The Fuzziness of a Healthy Team

Clarity is often king in organizational dynamics. Clear communication is vital for healthy teams. A huge part of my job as a leader is to help people understand our vision and where we are going next to try to realize it (as well as I know at the time).

While this is true there is a paradox when it comes to clarity and organizational health.

Some things are actually fuzzy on a healthy team. Indistinct. Muddled. Unclear.

As strange as that seems in an age of instant and constant information it’s actually healthy.

Let me give some examples.

Here are 3 areas of fuzziness on a healthy team:

The lines of authority are blurred

In some of the healthiest organizations I know, the organizational chart doesn’t matter as much in accomplishing the vision. It’s often fuzzy in regards to who is in charge. One person doesn’t have all the ideas answers. Everyone has an equally important role to play, and while everyone knows what is expected of them, who is “in charge” is determined by what is being attempted at the time. Leadership often depends on the task. People lead based on their passions and gifting, more than because of their position or title. And, titles and positions can change as needed to fit current challenges and opportunities.

There aren’t a lot of burdensome rules

Obviously an organization needs structure. Rules have to be in place. But, on healthy teams, rules are designed to enhance, not limit growth. Rules help keep people empowered not controlled – and likely there are fewer of them. Bureaucracy diminishes progress and frustrates the team. Granted, this fuzziness can produce a lot of gray areas, which can even be messy at times, but removing all the hard lines around people promotes their individual creativity and encourages innovation for the team.

Some things are subject to change quickly

Certain things like vision and values are concrete. They aren’t changeable. In a healthy environment, however, methods of accomplishing the vision are always held loosely. There is no sense of ownership or entitlement to a way of doing things. As needs change, the team can quickly adapt without a ton of push back and resistance. Admittedly, this can cause some uneasiness for those who favor structure. That’s where the fuzziness can get uncomfortable, but the team has an attitude of unity, so even people more resistant to change can embrace it.

I am certainly not promoting fuzziness. I would still aim for clarity – whenever possible. Even in times of uncertainty some things, such as the values which drive the team should be clear. But, just as life is often full of unknowns – even messy – so is life on a healthy team. Figuring out how to navigate through these times and keep the team moving forward together is a part of good leadership.

A Leadership Quandary: To Change or Not to Change

I love continual improvement. I am one of those who actually enjoys change. If things stay the same too long I get bored and begin looking for a new challenge. I even stir things for fun sometimes – just to keep life interesting around me. (This is not always a positive characteristic. Ask my wife.)

Personality aside, however, the truth is not everyjthing needs to be tweaked. Some things are probably working okay, achieving great success, and are best left alone for the time being. Change for the sake of change sake is not always good. When Momma said “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and the other cliché about “the grass is always greener”, she was speaking from some life experience.

There is a fine line between making things better and messing things up. One of the great challenges for the leader is carefully considering the balance intention between instigating change for the good of the organization or team and allowing progress to continue without interference.

Determining when to make change and when to leave things the same is one of the most delicate decisions of leadership, but I know one thing for sure:

It’s working” should also never be the primary reason to avoid change, either.

It could be a reason. But, it should not be the fallback reason or used as an excuse not to change.

There are some indicators change could be needed. A few might be:

  • When energy is starting to wane with the status quo
  • When potentially damaging variables are beginning to impact the organization
  • When change can result in greater efficiency or realization of the organization’s mission
  • When it is clear a change will be needed soon to remain competitive or relevant

Organizations and teams need change. (Churches are included here.)

Change keeps momentum going. At times change is needed simply to build a culture of change. And, you often discover something wonderful you would have never discovered without change.

I am always reminded leaders want to be in environments of change. Leaders are most comfortable when they can explore, take risks, and keep things stirring. There’s a reason marketers are always changing things – it’s not just leaders who want change – people tend to like change too, even when they don’t think they do. (Apple has made a fortune knowing this.)

Sometimes a little change, even a little drama, will motivate a team into action.

There is an example which illustrates a change principle of organizational dynamics.

You’ve seen it happen many times. Your ball team is behind in the game. The referee makes what you and the rest of your team’s fans believe is a bad call. It energizes the crowd and the team and helps spur your team on to victory.

If things are becoming dull or routine in your organization, as the leader you may need to stir up some change, even if it seems disruptive at the time. There are times to change just for the sake of creating more energy. This doesn’t mean you change your overall vision and your attempt should be to make a positive change, but if things are stagnating some change may be needed. It would almost be better to have a change that didn’t work than to allow things continue at a standstill.

So while change isn’t always necessary, “it’s working” shouldn’t keep you from considering change either.

Which makes the decision of when to change that much more difficult, doesn’t it? I almost need a default zone for when to make change and when to leave things alone.

One rule of thumb for me: If there hasn’t been any change recently – chances are good it’s time.

The One Question I Ask When Receiving a Complaint

It would be difficult to be in leadership and not have people upset with a decision you made at some point. In fact, with every decision comes a variety of responses. Leadership guides people places they’ve never been before, so leading always involves change. Change of any kind stirs an emotion, which can be positive or negative. The more the change is uncomfortable the more negative the response may be.

So, receiving complaints or criticism is not a rarity in leadership. It comes with the position. But, there is a question I try to ask every time someone complains to me.

This question is powerful in determining how I will respond.

When I have complaints or criticism I ask a question:

Is the complaint individual or representative?

In other words:

  • Is it one person with a problem or are there multiple people with the same problem, but I’m only hearing from one?
  • Does this complaint represent one person’s opinion or is it representative of a larger number of people?
  • Is it a personal issue to or a public issue to multiples?

The answer is critical to me before I respond.

It doesn’t mean I don’t need to pay attention to the one complainer. Their point may be valuable. They may see something I can’t see. I need their input. And, I listen to them. (I think good listening and responsiveness is part of good leadership.)

But, I also know I can’t please everyone. Some individuals are simply going to disagree with the way I do something. And, some people simply don’t like any change. And, if it’s just one person’s complaint I can listen, we can talk, we can agree to agree or disagree, and we can move forward. I know where I stand with them. 

But, while I listen and respond even to individual criticism, when there is a growing tension among a larger group of people, I know the issue demands even more intentionality.
It may or may not alter my response. Leaders shouldn’t lead to be popular. They lead to do the right thing. We don’t lead alone, but after we’ve done all we can to include others and the decision has been made, we move forward.

But, when a larger group are upset about change it will likely alter the intensity of my response.

I’ve learned when a larger number have the same complaint or criticism, even if we certain about the change, the damage done to the perception of my leadership may disrupt all the other good we are trying to do.

In those cases where the criticism is widespread often its for a few reasons. People don’t understand, because they don’t fully understand why. People haven’t felt included along the way. Or, frankly, some people simply don’t like change and will rebel against it regardless. When I realize the complaint from an individual is representative, I can talk to more people to figure out the root of the problem. I can tell the vision (for the change) more often and tell it in more ways and in more places to help people understand the why behind the change. (Zig Ziglar told me years ago, “When people understand the why they aren’t as concerned with the what.”)

Finally, when I know there are more people involved I can monitor people’s perceptions closer. I’m no longer wondering how one person feels, but I know I have a larger group to track with through the change. (And, again, not to make them happy, but to help them through the process of change.)

Individual or representative? Knowing the difference is huge.

Are You a Better Leader or Manager?

Self-evaluation is good here

Are you more of a leader or a manager?

This may be one of the most important questions we have to answer as our careers take us to new roles.

Every organization needs both. There is no shame in either answer, but it’s important we know the difference. We need to figure out which one we do best and then try to arrange our career where we can realize our best potential.

There are lots of descriptions of each role. I’ve written about it numerous times. And, I understand some argue they are the same. But, I simply don’t believe it.

In the book “Reviewing Leadership”, the authors Banks and Ledbetter write, “Leadership and management are two distinct yet related systems of action. They are similar in that each involves influence as a way to move ideas forward, and both involve working with people. Both are also concerned with end results. Yet the overriding functions of leadership and management are distinct. Management is about coping with complexity – it is responsive. Leadership is about coping with change – it too is responsive, but mostly it is proactive. More chaos demands more management, and more change always demands more leadership. In general, the purpose of management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, while the primary function of leadershp is to produce change and movement.”

I think that’s a great summary of the differences between leadership and management for organizations and individuals to consider.

Too many times we ask good managers to be great leaders or good leaders to be great managers. The problem with being in the wrong fit is we tend to burn out more quickly when we are not able to live out our giftedness. In addition, we frustrate the people we are supposed to be leading or managing and ultimately we keep the organization from being the best it can be.

Do a self-evaluation of which you are more skilled at doing.

Are you a better leader or a better manager?

Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Through experience I’ve learned I identify with one of these roles more than the other. One description fires me up and the other drains me. (Can you guess which one fires me up?) One comes more naturally for me and the other I struggle to learn – and attempt to delegate when possible.

What about you? Are you in your proper fit? Do you see the difference?

How You’re Perceived as a Leader May Be More Important

Than how you lead

I have learned how your team sees you may be more important than who you are as a leader. The perception people have about you matters greatly

Obviously, character is most important. Integrity matters even more than perception.

You’ll often be misunderstood and you can’t please everyone. In fact, somedays, as a leader – it seems – you can’t please anyone.

So I’d rather know my character is genuine, be loved most by those who know me best, than to be perceived one way, yet actually be someone different in reality. I don’t care about a false perception.

The reality of the success of a leader, however, may depend more on how you are viewed by the people you lead than it does on what you do as a leader. I’ve learned, often the hard way, that the two are not always the same.

  • Do they see you more as an agent of empowerment or an agent of control?
  • Do they see you more as a champion for their ideas or a killer of their dreams?
  • Do they see you more as a proponent of change or a protector of tradition?
  • Do they see you as a friend of progress or the enemy of success?
  • Do they believe you will protect them when their back is turned?
  • Do they think you have their best interest ahead of your  own?
  • Do they genuinely believe your heart is fully committed to the team?

Much of your success as a leader will depend on the perception you create among the people you attempt to lead. They will follow closer when their perception of you is for them more than for you – or against them. Of course, perception is created by how you lead, but sometimes – just as vision does – perception leaks. And, people form perceptions regardless of whether or not you do anything. Perceptions may or may not be reality. I must be keenly aware of this principle, so by my words and deeds I can be even more intentional to build my perception in their mind.

Candidly. I’ve seen this go in seasons in my leadership. I’ve often had to reinforce my perception in their minds. It could be after a busy or stressful time, when their is tension on the team, or during times of change. They need to perceive I’m still the leader they want to follow.

If you’re still trying to get your mind around my thoughts, here is an example. We recently made some rather significant changes to our organizational structure. It will mean fewer people report directly to me. When we announced the changes I reiterated my open door policy and availability to our staff will continue. For people who work with me long they have learned this is how I lead. But, human nature kicks in for all of us. And, change evokes an emotional response – which helps shape people’s perceptions. I wlll need to take intentional actions in the weeks ahead to make sure the perception of my leadership is as strong as my actual leadership.

Have you ever known a leader who thought he or she was doing better than the team thought?

Don’t Address the HOW until you Address the WHAT

A principle of leadership

I’ve seen it many times.

You have an idea – it’s not a bad idea – it may even be a great idea. You just don’t know yet. As soon as you present the idea the team instantly starts to ask tons of question, begin implementing the plan, and gets bogged down in details.

And, then, after time of discussion – sometimes hours – the team decides its not a good idea after all.

Here’s my advice. I use this with the teams I lead.

Spend your energies at first on deciding whether it’s an idea worth pursuing.

The what.

The what is “what” you are going to do. The current dream you have moving forward. The overall objective. The big picture of what’s next.

Decide the what before you spend a lot of energy on the mechanics of the idea.

The how.

The how is how you are going to do the what. These are the details. The nitty gritty working plan. You may have to talk about some of the how to decide the what, but spend your first, best and most energy on the what.

For example, let’s say you have an idea to add a third church service to allow for more growth – or maybe you are thinking of going multi-site – or the idea could be to plant another church. Don’t spend too much time on the how, until you decide the what.

Ask hard questions such as: Is this an idea worth pursuing? Are we willing to give it a try? Has this been birthed in prayer? Do we believe this is something we are supposed to do?

Yes or no?  

Spending too much time on the how before you address the what:

  • Gets you bogged down in details you may never need.
  • Wastes energy which could be used elsewhere if you aren’t going to do the what.
  • Solves problems you don’t yet and may never have.
  • Creates division about change prematurely.
  • Builds momentum before it’s time. (And, it’s harder to build momentum a second time.

When you know you’re going to do the what – you have to, you’re called to, it’s what or bust – you’ll figure out the how. You’ll find a way to make it happen. You’ll have more passion, clarity and energy to address the how.

Try that next time an idea surfaces and is discussed by your team.

Note: This is assuming, of course, you already know your “why” as an organization. You know why you are doing whatever you are doing. This post addresses a more specific aspect of realizing the vision. If you don’t yet have the why – start there.

The Number One Principle for Attracting Leaders

This is true in church revitalization

One thing I learned very quickly in church revitalization, which I already knew from other experiences, is many times entrepreneurial type leaders disappear when things aren’t working well. People who like big visions don’t hang around when the church is holding on to status quo. If the church wants to argue about paint color real leaders will find another place to attend. They aren’t as interested in the maintenance mode of organizational life. Consequently, we had fewer small business owners, CEO-types, and civic or community leaders.

This is true in attracting new staff members also. The ones you often need to turn things around – innovative, creative, energetic, visionary, leaders – are hesitant to come to a plateaued or declining church.

One frequent question I receive from those trying to do church revitalization is how they can attract new leaders.

Great question.

I have a simple solution. This is the number one principle, in my opinion, for attracting leaders.

Give them a problem to solve.

Hand out visions more than you hand out tasks. Tell them where you want to go, but let them know you haven’t yet figured out how to get there.

If the answer is already found, you can hire a manager for the job – and you’ll likely want and need a good one. You’ll have other problems to solve and a good manager can free you up to lead.

But, to attract a leader…

Help them see a need – give them some freedom to find a solution – give them support, as needed, but get out of the way. Let them go.

Leaders seek opportunities to lead.

Challenge, opportunity, problems,something everyone says can’t be done — Those type environments fuel a leader’s energy. It’s what attracts a leader to your team.

Are you in an environment which attracts leaders? What do you think makes it so?

4 Free Ways to Grow the People You Lead

There are some common questions I hear from leaders. In fact, they may be some of the most important questions leaders can ask. These questions are the essence of who the leader is and what leaders are to do.

Questions such as:

How do we create environments where leaders can grow? What are some common elements necessary in every organization where leaders are growing? Are there ways to stimulate growth in a leader any organization (or church) – regardless of size or budget – can implement?

Have you ever asked such questions?

Here are 4 free ways to grow people:

Knowledge

It has been said knowledge is power. That’s certainly true when it comes to leadership. It’s beeen interesting to watch over the years how some I would not say are the smartest or even best leaders have had power because they had more information.

To help people on our team grow, I know I must share whatever I know. I must communicate fluently. I also need to ask questions and allow people the freedom to ask me questions. I have to encourage our team to be sharing information with others and continually be seeking input from people outside our organization.

Leaders who stir knowledge with in their organization will see people grow. 

Modeling

Character isn’t taught, but it can certainly be modeled. Any leader desiring to grow high character leaders must display the character they wish to develop. I realize my character will greatly determine the quality of leaders we attract. And, I can’t grow leaders (with character) without displaying a high character personally.

I know I can impact growth in people on our team if I display a character worth following. The way I live my life impacts the quality of the life of people trying to follow my leadership.

Opportunity

Most aspiring leaders are waiting for a break. They are seeking an opportunity. They are screaming “Give me a chance”.

I know if I want to grow people I must create opportunities for them to experiment by leading other people. And, the more opportunities I create the more leaders our team can grow.

Experience

It is in the tension of being stretched where we learn most. Walking by faith – leading into the unknown – always teaches me more than I could learn in a “safe place”.

To grow leaders we must give others ample chances to live firsthand in the stress of leadership. I realize one of my roles in the church is releasing my right to control an outcome to provide people with their own experience as a leader – to feel ownership and responsibility for an outcome. 

Give those four a chance and watch the people around you grow.

10 Ways to Keep the “Favorite” Pastor Hat

I read somewhere leadership expert Peter Drucker once said the hardest jobs in America (not necessarily in order) are President of the United States, university presidents, hospital administrators and pastors. I don’t know about most of those, but I talk to struggling pastors weekly. I can believe it makes the list.

Having been in the business and political worlds, and now as a pastor, I have a unique perspective. I can definitely say the hardest job I’ve ever done is being a pastor.

Yet every pastor I know wants to do a good job. They want to be successful in their Kingdom-building efforts. At the same time, they also want to be liked. No one likes to be unpopular. (Frankly, the desire to be so can even be the detriment in a pastor leading well.)

I was actually talking recently with another pastor how hard it is to pastor effectively and make everyone happy. He admitted he was a people-pleaser and I was telling him how impossible this will be long term. To illustrate the point in a humorous way, we began to cite examples of ways to keep people happy. It triggered this post.

So let me say this is written sarcastically. On purpose. Sometimes it’s easier to say the hard stuff if I say it in a humorous way. (Or at least what I think is funny.)

There are some serious issues addressed here that many pastors face. But, after all, I want to be the favorite pastor too, so I’m keeping it lighthearted in my approach.

In fairness, I serve in a healthy, supportive church. Most of what I write now is to support other pastors who may not be. 

Here are 10 ways to remain favorite pastor:

Never turn down a social invitation – Sacrifice your family time. Sacrifice any actual Sabbath. (That command applies to your church, you should teach it, but you’re exempt.) By the way, it might ruin your family dynamic but you’ll keep the church happy.

Don’t talk about money – Jesus never did, right? Don’t be meddling in people’s business.

Never mention sex – Good Christians don’t. They just don’t. They don’t even think about it.

Stick to the sins everyone else is doing – Stick to things which the world is struggling with – outside the church. Don’t mention things like gossip or gluttony. Those hit too close to home.

Don’t challenge anyone. – People don’t want their toes stepped on and definitely don’t want to leave with homework. Don’t make them think how the message impacts them after they leave.

Preach “feel good” messages. – Tell them things like God is going to keep their life problem-free and how they can name it and claim it.

Wear the right clothes – Dress like Jesus did, right?

Don’t mess with traditions – Especially the ones which were started by pastor so and so. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And, it ain’t broke if they are still comfortable with it.

Play everyone’s favorite music – Every Sunday. (You miracle worker.)

Don’t lead – just preach – Give your “best” message every Sunday, and don’t take people anywhere new. Change is never popular.

On a serious note – pastoring is a tough job, but remember, our calling is not to be popular. It’s to be obedient. And, not to a crowd, but to a King.

And, when we are obedient, it’s the best job ever! (Every job is when we are in the center of His will.)

Ever tried to be a favorite pastor? Do you have any you’d add?

You’ve Been Fired from the Pastorate – What Now?

7 Suggestions

I’m at that point in my ministry where I feel like I’d rather cut grass for a living than serve Christ as a preacher of His gospel. That’s just not healthy. But that’s where I am.

Wow! I’ll never forget receiving this text from a young pastor. A few  deacons had asked him to “consider” resigning or they would bring a vote before the church.

In my opinion they didn’t have the guts to actually fire him. They know they probably didn’t have enough votes at the church level. But, he loves the church, and didn’t want to cause division, so he did what he felt was the right thing and stepped away gracefully.

Of course, there are always issues on both sides, but church can be brutal on a pastor at times. 

What do you do when the church fires you? Or, when the proverbial rug is pulled out from under you?

Here are 7 suggestions:

Assess how you got here.

What happened? You probably already know to a certain extent, but it’s good to evaluate. Where did you push too hard? Who did you cross you shouldn’t have? What was the actual line you crossed? You may not change anything if you had it do over, but this will help you as you move into another position at some point.

Own your mistakes.

If you can’t admit you made some, you may have bigger problems. There are always things you could’ve done better. Own your junk. Admit your failures. These are the best teaching tools you will ever have for future development.

Contact some friends.

You’ll be tempted to keep to yourself It may be embarrassing, but you need people around you. It’s easier to hide. You need people who will look deep into your heart and speak into your soul. Obviously, you should have these people developed before you get into the situation, but either way, you have to have an outlet for your current emotions.

Protect your family.

There will be rumors and half-truths and speculation and gossip. It’s what people do. As much as possible protect your spouse and children from it. Important caveat – don’t shelter your spouse from you. 

Rest and receive grace.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”(Hebrews 4:16) One of the worst things you could do is to step back into something immediately without giving your heart a chance to heal. 

Network while you figure out what’s next.

And, next may be taking a season to heal. Or simply finding a healthy church to be a part of for a while. (I have loved being a part of churches were dozens of pastors I have “hung out” while they prepared for the next season of ministry.) There are healthy churches, which will help you during this season. this is the time to contact your network of other pastors. Don’t be bashful, and don’t be too proud. Be honest with where you are and ask for help finding your next position. You may need to take a secular job for a while. Whatever you do, make sure you take adequate time to think through next steps.

Begin again – in God’s timing.

This is the great advantage of grace. There is an opportunity to begin again. Read the story of the prodigal son. Remind yourself of David’s failures. Read the reconciliation of Peter with Jesus. If God has called you He has not given up on His call. Your next season may look different, but He still has great work for you to do.

The ministry can be brutal. So can people in the church be. If you are a casualty in ministry, please know there are people who care, and your best days may be ahead of you yet.