Great leaders possess a mix of an entrepreneurial spirit, the mind of a dreamer, and a compelling strategic vision that sets the overall tone and direction for the organization. They see a clear and preferred picture of the future without prompting from others. They have passion to see the vision come true even in the face of opposition.
Naturally gifted visionaries come in a wide array. There are political visionaries such as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. There are social visionaries like Martin Luther King. There are business visionaries such as Walt Disney and Bill Gates. There are science and arts visionaries such as Michelangelo and Jonas Salk. There are religious visionaries such as Martin Luther. And of course there are church visionaries such as Donald McGavrin and Bill Hybels.
One thing I have observed about the vast majority of visionaries is that they deeply value people and a better way of living for those people. However, this value is not necessarily on an individual level; it is more on a big picture/organizational or "for the masses" level. Lest this sound dispassionate, they are often willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices to see the vision become reality.
Another observation is that many pastors are not natural visionaries, but they are good leaders building strong churches. Let me make something very clear here - and this is extremely important - they are not natural visionaries, but they do have vision. What's the difference? Natural visionaries see things that have never been seen - they possess vision no one has dreamed of. Leaders who have learned the art of vision and vision-casting tap into vision that has already been birthed. Learned visionaries catch a spark that has already been ignited somewhere, by someone, and they live it out through their own personality, culture and context. This is the case in the majority of churches.
So then if it's true that most church leaders are learned visionaries, what then is the difference that makes some so much more effective than others? The difference is found in whether or not they are "people visionaries." A people visionary is a leader who sees potential in individual people, and is able to cultivate that potential into a meaningful and productive ministry. If we studied two church leaders side by side, and, by some system, evaluated them as equally strong leaders, the one who is the greater people visionary will always have the greatest impact.
My purpose in this article is two-fold. First, to cause you to ask and answer the question, "Am I a people visionary?" Second, to encourage you with practical guidelines to become a better people visionary.
Common characteristics of church leaders who are not people visionaries:
Let's start by considering a few things that block your ability to be a people visionary.
A bias toward task completion over people development.
This is not an uncommon preference for many driven leaders and very common for leaders with a bias toward management. Completing tasks is important, but not when valued above the people who help you accomplish the task. The obvious danger is in using people. One way to discover if this applies to you is by answering this question: Are you motivated more to accomplish a task or invest time developing people? Which is more fulfilling and satisfying to you? Another way of asking this question that helps you be honest with your answer is: Do you invest more time in accomplishing tasks or developing people?
An under-developed sense of appreciation for the high value of people.
Sadly, there are a number of church leaders who seem to view people as "in the way" when it comes to building God's church. They almost seem to express the idea that: "If it wasn't for these people, I could really accomplish something!" Perhaps the leader has lost sight of the fact that Jesus died for "these people." Or perhaps the church leader places too much value upon themselves. Or possibly the leader is driven by a sense of duty or performance rather than a love for people. Whatever the case may be, this misfocus will obviously block the ability to see the potential in people. If this is you, ask God to re-kindle your love for people.
High levels of sustained pressure and unresolved conflict.
Even at the best of churches, pastors are under pressure. For example, there are financial pressures, relational pressures, decision-making pressures, resource pressures, and plenty more if you want to make a long list. If a pastor has "fielded" these kinds of pressures for an extended period of time, particularly the "people pressures," his or her perspective can easily become skewed. This results in the leader no longer seeing things clearly and losing a clear sense of reality. These leaders can become defensive, angry, withdrawn, or control-oriented. In this state it is difficult, if not impossible, to see the best in people. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to get some help to resolve the big problems, as well as discover why problem-solving in general is difficult for you.
Personal baggage that prevents the ability to see capacity in people.
We all have baggage. Some of us have "carry on" and others pack several steamers and jumbo crates full. Whatever the amount of "stuff" from your past, if it prevents you from seeing the potential in people I recommend you invest in a few sessions with a Christian counselor to help sort things out. How do you know? Well, I'm certainly not a counselor, but I'll offer this to you. If your thoughts seem to be more "about you" than about others and you have difficulty loving and relating to others, as the New Testament teaches us, then you may need a little coaching from a good counselor.
Characteristics of a People Visionary:
One note before I share this "short" list with you. This is not about people or relational skills alone, but about moving to a deeper level of how you see and value people in general.
A strong tendency to see the potential in people before you see the shortcomings.
Everyone has shortcomings, but people visionaries choose to overlook them. I'm not suggesting a blindness to weak areas, especially when it comes to people/leader development. But I am stating that you can either look for the good or look for the bad. You can either see the reasons why someone can't do something, or the reasons why they can. Rarely does a leader have a perfect blend of the two - it will tend toward one way or the other. How about you? What is your first take on people in general? Do you first see their potential or their shortcomings? When you look, for example, for new leaders, do you first see the reasons why they probably can't lead or the reasons why they probably can lead? It makes all the difference in the world.
A committed student of human nature.
Students of human nature are good at watching and observing people. They don't miss much. But be cautious, the goal isn't "watch and observe." You must eventually interact with those people, in their best interest, or "watch and observe" turns into "stalk and stare" - and that's never a good thing!
People visionaries find people interesting, if not flat out fascinating. They enjoy being around people and seek them out. If a people visionary has gone too long without being around people, they start getting antsy. People visionaries move into people's lives in order to understand what makes them tick, and what ticks them off. People visionaries learn what motivates and de-motivates people. People visionaries can see and understand the difference between needs and wants. And people visionaries never tire of the human drama.
The ability to intuitively see how individuals can connect with the overall vision.
This is both an art and a practical leadership science. Simply put, after you have gotten to know someone and caught their heartbeat, are you able to see how they best fit into the overall plan for the church? Caution! Don't view people first as "slot-fillers," but primarily as people whom God has endowed with spiritual gifts and purposes. Your mission as a people visionary is to help each person discover how God wants them to advance His kingdom within the local church that you lead.
The ability to attract and connect with people at a heart level.
People visionaries draw people to themselves, not because they are charismatic, but because they care about people and see the best in them. They relate at a heart level and trust comes easy. This is not an issue of whether or not large numbers of people flock to you, but whether people who know you seem to migrate to you or away from you. That's an important question to ask yourself. When you do hook up with people, do you quickly connect at a heart level? Remember something I've mentioned several times. People like you best when you are yourself. They may not all like you, but they will like you best when you are yourself. They can trust you when they know "what they see is what they get." Be yourself.
The ability to empower people toward meaningful ministry.
This point deserves it's own article, but for now let's hit the basic idea. Are you able to believe in people enough to trust them with appropriate levels of responsibility? Are you able to release them and not hover over them after you have given it? Are you able to "raise" people up and share your authority? Do you give people permission to make mistakes? Do you encourage people on a regular basis? People visionaries love to turn people loose into meaningful and productive ministry.
I hope this edition of "The Pastor's Coach" encourages you and helps you, as well as others around you to become a better people visionary.
This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com.