Can we be honest here for a minute?
Leadership would be easy if it weren’t for the people.
People are difficult. They are needy, messy, unpredictable and energy-sapping.
But people can also be generous, brilliant, steadfast and life-giving.
Strong leaders call out the best version of people, helping them shine their own God-given light.
Servant leaders do that by investing in people. A deep love for people spurs the servant leader to know, celebrate and challenge the people around her to do amazing things.
I had to learn about servant leadership the hard way. I spent years working in an authoritative corporate structure, and being told I needed to “toughen up” and “show them who’s boss”. As I began to serve in ministry, I couldn’t understand why people didn’t just do what I said to do because I said to do it.
As I studied 1 Thessalonians, I saw how Paul invested in this young and growing church and called them out to be leaders in spreading the good news of Christ. I learned to relate to people in a new way, and realized that my job as leader is not to boss people around, but to clear the way for them to do their best work. I learned to invest in people in four ways.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 (ESV)
How well do you know the people who serve with you? Do you know their families? Their hobbies? Are you doing life with them? How do you feel when someone makes the effort to know you?
Look at the words Paul used.
Gentle … taking care … affectionate … sharing … dear.
Sweet, intimate words that we usually reserve for those closest to us. Knowing is the first step towards that kind of intimacy. When people feel known and seen, the barrier of anonymity is broken and deep connections of loyalty are formed.
… so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 1 Thessalonians 1:7
Have you heard something good about your people? Paul is saying to his Thessalonian friends, “Hey .. I don’t even have to tell people how awesome you are. They are talking about you already!” He recognizes their good works and celebrates with them.
Words of encouragement and recognition go a long way. Leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “Leaders don’t look for recognition from others, leaders look for others to recognize.”
I work with someone who is an expert at this. He notices not just the big accomplishments of his direct reports, but the small, faithful steps of team members on the front lines that are going to result in a big finish. Every month, he has a team meeting where he recognizes these little things in front of everyone. He has a high-performing team willing to go the extra mile for him. I’ve learned a lot working with him.
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NIV)
Paul did not let his followers become complacent with what they had already accomplished, and neither should we. He challenged them to “do this more and more.”
High-performing team members love a good challenge. They want to feel like they are growing and developing, not doing the same tasks over and over.
When we challenge them to do new things, we as leaders must be sure to provide the training and encouragement they need to be successful. But the most important thing we can provide is a safe place to make mistakes.
Our organizations can only grow if we take risks. And when we take risks, people are going to make mistakes, or things will not turn out as we planned. Henry Ford famously said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Our response to mistakes and failure will make the difference between a team that is discouraged and disengaged and one that is learning and eager to try again.
Pray for Them … and how to lead them
Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 1 Thessalonians 3:10 (NIV)
When God has entrusted us with a team, He desires for us to help them develop personally and spiritually. As we pray for them, we need to pray for ourselves as well. God will show us where we can help supply what they are lacking in their faith, the gaps in their skills and the holes in their confidence.
So, yes, leading would be easy if it weren’t for the people. But if it weren’t for the people, we’d miss the opportunity to invest in others and see them flourish. The investment is well worth the effort.
How are you investing in the people around you? What is “more and more” for your team? Can you think of things they lack that you can supply? What a blessing you would be to them!