My leadership journey began at the tender age of 24.
While following a calling into ministry and service, I served as the senior pastor of a church. New to adulthood, marriage, leadership, and church life (I didn’t grow up in church), it was God’s grace and possible sense of humor that brought me to that first place of leadership. I made mistakes, learned, and walked with that very gracious congregation for 13 years before moving overseas.
As a junior leader (and young human being!) full of ideas, vision, and possibilities, I made a classic error (I made a lot of classic errors, but we’ll stick with this one).
I assumed natural talent and strengths would get me by.
Newsflash: They didn’t.
If you’re to lead well, you must grow.
There are three non-negotiable skills required to lead. Most leaders have a natural ability in one of these skills. A few exceptionally gifted people are great at two. I’ve never met a soul with natural ability in all three. Each is essential for every leader.
The Skill of Vision
Leaders must see possibilities. If we fulfill our assignment, project, or goals for this year, what is the change that could be? Leaders are forward thinking. Leaders are dreamers. Outstanding leaders dream in technicolor.
Last week I consulted with a new client (she’s in her 70s and continuing to start new businesses in Uganda!). She explained the details of a new business idea. As she laid out her business plan, she kept using the present tense to describe the minutest detail. She spoke of her plans as if it they had already happened. Her vision is clear and present tense. That’s how leaders lead.
When I was new to leadership, it wasn’t hard for me to “see it.” The change that could be is a natural driving force for some leaders. For others, this is a skill to learn. For everyone, it’s something we can get better at. It is a necessary ability for leadership.
The Skill of Execution
While leaders are dreamers, they must also be doers. It’s not enough to have vision. Someone’s got to do something about it. The best way to frustrate people is to always talk about where we could go without developing a roadmap to get there. Leadership demands the ability to execute. This means every leader must learn to manage people, time, attention, and money. Without the skill of execution, even the greatest visionary will never accomplish their purpose.
Execution, managements, and administration were my adversaries in those early days of leading. Dreaming comes easy, but I felt handcuffed when figuring out how to make the dream a reality. This changed when I had the deadlines and accountability of finishing a Master’s degree. I quickly learned the art of execution. With experience and coaching, I realized my inability to manage was not something I had to live with. While it may never “come easily” for some, it’s possible to learn how to administrate the vision and build the team you need to make it happen.
The Skill of Storytelling
Speaking of team building, the third essential skill for every leader it the ability to tell the story. People are more interested in knowing how much you care over how much you know. Story telling is a way to communicate knowledge with empathy. Leaders need stories to:
- Cast vision for the organization, assignment, project, or goals for this year.
- Encourage and empower team members.
- Inspire people to support your cause.
I learned the critical nature of storytelling during my years as a fundraiser. A well-told story is the difference between a $50 gift and a $5,000 gift or getting a teammate to work during the evening. Most of us are willing to give our time to something bigger than ourselves. If you’re with an organization, look at how you weave the fabric of organizational culture with the thread of the story. Learn to tell compelling stories.
Skill Not Talent
Talent is over-rated. Skills are hard won. Vision, execution, and storytelling are skills anyone can learn. First-time leaders make one of two mistakes. They either assume they are “a natural” and lead with their talent, or they focus on their lack of talent. “I’m not a born leader.” Never lead with talent. Learn to lead with skill. This is a growth mindset.
Taking on a growth mindset is what skill building Thursday at Global Trellis is all about! It’s why influential leaders invest in continuing education and coaching. The sooner you take on a growth mindset and learn essential skills, the sooner you can step deeper into your calling—and thrive.
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