Updated: Sep 30
Name: Jeffrey S McMaster
Title: Leadership Adviser
Organisation: Leadership Ezra
Jeff McMaster has served in Christian education and ministry leadership for over 30 years. He now provides a website, www.LeadershipEzra.com, along with a podcast, as a resource of Faith-based wisdom for leaders. He has also recently published his latest book, "Leadership Ezra," available on Amazon. Jeff and his wife, Nora, have been married for over 35 years.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.
I hope Jeffrey's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?
One of the most important things you can do to build trust is to do what you say you will do. It is a matter of consistency and integrity, of ensuring that the words people hear and the actions they say are match. When people are confident that you do what you say, they believe you and will trust you. I once was hired in a place that was coming out of an experience with previous leaders who had caused great damage and wounding, and the result was a complete lack of trust for the leadership. I very intentionally would tell employees what I was going to do (even if it was as simple as, "I am going to come by to observe your classroom tomorrow," making sure it was something I knew would happen, and then I followed through. Over the course of the year, trust was rebuilt to such an extent that it was one of the top three positive items listed on my end-of-year survey for employees.
2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?
For me, they represent picture and purpose. Vision is the big picture, the overall end that you are trying to achieve. But that vision has to be connected to your purpose, or mission, otherwise it lacks meaning and value, and the drive to achieve it will dissipate. Mission is the "why", and vision is the picture of what it looks like when you accomplish your why. In real-world business, leaders need to toggle back and forth between the two to maintain focus and direction.
3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?
I personally am not a fan of micromanaging and feel like I have done much better work when I have been empowered, so it is important to me to do the same to those I am leading. I think that means doing two things: 1) Giving people the authority to make decisions. I can do that progressively, by giving responsibilities that fit within their capability and experience, and then gradually increasing the level of responsibility and complexity as they grow. 2) Make it safe for them to mess up. We are all messy people who make mistakes, and we generally learn far more valuable lessons from our mistakes, so if it's not safe to mess up, people will not take necessary risks, learn, and grow. Therefore, if can give people the authority to make decisions while making it safe for them to fail, I believe they will step up, grow, and become much better.
4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?
The one person who had the most profound effect was my father. He had tremendous knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and would give me such meaningful counsel whenever I was dealing with a challenge. The first time I needed to fire an employee, I called him because I was afraid to do it, and wanted to avoid the conflict. He told me that part of my job as Christian leader was to help people be where God needed them to be serving, and if where they were was clearly not where God was calling them to be, I was getting in God's way by keeping them there. In this particular instance, several months after I let this employee go, she came back to thank me for pushing her into the place she needed to be.
5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?
In his book, "Scaling Up," Verne Harnish said that if everything is a priority, nothing is. I regularly remind myself of this to help me keep my focus on what needs to be the priority at a given time. That priority changes with seasons and circumstances. For example, when I arrived at the most recent school where I served as a head of school, the time I took in the first few months to assess the context of where I was showed me a number of important processes that needed to be updated, created, or implemented.
There was no way to do all at the same time and do them all well, so I focused on them one at a time, which meant addressing something important while not addressing something else at the same time. For instance, I made the creation and implementation of a curriculum review cycle the priority first, and after that was in place, I then focused on restructuring the parent/teacher organization. They were both important, but I had to determine what needed attention first and what didn't and then maintain that focus. By doing it this way, both of these things ended up being accomplished well.
6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?
I use an app on my phone, Trello, to create and keep track of my days, one week at a time. At the end of each week, I prepare the lists for each day for the next week. I plan my months by making use of a personally created "living curriculum" for my role, one that identifies by month the important and recurring tasks, responsibilities, and events. Then each summer, I review the living curriculum, match it against the organization's strategic plan, and identify the things I need to include or address in the next year and/or next 3-5 years.
7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?
Read Exodus 18 in the Old Testament in the Bible. In this chapter, Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, observes Moses carrying out his daily legislative responsibilities, and can see that Moses is going to burn himself out. Jethro then explains a plan of delegation that Moses should follow that will help him lead more effectively and will benefit the people as well. It's a simple, common sense approach, but it's a great starting point for someone who is early in their leadership development.