The following column first appeared May 15, 2006 in Leadership Weekly.
Leader’s Insight: The L-Laws of L-Leadership
Leadership for the rest of us.
Throughout my years as a ministry leader, I’ve had the opportunity to enlist dozens of volunteers for the Kingdom’s work through my church. And every time—whether it’s a prospective youth volunteer, small-group facilitator, or clean-up crew member—I hear the same response: “But I’m not a leader!”
This response is usually coupled with some other explanation as to why they don’t consider themselves leadership material: “I don’t know anything about teenagers!” “I’m not an extrovert!” “I’ve never done this before!” and other “Send Aaron instead!” responses.
Long ago, I gave up trying to convince them otherwise. Instead, I just tell them that it’ll be easy, because they only have two main responsibilities:
1. Love people.
2. Think like a leader.
For the hesitant and the nervous, I call them the L-Laws of L-Leadership. And when I break it down into those two simple principles, it’s amazing to watch a person’s guard come down as their enthusiasm goes up.
Not everyone is a natural-born leader like Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels, who, I think, drinks jet fuel for breakfast. What about the rest of us: the Everyday Joes who have no designs on that level of leadership, but who comprise the majority of the population and are still called to be used by God?
The first l-law is to “love people.” Since it ranks at the top of Jesus’ commandments to his followers, I figure it’s probably also important enough for our ministry. Of course, ministry would be easy if it weren’t for all the people; but because people matter to God, they should matter to us, as well.
In a ministry setting, loving people means thinking of their needs first, and becoming aware of ways to serve them, instead of viewing them as a distraction from “real” work. It also means spending time with them. Instead of making a youth leader read up about teen culture, I just tell them to get to know a few of them in the group, over time.
If we truly love people, then we will learn about them and their needs, and the next steps of leadership will become obvious. In my family, I know what’s best for my kids because I love them. I love them because I spend time with them, and in their worlds. I learn what’s important to them, and it becomes important to me.
Unfortunately, I know far too many people in leadership positions who do not love people, or certainly, do not love others as much as they love themselves. Before you ask others to love people, make sure you’re demonstrating that selfless love in your own life.
Loving people also reduces turnover; for example, more than once, I’ve asked someone to become a youth volunteer (it sounds less intimidating than youth leader), and even though they admit fears about how to relate to youth, before you know it, they fall in love with the students they’re working with, and eagerly serve for three, four, five or more years.
Think like a leader
The second l-law is to “think like a leader.” Notice, I don’t tell people to be a leader; for some reason, that sounds way too overwhelming for most people. Instead, I tell them to think like a leader. That immediately takes the pressure off, like they can blame someone else if they make a bad decision.
In his book, Courageous Leadership, Hybels explains that one of the primary factors that informs his decision-making is what he thinks other leaders he respects would do if they were facing the same decision.
In my setting, I use the same principle and ask people, “Who is someone you think is a really good leader?” It may be an actual acquaintance or mentor, or it could be someone outside their personal circle: a writer, a speaker, a respected leader of our time, or even an historical figure. Then I continue, “Any time you’re in a situation where you don’t know what to do, pause for a moment and ask yourself what that person would do in your situation.”
Through the L-Laws of L-Leadership, what I’m really trying to do is help people raise their leadership awareness in practical ways. But of course, it never fails that it’s not long before thinking like a leader becomes so natural that—voila!—these people have become natural leaders themselves. (Just don’t tell them that!)