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The Fundamentals Of Leadership

Sometimes we can make things too complicated. That’s why it’s so important to be reminded of the basics. 

The story is told that legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi would begin every year’s training camp by gathering the team, holding a ball in the air, and saying, “Gentlemen… this is a football.” 

As the camp continued, Lombardi would lead the team through the basic fundamentals of the game, despite the fact that he was leading professional players. Yes, football can get quite complicated and contains countless strategies for winning — especially now in the era of digital video and statistical analytics. 

But in the end, football is largely about running, throwing, catching, blocking, and tackling. Do those core things and you win.

In the same way, leadership can seem far too complicated. Leadership itself is tough enough — whether for a football team, family, or fortune 500 company. But for ministry and church leaders, there’s an extra layer of complexity that comes from having an explicitly spiritual dynamic, plus having the layered relationships that are present in a church.

Is there a way to simplify it?

To focus on the fundamentals?

To stand up and say, “Gentlemen… this is leadership”?


“This is Leadership”

At its simplest, leadership is about helping move people from here to there.

It’s saying “follow me” as the leader goes on a journey. Leadership is always about a change from the status quo toward a better future.

If we were already where we wanted to be — if we were already there — we wouldn’t need a leader. But we’re not there. We’re here

And leadership is helping us move from here to there.

Successful leadership then — the kind that moves people from here to there — always entails three fundamentals: define current reality, dream a preferred future, and design the path to get there.

Define Current Reality

The first crucial action of leadership is to define current reality. People need to be able to see where they are and why they can’t stay there. 

Newton’s “First Law of Motion” is that, “An object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force.” In other words, the status quo will win the day unless something changes the equation.

People can get pretty comfortable with a lousy status quo. Even the worst restaurant you’ve ever been to has regular customers

And because there is always a comfort level with the status quo, people are reluctant to change.

That’s why they need leadership. 

Good leaders help discern and communicate where we are and what’s at stake in staying there.

Dream a Preferred Future

The second crucial action of leadership is about vision — it’s providing a picture of a preferred future. 

Having considered here, now leaders turn their attention to there. What would it look like if things were better? What would it feel like if they were more like what we’d envision? In a perfect world, what would we experience?

The best vision-casters don’t merely help people understand a preferred future, but they also help them get a taste of that preferred future. They describe in high-definition what it would feel like to be part of a new reality.

How do you cast a compelling vision for a preferred future? 

  1. Figure out what resonates with you. It will be extremely hard to take people toward a direction that doesn’t really resonate with you personally. This is why off-the-shelf and vision-by-imitation rarely works. The preferred future has to be in the leader’s bones. And until it is, it’s not really a preferred future.
  1. Leverages already existing bright spots. People are often more likely to buy something that they’ve been able to sample. So look for “samples,” places where the vision you’re hoping to see has already shown up. Who are people who embody the future you’re imagining? What have been moments that you can point to that exemplify the direction you’re hoping to go?
  1. Think idealistically and realistically. On one hand, vision is idealistic. It’s a preferred future — aimed at the best of what we could all be and experience. But on the other hand, it needs to be realistic — something that actually could develop and take shape over time. If it’s only realistic, it won’t be compelling. But if it’s only idealistic, people will lose heart. 
  1. Develop slogans, images, and transferable phrases. The best vision is usually more of a slogan than a paragraph. People can lose track of long, winding vision statements. But they can buy into and hold onto sticky phrases, word pictures, analogies, and slogans. 

Design the Path

The final crucial fundamental of leadership is designing the path. It’s providing a plan or strategy for how we’re going to move from here to there.

Many great visions get lost because leaders didn’t take the time (or enlist the right people) to help figure out the plan. People can be inspired by a vision. But all the inspiration won’t mean anything if there’s no coherent plan.

Almost always, designing the path means taking the time to write things down. Our church staff often says, “if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.” 

How do you design the path?

Start by answering this important question: What must happen to achieve our objective?

Look for 3-5 strategic keys that will lead to success. For each one, make sure there is clearly somebody who is responsible.

To discern these strategic keys, consider these categories:

  • Stakeholders — who needs to buy in?
  • Communication — how will we inform, motivate, and celebrate?
  • Resistance — what obstacles are we likely to face?
  • Moments — what are some special opportunities?
  • Milestones — what are some milestones to look for?
  • Reduction — what should we do less of (or stop) in order to do this?
  • Essentials — what cannot stop or diminish as we pursue this?


Now remember: the plan you design can always change. It’s not set in stone. But having a written strategy or plan will make it far easier to adjust and adapt as time goes on.

Leadership isn’t that complicated. It’s moving people from here to there.

And you do it by defining current reality, dreaming a preferred future, and designing the path to get there.

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