Leadership - Blog

What an Effective Leader Knows

Eric Swanson

There is little doubt that the toughest job in Cru is being a missional team leader. Being an effective team leader is even a greater challenge. Effectiveness is seen in the health and growth of your own life as well as the health and growth of those in your ministry. Hard work and giftedness alone do not guarantee effectiveness in the job. So what does an effective leader know?


Effectiveness has to do with “getting the desired results.” It means that you are becoming what God wants you to be at this stage of your life and are seeing the results in your ministry that reflect what God wants to do. Effectiveness is the product of three things:

CHARACTER —who you are becoming on the inside. Your character forms the “root” of your ministry. “The root of the righteous yields fruit” (Proverbs 12:12). Your effectiveness is the fruit. Ministries can be “successful” for a season on energy and giftedness but a leader whose giftedness outweighs his character will eventually falter. Apart from character, ministry is merely religious activity. Character is the foundation for effective Christian leadership. Your effectiveness in ministry will be an overflow of who you are and who you are is the single most important aspect you of your ministry. Character is comprised of honesty- -conforming our words to what is true, integrity-- conforming our lives to our words--our “yes” is “yes,” consistency, loyalty, discipline, and allowing God to conform us to the image of Christ through His Spirit and Word--all developed over time. In most other professions character is optional. In ministry, it is indispensable.

SKILLS —the “how-tos” of your job. A leader can exhibit strong Christian character and not be effective because he hasn’t developed the skills required to do the job. Psalm 78:72 says that King David “shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart and guided them with a skillful hand.” Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work,
he will stand before kings...” Ministry skills, people skills, communication skills, administrative skills and leadership skills all need to be developed and honed. What things do you need to learn in order to reach your goals? Growth always involves learning new skills. Leading is learning. Work to become an expert at the job of being a team leader.

FAITH —believing and responding to God. A leader can be developing in his character and skills yet without faith he will not be effective. Psalm 78:9 says that “the men of Ephraim were equipped with bows yet turned back in the day of battle.” They had the skills--they were great shots but they did not have the faith to go forward in the day of battle. Faith is the indispensable ingredient to effectiveness.


THE IMPORTANT components of your job are the “right things” that must be done in order to be effective over the long-haul. Although they may not even be written in your job description, they are of utmost importance because they contribute to the accomplishment of your mission, your values, and ultimately define who you will become as a person and leader. Important things rarely scream for your attention or seem urgent. They are often difficult to measure and can be neglected for a time without any harm. However if these are neglected over a period of time you will not have the personal resources to lead your ministry. Practically speaking, the important aspects of your job have to do with development.

a) Developing, renewing, and restoring your relationship with God. This is your daily time meeting with God, in His Word and prayer. We cannot engage in spiritual warfare without sufficient spiritual resources. You need time to recharge your spiritual batteries--to refill the well from which you minister. If your responsibilities are greater than your resources, you will slowly burn out. Genuinely walking with the Lord is not merely important but it is essential to everything we are and do.

b) Developing your relationships with those who are most important to you--your wife, children, friends, team, and disciples. You cannot neglect those closest to you in your quest to reach the campus or world.

c) Developing your mind. Reading, studying, reflecting, thinking are important aspects of your job. When you stop learning, you stop growing. Remember, you are not developing your mind simply to grow personally but also to be a more effective resource and minister to others.

d) Developing your skills. It is never a waste of time for a woodcutter to sharpen his ax.

e) Developing your vision and plan. You cannot effectively lead without knowing from God where you should be going.

Isn’t it interesting that, under pressure, the first thing to go is our time with the Lord, then time with those who are most important to us? We need to learn to eliminate those things at the bottom of the list of important things rather than those things at the top.

THE NECESSARY . Whereas the important has to do with doing the “right things,” the necessary has to do with doing “things right.” The necessary things are the administrative /organizational side of your job and must be seen as part of your job. Although many necessary things can be delegated, they cannot be eliminated. When these are neglected they easily become urgent things. Examples of necessary aspects of your job are personal and campus administration and finances, correspondence and returning phone calls, meeting and message preparation.

Although these things may not come easily for many team leaders, you must be at a “functional level” in this area or they will hinder you in your effectiveness. However you should never substitute the necessary for the important. In other words, you could conceivably spend all your time on organization, bean counting and administration but these are not the key factors which contribute to being an effective team leader.

THE URGENT . The important had to do with doing “the right things.” The necessary had to do with doing “things right.” The urgent has to do with doing things “right now.” These are the fires that need to be put out--things which require our immediate attention--crisis, staff conflicts, emergencies, deadlines, etc. Urgent things are part and parcel of the job. They are “the tyranny of the urgency of the hour.” There is a difference between dealing with the urgent and being controlled by them. As one man wisely stated, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of those things which matter least. We react to the urgent but we need to consciously act to accomplish the important.


Gordon McDonald has identified five types of people that we meet with:

VIPs (Very Important People)--These people are important because they are your proven leadership- -the staff and student leaders of your movement. It’s very easy to neglect these people because they often seem to be self-motivated and self-sufficient. They are not the ones screaming for your attention. These people, however, are those that you should give yourself to. What you do with these people is what they will do with the people God gives them. The principle is this: Invest the maximum amount of time with those who are assuming the maximum responsibility for the future of the movement.

VTPs (Very Teachable People)--These are your progressing leaders--the next generation of leadership, the leaders of your movement in the coming years.

VNPs (Very Nice People). These are the people who are good people... nice people but are just not going anywhere. If we had unlimited time and energy we could meet with everybody, but we don’t. We have to make choices for the good of everyone involved in your movement.

VDPs (Very Draining People). These are the people who often are demanding of your time. Meeting with you, the team leader gives them a sense of importance. Their main tool for motivating you to give them your time is guilt. After spending one hour “counseling” with them, four hours of energy has been drained from your life. Learn to distinguish between the genuinely needy and the chronically needy. Howard Hendricks says, “Don’t meet with anyone who demotivates you.” Meet with anybody for one time but don’t make VDPs a part of your regular schedule.

VRPs (Very Resourceful People). These are people who minister to you--those who recharge your spiritual batteries, refill your spiritual reservoir. It may be a mentor, your pastor, another director, a past director or discipler, or maybe just a good friend. All of us need VRPs in our life. Take time to cultivate these special God-given relationships. If no one is available locally for you to talk with, pick up your cell phone.

As a leader you should probably spend 90% of your time with VIPs, VTPs, and VRPs. I’d also suggest that you make this same guideline for members of your team.


There are two predominant styles of leadership in the campus ministry today. The first concept is that of the team leader being the “high-scorer” on the team. He sees his role of team leader as the pace setter. He wants to lead by example. He gains his satisfaction by doing more evangelism, having more students in groups, and spending more hours on campus than anyone else on his team. He’s really more concerned with how he is doing rather than how his team is doing.

A second model for leadership is that of a player-coach. A player-coach is a player who coaches and a coach who plays. As a player he does what he can as a team member to score as many points as possible. As a coach he develops his players and organizes his team in such a way to have the maximum chance of winning. Good coaches develop the individual’s skills and competencies. They know that the teams with the best skills and comptencies usually win the most games. Football Coach A.A. Stagg said this, “No coach ever won a game based on what he knew, but on what his players knew and did.”

The amount of coaching in proportion to playing is determined by your natural leadership style, experience, years in ministry, size and maturity of your team and leadership, size of the movement, marital status, number and ages of children, expansion responsibilities, etc. The design of our job dictates that we can never be all-player or all-coach. My purpose remains constant but my leadership style (the method of leading) will evolve over the years.

For example, a first year team leader will most likely have to lead primarily as a player who does a little coaching. The team wants to see him in action. He won’t have the ethos to lead as a coach. However a director who has had ten years on the job can function more as a coach who plays. He doesn’t need to lead the team statistically in any category to be effective. The apostle Paul’s method as a leader changed though his purpose did not. The book of Acts is a chronicle of his days as a player. The pastoral epistles describe his ministry as a player-coach.


Hingepoints are those small things that we do on a consistent basis that lead to long-term effectiveness. Studies have shown that 80% of the desired results come from 20% of our activities. Hinge-points are high leverage activities which yield a great return for a small amount of time or effort invested. Here are some examples (Think through what good these might accomplish in your life and ministry):

  • Studying a different book of the Bible each month.
  • Weekly appointments with close friends
  • Running 1/2 hour per day.
  • Read one book month.
  • One day with the Lord each month.


Steven Covey has noted the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency deals in the arena of results. Effectiveness pertains to the arena of relationships. Our goal is to be effective with people and efficient in our tasks. Being effective with people takes time. When we try to be efficient with people, it usually backfires on us.


Often it is not having all the answers that is most important but knowing which questions lead to the right answers. Questions are the tools for analysis, diagnosis, and change. Effective leaders know the importance of questions. Here are some examples of good questions:

  • What is one thing you could do, in your personal life or ministry that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life or ministry?
  • What are the obstacles or roadblocks that we seem to consistently face that keep us from getting where we want to go?
  • What am I not doing that I should be doing in order to be more effective?
  • What can I do, that no one else can do, that will really make a material difference?
  • What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance of Cru?
  • What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?

Without the right questions we cannot discover the right answers.

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