The Leadership Element in Management

Young Leaders

Recently I was doing a Q & A session with a wonderful ministry in South Africa called Living Hope.

There were a number of great questions, but one in particular seemed to start a longer discussion. It had been awhile since I had heard this question, but it is a question that needs to be discussed again today.

The question was this:

“I am on the management team here with management responsibilities. I am not a leader nor do I want to be one, I love my work as a manager. So why should leadership development be important to me?”

There is a wealth of literature on the differences between management and leadership, so there is no need to go over the differences.  I do however think at times the differences have been over-stated.

Similarities & Differences

Here is a global view of what professionals think about the similarities and differences between Management and Leadership

Let’s Talk

Now just so you know, I am not a big fan of rules, polices, and procedures. I would much rather have people and teams have conversations. One of the problems with many organizations today is that it is easier to have a rule, policy or procedure than to have a conversation.

That being said, every organization needs some management structure. Every visionary leader must have a great manager-leader with them.

So I am not against managers at all, they are very much needed. But I think where the importance of leadership skills for a manager come in, is learning to have that conversation instead of just creating and implementing rules, policies and procedures.

Joined at the Hip

I would maintain that to be a great manager you must be a good leader. The two are uniquely linked. You need people to follow the organizational systems in place, and that requires leadership skills.

If a manger is really going to be effective with people, whom they work with every day, then they must be relationship-oriented more than results-oriented. Only when they work within relationships will they have tremendous influence and results.

A manger is just one form of leadership, just like a visionary leader.

So lead where you are with excellence!

Tom Atema is VP of Business Development at John C. Maxwell’s EQUIP organization
His passion is Biblical servant leadership development

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Your Life Is A Process

Leadership Process

I work in ministry and thought my life was set at an early age. This is until I realized something that changed my life. It changed my point-of-view about “certainty“, “destiny” and “journey.”

Looking back on my life, the word “process” was not even in my vocabulary. Of course, it certainly is now.

In fact, I believe that having a view of life that is built around process is vital if we are going to fulfill our purpose.

Being Intentional About Intentionality

Process has taught me to live my life more intentionally and openly. It has led to more success.  Once I understood the role that process plays, it gave me an eagle-eye perspective on my life. To have an eagle-eye perspective is to understand situations at a macro-level or from “10,000 feet up.”

Because we as humans have our own biases and preferences, we have a tendency to get stuck in a limited perspective of our lives and the world around us.

For example, we are taught to look outside of ourselves for answers as opposed to looking to God.

We become so disillusioned by the world pushing us into what the world thinks, that we very easily forget that we have access to an eagle-eye perspective of our lives through God.

Looking back as I look forward means to see that life is a journey, it is not an event.  It has been a process all along, I just never noticed it.

Life As a Process

When you view life as a process then one opportunity leads to the next opportunity. Life past, current, and future are all connected and our future is directly connected to what we are doing today.


I believe we get mentally confused when we mistake or place our life as an event. When this happens we often tend to view God as just part of our life, and He is not, He is our life, so our focus is not the future – but the focus is what I am doing for Christ today.

When I do my best every day, I then walk my life out in process and this gives today huge value for tomorrow. If I view today as an event, then who cares if I do my best or not, it is just today.

The process-view of life is a real life adventure, where the daily process of life guides my actions and the challenges I face do not become limitations but learning opportunities so that tomorrow can be better.

A New Rich Life

My life was not always this rich with meaning, with this level of depth and connection. Once upon a time I was insecure, viewing my life as an event, which meant failed dreams and continually feeling on the verge of “this is not working.” Before I discovered the power and value of life as a process, I was constantly searching to fill a never ending void through self help books, workshops, and spiritual teachings with limited and inconsistent success in order to build a “I will make this to work” and “in the end it will work out” attitude.

When I came to understand that life is a process not an event it lightened my load and it birthed a new way of living within me. It has been freeing.  Each step of the process is in alignment with a greater mission and the challenges become one more step to a better and healthier tomorrow.

I am ever so grateful for the opportunities to live each day, for grace that is infused with the process of life. When you understand process, it will lift you up to the platform that will carry you to say “I was born for this” and you will say it with true excitement, inspiration and joy!

Keep walking it out in process!

Tom Atema is VP of Business Development at John C. Maxwell’s EQUIP organization
His passion is Biblical servant leadership development
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Consulting | Book

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Realizing Talent: The Goldmine of Intelligence

The Power is in the People

Here is the BIG question: Why do we spend endless time, effort, and energy recruiting, training, coaching, mentoring, managing, and ultimately paying our employees and then refuse to use their advice?

A Case in Point

When Colin Powell first took over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, he inherited a structure called the Chairman’s Staff Group. It was composed of two and three-star Generals from the individual services, and essentially combined and filtered the advice and information that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs would receive.

On his first day on the job, Powell called the members of this “Staff Group” together and told them:

Here’s the drill. You’re out of a job.”

From then on, Powell communicated directly with the young officers assigned to him and sent a symbolic message to all the forces about the kind of open culture he wanted under his command.

Powell thrived on getting information from the soldiers at the front line. He purposely put himself in situations where the troops could not only access him but were able to speak with him frankly about what they were doing, the challenges they faced, and the ideas and insights they had for improvement.

Who Has the Answer?

So much of what we often see from leaders is 180 degrees opposite.

The inherent thinking seems to be that those in leadership roles should and have to make the decisions; therefore “the leadership has the answer.”

This is not true at all. In fact, I would say most of the people in top leadership roles are not there because they are the smartest. In a hierarchical structure, it is likely they just got to the organization before you or were next in line.

Leaders must understand they are not always nor should they be the smartest or sharpest knife in the organization, and that is OK. There is a gold mine of intelligence in the men and women in your organization. Ignoring it or not tapping into it is nothing short of neglect, or to be honest, abuse of power on your part as the leader.

If you hired people for their talent, knowledge, or skill, why let it go to waste? And why carry the entire burden yourself?

Strong teams are (almost always) those that do not revolve around just one person on the team, regardless of official “position.”

Just Ask!

Another key question to ask your people is this:

“If you were in my position, what would you do?”

Inside of your people there is a huge pool of intelligence just waiting to be tapped into, if you will just walk around and ask people. Once you open up the channels of communication and get people comfortable with sharing ideas, they will value and maybe even be inspired by the opportunity. It will build their morale and confidence.

And it will improve your organization and your skill as a leader!

So go ahead and ask yourself the BIG question and let that lead you to more open communication within your organization. You will access a goldmne of value!

How have you seen leaders seek out or rely on the talent and ideas of people within their organization or team? How have you witnessed leaders doing just the opposite — thinking it begins and ends with them? What are the implications of this important question for you, your team, and your organization?

Tom Atema is VP of Business Development at John C. Maxwell’s EQUIP organization
His passion is Biblical servant leadership development
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Consulting | Book

Edited by Mike Weppler

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Articles of Faith: The Number One Trait of a Leader Today!

This post is part of our Sunday Series titled “Articles of Faith.”
We investigate leadership lessons from the Bible.
See the whole series here. Published only on Sundays.

You and I, we live in disruptive times. But not unprecedented times!

For even back in Jeremiah’s day they asked the same questions as we do as leaders. What happens when everything you believe in and have worked for comes crashing down? What do you if you’re a leader in Haiti today? Everything from broken buildings, to bones, to… well, you name it, it’s broke. As you watch the news you can hear them almost say “What is next? What more can go we through?”

As leaders, here is then the big picture question that you and I have to answer everyday – What is next?

The older I get and the more people I coach, mentor, and lead, the more I realize that “what’s next” depends largely on my skill at hearing from God. This is the core question of every leader. For leadership is more about hearing from God than in our relying upon our position, education, or management best-practices.

Traits of a Leader: Which is #1?

Skill formation you might think is the number one trait of a leader. Many think this. And yes, it is vital for the leader to develop their skill base. It is how do we develop people, communicate, build teams and solve problems. They are all vital to a leader’s “success” (check out Psalms 78:70-72); however, building your skills is not number one trait of a leader.

Strategic formation, the “know-how” to be an effective planner, set priorities, cast vision and develop other leaders is another possible choice for number one. Maybe Jesus explains this best when Mark wrote, “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon his brother and Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” It is vital for the leader today to bring others along on the journey – but…! Yep, not number one either.

I believe the number one “skill” (if you can call it that) is the skill to be open to the voice of God. I think it is a lost skill for leaders today. In fact, the longer I lead and the longer I am on this leadership journey, the more convinced I am that the majority of my leadership is not driven by my character, skill, or my strategic formation. It has far more to do with my skill, my ability, and my willingness to be open to that still small voice of the Lord. This is the “soft, whispering murmur”  that is not small at all. On the contrary, it is exceedingly powerful! More powerful than the other skills I mentioned.


Check Your Gut

When that inner voice calls to you, it strikes you in an odd, yet familiar way. You know what I mean, you’ve felt it, that feeling you get from your gut that says “this is the way,” or “check this out,” or “stop and pray now,” or “go further here,” or “stop and listen to me.” I think it is a skill because we have to learn to stay open, learn the habit of willingness, and learn to have the constant ability to hear the voice of the Lord.

Today we tend to place too much time on developing our skills, developing a strong character, or developing our strategic plans. We should rather be listening to that gentle murmur for trusting guidance.

We must never lose the skill of listening to the voice of God. This skill develops over time and with much practice. You also know the times and the devastation that comes when we did not listen to the voice of God in our lives as leaders. For weeks, months, or maybe even years, and sometimes we never recover from the mess of the opportunities missed by not listening and acting on that still small voice of our Lord in us.

In today’s fast pace changing world, when everything is upside down, when nothing is normal and the world is searching for the new norm, the new reality is that we must as Christian leaders pay attention to the development of listening to God. It is the number one trait because we can be assured that we are on the right path and leading others down the correct path, too.

In order to keep my ability to hear that voice, and then to act on it, I must spend more time than ever with my heavenly Father. Time with Him in today’s world is not an option or a “I can skip today” – it is a must if we are going to survive as leaders.

So do not neglect the “mystical side” of leadership – it is the most important side for you and me as a Christian leader.

That, my friend, is the number one issue today. I’m thankful Jeremiah had it as his number one also!

What are you doing to stay tuned to that still small voice? How can you refine your skill at tuning in and paying attention? How do you know if it is God, or not? How are you fashioning your leadership with the number one trait of leadership in your daily walk? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Tom Atema is VP of Business Development at John C. Maxwell’s non-profit EQUIP organization.
He can be reached at

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Articles of Faith: Leaders Take Responsibility

File:Michelangelo Buonarroti 027.jpg

This post is part of our Sunday Series titled “Articles of Faith.”
We investigate leadership lessons from the Bible.
See the whole series here. Published only on Sundays.

Everyone is a leader…

No matter if you are a one day-old or 121-years young, you have influence over someone else. So everyone is in a leadership position of some kind. From leading yourself, or a family, or a single parent with children, or a CEO, or The President; everyone is a leader of someone. Therefore all of us have influence over ourselves and over someone else. And with that, we are responsible for that influence.

Jeremiah understood this. When God called him he responded with a “Yes!” Without question, Jeremiah the prophet had one of the toughest assignments to date. Not that much different than some of the assignments that you and I are facing today; calling people to change, to move people in a new direction. Jeremiah took responsibility. He was an authentic leader.

Old Fashioned People Mover

Leadership means to transport one or more from where they are to some other place. That other place can be good or bad in terms of the journey or in terms of the eventual outcome. We transport others by influencing someone to do something that has never been done before. And with doing this, there is always risk involved. Because leaders move people, the only way to positively move people is to connect with them. And this must be done on an individual and collective basis.

That connection is built on trust, trust is built on truth, and truth is built on taking responsibility.

I’m sure you have noticed that many leaders today never seemingly take responsibility. Look at Haiti’s post-earthquake conditions for one example of this. It seems like everyone is blaming someone else for the problems. True leaders do not blame or pass the buck. They take responsibility. You and I are responsible as leaders (and as people movers) to do what is right no matter what the polls say, nor what others think, and no matter how much money or personal gain we will lose or make.

When we accept responsibility it includes:

• Acknowledging that you are solely responsible for the choices in your life.
• Accepting that you are responsible for what you choose to feel or think.
• Accepting that you choose the direction for your life.
• Accepting that you cannot blame others for the choices you have made.
• Tearing down the mask of defense or rationale for why “others are responsible” for who you are, or what has happened to you, or what you are bound to become.

I could go on and on and on, but rather, simply look at the news and count how many issues our national government is dealing with because leaders have not and will not take responsibility for their actions. See how many times another person, institution, or previous administration is held up as the one to blame. Does this strike you as ‘leadership” when you hear and see this type of behavior? You can see it at all levels in the government, business, families, and individuals. No go back and study any historically significant leader and see if they took responsibility, or if they engaged in blamestorming.

Why do we personally, professionally, and as a society tolerate irresponsibility?

As my pastor reminded us “Irresponsibility is not neutral.”

Irresponsibility costs everyone something. Collectively, why don’t we often enough just stand up and be responsible and just do what is right based on our actions? Could it be that the world/people are not getting better at accepting responsibility because we have become accustomed to irresponsibility? I wonder what the world would like if leaders today would just take responsibility, be honest and tell the truth? I wonder what the world would be like if we had more Jeremiahs?

May be President Kennedy had it right when he said.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

In my book “Leadership in Blue Jeans,” I share with the reader very transparently a time in my life where I learned this lesson of taking responsibility as a leader no matter what the cost. It helped me to become a secure leader. I trust it will help many others who hear this.

This is why I shared this leadership lesson with you and also why I sat down to write the book. If an ordinary person like me in blue jeans can learn and apply lessons in life to become a better leader, so can you – it is our responsibility.

So what are you doing to step up and take responsibility as a leader? Are you doing this in all cases where you are the person in charge? Or do you make sure you spread the blame sometimes just to make your life “easier?” Also, do you step up and take responsibility for solutions even when you are not the person in positional authority? What lessons have you learned about leadership by taking the high road? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Tom Atema is VP of Business Development at John C. Maxwell’s non-profit EQUIP organization.
He can be reached at

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