Monday, August 26, 2019

Dumb things leaders do

Leaders can hurt their leadership by their actions, attitudes or lack of emotional intelligence. In my experience, the following attitudes or practices often cause leaders to lose influence and hurt their leadership.

Complain about their board members
Bad move. First it violates board "rules of engagement," second it will get back to those you complain about and it will destroy trust with those board members and you. I recently heard of a pastor who was actually complaining about a board member of his to staff at another church and it came back to bite him and caused great distress for that board member (as it should) and destroyed any trust that was there. If one needs a healthier board or has issues with a board member, work through the issues on the board but never complain about your board members to others. Just as you would not want them to do that about you.

Create an "us versus them" mentality
This occurs when a leader blames the board for decisions that they or their staff do not like. Wait! The leader is part of that board that made the decision. In fact it is his/her senior team so to blame them is simply not to take responsibility for decisions that they made. In our organization we call this Leadership Default! Any time a leader blames the board for a decision whether subtly or outright he divides the board and the staff and creates an unhealthy us verses them mentality.

Take credit for success
It is a bad thing to do! Yes, organizations need great leadership and the quality of leadership matters. But, the fact is that great leaders create an environment where staff and volunteers can shine and in the end it is everyone involved who was responsible for success. Great leaders always take the spotlight of success off of themselves and put it on all those who made it happen. They are humble, they are appreciative, they thank others and lift others up. They don't have a need to be the one who gets the credit. Where they do, everyone notices!

Blame others for failure
Here is the flip side. When we see success we look out the window at those who created it and lift them up. When we see failure we look in the mirror and take the blame. Great leaders don't blame others but take the responsibility when things don't go well. Hard? Sometimes yes. But then again if we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose and if we are ultimately responsible we do the right thing and take the responsibility.

Are defensive
One of the common sins of ministry leaders is defensiveness. I think of pastors who are not administratively or leadership savvy but won't let qualified lay leaders help. Or leaders who need to be right all the time and have the answers (no one does so we need to get over it). Too many ministry leaders are not teachable, are not approachable, are not willing to listen to truth and in the end hurt themselves and the organization they lead by their hardheadedness. I ran into that buzz saw of defensiveness recently with a leader and it was ugly. Defensiveness and lack of teachability is foolish.

Fail to regularly thank volunteers and staff
We can never thank good people enough for their efforts, their prayer, their financial gifts and their work. Not doing so is a sign of narcissism - obviously it is about us. But ministry is not about us as leaders, it is about unleashing others to be successful whether in a professional or volunteer capacity. Thank people often and with sincerity and you will be loved for it.

Don't develop their staff
One of the top priorities of leaders is to develop those who work for them, to help them become all that they can be in line with how God has gifted and wired them. Why is it foolish not to develop staff or volunteers? Because the success of the organization depends directly on how good our staff are, how well they understand their wiring and strengths and how they are deployed in their sweet spot. And it is what Jesus did with His disciples, and it is what He wants us to do with others (Ephesians 4:12). Leaders who do not develop others do not understand leadership, or think that it is all about them.

Don't set clear expectations
When staff don't know what is truly expected of them, they are in a no win situation. If they move ahead on something and show initiative but it is the wrong initiative (the senior leader was not clear on boundaries) they get dinged. Much staff frustration revolves around unclear expectations or expectations that change unexpectedly - usually because the senior leader is not clear either. Clarity for all is a gift. Lack of clarity is a curse. The number one job of leaders is to communicate clarity for his/her team. The number two job of leaders is to ensure that that missional clarity is delivered on.

Criticize staff in front of others
This is one of the most disempowering and dishonoring things a leader can do. There are certainly times when staff need direct and honest feedback but praise should be public and criticism should be private. It is a matter of honor and respect. Staff rarely resent honest feedback in private but will remember it for a long time if done publicly.

Dictate rather than collaborate
I have a friend who thinks that leadership means telling other people what to do! That is rarely good leadership. Rather, leaders build teams, empower people to use their gifts and wisdom and create a collaborative environment where the team functions together under good leadership. Leaders who dictate, or micromanage do not understand the nature of leadership and will not find or keep quality staff.

Treat staff carelessly
Every interaction with staff carries with it a message of respect, disrespect, appreciation or lack of it. It is easy for leaders to treat these relationships carelessly since they have authority. They expect respect but don't always convey it and there is not much staff can do when they don't receive it. Every interaction that is careless, harsh, unkind or sharp costs a leader coinage with staff. Wise leaders treat others the way the desire to be treated.

Ultimately when we do these dumb things we hurt the organization and the staff who work for us. Every once in a while it pays to take a step back and honestly evaluate the quality of our leadership - and perhaps even ask our staff how we are doing.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Creating an ethos of "One Team" on your church staff

Because staff culture matters a whole lot in any organization, the best leaders create a healthy culture that permeates their whole staff. If you don't create a culture you simply get a default culture which often has dysfunction and toxicity within it. Good leadership not only describes the culture but they constantly talk about it and hold staff accountable to live it out.

Here is an example of a church's stated culture for their staff. Think about how the following pieces of culture add up to a healthy set of practices and therefore a healthy culture.

Consider also how this can create "one team" on your staff!

One Team

It’s all about Jesus
Jesus is the center and all ministries point to Him

Robust dialogue
Any issue can be put on the table except for personal attacks and hidden agendas

Progress requires risk
We boldly risk to accomplish the mission

We practice autopsy without blame
When things go wrong, we determine why without placing blame

We empower and release
Our job is to release others into ministry

Dialogue trumps telling
Before we tell we engage in dialogue

Ego is the enemy
Humility reflects Jesus while ego doesn’t

Volunteers are staff
We treat volunteers as staff

Relationships matter
We choose relationships over expediency

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

When leaders take the risk to release control, staff flourish

Many leaders do not understand the power of moving from high control and a hierarchical structure to a light touch where staff feel empowered rather than controlled. 

Before you say to yourself, "I release staff rather than control them," you might want to check with your staff because in a majority of cases where leaders believe they empower and release staff, their staff say just the opposite. In fact, when I do culture audits of staff and report back to the senior leader he/she is almost always surprised when they hear that their staff perceive the culture to be controlling rather than empowering. 

If you want to find out what staff thinks, consider asking your staff to answer the following three questions: 

"Would you describe the staff culture as controlling - where you need permission to do something, or empowered where you have the freedom to do what you need to do to accomplish your job? Why? How does it make you feel?"

This is a standard question I ask in staff audits and the responses are revealing and often discouraging as the majority of staff often report that it is a controlling culture. 

The third question, "How does it make you feel" is an important one. I will often hear responses like:

  • "The organization hired me for my ability and expertise but I cannot do anything without permission. I wish they would trust me rather than to doubt me."
  • "I am seriously considering looking for a different job because I feel that my expertise and gifts are not being used here. If I don't do something the way my boss would I hear about it and often have to back up and do it his/her way."
  • "I cannot even spend small amounts of money without permission. That holds things up and is frankly demeaning. If I screw up, OK, tell me, but give me what I need to do the job without having to ask permission."
  • "In our organization, decisions need to be made at least twice. First by me and my team and then I have to go through the same stuff with my supervisor who feels free to override what our team has worked on. You end up feeling disempowered and wonder why you put all the time and effort into a plan when you are often told to do things differently."
Because I often guide organizations through culture change, I also see the amazing transformation when staff are released from control, trusted to make good decisions and don't have to ask permission for most of what they do. That transformation is nothing less than amazing - and transformational to the culture.

I hear staff saying "I cannot believe it. I don't need to ask permission anymore." "I feel much more valued and trusted than I did before." "I feel like I have been let out of my cage and my self confidence has increased exponentially." "My happiness factor in my job has gone way up and I'm not looking to move anymore." "I am waiting to see if the freedom we have will last or if our leaders will try to control us again."

This is all about moving from a permission withholding organization where you cannot act without permission to a permission granting organization where there is freedom to act within established boundaries.

There is another significant advantage to a permission granting culture. In a permission withholding culture, staff don't have to take ownership of their work. After all, their supervisor is the one who allows or disallows or modifies their work. If it doesn't work, that is the supervisors issue since staff just carried out his/her directives.

But when you move to a permission granting culture. Staff develops the plan to achieve the objectives and therefor they must take responsibility for the success of failure of the effort. In permission granting cultures there is far more corporate buy in and ownership than there is in a permission withholding culture. Which do you want for your organization?

Here is the great irony. We control staff so that nothing goes wrong. In the process we disempower staff and create low morale which translates into less ownership - the exact opposite of what we really need and want from staff. When we release control of staff (within established boundaries), they flourish, are engaged and take ownership which is what we need and want. 

Those who control lose! Those who empower win!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Why would Christian leaders walk away from their faith?

There have been a number of high profile cases of Christian leaders who have walked away from their faith in recent days. The latest is a songwriter and worship leader for Hillsong Church. The Christian world was already trying to figure out Joshua Harris and his departure from the faith. 

What can we say about these departures? Several observations.

First, it should be obvious that fame, platform and spiritual leadership are dangerous combinations that must be carefully stewarded. Ego is always the enemy of spiritual transformation and these platforms and fame fan the flames of ego constantly. Power does not just corrupt in the political arena. It can also corrupt our spirits, souls and motivations in the ministry arena. 

Even the audacity of some of the statements that have been publicly made by these individuals sound more like ego and pride than they do humility and brokenness. 

Second, it is clear that these individuals did not guard their hearts through a close intimate walk with Jesus. In John 15, Jesus makes it clear that we cannot maintain spiritual health without being connected to the vine (Jesus). People don't walk away from God when they are closely connected. If we one day wake up and no longer love Jesus or want to follow Him it has much to do with the neglect of our inner lives. Period!

This ought to be a cautionary tale for each of us. It is easy to neglect God even while doing ministry in His name. Marry ministry with fame and prominence and it becomes easier and easier to think it is about us rather than about Jesus. The only antidote to this is more personal time with Jesus, not less. More intentional humility not less. The more time we spend in God's presence the more we realize how broken and sinful we are. The more time we spend with those who stroke our egos the more distant we will become from Jesus and the more we will rely on ourselves.

As Solomon said in Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." 

Third, I suspect that there is another factor that plays a part in these cases. In many of our ministries and constructs of Christianity we have substituted a system, even a system of theology for a personal relationship with Jesus. There is for instance far more interest in many quarters over slicing and dicing fine points of theology than there is in helping people experience personal spiritual transformation through Jesus. 

If our faith is primarily a construct rather than a relationship the relationship will suffer. Does theology matter? Of course. But our theological construct will never substitute for a heart relationship with Jesus. It was never meant to. As branches we need to be organically connected with the vine. Our systems of Christianity do not fill the heart. Jesus does. Our building of mega churches and social status don't fill the heart. Jesus does.  To the extent that we focus on anything in Christianity more than we focus on our relationship with Jesus we run the risk of developing empty hearts. Jesus says this clearly in John 15. 

Fourth, it is hard to believe that these individuals were living in authentic community with other close Christ followers. Living in community makes for natural accountability. We can be around others but not transparent with others. We can say the right things while drifting from God in our hearts. 

Josh Harris's church was caught by surprise by his developments. That tells me that he was not living in real community or sharing his real thoughts. I suspect that he left the church not because he wanted to go on to higher education but because he was already leaving the faith and therefore needed to leave his ministry. There followed his announcement of his divorce, then his departure from the faith and then his immersion in Gay Pride day in Vancouver. It is hard to see any of this happening if he had been living in authentic community. In the least, those around him would not have been surprised. 

Christian leaders are vulnerable. All who call themselves Christ followers are vulnerable to focusing on the wrong things. That much is clear from recent events. I suspect these three issues were pieces of the sad result. 

What should our response be? Quite simply to stay connected to Jesus. Guard our hearts that are fickle, focus on Him, not on any construct or cause no matter how noble and choose to live in authentic community. 

See also,
Christian Rocker Posts Stunning Response to Recent Apostasy of Christian Leaders