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How You Can Become a Better Leader - Part 1

How you can become a better leader. What a generic title for a blog. Let me bust your leadership bubble—there is no such thing as the three “best practices” for growing as a leader. We here at the Unite Leadership share a lot of techniques and practices and strategies for growing as a leader. Don’t get me wrong. We are strong advocates of the Church Engagement Model (Attract, Get, Retain, Grow, Multiply). We are fans of the Four Disciplines of Execution. We pray you have more ministry and leadership tools in your tool belt because of the strategies we have shared. That is all well and good.

Yet, the most important attribute of a good leader does not revolve around tips and tricks and tools. Ready for it?! The most important thing for growing as a leader is…self-awareness. The most important thing is understanding what makes you tickand what trips you up.

Let me say it more simply. You can have all of the best strategies and more leadership knowledge than anyone else (at least in your own mind). You could have figured out the “mysteries” of profound leadership…and yet, if you are not aware of areas of your character that lack love for people, you are like a clanging gong. Thank you, Paul and I Corinthians 13.

Whatever it takes to grow in self-awareness of your gifts and gaps is what you must pursue. Oh, and invite Jesus into this journey of self-awareness. Duh. He is the One who made you, knows all of your days, and He yearns for you to grow wiser and more into Him, who is your Head.

Let me introduce you to a way of leading that changed my life about fifteen years ago. It is called family systems theory. Rather than a strategy, it is a Way of Being for the leader. According to founder Murray Bowen, family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that defines the family unit as a complex social system in which members interact to influence each other’s behavior. This way of allowing the leader to remain “connected” and “differentiated” at the same time in relationships with others…especially when others are anxious and looking for you to solve their problems.

Here's a brief story. When I was twenty-six and a new pastor, I helped start a ministry called

“The Table.” It was a meal and worship inclusive of the working poor and homeless every Thursday night. My heart became wrecked by the abject poverty I saw. I couldn’t imagine my homeless friends sleeping in the cold when I was blessed to have a roof over my head. So…we put hotel visits as a part of our ministry budget.

It seemed like an act of love. It was not. Over the course of six months, word got out, “Pastor Tim is a pushover. If you come to him with a big enough sob story, he will bend, and drive you to a hotel for a free night on the church’s dime.” Six months into the ministry, I had a line of three to five people after every Thursday night waiting to tell me their stories of struggle. I was spending more than my budget for hotels…and I was hurting those whom I was trying to help. They became too close or dependent on me, and it was keeping them from growing and taking responsibility for their life. It took about six months of saying no to hotel requests and yes to a mutually beneficial relationship for the stigma of a dollar sign to be removed from my head. I was relationally too close to those I was trying to help.

Maybe if you were in this situation, you’d set strong boundaries early on that would keep the poor distant from you. Your tendency could even be to set such strong boundaries that you give off the impression that you want nothing to do with your poor friend growing as a follower of Jesus.

As leaders, we must pursue balance in our relationships. We should pray for the posture of being “connected” in relationships without being fused to, or becoming God for those we’re “doing life with.” At the same time, we should pray for the ability to be differentiated, to focus on self and speak for self…fully reliant upon God (not others) to give us approval and love. Maintaining this balance in relationships is key for “doing ministry” for years and years. That is how you can become a better leader. It is really that simple. 🙂

Next week’s blog will go even deeper into this needed leadership topic. I truly believe understanding family systems theory can make ministry so much healthier and more fruitful!

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