If you could pick a golden oldie to capture your leadership style and approach, what song would you choose?
- “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright
- “Crazy Train” by Ozzie Osbourne
- “Can’t Find the Time to Tell You” by Orpheus
- “I Can’t Turn You Loose” by the Chambers Brothers
- “I Need a Miracle” by the Grateful Dead
Whether you recognize these songs and artists or not, the titles accent five golden leadership basics, concepts most of us have heard about. Nonetheless, they prove well worth reviewing as we serve God’s people.
It’s the “vision thing.” It may sound trite, but it’s undeniably true. Vision matters. People today have little time or patience for busy work. Most of us put in more hours on the job than we did a decade ago. We want the time we invest in volunteer activities to make a true and lasting difference. Simply “doing” a program because “we’ve always done it” makes little sense and has little appeal, especially for the most gifted volunteers.
As we all know, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” So as a leader, weave a dream! What “preferred future” has the Holy Spirit planted in your heart? What hopes and ideals inspire you and those he has called into fellowship with you?
Listen to what others are saying about the kind of difference they want to make. Listen to what the Lord shows you about unmet needs in your congregation and community. Explore the Scriptures and pay attention to the words that leap off the page and ignite a fire in your heart. Then paint a picture of what—together—you and those around you might do truly to touch hearts and change lives through the power of the Gospel!
Specifically, then, you will want to dream this way:
- Listen to followers’ hopes; discover their hot-button issues and weave some of them into your vision.
- Consider the scriptural callings God has placed on your entire church and think through how your organization’s mission fits in with that, how it complements it.
- Mull over the possibilities until they become very real to you. See the first grader coming to faith. Smell the soup you will cook for the homeless family. Hear the anthem the choir will sing to lead God’s people into God’s presence in worship.
- Then plan a way to tell that story to your followers in a concise and compelling way. Grab them by the lapels, as it were, and help them see what you see. Help them understand precisely what they will accomplish and why it matters for the Kingdom of Christ.
Weave a dream!
Don’t board that train! Don’t buy tickets for your followers, either! No one enjoys careening around corners at breakneck speed, following no discernible path to Grand Central Station.
Creating consensus around goals, around a central vision, matters. But unless you also create a step-by-step plan for getting from where you are now to where you want to go, your followers will find their efforts frustrated and their enthusiasm seeping away—and quickly!
Herein lies a problem. The kind of big-picture thinking needed to discern a compelling vision involves a different set of skills and giftedness than does detailed planning. Sometimes one leader has both sets of abilities, but often vision setting and execution require that two or more individuals work together.
Specifically, then, you will want to follow these steps:
- Honestly appraise your leadership gifts. Has God given you a thrilling vision and the ability to inspire consensus among your followers? Can you crystallize and communicate the preferred future you have in mind? Are you able to discern sub-goals, and do you enjoy getting your hands dirty in the details of specific planning to achieve your sub-goals?
- Once you know where your strengths lie, enlist others to do what you cannot do well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to delegate tasks to others. Don’t be afraid to let other leaders ask for the kinds of help they need either. Model an appreciation for the different gifts the heavenly Father has given each one of his children. Then put those gifts to use in the most effective ways.
- Convince yourself and then your followers that excellence in execution matters as much as having a compelling vision in the first place. (It does, you know!)
Avoid booking passage on a crazy train!
“Can’t Find Time to Tell You”
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. The first—and perhaps, greatest—four laws of leadership!
As leaders, we keep reminding people of where we’ve agreed to go together and why. We keep on reminding one another what we’re creating. We keep encouraging followers by noticing small wins, by marking each milestone along the path to meeting the larger goals we’ve set. We keep feeding information to the troops about tactics, approaches, and available resources. We never assume they know what we know or remember what we’ve told them.
Survey any organization on earth to ask the source of followers’ deepest frustrations and without doubt, “communication” will pop up somewhere among the top three issues. No one ever complains, “My pastor, my leader, over-communicates.” Satan has gained countless toeholds in otherwise spiritually mature groups simply by nudging a lever to create an ever-so-slight misunderstanding and then sitting back to enjoy the chaos—and often, the lovelessness—that results.
Specifically, then, you will want to communicate this way:
- Plan three, four, or five overlapping, redundant communication channels. Then use them—consistently, religiously, and more regularly than you think is necessary. One expert in organizational effectiveness has stated flatly that leaders under-communicate by a factor of 10! Don’t be among them!
- Affirm. Affirm. Affirm. No matter what else you communicate, make absolutely certain you communicate your approval and appreciation! Your volunteers and staff need to know what they are doing right. When they know this, they will do even more of it! Don’t wait until the project ends; fan the flames of commitment and the feeling of accomplishment and purpose throughout the process.
- Plan ways to use the grapevine for the good of the group and their purposes. Research has shown this communication channel to be a quick and acceptably accurate way to spread information throughout an organization—especially when those in charge feed accurate, helpful information into it. No leader can stop the grapevine, so find ways to use it for productive ends.
Find time to tell followers what they need to know!
“I Can’t Turn You Loose”
If this summarizes your approach to leadership, get over it! And quickly! Otherwise you will find your volunteers and staff growing less and less excited about the vision, less and less committed to excellent execution.
All leaders know the frustration micromanagement causes, and still followers continue to complain that their leaders do it. Why? In part, because we make other leadership mistakes, mistakes that stifle trust and that, thus, make micromanagement inevitable. When we avoid these errors, we go a long way toward helping ourselves let good people (our followers) do the good work they want to do. We also avoid wasting time and effort—our own and everyone else’s.
Specifically, then, you will want to manage this way:
- Get the right volunteers and staff working in the right slots, letting everyone do what he or she does best. What has God gifted the people around you to do? You may want to give a spiritual gifts inventory, if you have not done so in a while. But you will want to go well beyond that, using other tools as well. Ask yourself what each person has done well in the past. What training or experience does each individual have—professionally and in other volunteer positions? What does each volunteer like to do? Our interests have a way of reflecting our giftedness. Determining everyone’s gifts, interests, and abilities will take time, but it will be time well spent.
- Cultivate a deep and very specific understanding of the vision you’ve set and the values you treasure. Help followers see these as guideposts, as a lighthouse in the distance guiding them to port and helping them to avoid the rocks and reefs that might scuttle the vision. To use another metaphor, farmers pick a fixed point in the distance and drive toward it; it’s the only way to plow a straight furrow. Help your volunteers to do the same.
- Work with every volunteer and staff person until they clearly see the specifics of the contribution you hope they will make. Keep this simple by focusing on ends, not on means. You want them to devise the means. If you have the right people with the right gifts in the right slots, they will know even better than you do which means will best accomplish the purposes you set for them.
- Make sure each worker has the tools and other resources needed to accomplish his or her part of the goal. Be available if new needs arise. Give the information and affirmation each person needs to do a superb job.
- Pray daily for each worker, make yourself available for questions and encouragement, and then get out of the way.
Turn folks loose to do their best work, to make their best contribution!
“I Need a Miracle”
Yes. You do! As we seek to do the Lord’s work—bring the lost to Christ and forming his image in those who know him—we always need a miracle. This is holy work, work impossible without the blessing and power of God at work in and through us.
Jesus himself told us, “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Not a few things. Not the easy things. Nothing. How humbling! And still, how empowering. Why? Because he has called us his coworkers, his friends! We are Jesus’ “apprentices” as Dallas Willard has aptly put it. We learn from Christ himself as he works in us and in our followers those dreams, characteristics, gifts, and abilities that make it possible for us to change our world—one life, one heart at a time.
Specifically, then, you will want to lean on Christ like this:
- Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended not on you, but on your followers!
- Remind everyone on your team to pray in this same way each and every day.
- Honor the Savior by noticing and pointing out what he does along the way to your goal, as well as recognizing his work at the end when the project or program wraps up.
- Count on Jesus to act again and again on your behalf. He will. He’s promised to do that, and he always keeps his word.
Expect a miracle as you work to bring it about!