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Being a TEAM Leader

Written by Chuck Olson

MARCH 2010 – Those were the words that kept falling out of my mouth as we walked the debris-strewn streets of the Lower Ninth Ward several months after hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast and found its way into the national archives as the largest natural disaster in U.S. history.

We were one of several teams that our church sent (and continues to send) to come alongside our new friends at New Life Church in New Orleans to help rebuild the homes of several of its members. While I have many enduring memories of that trip, many of them captured in a photo collage that hangs in my office, perhaps the most memorable came in an unanticipated manner.

On our second day of construction, I found myself assembling Home Depot kitchen cabinets on the cold, concrete floor of one of the homes that had been rampaged by the recalcitrant flood waters that breached the levees. A short while into the project, I was introduced to the family who were living in a FEMA trailer while their home was being rehabilitated. A few minutes later, a member of the family, 10-year-old Andre, was watching every move I was making, fascinated by the squeal of my 18-volt cordless Makita power drill.

Wired like any other 10 year old, Andre wanted in! The moment I asked him if he would like to help me, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. For the next few hours, Andre and I together assembled the cabinets that would soon hang in his remodeled kitchen.

As I think back on that day, I realize that I could have been content to have worked on those kitchen cabinets by myself (and maybe would have gotten the job done quicker); but I would have missed the chance to have a small part in seeing this young boy grow in his confidence of what HE could do with a power drill, and more importantly, for his family.

Through the years, I have been blessed to have people in my life who have handed me the “power drill”, so to speak, and invited me to stretch and to grow – to become something more.

These mentors, these leaders, were TEAM leaders – leaders who got just as much satisfaction out of seeing the success of someone else as their own.

I aspire to be that kind of a leader, don’t you? That aspiration has caused me to think a lot about the heart of a team leader and the activity that flows from it. Here are a few learnings that I have gathered along the way:

Team leaders believe in you – and they often do so before you believe in yourself. There is nothing quite as powerful as knowing that someone you respect believes in who you are and what you can accomplish.

Team leaders are head-over-heels about the team. It simply is how they approach life. Management icon, Peter Drucker, put it this way: The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I”. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I”. They don’t think “I”. They think “we”, they think “team”.

Team leaders create space for members of the team to shape, to advise, to challenge, to innovate, to redirect, as well as to fail. They go out of their way to solicit the fullest participation of those on the team.

Team leaders are obsessed with dishing out the credit for a job well done. They constantly and enthusiastically affirm the contributions of those with whom they partner. In the end, they make you feel like owners, not hired hands.

Team leaders care about the members of the team. They engage with the team not as producers, but as people. They realize that strong relationships are fundamentally important to mission accomplishment.

And finally, team leaders invest in you. USC President, Steven Sample, says it short and sweet: Work for those who work for you! You invest through coaching. You invest through encouraging. You invest through modeling. And you invest by praying with and for the needs of your team members.

When you boil it all down, life and leadership is a journey – a journey full of “next steps”.

As a TEAM leader, what’s yours?

Lord, thank You for all the team leaders — mentors, teachers, and coaches — who have believed in me and have invested in me. And in my gratitude, open my eyes (and heart) to those to whom I can return the blessing.


Chuck Olson

As founder and president of Lead With Your Life, Dr. Chuck Olson is passionate about inspiring, resourcing and equipping Kingdom leaders to lead from the inside out.  To lead, not with the external shell of positions, achievements or titles, but from an internal commitment to a deep, abiding and transparent relationship with Jesus. Serving as a pastor and leadership coach for over forty years, Chuck has a track record of building these truths deep into the lives of both ministry and marketplace leaders.

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