be. Every leader carries a burden of some sort, but creating clarity around a shared burden is often the difference between organizational status quo and movement. If we as leaders hope to move people to a different future, we must be able to articulate that future with clarity and passion.

2. Have a clear strategy.

Once you have a clearly articulated vision of the future, leaders must step backward incrementally to create steps from where you are to where you are going. A clear vision of the future without a strategy to get there is next to worthless. So while the vision might be hypothetical, the strategy should be extremely practical.

Also, the strategy must have the lowest rungs on the ladder. Leaders often fall prey to the “curse of knowledge,” meaning as leaders, we have a full understanding of where we are and what it takes to move forward, but our followers often do not. They are not as close to the vision or organization as you. So our understanding acts like a curse, fooling us into believing everyone is beginning at the same place practically, emotionally, or in my case, spiritually.

3. Answering “What’s in it for me?”

As part of the vision and strategy, leaders should set milestones and goals along the way. But these little wins must not just be organizationally. If that’s where we stop, we will lose many of our followers along the journey. Why? Because at our core, people what to know what’s in it for them. So as we communicate the vision and the strategy, we must be sure to include why this matters for the organization, for others, AND FOR THEM PERSONALLY.

4. Be patient.

Change is a slow process. This kills me as a leader, because identifying a desired future and not arriving there tomorrow is frustrating. But I have seen so many leaders give up, not because they had a poor vision, strategy, or process – but because they were not willing to be patient. The curse of knowledge will try a leader’s patience. People’s different levels of investment will require patience. And change in general just requires patience.

So be patient. Run the system. Continue creating clarity. Say the vision over and over and over. And celebrate every win along the way. But most of all (at least for your peace), be patient.

5. Leaders set the example.

One more thing: We as leaders must always go first. If we ever hope to lead people to a desirable future, we must be willing to do the hard work ourselves. We must have moral authority.

Back to my funding example. I can never ask people to give a percentage of their income to the local church if I am unwilling to do the same. The problem with moral authority is it can’t be faked. You either have it or you don’t – and your followers can sniff that out like a hunting dog. So set the example. And make it public when you can.

6. Don’t lie (or exaggerate or spin or pretend).

Sorry. One more thing. Don’t lie. Don’t over-exaggerate. Don’t spin the reality into a false sense of security. Great leaders find ways to be comfortable being honest.

What I love about this idea is I’m still learning it. I have not cracked the code on leading a large group of people to a collective desirable future. For example, as I type this post, we are raising money to build our first permanent location, and only 16.3% of our families have made a pledge or given a gift (hence my example and frustration above). Surprisingly, we have achieved our funding goal in the face of such small participation! But can you imagine what COULD be and even SHOULD be? If 50% participated? 75%? I can – and it fuels me to be a better leader.

Because the problem is not our church or our people – the problem is me as their leader. I need to do a better job leading them to move. And I need to take more of my own advice (especially #4).

So if you have any feedback or advice, I’d love to hear! Leave a comment below and feel free to pass this along via social media or email. My guess is every leader could use some more coaching on this topic!

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