A couple years ago there was a consistent problem in one of our areas of ministry. It was something, which I would have quickly addressed, but no one brought it to my attention. Thankfully, I’ve learned the hard way what I don’t know can often hurt my leadership or the church the most.
I now try to be good at asking questions and being observant. Through my normal pattern of discovery I encountered the problem, brought the right people together, we addressed the problem and moved forward.
End of story.
But, if only it was the end of the story – every time. I’ve missed problems many time since. I only know what I know, and it’s often I don’t know what I need to know.
It reminds me – the leader is often the last to know when something is wrong. I have consistently told this to the teams I lead. You only know what you know.
And many times, because of the scope of responsibility of the leader, he or she isn’t privy to all the intricacies of the organization. Then there are people, simply because they would rather talk behind someone’s back than do the difficult thing of facing confrontation, tell others the problems they see before they share them with the leader. Without some systems of discovering problems the leader may be clueless there is even a problem.
Not knowing, however, is never a good excuse to be unaware.
And, not knowing and being unaware are not contradictions in terms. I’m not trying to play with words. I’m trying to make an important leadership principle.
As a leader, you may not know all the facts – and you don’t need to know every detail of the organization (in fact you shouldn’t). Attempting to know everything keeps an organization very small and very controlled. I spend lots of energy on this blog denouncing that style of leadership. But you should figure out how to be aware enough, as a leader, to discover the facts which you need to know.
Unaware leaders have some commonalities among them. (By the way, I’ve written this in a general sense for all organizations, but its equally true in the church context.)
Not certain if you are an aware leader?
Here are 10 symptoms of the unaware leader:
- Not knowing, or attempting to know, the real health of a team or organization.
- Remaining clueless to what people are really saying.
- Being unsure of things which can be measurable items, simply because they are never measured or monitored.
- Not asking hard questions for fear of an unwanted answer.
- Not dreaming into the future; becoming content with status quo.
- Preferring to not know when there is a problem in a certain area of the organization.
- Ignoring all criticism or dismissing all of it as negativity.
- Not learning anything new; instead relying on same old ways and hoping they consistently work.
- Making every decision without input from others.
- Assuming everyone supports and loves your leadership.
Those are just some of the ways a leader remains unaware. There are possibly many others.
Some things the leader will never know. That’s okay. There are issues within the life of an organization, however, that while the leader may not know readily, or even want to know, he or she should explore continually.
One of my rules of thumb in determining what I need to know and what I don’t is if it has the potential to impact the long-term health of the organization then I need to know about it. It could be a change we are about to make, a mistake we made, or just perceptions people have within or outside the organization. But, if I’m eventually going to hear about it anyway I want to hear about it as early in the process as possible.
Want to test your awareness?
Try this simple experiment. Send an email to a fairly sizable group of people you trust – key leaders, staff members, friends – people who know your organization fairly well. These could be from the inside or outside depending on the size of the organization. Make sure there are some people on the list who you know will be honest with you. In fact, tell them you want them to be. Tell them that you are trying to be more aware as a leader and need their help.
Pick some or all of these questions and ask people to respond to them:
What am I currently missing as a leader?
What do you see that I don’t see about our organization?
What should I be doing which I’m not doing – things if you were in my position you would be doing?
Do you think we are changing fast enough to keep up with the needs of the people we are serving?
What are people saying about me or our organization which I’m not hearing?
Would you say I am generally aware of the real problems in our organization?
Who on my team is keeping from me how they really feel?
If you really want to a challenge from this experiment, let them answer anonymously. You trust them, right? You get to set that in the parameters of who you asked to answer. Set up a Survey Monkey account and let them respond without having to add their name.
See what responses you receive.
Not ready to do that? I understand. And, frankly, I’ve gone to that extent only a few times in my leadership – when I especially felt tension in the organization or that I wasn’t losing touch with reality. (You have to be self-aware as a leader to diagnose this one.)
But, you could simply address the symptoms above and see how that improves your awareness as a leader. Whichever you choose. Let’s just always strive to be better leaders.