46. Are you a 360 degree leader?

John Maxwell in his book ‘the 360 degree leader’ talks about the compass directions to identify the different relationships that are required by a leader. These four main compass relationships require different skills, and so as a result we tend to be better at leading and relating in some directions more than others. In this letter I hope you will develop a clearer picture of where your strengths and weaknesses lie and how you can grow to become a 360 degree leader with greater effectiveness.

Leading up – North:This is generally the leader’s greatest challenge.  Most leaders want to lead and not be led.  Sometimes it’s not possible to lead up, if your leader is not open for input or doesn’t have a listening ear to his or her followers.  In some cultures the leader is expected to develop the vision, draw up the plans and make the decisions on their own.  With these expectations, for them to ask questions of their followers or receive input from them would be a sign of weakness. These leaders face a major challenge to establish a change of culture within the organisation or church where leaders aren’t put on a pedestal and expected to decide and do everything. However, where the leader above doesn’t take the positional role authority but rather seeks to serve and influence, there is a greater opportunity to lead up north.

It is possible to make your leader’s load lighter or heavier.  First of all, we lift our leader’s load by doing our own job well.  Then when a problem develops, or there are issues that trouble us, rather than complain or criticise, we can add value to our leader by bringing potential solutions, possible new vision, ideas and options to bring breakthrough.  It’s important to understand the environment that your leader enjoys.  For instance founders and pioneers of the organisation tend to be more strategic, broad thinking and apostolic and therefore when we communicate with them we need to communicate with big picture language, bringing positive opportunities and showing that by applying our ideas the organisation will be grow and develop.

I learned this the hard way on a number of occasions.  I was working with another organisation in a large project and as a good high C (DISC) Englishman, brought a report identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the programme.  I quickly discovered they only wanted praise reports, positive thinking and anything they looked upon as critical was the sign of a poor leader. That was the last meeting I was invited to!

Know your leader’s languageand catch your leader’s enthusiasm.  For instance Loren Cunningham’s language would include words like: multiplication, international, call to the alls, releasing the apostolic, developing young leaders and looking at maps!  Learn to work and serve your leaders’ weaknesses too. When your leader is not in the right place, not really functioning in their gifts well, or not having the character that goes along with their role, then give grace and more grace. However, if there is ineffectiveness and dysfunction taking place, there comes a time when you need to speak the truth as well as giving honour.

Staff your leader’s weakness.  It’s a shame that all leaders have weaknesses!  Some know them very well, but others are unaware.  In either case it’s an opportunity for us to support, cover and add our strengths to their success.  Of course this is why we need plural leadership so that all the necessary gifts are present in the leadership circle. What a privilege we have of being a part of helping our leaders to be fruitful, successful and blessed.

Leading across – East & West:To succeed in leading other peers, you have to work at giving your colleagues reasons to respect and follow you.  How do you do that?  By helping your peers feel encouraged and succeed. It’s one thing to have work relationships in the team, but it’s a great benefit when you add friendship.  Friendship is the foundation of influence.  Abraham Lincoln said, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”  Theodore Roosevelt said, “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”  Being a friend involves giving time outside of work hours, offering hospitality, celebrating social occasions, going the extra mile and being there for people.  If you are threatened, independent or wrongly competitive towards your peers then leading across becomes very difficult.

Dont pretend you are perfect but admit your faults.  Some bible colleges teach that you need to create a distance between yourself and those you lead.  Perhaps you have thought or had someone say, “Why would I show weakness, or admit I don’t know something?  My people will lose confidence in me.  A leader should always be strong and in control.”  We can assume that our people don’t see our weaknesses, where actually they generally see them clearer than we do!  By sharing them in humility, we make ourselves more approachable and trustworthy.

Ask for advice from our peersand be open to learning from others.  The kingdom of God is not a competition for one special prize winner.  Our God wants us all to win and more than that, He wants us to help one another win!  Why not be a part of someone else’s success.  One of our problems is that we worry too much about what others think.  Relating to other leaders with the same level of responsibility or those on the same team can take a lot of communication, but it’s needed if we want to: create win-win situations with those you work with, bring ownership to them without making yourself out to be the best and have mutual accountability and ambition.

Identify domains.  As you work alongside others, seek to create clear roles and specific domains for people, so that you aren’t treading on one another’s toes all the time.  If you have a shared leadership team, then clarify each person’s areas of responsibility. The team can have input and you can make some decisions together but it’s very helpful to know your boundary and your domain of responsibility and authority. So whether it’s running a training programme, leading a project or being part of a leadership team, everyone needs to know their area of responsibility and the gifting that they bring to the team.

Avoid politics.  John Maxwell shares a story of a politician who arrived late to deliver a speech.  He immediately was ushered to the podium and launched into one of the main issues of the campaign and spoke at length.  When he paused for a moment, the gentleman who had introduced him whispered that the group to whom he was speaking was on the opposite side of the issue.  Without missing a beat, the politician said, “My friends.  Now that I have explained the opposition’s position in great detail, I will tell you the truth.”  Playing politics is changing who you appear to be or what you normally do, to gain an advantage with whoever currently has power. No one likes name-droppers, those who suck up to leaders or who’s personal ambition drives them to push boundaries.  Politics will alienate your peers and everyone around you!

As hard as it is, 360 degree leaders resist the temptation to fight for their own idea when it’s not the best idea.  And of course for us to be able to see that our idea isn’t the best requires objectivity, humility, a desire to give honour where it is due and a heart for the good of the team.  For instance, I just had what I thought was a great idea to create a more effective use of time in a leadership programme but the majority didn’t share the same enthusiasm.  There’s no point in feeling rejected and taking it personally.  I learned and moved on.

Leading down – South:To those people who we are responsible for or those we are mentoring.  Leadership conferences are generally all about learning how to more effectively lead your people, whether it’s getting clearer vision, developing management systems, team building or moving prophetically.

John Maxwell shares, “As a 360 degree leader, when you lead down, you’re doing more than just getting people to do what you want.  You’re finding out who they are.  You’re helping them to discover and reach their potential. You’re showing the way by becoming a model they can follow.  You’re helping them become a part of something bigger than they could do on their own.  And you’re rewarding them for being contributors on the team.  In short, you are endeavouring to add value to them in any way you can.”

Walk and talk and drink coffee– one of the greatest mistakes leaders make is spending too much time in their offices or travelling and not enough time out among their people.  Relationship building is always the foundation of effective leadership.  For instance, over all the years of chairing leadership teams, we have always set aside the first half hour for coffee, catch up and communication as friends.  For some, if they didn’t connect in that first half hour, the meeting could be clinical and dry.  Then in between our meetings, I would see them individually for a coffee and be able to share more personally with them and give specific input into their ministry.

Slow down– to connect with people you need to travel at their speed. When connecting with your leader you may have to speed up but with your followers you usually have to slow down. One of the main roles of a leader is to disciple his followers.  Depending on your gifting, you will accomplish this in different ways but it always takes time and intentionality.  For people to connect with you, it will help if you create a personal touch.  It’s probably not a surprise that only 4% of the mail being sent is personal letters.  So slow down enough to look, listen and read between the lines.

Seeing everyone as a ‘10’– we can look at others and see potential in them and count them as a 10 or not have time for them and see them as a 2!  Who draws out the best in me, who am I ready to serve, who gets my commitment, who do I enjoy working with?  The leader who sees me as a 10 or a 2?  When we believe in people as leaders, people rise up to our expectation level.  Affirmation is so lacking, people are not trusted, and they expect leaders to find fault instead of catch them doing something right!  If there is any question about a person’s performance, doubts about their ability, unanswered questions, then believe the best. Some of the letters I treasure most are those that say, “Thank you for believing in me.” Those words, “I trust you”, meaning that you see them as a 10, can be foundational in your followers lives to launching out in new ways for the Lord.

Develop your staff– we all need input and there’s nothing like ‘on the job training’ and receiving relevant, relational, stimulating input from your leader.  Put time aside in staff meetings, special events, short courses to spend time with your staff, pass on your wisdom, invite other trainers in and bless your staff. Part of the training process is evaluation.  We don’t learn by experience alone but by evaluated experience.  As leaders we can develop our staff by providing that evaluation that includes specific affirmation for a job well done and constructive criticism on how they can improve.  Remember you teach what you know but you reproduce what you are.  If you want to increase the potential of your team, you need to keep growing yourself.  Be a life long learner.

Give people a chance to shine– we all have areas of strength and we function best when using those gifts in our role.  So create the job around the person and don’t put a person into a job. A staggering 80% work in roles that don’t utilise their best strengths according to strengthfinder!

Pass on the vision– this may be your own vision as a team leader or passing on vision from above.  In the latter case you have to interpret the vision for your staff and help them understand it and own it.  If you don’t understand it as a leader, then pursue your leaders to grasp it, unpack it, own it and implement it.  We all need to know the direction we are going in, have clear goals to aim at and have a sense of accomplishment when we get there.

So having thought about our leadership north, south, east and west, where do your strengths lie?  Is your leadership better in some directions than others?  In what direction do you need to improve to become a 360 degree leader?

Take a few moments and write yourself a smart goal for improving your leadership in one of these directions.

‘til next month



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