4 Theories of How a Leader Becomes Controlling

One of the most dangerous forms of leadership, and one of the most frustrating, in my opinion, is the controlling leader. I’ve written about this issue previously, because I believe it is one of the leading reasons for stalled growth and low morale in an organizational or team setting.

Under a controlling leader’s watch, leadership development is virtually non-existent. Pride is rampant. Ideas are squashed. Momentum is curtailed. It simply never works well.

A friend of mine and I were discussing this issue. He works in the business world and his boss is a controlling leader. It has led to burnout for my friend and caused him to start putting his resume out. He’s done – he simply can’t take it anymore. I realize this business is going to suffer long-term, because the leader can’t let go of the reigns. As an outsider, it appears they will be losing a quality person if they lose my friend. At this point in the life of the business, it will be a devastating blow.

In the conversation, my friend asked an important question. “How does one become a controlling leader?”

Good question.

I don’t know that I can answer for every controlling leader, but I have some theories. I know things which trigger controlling tendencies in my leadership – and, I think if we are honest, all of us leaders can control at times.

These are just my thoughts.

Here are 4 ways a leader becomes controlling:

Faith – or lack there of

Typically, this leader doesn’t trust anyone except him or herself to do the job. They are afraid to release the vision to others, often because they don’t have faith enough either in others, or in themselves, or even in God. It requires faith to trust when you release control others will do as they are supposed to do. Especially in the church, trusting the body’s many parts is an act of faith that God’s plan works.

In terms of the church, our vision is shaped by Christ. He was the master at delegation. He obviously set the vision, but then handed the entire ministry over to His disciples. The ministry leader who struggles with their faith will always default to trying to make things happen on his or her own.

Failure

This leader has witnessed failure – either personally or in the lives of others. They are now leery of things going wrong under their watch and so they refuse to let anyone else take charge. Controlling appears to be the “safer” option.

Fanfare

These leaders thrive on attention they receive from the limelight. They have been motivated over the years by the name they can build for themselves. They want the power, prestige and privileges which come with leadership, so they shut down anyone else who may appear to be easing into a position of influence or gaining in notoriety.

Fear

Mostly due to a lack of confidence in themselves, these controlling leaders always believe the sky is falling. They see the glass as “half empty” and don’t want to take too many risks or chances. When everything is under their control they feel a sense of security.

I don’t know if any of us can answer this question as it applies to every leader, but these are some theories I’d suggest.

Have you ever worked with a controlling leader? Anything you’d add to my list?

Leader, do you have controlling tendencies? Do any of these apply to you?

3 Problems with Being Too Nice as a Leader

I remember talking with a leader not long ago. She’s an incredibly kind and gentle person. She’s smart, hard-working, and loyal. She’s a relational leader and usually brings out the best in people, so she’s had success in leadership. At the time of our conversation she was experiencing problems in a new position and asked for my help.

In talking through the specific situation, it quickly became obvious she had one weakness and it was effecting her entire team. It’s a common weakness among leaders. At times, most of us will struggle in this area.

Her weakness?

She was being too nice!

I realize this doesn’t sound like it could ever be a weakness. And, it has made her well-liked in the organization. She’s incredibly popular. And, she likes that. But, it also had made her team less successful than it could have been. And, thankfully, she recognized it, but wasn’t sure how to fix it.

A few team members were taking advantage of her niceness by under-performing in their role. She hadn’t challenged the problems, even though she knew she should. She was losing sleep over it, but didn’t know what to do. The relational leadership in her, which is a positive about her leadership style, was not working for these team members.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in an organization. Maybe you’ve been on either side of this issue. If this is your situation, you have probably even thought or said things such as, “I gave them an inch and they took a mile.” 

I am not suggesting one become a mean leader. It would be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be Biblical leadership. I am suggesting one become a wise leader. Wisdom learns to guide people in the direction which is best for them, the leader, and the entire team or organization.

In this situation, I advised my friend to take off her “nice hat”, at least temporarily, to address the few people causing the majority of the problems which were impacting the entire team. As hard as I know it would seem at first, in the end it would be a blessing for the entire team – and my leader friend.

I have learned people accept the what better if they first understand the why – so then I shared with her why I feel her default niceness is causing current problems for the team.

Here are 3 problems with being too nice as a leader:

It’s bad for the leader

The leader ends up stressing over the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the big picture, the leader is focused on a few problems with usually only a few people. The leader feels unsuccessful, even like a failure at times, as the team achieves less than desired results.

It’s bad for the organization

The team suffers because a few people mess up the system and progress for everyone else. Those on the team who wish to do the right thing lose respect for the leader. Others will follow the example of those taking advantage of the leader and lower their own performance standards. The organization loses.

It’s bad for the person taking advantage of the leader’s niceness

Enabling bad behavior is never good for the under-performing team member. It keeps him or her from identifying their full potential and from realizing personal success. They may be a superstar if they were given structure and held accountable to complete their work. And, they may never improve. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person – certainly the team – is help them move on to something new.

And, for those still struggling with my concept here, let me give a more sobering example. I understand this is extreme, but it is the same principle. We have friends who’s adult son got into a serious drug problem. He’s now recovering, but they parents and child would tell you the answer came only when they decided to demonstrate tough love, not enable him, and literally refuse to bail him out again.

Again, extreme example, but sometimes being “too nice” is not the best way to love others.

“To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭12:1‬ 

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to challenge them. 

Leader, have you become too nice as a leader?

Are you allowing problems to continue out of a fear of not being liked? There is nothing wrong with being a relational leader. That can be a great style of leadership, but part of developing any healthy relationship involves conflict, tough conversations and difficult decisions.

If you are not careful you can become everyone’s friend, but nobody’s leader.

Leading is hard – some days harder than others. The sooner you handle the problem (and the problem people), the sooner things will begin to improve on your team for everyone – and the sooner you can get a good night’s rest.

7 Reasons Leaders Dump Delegation

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I see for stalled growth, low morale of teams, and not sustaining momentum has to do with leaders who refuse to delegate. They simply won’t. Either they don’t know how, they don’t see the value or they simply don’t want to delegate, but it hurts their team’s potential.

Here are 7 reasons some leaders aren’t delegating:

They might appear to be doing less.

Everyone knows they are the leader. What will people think if they are not the one doing everything?

(Pastors struggle with this one a lot.)

They fear losing authority.

And, this is a legitimate fear. Delegation, if it is done right, means they give up the right to control every outcome.

They still have to be available, even when delegating.

Delegation doesn’t mean a leader can dump and run. They have to be available to assist, advise and encourage. So, some leaders feel if they are going to be involved anyway – they might as well do it themselves.

Someone might not do things the way they would.

Let’s be honest. This is huge, isn’t it? And, those who have this as an excuse naturally assume their way is always best.

(And, that one leads to the next one.)

It might get done faster and better.

Okay, this one is certainly hard to admit. Faster is one thing, but better? What if someone else gets credit? What if they think someone is better than the leader? It might expose or grow a new leader – and, how threatening could that be?)

(I know. It’s a pride issue. And, yes, all of us leaders struggle with it at some level.)

Someone else might get credit.

Their credit! Credit they once got before they decided to delegate.

They simply don’t know the value in delegation.

Frankly, in my opinion, this is the bigger issue. They’ve never seen a healthy enough team where everyone has a role to play, everyone is a leader at some level, and everyone gets credit.

Any other reasons you can think of why leaders don’t delegate?

3 Critical Ways Every Leader Must Spend Time

Time is one of the greatest assets of any leader.

Learning to balance a leader’s time effectively is often a key in determining the level of success the leader attains. In my experience, every leader has three critical segments where they must invest their time on a regular basis.

It also seems to me leaders tend to do one of these especially well, so by default they spend most of their time on that one – often to the neglect of the other two.

All three are needed. All three.

Learning to balance a leader’s time in each of these three areas will greatly enhance the leader’s productivity, so the leader must discipline for the other two.

Here are the 3 critical ways every leader must spend their time:

Time reflecting on past experience

If a leader doesn’t evaluate where they have been and what has been done, he or she will soon be disappointed with where they are going. Leaders must spend ample time in personal, team member and organizational evaluations. This includes celebrating success. People need this too.

Evaluation should be done after each major events but also on a regular basis evaluating overall activity of the organization should be considered.

A leader can’t get frozen on this one though – always thinking of what has already happened. At some point it’s time to move forward.

Time focusing on current obligations

A leader must be disciplined to take care of the immediate needs of the organization. The busier a leader becomes, unless a leader is naturally wired for this one, the more he or she tends to naturally neglect routine tasks. Things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, for example, remain critical at every level of leadership. This may also include simply catching up with co-workers, even in social conversation.

I find personally if I don’t operate with some scheduled time for current obligations I will get dreadfully behind and end up not being effective for anyone.

Honestly, this one is a drag for me at times. I’m wired for what’s next. But, sometimes the routine stuff I do is huge for other people. And, necessary for me.

Time dreaming about the future

Leaders must spend time dreaming of the future. If a leaders doesn’t, no one else will either. This is critical to an organization’s success. I believe the larger an organization grows or the leader’s responsibilities expand the more time must be spent on this aspect of time management.

This comes natural for some leaders and not for others. Personally, I love this one. Again, if it’s not natural it must be scheduled. Planning a few hours a week to read, brainstorm, interact with other creative leaders can make a big difference. Several times a year it may be important to spend a day or more away from the office with the sole purpose of dreaming of what’s next.

The place in the organization and season of responsibility will determine which of these get the greatest attention at the time, but none of them can be neglected for very long periods of time. Again, a leader learning to balance these three components of time is a key aspect in determining the ultimate success of the leader.

Here are a few questions for personal evaluation:

  • Which of this are you more geared towards as a leader? (Please don’t say all come naturally.)
  • Which of these needs your greatest attention at this time in your leadership? (Be honest.)
  • How do you balance your time between these three areas? (Be helpful.)

7 Unwritten Rules which Shape an Organization

In an organization the unwritten rules are just as, if not more, important than the written rules. I wrote about this idea HERE.

If you are considering making changes, implementing something new, adding staff, or any of dozen other decisions in your organization, you need to also consider the these “rules” of the organization.

Here are a 7 examples of unwritten rules:

The culture

How does it responds to change? How does it addresses problems? How does it plans for the future? How trusted is leadership? These are all unique to any organization.

The leader’s accessibility and temperament

Every senior leader is different. If you change the leader you change some of the unwritten rules. Is he or she considered approachable? Does he or she participate with the team normally? Would he or she know if there was a perceived problem in the organization? Do team members trust leadership? These answers shape responses to change.

The relationships of team members to each other

Is there a friendship or just a working relationship among team members? Is conflict acceptable and healthy? Do team members feel freedom to speak freely when in disagreement? Do people respect one another? Is there a silo culture or a common vision everyone is working to achieve? The healthiest organizations have people working together who genuinely like one another. If that isn’t there, change will be more difficult.

The sense of work satisfaction

Are there long-term team members? Are team members generally happy with the organization? Is there any unrest among team members? Are there unspoken concerns within the organization? Many times this has been formed over the years, sometimes even before a leader has been in the position, but it is valuable information for any leader.

The reaction to change

Is the “way it’s always been done” changeable? Has change usually been accepted or resisted? Who has to initiate change? What is the anticipated speed of change? Who needs to know about it? The success of change will be directly related to the answers to these questions and the way a leader responds to them.

The way information flows

How does communication really happen? What are the circles of influence? Who drives discussion? Who has influence with peers? What are the expectations regarding the “need to know”? Communication is key in any organization so, as leaders, we must understand the way it occurs.

The real power structure

Who really makes the decisions? Is it a board? A few key people? A consensus of the largest percentage of people? Power structures are rarely as purely formed as what is written on a piece of paper. Knowing this is critical to navigating change.

As a leader, it’s important that you not only concentrate your attention on what is easily measured, written in a policy manual, or even spoken as a value. Other considerations may be more important, even though they may have never been expressed formally. When change occurs or is to be implemented in an organization, paying attention to these unwritten rules is necessary for success.

By the way leaders, most likely you helped write (or are helping to write) these unwritten rules.

What are some of the unwritten rules of your organization?

5 Situations You May Need to Micromanage

For The People on Your Team

I prefer to be a macro-manager. I like to lead leaders. This means I try to cast the vision for a team and get out of the way, releasing each team member to do his or her work in their own individual way.

There are times, however, where more micro-management may be needed by senior leadership. More coaching, encouraging or correction may be needed for a season.

Here are 5 times to consider some micromanagement:

When a team member is new to the organization.

They need to learn your culture and way of doing things. They don’t know. This doesn’t mean you don’t allow them to invent, dream and discover, but they also need to know how decisions are made, the unwritten rules, and the internal workings of the environment. It will serve everyone well and they’ll last longer on the team if these are learned early in their tenure.

When a team or team leader has been severely crippled by injury or stress.

I’ve had a few times where a member of our team just wasn’t mentally or emotionally capable of making the right decisions. It could be what they were dealing with in their personal life or with the stress of their work, but I had to step in and help them more than I normally would for a season to help them succeed.

When in a state of uncertainty, transition or change.

I once had a strong leader quit abruptly from his position. His team was devastated. I quickly realized they had relied too much on his leadership and were now lost without him. It required more of my time initially until we could raise up new leadership and better empower everyone on the team.

When tackling a new objective, critical to the organization.

This is especially true when, as the senior leader, I’m the architect of the idea. They need more of my time to make sure things are going the way I envisioned them to go. That doesn’t mean the outcome will look exactly like I planned, but in the initial start, the team can waste time and resources trying to figure me out without my input, rather than doing productive work.

When a team member is underperforming in relation to others.

As a leader, I feel it is part of my role to help people perform at their highest level possible. Sometimes this requires coaching, sometimes instruction, and sometimes even discipline. Part of being a leader is recognizing potential in people and helping them realize that potential within the organization. For a season, to help someone get on track for success on our team, (or even to discover they aren’t a fit for our team) I have to manage closer than I normally prefer.

I obviously wrote this in the context of an organization and not specific to the church, but these principles equally apply in the church. The important thing is that the end goals and objectives need to be reached, so at certain critical times a leader must step in and ensure the vision is being accomplished.

7 Ways to Lose Favor with Senior Leadership

I can be pretty hard on senior leadership. Having been in such a position for over 25 years, I know the bad side of senior leadership. I’ve witnessed it and, in full candor, I’ve been it.

My goal is always to improve senior leadership for all of us, which has been a chief goal of this blog. When I’m coaching other leaders, predominately I’m coaching senior leadership.

But, what about those who are supporting senior leadership?

Any good senior leader knows he or she is nothing without the people on their team. Without people to lead there is no need for leadership. And, a huge part of good leadership is having confidence in the people on is trying to lead.

So, a good leadership question might be: What causes senior leadership to lose confidence in people they are trying to lead?

How do you lose favor with senior leadership?

Here are 7 common ways I have observed in my own leadership:

Give half-hearted devotion to the vision.

Speaking for someone in senior leadership, who feels the weight of completing the vision before us, there’s little time to waste on people who don’t share the same vision. It’s one thing not to understand it, to have questions about it, or need development. Everyone has bad days and bad seasons, but, it’s a completely different story when the person has lost passion – or never had passion – for the vision. Especially when they demonstrate it by their work.

Sometimes the best thing for the rest of the team – and the person – is for them to find a vision they can support. These are tough decisions leaders often have to encourage.

Work for a competing vision.

This one is slightly different. In the previous one, the person has lost heart. This person has plenty of heart – but, for a completely different vision. Any team will crumble under competing visions. When a team member starts competing, it’s hard to maintain the support of senior leadership.

Eventually, competing visions cause others on the team to choose sides. The division results in ineffectiveness and poor morale. Again, hard decisions may have to be made.

Always bringing surprises.

As a senior leader, there’s a surprise everyday. Something is always coming we didn’t see coming. It’s part of the job – and honestly – it keeps most leader-types energized, even when the surprise presents a new challenge. But, because they are so frequent, a healthy team helps limit them.

If someone on the team, for example, knows there is a problem brewing, and doesn’t share it with senior leadership in a timely manner, there is the potential for a bigger, more complicated challenge. It might have been avoided with prior information.

Whether in the person’s area of work or in their personal life, if there are frequent “surprises” the senior leader begins to lose confidence in the team member. The key here is good team members practice good communication. It’s paramount to a healthy team. It’s much easier to address an issue with advance knowledge. We can get through almost anything if we handle it together.

Never learning from mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes. Good leaders actually expect them as a part of the development process. It’s easy to lose the confidence of senior leadership, however, when mistakes made never produce improvement – or when there is an attitude of indifference towards them.

Failing to follow through.

Work has to be done. And, every great idea is just an idea until someone follows through with a plan of accomplishment. This is what separates great teams from mediocre teams. When team members never complete the tasks assigned, they lose the confidence of senior leadership.

(This one deserves a sidebar. If there are more tasks assigned than possible to complete, there could be a problem on the senior leaders side. This is another post, but sometimes you have to “lead up” to help senior leadership understand this, but make sure the problem is too many tasks and not a need to develop as a task master. Make sure you’re doing all you can to get better at time-management, for example.)

Causing your loyalty or respect to be questioned.

This one will raise eyebrows, but it’s true. Obviously, this requires a vision worth following, but loyalty towards senior leadership is necessary to complete the vision. I posted recently on some of my most repeated leadership nuggets. One of them is “Don’t trip over your own humility”. Basically, I described it as don’t refuse to do the right thing because it seems self-serving. And, this is certainly the case when you expect loyalty of followers. But, mutual loyalty and respect – from leaders and team members – is necessary to carry a team forward in a healthy way.

Say one thing. Do another.

There’s no place where letting our “yes be yes and our no be no” is more important than on a healthy team. And, every good leader knows this. People-pleasers don’t earn respect on a team once they are exposed. And, yes, this does start with senior leadership, but it must be carried through at every level of the team.

These are meant to be helpful. I work with a lot of ministry leaders who report to a senior pastor. I have never met one who didn’t want the support of the senior pastor, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with everything the pastor did. They want to be supported. When you’ve supposedly bought into the senior leadership, you want to be a team player, this is simply a gut honest look at some common ways to lose their support.

And, the same goes for senior leadership. We want people we can support, believe in, and want to work with on our team. And, every senior leader I know is trying to build such a team.

Granted, some are better at this than others. And, frankly, there are lots of senior leaders who aren’t worthy of much of the items on this list. They are difficult to follow, because they are difficult to trust. They may be incompetent, lack drive and be very controlling. Those are subjects of other posts – subjects I write about frequently. I realize if you’re in one of these situations there may be a natural push-back to a post like this. This post assumes at some point you believed in the senior leadership.

(And, if not, this too is a subject of another post, but maybe this post serves as another reminder to you it’s time for a change.)

Senior leaders, anything else you would add?

7 Indicators It’s Time for Change in Organizational Structure

I’ve been a leader in an almost 200 year old company and a new business. I’ve led in a church plant and now in an over 100 years old established church. One thing I’ve learned is there are many similarities in organizations – especially when it comes to the need for changing structure.

Healthy organizations maintain an unchanging vision long-term. One way they do so is with a willingness to change their organizational structure as needed.

When it comes to organizational structure not everything needs changing. If the structure works. Keep it. It’s comfortable. People understand it. Progress is happening.

But progress is happening is important. So is effectiveness and efficiency.

In my current context of the church, I’m always reminded how important our vision is and how people sacrifice personally to fund it. If the organizational structure is impeding the accomplishment of the vision (mission) it is prudent we make changes. Anything less is failing to be good stewards of what we’ve been entrusted and called to do.

There are times to change. It’s important leaders realize those times.

How do you know when organizational structural change is needed?

Here are 7 considerations to discern it is time:

When you continually encounter obstacles trying to move forward.

If every decision you are trying to make hits roadblocks or dead ends, it may be time to build a new road – or at least repair the potholes. When it takes layers of people and weeks or months to make a decision it may be time to change the structure of how decisions are made. People may need to be empowered more. Rules may need to be eliminated or rewritten.

When the steps to make the change is more exhausting than the value the change provides.

Change should be exhilarating. Change brings momentum. When the process to get there is so long or difficult it wears you out and you’ve got no excitement left – it may be time for some structure change.

When you can no longer attract leaders.

When people are controlled more than empowered you will attract doers but you won’t attract visionary leaders. Creative leadership will die, because genuine leaders rebel against controlling environments.

When you spend more time discussing than doing.

Granted we need to meet about some things. We need to plan, strategize and organize. I suggest we have better meetings, but even more we need action. Our visions are hungry for progress towards them. Meetings should create action. The best structures help you get busy doing not attending yet another meeting. When people feel drained by meetings it probably means you need some change in how, when and why you meet.

When the structure you have now isn’t sustainable long term.

Structure based upon people, for example, rather than progress, will eventually need changing as people change. Ask yourself will this structure work 10 years from now? If not, the time to change is now.

A perfect example of this is in my current established church context. We recognized our system of business meetings was not sustainable. Younger generations weren’t coming. As an older generation slowly grows smaller there were fewer people making decisions for the church, and some of those didn’t want change of any kind. We went from monthly meetings where 2% of the Sunday crowd attended to quarterly meetings (and we improved the quality of the meetings) where some 20% attend.

When all creativity is structured out of the system.

Sometimes the process can become so clearly defined nothing new is needed. There is no room for different ideas or opinions. No one needs them anymore. Every question is answered. When people fall into routines, they get bored, and complacency becomes the norm. Development stops. It’s time for some structural change which allows more freedom and creative expression.

One example where we’ve done this is empowering our staff to create their own goals and objectives. We let new people write their own job descriptions. We sign-off on what they say they want to accmplish – to make sure it lines up with overall goals – and we hold people accountable by what they say they wanted to accomplish.

When there is no longer any confusion.

This one can be harder to understand. Most peopel tend to like clarity. The problem is if everything is so carefully scripted the organization has probably become stale. It may be time for some structure change. Some of the best discoveries are found amidst chaos. I love what Andy Stanley says about “a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved”. Good organizations have some of those.

We recently decided to take one of our largest events of the year and break it down into dozens of smaller events. Our goal was to take the energy invested in a big event and hopefully spread the energy throughout our church to better live our vision of getting more people involved. There were a lot of unanswered questions. It’s harder to manage many events than it is one. We certainly made some mistakes and learned from them, but the unanimous decision afterward is it was a good change.

Those are some of my thoughts based on experience.

Does your organization need to make some changes?

The Most Successful Organizations Empower People to Think

Without worrying about the rules...

Several years ago I had problems with my cable service. I made numerous phone calls and several trips to the company; all in an attempt to correct the problem while politely obeying what I was told to do. I realize as a pastor my community reputation is on the line and so I try to be extremely respectful in dealings with the public – even when I’m frustrated. (Actually, I am reminded it’s Biblical to guard the tongue.)

And, I was frustrated. This adventure went on for weeks with each phone call and visit ending with no solution to my problem. I was simply given another step I needed to make. One more phone call. One more visit. No solutions. 

And, yet, the most frustrating part of all – each unresolved phone call and visit ended the same way – with the service person who had not yet solved my problem, and had actually prolonged it, asking me the same question. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

It soon became obvious the company policy required them to ask this question at the conclusion of every service encounter. I get it. Give them a script. Help ensure uniform customer service. 

As I reflected on each conversation, however, it was apparent the customer service people had not freedom of what to say in their responses. They were trained what to say for certain situations, but couldn’t alter how they ended the conversation. How was I supposed to answer this standard closing question?

I hadn’t received any help. NONE. 

In fact, it seem I was being delayed from getting help. How could they help me with “anything else” when they hadn’t help me with anything?

I realize without some scripting most employees wouldn’t have a clue what to say, but instead of making me feel better about my situation, it only incited a negative emotion. (Which I tried – successfully for the most part – to control.)

This was a minor incident, and honestly not a deal in the story of my life, but it reminded me of an important organizational principle.

The most successful organizations empower employees the freedom to think for themselves.

They allow individuals to make the best decision – say the right things – at the moment for the setting they are in, realizing the best person to make a decision or determine what to say is the one having the conversation with the customer. In my situation, it may have been better to say something such as, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you this time. We will continue to work to resolve your problem.”

Instead, I was recited a standard, pre-written line from a company handbook which really didn’t even apply to my situation. 

If a leader wants his or her team to make the best decisions, train them in vision, mission, overall philosophy. Teach them good customer service skills and how to ask the right questions to determine the real problem. Help them understand how to gauge customer attitudes and emotions. Then give them the right to think for themselves!

I have heard the motto of Nordstroms Department Store is to instruct employees to always make a decision which favors the customer before the company. They are never criticized for doing too much for a customer – they are more likely criticized for doing too little. Love it. 

When a person has the authority to alter the script, they are more likely to provide a positive experience for the customer.

By the way, I believe this is an important principle in the church as well. Our goal should be to help volunteers understand the vision, basic teachings and philosophies of the church – then empower them think!

Do you want to know how my cable situation was resolved? Do you like the “end of the story”?

I finally got in touch with an employee from the company I knew personally. I asked him what he would try if it were his house. He gave me a suggestion to try for myself. We went with this and the trouble was solved – in a matter of a few minutes. (And, since it was a conversation among friends, he didn’t even ask me if he could help me with anything else.) 

Leaders, does your team feel freedom to make the best decision at the time? Have you freed your people to think?

7 Non-Negotiable Values for Teams I Lead

Leader, what do you look for when you bring a person on to your team?

More importantly perhaps, what expectations do you have for people who serve on your team?

Over the years, both of these questions have been important for me to answer. I think it’s valuable to know yourself well enough you understand the qualities in people with whom you work best. You don’t want everyone to be like you – in fact, you need people who balance you as a leader. Here I’m not talking about personality traits, opinions or ways a person prefers to complete a job. These aren’t skills. These are values – the principles we use to interact with one another on a team on a regular basis.

Several years ago I took time to put together my own list of non-negotiables. I know the title may seem offensive – non-negotiables. Sounds harsh. But, I don’t mean it to me. It’s simply I have learned these are characteristics I almost have to have in people if we are going to work well together long-term.

I would assume a few of these, maybe even most of them, might be non-negotiables on any healthy team. Some of them are things we may have to instill in people over time, but I’ve learned my leadership well enough to know that I’ll struggle with a team member who doesn’t equally value – or at least strive to display – each of these.

Here are 7 non negotiable values for a team I lead:

Responsiveness

It is a personal value, maybe even a pet peeve of mine, but I believe it is imperative to respond to people in a timely manner. Of course, this is a subjective value of what timely means, but it’s one the entire team soon recognizes – and not with good results – if it is absent.

As an example, a person doesn’t have to return emails the same day (which is what I personally prefer to do), but they should return emails. When I hear from someone in our church, “I’ve sent several emails, but they never responded to me”, that’s a problem. People deserve an answer even if the answer is “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to get someone else to answer you.”

Honesty and Openness

Teams are built on trust. You can’t have trust without honesty. And, therefore, in my opinion, without honesty it’s just a group of people, but not a team. It’s been said honesty isn’t saying everything you think. It’s being honest in everything you say. I agree with this. We can work through almost any issue if we approach it honestly.

The fact is, I don’t like hidden issues or supressed opinions. If you feel strongly about it – if its bothering you greatly – let’s talk about it. Here’s why: Drama destroys a team and gossip is a sign of immaturity. And, frankly, I’ve got little time for either of them. If it’s important to you or the team, let’s talk about it. Let’s certainly not talk about it behind each other’s back.

Respect

Another personal value for me is mutual respect on the team. Everyone, regardless of position, deserves respect. When making a hiring decision, because I try to find leaders, I ask myself if I would respect the person enough to follow them as my leader. If I wouldn’t, it will be hard for me to respect them as a team member. Consequently, I hope they wouldn’t join our team unless they believe they could respect my leadership. I want to respect people I lead and, therefore, I believe it’s only fair they want to respect me.

Resolved Conflict

Unresolved conflict is a cancer to the health of any team. When two people have an issue between them and they don’t work to resolve it, people begin to choose sides, grudges are developed, and a timebomb starts clicking. Passive aggression drives me nuts! Just as any family needs to do, healthy teams address issues of concern between people, they work towards resolution if possible and an attempt at mutual understanding and collaboration if not. Healthy team members extend grace and forgiveness freely to others on the team. We go home at the end of the day and start the next day at peace with one another.

Work ethic

This one is pretty simple. To the best of your ability, realizing the best plans sometimes fail, do what you say you will do when you said you will do it. I extend lots of grace in leadership. We all make mistakes and we learn from them, but a value of mine is each person does their best efforts and pulls their share of the load. It’s one reason I need clear goals and objectives for myself and everyone on our team. Ambiguity in what’s expected leads to frustration for all of us. I protect my family time and try to create an environment which allows this to be a value for everyone on the team, but when we know where we are going and who is responsible for what – when we are at work – let’s get it done. Our mission is too important to do otherwise.

Limited need for oversight

I can’t stand micro-management. I don’t want to do it nor do I want it done to me. I believe in setting some goals, assigning tasks, and celebrating at the finish line. I’ll even come back and hold your hand across the line if needed, but if you don’t ask, I assume you’re still running on your own. Yes, this is frustrating for some people at times who need lots of detailed directions, and we have to work through the frustration, but one of the previous values is honesty and openness. Ask if you don’t know or understand and tell me when I’m moving too fast. I take a big picture look at everything. I want to be generally aware and interested in all we are doing as a team. I try to ask lots of questions, but don’t surprised if I am not as clued in to the details of your job as I am to mine. I’m trusting you with those.

Participation

A personal value for me is everyone on the team feel they play a vital role in completing our vision. (I even think it’s Biblical.) We provide ownership of responsibilities, regardless of titles. I don’t want anyone sitting on the bench on a team I lead. There are plenty of innings ahead – let’s play ball. In fact, if I feel someone is hiding out in the dugout, afraid to get up to bat, I’m probably going to help them find a better position – and more coaching if needed.

So what do you think? Fair? Harsh? Reasonable? As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve simply learned these are necessary for me in leading a team. When these are in place, most people find I’m pretty easy going, and would hopefully say I am supportive of their work. This is certainly my goal.

Leader, have you thought through the values important for teams you lead?

I believe it will help you be a better leader, help you find people you can better work with to add to your team, and reduce frustration for everyone if they know what it takes in your eyes to create a healthy team.