NEW COURSE: Your Leadership Toolbox
Tools every great leader has in their leadership toolbox.
The Leadership Toolbox Course contains SIX leadership conversations and FREE RESOURCES to help you grow as a leader and better support your organization’s future.
Start next year strong by finishing this year well!
Save 10% with code: finishstrong
Let’s talk for a moment about preparing to lead at our best.
As I write this, we are all in the sweet space between Christmas and New Year. Not everybody has a job that slows down during this week, but for most of us (especially pastors), this week is when we catch our breath. December is a gauntlet! From family to year-end giving to family to staff parties to family and then Christmas Eve services! Whew, it makes me tired just typing that list.
It seems we never have enough margin!
When I work with clients on preaching, communicating, and presenting, we spend an entire session on preparation.
The reason is simple:
Disruptions destroy the unprepared.
When you’re presenting, one of the very few things we can guarantee is disruptions and distractions.
Well-prepared presenters can navigate these disturbances with grace. The unprepared? Well, we’ve all been there and felt the pain.
I believe every aspect of our life would be better experienced if we were simply better prepared. I shouldn’t say “simply” because preparation isn’t always “simple.” Prep is simple to understand, but it’s often challenging to implement.
The reason is preparation rarely feels urgent. Cramming for a math test the night before is urgent. Studying all semester is important but certainly not urgent. The urgent always squeezes out the important, and unfortunately, there is always urgency around us.
Leadership, by nature, is full of fires that need dousing. Fires are urgent. Employee issues are urgent. Tomorrow is Sunday, we’re preaching, and we still need to write the message. That’s urgent.
In a life full of urgency, we rarely get to the important.
Here’s a New Year Commitment (not a resolution; let’s make this happen). Let’s create more margin by preparing well. And not just for speaking but for all aspects of our life and leadership.
Here are 4 preparation commitments that will make next year a more refreshing year:
1. Prepare for Big Seasons
We just finished December. For a pastor, I can’t think of another month more exhausting. I know Easter is the Super Bowl, but that’s a day. Christmas basically consumes a month! There are unique experiences at your church for children and students. You may have hosted community functions. And then Christmas Eve — all eight services! And this year, you may have even had church ON Christmas! Come on, December! Give us a break!!
But we knew December was coming. We’ve known since last December. Weird how the calendar always sneaks up on us.
Next year, prepare for these busier seasons by creating content, designing services, and ideating the experiences well in advance.
2. Prepare for Busy Seasons
Many big seasons are also our busiest seasons. But not always. Recently, my summer season was one of the most active on record. We had our typical family vacation, but our recent graduating high school senior wanted to take a trip with a friend (and I went to pay). We went overseas to prepare for a college experience. And something else that I can’t remember at the moment. You get the point.
I saw this season coming, so I prepared. I worked harder and smarter in the month prior. I planned my client meetings, guest preaching, and content writing around this season. And I build in a few days on the backend of the more busy moments to recuperate. I literally inserted all-day BLOCKS in my calendar to protect my recuperation time.
We mentioned this earlier. As a pastor, December was the month of mayhem, so we intentionally rested a bit as a church in late November to emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare to give December our best effort. Then, we took the week after December off. And we never met as a church on the Sunday following Christmas either (or Memorial Day, for that matter). Instead, we offered a digital-only service. This gave our staff and volunteers (they should be incorporated into our decisions) a moment to catch our breath after a busy season.
What are your busiest seasons? How can you not just see them coming but prepare yourself for them in advance?
3. Prepare to Present
If you’re a pastor, you spend a lot of time, energy, and effort presenting (preaching). If you’re not a pastor, you may find yourself giving pitches, delivering content, or teaching at a conference.
My presentation commitment has always been to be prepared three weeks in advance. The gift of margin not only makes you better, but also improves your content and the people around you.
First, you improve because you have more time to internalize the message. As a preacher, you’re not on the platform to provide content; you’re there to unload a burden. Burdens take time to formulate. You can’t rush the process of internalization. Setting a three-week deadline allows you time to process, rehearse, and internalize.
Next, your content improves with more time marinating. Or on the low-temp smoking. Or like wine fermenting. Whatever. It’s incredible what happens in the margin between finishing a message and preaching a message. Give that message some space to breathe.
And lastly, excellent preparation supports the team who is attempting to support you. Think about how many people are working to make your message great. I served as the lead pastor of a megachurch, so my experience may not be completely normative. Still, you have staff members or volunteers working to support your sermon. As the saying goes, a lack of planning by you creates an emergency for them. At a minimum, that’s poor leadership.
PREACHING COURSE: Preaching With Purpose
4. Prepare for Leadership Transitions
Staff transitions are part of the game. I vividly remember the moment I built my leadership and executive staff exactly how I believed best. We had the right mix of pastors and directors to be a dynamic and relationally connected team. That was a perfect week!
Seriously, we had that entire team in place for about a week. Then a critical staff member transitioned to another church. It was an excellent move for him, and I supported him 100%. Well, 99%, but still. We had a great week. And then, we started building the team once more.
Stability is a myth. Unless you hire terrible people, then they’ll never leave unless you force them out. If you hire great people, you’ll need to replace them in time. You can prepare for transitions by intentionally raising up leaders around them. You don’t need a robust “leadership development program” to do this well. Systematic delegation is the best leadership development system I’ve ever seen.
I’ve written a good deal about delegation. Here’s one article: The Four Levels of Delegation
Here’s a post on transitions: 5 Leadership Methods to Start Preparing for an Eventual Ending
Whatever you do, prioritize the next group of leaders and prepare them now for the transition to come.
Wrapping it Up
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
He was right.
Let’s commit to being more prepared, and in doing so, bring our best selves to next year.
If you’d like to think more personally about the New Year, read this: 5 Things Better Than Making 5-Year Plans