9 Things My Family Has Taught Me About Leadership

Leadership starts at home. How you love and lead at home has a dramatic effect on how you love and lead in the church. That’s not always an easy truth to embrace, but it’s undeniable.

There is no org chart at home, and if there was, doesn’t it sometimes feel like your two-year-old is in charge?

You may lead a large church or campus or department, hire staff and people follow your lead. Then you come home to two teenagers you dearly love but sometimes make you second-guess if you are doing the right things.

That’s just real life. And if you listen and learn, you not only become a better mom or dad but a better leader.

It can be challenging to lead well at home, but it just may be the most important environment you ever lead.

Why is it so tough?

Your family sees you at your best and your worst. They love you, and they also get frustrated with you at times, right?

One of the things I love most about my family is the grace they extend me. I’ve been married for 40 years and a dad for nearly 32 years, and I’m still learning.

Some of the greatest leadership seminars I’ve attended were held in my home to an audience of one, and some of my best mentoring is from my wife and kids.


1. A Light-Hearted Spirit Wins the Moment.

When my kids were young, I led our family in a Bible study. Unfortunately, I was entirely too serious when I began, and the kids would “fidget, giggle and play.” In response, I’d attempt to get everyone under control.

I didn’t see that the best thing that could ever happen was to have my kids giggling and having a great time while we studied the Bible. But then, my wonderful wife, Patti, helped me see it, and I got it immediately. So from then on, we had a great time.

A light-hearted spirit always wins the moment. The people you lead need space to breathe and absorb all you communicate, especially when you need to deliver something serious.

2. Never Separate Strength and Compassion.

It didn’t take me long to learn as a young dad and husband that my family wanted both strength and compassion.

Strength without compassion can feel like unbridled authority, and compassion without strength often enables undesired behavior.

The combination of strength and compassion provides leadership for the healthiest environment possible.

Jesus modeled this essential combination; He was unwavering in principle yet always demonstrating compassion.

Whatever the circumstance, whether you are training a child, developing a leader, casting vision, or leading a meeting, practice the combination of strength and compassion.

3. Example Is Everything.

When the kids were teens, I asked them to turn their cell phones off during dinner. My daughter said, “Dad, yours is on.” I responded, “But I may receive an important call.” She said, “We might too.”

Another great lesson.

The example we set as leaders speak volumes to those we lead. Double standards are never a good or acceptable idea.

For example, if I expect people to be on time for the meetings I lead, I need to be there on time.

Think about a leader you may have followed in the past who had a different set of standards than they expected of you. How did that make you feel? How did that effect your respect for them?

4. It’s Not About Perfection; It’s About Being Present and in the Game.

I can’t count how many times as a dad or husband that I didn’t have the right answer or made a mistake. But being there, being present, caring, and doing something made all the difference.

The people you lead don’t expect perfection, but they need to know you care, have their best interest at heart, and are mentally in the game.

When you lead toward a vision, you are guiding people toward a preferred future where together you’ve never been before. So, you will make mistakes. Learn from them and keep going.

5. It’s Better to Ask Questions Than to Give Directives.

When you’re under pressure and in a hurry, it’s faster and easier to give a directive than ask a question, but it’s rarely the best approach.

Listening is an artful skill that the best leaders are really good at, and they practice consistently. It includes the art of asking questions.

A profound truth I’ve learned at home is that there is always something about the story I didn’t know. So if I don’t ask questions, I will lead with partial and, therefore, faulty information.

For example, if you are counseling a married couple at your church and you speak with only the husband or only the wife. You are guaranteed to get only half the story and from a very different perspective.

There are times when you need to be very direct, make a decision and declare the way, but candidly, those times are seldom in frequency compared to the everyday process of leadership.

6. People Actually Want Leadership.

Though they sometimes may resist, the people you serve want good leadership. Leadership that is based on love and has their best interest at heart.

They are looking to you for vision.

Years ago, I led my family through a simple process to come up with a family mission statement and family values. My leadership may not have been impressive, but we did it, and that mattered.

• Are you clear on the direction you are leading this year?

• Are you making progress?

• How do you know?

7. Honesty Is the Best Policy.

Trust is core to all human connections and, therefore, to all effective leadership.

Honesty is the best policy. If you break trust, it’s ever so difficult to restore it, and it requires significant amounts of time and energy.

Speaking the truth in love is an essential practice for anyone who leads, whether at home, at church, or in business.

The deeper element of honesty is to understand why people lie. There are many possible reasons, such as gaining control, hiding, getting what they want, avoiding consequences, and the list goes on.

You can’t control others’ decisions about truth-telling or lying, but you can help cultivate a healthy environment that champions honesty and presents consequences for lying.

8. Joy Is an Option That You Can Choose.

Patti brings sunshine into our home, even on “rainy” days. I’m sure you know people like that. They change the atmosphere of the room. They make holidays better, birthdays more fun, and their smile or laughter just makes you feel better.

I learned long ago that joy is a choice. You don’t need to have the same upbeat personality and charisma that Patti does, but all of us can choose joy. My natural wiring is more serious, but I choose to be light-hearted. How about you?

Leadership is tough, but it doesn’t have to be gloomy. Joy is not only a gift (fruit) from the Holy Spirit; it’s a disposition you can choose.

A joyful spirit is like a magnet; it draws people in. Your ability to encourage and inspire others to follow the vision and even respond to Jesus is shaped by your joy.

9. Positive Encouragement Is the Best Motivator, and Belief Is Oxygen to the Soul.

Encouragement is 51% of leadership. When it’s sincere and consistent, it can actually change the trajectory of someone’s life.

Honestly, I don’t believe it’s possible to encourage someone too much. Patti and the kids have always responded positively to my encouragement. I’ll bet you have a similar experience with your family.

And in contrast, I don’t know anyone who responds well to criticism.

When you add to encouragement a deep belief in someone, that is in who they are and who they can become, the outcomes are transformational.

Consider how you respond to someone who truly believes in you and encourages you. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can ever receive, one you no doubt are profoundly grateful for.

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This article originally appeared on DanReiland.com and is reposted here by permission.