Your leadership matters. I cannot state that enough. In fact, I’ve written on it, and you can read more on that here.
I know you don’t need any convincing on that either. Sure, you may wonder if your leadership is effective, if it’s changing anything, or if people appreciate it. But deep down you know that your leadership matters.
You wouldn’t keep leading if you didn’t believe that.
The real question, though, is what defines your leadership?
There’s one thing that defines your leadership: results.
There, I said it. Our leadership is defined by results.
And that’s pressure-packed, isn’t it?
I’m acutely aware of this, too. Everywhere I have worked or studied, there have been grading schemes and monetary incentives associated with productivity. That is, everyone’s looking for a result, and your livelihood depends on it.
The other thing that I’ve noticed is the urgency that’s associated with the results. It’s as though getting the task done isn’t enough, there has to be a great deal of angst affiliated with it. I’ll never forget hearing things like, “What are you working on?”, “When will that be finished?”, “What’s the next thing you’re doing?”, or, my personal favourite, “I need that done, like yesterday, okay?” (As if that last one was even a question…)
It has all led me to ask the question: why? Let me correct that, it’s led me to ask four different “why” questions.
They are four questions that, I believe, have the power to disarm pride, recalibrate our focus, and grant us the freedom to lead.
It means we have to examine the relationship between leadership and results.
So, let’s take a look together.
The first “why” I want to explore is why results?
To answer that, I would give one word: ego.
This is why results matter. They matter because you and I say they matter.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Yeah, very funny, Anthony. I get it. But you seem to be forgetting that there are other people that inform how we think. Results matter to them, too. And if those results don’t matter as much to me, as they do them, then I’ll be out of a job and a calling.”
I know. What I said can sound like a load of rubbish until you stop and think about it.
Hear me out.
There’s a theory out there called Self-Determination Theory. It studies human motivation and basic psychological needs. (You can read more on it here.)
The short version, though, says that humanity has three needs. Three. That’s it. That’s all. They are as follows: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Let me unpack those briefly.
Autonomy is the construct of decision making. It states that we, as individuals, want to have control over our own lives. This doesn’t mean we desire to exist in a vacuum or isolation. Rather, it means that we want to decide, for ourselves, what we do, think, say, and believe. You and I want to make up our own mind about things. We don’t want it made up for us.
Competence is the desire to have control over the various outcomes of our lives and to obtain levels of mastery in various disciplines. You and I want to be good at what we do.
Relatedness is the desire to interact with, be connected to, and experience care with others. You and I want to exist and thrive in the company of others.
Do you see where I’m going?
If you and I desire autonomy, then we have the ability to make up our own mind about things.
If you and I desire competence, we can learn how to be better at what we do.
If we desire relatedness, we can go out and find it.
You and I have control. Let’s just own that for a minute. You and I aren’t forced to do anything. We decide that on our own.
But what if we desire competence at the expense of our autonomy? That is, what if we want nothing more than to be seen as the competent super-leader we wish we were, and we cease to make up our own mind about how to do that? Instead, we read leadership book after leadership book, attend conference after conference, only to provide a disingenuous reflection of what someone else has proposed is good leadership?
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Competence over Autonomy.
The common theory amongst modern churches is that they must grow. (I have an article I’m wrapping up on this, so stay tuned for that. You can also read my article entitled Church Growth: Three Assumptions to get a taste for what I mean.)
But, as I said, the common theory amongst modern church leaders is that their church must grow. You read this everywhere. You hear this everywhere. Lines like, “If we’re not growing, we’re dying.” Or, something like, “We want every church to realize their full Kingdom potential. We want them to reach many people for Jesus.” Or, “A growing church is a healthy church.”
So, your result – as a competent leader – becomes church growth. Why? Because everyone’s talking about it and we don’t flex our autonomy muscle. In the process, we soften our minds to blindly accept the status quo.
But did you, truthfully, arrive at that conclusion on your own or did you simply adopt a result that other people have said is of value so that you appear competent in their eyes?
See what I mean? When we desire competency above all else – when our ego gets in the way – we, paradoxically, lose autonomy.
When we lose autonomy, we lose identity.
That’s not the only way it works, though. Since we have three basic needs, let’s examine what happens if we desire competence over relatedness.
Competence over Relatedness.
What if we desire competence at the expense of our relatedness? That is, what if leadership competence is so valuable that results matter more than the people who those results are supposed to be for?
Let me break it down with a few examples.
I’ve witnessed leaders who are interested in appearing competent, so they appear to be related to other people.
It’s the leader that makes a three-minute connection in order to talk about the fact that they connected with someone and the church is growing; new faces all the time. They, perhaps, didn’t even learn anything substantive about that individual(s); but they “made a connection.”
It’s the leader that can’t stop saying ‘yes’ to invitations in order to flex their wisdom in front of a crowd. “We had a great gathering. I spoke to so-and-so and I told them (insert wisdom nugget here). They were changed because of it.” How many times have you heard a line like that?
It’s not about the relatedness, it’s a mask to promote leadership competence.
When we desire competency above all else – when our ego gets in the way – we lose relatedness. Accordingly, we force false relatedness to force a perceived competence.
When we lose relatedness, we lose our sense of self.
I believe this is why results matter so much to leaders. Our ego can’t handle being viewed as incompetent, so we create results that allow us to appear competent.
That does, however, lead me to my second “why.” Why so much anxiety?
Why Is There So Much Anxiety Surrounding Results?
My answer to this question, as I have considered it, is one word: agenda.
The minute you and I have a result in mind, we have an agenda.
I’ve been in enough conversations with church leaders to hear the same themes come up over and over again. I’ll list a few of them a moment. I wonder if you can see yourself in them. Frankly, I’ve seen myself in these at some point, it’s why I can write on it.
– church attendance patterns/growth
– building campaigns
– reach into the community
– life transformation
– ministry engagement
– I have even heard, from some churches, that they set a target number of baptisms each year.
These are the agendas of the modern church.
Plain and simple, this is what matters to church leaders, and these are the things that have measurable results. A value is placed upon them, a strategy is created around the achievement of results in each of these categories, and resources are distributed accordingly. Those desired results are then measured against, and we recalibrate our values and strategy as it pertains to their achievement.
And when there is a result in place, you need to hit it. Otherwise, you don’t look competent.
And when your leadership competency is on the line, your ego – your identity – is also on the line, and anxiety isn’t far behind.
And anxiety isn’t helpful for anyone. Especially a leader. Why? Because anxiety is contagious.
And it all stems from one thing: having predetermined results because of desired levels of competence.
The Uphill Battle of Agendas.
There’s something strange about an agenda, you have to convince others of the validity of the results you want to measure your success against. Seriously. You have to convince yourself, first and foremost, that growth, buildings, reach, life
And those are uphill battles.
Try convincing a rational, autonomous human-being to do something they don’t want to do. It’s impossible, right?
I mean, if my niece doesn’t want to eat her dinner, there’s no convincing her to eat. She’s done.
Actually, it’s not so difficult as you might think. Hold out the hope of dessert and she’s all over that zucchini.
Tease the senses and you can get a result.
We’ve done a pretty good job of it with adults, too. In fact, you might say we excel at it. We can manipulate the emotion, paint a dreary picture of the present and contrast it with the beauty of a perceived future, and sing the merits of the communal achievement of something great.
But that’s an uphill battle.
You have to look for statistics that verify what you want. You have to, secretly, set targets for the number of baptisms in the coming year. In the boardroom, you have to confer about desired growth patterns. In the staff meeting, you have to haggle over a one or two
And that’s a lot of conversation for a lot of nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, baptisms, life transformation, reach, ministry engagement, and expansion aren’t bad things. Quite far from it, actually. It’s a problem, though, when the outcome supercedes the process and when it’s a mask for deeper issues.
See, quite often, positive results are still a facade to cover up the anxiety that is holding together the fragile, shattered ego of a leader seeking public competence.
I know, because I’ve often wanted results.
I know, because I’ve seen others wanting results, too.
This, my friends, is why results are often associated with anxiety. It’s because of a personal agenda that is made public, to solve a hidden personal insecurity.
So why not do away with results? If they are so bad, why not just forget about them?
In the first place, I don’t think that’s possible. In the second place, I don’t think that’s helpful. And, in the third place, I think it’s suggestive of something wrong, something off, something disingenuous to the Spirit of God and his movement. And that is, precisely, what has led me to ask the third “why.”
Why Not Have A Different Result?
My answer to that question is two words: why not?
My friends, as a leader, you are afforded the great privilege of opening peoples’ eyes to a different set of results. You and I have the privilege of flexing genuine autonomy and relatedness, out of quiet confidence in our competence, to open the eyes of those who follow us to something more beautiful than they could ever imagine.
Why would we, as leaders, ever sell out to the thrill of generating a crowd in lieu of inviting people to awake to the Divine in everything?
Why would we, as leaders, fail to unleash our followers to experience God and his fullness —dare I say it, without us—in favour of keeping them in our ecosystem?
Those seem like bad tradeoffs, don’t they?
In the news of this kingdom, the headlines read “Megachurch has 500 Baptisms in One Day.”
In the news of the Kingdom, the headlines read “Anonymous Someone Pays Rent for a Single Mother.”
Why would we ever want to substitute the second headline in favour of the first?
In the chronicles of history, there will be a list of “great” people.
In the chronicles of humanity, all people bear God’s image.
Why would we stratify identity, in favour of elevating the status of everyone?
The currency of this day is instant likes, follows, views, reach, and reactions.
The economy of God is one of grace.
Why would we live anything else?
What if the result was different? What if it was more expansive, more subtle, more subversive, more in tune with the Divine, and less about our agenda and insecurity?
My friends, if that were the case, you would be swept up in a Holy Wind and there’s no telling what would happen then.
Why Your Leadership (really) is Defined by Results?
In case you haven’t gathered it yet, your leadership shouldn’t be defined by results. Well, at least not in the way you often think of it.
There is one result that really matters, and it was taken care of on Resurrection Sunday.
On Good Friday, God put a stake in the ground. Quite literally, he was staked to the ground. It was then that he planted his flag—as if it was ever gone—on Creation and said, “Mine.”
It was a battle that shed no blood but his own.
It was a peaceful war that said it is better to die than to harm more of my Creation.
It was a death heard that echoes through history.
On Resurrection Sunday, God walked from the tomb and began gardening; recreating his Creation. (Seriously, he was mistaken for a gardener.)
It was a life that continued after the grave.
It was a resurrection that shocked eternity.
It was a result that none of us could ever achieve on our own.
And that, that right there, is what defines your leadership.
Your leadership is about living peacefully in his grace. It’s about inviting others into the Creation and re-Creation. Not forcing the result, but waiting, patiently, for the Holy Wind to roar, to whisper, to move, to act in ways that only it can.
I believe your leadership is defined by results. But the result has already been achieved.
My friends, lead with a freedom to pursue no agenda. Lead with the freedom of a result already achieved. Lead with the freedom of knowing there is an active Spirit.