Joshua Gagnon

thoughts on Jesus, leadership, and the Church.

Ep 173: How To Be a Leader Worth Following Pt 1

Daniel King: Welcome to another episode of the Joshua Gagnon Leadership Podcast. Thank you once again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us. We hope, as always, that this episode is an encouragement to you and that you enjoy it. My name is Daniel and I’m the Operations Pastor here at Next Level Church and I get the privilege of hosting this week’s episode, and actually this week and next week. This is going to be a two-parter for you. And I’m here with…

Roman Archer: Two-parter.

D: ...with the master of content, the leadership guru, Mr. Roman Archer.

R: Not sure about that. I was expecting you to introduce somebody else. Like they were going to bust into the room and…

D: (laughs) Roman’s here today and we’re going to be talking about what it looks like to be a leader worth following for these next couple episodes. And this is some awesome content that Roman wrote and shared with our location pastors a few weeks ago and we thought it would be great to share with you guys as well. So I’m going to kind of hand the floor over to him and let him jump into the content here as we get started today.

R: I think the reality is, Daniel, is this is a subject, and you weren’t part of the original conversation that we had had with the location pastors, I’ll give you a little bit of context to where the talk comes from, but this is going to be a subject that you’re going to be able to relate a lot to as well, because we’re both in the same boat. Essentially it came out of this idea and this thought, this past October I got to celebrate the ten year mark of being on the team and the leadership here at Next Level Church, and that’s been various roles and hasn’t even been paid really, the whole time when it started, but it’s like the ten year mark for us. And that was this past October, you know, obviously, that was fun to celebrate, a cool milestone, but as I really stepped back and got to context, I know you can relate to this as well, you know I think it has more to do with the leader that I’m following than it does me. And from that I was able to really boil down I think some characteristics that have allowed me to walk in longevity in this role. And I think they’re the same that you would experience and ultimate it comes down from our lead pastor, so I’m going to be talking through the context of the relationship that we have. But really talking about a leader worth following. And these are traits, characteristics that I’ve tried to develop and integrate into my own life. Some come easier than others, kind of based on your wiring and how you are. But these are all different characteristics that have allowed me some longevity and the reality is that it really does have more to do with the person that I’m following. And so these are some characteristics I hope to demonstrate in my leadership over the long haul. And I think this is probably going to be a two-parter as well, just because I think there’s ten of them, because every good preacher has…

D: I think the biggest thing just for you to tackle that is just recognizing that when we see something good in someone above us, I guess, for lack of a better term, when we see a leader who’s leading us and we like what they’re doing, we should try to emulate that, right? And I think that’s really the value in this, is, man, these are the things that meant a lot to me in the way that Pastor Josh has led me or led you in this case, and so how can I lead others that way? Right? And so I think for our listeners that’s the real takeaway here.

R: Absolutely. Yeah. So some characteristics of a leader worth following. The first one is a leader that’s generous and readily accessible. A leader that is generous and readily accessible. And when we’re talking about generosity, we’re not just talking about finances, although being generous isn’t just something that we do, it really is a lifestyle. And so it’s kind of a pourover into all areas of our life. But what I’m really talking about is someone that even though they have limited access and limited amounts of time, which is true for anyone as an organization, as a church grows, the responsibilities tend to become greater, they tend to be a little bit stretched thin, this is where it becomes very important for a leader to define what it is that only they can do, and focusing on those things. But even still, they’re going to be pulled in different directions. And that tension, we all experience it as leaders, is trying to give your attention and time to all of the things that matter. But a leader worth following is generous and readily accessible to the ones that they are directly leading. One of the stories that I love and I forget where I heard it. We’ve got a guy on our leadership team named Walt. He loves being called Walt, but I’m pretty sure I heard it from him, because he’s a huge Walt Disney fan. He tells this story though of Walt Disney being a little bit like a bumble bee. And they would talk about the Disney offices back in the old days, he would fly from room to room, from meeting to meeting, from office to office, almost as a bee would, kind of spreading his creative pollen. And he was just readily accessible to his team. And that’s one of the things that I have been a recipient of in Pastor Josh is he’s readily accessible. Now that’s not to everybody. Everybody has various degrees, but he is my direct report and he’s always been able to take the phone call, he’s always been able to answer the question, and certainly there’s an understanding of I’m respectful of his time, and so I think there’s been a healthy dynamic and balance there. But he’s always been available. He’s always accessible for that leadership dilemma, for the questions, for the information that I need. I’ve heard it said the value of life is measured by how much is given away. And I think you can say that the value of leadership is always measured by how much you give away as well. And certainly that has to do with your time, your attention, and the deposits that you’re making in other people.

D: Yeah, so I think that’s very important. So let me ask you the flip question. What’s, when you aren’t available, when it’s hard to get ahold of somebody for somebody that you’re leading, when it’s hard to get ahold of you, what does that communicate to them? What’s the opposite, what’s the negative side?

R: Well I think it communicates value. But let me also say this little caveat as well, that I think being accessible also has to do with authenticity. Cause you can be an accessible leader when it comes to time, but if they don’t really feel like they’re accessible getting into your life and getting you into theirs, it doesn’t really matter how much time you give them, you're not an accessible leader if you’re not an authentic leader. And os I think part of that does have to do with that dynamic of ust being willing to be yourself. There’s this tension, I heard a lot of leaders, they want very firm lines in between boss and co-worker, employee, employer and all of that, and for me I think being generous and readily accessible also speaks to this idea of being authentic. That there are times where maybe he hasn’t been able to meet with me, but he’s real with me in the moment. He’s like, hey, I’m being dad right now. And there’s that level of transparency, that level of authenticity, like hey, can we talk about this in the morning? I’m going to go hit some golf balls with my son. It’s like, I’m being able to see that, that authenticity and transparency. I walk away from that and I don’t feel jipped, I know I’m going to have his time and attention, but I see him as an authentic person and leader. Not just a machine, not just a boss, not just a CEO, not just a lead pastor, accessible, authentic.

D: And the irony of that is even in saying no, you’re leading by example. You’re, even in saying no, you’re saying it’s okay for you to say I’m off work mode and I’m on family time, or I’m doing X, Y, or Z and it’s okay to not always be available.

R: And what that’s doing is that’s sharing your life. You know what I mean? That’s being real. That’s that transparency that’s accessibility. It makes him more accessible to me in the sense that I see him as a real person and I understand a little bit more. So that’s been huge over the last ten years, having a leader that is readily accessible and by accessible, it’s not just a time thing but it’s also an authenticity thing. I think another reason why he’s been a leader worth following, and when I look at the last ten years of ministry, and get to celebrate that, I think one of the reasons why is because I follow a leader that’s passionate about developing and promoting people. One of the things we always say around here, we’re always telling our team is we don’t have a job to do, but we have a team to build. And so essentially, we don’t want to be a bottleneck, and I’ve watched him live that out as well. And so I’ve been able to mirror that in my own leadership where I don’t want to hold onto leadership, I want to identify and develop other people. I want to promote other people. If a matter is not a decision for the president or you delegate it. This is a quote from Donald Rumsfeld, and I just absolutely love it. He says, “Don’t be a bottleneck. If a matter is not a decision for the president or you, delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure, and delegate. The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it.” That was Donald Rumsfeld, obviously Secretary of Defense for many years. And, you know, as Christians I think we’re really good at saying things like, “Let go and let God,” but we’re not so good at the opposite as leaders sometimes of, “Let go and let people.” Of just let other people share that burden. We don’t have to have the answer. If we’re not the only one that can answer it, our default shouldn’t be to answer it, it should be let someone else figure it out. And I’ve watched him lead in this, and have that desire to give ownership away. Give responsibility away. And that’s an exciting thing for other leaders to be able to step into and experience, that I can carry part of this story. I can carry part of this vision myself.

D: Yeah, that’s something he’s, I’ve definitely learned, cause it’s not my natural tendency. If I have an opinion, I want to give it. That’s my personality. A, it makes you feel valuable and needed. If people come and ask you for something it’s like, yeah, my opinion matters, my job’s important, I have a reason for being here. And sometimes, when you’re spending more of your time leading others and less of your time doing, you start to wonder of like, do I even really need to, like why am I here? What am I good for? And so it feels good when people ask you those. I think that’s part of it, and part of it’s just that I’m opinionated and I think my opinions are good. That’s why they’re my opinion, right? I think that my ideas are good ideas. And so you do have a tendency to want to share when somebody asks you a question. And one of the things that he taught me is to always be able to look back at people and if at all possible, the best answer you can give when someone asks your opinion is, what do you think? Or what would you do? What do you want it to be? What do you recommend? And being able to give that back to them, even though I have a recommendation and I’m hoping that they think what I think, I don’t always have to give it. I want to turn that back and let them make the decision and empower them.

R: There’s been so many meetings that I’ve sat in with my boss, Pastor Josh, and I’ve watched him just kind of sit there quietly so that other people will fill the dead space or he’ll even sometimes throw out a disclaimer before he says something where he's’ like, hey guys, I just want to be clear, I’m just brainstorming in this moment, I don’t want us to take my idea and run with it, this is just a thought, and then he’ll share his idea. Because again, he recognizes the authority that that voice and that position will hold and he doesn’t want it. Because ultimately if you hold onto everything, leaders will not stick around you, if you’re taking all of the stage time, all of the responsibility, all of the decision making, and all of the leading. They will go somewhere else where they will feel empowered. And if in meetings, you’re the strongest voice, you’re the one that talks the most, and you are the senior leader, those around you ultimately are going to feel the inability to lead, naturally. And so you gotta create that, and that’s what he does. He loves seeing other people step in and step up. He pushes it down and out. Decisions that he doesn’t have to make, he allows other people to make them. Right or wrong, he allows other people to make them.

D: Yeah, I think the irony of the situation is there’s many leaders who think, man, I don’t have many leaders under me, I’m struggling to develop people under me, and the reality is they actually might have had people with the leadership personality to start with, but because they’re so consumed with micromanaging or being the one who has the final say or whatever that characteristic is, they’ve turned that person who had leadership potential into just a “yes” man or a “yes” woman or a task-doer.

R: A great visual that helps me in that is even in the context of meeting sometimes is this idea that I want to leave leadership crumbs out there for other voices. If I’m there, and again my voice is just so dominant, and even if it’s going to be a leadership talk or it’s going to be a presentation, if I go in and I have all of the good, like we know as leaders, we know all of the things that sound really good and if we do all of that, but we don’t leave anything on the table for those under us or those around us to feel empowered and to be leading as well, it’s that idea of just leaving some leadership breath. Some margin there for other people to step into.

D: Cool, what’s the next one?

R: Another reason why, and again, this is just about longevity and having a leader worth following, is he’s been curious about people as people. Curious about people as people. You know, I’ve watched him in so many different environments, whether it be with a business leader, whether it be with a religious leader, whether it be with a writer, whatever it is, he’s really just curious and able to ask questions. And just the idea of being able to be invested into people. Not just them as that position, but them as the person that they are. I think that is so key and so not only does he learn from people outside, but even those within the organization he cares enough to be curious in the person. What are you reading? He’ll have certain go-to questions. How’s your heart? What is Jesus teaching you? How’s your marriage? These are all questions that for the last ten years I’ve been accustomed to getting weekly or monthly, or we’ll be on a drive to a meeting somewhere and I’ll get some of those questions. It’s not just about, hey what percentage are we up year after year, or what are the action steps moving forward on this? Certainly we have those moments, but we also have in there a true sense that he cares for me as a person. And I’ve seen that kind of layered down over and over again.

D: Yeah, I think the benefit of that is that it gives you credibility, I guess is maybe the right word. Gives you this credibility, gives chips on your side when you do have to have a work conversation, that nobody’s wondering, oh, does he just hate me? When it’s a hard moment, you have this built in relational chips that you can cash in in those moments, right? Where it’s like, alright, last year he took me to this thing and he got me this gift and he told me he appreciated me about this and he asked me about my family and he counseled me in this. All those things have happened over ten years, right? And so when you do have those moments where it’s like, hey, you really gotta step up in this, you really gotta work on that, yeah, it still doesn’t feel good of course, but I never left that conversation wondering, does he even believe in me? Is he looking for somebody else? No, cause I already know, and I don’t think that’s why he’s doing it. I think he genuinely sincerely does care, but that’s the side benefit on the leadership side, is that you get this buy-in from people.

R: Yeah. It breaks my heart everytime I talk with someone that is at a large and fast-growing church and one that people look up to only to hear how one of the leaders is very dismissive when it comes to the people that serve there, and the value that they have outside of their position. One of the things that we always say is we build the person, not the position. Cause ultimately, if someone comes into our ministry or under your leadership or wherever you are, and they’re with you for a substantial amount of time and they leave a better worship leader, but a worse husband or a worse father or they leave a better location pastor or kids pastor or they leave a better technician…

D: But their family is in ruins.

R: Yes, but everything’s falling apart around them, we failed them. We never got involved and discipled them. People love talking about themselves. One of the keys I’ve seen him to is simply asking questions that shows interest. How are you? What are you reading? All those questions again. And so I would encourage our listeners, have questions in your phone if this isn’t natural, if you’re not a natural relationally driven leader, where you care about those things, a lot of type A leaders might not. Discipline yourself in that. One of the reasons why you are where you are is because if you are Type A, you have a certain level of discipline in certain areas, so make this a discipline. Make questions in your phone, set an alarm in your phone that says I’m going to find someone and engage someone in the office and have a conversation about them.

D: Yeah, I used to have a calendar alert that said take someone to lunch not about work, and it would just pop up and remind me. I just do it naturally now, but it was a habit I had to create to do that.

R: Absolutely. Another one, again a leader worth following, I would say, is they’re excited about the work that everyone is doing. And that “everyone” is key. The ability that I’ve watched Pastor Josh be able to show gratitude and to be interested and to allow people to see the purpose over function of what they’re doing has been so critical. I think great leaders and vision casters have an ability to connect the dots is the terminology I would use for that. Being able to connect the dots and see the connection in things is so key. It isn’t just a task for the sake of a task, but what is this task accomplishing, and helping bring that to life for people so that they stay focused and passionate about the work that they are doing. Again, it’s this idea of purpose over function. So Sunday mornings, there’s a crew of people that will come in and if you’re portable, set up chairs in the auditorium to make it ready. Their function is setting up chairs, their purpose is very different. And so our job as leaders is to help them not just see the function of what they’re doing, they’re setting up chairs, but the purpose behind it. You’re setting these chairs up so when people come in they can find a comfortable place to sit, engage in worship, have their life transformed, hear the Gospel message, be encouraged, be challenged. When you’re running a camera, when you’re on a soundboard, the purpose and the function are two different things. And I think if you can genuinely be excited about the work that everyone is doing, you’re able to create that excitement in them. And that is so key, cause in the seasons of ministry where it’s been just a grind, and the monotony of things, and we’re doing the right things but we know that having a leader that’s been able to show the dots connecting. And celebrate with me every little decision, every little task, that hey, look what it’s accomplishing, look at the big picture, has just been huge, absolutely huge.

D: Yeah, that’s so good. So I think that’s a great spot to hit pause for this week. And we’ll pick it up again next week, but I feel like we put a lot of meat out there and some great stuff you got going on, so listeners, as always, let us know on Twitter, Facebook, email, whatever it is, let us know how this is helping you. Love to hear ways that you’re putting some of these things into practice even this week. Hope you plan to tune in with us next week as we finish up the second half of how to be a leader worth following.

Look out for part two of this conversation, coming next week!