Thursday, December 01, 2005

Leadership Lesson #5: The Hardest Thing for Me To Do As a Leader

Several weeks ago, I sent a rather lengthy email to the lay leaders of the congregation where I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church. It was my frank assessment of where we stand as a church, what I think God may be calling us to do and be, and an analysis of my own strengths and deficiencies as a leader.

"While tales of my asking people to undertake ministries are told a lot at Friendship," I said at one point, "the fact is that I have asked too little of people. In conveying the grace of God, my reticence about asking things of people authenticates the Gospel. It conveys the giftedness of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It disarms people fearful that the Church just wants to use people up or take their money.

"But I fail to sufficiently challenge people, individually or collectively, once they've stayed with us."

The hardest thing for me to do as a leader has always been to ask others for their help.

For much of my career as a leader, I think I assumed that if people were happy with our church and with me, they would simply pitch in on all the things that need to happen for organizations of any kind to thrive and grow. Whether the people we seek to lead are volunteers or paid subordinates, assuming that people will "get the hint" and pitch in can be fatal to the success of your organization. Mark it down: Nobody wants to be part of an organization that fails to challenge us, that fails to ask our commitment and sacrifice, or that seems to place so little value on people that it doesn't call out the best in them.

My observation is that there are three main reasons that leaders fail to ask for help:
  • Some leaders, as I mentioned in the previous post of this series, feeling that they have insufficient time to train people for the tasks they want them to do forget about recruitment and keep doing things themselves that might best be delegated. By doing this, they bog themselves down and fail to do the most important thing any leader must do: multiply themselves.
  • Some leaders are simply too proud to ask for help. Generally, leaders are competent and self-sufficient people. That can create a hubris that also prevents them from doing the work of multiplication.
  • And some leaders suffer from being pleasers, nice folks who play to the crowd. These leaders say things like, "I don't want to be a bother."
If leaders exhibiting any of these impulses allow them to become central to their operating styles, they're hurting their organizations.

Leaders in churches, one might think, should be less susceptible to adopting these counterproductive leadership styles. After all, the God we know in Jesus Christ has freed us from the delusion of self-sufficiency and from the sickness of co-dependency. Christ calls us to rely for power and guidance on Him, to dare to ask for God's help, and to live in relationships of mutuality, where the sharing and bearing of burdens with others is to happen.

But, of course, Christians are human beings, too. As are Christian leaders, whether they're lay leaders or clergy. I know, because I tend toward the third impulse sited above.

So, simple advice for leaders, no matter what your context:
  • Ask. Ask the people you lead for deeper levels of commitment. (People want to be involved in a cause or task that's bigger than themselves.)
  • Ask. Ask for the help you need. (Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. In the long run, people will respect you more for it.)
  • Ask. Egotists aren't leaders. Period.
  • Ask. Ask for specific help. (I've discovered that most people aren't mind-readers.)
  • Ask. Ask personally. Generic blast "asks" can act as a back-up to interpersonal efforts, but they don't replace asking people either face-to-face or on the telephone.
  • Ask. Above all, ask God for help. I even ask God to help me to ask others for help and to cause them to say, "Yes" to the things I ask them to do. As the English archbishop once observed, answers to prayer might be dismissed as coincidences by skeptics; but the more I pray, the more coincidences happen.
[Next installment: The Indispensable Habit of Effective Leaders]

[Here are links to the previous installments:
The First Thing Every True Leader Must Be
The Most Overrated Attribute of Leaders
The First Thing Every Leader Must Do
The Inefficiency Every Leader Must Embrace to Be Successful]

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