Why Your Leaders Aren’t Leading, and 3 Steps to Fix It

By Mac Lake

A church planter recently asked me what seemed to be the most basic question: how do you define “leader”? This is actually a crucial question that all of us who lead churches or organizations need to wrestle with.

Definition = Expectation

So many times we put someone in a leadership position and expect them to do the work but not lead a team. I define a leader as someone who leverages their relational influence with a team of people to get the right things accomplished through those people.

But often when we put someone in a leadership position, we ultimately don’t care whether they lead through others. That’s secondary. Our higher expectation is simply that the work gets done. It doesn’t matter to us how it gets done, even if it means that they do it themselves.

But when you allow a leader to get into the bad habit of doing rather than leading, it weakens leadership. If you set the expectation that the person will do the work themselves, you make them into a doer, not a leader.

7 Expectations for Leaders

When I was a church planter, we had no money, no resources, and very little time, but we had some amazing lay leaders. I did have the wisdom to establish a leadership team of seven people to oversee the seven ministries of the church. But I did not have the wisdom to know what I wanted these leaders to do.

A year in, I knew there was something wrong. I had not given them a clear definition of what a leader is and what I expected of them. So, I defined in writing seven things that I wanted each of them to provide for their team. I literally spelled it out for them: “L.E.A.D.E.R.S.”:

  • Leadership Development – provide initial and ongoing training to the members of their ministry teams
  • Empowerment – delegate the roles and responsibilities to team members to operate the ministry area effectively
  • Affirmation – catch people doing things right and encourage them in how they display their strengths and their passions
  • Direction – cast a clear and compelling vision for their ministry area that is aligned with the overall vision of the church
  • Evaluation – regularly identify strengths and growth areas together with their team and make plans for continual improvement
  • Recruitment – continually enlist new volunteers and adequately staff their area of ministry
  • Soul Care – encourage the spiritual health and development of team members

Providing this 7-point job description gave my leaders the clear expectations they needed to lead effectively. And it gave me a great tool to evaluate and coach them in their leadership role.

3 Steps to Elevate Expectations

Here are three things you can do to install this in your organization:

  1. Make the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. job description a part of each leader’s job description. Put it in writing. Go over it with your existing leaders and communicate it to every new leader you onboard.
  2. Use L.E.A.D.E.R.S. as ongoing training topics for your leaders. Pick one of the seven points and lead a training session on it, then do another. Develop leaders continually so that they continually develop as leaders.
  3. Use L.E.A.D.E.R.S. to evaluate leaders. Go over these seven points one on one to ask a leader how they’re doing. Or share the seven points in a huddle for them to evaluate themselves as a group.

You don’t have to use my definition of a leader. But you do have to provide clarity to people you put into leadership roles. When you don’t, both you and they are going to get frustrated. When you do, you begin to get the leadership results you expect of your area of ministry.