Carnes' 8 Points of Courageous Leadership

August 12, 2015 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

August 2015 Chamber Breakfast

Listen to Todd's full talk here!

What is leadership?

Needless to say you’ve heard someone’s viewpoint on that topic before.

But the version conveyed at the Greater Lexington Chamber’s monthly breakfast on Tuesday morning was unique. It struck a different chord.

Todd Carnes delivered a message about principled, courageous leadership and how it affects three critical realms of society – political, religious, and business.

“In the past seven months, I have been a preacher, a businessman and a politician all simultaneously. So, I’ve had the unique experience to lead in all three realms,” said Carnes, who is the Director of Strategy Initiatives at Southern Medical Management and a Town Councilman in the Town of Lexington. “As a town councilman, as an executive at a company, and as a pastor here at Radius Church.”

Carnes spent the past seven years as pastor at Radius Church, but has now transitioned out of that position and fully into the business realm.

“If God gives you the opportunity to lead at the municipal level, lead there. If He gives you the opportunity to lead at the state level, or the federal level, lead there, because we know we need that kind of leadership at all levels,” Carnes said. “I have these ideals in me that say, ‘Principled, courageous leadership in any realm makes a difference.’”

That opportunity presented itself to Carnes 18 months ago when a town council seat came open, and he decided to run. A few months after being elected to town council, an opportunity in the business realm materialized. It was a chance Carnes couldn’t pass on after spending the past seven years as a coach to businessmen in this community. He was ready to be involved.

“As the pastor, I was talking to businessmen about leading and solving problems, but I was always on the sidelines like a coach. I wanted to get my pads dirty,” Carnes said. “I’m always on the sidelines coaching guys, and they’re beat up and bloodied, and you kind of coach ‘em up and send them back in the game, and they’ve got to go back out into corporate America or back into this community and make a difference, and it’s hard. But after almost 20 years in the ministry, I was like I want to get my uniform dirty.”

So Carnes comes at this from a unique perspective that very few experience. He has operated and been a leader in all three realms. He sees the crossover.

Carnes stated that a lot of times those in the business realm look to the pastors to shoulder all the moral weight and responsibility, because they’re the family builders. And they look to the politicians to carry moral and economic responsibility, because they’re the policy makers.

Carnes strongly believes that shouldn’t be the case.

“What I found after living in those three realms is there’s a lot of responsibility in this business realm. You guys are family makers or family breakers. You have that moral responsibility, maybe even more so than the pastors and the politicians, because you have all this leverage in people’s lives,” he said. “You sit in a high place of moral authority in the lives of people, and they need principled, courageous leadership from you, because you’re going to have a great impact one way or the other.”

August 2015 Chamber Breakfast

Carnes pointed out that he had people’s ear for about an hour and a half each week, whereas businessmen have got them for 40 to 50 hours per week, giving them tremendous leverage and responsibility.

Carnes challenged the business leaders in our community to provide principled, courageous leadership, and he provided a framework for what it should look like. But he warned, “It isn’t easy.”

“Somebody told me about 20 years ago, ‘If ten percent of the people aren’t mad at you, you’re not leading,’” he said. “One of the best lessons I ever heard. If ten percent of the people aren’t ticked off, we’re not going anywhere. That’s hard to hear, because we all like to be liked.”

But a leader must be willing to absorb that anger and frustration from the people he’s leading. That’s courageous leadership. As a leader, if you make a change, ten percent isn’t going to like you. And with more change, comes more frustration and discontent.

“You have to come to this place that says my leadership is not ultimate. The good of the organization, the good of the town, the good of the country, the good of my business, the good of my church – that’s what’s ultimate. For them to get what is good, I may be exalted and celebrated as a leader, or I may be set aside as a leader. I just need to courageously lead in what is right. Let’s face it. It’s hard to get there.”

Carnes described eight points of courageous leadership that people just don’t tend to do naturally in any of the three realms.

  1. Confront reality head on, don’t avoid it. A leader can’t pretend there is an easy way out if there isn’t. Be honest and tell the people you’re leading that it’s going to be a long, hard road.
  2. Seek real feedback. In order to accomplish this, a leader needs a strong number two guy who can get the real feedback, because people aren’t going to be fully honest with you as their leader. They will tell you the good news, but they won’t give you the bad news.
  3. Run toward conflict, not away from it. People naturally try to avoid conflict, but to be a leader the conflict has to be resolved. “If you want to build a great organization, you’ve got to find a way to resolve conflict and build that DNA,” said Carnes, who talked about the last ten percent conversations they had Radius Church. He said in a hard conversation, we typically tell the person 90 percent of the truth and hope they figure out the other ten percent, but we don’t give that last ten percent, because it’s really hard to say.
  4. Hire people smarter than yourself and compensate them accordingly. Carnes believes these people are essential, because they will tell you the truth, providing the greatest safety net in the world.
  5. Make hard decisions and take ownership of them. Carnes referenced buying the building that houses Radius Church several years ago. It resulted in “30 minutes of euphoria and about three weeks of buyer’s remorse.” But it was important that as the leader, he told the team this was the decision. If it fails, I fall on the sword.
  6. The sixth point is to incentivize ingenuity and change at every level. Ask people what you can do to make their job more efficient or more enjoyable. More often than not they don’t have anything, but they do like to be asked. It’s also important to create incentives for them to produce in an effort to increase creativity.
  7. The seventh key is to give credit to others. “If you’ve got to have all the credit and you’re a leader, you’re going to be arrogant. You might be successful, but you’re going to be arrogant and self-serving,” Carnes said. “It doesn’t disqualify you from success. It just doesn’t taste right does it?”
  8. Be inflexible when it comes to your moral compass.

“We need people in the world today in business, in politics, in the pulpit who are most beholden to their moral compass, and they can’t be swayed by shareholders, parishioners, campaign donors, constituents. They can’t be swayed by anybody,” Carnes said. “Those people all have leverage, so to take that stance and to say I’m going to be more beholden to my moral compass than to anything else puts you in great jeopardy, puts you in great risk, might get you unelected, might get you fired, might get you transferred to another parish.”

But what’s the alternative? The alternative is political expediency in whatever realm. That never leads to legacy. It might lead to success and longevity. But it never leads to legacy.

“Legacy is what you want. Legacy is what I want. I’m not saying this is easy. If it was easy everybody would do it. But we as a community have the ability community-wide to put pressure on ourselves to raise up these kinds of leaders in all three realms.”

So what does courageous leadership look like in each of the three realms?

Carnes believes “it just looks like honesty” in the political realm. That’s what’s missing.

In the religious realm, it looks like humility. Today’s churches are built on pride, arrogance, and elitism. Carnes calls it “embarrassing” and challenges the churches to build on humility.

“You might not build as big and bas as the next guy, you definitely won’t sell as many books, but you’ll leave a legacy. It would take courage to do it in today’s environment, because it would be different.”

In the business realm, courageous leadership looks like corporate responsibility.

“You’ve got people under you that you’re responsible for, people depending on you. We need people to understand that these people are not just the bookkeeper. They’re not just the maintenance person. They’re not just the COO,” Carnes said. “They are people who have hopes and dreams. They’re people with sons and daughters. They are worried about getting kids through college, thinking about retirement. We have real responsibility in their lives.”

Carnes challenged the business leaders to be courageous leaders.

“You have more responsibility and more ability to shape their lives than I did when I was talking to them here at Radius Church. We don’t always own that. You guys are up to the task. Let’s just own it,” he said. “Let’s build a culture here where shameful corporate practices are shameful. We can do that. I don’t think we can do that in our nation. We’re too far gone. We can do that in our locale.”

The breakfast was sponsored by Baker Collision Express and catered by Crescent Moon Restaurant.