Tag Archives: leadership

Trust v. Suspicion

If you have ever spent a significant amount of time around a young child, one of the first things you might notice is their wide-eyed love for life. Everything is new, everything is an experience and everything deserves all of their energy. Your next observation might involve the reality that they are willing to trust virtually anything that you say. This is why it is crucial for adults to manage their tongues around children, but that is for another post. 


There is an innate trust built into us that believes our family and friends are for us and that what they say is true and it matters. As we age, this childlike innocence becomes a negative as society begins to ridicule those who are considered gullible or naive or, dare I say it, too trusting! While I am a proponent of wisdom and discernment as a leader, I often recognize that all too often I get pulled into a perspective of suspicion towards others leaders rather than trust. 

Trust builds relationship and gains respect; suspicion builds walls and erodes confidence 

Trust sees errors as an opportunity for growth; suspicion sees errors as intentional failing

Trust looks for the good in others; suspicion assume wrongdoing at all times

Trust is the foundation of a healthy and effective leader; suspicion will undermine your leadership and the team you lead

If the contrast between trust and suspicion is so strong and if these two concepts carry such great weight in the effectiveness of our leadership, what can we do to maintain an atmosphere of trust among our teams? May I offer a few ideas, but I would love to hear yours in the comments below.

The first step is to slow down. When I am overwhelmed, overscheduled or overburdened, I find that my ability to see the good in others is greatly diminished because I am focused on myself. I need to slow down, check my rhythms, clear my desk and remember what truly matters.

Next, what would the world look like if I truly treated others as I want to be treated? This gets quoted by so many people as the golden rule of life, yet so few of us actually operate by this principle. If I don’t want to be seen in a negative light, then I must resist the temptation to view others in a similar manner. It takes intentional effort to believe in others and to see their good, especially in the midst of a failed project or broken communication stream. Be the leader who makes this intentionality important!

 Another idea is to truly value every opportunity as a place for growth. I don’t need to be suspicious of team members because no matter what they are or are not doing, we have a mutually agreed upon learning moment. And if things get to the point where I need to dismiss somebody from my team, I can still see the good in them and realize that they will have a better fit on a different team. 
Finally, it’s not personal! I am amazed at the rash of airplane incidents recently occurring across the country. What happened to our ability to wait patiently, to prefer others, and to realize that when we are treated poorly it is rarely an intentionally personal attack, but is often the result of somebody else’s busyness, distractedness or simple self-absorption? I was recently getting off an airplane and the doors were not even open yet, but the man in the row ahead of me was apparently in a huge hurry and began pushing and pressing people to get out of his way. Thankfully, I was surrounded by people who remembered that it’s not personal. We were able to smile at each other and chuckle at the incredible impatience of this fellow passenger. 

I am being challenged lately to recapture my ability to trust others by default and to reserve my suspicion for rare moments. This is not a call to discard wisdom, experience or even my gut instinct of discernment. Rather, it is a challenge to be the type of person, and leader, who believes in and sees the best in others. Not only wil my stress level drop, but I can be an influence for good in the lives of those around me. As a leader, an atmosphere of trust provides the greatest opportunity for accomplishment in the lives of myself and my team.

What about you? Do you wrestle with the tension between trust and suspicion? What tips would you share to help us all remain on the trust side of the aisle?

~ Mike

The Storms of Leadership

Have you ever just wanted to quit? Have you ever felt like the tide was never going to pull back? Have you ever looked around at your circumstances and just wanted to throw in the towel? I know that I have on more occasions that I care to admit. While this might seem to be discouraging, I can actually find great encouragement in the life of Christ and how He handled the storms as they arose.

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In Matthew 8:24 (NIV) we read that “…suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.” Later, another storm arises and He is seen walking on water. An interesting side note is that Jesus sent His disciples into the boat the night before, knowing there was a pending storm. In Luke 4:30 (ESV), an angry mob brings Jesus to the side of a hill “so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

Storms never shocked Christ, never caused fear and never pulled Him from the mission that God called Him to. Storms are seen by Jesus as not merely part of life, but tools for growth in the lives of those who follow Him.

How else can we explain the impact that Jesus’ handling of storms had on Peter? He is transformed from an arrogant fisherman (John 13:6-8) to a well-intentioned but misunderstanding sword wielder. He then takes his greatest moment to defend Christ and instead denies that they ever knew each other. Could this possibly be the same Peter who preaches on the Day of Pentecost, who challenges the Sanhedrin and who is a “founding father” of the Church? It seems that the combination of witnessing how Christ handled storms with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit provided all that was needed for a powerful leadership transformation.

Storms do not define us, but they allow us to better see God. Leadership requires the ability to trust in God in the midst of storms and to lead others in and through storms to safety. We must experience personal storms before we are able to lead others in them. In my life, it is only through the experience of coming out on the other side of storms that I have seen my faith and confidence in God grow. After all, without any storms in life, why would I need the strength and power of God in my life?

As tempting as it might be to wish for lack of storms, I have come to learn that they are a reality of life and are really the only way to grow and expand leadership capacity.

What do storms do for me practically?

  1. They remind me that life is bigger than me – I need God’s perspective
  2. They remind me that I am not in control – I need God’s power
  3. They remind me that I am not alone – I need God’s presence

Each of these concepts allows me to step back, to rest, and to trust in my God. If He didn’t personally run from storms and taught His disciples likewise, then it only makes sense to follow in His steps and look at storms not as something to escape or avoid, but rather to weather by His grace and with His strength. And as a leader, this then provides me both the credibility and experience to pass this on to those whom I am privileged to influence.

As I move into a new year, these three areas of need are going to be the filter through which I pray, I read, I learn and I lead. As these areas grow personally, I trust that God will expand my influence as a leader and will increase my capacity to lead as well. Will you join me this year as I better embrace storms and look for God’s perspective, power and presence in the midst.

~ Mike

How to Lead to the Brim

When I was nineteen, I was on a missions trip to Venezuela for one month. Through a series of unfortunate events (also known as the sovereignty of God), I was enlisted as the interpreter and translator for about three weeks of our trip. While I had taken four years of Spanish and even passed my AP test in high school, I had never used my Spanish in any meaningful way aside from small conversations around town. Yet, now God was asking me to step up, battle my fear and translate the preaching and teaching of our team leaders across the country. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit was able to overcome my own fears and I was used to help share the Gospel with countless people that summer.

Man, talk about feeling like God asking me to step out in faith and engage in an opportunity that I had no idea what the outcome might be! While it might be simple to say this was the only instance, as I look back across my life, I can see a constant pattern of God asking me to do things that would not seem rational. I said yes to starting my Master’s degree with no money and very little confidence only to graduate two years later. I resigned from a church without a guaranteed job in place only to land at the ministry where I have served for the past four years.

God has spent my lifetime working to grow and expand my faith by asking me to do things that just seem to make no sense.

In a certain way, I feel like I can relate to the servants we learn about in John 2. While participating in a wedding at Cana, the host ran out of wine. This would have been a huge social faux pas and the host was now in a bind. Mary speaks with her son, Jesus, and after a short conversation, He becomes involved in the narrative.

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While the story might be familiar, there is an interesting section that seems to apply to leaders. After the servants become engaged with Jesus and are waiting for orders, He simply commands them to “fill the jars with water.” He never says how much or even that they had to use all six jars. However, the servants respond by filling “them up to the brim.” (John 2:6-7)

What does this say about their heart and willingness to follow direction? It seems that they were a group who were not inclined to cut corners. Maybe they anticipated a amazing story? Maybe they just wanted to give their best? Maybe they wanted to give themselves extra work by requiring extra trips to the well (least likely option)?

I have no idea what their motivation was. All I know is that the jars were filled to the brim.

Similar to the many stories in my life where I could not see around the corner, I have at least attempted to give God my best and to trust Him with the outcome. Have I lived this out perfectly? Not at all! For every story where I have confidently “filled my jars to the brim” there are plenty more where I went halfway or maybe walked away from the jars without even trying.

So, what does this I have to do with leadership? There are three main areas that the servants model that I hope will become a regular part of my life.

First, they modeled lives of faith. There was not a questioning of Jesus’ commands in any way. We do not read of hesitation, argument, complaints about the extra work or any other form of negativity or doubt. Instead, there is an instant response to the words of Christ. Wow, do I need to grow in this area! Often, my steps of faith come after many moments of questions, arguments, denials and even justification of following my own path. I am amazed that no matter how many times following my path does not end well, that is still my initial response. Definitely an area for growth in my life.

Second, this lifestyle manifests through acts of obedience. The servants simply obey. Behavior that reveals their trust and is displayed to those at the party that they will obey the One who is providing the direction. When Jesus calls us to have a childlike faith, I often wonder if this is part of what He meant. So often children must simply obey their parents without a sense of understanding. If they have loving parents, as we have a loving Father, this turns out well and they learn to continue on the path of obedience.

Finally, there had to be a sense of anticipation on their part. Whether or not they knew who Jesus was, the interaction between him and his mother set the stage that something was about to happen. Can you not picture the servants peeking out from behind a curtain watching the host take a sip of the water? What must their reaction have been upon his declaration that this was better wine than had previously been served? I don’t know about you, but anticipation that ends in fulfillment cannot help but lead to even greater anticipation for the things of God.

May I encourage you to join my journey of learning how to fill my jars to the brim? While I have been blessed to have a few moments where I got this idea right, I want this to happen more often and to be part of my daily life. Oh, how wonderful life would be if I were to live with a sense of faith, obedience and anticipation every time Jesus would give me direction.

Learning to fill,

Mike

Start small and see what happens


Bigger is better, right? I mean everybody is impressed by those who climb Mount Everest, but nobody seems to care about me climbing the hill by my house. Bigger phones, bigger dreams, Super Size drinks. There is no stopping the fascination that we typically have with big. We all know the expectation to “go big or go home”! We want to have bigger houses and bank accounts and dreams…just not waistlines 🙂

As a leader, it is very tempting to become focused on the “big dreams” and this is an important part of leadership. Effective leaders know what the big picture is and are able to make decisions in the best interest of their team based upon this perspective.

But is it possible to become so focused on bigger that we can lose sight of the details? Can the desire to grow and achieve too quickly put our team and our projects in danger? I definitely believe so.

SO, what is a leader to do? How can I avoid the temptation to always focus on the next big mountain to climb but forget to take the small steps necessary to approach the base of the mountain?

I need to first remember that it is important to keep the big mountain in sight. As a leader, it is part of my job to keep my team, my family, my ministry heading in the right direction. People are counting on me to know where we are going. It is not a bad thing to even keep a picture of the goal or dream on my wall, my phone and in my head – this is essential!

Next, there needs to be an understanding of the steps that it will take to not only arrive at the mountain, but to slowly ascend to the summit. Whether this is a new set of expectations at home, or undertaking a huge work project, or just working to have a better routine of exercise and healthy eating, nothing will be accomplished well without a plan.

Finally, there is great wisdom in starting small and seeing what happens. Projects that are worth their while will not be accomplished overnight. Exercise plans and book reading disciplines take time to turn into habits. Culture change within an organization might take years to accomplish, if it ever happens. The key is to know where you are going, but to take one day at a time. I am currently part of a project at work that is just beginning to show some progress, but the initial discussions started over four years ago. The cliché is that you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

The great advantage to starting small is that if your idea works, now you have some momentum and experience to build upon. If it does not work out, then you only invested minimal resources and energy but you now have a learning experience that will allow you to adjust your mountain climbing plan before you even make it to the mountain. As great as big dreams and big aspirations are, don’t forget that the biggest of dreams is accomplished one step at a time.

~ Mike

The Great Rat Race of Leadership

So much of our lives is spent at work. There is great pressure to advance, to excel, to influence and to be seen. Far too many of us have allowed our identity to be more about what we do than who we truly are. I have worked on church staffs and in retail environments and currently am in more of a corporate office setting. Regardless of the purpose of different organizations, there is a general expectation to make a difference, even if at times it might involve cutting corners. In such high pressure environments, is it possible to lead well, in an effective manner, according to biblical principles?


I have learned over the years through challenging circumstances and personal pain that I must be about the calling God has on my life and entrust the details to Him. Promotion, recognition, influence and the like cannot be my focus or I become desperately self-seeking. Rather, I must intentionally keep in mind the following biblical principles when it comes to leading well at work.

Do all for Christ – Colossians 3:17 (ESV) encourages me that “whatever [I] do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…” If I want to lead effectively in the work place, I must remember that I am first and foremost a representative of Christ. For years I have tried to work with the mindset that Jesus is sitting at my desk with me. How much more effectively would I manage my time if this was true? Would I speak with a different tone on the phone or would I reply differently to that difficult email? While this is my reality as a follower of Christ, I confess that it takes great intentionality to live accordingly and do all of my work for Christ.

Submit to authority – In Romans 13:1 (ESV), I am commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities.” While this passage is specifically speaking to government, I can see a fairly easy correlation to my boss and supervisors. I must confess that I am blessed to have a boss who leads with great compassion, vision and empowerment. He is truly about the team above himself and it is a joy to work under his leadership. However, this has not always been the case in my life, nor could I say that I have the same relationship with every leader at my current job. So, what happens when I might not agree with or get along with work leadership? I do not see an asterisk in this verse that God only asks me to submit to authority that I like or agree with. Rather, I must trust that God has established leadership and must submit accordingly. This in no way implies that I cannot share an opinion, or even disagree with leadership, but ultimately the final decision is theirs. If I simply cannot submit, then it might be time to move to a place where I can be a benefit to the organization and not a thorn.

Serve others – The point of leadership is not to take care of and promote myself. Jesus teaches that true leadership is not about lording over others, but rather is about serving people (Luke 22:25-26). Effective leadership in my workplace happens as I am able to look for ways to elevate others. There is great joy in shining the spotlight on the accomplishments of my team; far greater than self-promotion could ever provide. Great leadership teaches us to praise publicly and criticize privately. In the same manner, I need to deflect the praises of others onto my team while shouldering the responsibility when criticism surfaces. This is a great way to serve others at work. Give credit away, don’t pass blame when criticism arises, and trust God to handle the promotions and recognition on your behalf.

Get caught doing good – Speaking of recognition, I would say it is much more satisfying to get caught doing good than to strive for recognition. We have all been in a meeting where somebody is busy talking about how amazing they are. Typically, their own hype does not match the project they are talking about, but even if it does, there seems to be a lack of luster when they have to shine the spotlight on themselves. When I was younger, I spent an inordinate amount of time telling people about what I was doing and how well I thought that I was doing it. 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV) says to “humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” Why would I violate this clear biblical principle and risk missing out on God raising me up? I am fairly certain that He can raise me up much further than I could ever hope to do for myself.

Is it possible to lead biblically within the workplace? Yes! Is it easy? No! I work in a Christian ministry and the struggles to lead biblically still very much exist. Why is this so? Probably because my organization is filled with broken and sinful people, including ME! All I know is that God’s ways are the best and this has been proven in my life so many times over the years. I am growing in each of these areas through circumstances and relationships at work, and my hope is that I am becoming a better representative of Christ along the way.

How about you? Are any of these steps particularly challenging for you? What other aspects of workplace leadership would you add to the list?

~ Mike

I am my Biggest Problem

Leadership must begin with me. Unfortunately, on my own, I want to stay up late, play video games, eat snacks and then sleep in. I get impatient, want to rush the process and can easily see people as being in the way of my agenda. Leadership would be so much easier if it wasn’t for my own selfish humanity. While it might seem that I just need to get more organized, set alarms and choose to like people, this only lasts for so long. I have learned that I need the wisdom of the Bible to have a chance at leading well. The principles of God are the only way I can grow and develop as a healthy and effective leader.

So, what does the Bible say about leading myself? While there are a great many things, here are four that I typically struggle with the most.

Self-control – Galatians 5:22-23 says that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. I find the name of this characteristic ironic since I clearly need the strength of God to have self-control. I can last for a while staying faithful to plans and dreams and needs that will set me up for healthy leadership. But it is only temporary because my humanity will kick in soon or later. Reliance on God allows me to last a bit longer before I indulge in too much ice cream or stay up far too late for anybody’s good.

Servanthood – Jesus takes the typical paradigm of leadership that involves working hard to look out for self and step on others to get to the top of the pyramid and flips it completely upside down. True leadership happens when I choose to serve others, look out for others first, and use my influence and experience to set those around me up for success. Easy? Not a chance, but I have seen this truth play out well time and time again.

Humility – is leadership really supposed to be about myself? At the end of the day do I care so much about my ego and image that I am willing to fight to be seen and heard? Unfortunately, this battle happens inside of me more often than I would care to admit. Thankfully, with age I have learned to at least mostly keep it inside. So often I have to fake it even when I never make it, but the Bible teaches that humility is truly the best way to lead.

Patience – admittedly, I saved the best for last. And by best, I mean the area of my biggest struggle. Whether it is in traffic, waiting for an email reply or just need Amazon Prime to fulfill my over-energetic, type-A needs, patience is definitely not a characteristic of leadership that I embrace well at all. I want everything done yesterday and I have spent the majority of my life waiting for God to catch up. Now, truth be told, He is always perfectly on time and hindsight confirms this fact, but I will probably struggle with this leadership trait every day of my life.

So, while this list is far too short, it is what I am working on to become a better biblically grounded leader. I want any influence I have to be used to advance God’s kingdom and to set others up for success in whatever they are called to do. The Bible is the ultimate book on leadership and hopefully this list helps jumpstart the same conversations in your life that it does in mine.

~ Mike

Leadership by the book

I must confess that I am a book junkie. Amazon is my friend and I am constantly purchasing books for both work and home. I have long been a believer in the maxim that leaders are learners. However, the quality and content of the books that I choose greatly affect the quality of leader I might become. I yearn for books that challenge me, inspire me, correct me, and encourage me. Often, when I am reading, I can gain one or two of these aspects and grow as a leader.


Rarely could I say that a book perfectly provides the leadership learning that I need. However, over the years I have found one that has yet to let me down. The Bible is my guiding book and my “go to” when I need to grow personally as a leader, or better understand how to build a team, mentor others, etc. It provides perfect principles to follow. The problem is that I regularly follow them with great imperfection, but this does not diminish the influence of the Bible on my life and leadership.

What does the Bible offer for leadership?

1) It addresses the core issue of poor leadership – we live in a sinful world and interact daily with sinful people, including ourselves. The Bible does not skip around this truth, but rather tackles it head on. The Bible is ultimately a romance story of God providing a way for us to be redeemed and restored into right relationship with Him. While it is possible to lead well outside of a relationship with God, I would suggest that only with God can any of us see our true purpose fulfilled.

2) It provides examples of good and poor leaders alike – I can learn from the victories of Nehemiah and the failures of Samson equally if I have the right frame of mind. Everything I read in the Bible is designed to be a learning experience that pierces my heart and brings about life transformation. On a selfish note, the poor leaders in the Bible also provide hope that God can even use a guy like me. 

3) It teaches principles with simplicity and clarity – I learn much better when things are simple and spelled out. The Bible provides stories, proverbs, and narratives that teach with such depth and richness while maintaining a simplicity of learning. While the truths are challenging and hard to live out, I cannot complain (for the most part) that I do not understand what God wants to teach me. 

There are many more reasons that the Bible is the ultimate guide for leadership, but these are a good foundation. Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing my practical experiences on what this look like in leading myself, my family, in my workplace and in my community at large. I hope that my stories will inspire and encourage you and, most importantly, drive you to the Bible as your first, and best, resource for leadership.

~ Mike

It’s Not About Me

Leaders fall into one of two basic categories: self-serving micromanagers who see people as tools for their own advancement, or servant leaders who take the time to set up others for success. While the first type might get bigger headlines at times, the second version is a sustainable leader who helps others get ahead. Not only would I prefer to follow a servant leader, but I desire to be one as well.

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Most likely the greatest leader ever to walk the earth, Jesus Christ, provided a model of leadership based upon serving others rather than self. In John 13, the story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples is shared. This job would typically have been reserved for the servants of the home, yet Jesus willingly set aside His outer garments, wrapped Himself in a towel, and washed the dirty and grimy feet of His shellshocked disciples. Then, in verse 15, He lands the teaching point – “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

I wish I could say that I have finally figured this out in my many years of ministry and leadership. However, that would not be true. Instead, this is something that I wrestle with consistently. My nature likes to be loud and in charge and I welcome the spotlight. I am not naturally able to say that it’s not about me, yet that is precisely the model that I desire to follow. So, how do I work on this each day?

First, I work to consider how I want to be treated and looked upon. Do I want to be a tool for somebody else’s advancement or a fellow collaborator on grand project? I would definitely take door #2 which means this is how I must look at others. How can I include them in a task or project? What do they have to share with the team that will bring success? How can I ensure they receive more praise for a successful project than I do?

Second, I must realize that I actually do not know everything, nor am I able to do everything. This point comes much easier to me as I spend a great deal of time at work knee deep in projects that are far beyond my skill set. This compels me to look to others for help, for knowledge, for some compassion. Humility is a characteristic that I can either embrace on my own or have it given to me. I have far too many stories where I avoided humility only for it to catch up to me in a highly humiliating manner. I would much rather admit my weaknesses and look to those who are further down the road with skills, education and experience.

Finally, I have realized after a lifetime in ministry leadership that rare is the leader who is able to stay in one place for their entire career. A healthy leader plans for a future without them. How do I set up my department and my projects to run smoothly should I not be there? I can only do this if I truly believe that it’s not about me. I want to work hard and own projects today while passing them off to others for a brighter tomorrow. This requires that I equip and release other leaders, not to mention trust them, so that they are ready to fill my shoes when the time comes.

When I am able to live this way, it drastically reduces my stress and allows me to celebrate the accomplishments of others. When leadership revolves around me, jealousy and envy rule the day. When I am a servant leader, I can fade to the background and watch team members bask in the glow of well-earned success. I must admit that while it is not always easy to get there, I would rather hold the balloon than be the balloon.

~ Mike

4 Essential Links to your Leadership Chain

Who are you learning from?

This is a common question in leadership circles but is essential to growth as a leader. Once a leader stops learning, their capacity for leading is greatly diminished and their influence is minimized. A typical leader is constantly striving for growth and expansion so learning becomes a requirement for effective leadership.

chain links

John Maxwell talks about the “Law of the Weakest Link” in regards to team building and leadership. We all can identify the weakest link in our ministry or organization and often wonder why the leader won’t remedy the situation sooner.

Today’s links that I am writing about are different – they are the necessary links for yourself as a leader in your learning “chain of influence.” Without these essential links, your chain is incomplete which means your learning is incomplete which means that your influence is already waning.

The first place to look for learning is to the books and authors who have come before you. Writers such as C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers write with such an authenticity and vintage…truth is timeless, Experience is a powerful teacher, whether the experience is positive or negative. Read about Jack Welsh and the G.E. turnaround, or John Wooden and his pyramid of leadership. The amount of information available in our world is enormous – grab a book and a good cup of coffee…and start learning!

Another important link in your chain of learning is your direct supervisors. Whether you like them or not they are there for a reason and can provide a model to learn from. Ideally, their model is positive and one that you want to emulate. If you are in a different situation, strive to learn what does not work and discover how to be different in your area of leadership.

If you are a leader (by definition, anybody who has influence), then you have opportunity to learn from your direct reports. If you are not in a more corporate setting, this could be volunteers, colleagues or even your kids. The point is that we can all learn from those who might have less experience or influence than us…their unique perspective provides another place of learning for your leadership chain. Allow space for others to share opinions, discuss ideas and participate in conversations.

Finally, make sure to include your family in your leadership chain. They know you the best, both the good and the bad, and most often want to see you succeed. Ask for input, insight and inspiration from the ones who are in your corner, regardless of how many widgets you created today.

The bottom line is that great leaders have learned how to gain wisdom from every experience and every person they interact with. Learning is possible in healthy and toxic situations, from positive and negative leaders, and from books written last year and 100 years ago. The more intentionally you work to develop and strengthen your chain, the better the chances are for you to be both an effective and an efficient leader.

~ Mike

Leading Through the Storm of Emotion

Life is filled with emotion. Crowds are swayed by it and individuals get caught up and often don’t even know why. Leadership is required to navigate the storms of emotion well.  One of the places that I have best learned this lesson is on the football field. In honor of Super Bowl 50, the timing of this post seems appropriate.

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I have had the wonderful opportunity and privilege to officiate youth and high school football for 26 seasons. What started as a great time to spend with my dad has turned into a career avocation and led me to numerous All-Star and championship games over the years. I can recall many games filled with emotion due to rivalry, championship aspirations or even just frustrated fans.

What does this have to do with leadership? Whether you are a sports aficionado or not, there are many things I have learned on the football field that apply in leadership regardless of the context.

1 – be prepared. Leaders can only lead out of what they know. This is most often a combination of education and experience, but there is no excuse for a leader to not be as prepared as possible. I have studied the football rule book for 26 years, taken countless tests and learned how to hone my judgment through many mistakes, learning from mentors and growing with the game. Preparation allows me to execute my craft of officiating well.

2 – communicate. This starts with my crew for the night. We have pre-game, talk through potential scenarios and ensure that our signals all match. Communication then continues to coaches, players and fans as we strive for integrity on the field. A well called game that is communicated poorly will feel like a poor game. Communication is essential to effective leadership!

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3 – establish your tone. As officials, we strive to work a game, keep players safe, ensure justice for both teams, and to walk off the field mostly unnoticed. At the same time, we determine how a game will go by what we allow. Late hit out of bounds not flagged? Get ready for fighting later in the game (most likely). We establish the boundaries of how players will play, how coaches will communicate (and complain), and how the overall tone will be for the night. Leadership sets the atmosphere for all contexts – what tone do you set with your team and for your projects?

4 – be consistent. One of the biggest complaints against officials is inconsistency. Whether real or perceived, this must be addressed. The best officials are consistent – coaches, players, fans and support personnel should know how a great official will work a game. It is the same wherever you lead. Be consistent in your style, your communication, your expectations and your encouragement. Consistency allows people to adjust and function well within prescribed boundaries.

5 – trust your judgment and instinct. Sometimes a situation occurs that is not explicitly covered within the text of the rule book. It is imperative that the referee make the right judgment at this point, whether it involves safety, sportsmanship or some other concern. I have called games early when the score is a blowout and kids are getting hurt due to size and strength discrepancies. All of the books, trainings, and mentor conversations become real when judgment is necessary. Trust all of these aspects and go with your gut! This is where the true test of leadership happens – how can you lead and influence people when there is not a perfect principle to follow.

While I know that not every enjoys sports, the lessons on the field apply across the board. Where do you have opportunity to function as an official in your leadership context? See how any of these ideas might add value to the leadership mantle you carry.

~ Mike