Most leaders lead backwards. The problem is they don’t know it. Until they figure it out and do something about it though, they will never lead up to their full potential. 

Last October, I accepted a new job. It was at a bigger church than I had ever served at and came with more responsibility and challenges than I had ever experienced. I was a bit anxious, so I began putting in calls to other people across the country serving in similar roles. I wanted any advice I could get!

I called a lot of people. A few answered, but many didn’t. However, one of the conversations changed the way I viewed and approached leadership.

I believe what I learned can change the way you lead too. If you’re leading backwards, and most leaders are, it’s time to stop. Let’s take a look a new leadership filter that will help you lead next level.

Order is Important

Out of the many people I reached out to, it was a conversation with Ricky Ortiz from the Newspring Network that changed my filter. The conversation happened over the phone and only lasted about 45 minutes. The advice he gave me was to not lead backwards.

Here’s what he told me: most leaders lead backwards because they lead, evaluate, and listen. They lead first by taking a step of action. When things don’t go as expected, they evaluate the issue. Last of all, they listen to their team and input. The problem is by that point it’s generally too late.

Others can often see the problems before we can. When we listen up front they feel valued. When we listen as a last resort, they feel like giving up.

Ricky didn’t just tell me to stop leading backwards though. He gave me the blueprint to flip it on its head and lead forward. Listen, evaluate, then lead

The same steps in reverse order will yield vastly different results. This is especially true when leading through times of change within an organization. If you want your team to get behind where you’re leading them, this is the only way to lead!

A New Way to Lead

Start by listening. Listen to everyone on your team and the people who will be affected most by change. When you start by listening, you’ll hear things on the front end that will guide you to success and protect you from failure. Your team has information you need to hear, and by listening up front you can hear it before it’s too late.

Next, it’s time to evaluate. It’s important to not evaluate where things stand until you’ve listened carefully and thoroughly. However, once you’ve listened to those you serve with, it’s time to evaluate what you’ve heard. This evaluation will help you form a good plan of action.

Finally, it’s time to lead. When I took on my new role, I spent three months listening and over a month evaluating before I began taking new action. I wanted to make sure I was leading in the right direction.

The good news is leading this way gets a leader buy in. Moreover, you will be better informed to lead well than you’ve ever been before . Once you’ve put in the time doing this, it’s time to take action and lead. When you lead this way, you’ll lead in confidence, with all the information, and with the support of your team.

What’s Your Default?

All leaders have a default place to start. Those who default to “lead first, listen later” will struggle through opposition and resistance. Leaders who default to listening first will experience more success and buy in in the long run.

I’m convinced that the best leaders are the best listeners!  Leading backwards is really about making decisions and leading on your own. Leading forward is about leading a team by getting them involved and engaged in the process.

Final Thoughts

Your youth ministry and your volunteers deserve the best leader you can be. It’s time to step up your leadership game and ministry impact. You can do it. It’s simple and easy. Shift the way you think about leadership to Listen, Evaluate, and Lead.

So what do you think? What’s your default leadership style? What’s the hardest part to stop leading backwards?