23 Staples of Leadership

23 Staples

Staple – a piece of thin, flimsy, metal wirey substance that ironically holds things together. 

Although stability wouldn’t be the first word I would use to describe a staple, it wouldn’t be the last, either. Sadly, I tend to throw staples and glue in the same tiny box, knowing deep down inside that staples do not belong there. Staples aren’t used to merely hold things together. Staples are used to bring things together. They bind, and not as a last resort, but intentionally and purposefully.

So, what is a leadership staple? 

I’ve noticed something unique about every great leader I have ever encountered. It is usually not their charisma or drivenness that sets them apart. Although both are very valuable characteristics, I am always much more impressed with a leader’s laser-focused personal convictions. When I say convictions, I don’t mean a corporate value or anything philosophical for that matter. See, there are these staples inside every great leader. If you don’t pay attention or take the time to look, you might not ever notice that they are there. The moment you finally see it, however, will be a moment you never forget. I can remember like it was yesterday, the first time I caught a glimpse of the light reflecting off of that thin, seemingly flimsy piece of metal. Our pastor has a saying: “You get what you follow up on.” When we began our ministry under his leadership we would hear him say this all the time. At first, it seemed sort of repetitive and even a little annoying. However after spending some time around him and seeing this principle in action it became clear to me that this wasn’t a motto or a cute saying. Our pastor believed in this idea, incorporated it into his leadership, and believed it was necessary for success in ministry. It was a staple in his life.

I would define a leadership staple as the following – a short phrase or saying that seems to be ingrained in all great leaders. If you are not careful, you could mistake one of these staples for a cliché. While it may seem banal to you, it is far from it to the leader who has bought in to that principle. Staples are phrases that a leader believes in, a concept in which they have fully invested themselves. They are 100% sold out to this idea.

Every true leader has a different set of staples that range in quantity and conviction. Conviction, however, is the key. A person can have a dozen “staples,” but if they don’t wholeheartedly imbue themselves with them, they are useless and uninspired.  Some may use these staples in hopes that others will recognize them as a leader. It usually doesn’t take long to figure out that these staples are not an integral part of who they are.

True leaders don’t just use these staples. These staples have become a part of who they are. Staples aren’t a part of the vision being cast, they are a part of the leader casting the vision. These staples can’t just be picked up, they must be inserted, pressed, and ingrained inside the leader. When you catch a glimpse of another leader’s staples, remember: you are not seeing the entire staple. The only visible part of the staple is the crown. 

In 2017, while on staff at The Revival Center, I was asked to prepare a teaching for our annual staff retreat. I decided to put together a list of staples from all of my favorite leaders, so that our staff could have some staples to add to their toolbox (yes, I know that regular staples don’t belong in tool boxes). I spoke to more than 40 leaders and gathered around 200 staples. I then picked my favorite 23 staples and put together a list. 

I hope and pray that you find these staples beneficial to your leadership. As I told our team in 2017, the goal is not to memorize all 23 staples or to try to apply them to your life this week. Try taking your 2-3 favorites and making them a part of who you are. Talk about them, tweak them, think about them, pray about them, and then implement them. 

I have added a little commentary to some of the staples. In addition, I have added a bonus staple that I didn’t share because I didn’t want to get fired from my job (It’s definitely my favorite). 

1.) Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for constant and never ending improvement. 

This teaching came from Pastor James Powell. He and his team used a method called: C.A.N.E.I. After each event they would ask these four questions: What was Right? What was Wrong? What was Missing? What was Confusing? 

2.) If you do the small things like they are big things, then God will do the big things like they are small things. 

Definitely a Mark Batterson Quote! Fire, Fire! 

3.) Don’t do it until you get it right. Do it until you can’t get it wrong.

4.) Your calendar reflects your priorities. 

In other words: If it doesn’t fit the vision, it shouldn’t be in your calendar. 

5.) Wherever you are, be all there.

– Jim Elliot

6.) Be decisive. Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.

Indecision is a decision. It’s the wrong decision. 

7.) You know you are anointed when you can take less and do more with it.

8.) If it was easy it would already be done. 

9.) You will only grow to your pain tolerance.

This was one of my Pastor’s (Jason Allums) favorite staples. 

10.) You never lose. You either win or you learn. 

11.) Learn to love the process.

If you live for the results, you’ll die by the results. 

12.) People do what you inspect, not what you expect.

Another way to say this: You get what you follow up on. 

13.) Your weakness is someone’s opportunity.

14.) When you delegate tasks, you create followers. When you delegate authority, you create leaders.

15.) Ministry always involves holding a towel; If you’re too big to serve, you’re too small to lead.

Pastor Jody Gurley from The Assembly is Columbus used to say this ALL THE TIME! Love it! 

16.) Do for the one what you wish you could do for the many.

Do the right thing even if it’s technically not the fair thing. A lot of times we hold back in blessing someone because we are afraid it will create jealousy in others. We have to give ourselves permission to bless someone even if we can’t bless everyone. 

17.) Vision leaks but stories fill.

Another quote from Pastor James Powell. A great reminder to constantly tell stories that support your vision. 

18.) Exceptional leaders think about common things in an uncommon way.

19.) You get what you celebrate. 

Another way to say this: What is rewarded gets repeated. 

20.) When you’re tired of saying it, they’re hearing it for the first time.

A reminder to constantly cast vision and communicate what you want your people to buy into. 

21.) No matter how well we do what we do, if the Holy Spirit isn’t present then we have failed.

22.) No reserves. No retreat. No regrets. 

23.) Leaders lead. 

This is the most simple staple that probably shouldn’t have made the list. The reason I love it is because it represents grit and tenacity. The next time you’re facing a difficult situation and you’re required to lead through it, tell yourself “leaders lead”. In other words, “This is what I was made for!”

Bonus Staple 

24. Smoke what you sell.

I won’t tell you who gave me this staple. It’s also something I never said in front of youth during my time in student ministry. I hope you get the point though: “Don’t talk about something you’re not doing yourself.” As a youth pastor, I would always tell our youth staff, “Don’t ask students to give to missions if you aren’t giving to missions.” 

Speaking of giving to missions… I’m kidding. I hope you enjoyed this post! 

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