If I want my influence to help my community be a better place to live, I must first become a better leader.

Culture doesn’t hold steady or remain the same; therefore, the level of our leadership cannot remain the same.

I can’t remember a time when circumstances changed so fast, and the future remained so uncertain. The only way to remain effective is to stay on your toes, pay attention, and keep growing.

That’s true for all of us.

A colleague recently said to me, “Everything I say and do is scrutinized. I feel like I’m leading through a landmine.”

Leadership has always been that way, but never at this level or this intensity. (At least not in the last forty to fifty years.)

Saying the right things at the right time and doing the right things in the right way has always been a leader’s challenge.

And when the level of complexity rises, and the speed of change increases, our level of growth must keep pace.

Improvement is not an option if you want to lead successfully.

5 Step Process of Improvement:

1) Continued self-awareness – how do you know?

All personal and leadership growth begins and continues with self-awareness.

Self-awareness isn’t binary. It’s nuanced and changes. Everyone is different.

One leader is less self-aware and another more self-aware. I’ve known leaders who were very self-aware and then lost their way.

The good news is that you and I can improve our self-awareness in an honest and healthy way. 

We all have a blind-spot or two, but generally speaking, as you mature, your self-awareness becomes more and more accurate.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

As life changes around you, your organization grows, and culture moves forward, if you don’t keep pace, you can become less self-aware.

How does that happen?

Leaders become exhausted and overwhelmed.

They spend all their energy trying to keep up rather than saving margin to keep growing. And we all know that personal improvement is the only way to get out in front and lead.

How do you know if you are self-aware?

  • You must be in healthy relationships where people will tell you what you can’t see about yourself.
  • You must know your strengths and weaknesses and be secure about them both.
  • You must possess an accurate view of how people see you.

2) Intelligently and intentionally stretch your leadership.

When you are self-aware, you can then assess and define a reasonable stretch for your leadership. 

Leaders get in trouble when they stay in their comfort zone or push too far past their gift zone.

  • If you stay in your comfort zone, you’ll get stuck.
  • If you stretch too far, you end up over your head.

Let’s take a simple illustration.

As a runner, if I go out for a two-mile run, I’m staying too far under my current potential and in very safe territory. If I attempt a half marathon, I’m going past my current ability.

It’s self-awareness that helps me clarify an intelligent stretch for growth in the length of a run.

Improvement in your leadership comes from taking intelligently assessed new territory.

Stretching your leadership means practicing something that you can’t do, or haven’t done, until you can.

It’s not a random thing. It needs to be intentional.

A strategic stretch in your leadership is a combination of something you want to improve in, and your church would clearly benefit.

What is it for you?

Specifically, if you become better at it, what would clearly help you take new territory and move your church forward?

If you are not stretching, you are coasting.

Coasting is not the same as taking your day off, vacations, and leading a healthy life. Coasting is doing the same things with the same people over and over again.

Coasting is leadership without risk or growth.

3) Fail forward

If you are leading and actually making progress, you are also making mistakes and failing on occasion.

John Maxwell says failure is not final. I agree. If you are stretching, growing, and improving, you will make mistakes and fail on occasion.

Some of you have heard me talk about an area I’m stretching myself in.

It’s my communication.

Specifically, communicating via video. (It’s making my live communication better too.)

I have virtually no experience at it, and I feel bad about the people I’ve practiced on so far.

However, I am improving.

Each stumble in a video, every awkward moment, even a major miss in connection, is a fail forward opportunity.

I’m studying others who are really good at it, and I have a few honest coaches who let me know what was good and what still needs improvement.

What are you failing forward in?

4) Learn 

Learning. Adapting. Changing. Growing. That’s a recipe for continuous improvement for leaders.

Learning from mistakes, failures, and wise mentors are core to the improvement process.

Learning for the purpose of improvement is more than acquiring new information; it’s learning with the specific and measurable outcome of being a better leader.

Learning that results in doing something merely different is not improvement; the goal is doing something better.

Learning typically involves changing your mind. It involves thinking differently about something that, in turn, requires you to lead differently.

This happens less frequently than we realize.

We are so consumed with the demands of each day that true learning resulting in improvement is not an everyday experience. 

There is no formula.

We may learn from mistakes more often than we like. If we are learning from actual failures, hopefully, they occur a little less often.

The point is this, whatever the level of frequency, become aware of your mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. Don’t get defensive or gloss over them.

When’s the last mistake or failure you experienced that changed how you lead?

How did you improve?

5) Assess your improvement

Measuring your progress is always helpful, but not always easy.

After all, it’s not like there’s an improvement meter or an app that plots your internal process of becoming a better leader.

It’s more subjective in nature, but that said, we all have a sense when we are a better leader than we use to be.

If it’s difficult for you to gain a confident sense of your improvement, here are some examples of things to watch for that are likely indicators you are a better leader than you were six months or a year ago.

Examples:

  • Affirmation of trusted advisors.
  • Momentum directly connected to your responsibilities.
  • New and high-quality leaders seek out your advice and counsel.
  • Great level of responsibilities.
  • More and better leaders around you because of your investment in them.
  • Growth of the church.
  • You are solving more significant and more complex problems faster.

Improvement is something to pursue with great passion and intentionality, but not something to be frustrated about.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that God continues to use you even in the dry and challenging times.

Your sustained obedience to the Father is the foundation of your potential to continually improve your leadership.