There are two words that have been the most common path to mediocrity. I’ll get to those two words in a moment. In reality, I doubt if any of us want to be mediocre. I always want to be above average. After all, being undistinguished, unexceptional, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster and barely adequate is not at the top of my “To Do” or “To Be” list.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. The two most common words that lead to mediocrity — “Be realistic.” I’ve heard those words on the tip of the tongue of many parents, teachers, pastors, politicians and business owners. Be realistic. In other words, look at your circumstances. Remember your past failures. Think about what you don’t have. Stare at the obstacles. Make sure you focus on all the things that could go wrong. Those are the stepping stones to mediocre living.

[Tweet “”The two most common words that lead to mediocrity — ‘Be realistic’.” @DennisGingerich”]

I well-remember times when those two words, “be realistic,” were spoken to me. The most memorable time was about 1989. I had launched Cape Christian two years before. We had been looking all over the city of Cape Coral to find a parcel of land for building a future church campus. Too expensive, poor location, not large enough, and additional reasons squelched our enthusiasm for most of the sites we examined. But then there was this very crazy idea. An audacious option. Some said it was impossible. Others reminded me it had never been done before. Most politely said, “be realistic.”

Our leadership team bought into the idea of assembling 48 individually owned properties, three city blocks of vacant properties on a major thoroughfare near a planned yet-to-be-built cross-town limited-access expressway that would connect our entire region. An amazing opportunity! A top-tier property!

But the challenge was immense. These 48 owners lived in Germany, three Canadian provinces and twenty some states. One of the four-dozen landowners was preparing to build a house on his vacant lot. Contact with other owners included responses like, “I will never sell to a church—over my dead body.” “No way. Ever. I’ll build a fence around my land and throw my beer cans on the church property.” While the city officials said they would vacate the streets and right-a-ways in between the blocks and give us that land if we owned all of the properties on each side of the street the entire length of the block, they reminded us to “be realistic.”

Other pastors in town questioned why we would attempt something so difficult. They told me about larger parcels in obscure places for a great price that were owned by motivated sellers. Some made snide comments about the fact that we were trying to buy 14 acres when the minimum the city required was three acres and the average was five. After all, we should be realistic. The attendance at that time was approaching 100. Half the churches in America are less than 75 in worship attendance. 90% are under 350. Why isn’t one block of four to five acres enough? Surely, two city blocks or 9 acres should be plenty? Really, three blocks, a total of 14 acres? Why not be realistic?

And then, we were purchasing the properties, one by one, piece by piece. But what we thought might take four to five years, was now seven years, eight years. What if some one demands an exorbitant price for a necessary piece? Someone in the middle might hold out and not sell to the church. The streets couldn’t be vacated.  The plan will be ruined.

Well, there is not space here. But there are really 48 God stories that could be told. Amazing stories of turn-around, mind and heart transformation. Resistant land-owners dying and their families imploring us to buy their land. Water-front properties donated to the church that were used as trades. It took from 1989 to 1999 to get the 48th piece. But it became such a God-inspired unrealistic journey that we were frequently in jaw-dropping awe along the way.

Here’s the truth. “Be realistic” isn’t God’s language. That’s self-talk. That’s the talk of family, friends and strangers. Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27).

And now the decades have brought Cape Christian to an incredible ministry to thousands of families in Cape Coral. Twenty-five hundred people attend multiple worship services each week. Five of the fourteen acres is comprised of Tony & Ada’s Café and Fellowship Park with its fun-filled playgrounds, a splash pad, basketball courts, pavilions, a play field and more for thousands of families of the community to enjoy every day of the year. Our campus is a community hub of daily life-giving ministry for youth, grieving children, addicted adults, preschool children and much more. When I walk across the campus and see what God is doing, I cringe to think what today would be like if I would have followed those often-repeated words, “be realistic.”


QUESTION: Name a time when you refused to listen to the words, “be realistic.” Or, share a time you did listen to those words and you now regret it.  I’d love to hear your brief story below in the comment section.




I’ve been working my way through the Top Ten. This is the last on the list. But certainly not the least on the list. Ever since I funneled four decades of leadership lessons into a 90-minute teaching session for a group of young millennial worship interns last summer, I’ve been unpacking each of them individually in a series of blog posts. While my top-ten learnings were listed in no particular order of priority, “Leaders Must Keep Their Priorities in Order” is incredibly important in the life of a leader that expects to leave a powerful legacy.

Our Family (missing one daughter in-love) on the 30th Anniversary of Cape Christian’s Beginning (April 2017)

My leadership experience has primarily been in a church environment. Launching and growing a small group into a church and then into a large thriving vibrant church has been a mostly wonderful journey. And, by the very nature and calling of the assignment of a pastor, I’ve been tasked with bringing dozens, and then hundreds and now, even thousands along with me on the journey of loving God and loving people. There are many demands. Many needs. Many who want my time and attention. There is always more people to see, more to be done than there are hours in a day.

But I’ve learned something about the need for one priority above all the other priorities. My ministry won’t matter without my family. My ministry won’t matter without my physical, emotional and spiritual health. Some things are more important than other things. Some things are priceless. I can start and grow the largest church in our city and be totally empty and devastated if my marriage is destroyed or my kids and grandkids are far away from God. My ministry won’t matter if my 42 years of marriage unravels into a mess. My ministry won’t matter if my kids don’t respect me or my grandkids don’t want to spend time with me. My ministry won’t matter at all if I’m emotionally burned out and have no motivation to get out of bed.

I’ve not experienced the above. I’m so very grateful. But in the last seven months, I’ve been in the hospital three times. A total of 13 days. Only one of the three was a scheduled surgery and hospital stay. Now, the good news is, I think everything has been fixed, cut out or checked out. But on those two emergency visits, important meetings on my calendar didn’t matter. My “To Do” list was useless. My goals and deadlines were insufficient. Nothing else mattered beyond getting well again. Some things are more important than other things. We tend to forget that when the pressures of our careers and leadership roles drive us to imbalanced over-loaded schedules.

I remind every younger leader of the priority of setting personal boundaries and keeping their lives in proper perspective and balance. You will never regret having your family and your own health at the top of your priority list. But you will have loads of regret if any of those slip away from you and slide to the bottom.

Some of the best mental health advice I received as a young leader was from another young leader back in 1986. Rick Warren said this to a group of us young pastors—divert daily, withdraw weekly and abandon annually. Having a finish line to cross to cross each day, a consistent day off each week and some time off the grid each year has helped me stay emotionally healthy.

And finally, I’ve guarded my family time and personal time as if it was my life, because it is. Putting my family events, a date with my wife, prayer, reading, exercise, and my hobby of photography on my calendar is a key. I can simply tell a person looking for a potential appointment, “I have another event at that time.” It also keeps my administrative assistant from overcrowding my personal calendar. Most of all, seeing those self-care appointments on my calendar are a frequent visual reminder—some things are more important than other things.


QUESTION: How do you stay healthy and well balanced in your life? I’d love to learn from you. Share your tips in the comment section below.




Ray Kroc quipped, “I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.” Kroc was a struggling milkshake mixer salesman who sold eight machines to brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald, for their store in San Bernardino, CA. In 1955, Ray Kroc offered his services to the McDonald brothers, convinced that their small local restaurant chain, had the potential to explode across the nation. As often said, “the rest is history.” The golden arches are now one of the most recognized brands in America and the largest fast-food company in the world.

[Tweet ““I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.” ~Ray Kroc”]

Our culture is infatuated with “flash in the pan” success. Inventors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, church planters and more, all dream of being the exception. The lucky one. The overnight sensation. It was Ray Kroc who also said, “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.” And if you know the backstory, it was a very tough road and a huge challenge to even get the McDonald brothers to cooperate with Kroc’s plan to replicate and franchise their restaurant. The brothers resisted at nearly every suggestion he made. Frustrated, Kroc finally bought out the McDonalds in 1961 and gave them some royalty rights. Persistent perseverance was required.

Great long-term results nearly always come out of perseverance. Overnight success usually happens through years of persistence by someone. It looks easy after it’s been done. And normally, there was nothing easy about it. As an entrepreneur in the church-launching world, I can tell you that the last three decades of starting and building Cape Christian, required incredible persistence and perseverance. There were many obstacles. Mountains. Valleys. Roadblocks. Challenges. Setbacks. Victories. Defeats. But most walk onto our campus and see only the success of a church that started in a hard-to-find elementary school with three couples and has grown to thousands each week on a 14 acre property situated on a major thoroughfare.

[Tweet “Great leaders live their vision with stick-to-it-ness.”]

I’m a huge fan of business analyst and author Jim Collins. In his signature book, “Good to Great,” Collins writes about the “flywheel effect” that happens in successful organizations. Relentless intentionality on a clearly articulated focused vision (Collins calls it the Hedgehog Concept), begins to attract believers, builds strength, demonstrates results and builds the brand.

Great leaders live their vision with stick-to-it-ness. This is one of the top ten things I’ve learned in nearly forty years of leadership. The application is across the board. Losing weight. Getting in shape. Starting a project. Launching a business. Growing in my relationship with God. Successful persons are persistent and they persevere. It’s mandatory.  Steve Keating said it well, “Two things seem certain when it comes to your success: only you can make the decision to quit and only you can make the decision not to.”


QUESTION: What helps you persist and persevere? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.




Thirty years ago, (April 19, 1987 on Easter Sunday) I had the privilege of being a spiritual mid-wife. I helped God birth one of His churches, Cape Christian. My wife Linda and two other couples, locked our arms in a common vision to reach young unchurched families.  Starting the first church in Cape Coral, Florida that was entirely focused on using contemporary worship music, down-to-earth messages and relevant ministry to inspire and transform families, we have been Loving God and Loving People for a full three decades now. This past weekend, over 6,500 people gathered on our campus to worship the Resurrected Christ!  I’m never surprised, but always in awe. God is good, so good!

Many have asked, what is the secret? Are there one or two keys to the success of Cape Christian?  I’ve written about a lot of them in this blog over the last few years. But on this 30th anniversary, here are 30 simple things I’ve learned over the last 30 years:


  1. Enjoy the journey. Live with a sense of awe and gratitude each day of the journey.


  1. God is always up to something new so embrace it instead of resisting it.


  1. “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” ~John Maxwell


  1. “The most powerful tool a leader has is personal example.” ~John Wooden


  1. “Humility is the first chapter in the book of success.” ~Mark Batterson


  1. Little things matter.


  1. Every stage of an organization’s growth is unique and every stage is important.


  1. Organizations never grow in a straight line. There are many peaks and valleys, zigs and zags.


  1. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period and underestimate what we can accomplish over a long period of time.


10. Everything we do takes more time than we expect.


  1. Commit for the long haul. “Overnight successes,” usually happen through years of persistence by someone.


  1. Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint.


  1. Work hard. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~Thomas Edison


  1. Become a lifelong learner. My capacity to lead is determined by my capacity to grow.


  1. Explain the why, not just the what, when and how. People lose their way when they lose their why.


  1. Make the hard decisions when necessary. “Leadership is an extreme sport…requiring both courage and humility.” ~Cheryl Bachelder


  1. The higher you go in leadership, the higher your self-awareness needs to be and the fewer options you have.


  1. Great leaders take adequate time for reflection.


  1. Blessing follows obedience and risk.


  1. Leadership is more about relationships than it is about results. In the long run, results are in proportion to the quality of your relationships.


  1. Giving leadership away is ultimately better than keeping it for yourself.


  1. The best leaders are servants. They help others succeed.


  1. Leaders determine their brand. You will be known for something. Choose wisely.


  1. Great leaders build teams that build great organizations. Great leaders grow leaders.


  1. Great leaders realize they stand on the shoulders of others who’ve gone before them.


  1. The best leaders have more questions than they have answers.


  1. If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. Keep the main thing the main thing.


  1. “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.” ~Ravi Zacharias


  1. Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn in the right direction.


  1. My marriage and my family are my most important calling and my ultimate measure of success.


QUESTION:  Which would be your top three axioms out of these thirty?  I’m sure I’ve missed many, what you add?  Share it in the comment section below. Thanks!




“Top leaders see what others don’t see. They paint a picture that allows team members and followers to see the why behind the what. Great leaders learn to fly above the immediate hill or valley and get a bird’s eye view of what is best for the organization over the long term.”

Those are words I spoke in a “Top Ten for Young Leaders” talk to a group of millennials in a summer internship. In nearly four decades of leadership, I’ve learned that “Painting a Picture of the Future” is of utmost importance. Leaders look beyond the immediate and they portray it in vivid word pictures so team members are inspired to follow the vision.

For whatever reason, big picture thinking isn’t too hard for me. It comes rather natural. Maybe it’s genetics. Maybe it’s environment. Maybe it’s training and discipline. Probably—all of the above.

Something as simple as parking a car has a big picture side of it to me. I don’t park on the street across from someone’s driveway because someone may back into the side of my car. I don’t park at the bottom of a sloped retail store parking lot because an unattended shopping cart may roll into the side of my car. I don’t park in an exceptionally narrow parking space because someone else may open their door and dent my door. I generally park way out at the far edges and walk further than most everyone else. What’s the upside? I get more exercise. And I have a car that is over five years old with nearly 100,000 miles on it but it still looks brand new because it is virtually absent of dings and dents.

For certain, visionary leadership in a business or a non-profit is of much more importance than a ding-free car. But paying attention to the little things while keeping on eye on the big picture is critical to a healthy organization. Leaders must look beyond the immediate day-to-day grind to see how decisions today will influence outcomes tomorrow. It is also true personally. Social media rants when hurt or angry today will be a big problem six months from now when a potential employer or client sees how you handle stress or conflict. Level five leaders care about the legacy of the organization so they develop succession plans.  Great leaders think about every immediate decision in terms of the potential impact to the future of their career or the organization they lead.

My friend Matt Keller gave some of the best advice I’ve ever received in a talk he gave at Next Level church about five years ago. He gave this pivotal question that must be asked with every decision, both personal and in business leadership. “In light of my past experiences, my present circumstances and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?” That question has consistently helped me make great leadership decisions. That question has been my filter for what I say and don’t say publically as a community leader. That question has kept betrayed spouses from burning all their bridges in a sizzling tirade on social media. That question has helped me hire and fire staff. Seriously, that question, when asked consistently and honestly, leads to big picture thinking.

Much more could be said about developing and strengthening your big picture thinking. Fast Company has a quick read called “5 Strategies for Big-Picture Thinking” that could be a helpful start. Bottom line. Be intentional about developing this skill set. Learn from big-picture thinkers. Read their books and blogs. Listen to their podcasts. Spend less time with those who habitually choose the myopic view. Study the advice of experts such as this short read in Guild. Stretching yourself to become a better big-picture thinker will be well worth your investment—because the best leaders learn to do it well.


QUESTION: What has helped you the most to become a better big-picture thinker? I’d love to hear your comments!



I’ve been asked, “What’s the most important thing to consider when you hire someone?” There are many lists of criteria I could use. Fifteen plus years ago I started using the three “C’s” that I heard Bill Hybels give: Character, Competence and Chemistry. Over the years, I’ve added a few C’s, especially for those who will be top leadership team members. Now I have six of them I use as filters in the interview process. Calling. Character. Competence. Commitment. Conflict Resolutions Skills. And Chemistry.

But here’s the top of the top. This is the one I shared with ten young interns in a talk about the top ten things I’ve learned about church leadership over nearly four decades – “Leaders Know Character is Critical.”  So of the top things I look for in a leader? Character. Character is the most important of all. It will take you higher than you imagined. Lack of it will take you lower than you ever wanted to go. Excellent character is indispensible for outstanding leaders.

Character is top of the top because, even a little shortage, will leave a huge gap in that leader’s long-term ability to lead people. People will be patient with leaders that are growing in competence, leaders that are a bit quirky or a tad unskilled in resolving conflict. If a leader has a character issue, trust is broken. When trust goes down the tubes, everything else heads in the same direction.

The truth is, character matters. Not just in my realm of major leadership experience: a church. It matters everywhere, all the time. I’ve observed the crash of marriages due to character issues. I’ve seen businesses flounder and fail because leaders didn’t have character. I’ve watched a non-profit organization go through great challenges because a leader lacked integrity. I’ve definitely seen the pain caused by church leaders who had cracks in their character.

We can look at our nation’s recent history and see a major financial crisis in 2008-2009 because boldness or instant gratification triumphed over temperance. But even more, people knew bad risks were being taken but did not have the courage or confidence to speak up. People without integrity sold mortgages to those who could not pay them. They then bundled these mortgages into securities that were fraudulent and sold to others. People with large egos, lacking in humility, oblivious to the harm they may have been doing to others, became very rich at the expense of millions who were victims of the financial crisis and subsequent recession. Yet to this day, these same people seem unable or unwilling to accept any degree of responsibility and to recognize that the main problem was, essentially, a character issue.

The top of the top. It’s character. A collectively written article in the Ivey Business Journal said it superbly under a heading, Why Character Really Matters: When it comes to leadership, competencies determine what a person can do. Commitment determines what they want to do, and character determines what they will do.”

We must remember this. Character is not something that you have or don’t have. All of us have character. Character is not a light switch that can be turned on and off. But every situation presents a different experience and opportunity to learn and deepen character.  Michael Hyatt says character is shaped by three forces (see previous blog). How is your character being shaped? What will you do this week to grow your character?


QUESTION: Are there any additional insights you have learned about character? I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.



9 Months, 3 days ago, I published this blog post in honor of my father in-love, Fred Augsburger. THIS MORNING – January 30, 2017 @ 2:15AM, he heard the words, “Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant, Enter Into Your Eternal Reward.” WELCOME HOME!  

*A Celebration of Life for Fred Augsburger will be held February 11, 2017 @Berlin Mennonite Church, 4718 US Route 62 Berlin, Ohio 44610. Visitation: 2-4 PM  Celebration of Life: 4PM


95 years ago today. April 27, 1921. A ten-pound baby boy was delivered by Doc Toot in the bedroom of a rural Elida, Ohio farm house. Clarence and Stella Augsburger were the proud parents of their first born of five sons and one daughter. Over the years, while planting, cultivating and harvesting tomatoes and melons on the small family farm, God was nudging Fred to a distinctive kind of sowing and reaping.

Youngstown Memories 024

Fred Augsburger in his 30’s

After a five-year apprenticeship helping start a church in rural Wisconsin, Fred and his wife Carolyn and young family of two daughters, were invited to Youngstown, Ohio to start a church in 1952. A Caucasian farm boy answered the call. A predominately African-American inner city community was the field.

Seeds of love, compassion, acceptance and authenticity were freely planted. Acts of kindness, servant-hood, mercy, justice and respect were consistently cultivated. Everything was drenched with the living water of the Holy Spirit. And a church was planted. A harvest of fruit was evident. People of all skin tones worshipped God together. First a church on the south-side, and then a second church 15 years later on the northeast side of Youngstown. Thirty years of faithful and fruitful ministry.

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Children’s Bible Club in 1957

During and for an additional 15 years beyond planting two churches in Youngstown, were hundreds of fruitful ministry opportunities as the Fred Augsburger family of five children and parents travelled, sang and preached their way across the landscape of North American churches. Stories of transformation, healing and restoration abound. Several interim pastorates from Ohio to Oregon. (A book with their life story has been written). Sowing and reaping. Faithful and fruitful.

A God-loving, Christ-following, Spirit-empowered faithful leader. Married to an equally called, passionate and gifted wife. Together, they created five children who all married and birthed 13 grandchildren who now have added 10 great-grandchildren. At all levels of the legacy, there are younger generations living out a similar call that has been shaped by their father, grandfather and great grandfather. They have been faithful and fruitful.

Youngstown Edit 009

My wife Linda on the far right.

Fred’s legacy has been lived out in many powerful ways through this family. They are as varied as the uniqueness of each child, in-law, grandchild and great grandchild. But one I know most intimately. I married his third daughter, Linda, nearly 42 years ago. Together we have spent 37 years in ministry. The last 30 of those ministry years, planting a church in Cape Coral, FL. Our passion for loving God and loving people has been shaped by our father and father in-love. We have been faithful and fruitful.

And our three children have also been molded by their grandfather. One of our sons recently wrote: After just passing two years of sobriety this month, I was praying for Grandpa and reflecting on the wonderful man he is and the wonderful family I have been blessed to be a part of…and then it hit me…grandpa asked me one time if I was ever going to be a pastor. He said he had a dream where I was walking in his footsteps, I believe he said literally walking in his giant shoes, trying to fit into them. Although I am not going to be a pastor, I realized that I am finally walking in his shoes. At the time, the shoes were too giant and too big for me to fit into. But, through the grace of God, I feel the shoes fit now. I am not perfect. I still am trying to “wear them in” and they are becoming more comfortable as I wear them. And I just wanted to thank you grandpa for being a man of God and passing that down through the generations. Thank you for the shoes grandpa, they fit!


Five Children Celebrating Fred’s 95th Birthday

Even at age 95, having just moved last week into the nursing home section of the retirement community he has resided in the past eight years, he is still laboring in the fields where God has placed him. He regularly prays for, encourages and inspires his peers. He sows seed. Cultivates and waters spiritual soil. And he still has the joy of a fruitful harvest.

If God gives me another three decades of life and health, I want to still be living and leaving such a legacy like my father in-love. Happy 95th Birthday Fred Augsburger!

QUESTION: What are you doing now to leave a legacy like my father in-love Fred Augsburger? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.




The most influential leaders inspire us without even being aware of it. They lead by example. Instead of using their position and power for personal perks and privileges, they find a way to bless others. This axiom made it to my “top ten” list awhile back as I reflected on nearly forty years of leadership in preparation for speaking to some young aspiring leaders.

Bighorn Sheep above Summit Lake on Mount Evans, Colorado. For more of Dennis’ photography, see

We’ve all seen leaders who’ve become mesmerized by their own success. They worked hard. They served others. They were rewarded. They climbed each step to the top of the mountain. They believed all their admirers. They were offered perks and privileges. And then. They demanded those advantages and opportunities. They expected respect, honor and special treatment. Some followers begin to lose respect. Even become resentful. Others, draft as close to the leader as possible so they too can enjoy the rewards.

One of my favorite leadership books of the last fifteen years is Good to Great, authored by leadership expert, Jim Collins. Jim writes how Boards of Directors typically believe that transforming a company from good to great requires an extreme personality, an egocentric chief to lead the corporate charge. But that’s not the case. A necessary ingredient for taking a company to greatness is having a “Level 5” leader, an executive in whom extreme personal humility blends paradoxically with intense professional will.

Level 5 leaders aren’t afraid to pick up trash in the parking lot as they walk toward their office. And if others see them, they feel inspired to join them in making the grounds cleaner. These extraordinary leaders don’t use their power primarily to get perks and privileges. They use their influence to bless others and gain maximum impact.

In contrast, the leader who is enamored with their own success, becomes the subject of a story in Jim Collins sequel, How the Mighty Fall. Collin’s research revealed five commonalities of those companies which have journeyed from good to great and back to mediocre. The first stage in the movement toward decline is: Hubris Born of Success. Arrogant neglect. Nothing more to learn. Entitlement. “What” replaces “why.” Neglect of the original “flywheel.” These are the markers which Collins and his research team discovered among companies on a downward slope.

“Derailed” by Dr. Tim Irwin echoes the findings of Jim Collins. Irwin writes of derailment as a process with predictable progressions (stages). Stage 1 is a Failure of Self-/Other Awareness. Stage 2 is Hubris: Pride before the Fall. Again, extreme arrogance—the leader’s belief that he or she is the epicenter of an organization’s success.

Bottom line. Legacy-leaving leaders leverage their influence for good. They spend their leadership capital for the good of those who helped make them a success. They use their influence for the good of the organization or for their team, rather than for their personal gain. They recognize blessing, grace or at least luck in their success. They remember they still need to put their pants on each day, one leg at a time.


QUESTION: What have I missed? Have you seen examples of both kinds of leaders? What would you add? I’d love to hear it. Thanks!



In almost four decades of leadership, I’ve made more than my share of errors. The error I’ve regretted the least is this one—Effective leaders give others the benefit of the doubt. This was one of my top ten leadership learnings I shared with young Arise worship interns several months ago.

“Captivating Cross” – Captured by Dennis Gingerich, Available at


I’m grateful that I had mentors in my life who gave me the benefit of the doubt. The best leaders gather all the facts before drawing conclusions. They postpone reaction and help team members learn from their blunders. Effective leaders extend patience and grace. They are slow to make a judgment about another’s motives. They choose to take others at their word and allow them to prove their authenticity and follow-through. Great leaders are known for looking for the best in another person or in a situation.

One of my strengths is discernment. Yet, people have proved my first impressions to be wrong. When I refused to act (or react) on my initial assessment of a situation or circumstance, I’ve watched immaturity and inexperience turn into exceptional leadership over the long haul.

Allow me to share four reasons why I believe effective leaders must try hard to give people the benefit of the doubt:

  1. I have a tendency to overestimate internal vs. external factors. – When someone makes a mistake or does something that disappoints us, I have a tendency to believe this is caused by their individual personality, and not their situation. We must learn to ask ourselves these types of questions: If I were in this person’s shoes, with their knowledge and experiences, would I act any different? What environmental factors may have influenced this person’s actions, which I may not be aware of? Our own self-awareness and other-awareness can help improve our ability to understand why people act the way they do. We may need to learn their story.
  1. My beliefs about people can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. – The results we get in life are often connected to our beliefs and expectations. When we expect a certain behavior or attitude from another person, we often experience that reality—both positive and negative. Giving the benefit of the doubt is an effective way to reverse self=perpetuating cycles of cynicism.
  1. It teaches me how to forgive myself for my own mistakes. – Making it a habit to give others the benefit of the doubt allows me to give me the benefit of the doubt.
  1. God asks me to give to others what He has given me. – We have these instructions in the Bible: “Don’t get bitter or angry or use harsh words that hurt each other. Don’t yell at one another or curse or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ” (Ephesians 4:31-32). The “normal” behavior all around me, (especially on social media) is filled with all of the “do nots” above—bitterness, anger, harsh words, rudeness, etc. It’s never been more evident than in the recent presidential election. However, I serve a God of the second chance. I want to be like Him.

Today, what will you do with those whom you have some doubts about? Whether a new employee, a client, a friend of your daughters, or a new President of the United States—will you give the benefit of the doubt? It just could be the best error you ever make.


QUESTION: What’s the natural go-to tendency for you? Judgment or benefit of the doubt? Any insight you care to share with other readers on why that is your propensity?



Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of funneling nearly four decades of leadership experience into 90 minutes. I shared ten things I’ve learned about leadership with ten millenials. They were Arise Worship Interns from across the world. I summarized them in a blog: Top Ten for Young Leaders. Then the requests started rolling in to unpack these top ten. So, here’s the fourth principle from the series: Leaders Cultivate a Servant Heart.

Foot WashingThe best leaders are servants. They know that the way up is down. Great leadership is the opposite of what you tend to think. Leadership is not about position, power, prestige and supremacy. It’s all about servanthood. The way to the top is from the bottom in God’s upside-down economy. Instead of taking, we give. Instead of self-indulgence, we self-sacrifice. Instead of going to the front of the line, we go to the back. It’s the opposite of what our culture screams.

Connected most closely to servanthood, is humility. A servant leader has a heart of humility. They have the right attitude and are accessible and approachable. Popeye’s CEO, Cheryl Bachelder had a guest on her blog, Joshua Becker. Becker wrote: “Humility is the act of being modest, reverential, even politely submissive. It is the opposite of aggression, arrogance, pride, and vanity. And on the surface, it appears to empty its holder of all power. But on the contrary, it grants enormous power to its owner. Humility offers its owner complete freedom from the desire to impress, be right, or get ahead. Frustrations and losses have less impact on a humble ego and a humble person confidently receives opportunity to grow, improve, and reject society‘s labels. A humble life results in contentment, patience, forgiveness, and compassion.” Love it. These are the characteristics of great leaders. The way up is down. Learn from the greatest leader of all times: John 13:1-16 and Philippians 2:5-11.

cowI recently heard Rick Warren tell a story about Dan Cathy. Dan is President and CEO of the restaurant chain that his father, Truett Cathy, founded. Dan was in southern California checking on some new Chick-fil-A restaurants their company was building near Saddleback Church, where Rick is the founding pastor. These two stopped at a construction site of a new Chick-fil-A.

Here’s how Rick tells the story. “We were looking at the building. While we were there we were hungry so we went next door to, I think it was a Taco Bell. It was some other fast food in competition with Chick-fil-A. We’d been out, our hands were all sweaty and dirty and we went in the restroom and washed our hands. Then I watched Dan take out extra sheets…This is the CEO of a chain of restaurants. I watched him pull them out and I watched him hand clean the sinks of the Taco Bell bathroom we were just in. I looked at him and said, thank you for doing that Dan. He said, “Rick we teach our staff to always leave any place they are better than it was when they found it, whether it’s our place or not.” I thought nobody in that Taco Bell and nobody at Taco Bell Corporate will know that the CEO of their competition just cleaned their bathroom… for free.”

Wow! The heart of a servant. The greatest leaders model going down on their way up. The finest leaders resist an entitlement mentality. They help others become successful. They serve others. Even the competition. Even when no one is looking. And if any one does notice, they say, “My pleasure.”

P.S. For previous blog posts on the topic of servant leadership, click here.

QUESTION: What is one thing you can do this week to better demonstrate servant leadership in your setting? I’d love to know if you are willing to share it in the comment section below. Thanks

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