10 Key Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned over the Last Year in Handing off Catalyst
I’m a year removed from being on a strategic 4 month sabbatical. This time last year I was in the middle of it. It’s been quite a year. And the last 12 months have provided some incredible learnings.
So looking back, here are 10 reflections and learnings one year later that hopefully will help you in your own leadership journey.
1. I got my smile back. Stepping away allowed me to rediscover the passion. Finding joy in the journey again. At Catalyst Atlanta the first week of October- I was in the “mosh pit” during the evening session on Thursday down on the floor in front of the stage. Matt Redman looked down and almost laughed out loud while singing because he was so surprised to see me! I’m not too cool or too old. Passion and zest for the current season.
2. What I do is not who I am. Who you are is not what you do. My identity is simply a follower of Jesus. I’m okay with that on my business card. My identity is in Jesus. I’m not the “Catalyst guy” anymore, and I thought that would be incredibly difficult. And it has been. My identity and my need to know what is next are the two most difficult things for me to deal with and work on as an ENTJ. But ultimately, I had to answer the question “Who am I, really?” I’m Brad, and I’m a follower of Jesus. Period. End of story. I’m Brad. Not Catalyst Brad. Just Brad.
3. Getting out of the way is part of my responsibility as a leader. There is tremendous power in passing on the power to the next wave of leaders behind you. Getting out of the way and letting other leaders step up is healthy. Removing myself from the equation as the organizational leader gives a chance for other leaders on your team to step up. Stepping out of the way allows others to step up. Others step up when you step out. Pass the baton. Most leaders hold on for too long. Let go before you need to or are forced to. Generation transfer- we are always replacing ourselves. Constantly. Not just when you’re CEO or President or Senior Pastor or Executive Director. Great leaders model succession constantly. At every level in an organization, in every role, at every intersection.
4. Calling is demonstrated and reflected by seasons, and specific assignments within that season. Seasons of assignment gives me freedom and flexibility in how I appropriately view life. My season and assignment of leading Catalyst has ended. Been completed. Driving the Catalyst bus has ended. But that doesn’t change my overall calling- to influence influencers. It just means this chapter of the book is complete. But the story continues! On to the next chapter. The book is not done, just the chapter completed. Just because you’re not driving the bus doesn’t mean you can’t still be on the bus. I’m the kid now in the back of the bus rolling down the bus window and waving at all the people on the sidewalks walking by!
5. Margin matters. Rest and margin and space are crucial for a leader- rhythm is incredibly important. Speed kills. Change the pace. You have to slow down in order to speed up. Don’t avoid or under-estimate the value of this. You won’t realize it till it’s too late. Burnout might be right around the corner. We have to recharge as leaders. And renewed fresh vision requires a renewed fresh mind. Waiting on God is an active thing, not a passive thing. Margin allows for us to hear from God, because the distractions are removed. Many times God is speaking, we just can’t hear because of the speed we’re traveling and the number of songs on repeat in our earbuds that are good, but not the best. Listening intently to God requires connecting intently with God. I’m waiting on God to reveal what is next in my story that is part of His story.
6. I’m not winning if the people closest to me and working with me and for me are not fully flourishing. Wow- this one punched me right in the face. I was allowing the pursuit of the purpose to get in the way of people. The vision and goal and finish line matters, but not at the expense of leaving people in the ditch. I was not a good friend. I’m great with the wider community, but have to work really hard at making sure I’m constantly connecting and in true community with those closest to me. And the people closest to me were getting the worst of me, or none of me. And were suffering the most. While those on the outside still thought I was the cat’s meow.
7. Pruning is not fun, but is required if you want to lead. Being pruned requires getting kicked in the pants, slapped across the face a bit, punched in the stomach, and patted on the back. Pruning is required if you’re going to go to the next level in your leadership and in your life, especially as a follower of Jesus. Being pruned is needed in order to move from one season to the next, as well as part of the process of discipleship of becoming more like Christ. John 15:5, a branch being pruned and cut back in order to bear more fruit in the next season. Pruning was difficult, but very needed. I was the poster boy for the theme of Known. Who you are before what you do, that ultimately will provide the legacy for what you’ll be known for. I didn’t realize I would end up walking through a transition and leadership mile marker on the life road partly due to a conference theme that I helped create!
8. My leadership was stale. I was not a good leader the last few years. I looked the part, but was decaying from the inside out. I had to step back and realize this. It’s important to step back into my true identity- the last couple of years had pushed me into being a leader that is not completely parallel to who I am. Slowly, over time, leadership had become something I was supposed to be an expert on, but not actually doing. Yikes. Dangerous place. I can be having lots of success and growing a movement and making a difference yet disregarding those closest to me. Have to lead myself first. Taking a time out and a break is imperative to be able to stop and notice that you are off course and drifting out to sea. The slow decline and slightly off course can derail you in the long term. Have to stop and look inward. And looking inward is difficult. Dying to a season is hard.
9. Good fruit is required. As a leader, what are you building, vs. who are building into? Your leadership is effective if it’s producing good fruit in others around you. You can build an empire, but if it’s built on sand and a house of cards then it will come crashing down at some point. Focus on good fruit. I had to realize that what I had been building the last 10 + years was stripped away from me, and what was going to last? Who I had built into- that’s what would last.
10. Faithfulness and stewardship is the measure of ultimate success. Stewardship of what is put in front of me. I can let go of Catalyst now with hands open because it’s not mine anyway, and I stewarded it the best I knew how during my season of assignment. Hopefully assignment well done. Now onto the next assignment.
Not sure what that is yet, but right now I’m speaking a ton, finishing up my 2nd book, and also consulting with a handful of organizations, and still an advisor to Catalyst. I guess you could say I’m a professional friend and advisor for this season. Not sure how long it will last, but enjoying every second of it.
I’m committed to leveraging my experience and equity and wisdom for what is next. And not to settle for the easy. I’m really being challenged to do something that is outside my comfort zone.
But right now, I’m proud to look back over the last year, and see a transition that has occurred in a healthy and correct way.
I’m able to help at Catalyst and be an advisor and not in any way for that to feel weird or for me to want to jump back in and be in charge and take over. Part of the reason for I believe a fairly reasonable transition was that there was a point where I killed “Catalyst Brad.” He was put out of his misery. Dying to this season means I’m giving up that title and that business card intro. A title that has been what I’ve done for the last 10 + years. Moving forward I have to say that I led Catalyst for 10 years and am done.
So many transitions and successions happen from one leader to the other without the outgoing leader ever truly releasing that season. So they either try and jump back in at every turn, or just spend all their time bad mouthing and sabotaging their replacement because they’re deep down concerned that someone else is going to be better at the role than they were. Hopefully I’m not doing this.
Step out before you need to. Go out on top. Hand off way before it’s time.
Now onto the next season!