The primary responsibility of a leader is to think.
A leader's thoughts must be bathed in prayer, sifted through wise counsel and compared to experience. Your leadership never rises above your thought patterns.
I can remember as a young leader, and a few times as a not-so-young leader, someone saying to me: "What were you thinking?!" And the honest answer was, "I guess I wasn't thinking."
We understand that with a child, maybe even a teenager, but adult leaders have a responsibility to process thoughts. Thinking is the process by which we solve problems, improve and make progress. The scary thing is that it's relatively easy to lead without sufficient thinking in the short term. But that never works over the long haul.
One of my favorite questions to ask leaders is, "When do you think?" The most common quick answer is, "All the time." And that's just not true.
We do so much of what we do based on experience, emotion, and what others think. All three of these can be helpful, but not always. For example, you may have an unfortunate experience that causes you to hold back or possibly repeat it because that's all you know. Emotion may cause you to overreact and make a poor decision. Leading based on what others think might be taking the easy route.
A leader must have intentional set-aside times to think about and process what they currently face and what lies ahead.
One church leader was telling me that his first-time guest follow-up process wasn't working. I asked how long he'd been doing it that way, and he replied, "years." He's a smart guy, but he was definitely not thinking.
Sharp leaders do not continue to do something that doesn't work for an extended period of time. Notice I said, "for an extended period of time." We all understand that leaders can't get to everything immediately. And you don't always know about the problem right away. But when you do, get it on the list, and don't let it sit there long.
You probably have a good idea of the kinds of thought patterns that are helpful. But we can all easily slip into hurtful thought patterns if we're not attentive, and especially under pressure.
So, it's smart to be on the lookout. If you're aware of what they are, you're much less likely to fall into one of these traps of hurtful and unproductive thought patterns.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2).
5 Thought Patterns That Hurt Your Leadership
"You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you." —James Allen, British philosophical writer and author of As a Man Thinketh
1) Selfish thoughts
Human nature always pulls toward self. Whether it's as hard-wired and instinctual as survival and self-preservation or on a more surface level, we simply want our way.
The smallest of things reveals this truth. For example, on Thanksgiving Day, as I looked over the wonderful desserts, including pumpkin pie and chocolate chip cookies, I immediately spotted the cookies with the most chocolate chips and grabbed one. It's just in us.
When we allow self-centered thoughts to enter into our leadership, we run the risk of making decisions that are in our own best interest rather than in the best interest of those we serve.
Instead, our goal is the selfless and even sacrificial model of Jesus as our best example. That kind of thinking leads to highly effective and lasting leadership.
2) Unrealistic thoughts
Leaders have big dreams and great vision. It's easy to see how that truth plus hope and determination can result in unrealistic goals. Further, most leaders have a strong drive. That is like pouring gas on the fire of unrealistic thinking!
Unrealistic thoughts invade your leadership in a variety of ways from financial commitments to vision-casting, including over-promising and under-delivering.
As spiritual leaders, faith is essential. We need to think big, but faith and prudence are a wise combination.
3) Fearful thoughts
In some ways, fear-based thoughts are the opposite of unrealistic thinking. Fear causes you to freeze up, hold back and sometimes say no when you need to say yes.
Fear is sometimes connected to a lack of trust in God, but more often it's a lack of belief in yourself and not wanting to appear foolish by making a mistake or failing as a leader.
Fear binds your thinking. Faith and trust in God free your thinking. God has promised to be with you. His incredible love casts out fear, and the spirit He has placed in you does not make you timid, but instead gives you power, love and self-discipline. This is a great foundation for courageous thought patterns as a leader.
4) Negative thoughts
Over the years, leaders have confided in me that their discouragement leads to negative thinking. They don't believe these things overall, but their thought patterns have succumbed to their discouragement, and that results in poor leadership.
The result of negative thinking are things like first seeing the faults and flaws in people, believing new plans and strategies won't work, or becoming convinced they are not good leaders.
At risk of sounding overly simplistic, a negative thought pattern can be changed faster than the other thought patterns mainly because it's a choice. You can choose a more positive thought process in one evening and begin practicing and becoming more consistent immediately.
5) Anxious thoughts
Worry is worthless and wasted thinking. Most things we worry about never happen.
Anxiety is real but does not carry a life sentence. If your anxious thoughts seem manageable, I still recommend talking to a trusted leader and friend. Get perspective, pray and pursue the truth of God.
If, however, your anxious thoughts have become anxieties, it may be in your best interest to seek out professional counseling.
Similar to fear, worry and anxious thoughts jam up your leadership, but breaking free is entirely possible. Don't settle for being stuck in an anxious thought pattern. Rather than being anxious about the future, you can anticipate the future with great hope.
Here's an encouraging Scripture I want to leave you with:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5, emphasis mine).
Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.
This article originally appeared at danreiland.com.
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