5 leadership essentials for every leader

church leadership pastor

By Carey Nieuwhof

So you want to lead better. The question, always, is how.

There are thousands of small tips and strategies that make us better as leaders, but some insights become the Archimedes Lever of leadership.

For me personally, these principles are in that category. If I keep these 5 insights close, I always do better as a leader (and as a human being).

#1: Character, not competency, determines your capacity

When I was starting out in leadership, leadership was all about skill to me. It was about learning more, getting sharper, getting better and gaining an edge.

But throughout my thirties, as I watched skilled leader after skilled leader fall morally (preachers, politicians, business leaders and more), I realized that all the skill in the world matters less than character.

Carey Nieuwhof ReThink
Carey Nieuwhof is the Lead Pastor of Connexus Church — a growing multi-campus church north of Toronto and strategic partner of North Point Ministries. Prior to starting Connexus, Carey served for 12 years in a mainline church, transitioning three small congregations into a single, rapidly-growing church. He writes one of the most widely read Christian leadership blogs today at www.careynieuwhof.com and hosts the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast. Carey speaks to North American and global leaders about leadership, change and parenting.

Character matters because you bring who you are into everything you do. Your character determines the kind of leader you’ll be, but also the kind of husband you’ll be, parent you’ll be, and even the friend you’ll be.

You can be the most skilled person on the planet, but if people don’t trust you, don’t like you and don’t want to emulate you, they won’t follow you.

As a result, your character — not your competency — determines your capacity.

#2: The people closest to you shape you the most deeply

If you study most great leaders, you’ll discover this: they have even greater people around them.

The longer I’ve been in leadership, the more important it’s been for me to cultivate a carefully crafted circle of people around me. Some are people I work with. Some are colleagues I keep close. And others are friends and mentors I’ve worked hard to invite into my life.

The quality of people around you directly impacts the quality of your leadership because the people closest to you shape you the most deeply.

If you surround yourself with cheaters, you’ll likely end up cheating.

If you surround yourself with liars, you’ll shade the truth.

If you surround yourself with people of deep integrity, you’ll grow your integrity.

Personally, I look for people with a deep commitment to personal integrity and faith who also have exceptional skills. And if I have to trade off, I’ll settle for higher integrity and lower skill set.

Why? Because the people closest to you shape you the most deeply.

#3: The past is the future with the lights on

The future isn’t nearly as mysterious as you think.

The past is the future with the lights on.

This principle is actually a paraphrase of a lyric from a +44 song. (Insight shows up in all kinds of places.)

But it’s so true, isn’t it?

It’s easy to think the future is going to be radically different than the past, but the reality is your future will repeat your past unless you break from the past.

Want a different future? Look at your past (the lights are on) and decide what you need to change. Then muster up the courage to change it.

#4: Curiosity is the antidote to cynicism

Cynicism creeps up on all of us, even the young.

Let it grow, unchecked, and you will become the leader who’s seen it all, knows it all and tells everyone about it.

Which also means two things:

  • You’re no fun to hang out with.
  • You’ve stopped growing.

More than any other factor I’ve been able to isolate, curiosity appears to be the antidote to cynicism.

The curious are never cynical. And the cynical are never curious.

The curious ask questions. They’re interested. They’re learners. They don’t think they know it all. And especially as they get older, the curious are wonderful to be around.

So, be curious.

#5: Strategy trumps vision

You hear a lot about vision as a leader. And you need it. You know that.

Every organization needs a clear and compelling vision.

But vision, unrealized, is simply an intention.

Far too many leaders create a vision but stop there.

To bring a vision to life you need a strategy.

The reason so many leaders turtle when it comes to strategy is that strategy is both specific and potentially divisive.

Strategy says this is how we’re going to do music.

Strategy says this is how we’re going to govern ourselves.

Strategy says this is how we’re going to raise funds.

And the strategy that will lead you into future is almost always different than strategy you used in the past.

A B+ strategy, well-executed, trumps an A+ vision every time.

So, what’s your strategy? And how have you executed it?

And one more thing.

Because you’re a leader, today I want you to think about joining me at Rethink Leadership in Atlanta this April. I’m really excited about this three-day gathering because I think in 72 hours you could go further and deeper as a leader than you have in a long time.

Rethink Leadership is a new companion event to the Orange Conference. For years, I’ve led the senior leader track at Orange Conference. This year, that track has grown up into a conference of its own exclusively for lead pastors, seniors, campus pastors and executive pastors who attend with their senior pastors.

In an intimate setting at the John C. Maxwell Leadership Centre at 12 Stone Church, you’ll be gathering with top leaders like Andy Stanley, Les McKeown, Reggie Joiner, Jon Acuff, Brad Lomenick, Kara Powell and more. I’ll be hosting the event and speaking at it, too.

Plus, you’ll be in a room full of other senior leaders who share your passion for the mission of the Church. We’ll also have great table hosts who will guide you through our time together and through some pivotal discussions.


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