Why Lateral Leadership Gets More Done

Privileged to have Kevin Spratt guest post (more about Kevin below post)

Many people limit leadership ability to positional authority. What do I mean about positional authority? Someone who has the ability to issue directives and enforce consequences if those directives aren’t followed is someone with positional authority. Typically, we think of our bosses as positional leaders but it can extend to someone like a parent, mentor or someone designated to give direction like a student ministry volunteer.

In both my personal and professional career I have been fascinated with the concept of leadership and discipleship. Wherever I have been I have had a desire to provide vision and guidance. I hunger to serve and to be placed in positions of responsibility. I have been graced to serve in all types of roles as a director/leader, but also as a servant/volunteer/detail person. I have served in organizations of 50 and 5,000. What I have observed over the years is that the majority of leadership doesn’t happen via directives from bosses but laterally when co-workers or volunteers come together for a common purpose. More work is done laterally in any given organization than is done directionally.

The most successful contributors in an organization will understand how to lead laterally because they understand the value of working together and that more can be accomplished faster when everyone works together. This is a lesson not just for the worker/volunteer but also for the leader because everyone has to lead laterally. In every organization there is someone you report to and someone you work with. Even as a manager or ministry director there are peers you have to work with to accomplish common goals.

I have observed 4 common traits of effective lateral leaders:

1 – Relationship Driven – Lateral Leaders understand the value of relationships. That because they need others to get work done they must maintain great working relationships with the people they regularly encounter in their work. There is a certain economy to these relationships. I wrote about this economy over at LifeWay Leadership.

2 – Humble – Lateral Leaders understand that their gifts are no more significant than the gifts of those they serve with. They understand that each person they serve with plays an equal role in completing the task.

3 – Servant – They see the needs of others before their own needs. Lateral Leaders understand that in order for them to be most effective they must also consider the needs of others first. If everything has to work together their needs must no supersede the needs of others.

4 – Reliable – A lateral leader is the most prepared person on the team. They have answers to questions before they are asked, they are always on time, and are completely trustworthy.

A lateral leader understands that they are most effective when they are able to work with others. The key to lateral leadership is serving those around you.

Many thanks for guest blogger Kevin Spratt. Kevin serves on the Lifeway Leadership team where he influences thousands of church and lay leaders around the world with quality leadership content. You can follow Kevin on Twitter and learn more about Kevin here.

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Good and Bad Reasons Not to Tackle Problems

If you’re a leader, you see problems. Many times you’ll see them before others do. But what if as you see these problems, and you choose not to engage them?

When a leader chooses not to engage a problem in their area of influence, I can think of at least two reasons for making that decision – one is good, healthy, and exemplifies excellent leadership – the other is bad, unhealthy, and indicates you may be done with leadership.

The healthy reason:

Solving the problem in question won’t help your church or organization get further down the road. It’s a problem, but it’s not the problem. You know that with or without your input, the problem won’t last or be prohibitive to fulfilling your mission.

You’re conserving energy, by choosing the important over the urgent

You’re staying in the lane only you can run in. You know there are better-equipped people to solve that particular problem.

When you’re evaluating problems this way, you’re exemplifying excellent leadership.

When I’m tempted to engage problems that aren’t mission-critical, it’s usually for a couple reasons:

I want a win. When I can successfully solve small problems, it feels like “winning.” It makes me feel better, and in control. It also makes me feel useful to others, and my worth is validated. Yet, we know this isn’t good leadership.

I don’t bill my hours like an attorney – nor do I deserve that kind of money. But one thing I’ve done, is I’ve figured out my hourly rate. Now that I know it, I use it this way—

When there’s a problem to be solved or a question to be researched and answered, I run it through this filter: Is this the kind of issue the church had in mind for me solving when it selected my hourly wage?

After I’ve done this, out of pure stewardship of the church’s money, I back away and disengage from many problem-solving activities. For example, last week, I was asked to approve a paint color variance in our office color scheme. It won’t impact my personal office space, and I’m not an interior designer. I began to consider the question and was tempted to ask a lot of questions and give my decision. But when I placed that filter on the decision, I realized it wasn’t my problem to solve and it wasn’t good stewardship of the church’s money for me to pursue it further. Instead, I said, “Whatever you all decide is fine.”

I think disengaging from these kinds of problems is healthy. But there’s also an unhealthy reason for disengaging from problems.

The unhealthy reason:

You see a problem, but have no desire or energy to engage it.

When you see problems hurting your mission yet can’t muster up the energy to begin solving it, it could be a sign of something unhealthy, and needs to be addressed – not only for your sake, but also for the sake of those you serve and lead. A filter for discerning the ambivalence factor: If one 1, 3, or 5 years ago you saw the same problem, would you’ve jumped in without hesitation?

If so, your lack of energy and willingness to engage could be a sign of unhealthiness (but not always). In April’s monthly podcast with Andy Stanley, this idea was unpacked and attributed to the former Home Depot CEO, Frank Blake. In Blake’s case, he was seeing things that needed his attention at Home Depot, and yet, he didn’t want to wade into them. He found himself not engaging things needing his attention, and that reluctance caused him to ask questions about whether he needed to remain in his CEO position (he later chose to transition out of that role).

The people around you will catch on that you’re problem-avoiding. It’ll be like Maverick in the movie Top Gun when he wouldn’t re-engage in the dog fight (I always look for opportunities to point people to Top Gun) and people around him are screaming, “Engage, Maverick!” But even before others notice, it should begin with you noticing it with self-awareness and then self-governance. As a leader, you need to be aware if you’re mentally backing away from the work you’re supposed to be doing. If you’ve become ambivalent and lack energy for the work and the vision, you’re not necessarily wrong for feeling that way, but you’ll be wrong to not make changes.

Maybe a shift in the responsibilities will be enough, or you just need a two week vacation. Possibly, it could indicate the need for a more permanent change. What problems are you currently avoiding? What’s left unchecked on your task list or unread in your email? Is your avoidance intentional because those particular problems are a distraction from your most important work (healthy leadership)?

Or is it because you no longer have the moxie to wade into the hard issues and lead out of them?

If you’re avoiding problems, use these filters, and then make the courageous leadership decision.

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4 Simple Rules for Working with and Hiring Creatives

I’m privileged to have Darrel Girardier guest blog for me today. Darrel serves Brentwood Baptist Church as the Digital Strategy Director. If you’re like me, you’re not crazy creative, but you work with those who are. And Darrel gets how to bridge the gap. I think today’s post will help you as you consider finding, hiring, and working well with your creatives.


I’ve had the privilege for the last 15 years to work with creative teams in both the corporate and church setting. While each setting is slightly different, there are some rules that I think can be applied to each situation.

If you work with, or are in the process of hiring creative people for church, I’ve outlined four simple rules that help you along in the process. Here they are…

1. Hire creatives who can take the abstract and make it concrete.

I’ve worked with some very talented people. However, what separated the good ones from the great ones was the ability to take what was either technical or abstract, and explain it in a way that anyone could understand what they’re saying.

Now why is this important? If you’re going to manage, evaluate, or coach someone for whose skill-sets you don’t have, you need to have some sense of the scope of their work and what it entails. Often this leads to conversations where you want to be informed, but you don’t need to know all the details.

If you hire the right creative person for your team, they can make the process easier for you. By making the abstract become concrete, they can provide the information you need to make better decisions.

2. Hire creatives who understand the difference between design and art.

It’s easy to become enamored with people who create visually stunning work. Whether it’s videos, logos, or stage design, visual creative work is something that everyone wants to show off. However, the best creatives understand the difference between stunning visuals and stunning visuals that solve a problem.

In other words, you should hire creative people who understand that their challenge when creating a video or design is not to wow you, but instead, solve your problem. These types of creative people will help you move beyond questions like, “What colors or fonts do you like?” to more important questions like, “Who is your primary audience?” and “How do we measure success?”

If you can hire a creative person who instinctively knows to answer those questions first, then you’ve found someone who will be more results driven, which will have a greater impact for your church.

3. When you talk to a creative staff member, talk about your design problem and not the solution.

One of the things you can easily do to frustrate a creative person is to bring them a problem, and then bring them what you think the solution should be. It’s the equivalent of describing a canyon to an engineer and then telling them how to build the bridge.

The more effectively you can describe what you’re trying to accomplish along with the challenges your facing, the higher chance you have of engaging your creative staff. The problem is that most of us come to the creative person with a problem and what we have our idea of what the solution should be (but we can’t do ourselves). This solution-based approach eventually frustrates the creative person and creates a feeling that they’re simply a widget maker.
4. Be wary of confusing roles.

A lot of church leadership staff try to find some mental model so they can categorize how creative people will work with the rest of the (non-creative) staff. Often this leads to using the “client/service” model.

In this model, the ministry is the “client” and the creative person (designer, video producer, etc…) is the service department. You can find this model in most large corporations that have in-house creative departments.

While this model has its advantages, it can lead to de-emphasizing the partnership ministries and creative teams should have, and instead, focuses on simply making the client happy. And yes, creative people do want make ministries happy, but they don’t want to do at the cost of violating basic creative and design principles (Comic sans font anyone?).

To remedy this situation, you need to clarify roles. Not in the sense of who’s in charge, but rather what each party is responsible for. In other words, find a way to let the creative people do what they do best (design, produce, etc.) and still meet the needs of the ministry. This can be a bit of balancing act, however, if you clarify these roles on the front end, the creation process will go much smoother.

As I stated in the beginning, every situation is a bit different. However, most creative people I know want to be respected, trusted and encouraged. If you follow the four rules above, you’ll be one step closer to getting attracting, keeping, and allowing them to feel respected, trusted, and encouraged.

Darrel is effectively collaborating and coaching other church leaders, particularly in the church communications space. Check out his blog and his “Ask Darrel” podcast on iTunes

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