4 Ways Leaders Needlessly Spend Their Chips

December 18, 2017

I can confidently say that I am one of the worst poker players you will ever meet for two specific reasons.

As my wife would attest, I have a terrible poker face; she can read every emotion. Also, the game just takes too long for my restless personality. I end up going “all in” on a 2-7 off suit hand, thereby losing the buy-in cost.

However, I understand the basic premise: the more chips you have to play the better. Effective poker players build a stockpile of chips by winning hands.

The same principle can be used in leadership. Effective leaders build a stockpile of “chips” after wins. What are these wins? Consistent godly character, sincerity in caring for people, courageous leadership in the midst of challenge, and passion.

Leaders want to amass a stockpile quickly, but it’s highly unrealistic and the effort can be exhausting. Rarely do you gather thousands of chips at a time; however, the small and often unnoticed wins will add up with patience and perseverance.

As difficult as it is to collect leadership chips, unfortunately it is easier to spend them unwisely and often unintentionally.

What are some of those unwise and unintentional expenditures? Here are 4:

1. Indifference…over the small sins
I don’t know many leaders who are actively pursuing murder or fraud, but I do know some who are playing with gossip and coarse language.

I am one of them.

As like all disciples of Jesus, leaders have blind spots, i.e., the ways in which we can’t see ourselves and the small character deficiencies we are comfortable with.

Blind spots have consequences in our relationship with Jesus. But they also affect the people we lead because they see them when we can’t.

The most important quality leaders need to develop is not their competency, but their character. So, the off colored joke amongst your leaders, the not-so-bad Christian swearword or your underlying competitive attitude with the church down the street seep out of us and spend our leadership chips.

You don’t notice them, but you can be sure that the people that spend time with you do.

Regular time in the Word, authenticity in community and people in your life who are willing to give you honest feedback are all ways you can ensure that this isn’t one way you are needlessly spending your chips.

2. Unavailability
While it is true that there are too many ways people can access you (email, phone, text, Facebook etc.), consistent inaccessibility erodes people’s trust in a leader.

Hear me: you need boundaries around when and how people can contact you. But you also need to be available. Whether it is a reference form for a volunteer, a phone call from someone in crisis or a teammate who simply needs 5 minutes of your time, people must have access to you.

Absent and unreachable leaders rapidly lose their influence and spend their leadership chips.

How to check if you’re unavailable:
• How many unread emails does your iPhone icon say you have?
• Any dust collecting on texts sent from colleagues or volunteers?
• Can you remember the password to your voicemail at work?
• Is there a running joke amongst your peers of your propensity to be missing in action digitally or personally?

If it’s true that trust is the currency of leadership, how can you build trust when people can’t connect with you?

3. Disorganization
The chasm that separates competent leaders from extraordinary leaders isn’t massive. The good news is that this chasm can be bridged with a few conscientious steps.

One of the simple ways to be exceptional is to be organized.

I don’t mean that you have to be an all-star administrator, but people need to know they can rely on you to deliver what you promised.

For instance, does your leadership team trust that your 7 pm meeting will actually start at 7 pm (and finish would you said it would)? Or do they show up expecting to see you frantically photocopying meeting agenda’s and finishing off the PowerPoint presentation?

Does your team covertly, or maybe not so covertly, roll their eyes when you excitedly cast vision for a new initiative because they know that no execution follows your impassioned ideas? The execution of a vision happens because you formulate a realistic plan, and a vision without a plan is a dream.

Rolled eyes and wasted time are small ways that your unorganized leadership are unnecessarily spending your precious leadership chips.

4. Unawareness
It may be hard to accept, but you’re not a perfect leader. I know I am not. The quicker you come to this realization, the better it is for you and those you lead.

Acceptance of this truth is not enough: a further step needs to be taken.

Leaders, you need to be able to answer a hard question: in what ways are you imperfect? The answer to this question will empower you to lead more effectively.

The obvious, humbling and terrifying truth about leadership is that those who you lead are downstream from you. They get the good and the bad. An oblivious leader doesn’t understand how the people downstream from you are negatively impacted by your weaknesses.

Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t striving for perfection. But as you continue your education of yourself, you will understand how to manage your weaknesses better.

I see two simple ways forward: ask honest people for feedback and follow through with their recommendations and develop a thick skin for criticism from people that you trust.

Unawareness spends your leadership chips. Awareness earns them.

Steward your chips
Leadership is a harder game than poker. It demands your constant attention and growth, and the losses are more consequential.

Being unconcerned (with your character), unavailable, unorganized and unaware squander your leadership chips quickly.

You will need to cash in your leadership chips at some point: for the new church plant or proposing an extra faith-filled budget. Don’t waste them on these easily corrected leadership slip-ups.

And if you are thinking of inviting me to your next poker night based on my self-assessed poor poker acumen, I’ll save you the time:

No thank you.

Are you a millennial church leader and need some help in any of these areas? I’d be excited to explore a coaching relationship with you.