If you’ve ever heard Bill Hybels speak about leadership, you know he is on the forefront of what it means to be a leader. As an attender of Willow Creek Community Church, I’m fortunate to hear Bill teach a lot. Recently, he shared six strategies good leaders use all based on the biblical story of Nehemiah.
If you care about being a better leader, which you should, it’s worth watching this video of Bill’s teaching. It moved and motivated me. Leading consistently isn’t easy. That’s why I want to share some summary notes, which I took while re-watching the sermon.
The scene in the book of Nehemiah is this: Jerusalem is in ruins. City walls are torn down. Gates are burned. People feel defeated. Nehemiah himself is discontent with the downtrodden community and how their city is not honoring God. He is moved to go back and rebuild the city.
How Nehemiah moved forward provides six principles for any fired-up person to effectively lead people in their organization.
1. Replenish First
In the words of Bill, “Leaders don’t lead well on empty tanks. In fact they can be dangerous.”
Energy matters in leadership. Everyone else in an organization feeds off the energy of a leader. If a leader mopes, so will people in the organization. High energy will transfer to others.
When your vitality bank is full, you have the mental power to be patient and make good decisions. If you’re empty, you’re irritable, impulsive and make bad decisions.
It’s your job to take pauses to refill your vitality bucket.
2. Define, Process and Declare Reality
After replenishing, the first thing Nehemiah does is to inspect every gate and torn down section of wall. He wants to know the condition he’s working with. If you don’t define the reality, you may be over optimistic of what can actually be done.
Once you know that reality, proclaim it and clearly communicate it to your team. That knowledge does no good unless people know about it. It builds trust. Everyone knows the condition. There are no secrets.
Bill says, “You have to know the condition of what it is you’re leading. You have to know it up close. You have to define reality and call it what it is. And you have to declare reality from time to time.”
3. Cast the Vision
“Vision is a picture of the future that creates passion in people,” says Bill.
Fundamentally leadership is about movement. You’re taking people, causes or missions from “here” to “there.”
Bill puts it this way, “God doesn’t make you a leader to preside over something and keep it static.”
The temptation in casting vision is to describe the bliss of “there” first. Instead, you need to start by telling people why you can no longer stay “here.” It’s unthinkable, unacceptable, terrible or irresponsible not to move from your current spot.
Good leaders build a case like a lawyer for why staying “here” is detrimental and going “there” is so much better.
4. Give Everyone a Jolt of Motivation and Inspiration
Many leaders under inspire people. They set goals and exceptions, but don’t motivate.
Tell a story of how God is in this vision, too. People need to be inspired and motivated.
Bill did a six-month study on the power of motivation in preparation for a Global Leadership Summit event. He found that an inspired worker is 40% more productive. And what is most inspiring to someone? When a leader comes to work fired up themselves.
5. Attempt to Include Everybody
When you’re on a team and they’re doing their best it gives you an extra edge and motivation. Some leaders aren’t confident enough, so they cast a weak vision hoping a few people will come on board. Nehemiah cast such a white hot, genuine vision, nearly everyone, including high priests, got involved in construction.
If you’ve read Jim Collins’ Good to Great, this is the flywheel effect where many small actions working towards a common cause gain unstoppable momentum as more people join in. Add cheerleading from a leader and the flywheel gains even more speed.
6. Align Your Vision with People’s Interests
Anytime you can incorporate someone’s area of interest into the vision, it creates a deeper level of ownership. How can people with various skills and passions plug in to what your church is doing?
Nehemiah had people build sections of the wall next to their homes. They became more passionate because that was what was separating them from harm.