Leaders live with a higher level of job risk than many others. Ironically, once they achieve a leadership role they often relax rather than pay the close attention they need to critical issues that contribute to the kind of healthy leadership that leads to longevity. I have watched leaders ignore these issues and be surprised when they lost their leadership role often in less than pleasant circumstances.
The risk increases with one's leadership tenure because the demands of a growing ministry become higher and the tendency to relax and lose focus also increase. If you lead, whether a team or division or organization, think about how you are doing in the following areas which are critical to leadership longevity.
Defining clarity. The first job of a leader is to provide maximum clarity to the organization or part of the organization they lead as to what they are about. The second job is to ensure that there is full alignment around that clarity and the third job is to ensure that there are results based on that clarity. When a leader fails to continue to provide significant clarity the organization or team starts to wander and staff become restless - a dangerous symptom for a leader.
Focusing on the missional agenda of the organization. While this may seem obvious it is easy over time to slip from leading to managing the status quo. Once we stop leading toward greater effectiveness we essentially plateau the organization or part of the organization we lead. The lack of forward progress and pro-active leadership becomes an irritant to other good staff who look to their leader to provide direction and lead boldly.
Leading a healthy team. Again, this may seem obvious but all too often, leaders start to neglect the health, unity and strength of their team. This may be because they are not working with their team to drive the missional agenda forward and the team starts to wonder what their real agenda is. It is also possible that leaders start to focus on their agenda rather than the team's agenda and the team starts to feel that they are not a priority to their leader anymore. When leaders start to lose the confidence of their team they are in a dangerous place.
Dealing with critical organizational issues. There are always issues that if ignored will hurt the organization or if pursued will help the organization. Many of them can be difficult: staff who don't belong anymore; structures that don't work well; paradigms that our outdated and need to change and other threats or opportunities.
Often, leaders tackle such issues early in their tenure but tend to move toward comfort later in their tenure - leaving critical issues untended to. This is why new leaders often need to clean up messes or issues ignored by their predecessor. When we stop being aggressive about critical organizational issues we have moved from leadership to management of the status quo. Good staff notice and become discouraged because they want to give their time and energy to something of significance.
Ensuring that the organization delivers on its mission. I am frankly amazed at how many leaders (and their boards) do not look realistically at what they are accomplishing relative to their stated mission. Because our bottom line is not financial like the business world it is easy to gloss over substandard results. Poor results are frankly the outcome of the previous issues not being properly addressed. Eventually this catches up to a leader as boards and/or staff start to ask hard questions.
Focus and vigilance are hallmarks of good leaders. Once we lose our edge it is hard to get it back. If we lose the confidence of our core team we can no longer lead well and we are in a risky place. Leaders can relax in who they are but they cannot relax in leading well and staying energized in that role. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, it is easy to lose our edge and not even know it until we lose key staff, the confidence of our team or of our board and we find ourselves sidelined.