#310 Serving leaders ask those who follow: “What should you stop doing?”

September 29, 2021

All leaders delegate tasks to others in their quest to accomplish the vision, adding items to their “to do” lists.  But serving leaders stop the delegation process long enough to ask a different question of their followers: “What should you stop doing?” They learn from Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Exodus 18:13-14, NIV, read 13-27, below, for a fuller context.) Jethro was kindly asking Moses to think about what he was doing that he needed to stop. Moses was doing a great thing; he was serving the nation! He was busy from “morning to evening” doing what he thought his job description called him to do. Everyone around looked at him with admiration and respect as a great leader. But Jethro steps forward and asks some hard questions that quickly shape Moses’ leadership journey. Serving leaders do the same for those they lead.

Serving leaders ask “What should you stop doing?” to avoid burnout.

Jethro explains to Moses that if he would stop doing some of the things he was doing, he would be “able to stand the strain” (Exodus 18:23). Moses was working hard but would not be able to sustain the pace of his leadership. Jethro was concerned that Moses would not be able to sustain the pace at which he was working. Serving leaders want the best for those they lead. They see those who follow not as machines for continuous production but as individuals who are gifted but with very human limitations! Serving leaders don’t push people beyond healthy capacity. Instead, they learn to also ask those they lead, “What should you stop doing so that you will avoid burnout?”  

Serving leaders ask “What should you stop doing?“ to focus on strengths.

Jethro advises Moses that when he distributes the load, he will be able to focus on the difficult cases only. He would be able to use his strengths in the best way to serve the nation. Leaders who are busy from morning to evening are most likely not serving in the areas of their greatest strengths. Instead, they are doing lots of good things on their “to do” list but not focused on key things that only they can do. Serving leaders repeat Jethro’s question to those they lead to help them think critically about their greatest strengths. They ask, “What should you stop doing that is not your greatest strength?” Their question provokes thinking and perhaps even a change in job description that frees a person to serve in the areas for which they are best suited.  

Serving leaders ask “What should you stop doing?“ to develop others.

Jethro asked Moses why he was working alone “while all these people stand around.” He recognized that as long as Moses did all the work, the others would not be developed. They had gifts and abilities which were not being used. Jethro asks Moses to give up some work so that others could grow up! Serving leaders not only consider what things they should stop doing, but they turn to those who follow and ask them, “Who else could do what you are doing now? When will you stop doing that so that others will grow?”

They ask instead of telling because they want the person, they lead to think for themselves and grow in their own ability to lead themselves. They may also ask because, unlike Jethro, it may not be as clear what things on the to do list are causing burnout.

For further reflection and discussion:

Choose one of the highest achievers on your team to think about. Who is that person? Choose specific questions from the list below to prepare for your time with that person. Then meet with them and serve them by asking what you have on your list.

  • What things are you doing which wear you out?
  • What do you need to stop doing to have a healthy balance in your life?
  • Is your present pace sustainable long term? If not, what do you need to stop doing?
  • Of all you do for this organization, what do you do that best uses your strengths?
  • Of the tasks you do on a regular basis, which ones are not in the areas of your greatest strength? How can you stop doing them?
  • Which of your current tasks could be done by someone else? What is needed for you to pass that task on to them?
  • What happens to those under you when you continue doing the same tasks over time? Are you allowing their potential to be realized?  

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll examine the next question serving leaders ask themselves: “What should I start doing?”

Here is the full story of Jethro’s advice to Moses.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.  (Exodus 18: 13-27, NIV)

#309 Serving leaders ask themselves: “What should I stop doing?”

September 15, 2021 

Leaders are people of action and most have a long list of things they plan to do to change their world. But serving leaders also stop and ask themselves what they are doing which they should stop!  

Paul provides these instructions to all Christians, 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV).  Paul’s instructions tell us that a part of our Christian growth is to stop doing some things and begin doing other things. He provides several examples in the following verses (25-32)—stop lying, start speaking truth; stop stealing, start working to bless others; stop unwholesome talk, start meeting the needs of others with your tongue. While these actions relate to spiritual growth serving leaders learn to look at their actions to see what needs to be “put off” or stopped. They do this for three reasons.  

Serving leaders ask “What should I stop doing?“ to clarify priorities.  

Paul’s command to “put off” relates to things which are always wrong to do. Wrong actions clearly should be stopped! Leaders, however, often face an additional dilemma. Of several good things which could be done, which one should I do? Serving leaders learn to stop doing some things so that they can focus on things which are a higher priority. They say ‘no’ to the less important to say ‘yes’ to the most important. They recognize that serving others often means saying “no.”  

Serving leaders ask “What should I stop doing?“ to increase productivity.  

Serving leaders recognize that they have limitations with their time. They cannot physically continue to do more and more. As activity and responsibilities increase it becomes harder to focus on the task at hand and productivity decreases. Leaders who continually accept new responsibilities without a corresponding end to others find themselves in a frantic struggle to do more and more. They are soon fatigued physically and mentally and are not able to bring their best selves to the task at hand. Serving leaders learn to look at their tasks on a regular basis and ask what they should stop doing. If the tasks do not actually need to be done, they simply stop. If they need to be done but should be done by someone else, they delegate to others. As serving leaders stop doing the things they should not do, they are able to productively do the things they should be doing.  

Serving leaders ask “What should I stop doing?“ to empower others.  

Leaders often do many things that could be effectively done by others. They justify their actions with convincing arguments that they do them well, they are working hard and that the activities are a part of their job description. But serving leaders recognize that when they continue doing things that others on their team could do, they not only diminish their own effectiveness but they stunt the growth and development of others. When they deny others the opportunity to grow, leaders place themselves in a vicious cycle of unending responsibility. Serving leaders learn to ask themselves what they should stop doing to identify areas that could be passed on to others. They slow down enough to ask the question, and then make a plan of how effective delegation can be done. If training is needed, they put that on their ‘to do’ list. Serving leaders learn to keep a “not to do list” next to their “to do list.”  

For further reflection and discussion: 

  • What is on my “to do” list that are not high priorities for my role as a leader? (Begin a “not to do list.”) 
  • What things am I currently doing, that keep me from being fully productive? (Add them to the list you started above.)  
  • What things am I currently doing which others on my team could do either immediately or with proper training and empowerment? (Add them to your list.)  
  • Now look at your list and decide what needs to be done for each item. If it is not essential to accomplish your vision, simply stop doing it! If it is something that someone else should be doing, put their name next to the item. Then indicate whether they are ready for the task or need training to be ready. Where training is needed, indicate when you will do that and add that time to your “to do” list. Use the chart below if helpful.  

Until next time, yours on the journey, 

Jon Byler 

In the next issue, we’ll examine the related question serving leaders ask others:  ‘What should you stop doing?” 

#308 Serving leaders ask those who follow: “How are you growing?”

September 1, 2021

Serving leaders have a passion, not only for their own personal growth, but they want to see those they lead also growing. They are in the growing people business! So, they attend to their own growth and then quickly turn their attention to the growth of those they lead. They have a vision from God to impact their world and they know that they cannot do this alone. They call a team to help them, and the team also needs to be growing if they are to scale the mountain. They have the same perspective towards the growth of those they lead as the writer of Hebrews.

12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14, NIV).

Serving leaders desire to see those the lead flourishing and growing into their full potential. So, they often ask their followers, “How are you growing?”

Serving leaders ask “How are you growing?“ to encourage change.   

The writer clearly expects growth and progress. An infant is expected to drink milk, but a mature person should be eating meat. Serving leaders expect growth from those they lead and this requires change. Serving leaders are not content with followers that simply continue to do their work at the same level. They desire growth and ask their followers how they are growing to assess the level of change. Simply asking the question helps the follower to understand that growth is encouraged and expected. By asking “How are you growing?” serving leaders encourage their followers to rise and develop the potential that is yet undeveloped.

Serving leaders ask “How are you growing?“ to encourage consistency.

The question of growth is not a one-time question but one that serving leaders use often. The writer says that one of the characteristics of the mature is that they “by constant use have trained themselves…”  A step of growth produces change, but consistent growth is the key to transformation. Serving leaders recognize that many people in a new role, grow quickly as they learn the task, but then plateau when the reach a certain level of capacity. The question, “How are you growing?” encourages the follower to keep developing their strengths and capacity.

Serving leaders ask “How are you growing?“ to encourage continuity.

The writer challenges the readers, “by this time you ought to be teachers…” The expectation is that with growth and maturity there will be a passing on of what is learned to the next generation. Serving leaders take a long view and desire not only the growth of the individual they are leading, but the growth of those who will follow. So, they ask their followers, “How are you growing?” to remind them that they are not only growing for themselves but for those who will follow. They may shape the question even more directly, “Who are you training to take over your role?” Serving leaders ask their followers how they are growing so that they will be encouraged to pass on to others what they are learning.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Do I have a high expectation of growth and change from everyone I lead? How do I communicate that expectation to them? What do I do when someone is not interested in growing?
  • Are there persons on my team that have stopped growing? How can I ask them a question that will rekindle their desire to grow?
  • How do my followers pass on to others what they are learning? Have I built that expectation into our entire team? Can I see evidence of several generations of training happening in my organization? (An example of several generations would be that those first trained have trained others who are now training others.) If not, what do I need to change?                  

Until next time,

yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll look at/examine a question serving leaders ask themselves, “What should I stop doing?”