12 Questions to Help New Leaders Thrive in a New Ministry Position

Congratulations! You made it! You’re the new leader. Now what?

I know you’re supposed to always look like you know what you’re doing but — truth be told — new leaders often don’t even know where to start. They drift around for a month or so, smiling a lot, ordering new stationery while they act as if they’ve got it covered.

I came across this all-too-familiar scenario recently while coaching a young executive at a non-profit. He had been moved unexpectedly to a new division after achieving some success in another department. The move caught him by surprise, but he threw himself into it with all the energy he could find.

When we first met, I asked the young executive what questions he had. He sheepishly shrugged his shoulders and admitted, “I’m not even sure what questions I should be asking.”

I suspect he’s not alone. As I thought back over times when I’ve tackled a new leadership position, I remembered the same uncertainty. I also recalled 12 questions I asked or — knowing what I know now — wish I had asked.

It’s an impartial list, of course, but these 12 questions should help any new leader prepare to thrive in a new position.

1. Who are the key influencers on your new team? It shouldn’t take long to figure out who everyone already respects and follows. They can make or break you. By applying the 80/20 principle, plan to invest a disproportionate amount of time with these key influencers to gain their buy-in before getting too far into your new digs. If you don’t, you might not stay long.

2. What exactly is expected of you? The last few times I’ve started a new position, I took the time to unpack the job description in great detail. I ended up with an outline of my duties that filled 8-10 pages, typed, single-spaced. I only reviewed my outline annually after that, but the process of breaking it all down can help you be sure you’re not missing anything that might surprise you later.

3. What exactly are you expected to do? This question from John Maxwell is one you need to ask of your supervisor. I’m amazed at how often it isn’t asked, only assumed — until later when performance evaluations are due. Too late. Better to ask specifically up front to help you know what you are personally expected to do and what you can delegate to others.

4. How will your success be measured? I am again surprised by how few leaders, especially in ministry and non-profits, ever ask this question. Most of us thrive when we know the standards being used to evaluate us and become paranoid or even resentful when we find out after the fact that we didn’t measure up. Get clarity by asking clearly.

5. How are you perceived by your new team? Our own self-image seldom matches reality. Just because you think you’re awesome, doesn’t mean anyone else on your new team does — or cares about your previous success. In some cases, you might even detect resistance to your arrival because of your success elsewhere.

6. Are you talking enough? Silence speaks. When we choose to say nothing, we’re still saying something. We’ve simply surrendered control of the message. Your team will fill in the silence by reaching into their own insecurities. And that can’t be good. The absence of intentional communication is communication.

7. Have you enlisted a coach or mentor to guide you? Let’s face it. You’re in uncharted waters. Your new position requires insight and wisdom you just don’t have yet. If it doesn’t, you’re probably not in the right position. Recruit a coach — or several — who have been there, done that. They can save you a lot of pain.

8. Are you ready to pay the price to grow? Every learning curve requires a high initial investment of time and energy — but the payoff can be huge. That’s just part of the deal. But the curve is also the place to grow like nowhere else. The greatest potential for the most explosive personal growth is found only in the curve. Prepare to lean into it. Just for a little while.

9. Are you protecting what empowers you? As you tackle the curve, the leadership process will drain you quickly if you don’t protect what energizes you. It might be family time, physical exercise, spiritual growth — whatever it is for you, fiercely defend it or you’ll burn out before your team is done with the donuts you bought them.

10. Are you leaving a margin for what you don’t know? As Catalyst CEO Brad Lomenick put it in his recent post Make Time for Margins, “Margin in our lives overall creates options. Options to pursue dreams, think, pray, relax, meditate, process, grow and ultimately live life more fully.” Expect the unexpected. Plan for it. And be happier because of it.

11. Where are you going? Simple question — or at least we’d like to think it should be. But do you know your mission and can you share it easily? Is it simple enough for your team to spread and repeat it. As Andy Stanley asked at Catalyst Atlanta last fall, does everyone on your team know what a win is?

12. How will my team know that I care? The tried adage is also true — people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Be intentional about showing them your heart. It’s especially easy for new leaders to focus instead on efficiency as a measure of success. Better to take a page from the order of Disney’s guest service priorities: safety, courtesy, show, and then efficiency. Let people be your bottom line.

What questions would you suggest new leaders ask when starting a new position?

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Bill Blankschaen

Bill Blankschaen

Bill Blankschaen is a proven non-profit leader, writer, speaker, and ministry consultant who equips Christians to think, live, and lead with abundant faith. He blogs at FaithWalkers at Patheos.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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