One Thing That Separates Good Leaders From Great Leaders

Communication of the Sunday message is not one of my core responsibilities as Executive Pastor.

On occasion, I have enjoyed the privilege of preaching on Sunday and received very kind and encouraging comments that the message was great! Well, if I only deliver the message two or three times a year, it should be great! However, if I had to do that 30 or 40 times a year, it would be average at best.

That’s the difference between good and great: Consistency.

Kevin Myers

We can all get up and hit a home run once. But very few can do it consistently, meaning literally every time they get up to the plate. Our Senior Pastor at 12Stone Church, Kevin Myers, can do it. He hits the ball out of the park every time. Andy Stanley does it, too. John Maxwell hits a grand slam every time. You can name others, too, who are so consistent it’s scary.

This begs the obvious question: If I’m not like Kevin, Andy, or John, how do I become a great leader?

If I don’t have that crazy-big gifting and talent, is great leadership not part of my potential?

Everyone has a shot at consistency, but you need to take the right approach.

Moving from Consistently Good to Consistently Great:

1) Know your lane.

I met Jim Collins about the time his book, Good to Great, came out. What a brilliant guy. About five of us huddled up with him and machine-gunned questions at him.

Essentially, I asked the primary question of this post: “How do we as ‘mere mortals’ become great, level-five leaders like you talk about?” I will never forget his answer. Jim said,

“Dan, most of these ‘greats’ are far more ordinary than you might imagine. They just found their sweet spot early in life and have been doing it for a very long time.”

Boom! There it is. Consistency! If you get in the right lane, and do what you do for a very long time, you become great at it!

Of course there is more to it, but that’s the breakthrough idea. That’s the difference-maker. I’m not saying you’ll teach like Kevin, Andy, or John, but over time you’d be amazed at what God can do in you and through you if you stay at it.

So let’s talk about what else is involved.

2) Don’t beat yourself up.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t become a great leader overnight.

You will experience setbacks, dry spells, and seasons when you wonder if you are in the right lane. Don’t quit.

Consistency requires that you give yourself time to grow and permission to make mistakes. You have to push the envelope to become great at what you do, and when you do that, you won’t always hit the ball out of the park. In fact, you will swing and miss more than you like.

I love it when John Maxwell tells stories of his younger days as a leader and communicator. It gives us all hope! And if you listen to his stories, he never beat himself up about his failures. He used them as stepping stones to become better.

High standards are good, but don’t be too hard on yourself. If you bomb a sermon, get after it again next week. If you mess up an important meeting, figure out what you did wrong and lead better next week.

3) Focus, baby, focus.

If you are a young leader, you don’t get to focus as much as you want. Be patient; your time will come.

Young leaders, who listen to great leaders talk about finding their lane (productive strengths) and focusing exclusively there, often get frustrated. These young leaders tell me their circumstances don’t allow for that. Of course they don’t. No one starts out focused only on what is meant to be their great contribution.

If you are a young leader, part of your advantage is enthusiasm and energy. Lean into that. Do all the things you are asked to do, while you simultaneously discover what you are great at. Then slowly (and consistently) work on developing your sweet spot. In time, you’ll earn the right to jettison some of the things you aren’t so good at or passionate about, and can focus on what you are destined for. Every great leader you know has taken this same path and paid this price.

If you are “not so young,” it’s time to focus. You likely know what you are really good at, so start taking the risk of letting go of things others can do, so you can focus on what only you can do. Raise up leaders and empower them to lead. Let go of things that don’t require you personally. If your church in general is too busy, slowly lean out your menu of ministries.

Whatever your age, the end goal is focus. You were created on purpose, for a purpose. As you narrow in on that, increase your consistency at remaining within that focused area.

4) The secret sauce is mandatory.

I alluded to this under the point, “Don’t beat yourself up.” If you skin your knee, get up, quickly mend the wound, and keep going. But there is more to the discipline of practice.

The beautiful thing about leadership skills is that they can be learned. And if they can be learned, they can be practiced. And if you can practice, you can excel.

That’s the secret sauce to consistency. If the discipline to practice is in you, there is nothing that prevents you from becoming great at what you do.

22 thoughts on “One Thing That Separates Good Leaders From Great Leaders”

  1. I will say this, you are consistently GREAT at blogging about leadership! I always get meaningful info out of your thoughts, and frequently share and pass along to others who benefit as well. You’re so right about Kevin being consistently great, there is not a single message of his I’ve ever heard that does not significantly speak into my life.

  2. Thanks for a wonderful post, Dan! I like the last line the most – If the discipline to practice is in you, there is nothing that prevents you from becoming great at what you do.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. It gives practical suggestions and encouragement to the young leaders, and the right challenge to seasoned leaders like myself.

  4. Eddie Anderson

    I don’t even know where to begin in this, there is so much good stuff. I’m 55 years old and feel like I’m just starting the most productive years of my life. I’ve maintained a high level of spiritual discipline for nearly my entire adult life but from a leadership perspective, I only made the decision to be disciplined to continual growth about 2-3 years ago. I consider myself still in the “discovery” phase, and sometimes find it difficult to separate what I’m really talented and gifted at from those things that are just skills I’ve learned from many years of being in the corporate work world. I have dreams of things I’d like to do and be involved in, but not sure quite yet where my strength is going to be within those dreams. What I’m confident in is that if I stay committed and consistent in my growth, those things will become more clear and focused over time. Thanks for reinforcing that.

      1. Eddie Anderson

        I’m definitely going for it; finishing up a men’s study tomorrow night I’ve been leading using the video series “Today Matters” by Maxwell and yesterday started a new adventure team teaching with another man at my church in our Young Professionals Singles group. Excited about building into their lives and trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get to teach what I’m learning; not only does it give me an opportunity to pass along what I’m learning, I grow more by teaching. Starting small and see where God takes it over time.

  5. Aaron David Born

    This was one of my favorites that you have posted. I was sitting here beating myself up for how I executed something on Sunday, and this was very timely in giving me proper perspective. Thanks Dr. Reiland!

  6. Shayne O'Brien

    Thanks Dan. I’ve passed this on to all of our under 25 year old staff members. Great ministry advice for any age but so timely for those just beginning. Thank you.

  7. Great post and excellent principles. I was particularly challenged by the discipline of practice, which is often overlooked in a culture that values the overnight success.

    In Originals, Adam Grant talks a lot about creatives like painters, poets and inventors…the key to impact isn’t the one great idea that hit home. It’s that they consistently produced dozens, if not hundreds of things, greatly increasing their chances of success. That feels mundane but it’s where the payoff happens.

  8. Olusola Jegede

    Dan, Thank you so much for this short but great insight. I read it this morning, I worked on it, add some things to it and taught my two teenage daughters this morning over a two hours period of interactive and discovery session. Our conclusion was “A person with little talent but with a persistent spirit will do better than a person with great talent but without a persistent spirit”. Please,kindly permit me to contextualize it and add to my training materials for the young and Emerging Leaders I am working with in Sierra Leone. May the Lord bless you for this insight in Jesus name.

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