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4 Ways to Become a Gutsy Leader

Are you a gutsy leader? Leadership takes guts and willingness to do the hard stuff.


Leadership is a hot topic. The most popular books, articles, blogs, and podcasts are centered around the concept of improving our ability to lead others. In fact, I would suggest that leadership content is the most consumed content in the ministry world today.

Anyone in leadership will tell you there’s nothing easy about it. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be tons of people trying to learn how to do it better. Leaders look for ways to improve and increase their ability to lead. And of all the leadership sound bites out there today, they all seem to boil down to one pretty simple truth: To be a great leader, you’ve got to be someone worth following.

You have to have a high tolerance for a mixed bag—discomfort, love, criticism, and sometimes even pain. But if you’re willing to have a high tolerance in four primary areas, you’ll soon become a leader worth following.

4 Ways to Become a Gutsy Leader

1. High-Tolerance Vision

A key function of leadership is looking ahead and mapping out a trajectory—then communicating that vision to everyone on your team in every way imaginable. You can’t lead well if you don’t know where you’re going. People want to know they’re moving toward a vision bigger than themselves. Invest time looking ahead to determine where your ministry is now, where you need to go, and how you’ll get there.

Identifying your ministry’s goal and purpose is a nonnegotiable; if you haven’t clearly done this, now’s the time. Once you have your vision in place, you must go the extra mile to ensure you communicate effectively.

I’ll offer up some straight talk here: Carefully consider the words you use to communicate your goal and purpose.

I cringe when leaders attempt to communicate the vision with uncrafted, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants verbal vomit. Somewhere in their explanation, they seem to implode in a jumbled mess of words finally ending with the standard declaration: “We do it for Jesus!”

Though present and potential volunteers see the tears in the leader’s eyes and feel the passion for the cause, the general result is something equivalent to a pat on the head and a thumbs up for the leader to keep pursuing that vision. They may be happy for the leader…but they’re not interested in joining.

Why? Because the leader couldn’t clearly and concisely explain the vision and strategy for achieving the vision.

Crafting your words is crucial. People want to follow what makes sense to them. And no amount of passion will compel someone to pursue a jumbled mess of flowery words. By investing time crafting your words to communicate the vision and strategy of your ministry, you’ll clearly convey what people need to hear to join you.

2. High-Tolerance “Followership”

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not only a leader, but also a follower. You’re a person under authority. And how well you follow your leader impacts those you lead. Your team is watching you. You set the example for how to respond to circumstances or react to problems.

Choosing—and yes, it’s a choice—to follow well means you exercise three simple values when it comes to your leader: You communicate proactively. You’re clear and concise. You give the benefit of the doubt. Communicate proactively.

As a leader, you probably don’t like surprises. Short of birthday parties or that surprise trip to Belize, few leaders like to be caught off guard. You follow your leader well when you work to ensure he or she isn’t caught off guard. When you know a curveball is coming, you let your leader know. When you proactively communicate what your leader needs to know, you set him or her up for success. If a parent is planning to call or a potential volunteer is waiting in the wings, communicate with your leader about what lies ahead. Doing so proves you’re a team player and that you’re invested in your leader’s success. Keep it clear and concise.

Here’s the truth: Your leader cares…a lot. But he or she has limited time. Value that time. Do your homework. Present clear, concise, unemotional, solution-oriented information. Equip your leader with the information to make a decision. Don’t lull him or her to sleep with details. Think through logical next questions and have answers prepared. Give your leader the background knowledge needed, your recommended solutions, and then time to digest the information. Don’t make it personal.

This bears repeating: Your leader cares. And even when a decision has a negative impact on you, your team, or your ministry, guard against the temptation to believe that a negative outcome for you was the goal. Unintended outcomes are part of life. No one (especially your leader) woke up this morning conspiring against you. So guard your heart—and your mouth. Give your leader the benefi t of the doubt. If you really need to address a problem, respect and love your leader enough to support him or her publicly and address the issue privately. Being a leader worth following means you demonstrate what makes a great follower. If you don’t follow well, how can you ask others to do the same?

3. High Tolerance for Truth

Leaders must be insatiable learners. This doesn’t mean strictly bookworm, blog-reading, podcast-consuming information mongers. Leaders worth following consistently seek feedback for the sole purpose of improving. They want to learn how they can be better. You can’t be afraid of feedback. In fact, you must crave it. Where many might choose to “mute” feedback in their lives, you have to open the door to it.

Good leaders ask the simple question, “How could I have done this better?” and they really want a response. They aren’t satisfied with ego strokes or pacifying replies because they want tangible, actionable thoughts that allow them to truly improve. They resist the urge to rebut or defend; instead, they listen, receive, and discern what feedback they can use to improve.

Plainly put, good leaders have a high tolerance for truth; they receive it no matter how much it might sting, and they learn from it. If you need to improve your tolerance for truth, ask yourself these questions.

Are you emotionally healthy?

If you’re emotionally tied to everything you do in ministry, you’ll struggle to develop a high tolerance for truth. Of course we care about what we do. But the danger comes when we’re so emotionally tied to it that it defines who we are. Your ministry and the success of your ministry doesn’t define you. God does. Make God’s Word your standard and remain firmly rooted in his truth. If not, your effort to develop a high tolerance for truth will stall out.

Where do you create space for feedback?

Intentionally create opportunities for feedback. Whether it’s after a major event or simply taking the temperature of a routine process, survey people to learn from their experience and perspective.

Keep your questions simple and to the point: What’s going well? What’s not going well? What can we do to make it better?

When you ask for someone’s thoughts or feedback, don’t leave the person hanging. Affirm comments by repeating what you’ve heard. You can do this verbally as you close the conversation or in an email that recaps your take-aways. A recap lets people know you were listening and provides the opportunity for clarification.

And remember: If you’ve heard similar feedback from someone else, it’s a good indication of a wider problem. When it comes to addressing feedback, personally I’m a “fixer.” My default mode is to come up with an idea to fix the problem. But my perspective isn’t always clear enough to see the full impact of my solution. So I seek advice from others, which allows them the opportunity to let me know if my course of action will lead us out of one problem and into another. Steel yourself to develop a high tolerance for truth by creating an environment where improvement is always your goal.

4. High-Tolerance Dreams

The leaders I admire most seem to have the uncanny ability to see more in others than they often see in themselves. Maybe it’s an eternally optimistic outlook or that intangible resiliency that allows them to focus on the best in others. But one thing is certain. I want to follow someone who sees more in me than what’s on the surface. Someone who’s convinced that I’ve got more potential. Someone who consistently strives to make me better because he or she believes I can be.

To be a leader worth following, we’ve got to be willing to dream for our teams. We’ve got to see more in others than meets the eye. My ability and willingness to dream for those I lead is the greatest gift I can give to them. It’s so important that I’ve made it a quarterly task on my task list. I’ve set aside time and created a place for notes for the sole purpose of dreaming for my team.

Consider those you lead. What do you hope to see them accomplish personally and professionally? What short-term and long-term goals do you want to see them achieve? Those we lead can get so bogged down in the everyday details of ministry and life. It’s too easy to lose sight of what they’re capable of accomplishing. And there’s no exercise that single-handedly increases your love and commitment for your team members than dreaming for them.

To be a leader worth following, you must see more in them. Don’t focus only on what you see today; imagine what might be revealed in time.

I’ve been on the leadership journey long enough to learn it’s a tough job. It’s a craft we have to hone and sharpen constantly. As with any skill, it requires time and attention. Focus on building your tolerance levels in these areas, though, and you’ll have the guts it takes to lead well. cm

Gina McClain is an author and blogger and leads children’s ministry at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.


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4 Ways to Become a Gutsy Leader

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