Teamwork is a key aspect in any leader’s success. If you fail to have a leadership team you are a failing leader. “No man is an island”. Leaders who go it alone will fail alone. Collaborative leadership takes more effort, but it yields greater results.

Trees and teamwork: Leadership lessons are all around for those who know how to look for them. I’ve observed some powerful motives for leading through teams from the trees around me.

A few seasons ago, parts of this country including the western region where I live, endured a much tougher than usual rainy season. Eucalyptus trees made a great parable of the need for teamwork.

Along the roads I noticed that where tall, young eucalyptus trees grew in large stands, even though the branches were bowed with the heavy winds, the trunks and branches were able to lean against one another, thus providing support. When the winds ended, those trees that had support sprang back into their usual vertical position. But where that same species of tree stood alone, the wind’s burden had a much different effect. Branches bent until they snapped. Occasionally, the trunk even split in two. Otherwise healthy, young trees lay broken on the ground.

On the coast, where I recently visited, a different type of tree provided another dramatic parable. The giant redwoods only achieve their great size in forests of redwoods. The root systems of these mammoth trees are relatively shallow. Planted alone, they will inevitably topple in high winds. But in redwood forests, their roots become entangled and bound together below the earth’s surface. Each tree is tethered by all its neighbors, and together they can withstand hurricane force winds.

Collaborative leadership takes more time, but it provides a greater probability of success. The adage, “None of us is as smart as all of us” becomes evident when your failure is a direct result of failing to enlist the input of people on your team.

1. Plan together.
This allows you to share the victory with your team, and allows your team to share with you in the face of defeat.

2. Prepare together.
Getting input from your team members not only improves your chances of winning, it also prepares others for leadership roles. When leaders and potential leaders work together, they learn from each other new ways of processing information and planning strategically.

3. Celebrate together.
Never pass up an excuse to throw a party. One of the most common flaws I see in leaders across the country is when they reach a significant milestone; they immediately set their sights on another without stopping long enough to celebrate the victory they’ve just won. Do it! Not for you, but for everyone else who gave so much to make the win a reality. And if you lose one once in a while, celebrate the fact that it could have been worse!

4. Debrief together.
After each win or loss, schedule a brief meeting to find out from each participant what went well – and what could have gone better. You’ll see the situation from multiple viewpoints, and you’ll also see first-hand who on your team is growing in their ability to handle success and defeat. When you apply the lesson of the trees, you’ll emerge from the storms of life intact!

Gathering and Recruiting, Part 1
The subject of recruiting people on your team is a live grenade in all organizations, and Part 2 of this edition will deal specifically with that topic. But in order to thoroughly address the larger issue we need to begin with a leadership skill that precedes recruiting; it is the skill of “gathering.” If you can’t gather you can’t recruit.

Gathering, in plain language, is “collecting people.” That sounds kind of funny, but I don’t mean it like collecting stamps, baseball cards or Beanie Babies. Please don’t create a mechanical image in your head of categorizing people on the collector’s shelf of your mind. The flavor is much more of a leader who finds people interesting and full of potential-leaders who good are at gathering, love people and naturally migrate toward them.

Gathering is a skill or ability that leaders must have to be effective. It encompasses the non-negotiable fact that all leaders have a vision, and the fulfillment of that vision requires people. It’s not about using or exploiting people to accomplish “your dream”; it’s about valuing people and giving them an opportunity to use their God-given gifts and passion toward the fulfillment of the organization’s plan, as communicated through human vision-casting.

Gathering is more than being a people magnet with no mission in mind, but less than recruiting for a specific purpose. It is the ability to draw people to you and to a cause.

A clear picture and test of your ability to gather people is to throw a party and see if anyone shows up! How many come? Who comes? This sounds very basic, but I am amazed at how many leaders can’t throw a party-and if they did, no one would come. I was teaching this leadership skill recently and one leader asked, “Why would I want to throw a party?!”

Let’s take this picture up a notch. I often hear a frustration among political leaders that sounds something like this: “No matter what I do, I can’t get people to show up to my community meeting.” The leader will often connect the people not showing up to the meeting event to a lack of commitment.

That’s not true. People don’t lack commitment. The truth is, they are simply more committed to something else than they are to your meeting event. The real deal is the leader’s inability to gather people. Let’s be candid: the person(s) that didn’t show for you did show up somewhere else! Someone else gathered them. Someone else threw a better party.

I understand that flaky people exist, and you could light yourself on fire and they wouldn’t show up for your event (actually that might do it), but I can promise you that focusing on the “flake factor” won’t get you anywhere. Leaders look within and ask what they must do better to compete with the ever- decreasing market share of people’s time.

Leaders take responsibility. They know that if what they have to offer is of significant value (and is part of the big picture of a winning team), the people will show up. People are “gatherable” – just check out local movie theaters, stadiums and restaurants.

How do you develop your leadership skill of gathering people? Before we hit those beloved “how to’s” we need to establish the fact that gathering is not just a leadership skill, but a lifestyle. “Gatherers” can’t help themselves!

Leaders know that when the potential of people and the opportunities of God come together something great can happen. They are always gathering a wide variety of people, not just to get a job done, but because they realize that people are the most valuable asset a leader can invest in.

1. Communicate a genuine love and concern for people.
It is one thing to say you love and care about people – it’s another to consistently show it. Good intentions get leaders nowhere. Show it.

2. Remove all traces of irrelevance.
My 6-year-old boy, Trevor, calls this the “bore factor.” Basically, it means who or what is or is not “with it.” You can be irrelevant to people and not know it. And it’s not about whether or not you have a robed choir. It’s about being real and connecting with people so they believe you have something relevant and of value to say to them.

3. Take the initiative to create energy and stir things up.
Being yourself has already been affirmed. However, regardless of your personality, you must get in the game and mix things up. Gatherers of people don’t sit on the sidelines and watch the parade go by. They get in the parade and participate with all they’ve got. Actually, they would gather a few people to help them in the parade! Even better, they lead the parade. This is not about personality.

You can create energy and stir things up if you are outgoing or introverted. It can be more of a challenge for an introvert, but it has been proven hundreds of times over that “reflective thinkers” can lead well. But they can’t lead well if they take an academic, ivory tower approach to life. My dear friend, mentor and ministry partner, John Maxwell, is the quintessential “energy creator” and is one who “stirs things up.” He often says, “Hey, let’s make a mess!” What he means by that is not random, unplanned, unintentional reactionary behavior; it’s his way to express getting out on the edge and launching something new before it’s perfected (or sometimes before it’s approved or funded!! You go, John!). Leaders (gatherers) never let the ripple on the water go smooth. People are attracted to action not stagnancy, and this goes for both you personally as a leader, as well as the organization you lead.

4. Consistently make intentional positive investments of value in other people.
Gatherers are not collectors of people who put them in glass boxes like trophies. They don’t see people as a means to an end. They are respecters of God’s amazing and extraordinary creation. Leaders honor the people they gather by investing into their lives in such a way that the people are “bigger, better and stronger” because of it. Leaders invest more into people than they expect out of them. That’s a basic law of transformational leadership. Give more than you get. People figure out quickly if you want them only for what they can do for you, and they, quite candidly, will resist being gathered.

5. Communicate clearly the reason for gathering and the value of the gathering.
Up to this point, I have resisted making comments that may be considered as an element of recruiting. But gathering and recruiting are related, and they do overlap. Recruiting, however, is more specific (person by person) than gathering. So this point focuses on gathering a group for a specific purpose, without necessarily emphasizing any one individual.

This idea is reflected in things such as: a small group, a training session, a special meeting, or a youth social activity. People resist being gathered when the reason for gathering is not crystal clear. And more importantly, they absolutely will not be gathered for anything if they don’t see significant value for themselves and for the organization. There may have been a day when people would show up out of loyalty or whatever, but those days are gone.

6. Deliver.
Do whatever you do with class, style and excellence. Every time you gather a group of people, large or small, you are developing a track record that determines whether or not they will come back the next time. From your leadership service itself (yes that is gathering) to a special business meeting with your team members, plan to deliver with excellence. If you are thinking that people should come to you because they love you, and your team members should show up because…because they are committed leaders in the organization and “by golly I expect them to show up” – think again.

People will come if it’s good and they believe it’s worthy of spending their valuable time. That’s the deal; that’s the bottom line. You must deliver. Good enough doesn’t cut it. Lack of preparation is lethal. People are smart shoppers and their time is limited. Promise value and substance – and deliver.


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