It’s tough enough to get good leadership jump started in the public or private sectors but where good leadership is critically needed is in church world. All too often, we hear the horror stories of poor church leadership and the devastation that occurs because of it. The wounds of substandard leadership in the regular working world can be typically healed with the next job but in an occupation dealing with people’s spirituality the tragedy can be long lasting. That’s why it is critical to have the right people in the right positions in a church setting.
Let’s be honest. Some people are not cut out for church leadership. Growing a successful church is a lot more than getting a group of people together on a Sunday morning to sing worship songs, read scripture, and hear a message. It takes a special person to actually put into practice everyday what one is hearing at the front end. We look at our church leaders as models. I get the biblical passage from Romans saying how we all fall short but there are several pieces to that need to be expanded on.
Some of the best biblical teachers I have ever seen are transparent about their own failings and continuing struggles. Show me a person teaching at the front end on a Sunday morning who openly admits personal struggles and I’ll show you an authentic christian leader I will not only listen to but I will follow side by side to battle anything that life throws our way. Authenticity is the key. Authenticity gives legitimacy to a person and a message in world filled with religious phoneys and fakes.
There is no greater thing more personal to an individual than one’s own spirituality. I am sure God has a special place for those who take that seriously, and likewise, a special place for those who use, abuse, or demean others in furtherance of their own agenda. You know it when you see it. All you need to ask is whether an individual exhibits behavior that self-centered or other centered? You can’t have it both ways. Being other centered is either there or it’s not. For those church world second chair leaders there can be no question about what goes on. It is what it is. If what is seen from church leadership is self centeredness and narcissism then there are two obvious choices, continue on working and rationalize the behavior in some manner or leave the organization. Bear this in mind. The longer one stays under such dysfunctional leadership the more risk exists to one’s individual integrity and reputation being damaged or destroyed.
The cure for our damaged churches or those on the downslide is not cliché but relatively simple, WWJD. The popularity of the term “What Would Jesus Do” has waned over the years but church leadership needs to understand the resources entrusted to them including staff and congregants were given to them by God to shepherd and care for. If this is not done rest assured it will be all taken away in time. Imagine, if only for a moment, church leaders facing any situation or decision only asking themselves, WWJD.
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, we won’t get fooled again.” The Who
Ever think with someone else in charge things will be better? Sometimes they are but when the new boss is from the old regime, knows about all the skeletons, and even participated in the not so ethical things that went on beforehand even if that participation merely consisted of tacit compliance with the old boss the chances are unlikely things will change. The board needs to step up but if the old board is still in place then the inevitable needs to occur, i.e. a house cleaning. Why don’t things change one might ask? Change does not occur for a variety of reasons but most are self serving usually relating to embarrassment if word got out about what was really going on. Most of the time fall back on the law enforcement adage of “follow the money” and who has more to lose, possibly even prison and public degradation in the community.
There are two kinds of people in this world. When entering a room full of strangers there are those who say, “Here I am,” and those who say, “There you are.” Try it the next time you’re in a situation where there is a group of people and see the dynamics.
The “Here I am” people typically make it known they have arrived. It’s all about them. Sometimes this can be as subliminal as meetings where an individual chronically makes an entrance 20 minutes late. The “There you are,” people tend to go right up to the people they don’t know, introduce themselves, and start the process of inquiring about that individual. In other words, it’s all about everyone else.
“Here I am” people should not be a surprise. Their behaviors correlate with an element of narcissism in their character. In a social setting it is more pronounced. Sometimes the situation can be as blatant, for example, of the hypothetical of a church directional leader going into a men’s clothing store and demanding more of a discount stating, “Don’t you know who I am?” Incredible as it seems this happens more often than you might think.
The “There you are,” people want no fanfare. They ooze humility and that’s the key to the differences in the personalities. They not only value others above themselves but they show it in everything they think, say, and do. The narcissistic personality can’t or won’t do this.
Next time you’re in a social setting try the experiment. Try to identify the “Here I am,” people and the “There you are,” people. This one little social exercise can be very telling for future interactions with these same people.
Lots of good ideas come from within and outside an organization. Brainstorming sessions are an excellent way to get the best creativity from people. If staff meetings are run correctly people should exit invigorated and ready to let loose with trying out new initiatives.
Sometimes something happens in between when an idea is first cast with an ultimate goal that has the potential to knock the ball out of the park. Sometimes the implementation phase gets stuck or is nonexistent. Organizations may have great ideas but fail to execute. The question is why?
Having the right people in the implementation phase is critical for success. These are typically the detail people. These are the people who can visually see a destination and immediately start piecing together a roadmap to make things happen. One of the best directives any supervisor can give subordinates to implement something is to, “Make it happen.” No micro managing. No second guessing. Just make it happen. Sure it’s okay to have progress check dates or for leaders to be available for questions but by and large implementation is a creative process for those special people within an organization who can plan and know what is needed in a methodical step by step process. In essence, implementation is a gift. At the very least it’s an acquired skill and leaders need to immediately recognize who is skilled to implement. Sometimes this requires an assignment change to work with another team. The so be it. The success for one means the success for all.
Next, the proper questions need to be asked, answered, and acted upon. What’s the next step? What time frame are we looking at? Are there budgetary constraints? What resources are required and when? The list goes on but you can see some of the detail that needs to be addressed.
Proper implementation means breaking down the pieces of a project into smaller bite size pieces for others to understand and do. Implementation requires planning skills and focusing on what exactly brings the organization closer to achieving success in the project. In other words, if it doesn’t contribute to the overall completion of the implementation schedule then get rid of it and focus on what does.
When organizations have a difficult time with implementation it is because current leadership doesn’t know how or does not have the talent from within. That’s why implementation outsourcing is so successful. Certainly, there’s nothing like a finished project or design but the road getting there is equally as important as the destination. There is no magic formula for implementation. In the end, it just needs to be done with as much verve and excitement and detailed methodology as the idea creation and the execution of the finished project.
Have you ever wondered why a particular toxic leader or manager was kept by an organization or why his or her leadership team is still in place long after the toxic leader has done enough damage and is gone? There comes a time when people wonder why: 1) a toxic leader is being kept on by a board or an organization, or 2) why more employees aren’t leaving or the company losing more customers than it already has. The rationale varies with the individuals who are affected by the leadership but there is one reason that keeps on repeating itself. People would rather deal with the known rather than an unknown of someone new. Sounds crazy but it’s true. There is even an old adage that goes along with this: It’s better to dance with the devil you know as opposed to the one you don’t.
Wow. That pretty much sums it up. Rather than setting the bar high and saying that’s our goal for a leadership standard some people or organizations would rather settle for mediocre or average and in some cases below average. Having a vision for what true leadership looks like is a start. It’s important to get this right. Second, it’s important to have a clear method to get to the goal. This is where it gets fuzzy for some organizations. They know where they want to go but developing a plan isn’t as clear for some reason. Most of the time organizations don’t know how to achieve their long-term goals even relating to a leadership standard because the task seems too monumental.
It is mindful of the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” Setting measurable and achievable goals is important. Over time the final goal is achieved and the organization can look back with pride knowing the best has been attained. Dancing with the devil is no way to run an organization.
How do you want to be remembered? What legacy do you want to leave? These are important questions to be asked of anyone especially those in leadership. Everyone wants to make a difference in some fashion. It’s just a question of how or what that looks like.
The entire point of leaving a good legacy is doing the job to the best of one’s ability on a day-to-day basis and not gloss over the seemingly smaller things. Any encounter during one’s day is significant. In my prior job in law enforcement I encountered officers who always waited for “the big call.” The “big call” is the armed robbery that just occurred or the burglary in progress. Some officers intentionally didn’t do anything else while working except wait around for the big call. What legacy do they leave? In education teachers want to do what they do best and that’s teach and be better teachers but, more often than not, administration does not put its focus in that direction. Just ask a teacher if he or she feels like a better or more prepared teacher after a year’s worth of faculty meetings. What legacy is left for administration? Sometimes churches get so bogged down in the business end of a church the real mission is forgotten or put to the side. What legacy is developed? Even those organizations that have a defined mission need to live it out in everything that is said and done even in the back office.
The entire point of even considering the legacy one leaves is not for accolades or kudos. Developing a legacy is a very fluid and dynamic process. Over time legacy takes shape and becomes defined with every meeting and every encounter as a building block. It boils down to making a positive difference every day and every minute and that’s key. What does your legacy look like?
I am ever amazed at human behavior especially relating to organizations and the people who lead and manage them. There seems to be way too much time in some organizations (public, private, and in church world), going over the same territory with the same challenges and the same mistakes happening over and over. Of course, this relates to the definition of insanity, i.e. doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.
The same can hold true for a change in leadership. If a toxic leader is let go what makes people think the #2 or #3 in command will not mimic the behaviors of the toxic leader in some way? Sure, the words can be said. The sincerity of those vying for the leadership role might appear to be oozing from their pores but the reality is toxic leaders typically hand-pick and surround themselves with those who are either like-minded or yes people. Usually, they are the ones who carried out the directions of the toxic leader even to the demise of the organization. It can be obvious when put in positions of leadership after the departure of a toxic leader the minions who run the organization still carry the traits of the toxic leader.
What’s the cure?
The bottom line is to rid the cancer from the organization. End of story. That’s why you sometimes see an entire leadership structure leave along with the toxic leader. The risk of not doing so is the surfacing of bad leadership and the true colors of those who take over. At the very least the non giftedness of leaders is apparent. There needs to be a house cleaning. The extent of the house cleaning can further reach to middle management, the board, and even elders in the case of a church. Just like a person who keeps hitting his hand with a hammer and complains about the pain needs to stop doing the obvious and move on.