WHY this blog?

Leadership is Tough

Learning to lead and thrive while you do so is a big deal.
It’s not something you learn in the classroom.

I love working with leaders, but I’m especially interested in those who tackle the complexities of ministry leadership. Leading a church or any ministry that longs to make a kingdom impact in a changing world takes serious leadership game. Without robust skills, strategies, and spiritual authority, ministry will eat your lunch and break your heart.

A bazillion of us ministry types were trained with content, but not trained to lead. At Bible College or Seminary, we were taught Greek, Hebrew, Bible, Theology, and a host of “__ologies.” But, leadership is learned in the trenches.

aboutLEADING is dedicated to lessons from and for the trenches of leadership. In this space you will find ideas, insights, resources, and even the occasional twisted view on the humor of life. Things you can use. Everything you will find here comes from the real world of personal experience and the result of walking with leaders for decades. It has value for anyone in a leadership role, but the bullseye of my focus are the men and women who get up everyday to shape a movement of churches and disciples who will live as missionaries in the places they call home.

One insight, one idea, one conversation at a time, aboutLEADING is a source to help you and those you influence thrive as agents of the kingdom.


The Back Story…

Back in the early 70’s, my wavy hair was well past my shoulders, my beach tan was semi-permanent, and my experience of the church was anything but compelling. Jesus seemed like a religious figure who had little to offer to people who lived in the real world. I had grown up going to church with my parents. I was a lifer. But, I saw the church as a country club gathering of friends rather than a community that was passionate about following the author of life or making a difference in the world. (By the way, my now-adult children have always find those pictures of my long hair to be hysterical.)

As a college freshman, Jesus turned my life upside down.

The God of the universe became tangible, accessible, real, and undeniable to me. He literally changed everything about everything that mattered. My grand plan to become an architect faded away. I wanted to spend my life helping as many people as possible discover a life altering relationship with Jesus. I wanted to see churches become the engine to make it all happen, become consumed by the presence and mission of Christ.

So, I changed career plans. I transferred to Bible College. I went to Seminary–in fact, three of them. And I became a pastor. For twenty years I served in pastoral ministry in local churches. But, the thing is, I have always had this call to serve as a catalyst to the church broadly, not just to one at a time. Now, for the past twenty years I have served as a mentor, trainer, coach, and missionary-partner to pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders around the world.

Along the way, I have discovered that leading the church is one of the most complicated leadership assignments on earth. The church is the ultimate volunteer organization. Ministry leaders have to cast vision, lead change, motivate people, shape and sustain ministry direction, recruit and manage staff, enlist and equip volunteers, raise funds, innovate programs, exegete culture, and so much more.

The raw stuff of leadership wasn’t the curriculum of my academic education. It’s the stuff I had to learn in the trenches of daily responsibility. And, I’m not alone.

Two weeks ago, I was on the phone with a church planter I have know for a decade. He is an amazing guy. Honest. Passionate. Transparent. Gutsy. A pioneer among pioneers. We chatted for a while about the challenges of ministry he was facing and then he said it this way, “Nobody out there is helping a guy like me with the challenges of leadership in a setting like mine.”

I long to shape the church–in all of its forms—in order to fuel movements of new disciples, new expressions of the church, and transformed communities. To see that happen, leaders of amazing skill and spiritual authority are needed.

That’s the point of this website. It’s the focus of my life.

I am going to pull out lessons God has taught me. Lessons I’ve learned or am learning about leading and thriving in the complex reality of modern day trenches. I will post articles, resources I have created, the occasional video, and—from time to time—things others have given me permission to pass on. My hope is to serve men and women who share my longing for the church that could be and for what a fresh movement of the gospel could accomplish.

So, welcome to the first new post in the re-Launch of aboutLEADING.com
Subscribe. Contact me. I welcome your input, ideas, and conversation.


Gary Mayes

To Go Fast — Go Slow

Here is a conundrum. The fastest way to achieve significant organizational change is often by going slowly.


The problem is that leaders live to make things happen. They thrive on taking new ground. They work to move people, ideas, and organizations toward greater accomplishment. In short, leaders are change agents. Slowly and patiently do not come naturally. Leaders resonate with Sammy Hagar’s song, “I Just Can’t Drive 55.”

A friend of mine pastors a good church with a strong reputation and significant impact. Courageously, he has embarked on a plan that will exponentially increase their impact on the lives of people and their community. However, this change will require more than new methods and curriculums. It will require a shift in culture as well as practice. He said to me, “if we try to go too fast, things will backfire.” This is one of those times when going slow is the key to going fast.

If you are a leader, there is probably at least one significant initiative on your plate right now. You can see a preferred future and you long to help your team, your employees, or your congregation get there.

I am not advocating for slower as a more noble approach. I am simply saying that organizational change is complicated. Even when necessary, it is often unwelcome. Organization change calls for time to bring people along, to cultivate buy-in, and to deal with the inherent destabilization that accompanies change. Press the accelerator of change too fast too soon too often and the resistance you’ll face can cause organizational retrenchment that permanently locks in the old ways.

Sure, some situations call for quick and decisive action. In those moments, going slowly can be irresponsible or worse. However, the impulse to make it happen now usually says more about the impatience of a leader than about what is best for the organization.


If the any of the following conditions apply, you would be well-served to slow down and allow more processing time.

    1. Your desired outcome represents a change of culture.
    2. What is being changed has been entrenched for a long time as “the way we do things.”
    3. In order to successed at implementation you will require large scale participation.
    4. Your people already feel the fatigue of multiple recent changes. All change destablizes and wears people out. The next one might demoralize the troups.
    5. Something remotely similar to the current proposal was tried without success within active corporate memory.
    6. The change you seek will touch corporate identity and when that happens personal significance feels threatened.
    7. The organization you lead is a volunteer organization, (ie. a church or club or service organization.) If this is you, start with the premise that slower is usually better and only accelerate when necessary.

Just as there are some times when you should go slowly, there are indeed time to act quickly. Here are a few of those.

    1. Your people are discouraged after a series of hard hits and hope of a better future is weak.
    2. You need minimal human resources to implement the change being proposed AND it will yield quick large scale wins.
    3. You face a crisis that threatens corporate viability.
    4. Your reputation in the community has been damaged and this initiative will address it.
    5. The core concept of this change is not only strategically helpful, but it was born as a grassroots effort. (To go slowly in this case will disempower your people.)
    6. You really are only making a decision. Implementation of change might need to be slowed, but indecision is fundamentally abdication of leadership.

So, what are you working on? Should you speed up or slow down? What do you think might be possible if you took a longer view? If your ultimate goal is to normalize a new day, what other steps are needed in your enrollment process?

Can you think of other criteria for when you should slow things down or speed things up?



{FYI: John Kotter’s book, Leading Change, remains one of the all-time best on the complex challeges of change.}

Defying Gravity

I know, it sounds like the language of a circus barker, “Come see the Flying Zucchini Brothers as they defy gravity.” However, I am talking about much more than entertaining circus talk. “Defying gravity,” is a terrific description of the way effective leadership teams learn to operate.

If you sit on an elder board at your church, the board of directors for an organization, or even the leadership team of a business, I am going to guess that you find yourself frustrated at times. We have all been there in those meetings when we thought, “are we really spending our time talking about this? Why are we mired in such small stuff when there are really big and strategic issues that need to be addressed?”

You see, the natural path of any organization is downhill. Leadership teams feel the downward pull of gravity through press of the urgent, the reality of fatigue, the desire to feel in control of something, or the relentless demands of the crowd. Gravity draws us toward the path of least resistance, away from altitude-giving perspective, and down into the miry clay of micro details. It is hard to resist gravity.

In contrast, effective leadership teams execute the dance of leadership in a way that defies the gravity plaguing most organizations. It not easy. In fact, defying gravity demands disciplined attention to four courageous behavior patterns.

As you read a summary of these four disciplines, ask yourself, how are you shaping the work and focus of the Board or leadership team you are part of? Is your team plowing the mud at ground level or have you found a way to lead at perspective-giving altitude? For each of the disciplines below, what kind of a grade would you give yourself?


Maintain enough altitude to connect the dots between where you have been, where you are, and where you need to be going. “Staying above” means attending to the important more than the urgent. It requires all out war against the desire to exert control through the self-important posture of micro-management.


One of the core entrustments of a senior leadership team or governing board is the long range direction of the organization. “Staying beyond” means courageously choosing to resist the lazy posture of perpetual reactivity. Instead of drilling down into the present or simply reporting on the past, conversations and decisions are focused 2-5 years out. Gravity defying teams discipline themselves to think and act on the preferred future.


Human nature is profoundly self-centered and self-protective. However, strong leadership teams go a different direction and choose to fight for one another. They stay honest, open, trusting, and emotionally current with each other. They approach problems and challenges by staying on the same side of the table relationally while the issue lives on the other side to the table. The result? High EQ and the release of collaborative effectiveness, a team where 1+1=100.


It is easy for a leadership team to become consumed by the responsibilities they carry and the demanding tasks they face at the expense of their souls. My leadership world is primarily the church and Christian ministry organizations, so perhaps I am especially attuned to the cost leadership teams pay for not traveling deep spiritually. However, believing that we were made for lives of intimacy with our Creator through Jesus Christ, it is obvious to me that effective leadership teams learn to practice spiritually forming rhythms together. They are unafraid of unfinished agenda work believing that time in prayer, time spent in God’s Word, and time exploring issues of the soul are matters of greatest priority. Staying deep spiritually releases to defy the gravity of anxiety and drivenness over the demands of everything crying for attention.

What are your thoughts? … Your observations?

I would love your comments.


March 30, 2011

p.s. Thanks Todd, (my pastor) for throwing out a couple comments this past weekend about how our elders work. Thanks too, for leading in these ways. Your comments and your example unlocked the insights in this article.

A Leader’s Prayer

I have often quoted the axiom, “a difference between a leader and a follower is PERSPECTIVE. And, a difference between good leaders and better leaders is better perspective.”

There are things we can do to provide perspective, ways we can gain the leadership equivalent of altitude, but perspective is more than a strategic issue. The greatest perspective is actually spiritual, and as such, it calls for the work of the Spirit.

After all, James promised that if anyone lacks wisdom he/she should ask of God who gives generously.

Therefore, in that Spirit, I wrote a Prayer for a Leader. I literally printed off a copy and clipped it into my day planner so that I would be reminded to pray these thoughts every day until it becomes second nature.


A Leader’s Prayer

Lord, help me

see beyond…

Help me see beyond…

… my experience

… my training and knowledge

… my wisdom and insight

… my intuition

… and beyond myself.

Help me see beyond…

… the surface

… the obvious

… the urgent

… easy options, familiar approaches

and obvious personnel

to see beyond what is, in order to see what could be.

In every situation, help me see beyond the…

… human

… organizational

… and strategic factors

to see the real spiritual issues and dynamics in play.

And, while helping me see beyond…

grant me the ability to see, understand, and embrace

present reality

with unwavering courage.

Change :: the new status quo

“We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Sure, Dorothy’s line is now cliché, but it captures the disconcerting wake-up call that we all have at unpredictable moments all the time. Change is the new status quo and when least expected it catches us off guard knocking us off-balance.

Here’s what I mean. Two weeks ago my Uncle asked me to help him get his television working. It’s a simple problem really—unless you are completely behind the curve of technological change. His television is one of those old portable 13-inch screens in a box the size of an ice chest that weighs about 25 pounds. The assisted living facility where he lives told him that the problem is he would need to order cable. He has never had cable and doesn’t understand why he can’t a good signal with a pair of old-school rabbit-ears.

So, picture the scene. Here I was, trying to explain the problem of a 30-year-old analog TV in a flat-screen high-def digital age to a technologically illiterate senior citizen who is almost deaf. He just doesn’t have the categories.

Think about his dilemma on a deeper level. The changing world we call home has put him in a place where the ‘rules’ he knows for how life works no longer apply. He cannot apply “rabbit-ear solutions” he understands to a “digital world” he doesn’t. His desire to wind the clock back to a day where solutions and approaches he understands still work is perfectly understandable. It is an unavoidable experience in a world where constant hi-speed discontinuous change is the order of the day.

These are the waters we all swim in. It is the reason why I chose the image of a sailboat cutting through the waves by harnessing the wind as the metaphor for this website. Learning to embrace and navigate change is life for all of us and it is the meat and potatoes of leadership.

I am fascinated by change, by how it happens, by the way it impacts people, and especially by what it takes to lead it effectively. I have been making observations and logging insights into leading change for a number of years now and it’s time to put more of them in writing.  So, consider this an introduction. For a number of weeks, I will devote my entries to different thoughts about change, including:

–       The end of the 40/40 world

–       A 5-dimensional approach to leading change

–       Leading is change

–       A battleship vs. a zodiak

–       The need for heretics

For today, the question is a simple one: what is one area of change you are tired of and what could you do to embrace it rather than fight it?

Are we For or Against?

I want to lobby for a new day in the way we think of ourselves and engage the world around us. I am tired, impatient, angry, even embarrassed by a consistent trend in the Christian community. There are times when I hear the diatribes of those who claim the name of Christ and I feel ashamed to be affiliated with their hostility toward people we are commanded to love.

When did following Jesus become focused on fighting against a very selective group of social ills? When did such a finite short list of issues become the litmus test of orthodoxy? When did what we are against become the defining characteristic of who we are? Instead of defining ourselves by what we are against, I want to make the appeal that it is time we should be defined by who we are for.

Let me say it again:

Instead of defining ourselves by what we are against,
it is time to define ourselves by who we are for!

It strikes me that there are significant dangers in identifying ourselves by what we are against:

1.) It is intellectually lazy…
That is, it is easy to be a critic. As a critic, I don’t have to work through the demanding discipline of defining a preferred future, I can just attack what I don’t like. Unbridled criticism injures people.

2.) It is morally arrogant…
My ego likes the idea that I might be somehow superior, and when I posture myself in opposition to the practices and lifestyles of others, I subtly nurture that superiority.

3.) It is spiritually corrupting…
When I rail against the immoral behaviors of someone else, I am building an illusion that my own moral failures are less abhorrent. I can hide my personal need and sin behind the blustering and posturing of my rhetoric.

4.) It is a betrayal of the message and heartbeat of Jesus…
… especially heinous when carried out in the name of Jesus. In the most amazing ways Jesus was able to engage “saints” and “sinners.”
He was able to live in the fullness of pure grace and absolute truth. Scores of people with whom many of us would never be at home felt at home with Jesus.

Funny thing, the more I write about what is wrong with this pattern — focusing on what we are against — the more I feel I am doing the very same thing. So, let me shift gears…

I am for people of all stripes who need to know the transforming work of Jesus. I am for those who are broken and those who have lots to give. I am for those who yearn to make a difference in the world and those for whom the world is overwhelming. I am for people who are powerless and for those who have power to spare.

I am for Christians who are trying to figure out how to follow Jesus in a world that is changing from day to day. I am for church leaders who give their lives away in selfless service to others. I am for people.  And, I am for following Jesus into the world and into relationships with people of all types. His was the greatest life ever ever lived and the incarnation of hope for mankind.

Since this blog is about the lessons I am learning at the intersection of life and leadership, I need to add a word for those in positions of influence. It is time for all of to dial down the hostile rhetoric and dial up compassionate listening.


I love an old African proverb that says,

“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.”

I love the invitation embedded in that proverb, but if I am honest, I have to admit that my native wiring is to go fast and furious. In fact, I think that for most of my life my practiced approach to community was to find others that wanted to run fast and furious with me. However, living in community is far more than that.

High capacity leaders in the 21st century are those that live and lead in community. It is one result of a tectonic shift in culture.  For example, it used to be that the notion of a leader as Lone Ranger was a good thing. Riding in on a white horse to save the day single-handedly is the way great leaders carried themselves. That day is over. Today, leaders that operate today as autocratic individualists are suspect.

Here’s the catch, for all the potential of leading in community, moving into community comes at a high front end cost. To develop community requires vulnerability, sacrifice, substantial time, and one of the toughest challenges for leaders — the subordination of personal opinions to the collective discernment of the community.

Leaders that live and lead in community pay attention to healthy process and cultivating safe environments. They transform basic conversation into relationally based journeys of discernment. They submit their personal agendas to the group and allow collective wisdom to shape priorities and decisions. They champion the contribution and giftedness of others in the community. They make themselves dispensable.

Even though leaders are surrounded by the people they lead, the reality is that most live in an ongoing state of isolation. So, even if you as a leader are the only one at risk, it is time to seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others.

So, what lives deep in you? The desire to simply go fast? Or the conviction that you long to go far?

[If you would like a .pdf version of a reproducible article describing the “5 C’s of a High Capacity Leader” send me an email request and I will forward it to you. Send to admin@noredcapes.com]

Character & Competency

A few days ago I posted the first in a series of essays on what I have found to be five attributes of a high-capacity leader. These attributes seem to function in two ways that matter to everyone of us. On the one hand they are like horses harnessed together to pull a load. And at the same time, individually they have the capacity to sabotage what could be accomplished by the others. This is the second of four essays on this theme.

There is a good shift taking place. While it seems that the majority of training and leadership expectations focus on one’s competencies, there is a lot of emphasis these days on the character that lives deeper than competencies. To that extent we are on the right track. As I and many of my colleagues believe, influence flows out of who you are not what you can do. Character is not the only thing that matters, but without it nothing else matters much.

However, in the popular conversations, it seems we often speak of leaders ‘having character’ as if that means they possess a strength of will to sustain them through the challenges they face. Or, we use character as a synonym for integrity.  To be sure these qualities flow from a leader’s character. However, I mean to imply something more.

The character of a leader is the personalized imprint of God on the inner life. It is not merely the imposition of a predetermined list, (i.e. the Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,etc.) I think of character as the comprehensive and unique landscape of one’s soul — the integrated package of convictions forged by experience and the internal formation carried out by the Spirit of God which shape our behavior.

Character makes an imprint on everything we do, every relationship we maintain, and every facet of our behavior. It is more than who I am when no one is looking. It is also who I am when everyone is looking.

It is a matter of soul and spirit. Spiritually, it is reflected in 2 Chr. 16:9
“The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth, that he might fully support the man whose heart is completely his.”

At the same time, leaders need to have skills–significant skills! In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their abilities in order to lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.
Don’t misunderstand my comments on character to mean that skills don’t matter.  We live in a demanding world. In fact, most leaders find they are expected to be competent in a wide range of arenas they were never trained in.

Influence flows out of character, but high capacity leaders are also highly competent. They don’t flaunt their expertise, but they are constantly working to develop their skill-set. Character-deep leaders understand the relationship between character and competency. While character may be the key to influence, they have also learned to rely on their competencies much like a master-mechanic relies on tools. When the tasks demand it, they pull out different tools, use them with wisdom, and then put them back into the tool chest for another day.

In a world characterized by quantum and continuous change, we will always need new skills. We can benefit from skills that minimize personal deficits, but more importantly, we need to hone those skills that build on personal strengths.
Biblical parallels:
Ps 78:72:  “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hand he led them.”
1 Tim 4:11-15:  “…do not neglect your gift…be diligent… so that everyone may see your progress.”

Five C’s of High Capacity Leaders

In a world that crowds after the illusion of simple formulas, what I am about to say might venture too close to that black hole. However, my conviction is that the five attributes below represent the journey of a leader’s life long development. As a matter of fact, our quest for quick-fix, simple leadership formulas is actually what derails us from the depth of this developmental journey.

The extent to which a man or woman has cultivated all five dimensions of his or her life, is the measure by which they will find the influence of their life growing exponentially. By the same token, every dimension that is missing or stunted  sabotages the scope of that influence.

I have taught on four of these five dimensions for some time, perhaps even beginning to take for granted that everyone already “gets it.” But this past week in a conversation with a very sharp woman leader I discovered that I have also come to understand the fifth dimension. So, whether this serves as a review of the familiar or as fresh thinking I hope it serves you.

I also make the assumption that you live with a God-given desire to live a life of influence — to make a mark that cannot be easily erased. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the shape of the following in your life:

CHARACTER :: Influence flows out of who you are more than what you do. Character is more than force of will or consistency. It is that unique combination of who you are when no one is looking and the formation of your soul through intimacy with Christ.

COMPETENCY :: At the same time, leaders need to have skills. In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their skills that they might lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.

CALLING :: Leaders are surrounded by those with an agenda, expectation, or demand for them. Yet, leaders of influence are those live before the Audience of One rather than for the applause of the crowd. They do so because they understand and align their behavior with a clear sense of calling and contribution.

COURAGE :: Unfortunately, the crowd won’t like it. Therefore, leaders must be people of courage. You cannot lead without conflict, even when you are doing the right thing in the right way. And, you cannot wade toward or through that conflict without courage. Without courage, you will dodge the hard stuff.

COMMUNITY :: Leaders don’t live or lead in isolation. While leading is often an isolating experience, leaders seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others. They create safe places of community for others by the way they pursue it themselves.

So, if you were to give yourself a grade of ‘A’ to ‘F’ on each of the five, what would your report card look like today?

I am going to post an essay on each of these five every few days over the next couple weeks. I’d invite you to absorb them one at a time. Post a thought or two about how you are learning work on each dimension.

After I have completed the series,  I’ll post it as one downloadable .pdf and add some group reflection questions so that you might use it as a resource with those who lead beside you.

The Little Thing that Changes Everything: Courage

I have a theory: courage is the sinew that connects our thinking to our behavior.  It’s not good intentions that get things done, it is courage. We can talk the right talk, we can understand key issues, and we can have all manner of good ideas, but without courage we won’t act on them. 

Two days ago, my wife, Margaret, and I were part of an organized “century ride” on California’s central coast. (1oo mile ride in one day on a bicycle.) Unfortunately, her batteries were a little low. She’d been sick a week earlier and after a couple hectic encounters with traffic motivation to continue was waning. At the turn around point, she felt a bit unsettled and would have preferred to stop.  However, she made a conscious choice to override her emotions at the moment and continue the ride. It was raw courage. There is no other word for it. It moved me, and it reminded me how much courage it takes to choose to continue when the initial thrill of adventure wears thin.

Every time a leader or an organization attempts change, they face moments it would be far easier to stop moving forward. Every time you or I try to change our ways or accomplish something worthwhile we hit the point where the initial thrill of the project is over and the strength of our courage is tested. When those you lead are pushing back against your because of the price tag of change, it takes courage to continue moving forward. When you are stepping into the unknown, courage is what keeps you from turning back to what was familiar and ‘safe.’

I became convinced long ago that leaders of influence exhibit four qualities that set them apart. They have a clear sense of Calling (passion, direction, etc.) They possess the Competencies demanded by a complex and challenging world. They have Character that runs deep, making them the people others can trust when the chips are down. And the fourth, they demonstrate that often overlooked quality, Courage.

While competency and character are familiar territory, the demand for courage might be the most often overlooked. Without courage you won’t pull the trigger when the going gets tough.  Without courage you will sabotage your capacity for influence by choosing the easy road. Without courage, it is easy to give up halfway.

You can have all the insight and ideas imaginable, but when the going get’s tough, what’s in your head won’t translate into behavior unless you also have courage. There is always an easier way out.

Courage is an amazing thing. It inspires others. And it is the fuel that gets things done. I watched Margaret make a courageous choice to keep going last Saturday and watched her ride strong through the finish line because of it.

I hope I can live as courageously this week.