It happened in sixth grade in Mr. Gilbeaux’s math class, in front of all my classmates. My name was called. As a result of test scores, I was placed in remedial math. I learned I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. That’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
Dear Christian ministry leader—you’re not as smart as you think you are.
Every single one of us has blind spots. With ever-changing market conditions, new competitors and changing technology – every single Christian ministry leader needs all the help they can get. But can we admit we need that help?
There’s a phrase I often repeat when the PAR leadership team meets and it is true. I’m the dumbest person in the room. This truth has led me to do three things. I encourage you to do these three things as well.
Hire People Smarter Than You
First, hire people who are smarter than you. You can’t be an expert in everything. Be an expert at knowing what you don’t know.
- Frankie knows more about programming than I ever will.
- David has fiddled with more circuits and wiring than I have ever seen.
- Kayla has a better understanding of donor mail strategies than I ever dreamed of.
I’ll stop there. You get the point. The question is this, have you surrounded yourself with individuals who can see the areas you can’t? Have you given them permission to use candor with you? Do they know they can speak “truth to power” without consequences? If not, you’ll only be as smart as you are now.
Make Failure Your Friend
Second, learn to make failure your friend. In her book “Mindset”, Dr. Carol Dweck writes, “…failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.”
That’s easy to write but hard to live. I have failed gloriously at times. From those failures I have learned how to build a team, hire character over talent, be patient and a thousand other things that help me be a better leader.
Own your failure. Don’t hide it. Admit to your team that you screwed up. Allow me to tell you a little secret, your team sees you fail on a daily basis. Acting like you never make any mistakes undermines your credibility as a leader.
I keep a journal. It’s a leadership journal. At the end of each day, I take 15 minutes and write various things I heard or observed that day. Things that made me celebrate and others that raise concern.
Every eight weeks, I’ll break that journal down and look for patterns. I’ll ask myself:
- Am I hearing about the same problems from various people within the organization?
- Are various areas all experiencing the same pain points?
The leadership journal allows me to be honest about failures and successes. It’s a discipline worthy of your time and one that will make you a better leader.
Love to Learn
Third, love to learn. If you’ll embrace the fact that you’re the dumbest person in the room, you’ll push yourself to learn.
Read leadership books. Read stories of business successes and failures. Read presidential biographies. Read the memoirs of the men and women who served those presidents. It will give you a poignant look at what made them successes and failures. (If you don’t like to read, get a subscription to Audible and listen to books instead.)
You’ll learn that Nixon kept a list of enemies. His failure came when he tried to exact revenge. Secretary of Defense to President Obama, Leon Panetta, made the passing comment that the President never looked at his watch or asked what time it was in briefings. The President was focused on the topic and the people. Read books by those business leaders who have succeeded and failed.
You’ll learn that Starbucks almost went under and founder Schultz returned to the helm to inspire every team member and give the company a clear purpose.
If you’ll pick up a copy of “Jack” and “Winning” you’ll discover that GE’s former CEO, Jack Welch, called 14 of his key leaders to apologize when he made the wrong decision about a strategic project. He didn’t blame others. He owned the mistake.
Dear Christian ministry leaders, ministry has an ever-changing landscape. We better accept that we’re in the remedial class of life and work our tails off to learn everything we can about the now and the what’s next.
Let’s surround ourselves with people smarter than ourselves. Let’s give them permission to speak openly and candidly.
Embrace and Learn from Failure
Finally, none of us is immune to failure. Let’s embrace it and learn from it.
Why do all these things? The future of our industry depends on it.
Let’s do this.
Brian is the Executive Vice President of Positive Alternative Radio in Blacksburg. (Read about how PAR Changed Direction and grew their ministry.) PAR has five brands which include Spirit FM in Lynchburg, VA; WCQR in Kingsport, TN; Positive Hits, WPER in Richmond/Fredericksburg, VA; Joy FM in Winston Salem, NC; Walk FM in Ashland, KY, Huntington,WV.