Why Learning Insulation is a Leadership Limitation (And 3 Reasons to Learn From Others)

It’s only been eight weeks on the new job, but I’ve already learned so much.

One Critical Lesson: Every leader can quickly and unintentionally become insulated from the outside as they attempt to lead on the inside.

I didn’t realize how easy this was until I left North Point Ministries.

I worked for one of the best church organizations on the planet for nearly 13 years. Leading alongside the team at North Point Ministries (Andy Stanley, Lane Jones, Rick Holiday, Bill Willits, Jeff Henderson, Clay Scroggins, Joel Thomas, Adam Johnson, Andy Jones, Al Scott, Tensley Almand, and more) felt like the equivalent of a master’s degree in church. These guys are great.

What I didn’t realize along the way is how easily I became insulated from the broader leadership and church world. This segregation was not intentional. Protecting myself from other churches and industries certainly wasn’t encouraged by my peers at North Point. It’s just one of those natural leadership drifts within any organization.

We get so focused on leading well within our organization that we only pay attention to our organization, automatically limiting our exposure to other leaders and organizations.

It’s completely unintentional. And it’s insanely dangerous.

In this NEW POST (4-minute read), I explain the danger of organizational insulation and give you three great reasons to learn from people different than you.

Bottom Line: The breath of your leadership learning determines the depth of your leadership growth.

3 Reasons You Should Learn From People Different Than You


Here’s a questions I’m working through:

Does the breadth of your learning impact the depth of your learning?

I know… I think in tweets. But to say it a little less 140 character’ish: How much more could we learn by expanding the context of our education? And I don’t mean studying more people in your current industry. Granted, it’s not natural to study other industries and organizational leaders unlike us, but I think finding breadth could be a hidden ingredient to accelerated growth.

This idea hit me recently while at a conference. It was a great conference full of wonderful leaders – who I’ver heard from too many times to count. I saw an advertisement for another conference. Guess who was speaking? Basically the same people. Don’t get me wrong. I love and respect these leaders. They’re my mentors – some directly. But I wonder – does a homogenous learning community stunt growth at some point?

As a pastor, I primarily learn from other churches, church leaders, and church models. As a younger leader, that was a great place to start. Seeing other perspectives and approaches to church helped solidify how I wanted to create and lead a local church. There was great clarity found in watching those who were already doing it. Yet, the more comfortable I got as a leader in my church, the more critical I became of leaders in the church. I accidentally replaced learning with critiquing.

Of course, that’s not a healthy dynamic, but it is a natural progression. When we visit other organizations within our industry, we are hyper-critical of what we understand (or think we understand).

Unplugging the Microwave of Success

Have you heard the soundtrack to the hit broadway musical “Hamilton?” If you’ve seen the actual musical, just keep that to yourself — intentionally causing envy is tantamount to envy, itself.

The music is quite spectacular. And historically insightful, too. My kids are way more knowledgeable about the Founding Fathers due to our time in the car together. It makes me question everything about my school upbringing! Hip hop trumps note-taking all day long.

Production aside, Alexander Hamilton was quite an amazing guy. He accomplished much, including establishing one of the first banks in America, the Bank of New York. Here’s what made me take a step back while jamming along to the soundtrack — it took Hamilton seven years to establish the bank’s charter. I know, the local community bank went up in a months time, and that seemed like forever in today’s world, but think about that for a moment. Seven years. That’s a long time to focus on something. Anything.

Choosing to Grow Before You Go

Have you ever been frustrated to a point where leaving felt like the best option? Or maybe the only option?

You were…

…Frustrated with a relationship, and you just had to get out.

…Frustrated in a marriage. So you walked out.

…Frustrated with a job. So you quit.

…Frustrated with your lack of progress. So you dropped the gym membership and grabbed a candy bar (sorry, was that too close to home?)

We’ve all been there. Most of us too many times to count.

The frustration to leaving conundrum is very real and very visceral. At times leaving is absolutely the best option. But not always. For now, let’s focus our energy on workplace frustrations.

I’ve never met a person who’s lived a life free of work-related frustration. As an emotion, frustration drives us to make many decisions. Not necessarily good decisions, but decisions none-the-less. Of all the decisions we face in the midst of our frustration, decisions that seemingly remove the frustration come to us first.

Do Labels Limit Potential?

Do you have a label maker in your workplace? Or maybe at home like I do? A small little printer with only one purpose in life: labels. My wife really loves label maker, which explains our pantry. She’s labeled every bin, which felt like overkill until I needed to distinguish between powdered sugar and all-purpose flour. A light dusting of flour on your pancakes isn’t a good as you probably imagine!

My wife isn’t alone in her love of labeling. People by nature love to label things. You have probably labeled something today — or many somethings. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. And that could be a good thing. Labels are helpful. And labels give context. A label describes what we know and what we can expect. Powdered sugar or flour. Black beans or green.

Here’s where labeling goes downhill. Unfortunately, as a leader, our propensity to label things often transfers to labeling people. We do it for the same reason as the bins in my pantry — labeling people gives us context. It helps us understand who people are and what we can expect. We label people through personality test, which is often helpful, as these types of tests give us context on how to best lead individuals individually. We label people’s roles though job descriptions and titles. Again, helpful for us and the person on the other end of the role. If we could stop the labeling there, maybe all would be fine. But we don’t. In fact, it’s as if we can’t. We love context too much to stop with personality characteristics and job descriptions.

Giving Yourself Some Growing Grace

If you are leading in any way, no doubt you are faced with potential personal growth opportunities. These opportunities come in various forms. Some are easy to understand while others are more complex. Some learnings are easier to implement than others. Unfortunately, the most difficult aspect of personal growth isn’t identifying the growth opportunity, but rather dealing with our implementation attempts and setbacks.

9 Reasons You Could Be the Growth Barrier in Your Church

This is Part 2 of a blog series on Creating Continuous Growth in Your Church.


Every church leader facing a growth barrier desperately wants to break through, because every church leader, including me, desires a growing, thriving church. Not because church attendance is the only measure of success, but because increasing attendance is proof that people are being reached.

If that is true, then breaking through barriers is important. But, what if instead of just breaking through a specific barrier we were able to barrier-proof our church? Pause for a moment and imagine never hitting a growth wall again.

I believe barrier-proofing is possible for every church in any denomination, and that’s exactly what we are going to evaluate in this blog series.

I believe there are 6 specific ingredients to create continuous growth in your church. In this post, we are going to look at the first, and most difficult to embrace:


By far, this is the most challenging of the ingredients to evaluate and embrace. Often when we bump into an issue or problem, we are tempted to look around and cast blame. At times blame should be cast elsewhere, but as a point leader of any team or organization, there is always an element of blame that should fall back on our shoulders. After all, we are the leader.

Looking in the mirror is more onerous than looking through a window, though. Discovering and owning our part in any problem is painful at best, but if we desire the build THE Kingdom more than our kingdom, a mirror moment is necessary.

It’s about to get all personal up in here, but it’s worth the introspection, because the church and the people in our community are worth it.

Let’s start by acknowledging a truth for every leader: “In some way, I am a potential growth barrier.” In fact, just pause for a moment and read that aloud. Do you believe that? I hope so, because every leader has something in them that can impede growth. I’ve yet to meet a leader who doesn’t have the potential to become a barrier. The best leaders both acknowledge this potential and embrace proactive solutions.

The Power of Proximity

Have you ever been passed over simply because you were not around when opportunity came?

Don’t feel bad—it’s the power of proximity, and it’s a normal function of organizational life. Those closest to the point leader often find themselves with the most opportunities. Not necessarily because they are the most talented, or the most capable, or even the best fit, but because they are there.

I’ll go ahead and say it for you: “That doesn’t seem fair.” It’s not, but neither is life, which doesn’t make anyone feel better, but nevertheless.

Obviously, there are some drawbacks to proximity, but for a driven, young leader, the advantages typically far outweigh the disadvantages. Young leaders want new challenges and opportunities. They want to learn through experienced and be coached on their performance. They want to better understand and contribute to the bigger picture, and there is no picture bigger than that carried by the point leader. Being near him or her matters.

Telling Yourself “No For Now”

When was the last time you listened to a leadership podcast, read a blog, or attended a conference and heard a great leader offer great advice, but walked away thinking it wasn’t for you?

Several years ago I listened as my boss, Andy Stanley, taught a leadership lesson on saying “No for now.” The basis of his teaching was saying “No for now” doesn’t mean “No forever.” According to Andy, as a leader, you should be willing to say “No for now.” He gave examples from his past.

– When he had young children and was asked to speak at other churches or conferences, he declined. “No for now.”
– When he was launching North Point Community Church, he didn’t accept any offers to travel. “No for now.”
– He decided that being home at 4:00pm was best for his wife and family, so for a season, he would not meet with anyone in the late afternoon or evening. “No for now.”

Andy then explained how he can say “yes” to the things today that he consistently declined a decade ago. His season of life has changed. His children are grown. His leadership at North Point requires a different commitment.

In Andy’s mind, saying “No for now” did not mean “No forever.”

There’s one fallacy in this principle: It only works when people are asking you to do things.

The 17 Best Books I Read in 2014

I love to know what friends and peers are reading. I’m always on the lookout for great books to stretch my theology, skills, and leadership ability.

With that in mind, here are the books I loved the most from 2014. Note these are my favorites… I’ll spare you the full list!