You have tremendous influence over both people and outcomes as a leader. If you perform well, your work can make a powerfully significant impact for good.
Here's how you can lead wisely:
Recognize the scope of your leadership. You're a leader at any time and in any situation in which you guide other people's activities and perform yourself to bring those activities about. Focus not just on what you happen to do as a leader; seek to become a great leader by incorporating the principles of leadership into your whole lifestyle. Make it your goal to be the best leader you can be at all times and in all situations.
Be flexible when choosing a leadership style. Depending on the circumstances in which you need to exercise your leadership, you could use any one of the five leadership styles: bureaucratic, permissive, laissez-faire, participative, and autocratic. Don't limit yourself when facing leadership decisions. Be creative and open to God's direction in every unique circumstance.
Expect to pay a price. Your service as a leader will come with costs that are worthwhile, yet necessary. Consider how much you're really willing to pay, in terms of hard work, patience, faith, and endurance. What sacrifices are you prepared to make? Expect to encounter criticism, fatigue, loneliness, competition, and rejection. Know that you'll have to make time for creative thinking and meditation, identify with the people you're leading, make unpleasant decisions, and use your time well. Expect to be tempted to abuse your power or give into pride or jealousy. Pray for God's strength to help you overcome all your challenges every day.
Develop strong character. People are looking to you, as a leader, to inspire them. So live a life that does so. Ask God to help you live faithfully and with integrity in all aspects of your life. Don't withhold any part of your life from God; invite Him to transform every part of it. Every day, seek to rely on God's unlimited strength working through you rather than just on your own limited strength.
Turn your worries into prayers. Whenever you find yourself feeling anxious about something you're facing as a leader, refuse to dwell on negative thoughts. Instead, pray about each concern you have, trusting God to help you with every challenge.
Set your goals using biblical priorities. Deciding what you should aim to accomplish as a leader should be based on what's most important - according to how biblical principles apply to each situation in which you lead. Don't become so busy doing your work that you forget the reason for it. Stay connected to God in prayer, asking for His guidance. Constantly ask yourself about an activity you're considering, "Will this glorify God?". Remain committed to the priorities God calls you to have.
Develop the core qualities of an effective Christian leader. Develop selfless dedication, which is possible because you know that God has a grand strategy of which you're a part. Develop courage, which is magnified by the power that comes through the Holy Spirit living in you. Develop decisiveness, which comes from knowing that the ultimate responsibility does not lie with you. Develop persuasiveness, which is based on allegiance to a cause that transcends all causes. Develop compassion, which is the human expression of Jesus' concern for the people. Develop humility, which results from knowing that it's God who does the work.
Be a wise manager. Set standards high to motivate people to perform with excellence. Establish and communicate a clearly defined purpose and clear goals that are both measurable and reasonable to accomplish. Stay attuned to the needs of the individual people working for you, and respect those needs while you work together toward your common goals. Minimize the tension between caring for people and accomplishing your goals by: hiring the best and most committed people you can find in the first place, demonstrating in your own lifestyle what you expect of others, encouraging the people in your organization to minister to each other, remembering that you're an authority figure and not a peer, guard against taking advantage of people's passion for their ministry work by making unfair demands on their time and energy, and view the way you treat the people you work with as a way of expressing your love for God.
Pray. If you're working for a Christian organization, set aside time to pray with your colleagues and employees at least once a week. Consider circulating prayer requests, going through a devotional together, assigning prayer partners, and organizing prayer retreats or other types of extended prayer times for specific purposes. If you're not working for a Christian organization, you can still pray daily for your work and the people with whom you work.
Give up your small ambitions. Make sure you're aiming as high as God wants you to aim. If you sense God leading you to pursue something that's noble and consistent with His work in the kingdom, be willing to pursue it, no matter how impossible it seems. Stretch yourself to reach God's goals for you as a leader. Pray for the courage you need to take the risks He wants you to take in the process.
Be persistent. You can make great progress toward accomplishing your goals if you're simply persistent in spending small amounts of time working toward them every day. Arrange your schedule so you can invest some time each day pursuing your goals - even if it's just a little bit of time - and watch your achievements add up over time.
Learn from your mistakes. Don't despair when you make the mistakes you're bound to make as an imperfect human being living in a fallen world. Instead, think and pray about what you can learn from the mistakes you make. Then use that information to grow as a person.
Change your attitude. Change unhealthy attitudes to healthy ones. If you're dealing with indifference, ask God to help you get excited about your work. If you're dealing with indecision, move ahead in the best way you can figure out now, trusting that God will shed new light on a situation once you take some steps of faith. If you're dealing with doubt, remind yourself of your God-given gifts that you can use in your leadership work. If you're dealing with worry, pray about each of your concerns and trust God to handle each situation better than you can. If you're dealing with being too cautious, pray for the courage you need to take the risks necessary to lead well.
Pursue excellence. Don't settle for being merely average or mediocre; pursue excellence in everything you do. Develop qualities like these that will help you excel: personal discipline, vision, optimism, a sense of adventure, courage, humility, humor, confidence, anger about the right things, patience, and integrity. Forget about trying to please everyone, and instead focus on who God wants you to be. Then do your best to become that person.
Think creatively. Decide that you will live a life of faith and courage, even if it alienates you from others. Don't be afraid to think for yourself, pursue your passions, and use your God-given talents to the fullest to contribute to the world.
Enjoy the process. Keep in mind that reaching your goals is a process that comes with a natural rhythm of work and rest at various intervals. You'll burn out if you expect to accomplish too much, too soon. Be persistent about your work, but not compulsive. Relax and enjoy the process of working toward your goals.
Live with integrity. Instead of focusing on the evil around you, concentrate on the good within you. Make commitments and keep them. Give your best effort to every task you undertake. Show people that they can count on you to do what you say you'll do.
Care about others. Try to bless the various people you encounter each day through kind words and actions. Even small kindnesses add up to great significance.
Be a good manager. Be committed to yourself, your subordinates, your peers, and your supervisors. Use your time well. Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit working within you to help you make wise decisions. Have confidence that, regardless of the outcome of your efforts, God is at work to do His will.
Balance relationships and tasks. Study your schedule to see how much time you currently spend building relationships versus performing tasks. Have you planned enough time for each, or does your schedule favor one much more than the other? Make whatever changes you need to make to create a healthy balance of both relating to people and working on your goals.
Resolve conflict well. Use conflict to produce change that benefits everyone concerned. Work to create win-win solutions for everyone involved by: beginning with clear, high performance goals; sharing information; modeling appropriate problem-solving approaches; listening well to others; focusing on facts rather than feelings; training people to solve problems better; taking things one step at a time; thinking creatively; and reaching mutual agreements.
Manage change well. Whenever you introduce change to your organization, follow these steps to help the people you work with accept the change: Give people the time they need to adjust to the proposed change; Try to introduce the change to a group smaller than the entire organization; Consider the real losses that are going to result as a consequence of the change; Be flexible on exactly how the change will take place; Build an evaluation system that will identify people who adopt the change early and those who adopt it late so you can encourage both groups of people to discuss the change together; and Look for win-win situations.
Take risks. Be willing to take the risks necessary to pursue your goals in the face of an uncertain future. Know that, even if you fail, God's ultimate purposes will be accomplished if you entrust your work to Him.
Avoid dangers that can cause your organization to fail. Stay away from: settling for the status quo, eliminating creative tensions, failing to plan in depth, refusing to listen, depending on past successes, depending on your personal experience, neglecting the highest good, forgetting unity, losing the joy of service, and forgetting the bottom line.
Put together a strong board of directors. When choosing people to serve on your organizations' board, ask: "How large should the board be?", "Who should be selected to serve on the board?", "What should be their spiritual qualifications?", "Should they be insiders or outsiders?", "What kind of a mix of different people should be on the board?" and "Who should choose the board members?". Also, plan for the costs of supporting the board's work.
Expect the unexpected. Leave room in your schedule to deal with unexpected situations and interruptions when they occur.
Be enthusiastic. Every day, pray for fresh enthusiasm, and spread that enthusiasm to the people with whom you interact.
Make wise decisions. Think and pray through decisions well. Gather all the information that time allows. Consider whether or not there are policies, procedures, or rules that cover the problem you're facing. Think about the impact on everyone and everything involved. Ask if there are ethical and/or moral questions involved. Consider whether or not it's possible to reverse the decision once it has been made. Ask what advantages there are of having to make a choice, and what will happen if you don't make a decision. Once you decide what to do, have the courage to go ahead and do it.
Balance your organization's responsibilities to your employees with your employees' responsibilities to your organization. Your employees should expect your organization t define its ethos, demonstrate dedication and persistence among its leaders, clearly state its purpose and goals, adhere to biblical moral values, practice good stewardship, and be open in sharing information with the people who work for it. Your organization should expect your employees t be diligent and competent in their work, demonstrate integrity, maintain healthy Christian attitudes, build warm and responsible interpersonal relationships, and follow the organization's rules.
Learn and teach. If you're a younger leader, learn from older leaders who have more leadership experience than you. If you're an older leader, be willing to teach and encourage younger leaders.
Establish wise priorities. When thinking and praying about what priorities you should set in your life, ask yourself questions like these: "How urgent is it?", "How important is it?", "How often must it be done?", "Can someone else or some other organization do it just as well?", "Is it part of a larger task to which you're committed?", "What will happen if it's not done at all?", and "Is this the best way out of all the alternatives?". In general, keep this order of priorities in mind: God first, family second, fellow Christians third, and Christian work fourth.
Don't become a workaholic. Don't allow the demands of your work to cause you to neglect your health, your family, or your time you need to spend with God in prayer or rejuvenating through recreation and sleep. Every day, as you make crucial decisions about how to spend your time and energy, keep the right priorities in mind. Fit your work into your whole life, rather than trying to build your life around your work.
Adapted from The Essential Engstrom: Proven Principles of Leadership by Ted W. Engstrom, copyright 2007 by Timothy J. Beals, editor. Published by Authentic Publishing, Colorado Springs, Co., www.authenticbooks.com.
Ted W. Engstrom wrote more than 55 books and spent more than 60 years as president, CEO, and board member of some of the world's biggest and best-run Christian organizations, including Zondervan, Youth for Christ, and World Vision.