10 Ideas from Wise Leaders

By Chuck Lawless

I read a lot about leadership, but that’s not the primary way I’ve learned about leadership. To be honest, most of the important insights I’ve learned about leadership have not come from a book. They’ve come from watching leaders with whom I’ve been privileged to work.

I’m a practical person who wants action more than concepts, experience more than theory, and results more than dreams. That’s why what leaders do often catches my attention more than what they think. Look at these ten creative actions I’ve learned from others.

  1. Give your family veto power over your schedule.  He’s an incredibly busy man, but he somehow manages his schedule well. Here’s what he taught me: involve your wife before you make a commitment that requires you to be away from home after work hours. Be prepared to change your schedule if your family says, “We need you at home.” You’ll be less likely to lose your family in the midst of busyness if they have opportunity to help you plan your schedule.
  2. Compliment first before negatively critiquing. It was a young pastor who taught me this strategy: before you offer constructive criticism, always give a minimum of three compliments first. You’ll find that any frustration is tempered by the positive thoughts.
  3. Pray before, during, and after meetings.  This kind of praying happens only with intentionality. One of the best leaders I know prays at the start and end of every meeting – and he intentionally prays about needs that become apparent during the meeting. It is often the mid-meeting praying that most surprises (and encourages) others.
  4. Honor and thank your staff’s families.  One of my previous pastors taught me the importance of honoring the families of your team members. Give your staff a day off on their spouse’s birthday and their anniversary. Write a note of thanksgiving to the entire family of a staff member. Offer to provide childcare so a couple can have a night out.
  5. Learn first names.  I struggle with names, but I’ve learned from a friend who strives to learn at least two new names a week in his ministry. He remembers the names of church members and their families, worship service guests, local ministers, and others in his community. Writing a few notes about a person, and then reviewing those notes as you work to memorize names, can make a difference.
  6. Never eat lunch alone. I’m an introvert who has learned a lot from an extrovert friend. He uses his lunch times strategically, and he accomplishes more in an hour lunch than others do in a full day. It’s really quite amazing how much you can do in a concentrated time with one other person – and you get to eat a good lunch at the same time!
  7. Always keep in mind your successor. A former employer has led his organization for two decades now, and he may well be in that role for another decade or so. Already, though, he is working to make sure that what he hands over to his successor is strong. He is not interested in saddling the next leader with deferred maintenance, debilitating debts, or weak infrastructure. His insights remind me to think about the person who will take my position after I’m gone.
  8. Connect with young people.  All of us say that the young people are the future, but few of us give them the attention they deserve. Not so for a former student of mine, who annually goes to camp with young people of the church he pastors. In addition, he prioritizes his schedule when his student minister requests his presence at a student event. It’s no surprise to me that several of those young people are now preparing for ministry.
  9. Spend one hour per day—in addition to the lunch hour—out of your office.  A colleague has seemingly perfected this strategy. Find time each day to visit others in the work place. Greet others at the door. Unexpectedly drop in other offices simply to ask how co-workers are doing. Stay longer if a co-worker needs more time. The time you spend with others will pay dividends.
  10. Make work fun. The strongest leaders I have ever worked with make it fun to come to work. They do not take themselves seriously, even while they work incredibly hard. They laugh a lot (though I’ve seen them weep as well over co-workers and tragedies). Others genuinely enjoy being with them. What I’ve realized is that these leaders are not just fun people in general; instead, they work to make work fun.  

What other insights have you gained from leaders?

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.


photo credit: Life Mental Health via photopin cc


  1. says

    Thank you, Dr. Lawless.
    This article is very helpful for us in the field. Thanks for reminding us that developing relationships at home and church will be very rewarding.

  2. says

    One more I would add is this: Put Criticism in Perspective. Who is giving the criticism? Are they a trusted friend, wise leader, or disgruntled church member? What are the circumstances? Is it at the end of a long, intense meeting? Is it late? Is this person struggling? Is this something you have heard before? Would your close friends/family agree? It helps to sometimes not respond and take time to think over stuff that’s been said rather than leap to your own defence.

    • Mark says

      May I add, please don’t just listen to people who are your trusted friends or are wise leaders. Sometimes the people who you deem to be beneath you and, hence, seem disgruntled, are the ones looking out for you. You might be surprised to find out where good ideas originate.

  3. Mark says

    I strongly suggest seeking input from (listening to) others. This includes the other gender and people of different ages. Other people may see the issue in a totally different way. Please don’t criticize people for disagreeing with you.

  4. says

    Thank you for a good word Dr. Lawless. I have discovered that pride creeps in a mighty way with #7. At some point we must be willing to step down from the pulpit due to health, diminished capacity, etc. A few Churches in my sphere of life are struggling with this right now. God knew my prideful heart so well that He showed me my successor my first weekend at our Church. I have been pouring myself into him as well as I am able, at the same time swallowing my pride; which is quite bitter.

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