Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The practice of thinking the best of others

This is a discipline because our first instinct when evaluating the behavior of others is often to suspect ulterior motives. In most cases we are working from ignorance since we cannot see into the mind of others. 

The problem with assuming the worst about the actions of others is not only that we are almost wrong, but that it causes us to respond in ways that are not helpful to a good relationship. After all, if I suspect that an individual has poor motives, I will respond with suspicion, distance and possibly even anger. My distancing from that individual in turn causes others to distance themselves as they watch our attitude. We influence others when we assume the worst rather than the best. Sometimes it is not possible to undo the impressions we share with others. 

Buckingham has it right: Find the most generous explanation for each other's behavior and believe it. Doing so allows us to operate from a position of trust and regard rather than mistrust. We don't have to like all the behaviors of others but the reality is that they probably don't like all of ours either. But we always hope that they will assume the best because we intend the best. 

In evaluating the actions of others it is worth considering that we can quickly jump to negative conclusions about them that we would never want them to have toward us. It is a superior attitude rather than one of humility, recognizing our shared humanity. 

Jesus had it right when he told us to "Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31)." That includes our assumptions about others and our generosity toward their motives. Jesus said in the same conversation, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36)." Both are keys to good relationships and to a less judgmental attitude toward others.

TJ Addington of Addington consulting has a passion to help individuals and organizations go to the next level. He can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The top ten traits of Christian leaders

Leaders come with many different kinds of wiring and lead with varied styles. I celebrate those differences. When hiring or promoting, I care much about how a person leads but I care even more about what lies behind their leadership. There are ten traits that I look for in leaders that are for the most part personal traits that spill over into how they lead.

A Kingdom heart
In ministry settings a kingdom heart is crucial. Our leadership is not about ourselves but about Jesus and what He wants to accomplish on this earth. A kingdom heart is one that understands we are not building something for ourselves but for Him.

Humble leaders can focus on others and the mission because they are not building a kingdom for themselves. Humble leaders have the capacity to live and lead with personal transparency and have a "nothing to prove and nothing to lose" attitude. They are open and non-defensive when challenged.

There are two ways one can live: intentionally or accidentally. The best leaders understand how God has wired them, what He has called them to do (and not do) and organize their lives around the most important rather than simply responding to life. Everything about their priorities and time management is intentional and focused.

Clarity is required for intentional living. Clarity about how God has gifted and wired us, clarity in our leadership priorities and organizational clarity all contribute to the ability to be deeply intentional. 

Those who lead others and expect them to be accountable must be accountable themselves. To lead one must be willing to follow! Lack of accountability is about hubris while accountability is about humility and a healthy commitment to health. This includes accountability for results

The best leaders are deeply reflective people: about themselves, others, the organization, methodology and life in general. They are thinkers rather than simply doers. Their actions come out of thinking and reflection rather than simply responding to events around them. They are thinking, reflective practitioners.

The best leaders are deeply inquisitive, always asking questions, probing people in their organization and in others, desirous of learning and growing. They ask the question "why" often and don't assume that conventional wisdom is always wisdom. 

Team focused
Healthy organizations are formed around teams that work synergistically together under good leadership with accountability for results. Thus leaders must be willing to work with and through team rather than working independently.

Leaders give themselves away to help others be successful and the organization reach its objectives. They are servants to those they lead and understand that it is as others succeed that they succeed. Thus they mentor, coach and help others grow with a generous spirit.

Healthy EQ
Unhealthy EQ is the greatest killer of leadership as it creates relational chaos in its wake. No matter how brilliant an individual is, if there are EQ issues, they will not end up on one of our teams. Healthy EQ, on the other hand builds healthy relationships which leads to healthy collaboration and the building of healthy teams.

TJ Addington of Addington Consulting has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Eight confusing church board issues

Church board leadership is always a challenge. And, often boards or individual members are confused on the role of the board. If these areas of confusion can be resolved, the work of the board becomes far easier. Here are eight issues that often cause confusion on a board.

1. What are we actually trying to accomplish?
This sounds like a simple question but the truth is that a majority of church boards cannot answer the question with any specificity. They have a mission but apart from that general statement which generally reflects the Great Commission (more believers and better believers), there is often no objective target that the church is pursuing and without a target there are no metrics to gauge one's progress. 

It is the board's responsibility, working in conjunction with staff to clearly determine what the church is trying to accomplish and then to assign metrics to the target so that it can evaluate its progress.

2. Who is responsible for what?
When there is ambiguity between the responsibilities of the senior pastor (and other staff) and the board there is in the worst case scenario conflict and in the best case confusion. If there is not a written document clearly delineating the responsibilities of both there will be issues that create frustration for both parties. The role of a board is governance while the role of the staff is the day to day ministry. Wherever you draw those lines, be sure you draw them so that there is both clarity and accountability.

3. How does the board interact with the church staff?
The short answer is that boards interact with staff only through the senior pastor. Staff can have only one supervisor and boards are not in a position to supervise or tell staff (apart from the senior leader) what they should or should not be doing. This does not mean that board members cannot have relationships with staff members but it does mean that they cannot direct the work of staff.

4. What is the senior pastor empowered to do on their own and in what areas do they need board approval?
None of us like micro management but this is what happens with many senior pastors who are never sure what they are empowered to do and what decisions they can make and alternatively what issues they need to bring to the board for approval. Constantly needing board approval is demeaning and demotivating for leaders. 

It is incumbent on the board to make clear the leadership parameters of the senior leader so that they are free to lead but are still aware of the boundaries that the board has established. It is the difference between a permission withholding culture and a permission granting culture.

5. What is the board's job description?
In the absence of a clearly written description of the responsibilities of the board every board member has their own definition of their role. That means there are multiple definitions of the board's role. And, it creates confusion and even conflict on the board. Furthermore, it is not possible for the board to evaluate its own work in the absence of a clear job description. 

That role description should include the fiduciary and legal pieces of their responsibility along with the responsibilities delineated in the New Testament for leaders. If you are not clear on these Biblical requirements ask me for the PDF to my book High Impact Church Boards and I will gladly share it.  

6. What are the board's rules of engagement?
In other words, how does the board operate? How does it make decisions? What happens if a board member disagrees with the majority? Does the board always speak with one voice? How does it deal with rogue board members? Is there a board covenant that spells out how the board operates together?

Because many board do not have that clarity, there is a great deal of dysfunction on church boards. This need not be the case but the board must clarify its roles (number 5 above) and how it operates. Without clearly defined guidelines, confusion and conflict will emerge.

7. Who does the board represent?
Many board members believe that they represent their particular ministry interest or constituency in the church. This can easily lead to divided boards especially if there are factions within the congregation that board members see as their job to represent. This view of church leadership has more to do with how we think about American political polity than it does a Biblical theology of leadership. 

Board member do not represent any constituency in the church. Rather they are called Under-Shepherds of the Chief Shepherd - Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and church leaders lead on His behalf (1 Peter 5:1-4). This does not mean that board members ignore the concerns of the congregation but their leadership is a sacred trust given by the Chief Shepherd. Church leaders lead the congregation where they believe Jesus wants them to go.

8. How do your choose and engage new board members?
Too many congregations do not have a process in bringing new board members on that is designed to set the board up for healthy leadership. Furthermore, in the absence of clarity on 1-7 above, there is no objective way to acclimate new board members to their role as it has not been clarified. 

The most powerful group in most churches is not the board but the committee or group that chooses board members. For a healthy board it is critical to guard the gate of leadership. Only healthy board members can contribute to a healthy board. 

All of this comes down to good clarity. A lack of clarity in these eight areas create confusion. Clarity allows you to move forward in greater health. If you desire help in any of these areas, contact me at my email below. 

Helping individuals and organizations go to the next level of effectiveness. TJ Addington can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Who are you listening to?

I had a fascinating conversation recently with a senior executive of a well known company. Like many sales organizations, there is a headquarters staff of 300 but the sales are generated by sales teams around the country. Of those in the main office, there are only three individuals who have had experience in the field: working with customers; selling product and seeing the projects they sell completed.

My friend, in his position has regular access with the president who is making daily decisions and in his and the sales staff's view these decisions are out of touch with customers and the realities of the business. Why? Because the president listens to those in the main office but not to those who have regular contact with the customers. In the process he is pricing the product out of the market resulting in declining sales. He is frustrated along with the large sales force. 

His experience can be replicated in organizations, churches and ministries everywhere: leaders who are listening to the wrong people resulting in a myopic leadership paradigm.

The problem? To lead well we must listen to people at all levels of an organization, know their challenges and issues as well as talking regularly with the constituency they serve. When leaders listen primarily to other senior leaders without listening to those at other levels of the organization they do not get the information they need  to make helpful and wise decisions. 

Peter Drucker was a writer and consultant on management who knew an extraordinary amount of information on a wide variety of businesses. How did he get that information? Each morning he would call line managers in various industries to find out what was actually going on. He didn't call the senior executives, but those who dealt with the nuts and bolts of the business. They knew things that the senior staff often did not know. 

In my work with churches and non-profits I watch senior leaders talk to each other but not to those who make the ministry or non-profit what it is - those at all levels of the organization who have a closer relationship with the realities, challenges and views of the constituency, therefore, hurting their ability to make the best decisions. 

If you lead, ask yourself the question: Who am I listening to? Am I listening primarily to senior leaders or am I spending significant time listening to those at other levels of the organization along with constituents who can give me a much more unvarnished view of reality?

The best leaders know where they will get their best information and are disciplined in making the time to listen to all levels of the organization (along with constituents). They know that good decisions depend on good information. Who are you listening to? Are they the right people?

Helping individuals and organizations go to the next level of effectiveness. TJ can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Negotiating Church Conflict

One of the observations I have made in working with churches who are experiencing conflict is that we generally don't do it very well. Conflict itself is not bad if it involves differing ideas as to how to accomplish our mission. The issue is always how we handle the conflict, or our differences. It is poor handling of differences that get us in trouble, not the differences themselves which are merely differing perspectives on what should be done. That being said, here are some principles that can help us negotiate conflict or differences in a healthy manner.

One: Disagreement and expressing that disagreement is not wrong. Some are afraid to share their opinions because they have been told that to do so is gossip. It is not. All of us have the right to share our views in the church with the caveat that we do it in a healthy manner. It is unhealthy to try to shut down discussion in the church. It is OK to talk. It OK to express our views. It is OK to differ with others.

Two: Gossip is sin. Gossip is "idle talk or rumor, especially about personal or private affairs of others" (Wikipedia). Gossip is different than sharing our opinion for it goes to the motivations or actions of others and is generally destructive in nature. Scriptures are clear that gossip is wrong. Gossip includes questioning the motives of others, passing along third party information as fact, and denigrating others. Disagreement or stating our views is not gossip, it is simply defining what we are thinking.

Three. Robust dialogue is healthy. Robust dialogue means that we can put any issue on the table with the exception of personal attacks or hidden agendas. There are differing views in congregations on any number of issues. It is good to talk about those things but to do so without personal attacks, hidden agendas or language that inflames rather than informs. Healthy leaders invite healthy dialogue and listen to those who speak.

Four: Unity in diversity is critical. Unity within the body of Christ is a high value in Scripture. Congregations are made up of different views, opinions, social and ethnic backgrounds but it is the Holy Spirit that binds us together as one. Each of us has the same Holy Spirit in his or her heart and that spirit is a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, gentleness, and self control. If we live in His Spirit we can have differences and still remain united as one body. As Paul put it in Ephesians 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Five: Being able to disagree and stay in relationship is good Emotional Intelligence and demonstrates the work of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has preferences and opinions on many things in the church. What we want to be able to do is to state those positions but remain in fellowship and friendship with those who hold a differing position. This is not always easy but it is Biblical.

Six: By extension, marginalizing or demonizing those who disagree with us is bad Emotional Intelligence and does not reflect the Holy Spirit. It is one thing to disagree with someone. It is another to believe that they are bad people because they believe differently and to allow our differences to shatter our relationships, trust or to see them as evil. This does not reflect the will of the Holy Spirit.

Seven: Taking on the offense of others is foolish and wrong.My best friend has an issue with someone in the church so out of friendship I take up their offense and allow their issue to become my issue. This is foolish and wrong because I have allowed my friend to alienate me from others when I have no personal reason to do so. Nor can I resolve an issue that is not my issue. It happens in families and congregations and it contributes to greater conflict.

Eight: The church is the Bride of Christ and therefore we must display the attitude of Christ toward one another even when we differ from one another. The church is not like any other organization for it is the Bride of Jesus and His chosen instrument to reach the world. We of all people need to be His people in good times and in hard times. Paul writes in Philippians 2:4, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." 

Nine: Forgiveness is often needed when we have conflict. We need not apologize for having differing views and perspectives but we do need to apologize when our words, attitudes or actions get the best of us and we say or do things that are not pleasing to God. I have often had to apologize in times of conflict. God is pleased when we keep short accounts and forgive those who need forgiveness and seek forgiveness when we need it.

Ten: Pray diligently! When we focus on ourselves we want to be right and win. When we focus on God we start to see those who differ with us in a different light and desire God to win. In prayer, our hearts are often softened and changed, our humility is increased and our desire for a Godly solution is heightened.

There will be conflict this side of heaven. Lets do all we can to handle it well.

TJ  has a passion to help individuals and organizations go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com

Monday, June 17, 2019

Quick results verses long term sustainability in ministry

We are a people in a hurry.

We want results (and we should) but we want them now and often rather than ensuring that we do something well and sustainable, we opt for what we think will be the quick solution which usually fails in the long term.

We run ministry campaigns but can neglect the harder ongoing training in stewardship and generosity. We want people in groups but don't provide a long term sustainable model that keeps them there or grows their leaders. We want growth and put great energy into appealing services but don't close the back door through meaningful engagement of those who come - and thus many leave. We desire to train new leaders and design programs but don't mentor them through the process and give them opportunities to lead and grow and receive feedback.

Why do we so often neglect long term sustainability in our ministry efforts? Sustainability takes a lot more time and we want results now. Sustainability means that we know what we are going after, are committed to doing it well, have done our homework, thought through the issues, have someone who will lead the effort and are willing to start small and let it grow. In the short run it produces less but in the long run it produces exponentially more than going after quick results.

Take groups as an example. Almost every church values groups but most struggle to make it happen. They run programs to get them going and then they fizzle out and a few years later they try another tact. Yet there are churches (even very large churches) that have up to 75% of their adults in groups on a regular basis. In the first instance, the desire for quick results circumvents long term success. In the second instance, leaders have done their homework, built a sustainable model and are dogged in pursuing it for long term sustainability and success.

The next time you tackle a ministry initiative, ask this question: Am I going after quick results or do I have a paradigm for long term sustainability?

Helping individuals and organizations go to the next level of effectiveness. TJ Addington can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com

Monday, June 10, 2019

When vision is perfectly designed to take you nowhere

Vision is a funny thing. Lots of people (and leaders) have vision but many cannot deliver on that vision because they cannot develop a realistic strategy that will allow them to accomplish the vision. That is why a vision without a workable strategy is hallucination: an unfulfilled dream, a false hope and an empty promise. Many so called visions for the future are perfectly designed to get you nowhere except in the mind of a leader. 

The problem with this is that vision usually comes from leaders and leaders have followers and staff. It is staff who have to live with the unmet dreams of their leaders and the implications of chasing a vision that they know is a foolish dream. I remember a leader I once worked for who hired a staff member to accomplish a specific task that was vital to the organization. 

As I listened to the vision of that new staff member and his strategy for how he would accomplish it I knew in my heart that "this dog won't hunt" but I was not in a position to do or say much as I was lower in the organizational chain and this was a senior level hire of a senior level executive. Nor was I asked my opinion.

In this case we wasted three years of effort, built a staff we had to eventually let go and lost one million dollars in the process. And I had to pick up the pieces when it fell apart and the staff member was let go. Not only did we pay huge "dumb tax" for the foolish expectations and their results but the senior leader lost great credibility in the eyes of his staff for leading us down a path that resulted in organizational damage and could have been avoided. The Walter Mitty vision of the senior leader was an hallucination.

It is not that this leader (the one who hired) and the staff member (the one who was hired) did not have a strategy to reach their vision. Their problem was that it was not a workable strategy. It was built on false assumptions, optimistic rather than realistic thinking which did not even move the ball down the field a bit but rather went the wrong direction entirely.

How does one avoid moving mistaking vision for dreams or hallucinations? A key is not to develop vision by oneself. Senior leaders should work the visioning process with other senior staff who must help deliver on the vision. That includes a reasonable, workable strategy for how the organization will accomplish its vision. Usually that will mean changes in the current paradigm or strategy that the organization is using. After all, the current paradigm got you to where you are but was not designed to get you to where you need to go next. 

That raises the question of whether the organization and its leaders are ready and willing to refocus their efforts, personnel and resources toward the accomplishing of the new vision? Adopting a new vision without refocusing the organization toward that new vision is also an hallucination. Refocusing may well mean that some staff who were key in the past will need to be let go in order to accomplish the new. It may well mean that other staff will need to be refocused and even organizational structures changed to meet the needs of a new vision and a new day. It is a grave mistake to assume that your current ministry paradigm will get you to a new vision and the next level.

Here are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed if a vision is going to be more than a dream:

  • Is this a realistic vision and is it the right vision for us as an organization?
  • Do we have buy in from senior staff toward a new vision and what is our plan to create a guiding coalition within the organization to move in a new direction?
  • Do we have a realistic and workable plan to accomplish the vision?
  • What are the unintended consequences of moving in our new direction?
  • How do we need to restructure staff, budgets or organizational structure to focus on the new vision?
  • How will we know if we are being successful and how do we monitor progress?

Vision is a wonderful and necessary element of leadership. But, a vision without a workable strategy is simply a hallucination.

Helping individuals and organizations go to the next level of effectiveness. TJ Addington can be reached at tjaddington@gmail.com